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The 101 best sex scenes of all time

We rank cinema’s best sex scenes, from steamy silent films to Hollywood's lustiest comedies and beyond

By Joshua Rothkopf, Dave Calhoun and Time Out contributors
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Nooky. Rumpy pumpy. Slap and tickle. Fourth base. La whoopsy-daisy. Whatever you call it, sex runs through cinema like an electric charge. From its seemingly chaste early days through a century-and-a-bit of shadowy film noirs, swooning romances, erotically charged ’80s thrillers and just about every film with Marlon Brando in – up to and very much excluding Apocalypse Now – it’s there, ready to spark chemistry into actual fireworks. Some filmmakers chose to cut tastefully around the deed itself; some have thrown caution (and clothes) to the wind to show it in all its glory. Others, like Nagisa Oshima with his notoriously explicit In the Realm of the Senses, take it even further. We’ve put together 101 of the most groundbreaking sex scenes of all time to chart how the movies have chosen to put the moves on. A fair few of these films have won Academy Awards; some are classic feminist movies; controversy has stalked many of them. Let us know which ones we’re missing.

RECOMMENDED: Our list of the 100 best movies of all time

Best sex scenes

1. Don’t Look Now (1973)

Movies Drama

Director: Nicolas Roeg
Bedfellows: Julie Christie, Donald Sutherland

The film
Working with a Daphne du Maurier short story, Roeg gives us Laura (Christie) and John (Sutherland), a married couple who travel from Britain to Venice for his job after losing their young daughter in a drowning accident.

The sex scene
It’s a simple predinner sex scene in a hotel room, but the way Roeg shoots and edits it, and the manner in which the actors perform it, makes it extremely powerful.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
It just feels so real. It’s also a rare sex scene that chimes in perfect harmony with the film around it. Their sex feels like both an expression of grief and a welcome respite from it. Most of all, the actors just look like they know what they’re doing. No wonder they’ve been denying the sex was real ever since.—Dave Calhoun

Buy, rent or watch Don't Look Now

2. Persona (1966)

Movies

Director: Ingmar Bergman
Bedfellows: Bibi Andersson, Liv Ullmann

The film
After the catatonic breakdown of stage star Elisabet (Ullmann), she and nurse Alma (Andersson) enter into a fluid, mesmerizing power struggle, also a meeting of the minds.

The sex scene
In a semidarkened room, Alma relates a tale of sex on the beach with her girlfriend and a pair of underage boys, an incident with dire consequences.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
A classic sex scene with no actual sex in it? That's expert-level, folks. It helps to be Ingmar Bergman, the master director who could wring a heartbreaking monologue out of a shoe. Andersson's matter-of-fact relation of graphic acts makes the scene unbearably hot. The moment was often cut from prints by concerned censors. Famously, Roger Ebert wrote, “The imagery of this monologue is so powerful that I have heard people describe the scene as if they actually saw it in the film.”—Joshua Rothkopf

Buy, rent or watch Persona

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3. Brokeback Mountain

Movies Drama

Director: Ang Lee
Tentfellows: Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal

The film
Based on Annie Proulx’s story about the love affair between two cowboys, Ang Lee’s beautiful, swooning film starred Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger as range hands who fall in love. 

The sex scene
It gets mighty cold up there in the hills of Wyoming. After a night drinking whiskey, the ranchers huddle up for warmth, and then…

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Ang Lee put gay sex in the mainstream. Conservatives accused the film of promoting a gay agenda, but don’t they always? Brokeback Mountain picked up three Oscars from eight nominations in 2006, but not Best Picture (which went to Crash). Some critics, including Roger Ebert, believed homophobia factored in the voting.—Cath Clarke

Buy, rent or watch Brokeback Mountain

4. “The Kiss” (1896)

Movies Horror

Director: William Heise
Bedfellows: May Irwin, John Rice

The film
At just 18 seconds long, “The Kiss” (sometimes known as “The May Irwin Kiss”) is one of the earliest films to be shown to the public. Directed by William Heise for Thomas Edison, it recreates a kiss from a popular musical of the time, The Widow Jones.

The sex scene
To be honest, it’s barely a kiss; there’s definitely no tongues or bodily fluids exchanged as actor John Rice tweezes his moustache in preparation before he goes in for what is more of a peck. 

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Officially the first ever film to feature two people kissing, it caused an uproar, with one commentator writing that it was “beastly enough in life size on the stage, but magnified to gargantuan proportions and repeated three times over, it is absolutely disgusting.” Sounds like a film critic to us.—Cath Clarke

 

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5. In the Realm of the Senses (1976)

Movies

Director: Nagisa Oshima
Bedfellows: Tatsuya Fuji, Eiko Matsuda

The film
Oshima’s 1976 masterpiece—the crown jewel of a career hell-bent on upsetting the establishment—recounts the true story of the all-consuming sexual obsession that blossomed between a hotel owner and his new employee in 1936 Tokyo.

The sex scene
How do we pick just one? A marvel of escalation, In the Realm of the Senses is an almost constant stream of increasingly perverse sex acts. To isolate any moment from the maelstrom of deviant (and unsimulated) behavior would be arbitrary by default. Nevertheless, we’d argue the sequence that most pushes the boundaries occurs when Kichizo (Fuji) inserts a hard-boiled egg into the vagina of his new bride, Sada (Matsuda), in full view of the people serving them dinner. He then instructs Sada to squat like a hen and lay the egg on the floor before he eats it. In most films, the pain that Sada experiences would immediately classify the act as sexual assault, but In the Realm of the Senses renders our judgments irrelevant.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Even for generations raised on free Internet porn, the acts on display in Oshima’s movie are still taboo. In the Realm of the Senses was the first nonpornographic film to include blow jobs, and there’s a very graphic one prior to the scene of food insertion. But it’s only when you watch that egg disappear that you begin to comprehend the full extent of the film’s transgression.—David Ehrlich

Buy, rent or watch In the Realm of the Senses

6. Basic Instinct (1992)

Movies Thriller

Director: Paul Verhoeven
Bedfellows: Sharon Stone, a short skirt, a bunch of drooling detectives

The film
Sharon Stone stars as writer Catherine Tramell, a noirish femme fatale suspected of murdering a music mogul with an ice pick during a bondage sex session.

The sex scene
Even if you haven’t seen the film, you know the scene: Stone is being questioned by five cops and she’s eating them alive. Dressed to kill in a slinky white suit, she basically performs a striptease, slipping off her jacket as she bats their questions aside. Finally she uncrosses and recrosses her legs, showing them—and us—that her lips are sealed (sorry).

Why is it so groundbreaking?
The scene is one of the most controversial and iconic of the 1990s. Basic Instinct was championed by feminist critic Camille Paglia, who argued that it features “one of the great performances by a woman in screen history.” Others called it misogynist.—Cath Clarke

Buy, rent or watch Basic Instinct

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7. The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)

Movies

Director: Martin Scorsese
Bedfellows: Willem Dafoe, Barbara Hershey

The film
Bluntly adapting Nikos Kazantzakis’s novel of the same name, Scorsese’s most controversial film portrays the Son of God as a fallible man, liable to the vices and temptations with which all human beings must contend.

The sex scene
While nailed to the cross, an angel appears to Jesus and leads him on a guided hallucination of the life he might have lead. That life includes Jesus fathering a child with Mary Magdalene, and it turns out that sex is the best way to do that. Sure, it’s all a dream, and thus rather theologically protected, but that didn’t stop people from losing their minds over it.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
It’s Jesus Christ having sex. That’s not exactly what he’s known for.—David Ehrlich

Buy, rent or watch The Last Temptation of Christ

8. It Happened One Night (1934)

Movies Comedy

Director: Frank Capra
Not-quite-bedfellows: Claudette Colbert, Clark Gable 

The film
A slapstick comedy starring Claudette Colbert as a spoiled heiress running away to elope with the wrong guy. Clark Gable is the disgraced reporter she meets on the bus to New York City. Her plan changes. 

The sex scene
No sex here, just a tricky situation: Colbert and Gable are forced to spend the night together in a hotel room (pretending to be husband and wife) when their bus breaks down. Gable hangs a sheet between their twin beds for modesty’s sake.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Because sheet or no sheet, this was the era of Hays Code censorship, intended to stamp any whiff of misbehavior.—Cath Clarke

Buy, rent or watch It Happened One Night

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9. Ekstase (1933)

Movies

Director: Gustav Machaty
Bedfellows: Hedy Lamarr, Aribert Mog

The film
Czech director Machaty’s overheated melodrama about an impotent husband, a frisky young wife and the beau who spots her skinny-dipping made an international icon of 19-year-old Hedy Kiesler. U.S. customs burned an uncensored print, but it didn’t stop MGM’s Louis B. Mayer from signing up the starlet, renaming her Hedy Lamarr and launching a new Hollywood goddess.

The sex scene
Hedy’s much-cut nude swimming brought her notoriety, though even more groundbreaking is a semiclothed love scene, where the camera rests on her face as passion mounts. Note also the highly symbolic string of pearls falling to the floor.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
It’s nothing less than the first onscreen female orgasm.—Trevor Johnston

Buy, rent or watch Ekstase

10. Last Tango in Paris (1972)

Movies

Director: Bernardo Bertolucci
Floorfellows: Marlon Brando, Maria Schneider

The film
Bertolucci’s steamy tale of two strangers meeting in a Paris flat for impersonal sex remains a byword for confrontational coupling onscreen.

