Nudity in films is any presentation in films that involves people who are naked or wearing less clothing than contemporary norms consider modest. The presentation of nudity in films or otherwise has since the development of the medium been controversial, and most nude scenes in films have had to be justified as being part of the story, in the concept of “artistically justifiable nudity”. In some cases nudity is itself the object of a film or is used in the development of the character of the subject. In some cases, nudity has been criticized as “superfluous” or “gratuitous” to the plot, and some film producers have been accused of including nudity in a film to appeal to certain audiences. Many actors and actresses have appeared nude, or exposing parts of their bodies or dressed in ways considered provocative by contemporary standards at some point in their careers.
Nudity in film should be distinguished from sex in film. Erotic films are suggestive of sexuality, and usually contain nudity, though that is not a prerequisite. Nudity in a sexual context is common in pornographic films, but softcore pornographic films generally avoid depiction of a penis or a vagina. A film on naturism or about people for whom nudity is common may contain non-sexual nudity, and some other non-pornographic films may contain very brief nude scenes. The vast majority of nudity in film is found in pornographic films.
Nude scenes can be controversial in some cultures because they may challenge some of the community’s standards of modesty. These standards vary by culture, and depend on the type of nudity, who is exposed, which parts of the body are exposed, the duration of the exposure, the pose, the context, and other aspects. Regardless, in many cultures nudity in film is subject to censorship or rating regimes which control the content of films, with the intention of limiting content that is deemed by the classification authorities or the movie industry, or both, to be harmful or undesirable, morally or otherwise.
Many directors and producers apply self-censorship, limiting nudity (and other content) in their films, to avoid external censorship or a strict rating, in countries that have a rating system. Directors and producers may choose to limit nudity because of objections from actors involved, or for a wide variety of other personal, artistic, genre-bound or narrative-oriented reasons.
Over the years, the nudity in film was a source of scandal and provocation; but its presence today is treated largely naturally, frequently with nudity being shown in scenes that naturally require it, such as those that take place in nature or in the bathroom or in love scenes. For example, The Blue Lagoon (1980), by Randal Kleiser, shows the awakening of the sexual instinct in two shipwrecked young people on a tropical island where nudity is part and parcel of the natural environment in which they move. The relationship between a painter and his model, who traditionally poses in the nude, is the context of a number of films. In La Belle Noiseuse (“The Beautiful Liar”, 1991), by Jacques Rivette, the painter’s model motivates him again after a period of lack of inspiration of the artist. Similarly, in Titanic (1997), by James Cameron, Kate Winslet poses nude for Leonardo DiCaprio. These films show the close relationship between film and the traditional art nude in art in films such as The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988), by Terry Gilliam, where Uma Thurman poses as Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus, and Goya in Bordeaux (1999) by Carlos Saura, where Maribel Verdú poses as Goya’s The Naked Maja.
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Nude photography before cinema
The actress Kay Laurell wearing a bodystocking in an early 20th-century image
Nudity was almost universally not permitted on stage, but sheer or simulated nudity may have been. Skin-tight flesh-colored bodystockings could at times be used to simulate nudity. Actresses could appear on stage in bodystockings which left little to the imagination, for roles such as Lady Godiva.
American actress Adah Isaacs Menken created controversy in 1861 when she wore a flesh-colored bodystocking in the play Mazeppa, based on Byron’s “Mazeppa”, in which she played a Polish man who was tied nude to the back of a wild horse by his enemies. She also posed nude for photographs.
Sarah Bernhardt early in her career posed topless on several occasions for French photographer Felix Nadar. She is nevertheless seen with her top covered in surviving stills of these sessions. At least one later topless photograph of the young Bernhardt made in 1873 survives. These nude sessions were not meant for outright public consumption but for the encouraging of theatrical employers or personal guests. Thus nude photos of women like Menken and Bernhardt are known only to scholars and perhaps theater buffs.
In the 1880s, Eadweard Muybridge, at the dawn of the invention of the motion picture, used a device he called a zoopraxiscope to project a series of successive still photographs. The photos would then be played one after the other giving the illusion of movement. Sometimes the same sequence would be filmed using several cameras. Many of Muybridge’s photographic sessions using the zoopraxiscope had nude anonymous models, both female and male, and even Walt Whitman and George Bernard Shaw posed nude for a session.
Early films: the silent era
Audrey Munson in Inspiration (1915), the first non-pornographic American film containing nude scenes.
A still of Annette Kellerman from A Daughter of the Gods (1916).
Theda Bara in one of the risqué outfits in Cleopatra (1917).
