François Truffaut once argued that it's impossible to make an antiwar movie, because war invariably looks exciting onscreen. Would that the same could be said of all subjects. For example, movies can make sex itself look like the least erotic act imaginable, as these examples show. (Note: The hotness rating of each scene is on a scale of 1, the cinematic equivalent of a cold shower, to 5, which may contain trace elements of erotica.)
Film: The Ice Storm (1997)
Participants: Jamey Sheridan, Joan Allen
Scene: Scraping the bottom of the bowl at a '70s "key party," where swingers swap partners for the evening, neighbors Sheridan and Allen try to salve the pain of cuckoldry with an awkward quickie on the bucket seats of Sheridan's car. After five seconds of groping to rival even the most fumbling adolescent, Sheridan jumps the proverbial gun. Meanwhile, his misery is about to be magnified a hundredfold.
Least erotic element: As Sheridan makes his first move toward the passenger seat, he accidentally sounds the car horn, presaging the ineptitude to come.
Symbolic value: Unsatisfying sexual dalliances are just one of the moral consequences visited upon permissive parents in 1973 suburban Connecticut.
Hotness rating: 1. Sheridan, shaking his head in shame, sums it up: "That was awful, really awful. I'm so sorry."
Film: Blood Work (2002)
Participants: Clint Eastwood, Wanda De Jesús
Scene: After a heart transplant saves the life of a retired homicide detective (Eastwood), he investigates the murder of the woman whose heart he received, at the behest of her grieving sister (De Jesús). Amid a robotic, paint-by-numbers investigation, Eastwood enjoys a rare peaceful moment in front of a mirror, examining his aged body and his massive transplant scar. De Jesús enters unexpectedly, and, after assuring him that his repulsive scar is not repulsive, she initiates robotic, paint-by-numbers intercourse.
Least erotic element: The attempt to eroticize Eastwood's scars is only slightly less disturbing than the attempt to eroticize the rest of his raddled body.
Symbolic value: In addition to consummating the unlikely bond between Eastwood and De Jesús' characters, the scene reminds the world that directing and starring in a movie is a great way for a 72-year-old man to end up naked in bed with a woman 30 years younger and 30 times more attractive than he is.
Hotness rating: 1. Even Woody Allen and Julia Roberts in Everyone Says I Love You were a more appealing couple than this.
Film: 8 Mile (2002)
Participants: Eminem, Brittany Murphy
Scene: All it takes for Eminem to bed (or, in this case, stack of metal) Murphy is an awkward request for a date, which she parlays into some immediate workplace action: Looking for all the world like a crack whore, Murphy soaks her palm in her own saliva and heads down south. A moment of mostly silent sex—broken up by clanking factory noises—ends with Eminem, in a rare moment of vulnerability, gasping "Oh, God." His savage beast isn't soothed for long, though: After two seconds of postcoital bliss, he's already shouting, "Your friends don't even know me!"
Least erotic element: Murphy's back-of-her-head eye-roll.
Symbolic value: Quickie sex is like instant success in the rap game—good, but not as good as, ahem, longevity.
Hotness rating: 3. Murphy might make a more attractive sexual partner if she didn't look high, filthy, and professional.
Film: Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992)
Participants: Sheryl Lee, James Marshall
Scene: Wearing only a towel, Lee meets her secret boyfriend Marshall in an out-of-the-way corner of Twin Peaks High, where she chides him: "Quit tryin' to hold on so tight. I'm gone, long gone. Like a turkey in the corn." "You're not a turkey." he counters. "A turkey's one of the dumbest birds on earth." After a pause, Lee responds, "Gobble… gobble, gobble." They then engage in tearful above-the-waist petting.
Least erotic element: The dialogue. David Lynch shoots his actors as if he's just discovered the most beautiful people he's ever seen. Once bird sounds come into play, however, the mood is shot.
Symbolic value: Lynch uses furtive sex in a public place to represent Lee's vulnerability even in what ought to be a protective environment. Also, turkeys equal stupidity.
Hotness rating: 5. With the sound off, the scene wouldn't warrant consideration for this feature.
