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The 25 Best Sex Scenes of the Last 25 Years (NSFW)

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Maybe it’s Valentine’s Day. Maybe it’s the recent release of the kinky romance Fifty Shades Darker. Or maybe, if we’re being totally honest, it’s just something that’s always on our minds. Whatever the reason, the staff at ScreenCrush is obsessed with sex this week. So in the tradition of our lists on the best comedies, superheroes, sci-fihorror, and romances of the past quarter century, let’s rank the 25 best sex scenes of the last 25 years.

Our panel of experts (film nerds have sex too guys, please don’t laugh at us) created a massive shortlist of potential contenders released from 1993 to just last week, and then voted on their favorites. Another round of voting (and then a fair amount of arguing and name-calling) brought the list down to the 25 choices you are about to read about and watch (and, yes, where possible we found the original clips, so be aware that most of the videos below are NSFW and viewer discretion is strongly advised).

Determining what made something one of the “best” sex scenes was a process. Weighing the relative sexiness of a scene seemed too subjective; what’s erotic to one person may seem totally laughable to another. (Just ask my wife any time I ask her to recite Mary Jane’s speech from the end of Spider-Man 3. Or better yet, please don’t.) Instead, we decided that for our purposes the “best” sex scenes were the ones that were the most memorable for any of a variety of reasons. They could be shockingly graphic or hysterically funny or boundary breaking in some way. Or in some cases, they were just really freaking hot.

It’s very easy to ruin sex by overthinking it. We don’t want to make the same mistake here. So let’s get to our picks. After we show you ours, you show us yours; leave us a comment below and tell us what we missed.

The 25 Best Sex Scenes of the Last 25 Years

25. Out of Sight (1998)
Directed by Steven Soderbergh

Time keeps jumping around in Steven Soderbergh’s Out of Sight; it’s jittery like a crook on the lam. Even the movie’s famous sex scene is jumbled out of order. While George Clooney’s crook and Jennifer Lopez’s federal marshal flirt in a bar, they also undress each other back in their hotel room later. Their bar banter is mostly posed as a series of what-ifs; it’s not until they both agree to make good on their mutual attraction that Soderbergh dispenses with the chronological distortions and focuses entirely on the couple’s bedroom activities. The scene was heavily inspired by a similar sequence in Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now, which intercut a couple’s lovemaking with its aftermath. Soderbergh’s twist was to mix the buildup with the payoff, until the anticipation is almost unbearable, as it most certainly would be for a guy who’d been in jail for a while — Matt Singer

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24. Stranger By the Lake (2013)
Directed by Alain Guiraudie

In Alain Guiraudie’s Stranger By the Lake, a slow-burn Hitchcockian thriller set at a gay cruising spot, the sex scenes aren’t just there to titillate; they’re essential to the narrative. When Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps) and Michel (Christophe Paou) first have sex, one of the most explicit scenes between two men in film, they voraciously consume one another for three whole minutes. It’s passionate and sexy, but Franck’s desire is also laced with a thirst for danger. That scene and others make Stranger By the Lake one of the best explorations of the self-destructive and hypnotic power of sex. — Erin Whitney

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23. Showgirls (1995)
Directed by Paul Verhoeven

If Paul Verhoeven’s Showgirls is a fantasy — success fantasy, Las Vegas fantasy, stripper fantasy — then the pool sex scene is its most fantastical element. Elizabeth Berkley’s lovemaking as Nomi is just like her dancing: She drives herself into a frenzy, thrashing about in ecstasy like a panicked fish as she gives dance club director Zack (Kyle MacLachlan) the kind of night not even he, or anyone else, could imagine. All he can do is hold on and wonder if he’s actually getting the soul sucked from his body. It’s wildly unrealistic, sort of hilarious and … kind of amazing? — Emma Stefansky

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22. Deadpool (2016)
Directed by Tim Miller

Hollywood blockbusters have dedicated so much screen time developing the perfect universal love story, but as it turns out, all they needed was an R-rated montage and a series of second-rate holidays. What makes Deadpool’s sex montage so great isn’t just the plastic vampire teeth or the Lent gag; it’s the fact that Deadpool is able to escalate its characters’ emotional connection almost entirely through a 1960s pop song and a variety of sexual positions. For the vast majority of couples who develop intimacy through sexual compatibility — not the other way around — Deadpool is the perfect contemporary love story, superhero or not. — Matthew Monagle

(Note: The original version of the scene was not in French. Obviously.)

