The 29 Sexiest Classic Films
Whether you’ve listened to our podcast or just read our list of the most seductive scenes in classic film then you know we love talking about thirst during this era. The Production Code required a fair amount of chastity which required screenwriters and directors to get, shall we say, creative with how they represented sex on-screen. In many cases, that caused some movies to feel far hotter than they might have been. We decided to dive into the sexy waters and look at some of the movies whose entire plot seems to be about being hot and bothered. Feel free to share your suggestions in the comments below!
Viva Las Vegas (1964)
Okay, on the surface Elvis movies are… Elvis movies. They aren’t always the most interesting and to be perfectly honest, they can be a bit formulaic, but they’re fun. And at least one is full…on… sexy.
You can take or leave Elvis. I mean, everyone has different opinions about ‘The King’. However, in this 1964 cinematic pairing with Ann-Margret, the rock and roller reaches a new level of sultry chemistry with the up and coming actress. These two are young, talented and they are just ‘Too Darn Hot’. Like, the levels of hot crossing the screen should be illegal. Their… electric… chemistry is particularly visible in the music sequences as both performers bring what they are really good at. That being said though, they’re equally as good in the quiet moments. The pair reportedly were involved during shooting and this likely contributes to the sexiness leaping of the screen. -KP
This is the first appearance of two men who are going to show up more than once on this list: Cary Grant and Alfred Hitchcock. In their work together, Cary Grant and the ‘Master of Suspense’ Alfred Hitchcock teamed up to present some of the sexiest films to grace the silver screen.
This time out, Grant co-stars opposite Ingrid Bergman in a tale of Nazis, sabotage and wartime espionage. However, all maguffins aside, Bergman and Grant come together in a steamy pairing of a power rarely seen on the big-screen. This film is perhaps best known for its record breaking screen kiss between the two leads. While not a single passionate pucker, the moment (which lasts more than two minutes) is quiet and intimate as the couple exchange a number of kisses during a continuous shot. There is a whispered heat in their chemistry simmering just below the surface of each and every frame. While the Production Code did make it hard to show unbridled scenes of passion, movies like Notorious show just how much was percolating beneath the surface during the peak of the Hollywood Studio System. -KP
Gilda is an important movie for me in a number of ways. I first watched the noir during my glorified film school days and the King Vidor directed feature not only opened my eyes, but it sent my chin to the floor. The 1946 film presents all the sexiness one can handle with a cast made up of Rita Hayworth, Glenn Ford and George Macready (trust me… that voice!).
The film (like Notorious mentioned above) is weighed down a teeny-weeny bit by some needless “maguffin-ing”. There’s something about a tungsten mine. However, viewers might come for the plot, but they stay for this delectable bunch of characters who are all “into” each other. Sure, everyone remembers Johnny (Ford) and Gilda (Hayworth), but that doesn’t even get into Balin (Macready) and Gilda’s plot… heck, or Ballin and Johnny’s plot. Trust me, there is something there. The chemistry between the three leads leaps off the screen and the movie is much, much better for it. -KP
North by Northwest (1959)
Alfred Hitchcock is a controversial figure and there have been books written about how he presents sex on-screen coupled with what has been said about his antics off-screen. That being said, we had to include him on this list, especially for two features that don’t have the same level of off-screen discussion. On the surface, North By Northwest is a spy thriller, but take away Roger Thornill’s (Cary Grant) plot and you have a tale about a guy and a girl who meet on a train and spend the entire time seducing each other.
The entirety of the train sequence is a series of (barely concealed) double entendres between Grant and Eva Marie Saint, who’s character is just as sexually aggressive and interested as Roger is. There are so many blush-inducing pick-up-lines happening back-to-back you’ll miss a few. For me, I’m a sucker for Hitchcock’s close-up on James Mason’s hand caressing Saint’s neck. Talk about inducing some tingles! -KL
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958)
This is the first appearance on this list of the undisputed King and Queen of Sexy: Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor. Sure, there are a few actresses on this list who come close to Taylor’s dominance. However, we must remember, it’s Elizabeth Taylor’s world and we’re all just living in it. It also might be a bit telling just how many sweaty and sultry Tennessee Williams epics are in the following blurbs.