The sex scene
Brando pins Schneider facedown on a hardwood floor and indulges his fondness for dairy products in an unforgettable fashion. You’ll never look at cinema sex—or read the word “unsalted”—the way same again.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
A pipe bomb of an art film, Last Tango in Paris will always be controversial. Even at its 1972 debut at the New York Film Festival, there were screams, walkouts, calls for banning and weeks of media handwringing on TV and in print. More recently, a 2013 clip of a Bertolucci confessing to not telling Schneider ahead of time about the butter moment (“he had to rape her in a way…I wanted her to feel, not to act”), caused a massive outcry online. With even its own director admitting to guilt over the scene, it’s understandable for the sexual violence to be a deal-breaker for even the most open-minded viewer. But there’s no denying the rawness of both performances in that moment. More crucially, the scene is dramatically motivated: a primal exchange of power and vulnerability. It’s as complex as the entire movie.—Joshua Rothkopf

Buy, rent or watch Last Tango in Paris

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11. Body Heat (1981)

Movies Thriller

Director: Lawrence Kasdan
Bedfellows: Kathleen Turner, William Hurt

The film
A decade before Basic Instinct launched the era of the mainstream erotic thriller, Lawrence Kasdan reinvented film noir for a sophisticated modern audience with this sweaty tale of scheming femmes fatales.

The sex scene
After chasing her around for days like a puppy in heat, Hurt’s smug lawyer Ned Racine finally tracks temptress Matty Walker (Turner) to her lair. Enticed by her come-hither eyes (“You’re not too smart, are you? I like that in a man”), he smashes a window and dives into her waiting arms.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Most movies use sex either as cheap titillation or as a form of punctuation. In Body Heat, it’s all about character. These characters are both playing roles here: he, the mad-with-lust macho man; she, the shrinking coquette. The thing is, only one of them knows it’s all an act.—Tom Huddleston

Buy, rent or watch Body Heat

Boys Don't Cry, 101 best sex scenes
Boys Don't Cry, 101 best sex scenes
Fox Searchlight

12. Boys Don’t Cry (1999)

Movies

Director: Kimberly Peirce
Fieldfellows: Hilary Swank, Chloë Sevigny

The film
Swank won an Oscar for her portrayal of Brandon Teena, a transgender man murdered in Nebraska in 1993.

The sex scene
At night in a field so dark and striking it feels like a faraway dream, Brandon (Swank) and Lana (Sevigny) have sex for the first time. Lana tells it in flashback to her friends, her emotional arc doubled by the way the scene bounces between present and past.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Boys Don’t Cry is a tragedy. Yet it is still the most culturally prominent portrayal of a transgender man in American cinema. Its brutal conclusion claws at the memory 15 years after its premiere, but its hopeful moments remain just as important.—Daniel Walber

Buy, rent or watch Boys Don't Cry

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13. Kids (1995)

Movies

Director: Larry Clark
Bedfellows: Leo Fitzpatrick, Sarah Henderson

The film
Clark’s disturbingly frank study of middle-class teens running wild in NYC is still shocking two decades later.

The sex scene
In the film’s very first scene, self-proclaimed “virgin surgeon” Telly (Fitzpatrick) talks his way into deflowering his latest victim, an unnamed 12-year-old girl. His gruesome voiceover (“fucking is what I love”) makes the moment even more unsettling.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Because it still feels completely, unnervingly real. Future director Harmony Korine was just 19 when he penned the script and the result proved hugely controversial, with Clark accused of flirting with child pornography. Whatever your take on it, Kids walks a striking balance between beauty and horror.—Tom Huddleston

Buy, rent or watch Kids

14. Deep Throat (1972)

Movies

Director: Gerard Damiano (as Jerry Gerard)
Bedfellows: Linda Lovelace, Harry Reems

The film
Possibly the most famous X-rated film of all time, comedic sex-romp Deep Throat stars 23-year-old Lovelace as a woman who discovers her clitoris is in her throat.

The sex scene
Linda is unable to orgasm, so she pays a visit to a psychiatrist, Dr. Young (Reems)—a real kook but horny as hell. He discovers her unusual condition. His solution? A technique called “deep throat.” He suggests Linda practice on him.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Deep Throat brought hard-core sex to the mainstream. Celebs like Martin Scorsese, Jack Nicholson and Truman Capote went to see it, as did millions more. The clampdown—Deep Throat was banned in certain parts of the U.S.—only fueled the phenomenon. Shot for $25,500 (of mob money), it made an estimated $500 million at the box office. Years later, the film was still making headlines when Lovelace claimed that her then-husband Chuck Traynor forced her into taking part.—Cath Clarke

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15. Belle de Jour (1967)

Movies

Director: Luis Buñuel
Bedfellows: Catherine Deneuve

The film
In her most iconic role, Catherine Deneuve plays Séverine, a beautiful and bored Parisian housewife who takes a job working the afternoon shift at a high-end brothel.

The sex scene
Séverine and her adoring husband Pierre are curled up in a horse-drawn carriage in the countryside. “If only you weren’t so cold,” he says, breaking the spell. Séverine recoils and Pierre orders the drivers to gag her, tie her to a tree and whip her. Séverine is in ecstasy. Then she awakens: The entire scene is a daydream.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Buñuel’s transgressive exploration of desire and fetishism make this one of the most celebrated erotic movies ever made. And the fact that Séverine is not punished for her double life, puts Buñuel on the side of feminism.—Cath Clarke

Buy, rent or watch Belle de Jour

16. Call Me by Your Name (2017)

Movies Romance

Director: Luca Guadagnino
Bedfellows: Timothée Chalamet, Armie Hammer

The film
It’s 1983, the shorts are short, and the music is by the Psychedelic Furs. In a summer villa in Northern Italy, sensitive teenager Elio (Timothée Chalamet) comes of age after his academic father invites a grad student, Oliver (Armie Hammer), to stay with them. The flirtation becomes mutual.

The sex scene
Up in the sweltering attic, Elio writhes in sexual frustration. He takes a peach, crushes his thumb into it, removes the pit, and finds a cathartic use for the fleshy cavity he’s made. Then Oliver discovers him, and things get even hotter.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Already a sensation in the short time since its Sundance debut, Guadagnino’s emotional adaptation of André Aciman’s revered gay novel does right by its most notorious scene, vaulting the movie into the naughty, adult realm of Bernardo Bertolucci.—Joshua Rothkopf

Buy, rent or watch Call Me by Your Name

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17. Harold and Maude (1971)

Movies Comedy

Director: Hal Ashby
Bedfellows: Ruth Gordon, Bud Cort

The film
This is the hippyish story of what happens when depressive, death-obsessed rich boy Harold (Cort) meets Maude (Gordon) an optimistic, happy-go-lucky 79-year-old.

The sex scene
Director Hal Ashby’s original script included a full-blown sex scene between Harold and Maude, but the studio put its foot down. So we have to make do with a postcoital scene. While Maude sleeps, Harold sits up in bed blowing bubbles. 

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Without Harold and Maude, there would be no Rushmore or Almost Famous. And when was the last time you saw a movie that treated the sexual desires of a woman over 60 as something other than the butt of a joke?—Cath Clarke

Buy, rent or watch Harold and Maude

18. Blue Is the Warmest Color (2013)

Movies Drama

Director: Abdellatif Kechiche
Bedfellows: Adèle Exarchopoulos, Léa Seydoux

The film
This undeniably erotic but also deeply sensitive French film won the Palme d’Or at Cannes for its free and frank portrayal of two young women, Adèle (Exarchopoulos), a schoolgirl, and Emma (Seydoux), an art student. They fall in love and face the challenge of sharing something in the long term other than sex.

The sex scene
When Adèle and Emma first hit the bedsheets, Kechiche shows their lovemaking in intimate detail: a long, no-holds-barred sex scene.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
On paper, six minutes doesn’t sound long. But when you’re sitting through kissing, sucking, licking and slapping, six minutes feels very long indeed. Audiences who thought they’d seen it all suddenly realized they hadn’t.—Dave Calhoun

Buy, rent or watch Blue Is the Warmest Color

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19. North by Northwest (1959)

Movies Thriller

Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Bedfellows: Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint

The film
Cary Grant is the debonair ad man mistaken for a secret agent by a group of foreign spies in Hitchcock’s espionage thriller. Eva Marie Saint is the platinum blond he meets on the run.

The sex scene
It’s the most famous double entendre in cinema: On cross-country train, Grant and Saint snuggle in a sleeper car. Grant pulls her up on to the bed just Hitch cuts to the train plunging into a tunnel. Geddit?

Why is it so groundbreaking?
For its sheer audacity alone. In 1959, such things were simply not allowed. And this is a scene that leaves a lasting impression: Without North by Northwest, we wouldn’t have all those crude Airplane! sight gags.—Cath Clarke

Buy, rent or watch North by Northwest

20. Team America: World Police (2004)

Movies Animation

Director: Trey Parker
Bedfellows: Two puppets

The film
South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone tackle the War on Terror through the medium of herky-jerky all-strings-attached puppetry.

