Sex in movies is often reduced to mood lighting, soft pop music, a bed, partial disrobing and some hazy camera work. (On the other hand, of course, there's porn.) But when a movie gets a sex scene RIGHT, the result isn't just titillating; it can be tender, awkward, kinky or passionate, and frequently all of those things at once. With that in mind, we've done extensive research to come up with the 25 best sex scenes of all time. Hey, it's a tough job, but somebody has to do it.
25. 'A History of Violence' (2005)
Early in the film, when Edie (Maria Bello) dons a cheerleader outfit and engages her husband Tom (Viggo Mortensen) in a 69ing session (the first in a non-porn American film), the act is sweet and tender. The same can't be said for a second, much more violent session on the stairs -- complete with slapping and screaming -- that occurs after Edie has learned Tom was once a mobster and eloquently depicts just how much their relationship has changed.
24. 'Desperado' (1995)
Few Americans knew Mexican soap star Salma Hayek before Robert Rodriguez cast her as a bookstore owner who helps a mariachi (Antonio Banderas) avenge the death of his wife. But no one could deny Hayek's ample talents (or bosoms) after the sexy, candlelit romp she shares with Banderas. Incidentally, we don't blame Antonio for forgoing blood-soaked vengeance in favor of some between-the-sheets time with salsa-hot Salma.
23. 'The Big Easy' (1987)
New Orleans detective Remy McSwain (Dennis Quaid) and prudish DA Anne Osborne (Ellen Barkin) are polar opposites, making them, of course, perfect for each other. But it's not their super-charged chemistry that makes this scene so hot; it's the uncertain awkwardness of their coupling that makes this one of the most realistic -- and steamiest -- sex scenes ever filmed. "I never did have much luck with sex anyway," admits Anne. We'll bet she does now.
22. 'Young Frankenstein' (1974)
Madeline Kahn, as Dr. Frankenstein's frosty fiancée Elizabeth, comes undone upon seeing the monster's (Peter Boyle) "enormous schwanstucker." She melts with his advances, breaking into operatic song at the climactic moment (or final-final moment of the seven or eight that the pair enjoy). Those white streaks in the bride of Frankenstein's hair? According to this comedy, they're caused by the ferocity of Frank's sexytime. It's alive, indeed.
21. 'Brokeback Mountain' (2005)
While Ang Lee's groundbreaking drama would prove to be the most high-profile gay love story of our time, it was the buzzed-about sex scene between Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger that really piqued the curiosity of more open-minded moviegoers. Sure, the Wyoming mountains are frigid, but their rugged embrace inside that tent isn't the least bit about body heat. Of course, the unforgettable scene also gives a whole new meaning to the term "Ride 'em, cowboy."
20. 'Blow-Up' (1966)
The most iconic scene from Michaelangelo Antonioni's film about a hot-shot photographer (David Hemmings) has the actor, in an orgiastic photo shoot, straddling supermodel Veruschka and ravaging her with his ... camera. Frankly, it's even wilder than his threesome with two teen groupies (yes, really). Antonioni's film was so scandalous, it was released without a rating -- but the arthouse flick was nominated for two Oscars anyway. Take that, MPAA.
19. 'Boys Don't Cry' (1999)
Hilary Swank won a Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of Brandon Teena, a she living as a he; Chloe Sevigny garnered a Best Supporting Actress nom as Brandon's girlfriend Lana. In one of the best scenes, their lovemaking is both tender and passionate, and Lana's "big O" is not so much big as it is pivotal. She knows at this point that everything is not as it seems with Brandon, but she also knows that no man has ever satisfied her in quite this way.
18. 'Boogie Nights' (1997)
Wait, this one's too easy, right? It's a film about porn, for crying out loud. But when Dirk Diggler (Mark Wahlberg) and Amber Waves (Julianne Moore) film what is, in fact, this movie's only porn scene, we see not smut (bam chicka bam) but tenderness, from Amber's mother-hen protectiveness to Dirk's eager desire to make it "sexy." Who cares that the camera guy doesn't get his "money shot"? When the scene's over, Dirk's become a big, bright, shining star. That's right!
17. 'Sex and Lucia' (2001)
Paz Vega is a waitress who recalls the best moments of her ill-fated love affair with a writer, Lorenzo (Tristan Ulloa), in this Spanish flick. She was obsessed with him, and it shows -- she does a strip-tease for him, they fervently make love and she holds his, um, manhood ardently. Oh, this is why Vega is so popular in her homeland.
16. 'American Pie' (1999)
Apple pie, once the purview of moms and church picnics, gets a horrifying and hilarious makeover once Jim (Jason Biggs) decides to test the theory that getting to third base feels "like warm apple pie." (By the look on his face, we're guessing he likes it on third.) The unrated DVD version is even more explicit: He climbs up on top of the kitchen island to finish the deed. But we have to admit, the missionary position seems a little, well, tame for baked goods, doesn't it?
15. 'Don't Look Now' (1973)
Yes, it's a creepy psychological horror movie, but nested within is a frank three-minute sex scene that is at once moving and totally hot. Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie are husband and wife vacationing in Venice; their daughter has recently drowned, so the two are not in a good place emotionally -- with themselves or each other. They reconnect in their hotel room and show that married sex can be sexy, too.
14. 'Wild Things' (1998)
What's the only thing better than hot, nubile young things Denise Richards and Neve Campbell stripping naked and getting it on with Matt Dillon? That's simple: Richards and Campbell stripping naked and getting it on WITHOUT Matt Dillon ... in a swimming pool ... dripping wet ... after trying to drown each other ... in a film that also stars Kevin Bacon and Bill Murray. One word: genius.
