From the over-the-top hilarity of Wet Hot American Summer's gay romp to the pugnacious fervor that drives the titular anti-hero of Querelle; the quiet longing in Bent to the bacchanal hunger that destroys Caravaggio; the affirming naïveté of My Own Private Idaho to the boundary-pushing world-weariness of Edward II.
It's all here, eager for your eyes, waiting for you to watch:
1. Plata Quemada (Burnt Money) - Dir. Marcelo Piñeyro, 2000
Leave the translator on the bedside table. You won’t need it to understand this sensual Argentine drama based on a true story of bank-robbing lovers on the lam. Though protagonists El Nene and Angel are constantly imperiled, they steal a final tender moment during a gunfight, burning up the screen with a desperate grab at love.
2. Wet Hot American Summer - Dir. David Wain, 2001
Sweat and saliva aren’t essential to sexiness—sometimes it just takes a funny bone. Another cult classic, found its heart in a furtive love affair between two camp counselors, played by Bradley Cooper and Michael Ian Black, in identical tube socks, stolen in a dim shed.
3. Weekend - Dir. Andrew Haigh, 2011
There’s little romance involved when it comes to the encounter that starts Glen and Russell’s isolated two-night stand. It’s raw passion and yearning, straightforward and frank, and that’s what energizes this touching and haunting indie hit about what happens when a casual hook-up turns into something more.
4. Shelter - Dir. Jonah Markowitz, 2007
Lust provides the thrust of Zach and Shaun’s long-anticipated night of passion, an explosion of atavistic attraction — pull at the belt; get the fly; untangle the legs — but it’s love that wins the day in this movie about a young man coming to terms with his sexuality. The men can’t resist one another, and we can’t resist hitting rewind.
5. The Bubble - Dir. Eytan Fox, 2006
"It would have to be when Noam (Ohad Knoller) and Ashraf (Yousef Sweid) first have sex in Eytan Fox's The Bubble. The scene's great for two reasons: first, because it dares to show an Israeli Jewish man and a Palestinian man making love, and second, because it eschews the spit-and-smile approach to movies like Brokeback Mountain to give viewers a more realistic version of what happens when someone loses his anal cherry—it's a little awkard, a little painful, but also irresistble and tender and ineffably pleasurable. And no, it doesn't hurt that Knoller and Sweid are totally cute, too."
—Dale Peck, novelist, 'Sprout'
6. Querelle - Dir. Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1982
From start to finish, this adaptation of Jean Genet’s novel about a dangerously handsome murderer plays like the love child of Pierre et Gilles and Tom of Finland. Fetishes abound (soldiers, sailors, cops, criminals), yet of all the rendezvous and caresses, it’s Querelle and killer construction worker Gil’s long-anticipated embrace that lingers with viewers longest.
7. Shortbus - Dir. John Cameron Mitchell, 2006
Shortbus stands out for its evocative, at times confrontational portrayal of real-life sex—largely because the actors were actually having sex. But it’s the scene in which actress Sook-Yin Lee’s Sofia Lin, a sex therapist who has never had an orgasm, gets to enjoy her first orgy that is this flick’s sexiest. The participants aren’t crude or bacchanal or drugged out; they’re simply uninhibited and having fun.
8. Bent - Dir. Sean Mathias, 1997
“I never thought we’d do it without touching.” But they did: Max (Clive Owen) and Horst (Lothaire Bluteau) bring each other to ecstasy without ever making a single move in Bent, about gay men who fall in love in a Nazi concentration camp. The scene in question—where the two stand side by side, never looking at or touching each other while reaching silent climax—leaves the viewer reeling.
9. Un Chant D'Amour (A Song of Love) dir. Jean Genet, 1950
"My favorite movie male-on-male love scene is one in which the male couple are separated by a cell wall but brought together by a straw and a shared lungful of smoke. Is this is a bad sign? Jean Genet's Un Chant D'Amour, his only movie, is set, of course, in a prison. A middle-aged prisoner knocks on his cell wall, frantically trying to attract the attention of his younger neighbor, who is dancing with himself in a dirty vest with a face as tender as it is tough. The old lag lights a cigarette, inserts a straw through a tiny hole, and blows smoke through it into the next cell. After studiously feigning disinterest, the young brute finally kneels at the wall, closed-eyed and open-mouthed, and receives the billowingn white smoke. It's a great, exquisitely poetic representation of the impossibility of romance—and even desire itself. To paraphrase Joni Mitchell, I've looked at glory holes from both sides now, from blower and inhaler, from younger and older, and still it's glory holes' illusions I recall."
