The cinema can be a magical place with mysterious properties. We’re mere observers, yet we’re able to share in the heroics, bask in the glory, and suffer the defeats. They effect us, and often set the mood for what is to follow. Some films stir the spirit and challenge the mind, while others just seem to leave moviegoers racing to the bedroom. What makes these scenes work so well – and why do we love them?
1. Out of Sight (1998)
A lot of ingredients go into making a successful and memorable sex scene, not the least of which are its co-stars. You can set the best possible mood through lighting and music, but if the chemistry isn’t popping between the on-screen lovers (and their voyeuristic audience) then it’s a wrap. That wasn’t a problem between George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez in this crime caper. The slow build to their inevitable embrace was intensified by her sworn duty as a US Marshall to bring in the charming escaped con. The scene taps that age-old desire for a bad boy. It also represents breaking away from the structure of the life you have and into something fresh, even unconventional. That’s wicked hot for some of us. And after all, how often do you get to hear the woman say “Let’s get out of here.”
2. Unfaithful (2002)
Here director Adrian Lyne created a memorable smoke-filled scene as Diane Lane was seduced by much younger Oliver Martinez. If only she hadn’t gone back for that coat… Their initial hook-up was hot, but the noteworthy scene comes later when they run the risk of being caught en flagrante delicto – which, let’s face it, can be a turn-on. The forbidden fruit is the most flavorful. Upon calling what they shared a mistake, he says “There is no such thing as a mistake – there are things you do, and things you don’t do.” It didn’t hurt that both actors looked drop dead gorgeous and have the acting chops to carry the story.
3. Love and Other Drugs (2010)
Some films are so steeped in sex that individual scenes are not so remembered as the overall passionate affair. Love And Other Drugs certainly fit that bill, reverting from one variation of nudity to another – all involving stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway. There was something honest and vulnerable about seeing a relationship evolve without the aid of clothing. About the experience, Jake told David Letterman at the time, “I’ve had a pretty illustrious career at this point, but the hardest thing has been pretending to be turned on by Anne Hathaway. And I pride myself on really having pulled it off.”
4. Say Anything (1998)
Other titles manage to make an impression with a minimal but memorable scene. While John Cusack’s romantic side is best visualized with a boombox serenade on Ione Skye’s lawn, his passionate side was clear in the fogged-up backseat of a car. No wonder so many could relate to it. That relatively quick interlude gave lots of viewers ideas for the car ride home. As he shivers in her arms, she asks why he’s shaking. “I don’t know,” he softly replies. “I think I’m happy.”
5. The Fabulous Baker Boys (1989)
Michelle Pfeiffer causes trouble between brothers Jeff Bridges and Beau Bridges, who play middle-aged lounge pianists. Their stale routine is livened up with her addition as singer Suzie Diamond, but the escalating sexual tension threatens to end the trio. It culminates in a private piano lesson in an empty ballroom while older brother Beau is away. The scene immediately follows the film’s most memorable, Pfeiffer’s sexy rendition of Makin’ Whoopi atop the piano. Jeff’s skills quickly shift from tickling ivories to massaging her neck. As she says, “You got great hands, Baker.”
Like actual sex, a love scene can rise or fall under a variety of circumstance. When it works on screen, we remember the experience almost as though it were our own. When it fails, we do our best to scrub it from the memory banks. Those iconic scenes emblazoned in so many minds/trousers can often tell us a little something about our own secret desires. Our minds, hearts and bodies will sometimes tell us what they need, even if it clashes with what we are prepared to provide. Sex, whether in cinema or everyday life, has the potential to be life-affirming good, or soul-crushing bad. When we see it- ahem- come together on the big screen, we can’t help but cling to that instance, wishing it always played so well.
Will King is a television and media critic who splits his time as a stand up comic. He collects conspiracy theories and claims to have invented Teflon. In his spare time he follows presidential politics and all traffic signs. He lives in Charlotte, NC.
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