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The Playlist Bares All: 20 Unforgettable Nude Scenes

by The Playlist Staff
April 12, 2013 10:51 AM
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Sure, "Shame," Steve McQueen's drama about a man battling his sex addiction problem in modern-day New York, was always going to be a tricky thing to get past the notoriously persnickety MPAA. But looking back on it, did the movie really deserve its NC-17? Especially given the amount of frank sexual content and (what's worse) violence that's on basic cable these days? The answer, most assuredly, is no. But if one moment secured the potentially lethal rating for the movie, it's the opening shots of the film, which feature star Michael Fassbender walking around his cramped Manhattan apartment completely in the buff. Most reported this like it was a sideshow attraction (you get to see him pee!) but it’s the offhand way that McQueen treats the nudity that makes it so powerful, something he does again when he introduces Carey Mulligan in a similarly starkers fashion. It's just parts, y'all.

Julie Christie in “Don’t Look Now”
“Don’t Look Now”
One of the reasons the "Don't Look Now" sex scene has endured for so many years, despite the film's place in relative obscurity (besides it being immaculately put together and often admired to the point of imitation), is that rumors have persisted that the scene wasn't, er, simulated, and that Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland were actually getting busy on set. It's easy to see where these rumors came from (even if they seem largely implausible) as there's a lot of full-length shots in here, which give it even more power. During most sex scenes, only specific body parts are highlighted (a right butt cheek, let's say, or a left breast, an arched back, whatever), which is hardly how it works in actual sex. But here director Nicolas Roeg showed off both of his actors completely, making this a sex scene that is also a bona-fide nude scene. Weird that this is the exception and not the rule.

Heather Graham in “Boogie Nights”
“Boogie Nights”
Nudity in movies can express a lot of things, and one of them is unpredictability. In Paul Thomas Anderson's "Boogie Nights," an Altman-esque epic set in the San Fernando Valley during porn's pre-VHS 1970s heyday, an early nude scene acts like an exclamation point, popping up at a moment when you're absolutely not expecting a flash of full-frontal female nudity (even if it is a movie about porn stars). The scene occurs when porn impresario Burt Reynolds brings home young busboy Mark Wahlberg and introduces him to one of his stars, played by Heather Graham, who quickly whips off her onesie, exposing her nubile frame and jolting an audience that, up until this point, had been exclusively dazzled by the brisk characterization and virtuoso camerawork. Graham, for her part, is effervescent and charming and goddamn flawless as the girl next door gone to the dark side.

Michelle Williams and Sarah Silverman in “Take This Waltz”
“Take This Waltz”
Sarah Polley's second film, "Take This Waltz," is equal parts brilliant and frustrating, a look at how the comfortableness of a steady relationship can curdle into something much uglier. And while there is one sequence that certainly has an amount of kicky sexuality (an amazing sexual montage set just as our main character enters a new relationship), the other nude scene is so plain that it almost feels like commentary on the nude scene itself. Even though everyone is naked, it's the anti-nude scene. It involves Michelle Williams, Sarah Silverman and Jennifer Podemski, all in a locker room shower, talking about bathing. They're all completely naked, but the scene has the matter-of-factness of an Aaron Sorkin walk-and-talk sequence: it's all about the dialogue, the three women just happen to be naked. And nobody looks like a movie star, with Polley's camera capturing the women in a wide master, looking natural and real.

Jason Segel in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”
"Forgetting Sarah Marshall”
Nudity can provoke, titillate or disarm, but it can also be used as a punchline. This is exactly what writer/star Jason Segel and director Nicholas Stoller had in mind for the sequence where Segel, trying to inject a little daylight fun into his relationship with hottie television personality Kristen Bell, instead ends up being dumped, but still refuses to put on clothes. The sequence starts off goofy, but somewhat relatable, and ends up kind of melancholic and sad, yet still awkward and relatable -- in hindsight it's kind of miraculous. And Segel is a real trooper. It takes a lot for anyone to let their junk hang out onscreen -- it's another thing altogether to do that and actually encourage people to laugh at you/it.

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  • James | April 15, 2014 12:01 PMReply

    Phoebe Cates nude is the only reason to see that movie. So don't waste the effort wondering about anything else and just fast forward to that scene and don't bother watching the rest!

  • David B | January 14, 2014 1:12 AMReply

    I have to second the comment on how could you have not even mentioned "The Shining", although it was Room 237. That scene owned it own generation of film-goers.

    And the shy Anne Hathaway in "Love and Other Drugs" is another inexplicable omission on your part.

  • | July 1, 2013 12:23 AMReply

    9 Songs (if you do a NC-17 list)

  • Alex | June 30, 2013 6:13 PMReply

    How has no one mentioned the naked dancing scene in The Master?