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof follows a young couple (Taylor and Newman) who aren’t feeling that sexy. There’s questions of alcoholism, impotence, homosexuality and tons more. However, in all this repression, there’s so much… desire. It’s hot, it’s heavy and as Brick (Newman) looks Maggie (Taylor) over and tells her to “lock the door”, it’s hard to not be reduced to a quivering mass of giggles. -KP
Trouble in Paradise (1932)
The first time I saw Trouble in Paradise was in a class focused on how the studios mined the Depression for comedy and, in this case, the idea that crime could be sexy. Herbert Marshall and Miriam Hopkins play two thieves who, in the opening scene, are having an intimate dinner wherein they keep stealing things from each other. The mere fact that they have to touch each other keeps them giggling and, without showing anything, sets up the idea that these two thirst for crime (and each other). The introduction of Kay Francis‘ heiress creates a love triangle wherein both women want Marshall’s Gaston, but only one woman truly understands him. -KL
A Place in the Sun (1951)
A Place in the Sun might not be the first movie one would think about when searching one’s mind for the “sexiest” movies in Hollywood. I mean, it is a story about class, the downside of the American capitalist society and… murder! However, I have only one thing to justify the presence of this movie: Liz and Monty.
I mean, just look at the construction of this list. Elizabeth Taylor pops up more than once as does Montgomery Clift. Their only competition in terms of ‘thirst power’ is probably the almighty Paul Newman who is by far and away our sexy winner… but I digress.
A Place in the Sun features both performers at their peak and mines their stunningly gorgeous chemistry to sexy results. As Angela, Taylor embodies the very woman that a man could (and would) commit murder for. Yet, the earnest and natural nature to her performance plays well opposite Clift, grounding this movie. -KP
Sweet Bird of Youth (1962)
If there’s an actor whose work is guaranteed to induce sexiness and thirst it’s Paul Newman. We probably could have crafted a lift of his sexiest features alone. Sweet Bird of Youth is an interesting feature, particularly since Newman and the crew felt the adaptation didn’t translate from stage to screen. I’d say, it’s a great movie that is horny as can be. Newman plays Chance Wayne, a man who left his small town to make something of himself in Hollywood but has ended up as a gigolo to a perpetually drugged actress, expertly played by Geraldine Page. Chance may be trying to reunite with his one true love, Heavenly (Shirley Knight), but so much of this movie is about his perpetual seduction of Page’s character to get what he wants. Newman spends a lot of screentime without a shirt and dropping bon mots about his virility that Page is more than able to handle. These two are toxic, but they heat up every sequence in a movie dripping with sexiness. -KL
The Long Hot Summer (1958)
I’m serious, every Paul Newman movie is pure thirst and if I could have added Paris Blues (1961) on here I would have. There’s movies that make you say, “Simmer down” and then there’s The Long Hot Summer which just boils over with horniness. From Orson Welles‘ Will Varner telling poor son Jody (Anthony Franciosa) that Jody’s wife, Eula (Lee Remick) doesn’t need to be seen — the boys calling for her “can smell her” — to Newman’s Ben Quick’s main objective being to seduce the matronly Clara (Joanne Woodward), this movie is all about who is and isn’t having sex. And like the title implies, everyone already has a sheen of sweat permanently clinging to them already. -KL
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)
True, most of the movies on this list are fairly sexy in the mid-twentieth century, “Studio System” way. There’s alot of sultry southern dramas and firey noirs. In the grand scheme of things, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes has to be one of our more unconventional choices.
There’s nothing sexier than a woman enjoying herself. This is at the root of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. This story is not about the men (though, I’d be shirking my duties if I didn’t admit to finding Tommy Noonan adorable). This movie is about Lorelai (Marilyn Monroe) and Dorothy (Jane Russell) and their relationship. These women are smart, they are having a great time and they don’t care what anyone else thinks. There’s nothing sexier than that. -KP
My Favorite Wife (1940)
My Favorite Wife is (admittedly) a relatively late edition to my movie going life and I hope none of you make the same mistake I did. This little 1940 romantic comedy brings sexiness to the screen on a number of different levels. I mean sure, there’s the A-story line between Ellen (Irene Dunne) and Nick (Cary Grant). These two are masterful at portraying that smart, sexy, urbane partnership we enjoyed in so many of their other pairings.
However, I will always and forever be an advocate for Cary Grant’s chemistry with Randolph Scott. Look at that glance above! Or can we discuss the imagery of Nick (Grant) replaying the picture of Stephen (Scott) working out over and over in his brain. By a number of accounts, the two men shared a very close relationship and their chemistry is so visible in My Favorite Wife. It’s sexy and fun… check this one out if you haven’t. -KP
Bye Bye Birdie (1963)
I can hear you scoffing out there! Just hear me out here. Sure, Bye Bye Birdie is a late studio era musical of the most teenie bopper variety; however, you really don’t have to dig too deep to find the sexy.