The sex scene
Having been recruited by the titular forces of truth, justice and heavy weaponry, greatest-actor-of-his-generation Gary finds himself attracted to his quip-happy comrade, Lisa. It’s not long before the two of them are getting together for a night of steamy and surprisingly flexible passion.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
In a scene seemingly designed to set Thunderbirds creator Gerry Anderson spinning in his grave, these two perverted Pinocchios run the gamut of eye-opening acrobatic indulgence. Insert your own “getting wood” joke here.—Tom Huddleston

Buy, rent or watch Team America: World Police

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21. My Beautiful Laundrette (1985)

Movies Comedy

Director: Stephen Frears
Bedfellows: Daniel Day-Lewis, Gordon Warnecke

The film
This mid-1980s London-set British comedy tackles issues of race, sexuality and politics with a pleasingly light touch as it tells the story of Omar (Warnecke), a young British-Pakistani man seduced by the capitalist dream—David Ehrlichspite his father being a left-wing radical. That’s not all he’s seduced by: He falls for Johnny (Day-Lewis), a local roughneck whose aggression and racism mask tenderness.

The sex scene
When Omar’s uncle opens a gleaming new laundry, Omar and Johnny fall into each other’s arms in the back room as the opening party kicks off next door.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Frears presents an interracial, same-sex relationship as nothing special: not an issue, not a dilemma—just fun, youthful and impulsive.—Dave Calhoun

Buy, rent or watch My Beautiful Laundrette

22. Max Mon Amour (1986)

Movies Comedy

Director: Nagisa Oshima
Bedfellows: Charlotte Rampling, a chimpanzee

The film
Having brushed aside sexual taboos with Empire of the Senses, Japanese maverick Oshima subsequently posited a bourgeois wife’s love affair with our nearest animal relative (courtesy of vivid prosthetic costumery). Aware that our imaginations are filthier than anything they could put onscreen, the filmmakers deliver an urbane comedy of manners facilitated by Rampling’s ability to seem like she’s always up for anything.

The sex scene
When hubby discovers Rampling in her secret Parisian love nest, he pulls back the sheets to reveal her simian playmate.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
How many comedies about bestiality are there?—Trevor Johnston

Buy, rent or watch Max Mon Amour

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23. When Harry Met Sally… (1989)

Movies

Director: Rob Reiner
Boothfellows: Meg Ryan, with an audience of Billy Crystal

The film
Up there with Some Like it Hot and Annie Hall, this is one of the all-time rom-com greats. Sally (Ryan) and Harry (Crystal) stay friends for over 12 years—through traumas, break-ups and divorce—before they realize they’re made for each other.

The sex scene
Not a sex scene, per se. We’re talking about the famous fake orgasm in Katz’s Deli, in which squeaky-clean Ryan reaches a screaming climax (presumably over the pastrami).

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Female orgasms had always been a no-no in the movies. Scriptwriter Nora Ephron ingeniously dodged the problem by taking the climax out of the bedroom. And without her masterpiece of script, stuffed with one-liners and heartfelt life lessons, we’d have no Knocked Up.—Cath Clarke

Buy, rent or watch When Harry Met Sally

24. Nine 1/2 Weeks (1986)

Movies

Director: Adrian Lyne
Bedfellows: Kim Basinger, Mickey Rourke

The film
An ’80s version of Fifty Shades of Grey, Lyne’s soft-core erotic classic chronicles the brief relationship between a wealthy Wall Street arbitrator (Rourke, still human) and the young art-gallery employee (Basinger) he bends to his will.

The sex scene
Today, the kids call it “sploshing.” Revisiting a foodie motif from earlier in the film, Rourke sits Basinger at the foot of his refrigerator and begins feeding her all sorts of squishy, gooey foods (anything that you wouldn’t want to eat in bed is fair game). Basinger slurps strawberries out of Rourke’s hand as the Newbeats’ “Bread and Butter” plays over the soundtrack. It’s all fun and games until Rourke switches to honey and the two lovers begin tasting each other.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Featuring the sex scene that launched a thousand imitators, Nine 1/2 Weeks did for food what Marilyn Monroe did for blonds.—David Ehrlich

Buy, rent or watch Nine 1/2 Weeks

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Do The Right Thing
Do The Right Thing
Photo: Courtesy of Universal Pictures

25. Do the Right Thing (1989)

Movies Comedy

Director: Spike Lee
Bedfellows: Lee, Rosie Perez

The film
A Bedford-Stuyvesant block explodes on the most sweltering day of the summer, as a local pizzeria becomes a magnet for racial tensions.

The sex scene
Long before the movie eases into its more serious register, delivery boy Mookie (Lee) goes AWOL from his route, teasing girlfriend Tina (Perez) with dripping ice cubes skillfully applied to bared parts of her body.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
The scene, no doubt, gave plenty of couples a few new ideas. It's also a perfectly judged comic interlude—a refresher, if you will—in a tightly plotted drama. But for all the nudity on display, it never feels gratuitous. Rather, it's a crucial reminder of the joys we have to live for.—Joshua Rothkopf

Buy, rent or watch Do the Right Thing

26. Shortbus (2006)

Movies Comedy

Director: John Cameron Mitchell
Orgyfellows: Too many participants to name

The film
Determined to make a place for sex in cinema outside of pornography, John Cameron Mitchell created this panorama of sexual problems and possibilities centered around an underground salon in New York City.

The sex scene
In the midst of a citywide power outage, everything comes together in a final climax of togetherness. The characters arrive one by one, wordlessly smiling at each other and approaching one last sexual burst. A band arrives, the tempo quickens, and the room spins. Happiness is a chorus and an orgy.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Explicit, unsimulated sex isn’t always pornography. All of Shortbus makes this argument. The point here is sex as character development, as metaphor, as art. It’s something filmmakers shouldn’t be afraid of.—Daniel Walber

Buy, rent or watch Shortbus

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27. Coming Home (1978)

Movies

Director: Hal Ashby
Bedfellows: Jane Fonda, Jon Voight

The film
Ashby’s antiwar drama escaped from the colossal shadow of The Deer Hunter by virtue of its intimate focus on the blossoming affair between an army wife and the paraplegic soldier she meets when her husband is serving in Vietnam.

The sex scene
In what Variety described at the time as “a masterpiece of discreet romantic eroticism,” Sally (Fonda) and Luke (Voight) finally consummate their burgeoning romance. His handicap is the elephant in the room, but it does nothing to diminish the quality of their sex—in fact, Sally enjoys her first orgasm.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
The Vietnam War returned a generation of American men back to their lives with devastating wounds, physical and otherwise. Coming Home was the first film to confront this epidemic, targeting men at their most sensitive areas in order to illustrate that they may be wounded, but they’re still alive.—David Ehrlich

Buy, rent or watch Coming Home

28. Boogie Nights (1997)

Movies

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Bedfellows: Mark Wahlberg, Julianne Moore

The film
Launching PTA into the firmaments, this epic rise-and-fall saga of big-dicked, small-brained Dirk Diggler depicts the porn industry’s comedown into the age of home video.

The sex scene
For his first sex scene, Diggler (Wahlberg) is paired with veteran porn icon Amber Waves (Moore). As the astonished crew witnesses the emergence of a major new talent, Amber’s warm maternal instincts help put her young costar at ease. The movie is full of professional penetration, but this scene—the Big Bang at the beginning of Dirk’s new life—is unique for its sweetness.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Released just before the Internet pulled porn into its most popular incarnation, Boogie Nights arrived at the perfect time to make adult movies feel cool again. The film is hardly a blind endorsement for the industry, but watching an actor of Moore’s caliber disappear into a scene like this introduced a little sincerity into smut.—David Ehrlich

Buy, rent or watch Boogie Nights

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29. Caligula (1979)

Movies

Director: Tinto Brass, Bob Guccione, Giancarlo Lui
Bedfellows: Anneka di Lorenzo, Lori Wagner

The film
Here’s a Hollywood curiosity: a historical drama chronicling the depraved reign of the Roman emperor who fell in love with his sister. It all looks so proper on paper, with literary heavyweight Gore Vidal writing the script and British thespians Malcolm McDowell, Helen Mirren, Peter O’Toole and Sir John Gielgud starring. But Caligula was bankrolled to the tune of $10 million of by Penthouse boss Bob Guccione, who, unhappy with the film, secretly filmed explicit scenes after the shoot wrapped. These days we can choose between the arty and hard-core versions.

The sex scene
From the latter cut, naturally, comes the famous lesbian scene, starring Penthouse Pets Anneka di Lorenzo and Lori Wagner, who engage in a three-minute romp with zero relevance to the plot.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Caligula was panned by critics, Variety calling it “a moral holocaust.” Banned in the U.K. for 30 years, the film is now a cult classic. Helen Mirren described it as “an irresistible mix of art and genitals.” In 2005, the artist Francesco Vezzoli made a trailer for a fake remake starring Mirren and Milla Jovovich.—Cath Clarke

Buy, rent or watch Caligula

30. The Brown Bunny (2003)

Movies Drama

Director: Vincent Gallo
Bedfellows: Gallo, Chloë Sevigny

The film
“The worst film in the history of the Cannes Film Festival” according to Roger Ebert (before Gallo trimmed 26 minutes from his original cut, prompting Ebert to reconsider), this meditative art-house drama follows a motorcycle racer’s cross-country journey as he’s haunted by the memory of his ex-girlfriend.