Film: Your Friends & Neighbors (1998)
Participants: Catherine Keener, Ben Stiller
Scene: Neil LaBute's extended treatise on the joylessness of sex explodes with rampant non-sexiness as a sweaty Ben Stiller mechanically pummels girlfriend Catherine Keener from behind while providing a running commentary on his doubtable sexual prowess. ("Oh, yeah." "Absolutely." "That's it. That's the one.") Stiller's sexual self-delusion reaches an apex when he tells Keener, "You and I are in complete harmony." When Keener—who looks like she'd rather be having a root canal—responds with "Is there any chance you are going to shut the fuck up?," she speaks for the entire audience.
Least erotic element: A tossup between Stiller's inane sex talk and Keener's epic aggravation.
Symbolic value: In spite of Stiller's statement to the contrary, he and Keener are not in complete harmony—mainly because, as their sex reflects, they despise each other.
Hotness rating: 1. In LaBute's world, hell is other people, and sex seems to emanate from somewhere deep within hell's ninth circle.
Film: The Life Of David Gale (2003)
Participants: Kevin Spacey, Laura Linney
Scene: Though Spacey is on death row for the rape and murder of fellow anti-death-penalty activist Laura Linney, flashbacks reveal that their sexual encounter was consensual. Still, even rape could only barely be more depressing. Suffering from leukemia, Linney agrees to sleep with Spacey (for stupid reasons that are revealed later), but lies corpse-like, weeping uncontrollably.
Least erotic element: The only thing less erotic than a woman sobbing convulsively during sex is the man who keeps dutifully thrusting.
Symbolic value: As devoted martyrs for the cause, Spacey and Linney reflect the seriousness of their intent by making their interaction as mirthless as possible.
Hotness rating: 2. Linney is one of Hollywood's most beautiful actresses, but her tears are like a splash of Arctic water.
Film: The Cooler (2003)
Participants: William H. Macy, Maria Bello
Scene: Macy, a weary, defeated professional Las Vegas bad-luck charm, is surprised when his love interest (Bello) reciprocates his interest. He's even more surprised when she gets him alone, then drops her pants to reveal her tattooed and be-thonged ass, which she waggles in his face and then plops onto his lap. Approximately 60 seconds of awkward, needy groping and thrusting later, Macy collapses orgasmically next to Bello, who looks like she's contemplating what color to paint her nails next.
Least erotic element: As the scene ends, the camera pans down to Macy's pasty-white naked crotch, obscured only by Bello's hand as it possessively cups his genitals. It's visually unpleasant and symbolically oppressive at the same time. (Also, it makes the otherwise sizzling-hot Macy look like he's hung like a gnat.)
Symbolic value: The film's message is that love makes lifetime losers into world-class winners. This scene, however, implies that a lifetime loser is as lousy in bed as he is at everything else.
Hotness rating: 2. While similar to the equally needy and awkward Robert De Niro/Uma Thurman sex scene in Mad Dog And Glory, The Cooler at least doesn't focus on Bello's attempts to push Macy away during the theoretically consensual act.
Film: Showgirls (1995)
Participants: Elizabeth Berkley, Kyle MacLachlan
Scene: It's sex, Joe Eszterhas style, when leering cad MacLachlan and sentient sex doll Berkley head to MacLachlan's space-age pad for some Vegas-style entertainment. Against a backdrop of electric palm trees, Berkley nakedly saunters into a pool that looks like it was purchased from Spencer Gifts following an unfortunate neon explosion. MacLachlan kicks off the festivities by pouring champagne all over Berkley's face and breasts, to her visible delight. The exquisite non-sexiness of it all is ratcheted up when Berkley and MacLachlan begin simulating an implausible conception of intercourse, which climaxes when the former Saved By The Bell star feigns orgasm by lurching around like an orangutan suffering a seizure.
Least erotic element: MacLachlan's sheep-dog hairdo.
Symbolic value: Berkley and MacLachlan's lust explodes into a hilarious caricature of sexual passion run wild, the apotheosis of director Paul Verhoeven's vision of the American Dream perverted.
Hotness rating: 4. There is something undeniably hot about sex in front of neon palm trees.