I mean, this is our second Ann-Margret entry on this list. While she is renowned for her sexiness (and being the first crush for many who remember the 1960s) she gives a savvy performance as a young woman discovering her own sexuality. Does she want the nice and adorable boy-next door (Bobby Rydell) or is there something more exciting in store for her, as personified by rocker Conrad Birdie (Jesse Pearson). Though, I will say, I would be far more interested if they had went with the Broadway Birdie and cast Dick Gautier instead. Talk about sexy.
Plus, if we discuss deep-seated discussion of music numbers as inherently sexual, just look to our video and “Got a Lot of Livin’ to Do”. -KP
Out of the Past (1947)
Out of the Past is another of those essential noirs which reminds us just why noir is soooo sexy.
I mean, of all the Hollywood leading men, Robert Mitchum‘s star persona is perhaps most synonymous with a sense of rugged, masculine and effortless sexuality. Perhaps this is why he worked sooooo well in film noir.
Out of the Past features Mitchum (the ultimate noir hero) opposite Jane Greer as Kathy who can perhaps be called one of the ultimate femmes fatales and the results are electric. In fact, Out of the Past features one of the most outwardly sexy (and sexual!) scenes one could see in a film still under the influence of the Production Code. Check it out in our video. You won’t be sorry. -KP
Double Indemnity (1944)
One almost forgets that Fred MacMurray played a really good schlemiel. The man orchestrated one of the best career rewrites I’ve ever seen in the early 1960s when he took on the mantle of America’s ultimate Dad (thanks to Disney AND My Three Sons).
Two decades before that though, MacMurray made a career playing noir leading men as he does here in Double Indemnity. As insurance man Walter Neff, he has an itch he needs to scratch and that can only be done by Barbara Stanwyck and… murder! The banter between these two in Double Indemnity is second to none, but I mean considering the plot line, Phyllis and Walter need to have an unreal chemistry. Trust me, it steams up the screen. If you only know MacMurray from his Disney work… You’ll never look at him the same way again. -KP
Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)
You knew I’d include John Garfield on this list and who wouldn’t? The James M. Cain novel on which Postman is based was presumed to be too filthy for an adaptation (and the 1981 remake certainly ramped up the sex factor). But this 1946 version is plenty sexy. The way the characters are introduced to each other immediately introduces the world of lust, from Cora Smith’s bare midriff to the way Garfield pulls the lipstick close to him so she has to come forward (that was something he did in other movies). Like The Long Hot Summer literal heat plays a factor, from the burgers burning when the pair meet to a cat on an electrical wire serving as a major plot point. -KL
Peyton Place (1957)
As viewers of my YouTube content will know, I’m always a fan of Peyton Place. The primetime soap opera, the book, and above all, the movie. One can never go wrong with a juicy, mid-twentieth century soap opera.
This 1957 film is fully and completely about sex. When looking at the dueling stories of Constance (Lana Turner) and Allison MacKenzie (Diane Varsi) as well as their resulting entanglements, the movie paints a picture of sex in the 1950s. Sure, there’s a lot of repression here, but in that, there is a deep-seated fascination. This is a story about a small town in the 1950s after all. Everyone wants everyone else… And then there’s the teenagers. -KP
Rebel Without a Cause (1955)
If you’re at all a recurring Ticklish Buisness listener or reader, you know that Rebel Without a Cause is one of my all-time favorite movies and I have worked it into each and every list I’ve done for this site (and this one is no different). What can I say? I’m a sucker for mid-1950s fashion.
Rebel Without a Cause might not jump to mind as the sexiest of feature films; however, you just aren’t looking hard enough. I mean, the presence of James Dean at his best (and poutiest!) speaks for itself. While the young actor only made three films before his premature death, this film is truly the pinnacle of his work.
Perhaps the sexiness is rooted in a sense of yearning for the forbidden, misspent years of teenagers in the 1950s. I mean, I don’t know about you, but when everyone was out doing their chicken runs, I was crouched over homework… and TCM, but I’m not going there. This film is all about surging feelings, hormones and emotions. Everything is bigger and so much powerful as a teenager and you can certainly feel it in this film.
And can I get a “Woot woot” for Corey Allen? He deserves far more love than he gets. -KP
A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)
Streetcar is an interesting feature, especially on this list, because lust is so often used against the characters, particularly Vivien Leigh’s Blanche. But it’s also a movie that’s about how sex creates and produces tension and at the forefront of a lot of that is Marlon Brando‘s Stanley. His introduction to the film was infamous for reviving interest in the t-shirt and the way the camera gazes on him, it knows what we’re all looking at. Stanley is a horrid person, of that there’s no doubt, but Williams’ play (and Elia Kazan‘s direction) interrogate the way people over look that. Stella (Kim Hunter) sees Stanley’s brutality first hand but is also the one to tell Stella about how exciting she finds his anger and intensity to be. It’s a complicated relationship shown with all the fire and passion you’d expect. -KL
Rear Window (1954)
Rear Window might not be the Hitchcock movie one thinks about when considering sexy… just hear us out on this one.