The sex scene
Our hero’s former lover (Sevigny) meets him at a seedy hotel, smokes some crack and then—very graphically—becomes his current lover. In a too-hot-for-YouTube moment, Sevigny unbuckles Gallo’s pants, unleashes his erect penis and begins to perform aggressive oral sex. Dramatically, the scene is hard to swallow, but it sure ties the film together.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
This was hardly the first time that a respected actor performed an unsimulated explicit sexual act, but seldom had it been done with such commitment, despite the potential consequences it could have had for her career. Insisting that the film should be played in museums and admitting that she and Gallo had been intimate before, Sevigny was openly proud of her involvement in the project. That first Cannes screening provoked William Morris Agency to drop Sevigny as a client, but Sevigny would soon prove she was just getting started.—David Ehrlich

Buy, rent or watch The Brown Bunny

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31. From Here to Eternity (1953)

Movies

Director: Fred Zinnemann
Beachfellows: Deborah Kerr, Burt Lancaster

The film
As the U.S. Navy prepares to meet a date with destiny at Pearl Harbor, an upstanding officer (Lancaster) gets a in a little too deep with his CO’s wife (Kerr).

The sex scene
Their relationship reaches its onscreen climax during a day at the beach, as these two illicit paramours get freaky in the sand. There’s no actual action, just a discreet fade to black.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
It’s not just the sight of an unmarried couple making out like a pair of slippery sea otters. The scene itself is also surprisingly steamy for classic-era Hollywood, with those skimpy costumes and all that crashing metaphorical surf.—Tom Huddleston

Buy, rent or watch From Here to Eternity

32. Pink Flamingos (1972)

Movies Comedy

Director: John Waters
Bedfellows: Cookie Mueller, Danny Mills

The film
There's only room in Baltimore for one person to claim the title of Filthiest Person Alive. Will it be Divine's Babs Johnson or jealous sleazoids the Marbles?

The sex scene
Cookie (Mueller) infiltrates the pink trailer and hooks up with Crackers (Mills), a taste-challenged layabout. Their sex is wild, no doubt enhanced by the presence of a live, squawking chicken that gets crushed in between the wildly humping duo.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Pink Flamingos remains one of the most controversial films ever made—particularly for a moment at the very end that has nothing to do with sex. (We won't poop on anyone's pleasure by ruining it.) But the chicken-sex scene is impossible to forget, no doubt contributing to the movie's notoriety and world-wide bannings.—Joshua Rothkopf

Buy, rent or watch Pink Flamingos

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33. Law of Desire (1987)

Movies

Director: Pedro Almodóvar
Bedfellows: Eusebio Poncela, Antonio Banderas

The film
A one-of-a-kind masterpiece, Pedro Almodóvar’s sex comedy-cum-melodrama is a gay love triangle—and a prime example of his genre-bending 1980s style.

The sex scene
Film director Pablo (Poncela) meets a young man named Antonio (Banderas) and takes him home. The sex, Antonio’s first time with a man, is a lighthearted affair that sets in motion a much tenser series of events.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
This wasn’t Almodóvar’s first film to foreground sexuality. It was, however, his first that feels set in the real world, a linchpin between the stylized madness of Matador and his more polished later work. It may still be his freshest effort.—Daniel Walber

Buy, rent or watch Law of Desire

34. Secretary (2002)

Movies

Director: Steven Shainberg
Bedfellows: Maggie Gyllenhaal, James Spader

The film
A hard-charging lawyer (Spader) hires an unstable young assistant (Gyllenhaal) who turns the tables on him in a sadomasochistic relationship conducted after hours.

The sex scene
Viewers are treated to some rather sweet body-worshipping by film's end, but most remember it for Gyllenhaal bent over a desk, slowly sliding down her panties.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Consensual dominance and submission is the undercurrent of many indie films. Impressively, though, Secretary does double duty: It celebrates the occasionally violent intimacy between two partners while somehow launching the career of a fully empowered female actor, Gyllenhaal, who's never less than confident. Fifty Shades of Grey will have to be extra impressive to eclipse this.—Joshua Rothkopf

Buy, rent or watch Secretary

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35. Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

Movies Drama

Director: Stanley Kubrick
Bedfellows: Lots of naked extras

The film
Stanley Kubrick’s final movie follows a wealthy Manhattan doctor (Tom Cruise) as he embarks on an unfulfilled sexual odyssey after learning that his wife (Nicole Kidman) was once tempted by a sailor.

The sex scene
For a movie about sex, Eyes Wide Shut doesn’t have all that much of it—if anything, the hero’s journey into the New York night is an epic tour of missed opportunities. Be that as it may, apparently there was still too much sex for the MPAA, who slapped the film with an NC-17. Warner Bros.’ solution? Obscure much of the iconic orgy sequence with dark CGI silhouettes. Kubrick had only been in his grave a few months, but it’s safe to assume he was already rolling in it.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Digitally altering a sex scene without the informed consent of the film’s director sets a mighty dangerous precedent. Even worse are the flourishes that future filmmakers have since agreed to: Remember Leslie Mann’s computer-generated breasts in The Change-Up? Follow-up question: Remember The Change-Up?—David Ehrlich

Buy, rent or watch Eyes Wide Shut

36. Unfaithful (2002)

Movies Thriller

Director: Adrian Lyne
Bedfellows: Diane Lane, Olivier Martinez

The film
A wealthy suburban NYC couple dissolves when wife Connie (Lane) finds herself drawn to the libidinous charms of French used-books-seller Paul (Martinez).

The sex scene
The movie is loaded with illicit trysts but the sexiest thing in Unfaithful is Lane's flushed face as she rides Metro-North home, the memories of a sweaty afternoon playing in her head.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Director Lyne made his reputation with Fatal Attraction, so it's nice to see him giving the power (and our sympathies) to a noncrazy female for a change. There's also something daring about demoting Richard Gere to the role of cuckold. For her sensitive portrayal, Lane got all the way to a Best Actress Oscar nomination.—Joshua Rothkopf

Buy, rent or watch Unfaithful

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37. Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970)

Movies Comedy

Director: Russ Meyer
Bedfellows: Edy Williams, David Gurian

The film
Rocking girl group the Carrie Nations heads to L.A. to make their fortune, but the wild party scene and its attendant pleasures prove a distraction to discipline.

The sex scene
Rapacious pornstar Ashley St. Ives (Williams) puts the moves on band manager Harris (Gurian), sidling up to him in a Rolls-Royce, inviting him to the back seat and shedding her panties for some shrieky, orgiastic coupling.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Recently name-checked by a blushing Martin Scorsese in Life Itself, this Roger Ebert-scripted melodrama scores comical points for interjecting brand consciousness in the squealing ("There's nothing like a Rolls!"). Boobs king Meyer made racier movies than this, but Dolls hits the cult G-spot.—Joshua Rothkopf

Buy, rent or watch Beyond the Valley of the Dolls

38. Happy Together (1997)

Movies

Director: Wong Kar-wai
Bedfellows: Tony Leung, Leslie Cheung

The film
Wong won Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival for this romantic whirlwind, starring Leung and Cheung as two Hong Kong expats living in Buenos Aires.

The sex scene
The two leads are in bed on a hot South American night. First they kiss, with an explicit passion somewhat unprecedented in the filmography of a director whose masterpieces are frequently more about longing. Then they grow mad together. It is as abruptly erotic as their relationship, rocking in bed with reckless abandon.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Leung was a huge star in Hong Kong at the time, and had never done something quite so transgressive as starring in a gay romance. Pop star Cheung, on the other hand, had not yet publicly acknowledged his bisexuality. The same year that Happy Together played Cannes, he would tell a concert audience about his relationship with Daffy Tong Hok-Tak, the man who would remain his partner until Cheung’s untimely death in 2003.—Daniel Walber

Buy, rent or watch Happy Together

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39. The Idiots (1998)

Movies

Director: Lars von Trier
Bedfellows: Jens Albinus, Anne Louise Hassing, Troels Lyby, Anne-Grethe Bjarup Riis

The film
The second official effort of the Dogme 95 movement, Von Trier’s impish provocation tells the story of a woman named Karen who, eager to escape from her life, falls in with a group of able-bodied adults who pretend to be mentally handicapped in public.

The sex scene
In the ultimate show of commitment to their characters, the Idiots retreat to their house in the suburbs of Denmark and launch into a haphazard orgy, all while still pretending to be handicapped (they refer to the performance as “spazzing”). Karen isn’t explicitly involved in the action, but the rest of her newfound pals are a jumble of naked bodies on the living-room floor, erect penises poking out in all directions as the men and women groan and shake with fake palsies.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Planting the seed that would flower as Nymphomaniac 16 years later, The Idiots was the first time Von Trier depicted an erect penis onscreen, and the first time he spliced in stunt genitals to give the illusion that his cast was engaging in unsimulated sex (there’s only one shot of penetration and the faces of both performers are hidden from view). But it was Von Trier’s decision to co-opt the characteristics of the disabled that ultimately proved most controversial—regardless of your opinion on the ethics of the project, The Idiots was proof that the director would stop at nothing to get a rise out of his audience (and his cast).—David Ehrlich

40. Women in Love (1969)

Movies Comedy

Director: Ken Russell
Bedfellows: Oliver Reed, Alan Bates

The film
D.H. Lawrence’s 1920 novel about the love lives of two sisters is given a sensual spin by British director Russell (working with pioneering gay playwright Larry Kramer).