The first films containing nudity were the early erotic films. Production of such films commenced almost immediately after the invention of the motion picture. Two of the earliest pioneers were Frenchmen Eugène Pirou and Albert Kirchner. Kirchner (under the name “Léar”) directed such films for Pirou. The 7-minute 1899 film Le Coucher de la Mariée had Louise Willy performing a bathroom striptease. Other French filmmakers also considered that profits could be made from this type of risqué films, showing women disrobing.
In Austria, Johann Schwarzer formed his Saturn-Film production company which between 1906 and 1911 produced 52 erotic productions, each of which contained young local women fully nude, to be shown at men-only theatre nights (called Herrenabende). Before Schwarzer’s productions, erotic films were provided by the Pathé brothers from French-produced sources. These films were promoted as erotic and artistic, rather than pornographic, but in 1911, Saturn was dissolved by the censorship authorities and its films destroyed. However, copies of at least a half of the films have been found in private hands. Filmarchiv Austria has included four of Schwarzer’s works on the Europa Film Treasures site: Das Sandbad (1906), Baden Verboten (1906), Das Eitle Stubenmädchen (1908) and Beim Fotografen (1908).
The 1911 Italian film Dante’s Inferno, directed by Francesco Bertolini, is loosely adapted from Dante’s epic poem The Divine Comedy and inspired by the illustrations of Gustave Doré. In depicting tormented souls in hell, there are frequent glimpses of nude male and female actors (including the first male frontal scenes). Remade many times, the U.S. version, Dante’s Inferno (1924) from the Fox Film Corporation, also contains groups of nude figures and scenes of flagellation.
Inspiration, a silent film released in 1915, is believed to be the first American motion picture with a leading actor in a nude scene. The context of the nudity in the film was that of an artist’s model, played by Audrey Munson, at work. Munson appeared nude again in a similar role in the 1916 film Purity. A feature of these films was that Munson was a tableau vivant, not being required to move, and only her backside was in view. Annette Kellerman, the famous Australian swimming star, appeared fully nude in an active role in Fox’s A Daughter of the Gods in 1916. Though shot from the front, most of Kellerman’s body is covered by her long hair. Kellerman had appeared in several lost films prior to 1912, but whether she did nude scenes in them is unknown. A couple of her films from 1910, thought to have been lost, have been rediscovered in Australia.
Several early films of the silent era and early sound era include women in nude scenes, presented in a historical or religious context. One such film was the anticlerical Hypocrites (1915), directed by Lois Weber, which contained several sequences with a nude Margaret Edwards appearing (uncredited) as a ghostly apparition representing Truth. Her scenes were created using innovative (for 1915) traveling double exposure sequences which made her appear as a semi-transparent spirit. In 1917, Fox produced the lavish Cleopatra in which Theda Bara wore a number of risqué outfits. Nell Shipman appeared nude in the Canadian film Back to God’s Country (1919). Fox produced The Queen of Sheba in 1921 starring Betty Blythe, who displayed ample nudity even when wearing 28 different diaphanous costumes.
Is Your Daughter Safe? (1927) was one of the earliest exploitation films which contained nudity. A compilation of medical documentary films and stock footage of nude scenes dating back to the 1900s, it was presented as an educational film about the dangers of venereal disease, white slavery, and prostitution. Exploitation short subjects (five to fifteen minutes in length) with comedic plots and frequent nudity were also produced in the silent era. A feature length film of that period was Hula (1927) which starred Clara Bow. A few have survived to the present such as Forbidden Daughters (1927), directed by prominent nude photographer Albert Arthur Allen, Hollywood Script Girl (1928), and Uncle Si and the Sirens (c. 1928). These were the forerunners of the “nudie” comedy feature films that emerged in late 1950s.
Years later, when the Hays Code came into force, these films were considered too obscene to be reshown. Most of these films are now lost.
In France in the 1920s, short-subject films were made of a topless Josephine Baker performing exotic dance routines. The 1922 Swedish/Danish silent horror film Häxan contained nude scenes, torture and sexual perversion. The film was banned in the U.S. and had to be edited before it was shown in other countries. The 1929 Russian film Man with a Movie Camera by Dziga Vertov featured nudity within the context of naturism, including live childbirth.
U.S. cinema since 1929
Film-making started in the 1890s, with the first feature length film being produced in 1896. Nude scenes appeared in films from the start of the new invention. Several Hollywood films produced in the 1910s and ’20s, which contained only brief nudity, created controversy. Various groups objected to these features on moral grounds, and several states set up film censorship boards, arguing that such content was obscene and should be banned. Under pressure, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) created its own censorship agency, the Hays Code, which brought an end to nudity and risqué content in films produced by the main Hollywood studios (i.e., MPAA members). The Code was adopted in 1930, and began to be effectively enforced in 1934. At the same time, the Catholic Legion of Decency was formed to keep an eye on the morals conveyed in films and indicate its disapproval by “condemning” films it considered morally objectionable (theaters would not show a condemned film until this system was defeated in the 1960s).
