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The 100 Sexiest Movie Performances of All Time

Written by: The CinCitizens

ImageIn honor of Sex Week, CC2K's Erik Beck, Phoebe Raven, and Beth Woodward compiled a list of the 100 Sexiest Performances in Film History.  With 50 female and 50 male performances, they hope there's something on this list to enrage (and titillate) everyone.

 To me, sexy is more than just looking good.  Lots of actresses look good—Jessica Alba for one.  But to me, sexy is also about being desirable.  And my desires run towards interesting and intelligent women.  And I want to see that in the performance.  And since many good looking actresses (like Jessica Alba) can’t act, it starts to shrink the list a bit.

To that end, I came up with a point system that measured the performance in five categories: acting, intelligence, personality, looks and sensuality.

Acting: To me, a good looking actress on screen means nothing if she can’t act.  Heather Graham is gorgeous in Boogie Nights, but gets acted off the screen by Julianne Moore.

Intelligence: I am very fond of smart women.  It’s hard to judge intelligence on the screen, but that’s what hurts someone like Marilyn Monroe in Some Like It Hot, but helps almost any character played by Emma Thompson.

Personality: I ask myself, would I want to date this character?  This hurts all the femme fatales a bit (like say Barbara Stanywck in Double Indemnity), because do you really want to date someone who will probably try to kill you?

Looks: Specific to the film.  Kate Winslet is much prettier in Hamlet than in Eternal Sunshine.

Sensuality: There’s something to be said for just simply being sexy.  Post-1967 performances can get a boost from nudity, especially sexy nudity (just being naked isn’t necessarily sexy – if you want to see a sexy nude scene see Elizabeth McGovern in Ragtime), but pre-1967 performances had to work harder to project their sensuality.

Before I get to the top 50, I’ll mention a few performances you (and quite frankly I) would expect to see here, but didn’t end up making the list for various reasons:

Catherine Denueve in Belle de Jour

Lena Olin in The Unberable Lightness of Being

Marilyn Monroe in Some Like It Hot

Catherine Zeta-Jones in Chicago

Kathleen Turner in Body Heat

For one reason or another (often personality), they didn’t make the list.  Nor did Jane Fonda in Barbarella, who defines “sex kitten” to me, but that was before she learned to act.

Now, the list:

The Women
By Erik Beck

Image#50 – Isabel Verdu in Y Tu Mama Tambien (2001)

Fascinating older women seducing the younger men, with great sex scenes.


#49 – Jamie Lee Curtis in A Fish Called Wanda (1988)

She might betray you, but she’ll be worth the effort you’ve gone through.


#48 – Juliane Kohler in Nowhere in Africa (2002)

One of the sexiest mothers on screen in a very under-appreciated film.  How many films has a gorgeous redhead mother with a topless scene?


#47 – Lorraine Bracco in GoodFellas (1990) – Oscar nominee

She sticks by her man, even hiding his drugs and guns, but she won’t take his shit.


#46 – Juliette Binoche in The English Patient (1996) – Academy Award

Soft, beautiful and caring, but also strong from a life filled with loss.


#45 – Deborah Kerr in The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943)

The gorgeous red hair is in full view in three different roles as the loves of the General’s life.


#44 – Kate Winslet in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) – Oscar nominee

Such a forceful personality you will try to have to have her erased from your memory.


#43 – Shirley MacLaine in The Apartment (1960) – Oscar nominee

MacLaine may be more beautiful in Irma La Douce, but this is such a magnificent performance.  It’s always surprising to remember how good looking she was when she was young.


#42 – Julie Christie in Darling (1965) – Academy Award

When Kenneth Branagh needed to cast Gertrude for Hamlet, he asked himself who the most beautiful person in Britain was when he was a kid.  He thought of this role.


#41 – Emma Thompson in Sense and Sensibility (1995) – Oscar nominee

Not particularly sensual, but intelligent, witty, strong-willed, beautiful.


#40 – Naomi Watts in Eastern Promises  (2007)

A caring, strong willed nurse who will not back down from the Russian mob.


#39 – Gwyneth Paltrow in Shakespeare in Love  (1998) – Academy Award

So beautiful and believable in the role that could have inspired Twelfth Night.


#38 – Julianne Moore in Boogie Nights (1997) – Oscar nominee

Not as sensual as you would imagine given that she plays a porn star, but one of the greatest performances in film history, and oh so beautiful.  This brief clip captures that in a nutshell.

#37 – Naomi Watts in 21 Grams  (2003) – Oscar nominee

One of the many roles where she proves that she can beautiful, strong, and vulnerable all at the same time.


#36 – Emma Thompson in Much Ado About Nothing  (1993)

This is what I look for in sexiness:  strong, smart, witty, fun, beautiful, full of vitality.


#35 – Kate Winslet in Hamlet  (1996)

So beautiful and such an amazing performance.  If only she didn’t go crazy and drown herself.


#34 – Natalie Portman in Closer  (2004) – Oscar nominee

Would have been higher were it not for the fact that she is absolutely not trustworthy (as the final scene shows), but few intros to a character are sexier than the way she walks down a London street with “The Blower’s Daughter” playing.  This scene, where Portman's Alice bumps into Clive Owen's character while she's working at a strip club, epitomizes everything about her character.


#33 – Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca  (1942)

I was standing in Tower Records in Cambridge in 1992 with this on the television, when the guy in front of me in line said, “She must have been just about the most beautiful woman who ever lived.”


#32 – Harriett Andersson in Smiles of a Summer Night  (1955)

As the blonde maid who longs for a better life, but plays sexually with the son of her employer and her fellow servants, she brings lust and life to the screen.