The sex scene
It’s become infamous: Rupert (Bates) and Gerald (Reed) sit in a drawing room next to a roaring fire. Gerald: “I have a feeling that if I don’t watch myself, I’ll do something silly.” Next thing you know, they’re wrestling each other nude, rolling on the floor and slapping each other. “Was it too much for you?” asks Gerald at the end.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
It’s not actually sex, but the metaphor is so strong it’s almost laughable these days. At the time, though, this must have seemed pretty trangressive. Russell gave us the ultimate movie bromance before anyone had even invented the word.—Dave Calhoun

Buy, rent or watch Women in Love

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41. Blow-Up (1966)

Movies

Director: Michelangelo Antonioni
Bedfellows: David Hemmings, Jane Birkin, Gillian Hills

The film
Italian maestro Antonioni’s first English-language film, about a photographer who stumbles on a murderous conspiracy, defined Swinging London for audiences around the world.

The sex scene
Hipster photographer Thomas (Hemmings) invites unnamed cover girls Birkin and Hills up to his flat for a “shoot.” Following an extreme wardrobe malfunction, the women run riot in the studio in a tangle of diaphanous sheets, ripped leggings and flying limbs.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
The scene is famous for being the first time British audiences got to see pubes on the big screen (yes, said hairs are exclusively female). But it’s really more about the era than the act—a moment of pure permissiveness and physical celebration marking the end of the old society and the messy, ecstatic birth of the new.—Tom Huddleston

Buy, rent or watch Blow-Up

42. I Am Curious (Yellow) (1967)

Movies

Director: Vilgot Sjöman
Bedfellows: Lena Nyman, Börje Ahlstedt

The film
A promiscuous 20-year-old plunges body and soul into sex, politics and the vagaries of adult life. Meanwhile, the film's crew grapples with the subject matter in behind-the-scenes footage.

The sex scene
Lena (Nyman) dips her head and offers tender kisses to her boyfriend's sleeping member.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Sweden's provocative export got hung up in the U.S. court system, where it prevailed against charges of obscenity. Still, it was banned in Massachusetts and one Houston theater burned to the ground as a result of arson. Full-front male nudity remains rare in movies—unless you're Jason Segel.—Joshua Rothkopf

Buy, rent or watch I Am Curious (Yellow)

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43. Emmanuelle (1974)

Movies

Director: Just Jaeckin
Bedfellows: Sylvia Kristel and various others

The film
This hugely popular slice of 1970s French erotica tells of Emmanuelle (Kristel), an expat living in Thailand who liberally sleeps with men and women—mostly for our pleasure, of course.

The sex scene
It’s more the buildup of sex scenes that made Emmanuelle such a hot property. Moments of masturbation, several lesbian scenes and a shot of a woman smoking a cigarette with her vagina fell foul of the censors.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
It’s the life the film had, and the imitators it spawned, that wins it a place on this list. Swimming in the wake of the more respectable Last Tango in Paris, it brought soft-core porn into the mainstream and lent respectability to big-screen erotica, even if most critics thought it was poorly made and questionable in its intentions.—Dave Calhoun

Buy, rent or watch Emmanuelle

44. Halloween (1978)

Movies Horror

Director: John Carpenter
Bedfellows: P.J. Soles, John Michael Graham

The film
Carpenter’s low-budget thriller about a faceless serial killer with a taste for teens may not have been the first slasher flick, but its huge success popularized the genre.

The sex scene
When chatty high-schooler Linda (Soles) and her boneheaded boyfriend Bob (Graham) get down to business in her parents’ bed, they have no idea that a killer is lurking downstairs. To paraphrase Basic Instinct, at least they get off before they get offed.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Whether Carpenter intended it or not, Halloween marked a key moment in the rollback of the ’60s dream. No longer were sybaritic, sexually promiscuous teens something to be celebrated. In an increasingly conservative era, their indecency would instead lead to an abrupt and bloody death, with only the virginal heroine spared.—Tom Huddleston

Buy, rent or watch Halloween

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It Is Fine! Everything is Fine.
It Is Fine! Everything is Fine.
Volcanic Eruptions

45. It Is Fine! Everything Is Fine. (2007)

Movies

Director: Crispin Glover and David Brothers
Bedfellows: Steven C. Stewart, Carrie Szlasa

The film
Written by and starring lifelong cerebral-palsy sufferer Stewart, Glover’s second film as director (here working with David Brothers) is a lurid sex-and-violence fantasy told from the point of view of a handicapped man dying on a hospital floor.

The sex scene
Paul (Stewart) may be disabled but he’s still able to get it up, as proven in the explicit scene in which he lures sex kitten Karma (Szlasa) into his bed, before wrapping his hands around her throat.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
If the sight of an erection is still fairly rare in cinema, to see a severely disabled man brandishing his broadsword with evident pride is surely unique. Glover’s film is divisive, crude and arguably misogynistic, but it’s also deeply affecting and sympathetic to its subject: Stewart died from his illness barely a month after principal photography wrapped, and never got to see the finished product.—Tom Huddleston

46. Wild Things (1998)

Movies

Director: John McNaughton
Poolfellows: Denise Richards, Matt Dillon, Neve Campbell

The film
A high-school guidance counselor (Dillon), a wealthy brat student (Richards) and a loner from the trashy side of town (Campbell) get involved in a double-crossing scheme, but the Florida swamp water soon overtakes them.

The sex scene
Adolescent boys of all ages still find themselves transfixed by the sight of Dillon, Richards and Campbell stripping down for a swimming-pool three-way, the most attractive advertisement for crime since Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty glammed their way through Bonnie and Clyde.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Hollywood still doesn't offer that much group sex (at least onscreen) and such teacher-student relations scream with inappropriateness. But Wild Things' pool scene is the fulcrum for all the bad behavior yet to come; it's a scorcher because it has to be, dramatically speaking.—Joshua Rothkopf

Buy, rent or watch Wild Things

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47. Goodbye to Language (2014)

Movies Drama

Director: Jean-Luc Godard
Bedfellows: Richard Chevallier, Zoé Bruneau

The film
Godard’s DIY 3-D experiment abstractly dissects the relationships between two separate couples in its effort to dismantle the conventions of stereoscopic filmmaking.

The sex scene
There isn’t any actual sex in Goodbye to Language, but one nudity-filled sequence invites so much audience interaction that people might remember things differently. As actors Chevallier and Bruneau have a conversation in the nude, Godard splits the image apart, assigning each of his 3-D cameras to its own eye. The resulting effect allows viewers to choose their own adventure, closing one eye to see Bruneau’s pubic hair, and another to see Chevallier’s flaccid penis.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Like pretty much every technological innovation invented for cinema, 3-D was eventually used to shoot sex (and much earlier than this). But Godard’s twist on it invites a unique sense of engagement, resulting in the first movie that allows you your choice of partners. At screenings, you can practically hear the crowd around you closing one eye and opening another (it’s as weird as it sounds).—David Ehrlich

Buy, rent or watch Goodbye to Language

48. One Thousand and One Nights (1969)

Movies

Director: Eiichi Yamamoto
Bedfellows: Aladdin, Miriam

The film
Osamu Tezuka, creator of Astro Boy and a true legend of Japanese animation, cowrote this epic Arabian Nights fantasy tracing the misadventures (mostly sexual) of happy-go-lucky Aladdin, who tangles with a bodaceous slave girl, a clothes-shedding redheaded female warrior, and a whole island of naked nymphs. The psychedelic visuals suggest that hallucinogens had made their way to Tokyo by 1969.

The sex scene
Having rescued curvy Miriam from being sold to the highest bidder, Aladdin gets her alone and the animation turns extremely trippy: Think purple skin tones and lots of floral motifs.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
A mind-blowing precursor to today’s hentai subgenre.—Trevor Johnston

 

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49. Crash (1996)

Movies Drama

Director: David Cronenberg
Bedfellows: James Spader, Holly Hunter

The film
David Cronenberg’s darkly comic adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s 1973 novel explores the subversive sexual potential in car wrecks.

The sex scene
There are a number of appropriate moments in this edge-of-madness, edge-of-genius antidrama. But the scene in which Spader rubs himself up against the stitched wound of fellow accident victim Hunter’s leg in a car park has to be the most worryingly memorable.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Wound sex. Do we really need to expound on that? Okay, fine: Cronenberg has always concerned himself with perversions of the flesh. His deeper idea, still provocative, is that we’d come to enjoy those perversions and not hold them at arm’s length. In a movie expressly about a death cult, Cronenberg weds tortured flesh with glittering metal in a way that’s unnerving.—Joshua Rothkopf

Buy, rent or watch Crash

50. American Pie (1999)

Movies Comedy

Director: Paul Weitz
Bedfellows: Jason Biggs, Shannon Elizabeth 

The film
This chirpy high-school virgin-com follows four pals desperate to get their respective rocks off before graduation.

