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The Best Sex Scenes of the 21st Century Ranked, From ‘Y Tu Mamá También’ to ‘Call Me by Your Name’

You'll want to have a peach handy for this one.

Best Sex Scenes

10. “Swimming Pool” (2003)

Swimming Pool

“Swimming Pool”

The hallucinatory imagery of François Ozon’s film looks and feels like an erotic dream, but what makes it so sexy is the line is often blurred between what is a secret desire and open lust. It’s a dynamic that becomes incredibly charged in the relationship between a middle-aged British author (Charlotte Rampling) and a sexually liberated French teen (Ludivine Sagnier). In this scene the camera explores the young woman’s glistening sun-bathing body almost as if gently stroking her. When we see the shadow of Rampling standing over her, Ozon breaks continuity and enters a dream like state where the Sagnier is touching herself. Eyes closed as she masturbates, the sound makes it seem like it is almost shared experience, but it remains intensely private and voyeuristic. —Chris O’Falt

9. “Tigerland” (2000)

Tigerland

“Tigerland”

You’d be forgiven for never having watched (or even heard of) Joel Schumacher’s “Tigerland,” an early digital feature about a ragtag group of draftees waiting to go die in Vietnam; very few people saw the movie, but every one of them wanted to cast Colin Farrell in whatever they made next. Farrell plays Roland Bozz, a rebellious young soldier who specializes in helping guys wiggle out of the war, and we learn all about his fun-loving philosophy in a memorable early scene that forever redefines the term “grunt.” Farrell and the most tight-assed member of his unit (Matthew Davis) sneak out to a strip club, where they run into two incredibly thirsty young ladies (Arian Ash and Haven Gaston). Roland announces he’s rented a hotel room where they’re all going to “fuck until the war’s over.” They don’t last quite that long, but the four actors do manage to engage in the sweatiest sex scene of the 21st century (and one of the loudest, to boot), Matthew Libatique’s DV cinematography infusing an intimacy to a scene that’s almost too seedy for its own good. Schumacher cuts things short, but all that humping makes it clear that there are better things to do in this life than get killed for nothing. —David Ehrlich

8. “Moonlight” (2016)

Jharrel Jerome and Ashton Sanders in "Moonlight"

“Moonlight”

Photo by David Bornfriend, courtesy of A24

Barry Jenkins’ Oscar-winning “Moonlight” follows the protagonist Chiron through all of the moments that define his coming-of-age, none more sensual or thrillingly intimate as a hand job that occurs late one evening on a beach. Chiron is a teenager at the time who is experiencing his first sexual encounter. Jenkins directs the moment by heightening the sounds of the ocean and the wind and showing images of clenching hands. He shoots the two bodies from behind, Chiron’s head resting on Kevin’s shoulder. The scene represents more of a climax of bliss than a climax of passion. It’s a delicate moment of serene peace for Chiron and perhaps the first moment where he’s allowed to truly lose himself in his own skin. For one fleeting moment, Chiron’s troubles fade away like the ocean receding from the beach. —ZS

7. “The Dreamers” (2003)

The Dreamers

“The Dreamers”

The first of many sex scenes in Bernardo Bertolucci’s “The Dreamers” is, uh…well, it’s a bloody mess. Let’s start with Matthew (Michael Pitt). After weeks of palling around with a pair of vaguely incestuous French twins (Eva Green and Louis Garrel as Isabelle and Théo), the three kids hiding from the turmoil of the 1968 Paris student riots by staying cooped up inside the siblings’ apartments and playing all sorts of cinephile sex games, he and Isabelle finally break the fourth wall and deflower each other. Théo doesn’t miss a moment of the action — on the contrary, he orchestrates the entire tryst, standing over his sister and her suitor as they writhe on top of each other on the kitchen floor. The further they go into each other the further they distance themselves from the outside world, and that can only end in a very rude awakening. But, for the first time since they initially discovered the movies, these crazy kids aren’t living their lives through a screen. —DE

6. “Mulholland Drive” (2001)

“I’m in love with you.” David Lynch’s masterpiece veers between the horrific and the surreal from one scene to the next, but very rarely is it genuinely touching. Here, in Betty and Rita’s long-awaited love scene, it’s that and more — we finally see all the ways in which they not only desire one another but, on some cellular level that they’ll never fully understand, can’t exist without each other. Naomi Watts and Laura Elena Harring are tasked with a lot in the scene, conveying steamy passion and soul-baring longing all at once; that there isn’t a stitch of clothing between the two of them only makes the balancing act more impressive (and, yes, painfully sexy). It’s a tender reprieve from the waking dream they find themselves navigating, together at first but then separately, and one that neither will enjoy waking from. —MN

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