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21. Mr. and Mrs. Smith (2005)
Directed by Doug Liman

Even when they didn’t know they were both assassins working for rival companies (uh, spoiler alert), the lives of John (Brad Pitt) and Jane Smith (Angelina Jolie) were all about competition. So when they each think that the other was just using their marriage as a cover, their conflict is less about survival, and more about the challenge of winning. At the conclusion of a shootout in which they practically destroy their suburban McMansion, when the shooting and knife throwing turns into something quite different, you can hardly tell the fighting from the sex, as even in the throes of passion it’s a constant struggle to be the one on top. — ES

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20. Leaving Las Vegas (1995)
Directed by Mike Figgis

Nicolas Cage took home the Academy Award for Mike Figgis’ 1995 drama about a miserable alcoholic on a mission to drink himself to death in Sin City. He forges an unexpected bond with a street-smart sex worker (Elisabeth Shue), and the destructive romance that follows deals him a different sort of demise. The film’s emotional catharsis lands as the two engage in intense intercourse, after which Cage whispers “Wow” and promptly dies. He meets his end, but in the grips of amour instead of self-loathing, lending the conclusion a sweet counterpoint to the overall tragic tone. — Charles Bramesco

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19. MacGruber (2010)
Directed by Jorma Taccone

This adaptation of the popular Saturday Night Live sketch starring Will Forte satirizes all kinds of movie clichés. But for our purposes, we’re focusing on the sex scene between MacGruber (Forte) and his new paramour Vicki St. Elmo (Kristen Wiig), which is an ingenious spoof of impossibly gauzy Hollywood eroticism. To the sounds of Mr. Mister’s timeless classic “Broken Wings,” the couple begin to tease in a canopy bed, followed by a sudden, jarring cut to MacGruber’s frenetic thrusting and grunting. Most of the comedy in MacGruber stems from the disconnect between its title character’s delusional self-confidence and his actual incompetence, a contrast never clearer or funnier than right here. (For the full sensual experience, make sure you also watch MacGruber’s other sex scene, which takes place in a graveyard and involves a vigorous bout of lovemaking between the Grubes and his dead wife’s ghost. It is quite erotic.) — MS

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18. Blue Valentine (2010)
Directed by Derek Cianfrance

The Motion Picture Association of America initially slapped Derek Cianfrance’s portrait of a crumbling romance with an NC-17 rating, though Harvey Weinstein later appealed and got it lowered to an R. He fought hard to hold onto one scene in which Dean (Ryan Gosling) briefly performs oral sex on Cindy (Michelle Williams) while showering at a hotel, and he won by taking the progressive high ground. The scene wasn’t especially graphic, and so the production team contended that the rating could have only been a result of a sexist double standard that sees a woman’s pleasure as more obscene than a man’s. Everybody’s got the right to a little downtown action. — CB

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17. Crash (1996)
Directed by David Cronenberg

David Cronenberg’s adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s novel is more than an examination of sexual deviance, it’s a meditation on what it means to be damaged. The characters in Crash are compelled by wreckage and the desire to see their subjective inner selves fully realized in objective horror. Embellished with Cronenberg’s typical grotesqueries, Crash is filled with visceral moments of eroticism, including a scene in which career sexual deviant James Spader penetrates a scar in the shape of a vagina running down the back of Rosanna Arquette’s thigh. At the center of Crash is the uncanny version of a married couple looking to spice things up: Spader’s James Ballard and his wife, Catherine (Deborah Kara Unger), whose increasingly dangerous fetishization of car crashes brings them closer together — ultimately resulting in a post-wreck moment of harrowing intimacy in which both realize that their desires may never be fully satisfied until they’re both dead. — Britt Hayes