The sex scene
We could have gone for the scene that gave American Pie its title, because—let’s face it—the sight of a teenager screwing baked goods remains pretty groundbreaking. But instead we prefer the moment where Jim (Biggs) is seduced by his flexible East European houseguest (Elizabeth), but sadly steps off the love train a stop or two early.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Singlehandedly delivering raunchy teen sex comedies to the doorstep of the 21st century, the visionary centerpiece scene of American Pie didn’t just cement the movie as the Risky Business of its generation, it also anticipated how the Internet would change sex forever. (If not necessarily for better. Sorry, Jim).—David Ehrlich

Buy, rent or watch American Pie

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51. Y Tu Mamá También (2001)

Movies

Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Bedfellows: Diego Luna, Gael García Bernal, Maribel Verdú

The film
More than a decade before he made Gravity (which could have used a sex scene), Alfonso Cuarón broke out with this hit—one that also marked the arrival of actors Diego Luna and Gael García Bernal as two friends on a delirious, sensual road trip.

The sex scene
The film’s climactic moment is, of course, its famous threesome between Luna, García Bernal and Verdú. In the scene’s climactic moment, Verdú falls below the frame and the two friends share a kiss.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Paradoxically, the least gratuitous sex scenes tend to be the most memorable, and the ménage à trois at the end of Cuaron’s masterpiece is as crucial as they come. Cinema’s most significant three-way feels transgressive because of how central it is to the movie’s bromance, the whole film building up to this sexual free-for-all in which all of the anxiously maintained gender dynamics and rules of attraction suddenly crumble, and sexual identities are reduced to rubble.—David Ehrlich

Buy, rent or watch Y Tu Mamá También

52. Blue Valentine (2010)

Movies

Director: Derek Cianfrance
Bedfellows: Ryan Gosling, Michelle Williams

The film
Derek Cianfrance’s hipster drama gives us the the five-year marriage between Dean (Gosling) and Cindy (Williams), moving back and forth in time, seeing how the couple came together and fell apart. 

The sex scene
In the happier early days, Dean goes down on Cindy: Gosling pulls down Williams’s panties and shoves his face in there.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Oral sex (of the man going down on a woman variety) has always been a taboo in Hollywood. The MPAA slapped a NC-17 rating on Blue Valentine for its cunnilingus scene. That, according to Ryan Gosling, was blatant sexism and misogyny: “There's plenty of oral sex scenes in a lot of movies, where it's a man receiving it from a woman, and they're R-rated. Ours is reversed and somehow it's perceived as pornographic.”—Cath Clarke

Buy, rent or watch Blue Valentine

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53. Cruising (1980)

Movies Thriller

Director: William Friedkin
Clubfellows: Al Pacino, Richard Cox, James Remar

The film
William Friedkin’s tawdry detective thriller stars Al Pacino as an undercover cop on a mission to uncover a killer in New York City’s gay leather scene. Inevitably, he gets in too deep.

The sex scene
Before anything untoward happens to the bewildered straight-boy lead, Friedkin features explicit sex in the leather clubs of NYC’s then-infamous Meatpacking District. While the director claims 40 minutes were cut (including footage taken in real sex clubs), the finished film does include shots lifted from gay pornography.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Cruising has always had a troubled reputation and was protested by the gay community upon its release. Over the years, that tide has somewhat turned: The movie is a landmark of gay representation, despite the plot’s more formulaic gestures. Cruising’s dark mood persists in the imagination.—Daniel Walber

Buy, rent or watch Cruising

54. The Devils (1971)

Movies

Director: Ken Russell
Bedfellows: A lot of nuns

The film
Russell’s enduringly controversial masterpiece revisits the severe religious hysteria of 17th-century France, where a priest is bequeathed control of a small rural city only to find himself the defendant in a witchcraft trial.

The sex scene
The local nuns, convinced that they have been possessed by the devil, are having their demons exorcised by a witch hunter. But when their psychosomatic condition remains unresolved, they promptly descend into an orgiastic fever, some of them using a giant crucifix as a dildo, commencing a sequence that has since become known as the Rape of Christ.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Russell’s defenestration of the church remains one of the most ruthless attacks on organized religion the cinema has ever seen. By using unfettered sexual mania as the catalyst for his jeremiad, Russell insured that he would whip viewers into a frenzy on par with the one he was depicting onscreen (albeit a frenzy of a different kind). The scene was cut by Warner Bros. before they submitted the film to the British Board of Film Censors, and subsequently thought to be lost—until several decades later, film critic Mark Kermode found the missing footage while researching a documentary on Russell.—David Ehrlich

Buy, rent or watch The Devils

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55. Pepi, Luci, Bom (1980)

Movies

Director: Pedro Almodóvar
Bedfellows: Eva Siva, Alaska

The film
This was the Spanish director’s second feature film and came at the height of La Movida, the cultural explosion in Madrid that followed the death of Franco. The film tells of an unlikely trio—Bom (Alaska), a punk singer; Luci (Siva), a policeman’s wife; and Pepi (Carmen Maura), a modern metropolitan woman—who hit the city’s party scene.

The sex scene
Urged on by a conspiring Pepi, punky Bom stands on a chair and pees on meek Luci. Why? Because Luci is overheating of course. Next thing you know, they’re an item.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
This would be a jaw-dropping scene in a movie today. Take into account how deeply conservative Spain still was in 1980, and this anarchic comedy is nothing short of revolutionary in cultural and sexual terms.—Dave Calhoun

Buy, rent or watch Pepi, Luci, Bom

56. 9 Songs (2004)

Movies Drama

Director: Michael Winterbottom
Bedfellows: Kieran O’Brien, Margo Stilley

The film
A love story? Or a porn film? Michael Winterbottom’s indie romance has been called both for its portrayal of a twentysomething couple in London having sex (real-life rather than simulated) and then going out to gigs.

The sex scene
Take your pick. The film splits half and half between sex and nonsex (the latter heavy on concert footage). Possibly the most memorable sex scene is a foot job in the bathtub.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
9 Songs is the most sexually explicit mainstream ever made in the U.K., with star O’Brien becoming the first man to be shown ejaculating. It caused a furor, but here’s Winterbottom, defending the film at Cannes: “Books deal explicitly with sex, as they do with any other subject. Cinema has been extremely conservative and prudish.… Part of the point of making the film was to say, ‘What’s wrong with showing sex?’”—Cath Clarke

Buy, rent or watch 9 Songs

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57. Little Vera (1988)

Movies

Director: Vasili Pichul
Bedfellows: Natalya Negoda, Andrei Sokolov

The film
Pichul’s nihilistic drama, an enduring emblem of the Soviet Union during perestroika, follows a wild Russian girl as she falls in love with a man whom her family violently disapproves of.

The sex scene
Vera (Negoda) straddles atop of Sergei (Sokolov) in a hostel room, rocking back and forth on top of him as they coolly discuss the recent lunch at which she had introduced him to her parents. Vera informs Sergei that she told them she was pregnant, and continues riding him while he tries to suss out whether or not Vera was lying to her family.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
The reasons why Little Vera caused such a stir are largely contextual—the scene where a topless Vera gets into some cowgirl action with the man of her dreams flew in the face of puritanical censors. Though it’s quite chaste by today’s standards, it was considered the most blunt and unvarnished sex scene the Russian cinema had ever produced. More than anything, it’s the casualness with which Vera treats the encounter that shocks people most.—David Ehrlich

Buy, rent or watch Little Vera

58. Bound (1996)

Movies Drama

Director: The Wachowskis
Bedfellows: Gina Gershon, Jennifer Tilly

The film
Lana and Lilly Wachowski’s breakthrough film unites two women, a convicted thief and a mobster’s trophy girlfriend, in a high-wire plan to grab $2 million of mob money and head off into the sunset.

The sex scene
After some smoldering chemistry and a spot of light plumbing, Corky (Gershon) and Violet (Tilly) fall hard for each other—at least, as hard it’s possible to in a movie where no one seems entirely trustworthy. Before long, they’re naked on Corky’s mattress, out of sight of Violet’s mobster boyfriend Caesar (Joe Pantoliano).

Why is it so groundbreaking?
In the context of a thriller in which each of the three main characters is constantly calculating and recalculating, the lesbian tryst adds a extra dimension: it’s both a trip wire for Caesar’s male ego and insecurity and a weak spot for the two women. The sex, which comes early in the piece, is not male gaze-y or gratuitous, but sensual and characterful, which may have something to do with the presence of sex educator Susie Bright on set. Helping bring authenticity to Bound’s LGBTQ+ world, Bright’s involvement was just another way the Wachowskis were way ahead of the curve.—Phil de Semlyen

Buy, rent or watch Bound

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59. WR: Mysteries of the Organism (1971)

Movies

Director: Dusan Makavejev
Bedfellows: Nancy Godfrey, Jim Buckley

The film
U.S.-shot documentary footage combines with a madcap satire of modern Belgrade in this uncategorizable art-house favorite. Themed around the sexual and political theories of Wilhelm Reich, its heady mix includes Soviet propaganda clips, upsetting material filmed in insane asylums and even a psychotic Russian ice skater.

The sex scene
Most notorious is when artist Godfrey makes a plaster cast of Screw editor Buckley’s erect penis.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Buckley’s not-unimpressive member became the first ever to make it through the British film censors, though the film’s one and only U.K. TV showing two decades later saw his manhood hilariously masked by superimposed animation.—Trevor Johnston

Buy, rent or watch WR: Mysteries of the Organism

60. Sebastiane (1976)

Movies

Director: Derek Jarman and Paul Humfress
Bedfellows: Ken Hicks, Janusz Romanov

The film
Gay British darling Jarman, working with Humfress, retells the story of St. Sebastian on location in sunny Sardinia, entirely in Latin and with a homoerotic porn sheen lent to the whole affair.