This movie very much fits in with the sweaty, sultry summertime features on this list. Everything about this movie is close and claustrophobic.
At the same time though, actress Grace Kelly is a breath of fresh air in the thriller. While Rear Window is only her sixth feature, she brings a star persona which is fully and completely her own. At the same time though, she shines a new light on Jimmy Stewart as a romantic lead. While Stewart was cusping the other side of middle age, when the soon-to-be Princess Grace looks at him, he’s sexier by proxy. As she steps out of the darkness in her first scene (and she only has eyes for him), I found myself a real believer in the Hitchcock blonde… and I’m not a huge Grace Kelly fan. So that’s saying something. -KP
Baby Doll (1956)
Another Elia Kazan directed effort based off a Tennessee Williams story (with Williams writing the script), Baby Doll is salacious by 1950s standards from the minute young Carroll Baker is shown sleeping in a baby crib. Baker plays Baby Doll Meighan, a 19-year-old girl married to the far older Archie Lee (Karl Malden). The arrangement of their marriage is that the pair, despite being married for 2 years, won’t be intimate till Baby Doll turns 20 which is in three days. Baby Doll is trying to push that agreement off and once next door neighbor Silva Vacarro (Eli Wallach) shows up, all bets are off. Silva is determined to screw over Archie Lee for burning down his cotten gin and is content to utilize Baby Doll’s thirst to get what he wants.
Wallach and Baker are two performers I wouldn’t originally say are sexy, but they radiate heat the minute they’re introduced. There’s a lengthy sequence between the pair on a swing set that definitely brings the sweat. What I especially appreciate is that Silva understands Baby Doll is young, with little knowledge in the way of sex, and thus everything is a tease in comparison to Archie Lee desperate to just barrel in. I’ve never said Eli Wallach could get it, but if you watch this movie you’ll understand it for sure! -KL
Some Like It Hot (1959)
Okay, once again, we don’t think about Some Like It Hot as a go to “sexy” movie. I mean, not only does the plot revolve around our leads (Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon) masquerading as women, but their make-up is more than a little garish.
However, where this movie absolutely steams up the frame is Marilyn Monroe’s performance as Sugar. Despite all the struggles Monroe experienced during this time, she shines in her portrayal. She’s self-assured, gorgeous and wears the steamy Orry-Kelly costumes like they are a second skin.
Those of you who watched the video might scoff… but can we acknowledge the sexiness in Joe E. Brown’s portrayal? While I never thought I would use this man’s name in conjunction with sexy (I apologize to all you Stans out there!), during a recent rewatch, it dawned on me. He really wants Daphne. From the opening scenes, he doesn’t know this person and he doesn’t care. He wants to go “deep sea fishing” with Daphne on his “yacht” and so what if he’s a man?
All together now! “Nobody’s perfect!”. -KP
The Heiress (1949)
In comparison to some of the other movies, The Heiress isn’t a movie that’s outright about sex, but it is a sexy movie if only because of Montgomery Clift’s impossible beauty. Olivia de Havilland plays the plain Catherine Sloper who, after meeting Clift’s Morris Townsend, is determined to marry him. Sadly, Catherine’s tyrannical father believes Morris is a fortune hunter. Honestly, Monty Clift could take me for all I’m worth and I’d be okay with it. Similar to Eli Wallach in Baby Doll, Clift plays Morris like the perfect Jane Austen-esque rake. He knows all the right things to say to Catherine and that makes him just as dangerous as he is sexy. That charm cuts both ways but we, and Catherine, are totally fine being taken in. -KL
Elmer Gantry (1960)
When we started conjuring up this list I immediately thought of this Richard Brooks-directed feature. Elmer Gantry is a complex film filled with characters whose intentions are varying levels of dubious. At the heart of it is Burt Lancaster’s title character, the ultimate silver-tongued huckster who becomes a semi-celeb on the evangelist circuit. But Elmer is a sinner, probably the worst kind, and that comes through clearly when a woman from his past, Lulu Baines (Shirley Jones) drops into town. Jones won the Oscar for her performance and it’s so amazing for just how unrepentantly sexual it is. She understands Elmer’s full of it, but she makes you realize why he’s the best at selling lies. Her story about being alone with him in a church and how he “rammed the fear of God into [her]” is still a line that makes me gasp out loud. -KL
Red Dust (1932)
