Yes…Yes…YES: The Best Movie Orgasms Of All Time

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Thirty years ago, Sally Albright (Meg Ryan) gave us the best movie orgasm of all time, over a pastrami sandwich (mustard and pickle on the side) at New York’s Katz’s Deli. Over at the next table, an older lady deadpans, “I’ll have what she’s having.”
It’s the most iconic line in When Harry Met Sally, a movie penned by Nora Ephron and filled with some of the most memorable dialogue of all time (“Baby fish mouth;” “Too much pepper in my paprikash;” “He’s never going to leave her;” “Men and women can’t be friends,” are just a few notable examples), a cry for sexual liberation that took a lighthearted comedy moment and made it subversive.
The first on-screen female orgasm featured in a non-pornographic narrative film can be traced by to 1933, when then-Hedwig Kiesler (who would become Hollywood movie star Hedy Lamarr) starred in Ecstasy, a Czech-Austrian movie directed by Gustav Machatý. In the scene in question, the camera zooms in on Kiesler’s face, showing her character, Eva, in the throes of passion with her lover. It was instantly controversial, and the film was condemned by American censor Joseph Breen as "highly — even dangerously — indecent.”
That attitude — that a woman’s sexual fulfillment is somehow wrong, or dirty — is still deeply ingrained in our cultural psyche. Depictions of female pleasure are still few and far between, and the subject of mass cultural debate. More often than not, orgasm scenes are included to cater to the male gaze, rather than as a real-life depiction of a woman enjoying a sexual encounter. Of the ones that have made it into the zeitgest, the vast majority feature white cis-women, having sex with white male partners. And the double standard that values male pleasure at the expense of a woman’s is still very much alive.
That’s why When Harry Met Sally still holds up today. That scene is about a woman telling a clueless man that he knows so little about women’s pleasure that he can’t tell when it’s fabricated for his own enjoyment. And yet, it’s also a subtle nod to the women in the room who rarely get that kind of overwhelming climax. This is the kind of thing we can aspire to, and deserve. Even if it’s brought on by a really good pastrami sandwich.
Ahead, we take a look at the some of the most memorable movie orgasms of all time. Go ahead, enjoy!
1 of 13

Barbarella, 1968

Who’s Moaning? Jane Fonda as Barbarella, silver-clad space traveler

The Technique: Fonda’s eyes remain perpetual saucers of surprise, as she navigates this unexpected technological marvel. As the music gets faster and more intense, she increasingly looks like she’s about to pass out.

Directed by Fonda’s then-husband, French filmmaker Roger Vadim, Barbarella was revolutionary in its portrayal of a woman’s sexuality, though undeniably filtered through the male gaze. As an agent sent by Earth’s president on a space mission to retrieve Doctor Durand Durand, Barbarella is captured and placed inside the Excessive Machine, an organ-like contraption built to stimulate women until they die from the force of their orgasms. Machine: 0; Jane Fonda: 1.
2 of 13

When Harry Met Sally, 1989

Who’s Moaning? Meg Ryan as Sally Albright

The Technique: Ryan leans into the slow build up, starting with low rumbles, a couple of “Oh gods,” before catching her breath, and then giving into the moans, finishing off with a couple of loud “Yes!” screams, before bringing it all back down to Earth. A masterpiece.

“Most women at one time or another have faked it.” Nora Ephron’s immortal words have become so ubiquitous to pop culture that it’s easy to forget how subversive they were back when the film first premiered. Billy Crystal’s stunned face and increasingly uncomfortable mannerisms, while funny, demonstrate how little men know/think about women’s pleasure. “I’ll have what she’s having,” indeed.
3 of 13

40 Days and 40 Nights, 2002

Who’s Moaning? Shannyn Sossamon as Erica Sutton

The Technique: An orchid!!!

40 Days and 40 Nights is ostensibly about male pleasure. Matt Sullivan (Josh Hartnett) makes a vow to give up sex for Lent, thereby depriving himself of the release of an orgasm. But even as his dreams are populated with fields of boobs, this abstinence makes him more cognizant of the need to give pleasure to others, in this case, Erica. Never has an orchid been so sexy. Still, though, all that from a light touch from a flower??? I’m still not convinced.
4 of 13

Forgetting Sarah Marshall, 2008

Who’s Moaning? Kristen Bell as TV star Sarah Marshall

The Technique: A whole lot of moaning.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall follows Peter Bretter’s (Jason Segel) sad and often embarrassing quest to get over his girlfriend, who dumps him for bad boy British singer Aldous Snow (Russell Brand). In this particular scene though, both Sarah and Peter fake orgasms with their respective partners in an effort to make the other jealous through their very thin adjoining hotel walls. And thus, the sex-off is born.
5 of 13

Bruce Almighty, 2003

Who’s Moaning? Jennifer Aniston as Grace Connelly

The Technique: To be fair to Grace, she was just going about her beauty business when Bruce decided to try out his powers on her body, so she’s understandably surprised as she’s thrown about the room in ecstasy. This is an obviously male perspective on female pleasure.