The sex scene
Two men make love in the water and we see a flash of an erection. As an act of rebellion, it was a happy accident, as Jarman recalled: “We left in the hard-on during editing and the censor unknowingly passed it because it was at the bottom of the screen and we showed it to him in the wrong screen ratio.”

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Remember that homosexual acts were only decriminalized in the U.K. eight years prior. Sebastiane is frank and unapologetic about nudity and gay relationships, and proudly depicts same-sex lovemaking as fun and sensual.—Dave Calhoun

Buy, rent or watch Sebastiane

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61. Tiny Furniture (2010)

Movies

Director: Lena Dunham
Bedfellows: Dunham, David Call

The film
Pre-Girls, this is the film that got Lena Dunham noticed. She writes, directs and stars as Aura, a twentysomething woman stuck in that who-am-I-and-what-am-I-doing? postcollege phase.

The sex scene
They meet at work. She’s a hostess. He’s a chef and has a girlfriend. She lives with her mom. So they go to a construction site and do the deed in a giant metal pipe, doggy style. Romantic it ain’t. “You don’t have AIDS, do you?” she asks when it’s all over.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Trailblazing the way for Girls, this sex is frank and honest. Lena Dunham is on a mission to normalize sex and in Tiny Furniture, it’s realistically awkward and embarrassing in a way we can all relate to.—Cath Clarke

Buy, rent or watch Tiny Furniture

62. Showgirls (1995)

Movies

Director: Paul Verhoeven
Poolfellows: Elizabeth Berkley, Kyle MacLachlan

The film
Impulsively violent drifter Nomi (Berkley) heads to Las Vegas, where she's enraptured by the nude dance shows and money—but there's always a cost.

The sex scene
Casino big shot Zack (MacLachlan) has his eye on the hustling blond, an opportunity she seizes as they head to a private swimming pool. The splashy floundering that ensues is a high-point of ridiculously unreasonable expectations.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
This scene, like many in Showgirls, unifies the audience in a heightened state of hilarity. It's not meant to be funny, but primo cheese like this is rare. Verhoeven's mainstream riskiness—no matter how tawdry—now seems like a thing of the past. He somehow managed to get his NC-17 ass-terpiece into malls, which is saying something.—Joshua Rothkopf

Buy, rent or watch Showgirls

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63. High Art (1998)

Movies

Director: Lisa Cholodenko
Bedfellows: Radha Mitchell, Ally Sheedy

The film
Mitchell plays Syd, a straight art-world ingenue who becomes tangled up in the tense emotional web of Lucy (Sheedy), a famous and reclusive photographer in Cholodenko’s debut feature.

The sex scene
A trip out of the city for inspiration leads to a late night of wine and physical connection, in which Lucy coaxes Syd through sex. The “first gay experience” setup makes it lovably awkward and the performances give it beauty.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
What could feel clumsy is instead a triumph of apprehension and an almost eerie sense of foreboding (supplied by original music from Shudder to Think). It’s a confident scene, a sign of strong vision early in Cholodenko’s filmography and perhaps a career-best moment from Sheedy.—Daniel Walber

Buy, rent or watch High Art

64. “Le Coucher de la Mariée” (Bedtime for the Bride) (1896)

Movies

Director: Albert Kirchner
Bedfellows: Louise Willy, plus an unknown actor

The film
Shortly after the invention of motion pictures in the 1890s it was only a matter of time before some bright spark stumbled on the artform’s risqué potential. And in 1896, director Albert Kirchner coaxed actress Louise Willy to strip in front of the camera.

The sex scene
Willy plays a bride on her wedding night, taking off her clothes, while her new husband blithely reads the newspaper. This being the 1890s, there are layers of frills, corsets and bloomers to get through, so it takes a couple of minutes.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
It might look tame today, but this is the birthplace of porn.—Cath Clarke

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100 sex scenes, Psycho
100 sex scenes, Psycho
Psycho

65. Psycho (1960)

Movies Horror

Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Bedfellows: Janet Leigh, John Gavin

The film
Alfred Hitchcock’s genre-defining thrill-kill flick is most famous for its unforgettable shower scene, but there’s more here than meets the eye.

The sex scene
In a film crammed with Hollywood firsts—the early death of the heroine, the suggestion of necrophiliac incest, the practical use of a toilet—it’s the opening scene of unmarrieds Leigh and Gavin sharing a bed that really got moral watchdogs barking.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
The “offense” here is so minor to modern eyes, today’s viewer can almost miss it. After all, this a consensual couple, nuzzling in a hotel room, neither of them nude. But for two actors to be in a single bed together was, in its own way, a quiet revolution in post–Hays Code Hollywood. Hitchcock knew he needed to supply heat and attraction to motivate the criminality to come.—Joshua Rothkopf

Buy, rent or watch Psycho

66. Antichrist (2009)

Movies Horror

Director: Lars von Trier
Bedfellows: Willem Dafoe, Charlotte Gainsbourg

The film
Von Trier’s tribute to Tarkovsky is a classic tale of parental tragedy: A young couple retreats to a wood cabin to cope with the loss of their child, they make friends with a self-cannibalizing fox, and then the woman destroys everyone’s genitalia with a rock and a pair of scissors.

The sex scene
Antichrist opens with a balletic slow-motion sequence in which Mom and Dad (Gainsbourg and Dafoe) are too busy making love in the shower to notice their young son wander out of his crib and plummet out the window to his death. But, like, the sex looks really good.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Antichrist wasn’t the first time that penetration had been graphically depicted in a theatrically released film (hell, it wasn’t even the first time that Von Trier had done it), but there’s something strikingly confrontational about the black-and-white classicism with which Antichrist depicted it. While it may first appear as though the scene demonizes the lustful mania of sex—not just any sex, married people sex—Von Trier’s stylization is eventually revealed to be the first arrow in the director’s quiver aimed at the nature of physical intimacy and its itinerant psychoses.—David Ehrlich

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67. The Living End (1992)

Movies

Director: Gregg Araki
Bedfellows: Mike Dytri, Craig Gilmore

The film
Gregg Araki’s first hit is a major watermark in New Queer Cinema, a gay riff on Thelma & Louise with an AIDS-era fire in its belly.

The sex scene
Between the movie’s early comic blisses and troubling desert finale lies one memorable love scene in a cheap motel shower. Luke and Jon, both HIV-positive and on the run from the law, share an awkward but very memorable sudsy embrace.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Luke and Jon don’t use a condom. This honest, unprotected sex midway through the film, between two HIV-positive men, is the high point of Araki’s furious commitment to reckless liberation. The movie ends without happy resolution, or even clarity, but the brief outburst of near-separatist joy is revolutionary in itself.—Daniel Walber

Buy, rent or watch The Living End

68. Go Fish (1994)

Movies

Director: Rose Troche
Bedfellows: Guinevere Turner, V.S. Brodie

The film
Troche’s debut feature, a lighthearted and low-budget lesbian love story, won the Teddy for Best Feature at the Berlin Film Festival.

The sex scene
When Max (Turner) and Ely (Brodie) finally reach the sexual climax of their long flirtation, Troche almost skips past it. It isn’t until the two women debrief their respective roommates that the actual sex emerges, in alternately comic and smoldering flashbacks.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
More than a simple romance, Go Fish is a playful symposium on lesbian sexuality and identity. A Greek chorus of intimate discussions among friends about sex, relationships and the politics of it all punctuates the film. The sex is not only a manifestation of the desire shared by two women, but a celebration of lesbian community as well.—Daniel Walber

Buy, rent or watch Go Fish

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69. Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (1971)

Movies

Director: Melvin Van Peebles
Bedfellows: Mario Van Peebles, an unnamed woman

The film
The first revolutionary work of black-American cinema, dedicated to “all the brothers and sisters who have had enough of the Man,” Van Peebles’s problematic debut follows a mustachioed sex worker who goes on the run after beating up two cops.

The sex scene
Given that it features one of the most disturbing, controversial openings in cinema, it’s perhaps surprising that the film is still widely available. Growing up in a whorehouse, our young title hero earns his nickname at age 10 when one of the hookers seduces him into her bed, praising his “sweet, sweet back.”

Why is it so groundbreaking?
It’s a pubescent boy (Van Peebles’s own son Mario, 13, later an actor and director in his own right) having sex with a middle-aged woman. Arguably pornographic and indisputably grotesque, the scene is only acceptable (if at all) because of Van Peebles Sr.’s dedication to making the most rebellious, confrontational film he could get away with.—Tom Huddleston

Buy, rent or watch Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song

70. Intimacy (2001)

Movies

Director: Patrice Chéreau
Bedfellows: Kerry Fox, Mark Rylance

The film
Married Claire (Fox) and divorced Jay (Rylance) embark on a sex-heavy, chat-free anonymous relationship on a weekly basis in Jay’s seedy London flat. The film is based on a series of stories by novelist Hanif Kureishi.

The sex scene
Claire gives Jay a blow job—nothing is faked.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Intimacy caused a storm for featuring unsimulated oral sex—the first nonpornographic British film ever to do so. The film brought a no-nonsense European art-house approach to U.K. screens.—Dave Calhoun

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71. Taxi zum Klo (1981)

Movies Drama

Director: Frank Ripploh
Bedfellows: Ripploh, Peter Fahrni

The film
A schoolteacher living in West Berlin (played by director Ripploh himself) flits between his relationship, his work life and his penchant for anonymous sex in public places.

