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The Most Exploitative On-Screen Sex Scenes, Ever

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    This story was originally published on February 2, 2016.

    Picture, if you will, the last time you vacuumed your home or did any type of housework. What were you wearing? No, this isn’t some sort of role play or the beginning of a sexy story. I want to know what you had on. Probably not your nicest clothes, right? And a supportive bra of some sort, I’m guessing. That’s usually what I wear to do housework, which is why I took pause during a recent rewatch of the 1988 movie Working Girl.

    During one scene, Tess (Melanie Griffith) is vacuuming in just underwear and heels — nothing at all on top. It’s supposed to be a visual cue to the audience that she’s finally coming into her own, in both the boardroom and the bedroom. All I could think while watching the scene, though, was how bad it is to perform manual labor with your breasts unsupported (hello, tissue breakage).

    Also, how many other ways could Tess’ new empowerment have been conveyed to viewers without Melanie Griffith having to vacuum topless in what I imagine is some kind of '50s housewife male fantasy? I can think of several, and they all involve Tess keeping her top on. Was the studio worried that this movie, about a woman trying to climb the ranks in a white-collar corporation that basically runs on institutionalized sexism, would bomb at the box office because no men would possibly go see such a thing? So they stuck in some shots guaranteed to appeal to the male gaze?

    Listen, I have no problem with sex or nudity in movies or television shows. Michael Fassbender in Shame? Great stuff. Shameless? If you’re not watching, you’re missing Emmy Rossum making sex scenes look hot. What I take umbrage with are cases like the nude vacuuming scene in Working Girl. I just don’t see its point, besides Melanie Griffith having to put her boobs out there to get male butts in seats. The same goes for Halle Berry's topless scene in Swordfish, which is on record as being completely unnecessary.

    In the case of Tess McGill’s topless housework and these other examples, the nudity and sex scenes feel gratuitous, exploitative, and just straight-up superfluous. Also, because these scenes are so unnecessary to the plot, I’m not going to be embedding them here. Just watch the trailers included along with the descriptions of the scenes, and know that they exist.

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    Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)

    Role: Linda Barrett
    Actor: Phoebe Cates

    It's perhaps one of the most famous nude scenes in a movie ever, but that doesn't mean it was in any way necessary for the teen comedy classic to thrive. The scene with Linda coming out of the pool, dripping wet and promptly removing her red bikini top, is the stuff of male fantasies seemingly the world over. But did it need to exist for the movie to become a classic? That's up for debate, of course.

    Watch Fast Times at Ridgemont High: Amazon, Hulu.

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    Working Girl (1988)

    Character: Tess McGill
    Actor: Melanie Griffith

    Tess McGill’s plan to pretend to be her conniving, two-faced boss Katharine (Sigourney Weaver) while said boss recovers from a skiing accident is working out pretty well. Tess has successfully gotten dashing investment broker Jack Trainer onboard with her plan, and the two have intense chemistry outside of the office as well.

    What’s the best way to signal how well things are going in the office and at home for our gal Tess? With a quick montage of her doing a variety of successful “having it all” businesswoman things, like...vacuuming in nothing but underwear and heels. You know, as you do, to show the audience in your apartment (which I hope doesn’t exist) how much you’re finally coming to embrace your power as both an executive (the heels) and a woman (the exposed breasts). What this scene is doing in an otherwise extremely pro-female and anti-sexism film, we’ll never know.

    Watch Working Girl: Amazon, Google Play, iTunes

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    Coming to America (1988)

    Role: Royal bathers
    Actors: Felicia Taylor, Midori

    The royal penis is clean your highness.” This is all you really get to hear from these nameless servants, who attend to his royal highness' morning toilette so he doesn't have to lift a finger, even to bathe his most private of areas.

    Watch Coming to America: Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, Netflix

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    Swordfish (2001)

    Role: Ginger Knowles
    Actor: Halle Berry

    Director Dominic Sena told the New York Daily News that producer Joel Silver and Warner Bros promised Berry an additional $500,000 on top of her $2 million salary if she appeared topless in Swordfish. Berry insisted that wasn’t why she agreed to do it. She told Entertainment Weekly that Sena’s remark that she was getting $250,000 per breast to go topless in the movie was a joke.

    Berry had recently won an Emmy and a Golden Globe for her role in HBO’s Introducing Dorothy Dandridge, and said that, “So much of my life I was afraid to [do a nude scene]. With the success of my Dorothy Dandridge project and the critical acclaim that brought me, I finally felt that I didn’t have to prove myself anymore.”

    Joel Silver told EW, “I’ve known Halle for years, and I felt this was time for her to do this. I think it’s cool for the character and good for the box office.”

    Yeah, that’s the real bottom line here. Berry’s bare breasts were supposed to increase the box office take of this extremely subpar hacker movie. It’s too bad she chose to do her first topless scene — which was, in fact, the definition of gratuitous, because it served absolutely no function in moving the plot forward — in such a mediocre movie.

    Watch Swordfish: Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, Netflix

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    The Room (2003)

    Role: Lisa
    Actor: Juliette Danielle

    “You are TEARING ME APART, Lisa”...with your excessively long sex scenes that very much resemble soft-core porn.

    Sadly, The Room is not streaming anywhere online. YOU ARE TEARING ME APART, Amazon/iTunes/Google Play/Netflix.