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16. Shame (2011)
Directed by Steve McQueen

During my first year in New York City, I decided to celebrate Michael Fassbender Christmas, otherwise known as a double feature of Shame and A Dangerous Method at the local art house theater. Shame isn’t exactly the best movie to put you in the holiday spirit, but its unflinching look at sex addiction  and the way some people use sexual conquest as a barometer for self-worth  locates the film as a modern successor to Leaving Las Vegas, a story of how some people come to equate their addictions with virtues. A fearless performance by an emerging Fassbender, including the attempted seduction scene in a bar  or the remarkable subsequent scene set in a sex club, only accentuates the bitter eroticism the film has to offer. — MM

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15. Nymphomaniac (2013)
Directed by Lars von Trier

In one of the sordid tales from her sexual past that the reckless Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) relates to an attentive professor, she seeks a test of her own limits. She figures it’d be good fun to invite a dude to a hotel for a workout crossing the language barrier, but he brings his brother along to join the fun. The ensuing threesome grows tense, awkward, and hilarious as they bicker over who takes which hole. The shot of Joe sitting bored on the bed, framed by the arguing men’s bobbing erections, is the closest Lars von Trier will ever come to directing a Judd Apatow movie. — CB

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14. A History of Violence (2005)
Directed by David Cronenberg

When Tom (Viggo Mortensen) grabs his wife Edie (Maria Bello) and pulls her down the stairs in David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence, the scene appears to be the start of a rape. But Edie engages, slapping and kicking Tom before she kisses him angrily. Their sex is messy and turbulent as their bodies slide down the staircase; the act becomes a vessel for rage and punishment, with Edie striking back at Tom for his betrayal, and Tom punishing himself for his past. That moment could’ve easily been written as a verbal fight scene, but Cronenberg shows how sex can be one of the most powerful ways we express and project emotions onto one another, even when they come from a place of pain. — EW

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13. Secretary (2002)
Directed by Steven Shainberg

What makes Secretary so special is the same thing that Fifty Shades of Grey dangerously lacks: a distinctly positive approach to sex. Steven Shainberg’s kooky rom-com is a campy yet entirely relatable take on romance through the lens of a dominant/submissive relationship. Maggie Gyllenhaal’s mousy Lee and James Spader’s deviant lawyer (the OG Mr. Grey), both desire control above all else — Grey through sexual domination and Lee through self-harm. What follows is a series of cathartically kinky hijinks (including saddles and paddles and various humiliations) that allow them to reconcile their respective issues. It’s tempting to cite the moment when Grey ejaculates on Lee’s back (and its subtly heartbreaking implications) as “The Scene” in Secretary, but it’s surpassed by the tender intimacy of the film’s poignant climax, as Lee and Grey share a beautiful moment of mutual submission and, finally, make love. — BH

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12. Mulholland Dr. (2001)
Directed by David Lynch

At the heart of David Lynch’s enigmatic thriller is a love story that is, beneath its tender surface, utterly devastating. After discovering a dead body, Naomi Watts’ Betty and Laura Harring’s Rita (or is it Diane and Camilla?) engage in an act of lovemaking that is truly poignant and dreamily erotic. Lynch’s films are typically bizarre and Mulholland Dr. is no exception — but it’s that genuinely affectionate approach to the relationship between Betty and Rita that lends this particular film an unexpected element of surrealism. That pleasant moment of bliss becomes much more significant (and much less pleasant) once you realize it’s at the center of a heartbreaking daydream conjured up by Betty as a coping mechanism. Despite its true meaning in Lynch’s labyrinthine and cynical ode to Hollywood, it’s difficult not to be enamored with that one scene — a fleeting, joyful reprieve from a harsh reality. — BH

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11. Brokeback Mountain (2005)
Directed by Ang Lee

When I think about the Brokeback Mountain sex scene, what I remember most are the emotions. You could sing the film’s praises all day for its contributions to queer cinema, but what’s most notable is Ang Lee’s use of physical intimacy to capture the anxiety and difficulty of acknowledging one’s true sexuality. After Jack grabs Ennis’ hand, Ennis recoils in fear, then forcefully grabs Jack’s face and hesitates. Their body language is aggressive and hypermasculine, and later softens into something more protective and tender as they embrace their relationship. It’s a beautiful way of showing queer characters battling an inner tug-of-war of sexual identity. — EW