Red Dust could have only come out during the pre-Code era as part of what makes it sexy is how frank it could be. (I haven’t seen the 1953 remake, Mogambo, but I’ve heard it loses a lot.) Clark Gable plays rubber plantation owner Dennis Carson who meets a prostitute named Vantine (Jean Harlow). Despite Vantine’s profession, she’s a good woman at heart but her and Dennis have a sexual connection just as strong as their emotional one. Outside of this taking place in the jungle where sweat is prevalent, this movie does a lot of fun bits of what I call “sexy business.” Gable will pinch and touch Harlow in a way that makes you say, “Oh, it’s 1932.” -KL
Ball of Fire (1941)
Howard Hawks‘ Ball of Fire was a first-time watch for me during the pandemic and not only is it a fun movie, but it’s one all about the sexiness of language and intelligence. Barbara Stanwyck plays the wonderfully named Sugarpuss O’Shea, a burlesque dancer who finds herself hiding out with a group of professors working on a dictionary. I’m not big on Gary Cooper, but so much of the romanticism comes from his attempts to be hip and her attempts to be demure coming together. But, really, the most unintentionally sexy moment of this movie will always be Dana Andrews as mob boss Joe Lilac telling Gary Cooper, “Call me Daddy.” -KL
On an Island With You (1948)
Okay, this movie has a questionable plotline. Boy meets girl. Boy becomes so obsessed with girl he gets a job on her film and lovingly kidnaps her as a means of spending time with her. But who can resist the adorablness of one Peter Lawford? I can’t say this movie has the sexiest cast ever but everyone is next level beautiful. Lawford’s got the swoony element with Esther Williams which is nice, but the sex appeal comes from Ricardo Montalban and Cyd Charisse, who play the B couple of this movie. They have a dance scene that’s awash in tight shirts and sexy dancing, and that’s after we get a swimming dream sequence involving spangly swimsuits and an underwater fistfight. -KL
The Pirate (1948)
I can’t say The Pirate is a good movie, but it is a pretty horny movie. Judy Garland plays Manuela, who falls in love (or lust) with the evil pirate, Macoco. The problem is she believes a traveling player named Serafin (Gene Kelly) is Macoco and hilarity ensues. The Pirate is unintentionally humorous in how thirsty it is, especially as Judy shudders “Maco-co” so often. But Kelly plays up to it, including one fantasy dance sequence that sees him in very short shorts doing a dance that’s fairly erotic. But, seriously, Judy’s character is just straight up desperate for Kelly that it has to have a spot on this list. -KL
Sunday in New York (1963)
Sunday in New York is the 1960s take on a sex comedy, so it’s not surprising that it made this list. It makes its point known the minute the audience meets Adam (Cliff Robertson) who entices his girlfriend to come visit him for….obvious reasons. But when he opens the door it’s Jane Fonda‘s Eileen standing there. Is she his wife? His actual girlfriend? Nope, she’s his sister (though the movie briefly wants you think they’re lovers….1960s!). From there the rest of the movie is about the nature of sex between men and women, with Eileen soliciting big brother Adam’s advice on sex, only to have him remind her about being a nice girl. Other things happen in the movie, including a bizarre dance sequence between Adam and Rod Taylor’s Mike that’s homoerotic as all get-out, but the coup de grace is Adam’s numerous attempts to get laid. His telling his girlfriend that he saw “the sexiest rainstorm” is blush-inducing for sure. -KL
The Sea Wolf (1941)
When you’re trapped on a boat the only thing one can do is be thirsty, right? Okay, The Sea Wolf definitely doesn’t loan itself to sexiness, but there are moments in it that just make you swoon and I ain’t talking strictly about John Garfield. There’s a subplot involving Garfield’s character, George Leach, and convict Ruth Brewster (Ida Lupino). When Ruth almost dies George gives her his blood in a transfusion and several of their moments are romantic in the sense that he spared his life for her. They’re literally bound by blood but can’t exactly be together considering the madness of Edward G. Robinson‘s Wolf Larsen. Boo! -KL
If you haven’t already, check out the video above for the sexiest moments in these films!
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Kristen Lopez View All
A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.
Agree wholeheartedly on every pick. Wondering how you feel about Bell, Book, and Candle as a contender for a spot on this great list? Cheers!
Ooooo!!! That one really could (and should) have made my list!!! Love, love, love Bell, Book and Candle. That’s probably my favorite Kim Novak role.
This makes me miss having access to the TCM channel! Ah, sigh, maybe some day soon.