by Christopher Campbell
Due to the unsurprising popularity of our “10 Movies Sold on a Sex Scene” list a few weeks back, I’ve decided to unleash a sequel. However, catering to both Spoutblog’s traffic and the interests of ever-abundant sex-attracted internetters is only half my reason for this follow-up list. I was mainly motivated by the outcome of the release of Woody Allen’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona, a film that also initially inspired the first list. While Vicky was partly sold on the promise of a threesome between Scarlett Johansson, Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz, it is now fortunately being celebrated, and it will likely be remembered, primarily for Cruz’s performance. Not for the threesome or for the lesbian kiss.
Other movies sold on a sex scene, though, are not typically so blessed with accolades. And even some that are recognized with high praise at time of release are often later forgotten as anything but fodder for MrSkin and other followers of onscreen sex and nudity. Obviously this means that most of my selections for the previous list may also qualify here, yet I’ve chosen to ignore some certainly fitting titles, including The Brown Bunny and 9 1/2 Weeks, so as not to repeat myself.
Basic Instinct (1992)
This was left off the earlier list, though I had originally planned on including it. Now that I’ve decided to do this follow-up, I’m positive that it fits better here. Many people undoubtedly went to see Paul Verhoeven’s erotic thriller more for the eroticism than the thrills, but that can’t be the case for every moviegoer who helped make the film a smash hit. There are plenty of erotic thrillers out there, but only one grossed more than $350 million (Fatal Attraction, which earned more than Basic Instinct domestically, came close). Could it be that the film is actually good? Plenty of respectable critics thought so, including Janet Maslin and Jonathan Rosenbaum, both of whom praised the Hitchcock influence. However, it’s easy to now remember the film primarily for the infamous Sharon Stone upskirt shot, which I deem qualifiable as a sex scene due to the way Stone’s character seems to have sort of psychological intercourse with her interrogators.
Last Tango in Paris (1972)
Here we have another mostly well-reviewed film that is possibly only still in the public consciousness due to its controversial sex scenes, as you can tell be the ridiculous commercial above. That isn’t to say the critics and cinephiles don’t still appreciate it for other reasons than its buttery anal sex — it still screens theatrically in revivals and festivals. But ask any random person on the street what they remember, and most are sure to mention the sex scenes before talking of Bernardo Bertolucci’s direction or either Maria Schneider or Marlon Brando’s performance.
I love the non-fiction work of Barbara Kopple, and I believe it possible that Anne Hathaway indeed gives an Oscar-worthy performance in her latest film, Rachel Getting Married, but neither woman’s talent is fully utilized with this movie, which also features a script written by Oscar-winner Stephen Gaghan. I will always think of this movie as an unfortunate hiccup in the careers of these three individuals, but I will mostly remember it, as will most people, for featuring Hathaway’s first topless sex scenes.
A History of Violence (2005)
Personally, my first recall is the graphic violence. The second thing I remember — more fondly, in fact — is William Hurt’s cartoonish yet canny performance. The sex scene on the stairs might not even be in the top five things that made Cronenberg’s film memorable for me, but I promise you there are guys who primarily think positively of A History of Violence for that moment. I even know some of them.
Fat Girl (2001)
Almost as dauntingly memorable as actually waking up to people having sex in the room you’re sleeping in, the infamous scene depicting such an event in Catherine Breillat’s film is likely the first thing you remember. And it probably doesn’t help your memory that the scene is significant enough to have spawned Breillat’s later film Sex is Comedy, which is basically about the difficulty of filming the Fat Girl scene (as seen in the above clip).
Talk to Her (2002)
With this film, I don’t mind that it’s a sex scene that I primarily recall, because it’s a scene that I think is extremely clever and surprisingly well-executed. No, I’m not referring to the part where Benigno (Javier Camara) rapes the comatose Alicia (Leonor Watling); I mean the black and white dream sequence in which a miniature Fele Martinez completely enters a large, constructed setpiece representing Paz Vega’s vagina.
Team America: World Police (2004)
There are plenty of side-splitting moments in this movie, but who walked away with anything sticking in their mind as solidly as the overlong sex sequence?
I could never remember if I’d seen this film or not when I was a kid. It’s one of those films that even if you haven’t seen the whole thing, you’re probably at least familiar with a specific, iconic scene. Here it’s definitely the lesbian sex scene between Susan Sarandon and Catherine Deneuve.
Requiem for a Dream (2000)
I wish that the “ass to ass” line wasn’t the most memorable thing about this film. It certainly isn’t my favorite part, just the one part that forcefully sticks out above all others.
Though it hasn’t even been released to theaters yet, this 2007 Sundance selection will forever be known and remembered as the Dakota Fanning rape movie. It’s possible that the scene could also be considered a “movie sold on a sex scene,” because some curious moviegoers will go see it, secretly or not, for the infamous and controversial scene. But I don’t want to think of those people who actually want to see a movie because they want to see Dakota Fanning raped, whether for pleasure or intrigue.