13. 'Betty Blue' (1981)
The titular (heh, we said "titular") Betty Blue (Beatrice Dalle) was crazy in love ... make that crazy and in love. The opening sex scene between her and boyfriend Zorg (Jean-Hugues Anglade) sets the tone for the movie, which features an enormous amount of nudity and explicit sex, even for a French film. Sadly, Betty's amour burns too bright; she descends into madness before movie's end.
12. 'Coming Home' (1978)
Uptight Army wife Sally Hyde (Jane Fonda) falls for paraplegic Vietnam vet Luke Martin (Jon Voight) in this anti-war drama that earned Oscars for both actors. He may not be able to walk, but in their classic sex scene he proves he can still please a woman, and how -- she has her first orgasm (ever!) with his, er, vocal encouragement. This is how most war veterans would like to be treated upon their return, we'd wager.
11. 'Monster's Ball' (2001)
Leticia Musgrove (Halle Berry) and Hank Grotowski (Billy Bob Thornton) find a physical way to numb the pain in their lives (her husband was killed on death row, her son in a car accident; he's a death-row guard whose son kills himself). Their initial coupling is animalistic and raw, and it's clear that Leticia's idea of feeling "good" is a little different from most folks'. For her searing performance, Berry won a much-deserved Best Actress Oscar.
10. 'Team America' (2004)
Leave it to 'South Park' creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone to envision a marionette-on-marionette sex romp so vulgar that it had to be cut to avoid an NC-17 rating. Even so, these two dolls get it on in ways even the Kama Sutra never imagined, as well as the standard missionary, reverse cowgirl and 69 positions. But the best part by far: Neither puppet has genitalia.
9. 'The Unbearable Lightness of Being' (1988)
Tomas (Daniel Day Lewis) is a Czechoslovakian man of many hats: He's a doctor, a philosopher, a playa. But nothing turns him on like a woman IN a hat, and Lena Olin may be the finest creature ever to don one on screen (a bowler hat, for sure) in the most memorable of many kinky scenes in this 1988 drama. No wonder Prague's become such a hot destination for travelers.
8. 'Bound' (1996)
How sexy is Gina Gershon's ex-con in this blood-soaked debut from 'The Matrix' masterminds Andy and Larry Wachowski? Her character's name is "Corky," and we don't mind in the slightest. Couple her with curvy sexpot Jennifer Tilly, who eventually screws over her sleazy mobster boyfriend (sleaze master Joe Pantoliano) after falling for Corky, and you have Exhibit A in the case of "Why So Many Men (and Plenty of Women) Love Lesbian Sex Scenes."
7. 'Unfaithful' (2002)
It was a tossup with this one -- but after great debate, we chose the illicit bathroom tryst over the we-know-it's-over hallway encounter. Diane Lane as Connie Sumner and Olivier Martinez as Paul Martel steam up most of the flick; knowing that her ladies-who-lunch friends are waiting in the cafe while they're going at it in the bathroom stall is just too hot for words. Wait, there's one we can think of: Aahhh.
6. 'Secretary' (2002)
Self-mutilating wallflower Lee Holloway (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and her controlling boss E. Edward Grey (James Spader) spend their office hours bonding, so to speak, in a sadomasochistic relationship that's as twisted as it is thrilling. But when Edward finally admits his love for Lee, bathing her in his tub and making love to her on a grass-covered bed, you see that their connection transcends spankings and dog collars. It's by far the sweetest moment in the history of S&M.
5. 'Mulholland Drive' (2001)
Rita (Laura Elena Harring) and Betty (Naomi Watts) -- or is it Diane and Camilla? -- are enmeshed in David Lynch's dreamlike story of love, betrayal, death and grief. That's about all we can suss out on the plot of the movie, but we can recognize a hot sapphic love scene when we see one. And we do, with Betty topless in jean cutoffs and Rita topless on the couch. (Was it the "topless" that tipped us off?)
4. '9 1/2 Weeks' (1986)
Sure, adventurous New Yorkers John (Mickey Rourke) and Elizabeth (Kim Basinger) have sex -- a whole LOT of sex -- but it's the foreplay that gets us all riled up. Strawberries, olives, pasta, Jell-O ... they're all just props in service to the couple's creative eroticism; the scene in which he blindfolds her and melts ice cubes on her naked body does the opposite of cooling us down. Ah, food: It's not just for dinner anymore.
3. 'Out of Sight' (1998)
From the moment convict Jack Foley (George Clooney) and U.S. Marshal Karen Sisco (Jennifer Lopez) first share a car trunk together, the sexual tension between them is sweltering. When the star-crossed lovers finally do seal the deal -- in a posh hotel suite overlooking a lit-up Detroit as snowflakes dot the nighttime sky -- it's like the world's sexiest snow globe's just come to life before our eyes. (Note to snow globe makers: we want a commission).
2. 'Body Heat' (1981)
'Double Indemnity' and 'The Postman Always Rings Twice' are undisputed classics, but let's face it, they're sorely lacking in strong sexual content. Enter Lawrence Kasdan's 1981 retooling of 'Indemnity,' fittingly dubbed an "erotic film noir" (greatest subgenre ever?), a film that's steamiest scene found William Hurt breaking and entering into a seductively red-skirted Kathleen Turner's quarters before romancing her stone as a humid Florida night gets even hotter.
1. 'Y Tu Mamá También' (2001)
Good friends Zapata (Gael García Bernal) and Tenoch (Diego Luna) are young boys, just 17, when they take the road trip of their lives with alluring older woman Luisa (Maribel Verdu) -- she's 28! Along the way she has sex with each of them, but in a scene pivotal to the movie and all of their lives, she teases them into a frenzy in a cantina, leads them back to the hotel room and and proceeds to put the "aw" in sexual awakening.