—Mark Simpson, writer, Metrosexy
10. Maurice - Dir. James Ivory, 1987
Confused and traumatized by an unconsummated love, Maurice (James Wilby) finally gets some relief when he succumbs to gamekeeper Scudder’s (Rupert Graves) nocturnal advances in this Merchant Ivory adaptation of E.M. Forster’s posthumous novel. Though Maurice is initially dismayed when Scudder offers himself up, he comes to his senses and together the men find their happy ending.
11. Caravaggio - Dir. Derek Jarman, 1986
Brutal and violent, artist Caravaggio’s doomed affair with street fighter Ranuccio is sexuality at its most unrestrained. The men, played by Nigel Terry and Sean Bean, know perfectly well they can’t come out of their dalliance unscathed—nor do they—but it’s those elements of danger that make this story so combustible.
12. My Own Private Idaho - Dir. Gus Van Sant, 1991
It’s tenderness that fuels the sexuality in this pick, Van Sant’s beloved tale of a gay narcoleptic street hustler (River Phoenix) who is desperately in love with his best friend, Scott (Keanu Reeves). The realistic portrayal of platonic, symbiotic intimacy sticks with the viewer longer than the image of Phoenix and Reeves cuddling up by a campfire.
13. Bound - Dirs. Andy and Lana Wachowski, 1996“Here…touch it.” Jennifer Tilly’s domineering Violet knows exactly what she’s doing when she demands Corky’s attention. Encouraged, Gina Gershon’s butch Corky goes at it with gusto. She pushes all the right buttons, leaving viewers wondering where the line between fiction and reality really lies.
14. Cruel Intentions - Dir. Roger Kumble, 1999
A strand of saliva suspended between two lithe, eager lips. That was all, yet Sarah Michelle Gellar and Selma Blair’s lip-lock rocked the world when this teenage take on Dangerous Liaisons hit theaters. The reviews were less than kind, but for an entire generation, The Kiss proved that sexuality can be fluid.
15. Gia - Dir. Michael Cristofer, 1998
Angelina Jolie and Elizabeth Mitchell’s chemistry in this biopic provided what could’ve been a tacky sex scene with real heart, making the consummation of famously doomed model Gia and lover Linda’s relationship one of the most brave, candid, and erotic explorations of lesbian desire in cinema.
Dr. Sarah Roberts (Susan Sarandon) gives herself over to absolute pleasure when she allows vampiric seductress Miriam (Catherine Deneuve) to draw blood in Scott’s drama. These women gave vampires their gay bite onscreen long before True Blood or even Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire, and the iconic actresses did it with a sensuality newer blood suckers can only hope to top.17. Henry & June - Dir. Philip Kaufman, 1990
Anaïs Nin didn’t make it into the title, but Maria de Medeiros’ portrayal of the erotica author made this 1990 indie flick sizzle, especially her encounters with June Miller, played by an always smoldering Uma Thurman. One scene in particular, the women’s trip to a lesbian speakeasy, stands out for its carefree bohemian spirit, nonchalant elegance, and Anaïs and June’s scene-stealing kiss.
18. Taxi zum Klo (Taxi to the Toilet) - Dir. Frank Ripplah, 1980
"There's an encounter in Taxi zum Klo between director-star Frank Ripploh and his real-life lover, Bernd Broaderup. It was the first sex scene I'd ever seen that combined hotness, narrative necessity, a dom/sub dynamic, and the ineffable sweetness that comes only from a real relationship. It as the seed for Shortbus."
—John Cameron Mitchell, filmmaker, 'Shortbus' and 'Hedwig and the Angry Inch'
19. Contracorriente (Undertow) - Dir. Javier Fuentes-León, 2009
A complex tale of acceptance and rejection, this Peruvian film contains a plethora of sex scenes between fisherman Miguel and artist Santiago, who pursue a forbidden relationship that blurs the line between life and death. Of all those moments, it’s their encounter in an oceanside cave that marks the film’s sexiest scene.