  • alan | June 30, 2013 4:18 PMReply

    Start working at home with Google! This is certainly the nicest-work I have ever done . Last Monday I got a new Alfa Romeo from bringing in $7778. I started this 9 months ago and practically straight away started making more than $83 per hour. I work through this link,

  • Butch | June 10, 2013 7:59 PMReply

    As long as there is no tobacco drug use in the film.

  • Erik | May 18, 2013 8:56 AMReply

    Corinne Bohrer in the obscure "Dead Solid Perfect" deserves a mention; beautiful woman, funny, sexy scene.

  • buddysouth | April 14, 2013 1:13 PMReply

    On what planet does The Dreamers, as depressing an example as any of Bertolucci's declined skills, deserve a cult following other than among people who like to look at people naked? It's a coming-of-age story fantasized by people who are depressed that they never had a coming-of-age story like that *because no one has ever had a coming-of-age story like that.* The Hangover is more realistic than The Dreamers, and better made.

    Oh, and if you meant Salo was awful in the sense that awful things happen in it and it is difficult to watch, I agree. If you meant awful in terms of quality, I can only assume you are the sort of person who thinks The Dreamers is a meaningful coming-of-age story.

  • Mr. Wu | April 14, 2013 8:16 PM

    I got in so much trouble here at our local art museum's recent classic Italian cinema film series when I had the nerve to describe to the head programmer and other assorted hangers-on that Bernardo Burtolucci is "a dirty old man."

  • Meredith | April 13, 2013 11:24 AMReply

    You mention Harvey Keitel but you don't mention The Piano?! Shame on you!

  • MDL | April 16, 2013 4:35 PM

    Speaking of Keitel he did three movies in the early 90's where he showed up naked and crying. The Piano and Bad Lieutenant and Ulysses' Gaze. It got to be both distracting and funny.

  • Jo | April 13, 2013 5:54 AMReply

    Love your 'people's puritanical streak towards Kristen Stewart' comment. So true. People make such a drama out of EVERYTHING she does. It's not just nude scenes. If she walks down the street you have comment sections evaluating it every aspect of it, a furore breaks out over how she walks, is she smiling, does her hair look pretty, why isn't she dressed like a movie star instead of jeans/tshirt. Yes, walking down the street creates a great debate these days!

  • jimbo | April 12, 2013 7:39 PMReply

    Needless spoiler about The Crying Game. Shame on you.

  • potion lords | April 12, 2013 5:31 PMReply

    Battle In Heaven

  • Breezy | April 12, 2013 3:35 PMReply

    How is Ewan McGregor, King of the Nude Scene, not on this list? "Trainspotting" should at least get an honorable mention.

  • sharon | April 12, 2013 2:15 PMReply

    Nicole Kidman in Eyes Wide Shut.

  • FUCK YOU FINNIGAN | April 12, 2013 2:08 PMReply

    Wow. Playlist editing nearly every comment now, eh?

    So what's the point of even having the fucking things?

    Why not just get rid of them altogether?

    Not like any actual conversation takes place in this dank shit-box anyhow.

  • dubier | April 12, 2013 1:53 PMReply

    Graham Chapman opening up the window to the huge crowd of worshipers in Life of Brian.

  • Toomb | April 12, 2013 12:33 PMReply

    Oops, sorry, no intention of triple posting... Please trim a few of those off! Dang iphone...

  • Toomb | April 12, 2013 12:30 PMReply

    The Shining. When Jack goes into room 213 and the naked woman is in there. I was a kid when I saw it, and it titilated at first, until I realized why the woman was naked... And then she changed to her present "state"... That scene has disturbed me for decades.

    As far as "hot" scenes go, you've GOT to mention Natalie Portman in Closer or the opening scene of Darjeeling Limkted... Since you already covered Eva Green, who is hands down the most beautiful woman on film right now.

    There, done objectifying

  • d | April 12, 2013 12:24 PMReply

    In which The Playlist becomes WhatCulture.

  • Liam | April 12, 2013 12:04 PMReply

    No French movies, WTF? They are the best at this, just watch Rust & Bone for a recent example.
    Also what about Tony Scott's The Hunger, Catherine Deneuve + Suzanne Sarandon wow!

  • caro | April 12, 2013 11:52 AMReply

    is it not a E.W article before?

  • Ptrshr | April 12, 2013 11:26 AMReply


  • Meredith | April 13, 2013 11:23 AM

    I was thinking this one!!

  • John K. | April 12, 2013 11:24 AMReply

    Hello. Just One of the Guys!

  • BEF | April 12, 2013 11:45 AM

    Here, here!

  • Pussy | April 12, 2013 11:14 AMReply

    The Playlist have officially turned into Deadline. They actually changed my comment saying how terrible this article is. You guys are desperate.

  • gert | April 12, 2013 11:09 AMReply

    I would have put Bronson on the list. Nude Tom Hardy.

  • frank | April 12, 2013 11:01 AMReply

    I rolled my eyes, but then started reading. Funny.

  • Vagina | April 12, 2013 10:58 AMReply

    What an incredibly article.

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