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10. The Duke of Burgundy (2014)
Directed by Peter Strickland

The lives of insects, in which the ringing chirp of a mole cricket is as straightforward an invitation for sex as you’re liable to find anywhere in the animal kingdom, are at odds with the complicated, exhausting S&M relationship Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen) and Evelyn (Chiara D’Anna) have cooked up together. While Evelyn finds joy in being degraded by her girlfriend, it’s clear that she’s the one calling the shots, dressing Cynthia up in dominatrix gear like a puppet on strings. The sex scenes, when they finally do happen, are soft, breathy and erotic — but it’s an eroticism tinged with the kind of anxiety present in relationships in which one person’s needs are vastly different from the other’s. — ES

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9. The Handmaiden (2016)
Directed by Park Chan-wook

Korean filmmaker Park Chan-wook took heat from film critics over the carnal centerpiece of his erotic thriller last year. Did we really need another depiction of lesbian sex from the perspective of a male director’s gaze? Hot take: yes. (Full disclosure: I am a man.) Park grounds the scene in a trembling wonderment for the female form from the perspective of the camera and characters alike. He emphasizes facial expressions of ecstasy, peaking with an indelible money shot from a genitals’-eye-view. Gratuitous? Well, yeah. But brilliant? Damn right. — CB

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8. Black Swan (2010)
Directed by Darren Aronofsky

The bedroom scene in Black Swan is equal parts erotic and unsettling. Nina’s obsession with fellow ballerina Lily is nearing its peak, and her subconscious starts to toy with her, playing out a dreamy sexual encounter that never really happens. As the scene pinballs between hot and scary, the heady combination of arousal and anxiety is what keeps you on the edge of your seat. They’re making out, Lily is kissing down her body, and — wait, are Lily’s wing tattoos moving? When Nina opens her eyes as she hears Lily breathe “Sweet girl,” it’s her own face looking back at her. — ES

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7. Boogie Nights (1997)
Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson

Picking just one best sex scene from Boogie Nights is like picking just one best Paul Thomas Anderson movie: It’s basically an impossible task that’s subject to change based on season, mood or time of day. On this day we’ll go with this brilliant scene, in which William H. Macy’s Little Bill finds his wife (played by real-life porn icon Nina Hartley) having sex with another man in the middle of a driveway while Elvin Bishop’s cheerful “Fooled Around and Fell in Love” mocks him on the soundtrack. As in most of Boogie Nights’ sex scenes, Anderson focuses his camera on the audience; the film is as much about how sex is consumed as it is performed. It also underscores how sex in this film can be casual and frivolous or massively consequential depending on the point-of-view. In the hilarious coda, an oblivious Kurt (Ricky Jay) tries to talk to Bill about an upcoming porn shoot, and Bill is so flustered he says “My f—ing wife has an ass in her cock in the driveway!” Macy accidentally transposed the two body parts, but Anderson loved the way it suggested Bill’s aggravated state, so he left it in the film. In this world, it might be better to fool around than fall in love. — MS

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6. Antichrist (2009)
Directed by Lars von Trier

If you’re like me, you watched the scene in Sleepy Hollow where the headless horseman jumped back into the tree and thought, “Hey, this scene would be a lot better if it also featured an explicitly sexual Willem Dafoe!” Sometimes it seems like Hollywood doesn’t put much stock in sexual activity as a source of pleasure; many films use their love scenes as a metaphor for grief, anger, or sadness, and Antichrist manages to work in all three in its story of two adults mourning the loss of their child. In keeping with its namesake, Antichrist chooses a darker road — sex as a weapon, sex as post-traumatic stress come to life — leading to a film that does not shy away from the unhealthy elements we sometimes bring to the table with our partners. — MM

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5. Y Tu Mama También (2001)
Directed by Alfonso Cuarón

