What makes nudity gratuitous? We all know the simple answer: when it doesn't serve the plot or illuminate the characterization. But getting a consensus on whose ass crack does actually inform the story, and whose nipples are completely surplus to narrative requirements, is a much, um, slipperier issue.
So we're pretty sure you're going to level the g-word at some of our picks for the nude scenes that, like or loathe, we just can't forget. But if, as the EW article persuasively argues, the sex scene is basically migrating to the small screen (see “Game Of Thrones,” “Girls,” “Mad Men,” etc.), this list is also something of an exercise in nostalgia, as we fondly remember our own first bolt-upright-eyes-wide-was-that-just-a-shadow-or-something-else? big-screen moments.
And of course, not all nude scenes are about sex (we have a best/worst sex scene list here for that) -- in fact, many of the best and least potentially gratuitous of them are about vulnerability or powerlessness, sometimes subverted into statements about strength and empowerment. In the right context, nudity can and should be part of a storyteller's arsenal.
So here they are, the 20 instances of skin-baring, sometimes partial, sometimes total, that made a lasting impression on us. Read, comment, but remember, underneath just a thin layer of clothing, every single blessed one of us is butt naked. And, and obviously, this is NSFW.
Sharon Stone spends lots of time in the altogether in Paul Verhoeven's "Basic Instinct," but there's a single sequence for which she'll be forever remembered, and she's almost fully clothed. In the scene, a squadron of police officers (including Michael Douglas) is interrogating Stone about a murder, and as she uncrosses her legs, the camera lingers on her while she stares the gibbering policemen down, legs parted, "precious flower" on display. Many's the undergraduate thesis that's been written on the subversion of the male gaze that has had this image emblazoned across its front cover, but while of course that's true, and of course it's about Stone's Catherine Trammell asserting her mastery over the very people who would dominate her, we're pretty sure those are politics most hot-breathed teens didn't really pick up on. Then again, freeze framing a VHS was an inexact science that required a lot of concentration.
If nude scenes are supposed to (ideally) function like musical numbers – meant to forward the plot, add character development, or embellish the story thematically – then the sauna showdown from "Eastern Promises" is the "I Dreamed A Dream" of nude scenes. Viggo Mortensen's Russian thug is confronted at a bathhouse by a couple of assassins, and Viggo has nothing – literally nothing – to defend himself with. It's a phenomenal scene, simply one of the fleshiest ever committed to film, played wordlessly, with the only sounds being the slap of slick skin on hard marble, the thunk of sinew meeting sinew, and the grunts and moans of messy, effortful death. Mortensen’s fearless full-frontal lends the scene an amazingly visceral power that means it ranks among the very best of David Cronenberg’s body-fixated moments.
There's a reason why "Draw me like one of your French girls" has become an Internet meme – the moment in "Titanic" when Rose (Kate Winslet) disrobes so that her ragamuffin lover Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) can sketch her is one of the most memorable in the entire movie. It combines director James Cameron's rather juvenile view of sexuality with a kind of daft teen-girl romanticism, creating a sequence that, despite boobies, fits seamlessly into a PG-13 rated movie (with the MPAA, sweetness, no matter how saccharine, slides). Of course there is a purpose to this and their subsequent steamy-windowed consummation: it is basically the very definition of the calm before the storm. And Winslet herself received the ultimate accolade for our weird times: in the meme, she’s replaced by a variety of animals lying down in a similar fashion. At one point a hamster. Oh, the Internet.