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The Best Sex Scenes of the 21st Century Ranked, from ‘Midsommar’ to ‘Titane’

Some say the sex scene is dead. These stunning moments show that isn't true, even if mainstream studio filmmaking has become ever more chaste.

The 30 best sex scenes of the 21st century.

The 30 best sex scenes of the 21st century.

25. “The Lighthouse” (2019)

“The Lighthouse”

Robert Eggers is only three films into his feature directing career, but he has already earned the title of Hollywood’s top chronicler of mermaid vaginas. From the unsubtle phallic symbolism of its title to the early scenes of Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson) masturbating, sex is never out of focus for long in “The Lighthouse.” So much of the film is about isolation, sexual, frustration, and mermaids, so it was inevitable that Winslow would have to copulate with one at some point.

When it eventually happens, Eggers does not hold back, crafting a stunningly realistic set of genitalia that took inspiration from a variety of real-life sea creatures. Neither does Pattinson, as he releases a lifetime’s worth of pent-up lust on the mermaid in a sequence that reminds fans why he deserves his spot as an indie film darling. It’s such a thrilling, disgusting, captivating scene to watch that it almost doesn’t matter if the sex actually happened or was a vivid mirage. —CZ

24. “Team America: World Police” (2004)

Team America: World police sex scene

“Team America: World Police”

The most (in)famous moment in “South Park” creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s second movie is also the funniest. After professing their love for each other, two members of the eponymous counterterrorism force engage in the most graphic puppet sex you’ve ever seen — first with a quiet sensuality, and then with a level of kink that no live-action movie could hope to get past the MPAA. The scene is quite long, because it’s not as though Parker and Stone were going to restrain themselves when it came time to film their puppet-sex sequence, and increasingly hilarious as it goes on.

It’s also among the most over-the-top ridiculous set-pieces the two have ever devised — which is really, really saying something — as well as further proof of what they’re capable of when unbound by the restraints of television (and, for that matter, good taste). With so many sad and/or moving sequences to ponder on this list, revisit the uncut version of this one to remind yourself that sex scenes can be funny, too. —MN

23. “Shortbus” (2006)

SHORTBUS, Raphael Barker, Sook-Yin Lee, 2006, ©Think Film/courtesy Everett Collection


©Think Film/Courtesy Everett Collection

Despite what the Amazon Prime censors might think, “Shortbus” is more than just a depraved string of unsimulated sex scenes (though if that’s your thing, you won’t be disappointed). In his bold and beautiful second feature, the great John Cameron Mitchell followed up “Hedwig and The Angry Inch” with a provocative love letter to his post-9/11 New York. Following a compelling trio of lonely protagonists and the eccentric characters in their orbits, “Shortbus” is one of the funniest and most sincere portrayals of alternative sexualities ever made. That it’s wrapped in a surprisingly touching celebration of human connection that presaged our increasingly isolating world is just Mitchell’s boyish genius at work.

Though there are a wealth of sex scenes choose from — a dominatrix session ending with a splattering takedown of Jackson Pollack, a real-life orgy featuring Mitchell performing cunnilingus for the first (but perhaps not the last) time, and an anatomically impressive self-fellatio — the title of best sex scene in “Shortbus” must go to its most joyous and playful: The wildly creative threesome between partners “the Jamies” and their new lover Ceth (pronounced: Seth). From an intimate twist on the very hungry caterpillar to an oddly delightful rendition of the Star Spangled Banner sung into a butthole, this blessedly lengthy montage of a blossoming triad’s evolving configuration is an unmitigated pleasure. It’s funny, inventive, celebratory, and wholly unique. And it won’t be forgotten anytime soon. —JD

22. “Anomalisa” (2015)



The 21st century has given cinema two sex classic scenes involving puppet characters, but where “Team America” goes bombastically over-the-top, “Anomalisa” goes piercingly intimate. Charlie Kaufman’s characters are deeply insecure and imperfect in a way every human can relate to, which makes the sight of puppets performing oral sex on each other feel necessarily awkward, sweet, and, ultimately hopeful. You don’t expect the “Anomalisa” sex scene to move you the way it does, but that’s what happens when you have two damaged souls finally realizing they have a chance at deep human connection. —ZS

21. “Black Swan” (2010)

BLACK SWAN, from left: Mila Kunis, Natalie Portman, 2010, TM and copyright ©Fox Searchlight Pictures. All rights reserved./Courtesy Everett Collection

“Black Swan”

©Fox Searchlight/Courtesy Everett Collection

“Black Swan” is in many ways a male director’s fantasy of what it means to drive a woman, or an actress, insane, a “Repulsion” revamp that makes a definitive and horrifyingly beautiful stamp on the genre. The film’s trashiest apex finds virginal ballerina Nina (Natalie Portman) finally under the MDMA-induced sway of Lily (Mila Kunis) at a nightclub, and the pair wend their way woozily back to Nina’s Upper East Side apartment, which she shares with her equally mentally unstable and domineering mother (a fabulously off-kilter Barbara Hershey). But is this a hallucination, and is Nina actually just fucking herself? Lily goes down on her, revealing an anthropomorphic, wing-like tattoo that takes on a creepy, undulating power as Nina breaks the wall down to her own sexuality.

The whole point of the movie is really that she needs to tear down her sexual barriers (partly courtesy of her ballet instructor played by Vincent Cassell) to realize who she is. This scene is wild, but in the harrowing light of the hungover next day, she’s only alone with herself, and was it all a dream? It’s exacerbated by Clint Mansell’s menacing score and Darren Aronofsky’s typically perverse eye. —RL

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