When anchorman Bruce Nolan (Jim Carrey) is passed up for a promotion, he basically calls out God for not doing his/her job. So, God is basically like, ‘Can you do better?’ and hands over the powers of the universe to Bruce, thereby making him a deity of sorts. And what better use of one’s powers than to give one’s girlfriend a surprise bathroom orgasm — is something no one asked, ever. Men, do not do this!
6 of 13

Easy A, 2010

Who’s Moaning? Emma Stone as Olive Penderghast

The Technique: What doesn’t she do? Banging on the wall, jumping on the bed, punching a guy in the stomach to hear him scream — Olive is committed to her craft.

Partially inspired by that scourge of high school English class, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, Easy A tells the story of Olive Penderghast’s (Stone) rise to high school popularity and notoriety, as she fakes sleeping with unpopular boys to increase their status — and her myth. Of course, it all eventually backfires, but you have to admire her technique.
7 of 13

American Pie, 1999

Who’s Moaning? Tara Reid as Victoria “Vicky” Lathum

The Technique: This scene is big on the back arches and loud cries of pleasure, as Kevin makes up for his “shit-head” behavior to her by giving Vicky some “Tornado Tongue” action.

American Pie was about four boys making a pact to lose their virginity on prom night, but one of its most subversive and controversial scenes involved Vicky receiving oral sex from her boyfriend in her childhood bedroom while her parents wait for her to come down to dinner. She’s coming, guys.
8 of 13

Monster’s Ball, 2001

Who’s Moaning? Halle Berry as Leticia Musgrove

The Technique: This is the opposite of a fun sex scene — it’s raw, and full grief, and Berry gives it her all.

There’s a lot to take issue with in this movie, especially the iffy power dynamics between Leticia (Berry), and correctional officer Hank Grotowski (Billy Bob Thornton). And yet, this is the movie that earned Berry her Academy Award in 2002, making her the first and only Black woman to win Best Actress to this day. It’s also the rare scene showing a Black woman in the throes of passion.
9 of 13

Blue Valentine, 2010

Who’s Moaning? Michelle Williams as Cindy Heller

The Technique: This is a sweet, sweet scene. Cindy and Dean’s relationship is in its nascent stages, and his desire to give her pleasure is completely selfless. For now.

This particular scene infamously almost earned the film a NC-17 rating, which implies “extreme pornographic content.” That decision was contested by star Ryan Gosling in an interview: "There's plenty of oral sex scenes in a lot of movies, where it's a man receiving it from a woman — and they're R-rated. Ours is reversed and somehow it's perceived as pornographic.” We stan!
10 of 13

The Miseducation of Cameron Post, 2018

Who’s Moaning? Chloe Grace Moretz as Cameron Post

The Technique: This is a girl discovering her sexuality in the backseat of a car during prom, knowing full-well that she could be discovered at any second. It’s furtive, and exciting — until it very abruptly ends.

What makes Desiree Akhavan’s The Miseducation of Cameron post so special in the canon of films addressing the dark truths about gay conversion camps is that it highlights the good times as well as the bad. And the scene early on in the film showing Cameron and her lover enjoying a prom night interlude is undoubtedly an enjoyable one, even if it’s the catalyst for some disturbing actions. What’s more, it’s an all-too-rare movie directed by a LGBTQ+ woman that openly depicts a queer woman enjoying sex.
11 of 13

The Back-Up Plan, 2010

Who’s Moaning? Jennifer Lopez as Zoe

The Technique: JLo is not playing around. There’s grasping of shirt collars, clenched eyelids, and at least six consecutive “Oh”s. And it all happens on top of a CHEESE BARREL!

The Back-Up Plan is an extremely forgettable movie, but J-Lo’s scene is seared into my brain. A woman enjoying a healthy sex life even as she’s made the decision to be a mother independently of any man? Get it, girl!
12 of 13

Ecstasy, 1933

Who’s Moaning? Hedy Lamarr as Eva Hermann

The Technique: The scene is largely silent, but you don’t need noise to convey, well, ecstasy.

Released in Germany and banned in the United States, Ecstasy was the first non-pornographic movie to prominently feature a woman’s orgasm. Hedy Lamarr became notorious for starring in the film, and almost lost out on a Hollywood contract because Louis B. Mayer disapproved. Luckily, she eventually won him over, and went on to become a famous movie star — and the inventor of Wi-Fi technology.
13 of 13

Mary, Queen of Scots, 2018

Who’s Moaning? Saoirse Ronan as Mary, Queen of Scots

The Technique: There is no room for Ronan to hide in this scene. The camera stays squarely on her face as we watch it contort with the ecstasy of her first real sexual encounter.

This scene in Josie Rourke’s Mary, Queen of Scots is a crucial addition to the movie orgasm canon, if only because of what comes after. Having received the best oral sex of her life, Mary (Ronan), asks her lover Henry Darnley (Jack Lowden) if she can reciprocate, and he turns her down. Talk about a royal move — she gets pleasured with no strings attached! It’s a moment designed for the female gaze, showcasing a woman’s pleasure, from her perspective.

What was so great about having that moment when Henry (Jack Lowden) goes down on her is that it’s purely for her,” Ronan told Refinery29 about that moment. “That’s a sexual revelation purely for her. It’s not to perform her duty, it’s not to give anything back to anyone else or to the state. It’s for her. It was so important to see this young girl experience this pleasure, probably for the first time, and have that be a real sort of revelation. It was just another element to her humanity.”

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