Plenty of films try to recreate our fumbling first forays into sexual activity, but few films are as willing to blend explicit sexual content with awkward adolescence as Alfonso Cuarón’s Y Tu Mamá También. Both an exploration of the uncertainty of youth and a statement on the empowering nature of sex, Y Tu Mamá También blends overt eroticism with repressed sexuality, often  within the same scene. Despite the events of their final encounter, neither Julio (Gael Garcia Bernal) nor Tenoch (Diego Luna) would ever admit the profound impact it had on their lives; then again, not every life requires a thorough self-examination. Y Tu Mamá También suggests that, for some people, the Kinsey scale is something best left behind a locked bathroom door. — MM

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4. Carol (2015)
Directed by Todd Haynes

Todd Haynes’ drama of forbidden romance is all about what goes unsaid, constrained to glances and meaningful gestures. When innocent Therese (Rooney Mara) and knowing Carol (Cate Blanchett) stop for the night at a hotel, they dispense with words and let their bodies do the talking, expressing with touches what society won’t let them verbalize. But before they give in to a passionate yet delicate intimacy, Carol takes a moment to admire the bare body of her lover and breathlessly utters the phrase, “I never looked like that.” It’s a strikingly unguarded moment for the put-together woman, and it adds a faint tinge of melancholy to the sex that follows. Carol hopes to regain something lost by romantically investing herself in the younger Therese, but the sight of her body confronts Carol with the fact that there are some places to which you can’t return. — CB

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3. Titanic (1997)
Directed by James Cameron

There is no greater universal symbol for hot, steamy sex than a hand running down a foggy window. (Proof: I was in a car recently with another person and we did this at the same time to reference Titanic.) Somehow the Titanic sex scene manages to be romantic and sexy without all the signature things you’d expect from a sex scene. We don’t see any explicit nudity, there’s no thrusting, no moaning or heavy breathing. There’s a friggin’ flute playing, and flutes are inherently unsexy. And yet, the sweaty bodies of Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet in the back seat of a car is enough to do the job. Might I also remind you that after they have sex Jack isn’t all macho and cocky about sleeping with a beautiful woman from first-class? No, he’s trembling. Could you ask for anything sweeter? No, no you could not.  — EW

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2. Anomalisa (2015)
Directed by Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson

It must be hell for actors to play a sex scene. It certainly can’t be easy to make something clinical and precise (which limb goes where, what body part covers which naughty bit) look spontaneous and fun. So while it seems absurd on the surface that a sex scene between two puppets might actually be tender and moving, maybe it’s not; puppets can’t feel uncomfortable or embarrassed the way any living being surely would during this shockingly intimate scene from Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson’s Anomalisa. A depressed customer service guru (voiced by David Thewlis) meets and falls head over heels for a woman named Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh) during a business trip. After some drinks, they head back to his room for an experience that is as clumsy as it is passionate. It’s one of the most human sex scenes in movie history — even if the participants aren’t technically human. — MS

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1. Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
Directed by Stanley Kubrick

Stanley Kubrick artfully challenged narcissistic male sexuality when he sent Tom Cruise’s Dr. Bill Harford on a surreal odyssey through his own id. There is little sensuality in Eyes Wide Shut; most of the sex acts are vaguely unnerving, always lingering at Cruise’s fingertips but forever out of reach. The film’s most famous scene occurs after Bill’s wife (Nicole Kidman) confesses that she seriously considered having an affair years earlier, which sends the philandering doctor reeling into a near-laughable existential spiral — one that eventually leads him to infiltrate a secret society’s ritualistic orgy. After producing the password (“Fidelio”), Bill enters a mansion and wanders through a veritable sea of cloaks and masks and writhing nude bodies engaged in various sex acts; it feels more uncanny than erotic. Despite being famously digitally altered to secure an R-rating, it’s still the most iconic scene in Kubrick’s final film, provocative not by its graphic surface qualities, but for its unforgettable, interrogative nature. — BH

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Honorable Mentions (in Alphabetical Order): AtonementBlue Is the Warmest Color, The Cooler, The CounselorDemolition ManThe DreamersGoldenEyeHer, Love, Team America: World Police.

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