“Fifty Shades of Grey” has a lot to live up to. In anticipation of the film’s release, Time Out has released a list of the cinema’s greatest sex scenes, with “sex” ranging from NSFW to once-scandalous silents. The full list is here, but the top ten are as follows:
1. “Last Tango in Paris” (Bernardo Bertolucci) – “Go Get the Butter”
2. “Don’t Look Now” (Nicolas Roeg) – Going to Dinner Crosscutting
3. “Persona” (Ingmar Bergman) – A Story of Boys on the Beach
4. “Brokeback Mountain” (Ang Lee) – First Time
5. “Blue is the Warmest Color” (Abdellatif Kechiche) – First Sex Scene
6. “The Kiss” (William Heise) – Cinema’s First Kiss
7. “In the Realm of the Senses” (Nagisa Oshima” – Hard Boiled Egg
8. “Basic Instinct” (Paul Verhoeven) – Leg Cross
9. “The Last Temptation of Christ” (Martin Scorsese) – Jesus and Mary Magdalene
10. “It Happened One Night” (Frank Capra) – The Wall of Jericho
Here’s Time Out London’s Tom Huddleston on their top pick:
Never before had sex onscreen been so raw and emotionless. In the age of Tinder, the film has lost some of its impact, and there’s a streak of misogyny that feels undeniably ugly. But with its two powerhouse performances, “Last Tango” still, um, stands up.
Ang Lee’s lovely, lyrical “Brokeback Mountain” and Abdellatif Kechiche’s controversial Palme D’Or-winner “Blue is the Warmest Color” are the highest-placed LGBT sex scenes, and Huddleston writes about the impact of the former.
It gets lonely up on that mountain and nature takes its course… This was the first gay sex scene in a major movie, and while it was hardly the full-frontal gruntfest some audience members may have been hoping for, it was more confrontational than many viewers expected.
That said, a scene hardly needs to be explicit to have a major impact and send shockwaves through the world. Cath Clarke writes about “The Kiss,” a 47-second silent film that features the first kiss caught on film.
It looks so innocent now. But as well as giving us cinema’s first smooch, “The Kiss” provoked one of its earliest scandals, with outraged editorials in newspapers and calls for police to intervene.
The scenes in question need not necessarily be sexy, either. For an example of a decidedly unsexy but unforgettable scene, there’s the infamous chicken scene in “Pink Flamingos.” Joshua Rothkopf writes:
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. “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.
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. 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).