#31 – Grace Kelly in To Catch a Thief  (1955)

I replied to the Tower Records guy, “I disagree.”  He countered that if I said a super-model like Cindy Crawford I would ruin his day.  I simply said “Grace Kelly.”  He conceded that I had made an excellent point.


#30 – Elizabeth Pena in Lone Star  (1996)

So sexy in such a great, underrated performance.


#29 – Holly Hunter in Broadcast News  (1987) – Oscar nominee

Probably would be higher if I didn’t think he character would rather watch the news than have sex.


#28 – Kate Winslet in Sense and Sensibility  (1995) – Oscar nominee

Her first great performance.  I watched the movie and kept thinking to myself, who is she?  And is she my age, because she’s damn beautiful (she’s a few months younger than me).


#27 –  Kiera Knightley in Pride and Prejudice  (2005) – Oscar nominee

The sexiest of the Jane Austen heroines, both because she’s so witty and because she’s Keira.


#26 – Glenda Jackson in Women in Love  (1970) – Academy Award

It’s not hard to be sensual when you’re starring in a D.H. Lawrence adaptation, but her performance ratcheted things up a notch.


#25 – Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s  (1961) – Oscar nominee

So beautiful and carefree.  But a bit too carefree for my taste or she would be higher.


#24 – Eva Green in Casino Royale  (2006)

It’s one thing to be incredibly beautiful.  It’s another when James Bond says “This suit is tailored,” and you can reply “I sized you up the minute I met you,” and be able to pull it off.


#23 – Ingrid Bergman in Notorious  (1946)

Getting around the rules governing the length of a kiss by constantly having the kiss interrupted, her scenes with Cary Grant are as sexy as can be.


#22 – Michelle Pfeiffer in Batman Returns  (1992)

They went from a lame Kim Basinger performance in the first film to Michelle Pfeiffer in black leather.


#21 – Naomi Watts in King Kong  (2005)

One of the most underrated performances of the last few years.  So touching and sexy at the same time.


#20 – Scarlett Johanssen in Lost in Translation  (2003)

Or, as my wife’s friend called her, Scarlett No Pants-On.  But seriously, every guy I know loves the opening scene.


#19 – Marlee Matlin in Children of a Lesser God  (1986) – Academy Award

So young, sexy and strong willed.  An amazing performance.


#18 – Katharine Hepburn in The Philadelphia Story  (1940) – Oscar nominee

Kate Hepburn was always a little odd looking, but was quite beautiful in this, her best performance as the stubborn, but quick-witted Tracy Lord.


#17 – Jodie Foster in The Silence of the Lambs  (1991) – Academy Award

Not as gorgeous or sexy as some of the others, but such an amazing performance, and such an impressive personality.  There are few women on film like Clarice.


Image#16 – Meryl Streep in Sophie’s Choice  (1982) – Academy Award

I so rarely think of Meryl Streep as sexy that it’s surprising to remember how young and sexy she was when she won her first Oscar.


#15 – Jennifer Lopez in Out of Sight  (1998)

This was listed last year by Entertainment Weekly as the sexiest film of all time.  And they’re just about right.


#14 – Annette Bening in The Grifters  (1990)

The film that catapulted her into the spotlight.  She’s amazingly fresh and sexy (a perfect example of a great, sexy nude scene).


#13 – Kiera Knightley in Atonement  (2007)

The dress alone could do it, but her performance and the passion with which she pulls Robbie close to her only adds to it.


#12 – Wynona Ryder in Heathers  (1989)

It’s nice to look back at the time when Wynona Ryder was not only our sexiest actress, but also one of the most talented.


#11 – Susan Sarandon in Bull Durham  (1988)

Susan Sarandon has continued to show that you can age and still be sexy (she’ll be 60 this year) and this is the movie that most proves it.


Image#10 – Elizabeth Taylor in Cat on the Hot Tin Roof  (1958) – Oscar nominee

Do I really have to justify this?


#9 – Michelle Pfeiffer in The Fabulous Baker Boys  (1989) – Oscar nominee

Should have won the Oscar over Jessica Tandy.  She’s never looked more beautiful than when she’s singing “Makin Whoopee” in that red dress on that piano.


#8 – Shirley Jones in Elmer Gantry  (1960) – Academy Award

Shirley Jones in The Music Man was one of my first celebrity crushes, but here as a prostitute she’s even more beautiful and she has the sensuality that she lacked in the musical.


#7 – Zhang Ziyi in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon  (2000)

So beautiful.  But of course, she might just kick your ass.


#6 – Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth  (1998) – Oscar nominee

The best performance of her career as the Queen who would not be denied.


#5 – Cate Blanchett in Oscar and Lucinda  (1997)

So incredibly beautiful and fascinating, but similar to Holly Hunter's character in Broadcast News, I think she’s less interested in sex than in cards.


#4 – Audrey Tatou in Amelie  (2001)

She’s so beautiful (like a younger Juliette Binoche), so full of life, so the kind of person I would want to date were I not happily married.


#3 – Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday  (1940)

There is no quicker witted woman than Hildy.  The on-screen chemistry she has with Cary Grant is unlike anything else on film.


#2 – Barbara Stanwyck in The Lady Eve  (1941)

So smart, so devious, so beautiful, so sensual.  They don’t make women like this anymore.


Image#1 – Naomi Watts in Mulholland Drive  (2001)

One of the most underrated performances of the past decade.  First she has to be the beautiful heartland girl who comes to the big city, then she has the shy lesbian scene (“Have you ever done this before?”), then she has to play the much more sensual lesbian character who’s starting to lose it.  She combines everything about sensuality into all of these.


Erik writes constantly about film and literature.  He is currently writing a daily post on the History of the Academy Awards that can be found at and his writings about literature can be found at

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