20. Y Tu Mamá También - Dir. Alfonso Cuarón, 2001
Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna capture the potent curiosity of two men questioning their sexual allegiances in Cuarón’s skin-filled, Oscar-nominated film. The pinnacle of their ambiguous relationship, a halting, yet charged, drunken kiss, changes them forever.
21. Yossi & Jagger - Dir. Eytan Fox, 2002
Two Israeli soldiers are marching through the snow. They wrestle to the ground. One reveals he’s naked beneath his army-issued jumper. The other accepts the implicit invitation and they go at it as a rabbit watches. This scene from the tense Israeli military love story is pure slice of fantasy, heightened by its forbidden nature.
22. Velvet Goldmine - Dir. Todd Haynes, 1998
Glam rock drama Velvet Goldmine is rife with sex, including Ewan McGregor locking lips with Jonathan Rhys Meyers and engaging Christian Bale in an out-of-this-world romp in a moon crater. There’s no one sexiest scene here; just unadulterated exploration and its climactic consequences.
23. La Ley del Deseo (Law of Desire) - Dir. Pedro Almodóvar, 1987
"The last five minutes of Pedro Almodovar's Law of Desire with the unbelievably sweet and sexy, pre-Hollywood Antonio Banderas is one of the reasons I became a film director and big believer in true love."
—Eytan Fox, filmmaker, 'Yossi & Jagger and 'The Bubble'
24. The Outsider - Dir. Delbert Mann, 1961
"Tony Curtis's 1961 The Outsider, about an American Indian who was a hero of Iwo Jima, told the heartbreaking story of a soldier who mourned his buddy, missing in action. He shed tears drunkenly as the soundtrack played Where are you? You went away without me. I thought you cared bout me. In those homophobic days, it seemed like a great male-male love story."
—Edmund White, novelist, 'A Boy's Own Story'
25. J’ai Tué Ma Mère (I Killed My Mother) - Dir. Xavier Dolan, 2009
Hubert and Antonin seal their supple love in a paint-soaked encounter that’s sexy not just for the skin and kisses but for the rollicking enthusiasm the pair exudes. They’re trying to create an artistic kingdom for themselves, and they seem to be on the right track in French–Canadian director Dolan’s 2009 biographical
26. Le Temps Qui Reste (Time to Leave) - Dir. François Ozon, 2005
Living with terminal cancer, Romain (Melvil Poupaud), a fashion photographer who shoots subjects during orgasm, decides to fill what little time he’s left with as much sex as possible. While Romain and lover Sasha’s impetuous passion alone is reason enough to see this film, the taut narrative about life, death, and sexuality imbues it with existential gravity.
27. Edward II - Dir. Derek Jarman, 1991
Gay-leaning Elizabethan playwright Christopher Marlowe would appreciate Jarman’s adaptation of his work about King Edward II’s love affair with debaucherous nobleman Piers Gaveston. Controversial for its frank depiction of man-on-man action, this entry drips with sensuality from the get-go; the scene of Edward and Gaveston chatting as young squires cavort behind them is among the movie’s most gripping.
28. Presque Rien (Come Undone) - Dir. Sébastien Lifshitz, 2000
The viewer knows from the get-go there’s no happy ending for the young men at the center of this drama, but that doesn’t detract from Mathieu and Cédric’s many joyful romps together while on holiday at the beach in coastal France. They’re playful and free and very, very nude—an unbeatably sexy, and European, combination.
29. My Beautiful Laundrette - Dir. Stephen Frears, 1985
Race, sexuality, and class provide the backdrop for Omar and Johnny’s attraction, on that explodes at the titular laundrette in a scene as sexy and lustful as it is symbolic and artful. The film is essential viewing, full of unadulterated passion, instinctive longing, and, most importantly, a young, bare-chested Daniel Day-Lewis.
30. Happy Together - Dir. Wong Kar-wai, 1997
The despair and self-destruction of a doomed relationship saturates this film by Hong Kong–based filmmaker Wong. From the opening scene featuring Ho Po-wing and Lai Yiu-fai reenacting their post-breakup ritual of a roll in the sheets, the viewer is given a wide, grainy view of romance at its most toxic and passion at its most irresistible. The cinematography here adds an extra layer of allure, adding a gritty vintage quality that only heightens the experience.