To be completely honest, I was a little uncomfortable about writing this list. It popped into my head one night on the drive home and seemed like a good idea, but what concerned me is that I didn’t want it to become a detailed exploration of actresses and their boobs.
It’s not that I’m some high-and-mighty guy, just that there are plenty of lists like that. I had to make this one a little different, so I set some ground rules. And as a result, it took me almost a month to write.
The first rule was that none of the scenes could be out-right gratuitous. Sure, most nudity is gratuitous. There’s no real reason to have nudity ever, really, in a movie. But if it is done well and incorporated into the story properly it works. It’s a natural part of the film and not some moment or scene that just sticks out as a “Hey, she’s showing her breasts!” kind of moment.
What I came up with could arguably stretch the boundaries of the rule a bit, but I’ll let you be the judge. I’d love to read what you think, so please comment away.
Anyway, the second was that the scenes could not be sexual in nature. Again, as you’ll find, I stretched this one a little too. But I wanted to stay away from sex scene nudity and focus primarily on just plain nudity. Again, sure, you could argue that all nakedness is sexual to some degree in films. Well, maybe not all, but most of it. Yet I tried to factor in moments that were not in and of themselves used within the context of the sexual act.
Now, without more rambling, my Top Ten Nude Scenes:
10. Jayne Mansfield — Promises, Promises (1963)
This was probably the newest revelation to me, but ironically is the oldest film on this list. Promises, Promises featured Jayne Mansfield in what is recognized as the first nude scene in a film by a major movie star. Although edited out in many areas when released, her soapy bath scene set a precedent that has carried on long after she shed the mortal coil. Many film stars — of both sexes — have since followed in her footsteps. And honestly, I felt because of that as well as the quality of her sudsy moment she deserved as least a spot on this list. Sadly, the film isn’t terribly good, and it’s probably fair to say that her tub scene is gratuitous. Still, historically I felt it had merit to be a part of this list.
9. Kevin Costner — Dances with Wolves (1990)
I’ve gotten some jeers for including this on the list, but at the end of the day, I couldn’t really find something better to swap it with. And I still think it’s a great moment and worth the notice. There is a scene in Dances with Wolves where Costner, who also directed the flick, has a confrontation with a Sioux. During that confrontation, he’s nude. There’s a capper at the end of the scene where we see only his hind quarters. He takes a few steps, scratches his ass, then passes out. Personally, I think it’s brilliantly funny. A great moment for the character, making him human in a most effective way. But mostly because it’s funny, and does a great flip to close out a good, tense scene.
8. Phoebe Cates — Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)
Gratuitous? Perhaps. But in the 26 years since its release to theaters it has undeniably become an iconic image of male fantasy. I can’t say that it ever really impressed me, but I felt compelled to put it on this list.
7. Joyce Hyser — Just one of the Guys (1985)
This one is something of a shocker, coming late in the film. When I first saw the flick, I was just a teenager. I just thought I was watching a silly movie. Then, to convince the guy she likes that she’s a chick — who throughout the movie has thought she was a dude — she shows him her defining female characteristics. It’s quick, simple, and it’s a film moment I’ve never forgotten. Yeah, bizarre, I know. But it made sense for the scene and within the context of the movie itself, which it why I think it works on a comedic level.
6. Mimi Rogers — Full Body Massage (1995)
This is probably the only mention on this list that isn’t just for a scene, but virtually an entire movie. And I put this here because it amazed me that Rogers was willing to be naked the entire film (or at least 90 percent of it). The film consists of her and co-star Bryan Brown having conversations while he gives her a… well, a full body massage. I can’t say it’s a great movie, but it is interesting. And undoubtedly a bold move on Rogers’ part. On that note alone, I really felt she deserved a place on this list.
5. Carla Gugino — Sin City (2005)
This is one actress I’ve respected f a while. I think she’s pretty, and I think she pulls off the tough girl with a brain act fairly well. And I honestly never thought she’d actually get naked in a movie. Then, without knowing it, I watched Sin City in all its glorious black and white and — BAM! There she was. I was quite shocked. But at the same time, it was effective. It communicated the character in a way that was immediate and definitive. Strong, sexual, unafraid. And with the black and white and hard-biting noir style of the film, it fit.
4. M.C. Gainey — Sideways (2004)
Now, I wasn’t really sure what to do with this one. I mean, it’s not exactly a scene I want to remember. But, the truth is, it is by far one of the funniest bits of onscreen nudity — ever. I thought Sideways was particularly funny regardless, but this part near the end was just hilarious. I was in tears, even though I had to look away. It was shocking in its hilarity, and I have to give kudos to M.C. Gainey for doing it.
3. Sharon Stone — Basic Instinct (1992)
Hands down, this is undoubtedly one of the single most famous nude scenes in any movie. The funny thing is it’s not even a very good one. Heck, when I saw it in theaters, I actually was so shocked at what happened I didn’t even know quite what I’d seen. I mean, I know what I saw, but it moves quickly and since I didn’t expect it I just kind of did a double take. In fact, I’m quite sure I wasn’t the only one, as I recall a shocked reaction pass through the audience. Everyone kind of stopped and just said — “was that what I thought it was?” I have little doubt the film did a lot of return business merely because people wanted to make sure they weren’t crazy. There was quite a lot of nudity in Basic Instinct — which really isn’t that great of a film — but this is the only bit of it that mattered. And really the only one most remember.
2. Jaye Davidson — The Crying Game (1992)
The reveal in The Crying Game was simply brilliantly done, hands down. So brilliant that when I originally saw the film in theaters, some people walked out. It completely shocked them. And that really shocked me, because I couldn’t understand why no one had picked up on the obvious — that she was a guy! Jaye Davidson made a convincing woman, yes, but not that convincing. I mean, sheesh. But people were shocked. Shocked so much that they up and walked out. This was a well guarded film secret at the time, back when it was possible to actually keep these kinds of things from leaking out, so most people didn’t know what to expect. But I think this film deserves credit for having one of the most effective moments of film nudity ever.
1. Halle Berry — Monster’s Ball (2001)
Berry has appeared nude in two films (well, three technically, but Introducing Dorothy Dandridge doesn’t really count). The first was Swordfish, and to be honest, that’s the one I initially picked. Again it was one of those shock moments, and Berry is stunning. But I felt that really wasn’t in line with what I was trying to do here. Picking that film would mean picking the one that’s the most erotic. In Monster’s Ball, Berry is more naked, and involved in a serious sex scene with Billy Bob Thornton. But what’s impactful to me about that scene is the rawness of the moment. She’s in pain, suffering from a loss, and she needs a release. It’s an explosion of emotion, unvarnished and rather un-Hollywood. So, to be honest, while they’re naked and having sex, I think director Marc Foster crafted a scene that was about so much more. And its a sex scene that doesn’t really distract the movie, but serves as one of its most effective emotional moments. Not only are the character naked physically, but emotionally as well.