The sex scene
Frank meets an auto mechanic and later takes him home. This leads to the kinkiest sex in the film, complete with leather and water sports.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Taxi zum Klo is a warm portrait of an open relationship, a clever juxtaposition of public life and private sex, and an oblique critique of society’s hang-ups. It’s also a time capsule of gay life in a major European city in 1980, just before the AIDS epidemic. Its explicit sex has a carefree joy due to its anonymity, its risks and its gleeful filth.—Daniel Walber

Buy, rent or watch Taxi zum Klo

72. The Ice Storm (1997)

Movies

Director: Ang Lee
Bedfellows: Joan Allen, Jamey Sheridan

The film
Kids and parents misbehave in Ang Lee's chilly Nixon-era drama, based on the novel by Rick Moody and set during one booze-saturated Thanksgiving weekend.

The sex scene
Profoundly embarrassed by their wayward spouses, Elena (Allen) and Jim (Sheridan) take matters into their own hands, fleeing a key party and attempting to have some revenge sex in the front seat of a skidding car.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Hazardous, damaging and deeply unsatisfying to both partners, the sex somehow makes everything worse. It's over in a comically brief span of time. Sex scenes this uncomfortable rarely make it to the screen with as much honesty.—Joshua Rothkopf

Buy, rent or watch The Ice Storm

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73. Anatomy of Hell (2004)

Movies

Director: Catherine Breillat
Bedfellows: Amira Casar, Rocco Siffredi 

The film
Catherine Breillat adapted this film from her own novel, Pornocracy, with intent to shock and challenge her audience’s notions of gender politics and sexuality. Despite (and because of) the ensuing controversy, it worked.

The sex scene
The whole film can be seen as one long sex scene. A woman (Casar) attempts suicide in a gay club, is saved by a man (Italian porn star Siffredi) and pays him to spend four nights with her in her apartment. The psychological warfare and emotional brutality from that point on is all one bundle of flesh and philosophy.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Breillat has put explicit sex into a number of her films, since the very beginning of her career. But Anatomy of Hell is the culmination of her approach, a distillation of her style and an insistent proclamation that sex can be more than shocking.—Daniel Walber

Buy, rent or watch Anatomy of Hell

74. Midnight Cowboy (1969)

Movies

Director: John Schlesinger
Bedfellows: Jon Voight, Bob Balaban

The film
Jon Voight is the naive Texan in a Stetson who dreams of becoming a gigolo in New York City, certain that rich women will lavish him with money in return for sex. In reality, he hooks up with pathetic deadbeat Ratso Rizzo (Hoffman).

The sex scene
Voight is hustling in Times Square when he picks up a nerdy kid (Bob Balaban) and the two disappear into a seedy cinema. The kid gives Joe a blow job in the back row.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
This was 1969, one year after the creation of the modern rating system. At the time, the NC-17 category did not exist, so Midnight Cowboy found itself slapped with an X. It went on to pick up three Oscars, including Best Film and Best Director for John Schlesinger, making it the only X-rated film to win an Oscar to date.—Cath Clarke

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75. Circumstance (2011)

Movies Drama

Director: Maryam Keshavarz
Bedfellows: Nikohl Boosheri, Sarah Kazemy

The film
Two teenage girls, growing up in upper-class Tehran, experiment with sex, alcohol and politics in Keshavarz’s Sundance-winning feature.

The sex scene
Atafeh (Boosheri) and her family take a trip to their beach house, bringing along Atafeh’s orphaned best friend Shireen (Kazemy). One morning the two girls wake up with the dawn, in a scene that’s warmly lit and set to music reminiscent of the Muslim call to prayer. They make love, then they go swimming.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
It goes without saying that a film about homosexuality in Iran is by definition controversial—both Circumstance and its director are banned from the nation. More than that, though, with its Sundance prizes and its international feel, this is a step forward for representation of lesbians in world cinema in general.—Daniel Walber

Buy, rent or watch Circumstance

76. Bed and Sofa (1927)

Movies

Director: Abram Room
Bedfellows: Lyudmila Semyonova, Vladimir Fogel

The film
A far cry from the politicized dramas of Sergei Eisenstein, this Soviet-era silent offers an intimate account of a Moscow ménage à trois, with a young housewife’s sexual and moral independence the key factor as her affections shift between her husband and the old war buddy who’s lodging on their sofa.

The sex scene
With hubby away, the yearning intensifies in the moments before the wife decides to cross the line with her houseguest.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
There’s no actual flesh onscreen, but when lead actor Semyonova bites her bedstead out of sheer longing, the erotic tension is palpable.—Trevor Johnston

Buy, rent or watch Bed and Sofa

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77. Mulholland Drive (2001)

Movies Drama

Director: David Lynch
Bedfellows: Naomi Watts, Laura Elena Harring

The film
Lynch’s neonoir mind-bender, considered by many to be the greatest film of this young century, needs no introduction.

The sex scene
Amid the film’s labyrinthine not-exactly-plot, Hollywood wanna-be Betty (Watts) and amnesiac Rita (Harring) find a dead woman in a stranger’s apartment. They freak out and return home, where eventually the mood changes and they have sex for the first time. It’s love, it’s confusion, and it’s extremely memorable.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
The choice by a significant, heterosexual male American auteur to use lesbian sexuality in a work of boldly experimental narrative is not by definition a safe one. The presence of sex between two women in Lynch’s bewildering feature is a matter of artistic purpose, rather than mere titillation or reductive symbolism.—Daniel Walber

Buy, rent or watch Mulholland Drive

78. Flesh Gordon (1974)

Movies

Director: Michael Benveniste, Howard Ziehm
Bedfellows: Jason Williams, Cindy Hopkins

The film
This is a campy skin flick packaged as a spoof of the Flash Gordon stories and superhero tales in general. The original intention was to include hard-core pornographic scenes. In the end, a less-explicit version was released to cash in on the gimmick.

The sex scene
When Emperor Wang of the planet Porno uses his “sex-ray” on planet Earth, it inspires all sort of kinky behavior. You get the picture.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
You know you’ve truly come out of the other side of the liberated ’60s when films like this are sending up sex with free abandon. It even features a penis-shaped spaceship. And a sidekick named Dr. Flexi Jerkoff.—Dave Calhoun

Buy, rent or watch Flesh Gordon

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79. The Dreamers (2003)

Movies

Director: Bernardo Bertolucci
Bedfellows: Michael Pitt, Eva Green, Louis Garrel

The film
Michael Pitt falls in love with future Bond girl Eva Green, but her brother (Louis Garrel) is part of the deal, in a romance set in the tumultuous Paris of May ’68.

The sex scene
Three sexy actors get up to a number of scantily clad—and fully nude—encounters in a book-lined hothouse apartment. It's hard to pick just one scene, but a cozy bathtub conversation harkens back to Bertolucci's classic Last Tango in Paris (don't worry—that one's coming up).

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Eva Green is such a once-in-a-generation screen siren that mere close-ups of her face can feel like the best sex scenes ever committed to film. But one moment here in which her sexpot heroine squeezes into a bathtub with her brother and their American houseguest causes a splash (heh) for how it suggests that her character is starting to lose control of her erotic drive.—David Ehrlich

Buy, rent or watch The Dreamers

80. Betty Blue (1986)

Movies

Director: Jean-Jacques Beineix
Bedfellows: Jean-Hugues Anglade, Béatrice Dalle 

The film
Beineix’s erotic drama, a sensation when the French film first debuted in 1986, details the deteriorating relationship between Zorg (Anglade), a handyman, and the eponymous spitfire (Dalle) who resents him for not living up to his artistic potential.

The sex scene
Betty Blue opens with a bang: Zorg writhes on top of Betty, thrusting in the missionary position as the camera slowly dollies in. At this point, we don’t know who either of these people are, only that they seem to enjoy each other’s company. After Zorg has finished, his voiceover kicks in with a first line that echoes throughout the film that follows: “I had known Betty for a week.”

Why is it so groundbreaking?
To foreign audiences, this was a shocking and delightful way to begin a movie. (To French ones, it might have just been another Tuesday.) Béatrice Dalle’s title character is a force of nature, boldly hedonistic with undeniable appetites. And can you believe this movie was up for the Best Foreign Film Oscar? Even though it lost, it certainly helped scenes of explicit sex enter the mainstream.—Joshua Rothkopf

Buy, rent or watch Betty Blue

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81. Fetishes (1996)

Movies

Director: Nick Broomfield
Dungeonfellows: Maria Beatty, plus two leather-clad technicians

The film
Broomfield’s HBO documentary is a profile of Pandora’s Box, one of New York City’s premier S&M establishments.

The sex scene
There are many to choose from, running the gamut from what seem like standard fetish sessions to troubling, politically charged fantasies. The most interesting, however, is a sequence in which professional submissive Maria Beatty arrives for a personal session with two of Pandora’s Box’s dominatrices.

Why is it so groundbreaking?
Fetishes is important because of the way it demystifies the world of sadomasochism, but it remains relevant because of its interest in the personalities of the women who work at Pandora’s Box. This scene is significant because it shows sex workers not simply as the fantasies of clients, but as people on their own professional journeys.—Daniel Walber