There has been nudity in the movies almost as long as there have been movies, from the early experimental days of cinema onwards: it is after all where the phrase ‘peep show’ originated. Busby Berkeley’s scantily-clad chorus line dancers and Hedy Lamarr’s famous nude run in Ecstasy may have heralded in the Hollywood production codes and a 30-year era of cover-ups, but with the arrival of the permissive society in the 1960s, the gloves - and just about everything else - were off. Nudity, no longer restricted to under-the-counter porn and low budget nudist camp flicks, started to become commonplace in mainstream cinema, and even the big stars were tempted into showing more to their adoring fans than - in Cole Porter’s famous words - a glimpse of stocking.
These days, anything certainly goes, and the occasional non-nudity/body-double clause apart, it’s difficult to think of a major modern-day actor or actress who hasn’t bared all for their art - or at least box office ratings.
On the whole, those appearances usually fall into one of the following categories:
BEFORE THEY WERE FAMOUS: Usually (but not exclusively) involving aspiring young actresses keen to make their mark, and happy - or at least persuaded - to do nude scenes, often in low-budget independent productions or in supporting roles in bigger movies. Examples include Michelle Pfeiffer in Into The Night (1985), Melanie Griffiths in Something Wild (1986), Charlize Theron in The Devil’s Advocate (1997) and Katie Holmes in The Gift (2000).
REASON THEY BECAME FAMOUS: Where would Sharon Stone be without Basic Instinct (1992) or Bo Derek without 10 (1979)?
ESSENTIAL TO THE MOVIE: Screen nudity can often define a character, such as the brazen Kathleen Turner in Body Heat (1981) or the submissive Maggie Gyllenhaal in Secretary (2002). Neither movie would have worked as well without it. And if you’re making a film about the adult entertainment industry, you can’t be coy - neither therefore could stars Demi Moore in Striptease (1996), Heather Graham in Boogie Nights (1997) or Amanda Seyfried in Lovelace (2013).
HEADLINE GRABBERS: A brief flash of flesh, especially from an established star, can work wonders in the marketing of a movie - think Halle Berry in Swordfish (2001), Rene Russo in The Thomas Crown Affair (1999) or the usually demure Julie Andrews in S.O.B. (1981).
WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL? With some actresses - Helen Mirren, Greta Scacchi or Kate Winslet to name just a few of the better ones - it’s sometimes harder to list the films in which they’ve kept their clothes on.
Most of the above are relatively well-known cases. But then there are those nude screen appearances which have been buried in the vaults, expunged from CVs, or simply defy logic, from stars you might never have imagined had ever got their kit off for the camera. So test your movie knowledge and see how many of these you recall (or will own up to having seen):
The star: Sylvester Stallone
The film: A Party at Kitty and Stud’s (1970)
The low-down: In his struggling pre-Rocky days, the starving actor went the distance to star in this crudely shot hardcore porno romp. When he hit the big time it was re-released under the title The Italian Stallion, giving movie fans - in the immortal words of the authors of The Golden Turkey Awards - “the thrill of watching Sly pumping something a bit more challenging than mere iron.”
The critical reaction: “Stallone displays his shortcomings.” The Four Word Film Review
The star: Diana Dors
The film: The Amorous Milkman (1975)
The low-down: Britain’s answer to Marilyn Monroe (or at least Jayne Mansfield) matured from blonde bombshell to fine character actress in her later years, but not in this abomination: the nadir of the era’s Confessions-style British sex ‘comedies.’ Notable only for the fact that star Brendan Price manages the impossible - showing even less acting talent and charisma than Robin Askwith.
The critical reaction: “Bawdy trash.” Radio Times
The star: John Travolta
The film: Moment By Moment (1978)
The low-down: It’s hard to believe that JT’s follow up to the box office hits Saturday Night Fever and Grease saw him play a character called Strip (honest) in this dire and unconvincing May-December romance featuring his near-doppelgänger Lily Tomlin. The stars appear naked in a hot tub scene which by all accounts was greeted by hoots of derision from the thankfully few cinema audiences who saw it.
The critical reaction: “Totally unsympathetic characters set against a background of shrink-riddled, over-privileged Marin County society, and accompanied by some of the worst easy-listening muzak LA could dredge up. Yuk.” Time Out
The star: Kirk Douglas
The film: Saturn 3 (1980)
The low-down: The Hollywood legend was obviously finding good parts hard to come by as he entered his sixties. Why else would he choose to star in this lame-brained, Lew Grade-produced sci-fi schlockfest? Co-star Farrah Fawcett tosses her locks and displays her assets if not her acting ability, whilst in a mooning scene, Kirk shows us that the famous Douglas dimple is not restricted to his chin.
The critical reaction: “Awesomely stupid, totally implausible from a scientific viewpoint, and a shameful waste of money.” Roger Ebert
The star: Kevin Costner
The film: Sizzle Beach USA (1981)
The low-down: Also known as Malibu Hot Summer in later versions released after Kev shot to fame, this is his earliest-known screen appearance, a zero-budget softcore road movie. Apparently there was no script, with the actors making most of it up as they went along. It figures.
The critical reaction: “A maddeningly random collection of scenes and images that your brain works overtime to try and connect. Movies About Girls
The star: Toyah Willcox
The film: The Ebony Tower (1984)
The low-down: The punk singer-turned actress was in exalted company (co-stars Laurence Olivier, Greta Scacchi and Roger Rees, screenplay by John Mortimer, original novella by John Fowles) for this well-crafted TV movie about a crusty old English painter living in exile with his two muses. Set in the south of France in summer, it’s inevitable that Willcox and Scacchi, as the artist’s models, spend a lot of their time naked: in the studio, reading on the lawn, skinny-dipping in the river, whilst Rees toys with his conscience about being unfaithful to his wife.
The critical reaction: “Toyah does what she can - she isn't the best actress around and appears to be compensating for that by bringing her stylists with her: her hairstyles and make-up appear ludicrously theatrical and intricate for a simple country sojourn.” The Digital Fix
The star: Julie Walters
The film: She’ll Be Wearing Pink Pyjamas (1985)
The low-down: We all remember her as one of the coyly-naked Calendar Girls (2003), but Britain’s national treasure showed off a lot more several years earlier in this Film Four production about a group of middle-aged women on an outward bound course in the Lake District. There’s a touching skinny-dip where she persuades one of her shy companions to shed her inhibitions, and a full-frontal communal shower scene that’s about as far removed from Porky’s as you could imagine.
The critical reaction: “The women are a lively and well-differentiated lot, and there is a bevy of fine actresses playing them.” Variety
The star: Kathy Bates
The film: About Schmidt (2002)
The low-down: By her own admission, Kathy Bates is neither the youngest, slimmest or most beautiful star in the Hollywood firmament, so probably thought ‘what the hell?’ when - at the age of 54 - she decided to get naked and share a hot tub with Jack Nicholson in this acclaimed social satire-cum-black comedy. Rolling Stone described it as “the one scene (and it's a pip) where Nicholson gives his famous eyebrow a hilarious workout.”
The critical reaction: “Irresistibly droll.” The Guardian
The star: Olivia Colman
The film: Confetti (2006)
The low-down: An early appearance by the future BAFTA-winning actress, who spends a large part of her segment of this mockumentary totally naked, as one half (alongside Robert Webb) of a naturist couple battling it out to win the coveted title of Most Original Wedding of the Year.
The critical reaction: “It's cheerfully daft enough to be good fun, and even if you won't be quoting it the next day, it'll keep you laughing from start to finish.” Empire
© Paul Rouse