Social and official attitudes toward nudity have eased since those days and the Code came under repeated challenge in the 1950s and ’60s. In 1958, the New York Court of Appeals ruled, in the context of prohibition of screenings of films, that a film that merely contains nudity was not obscene. The Code was abandoned in 1968, in favor of an MPAA film rating system.
From its early days the presence of nudity in a film has been controversial and even today its presence is invariably noted by critics and censors. Until the 1980s, male nudity was rarely shown on screen. Though female nudity was routinely treated with respect and solemnity, male nudity, when it finally found its way onto the screen, was generally treated humorously and mockingly. Today, though nudity in film is much more common, its presence in dramas is still expected to be justified on artistic grounds.
Pre-Hays Code Hollywood, 1929-1934
Pre-Code films frequently presented people in sexually suggestive or provocative situations, and did not hesitate to display women in scanty attire. In this publicity photo, Dorothy Mackaill plays a secretary-turned-prostitute in Safe in Hell (1931).
The silent film era came to an end in 1929. In 1930, the Motion Picture Association of America drew up the Motion Picture Production Code, also known as the Hays Code, to raise the moral standards of films by directly restricting the materials which the major film studios could include in their films. The code authorized nudity only in naturist quasi-documentary films and in foreign films. However, the code was not enforced until 1934.
After the end of silent films, movies with sound that included brief glimpses of nudity appeared as early as 1930 with All Quiet on the Western Front. Cecil B. DeMille, later known as a family entertainment specialist, included several nude scenes in his early films such as The Sign of the Cross (1932), Four Frightened People (1934), and Cleopatra (1934). The “Dance of the Naked Moon” and orgy scene was cut for The Sign of the Cross 1938 reissue to comply with the production code. Other filmmakers followed suit, particularly in historical dramas such as The Scarlet Empress (1934) – which, among other things, shows topless women being burned at the stake – and contemporary stories filmed in exotic, mostly tropical, locations. Bird of Paradise, directed by King Vidor in 1932, featured a nude swimming scene with Dolores del Río, and Harry Lachman’s Dante’s Inferno featured many naked men and women suffering in hell.
The early Tarzan films with Johnny Weissmuller featured at least partial nudity justified by the natural surroundings in which the characters lived; in Tarzan and His Mate in 1934, Jane (Maureen O’Sullivan, doubled by Olympic swimmer Josephine McKim) swims in the nude.
Under the pretense of being an educational ethnographic film, producers could justify showing half-clad natives in jungle epics and South Seas island documentaries. This was often done by editing in stock footage or fabricating new scenes with ethnic-looking stand-ins. Examples of docufiction include Ingagi (1930), notorious for its fake scenes of semi-nude “native” girls filmed on a back lot. Forbidden Adventure in Angkor (1937) is a 1912 Cambodia documentary with scenes added, for dramatic effect, of two explorers and a dozen topless female bearers, incongruously played by African-American women. The Sea Fiend (1935), re-issued as Devil Monster (1946), is a low-budget South Seas drama spiced up with stock footage inserts of half-dressed native girls. Other films of questionable authenticity in this subgenre include Moana (1926), Trader Horn (1931), Tabu (1931), Gow (1934), aka Gow the Killer (re-released as Cannibal Island in 1956), Mau-Mau (1955), and Naked Africa (1957).
Due to the diaphanous or sheer nature of 1920s and 1930s fashions, female body parts or virtual nudity, or both, can be on display even when the performer is fully clothed. As a result when the Hays came into force in 1934 studio wardrobe departments had to attire actresses in more conservative as well as contemporary dress.
Hays Code Enforcement Hollywood, 1934-1960s
Though in place, the Hays code was not enforced until 1934, spurred on in response to objections voiced by several groups to the content of Hollywood films – provoked at least partly by the notorious 1933 Czech film Ecstasy, which was highly controversial in its time largely because of a nude swimming scene by Hedy Lamarr as well as perhaps the first non-pornographic film to portray sexual intercourse, although never showing more than the actors’ faces. It has also been called the first on-screen depiction of a female orgasm.
The restrictions of the production code were strictly enforced from 1934 until the early 1960s to restrict nudity in films produced by the studios. United States produced films were also under the scrutiny of moral guardians, such as the Catholic Legion of Decency, which had an influence on the content and subject matter of films in the 1930s and ’40s. They were also subject to constraints of state censorship authorities. These bodies followed inconsistent guidelines through which the film producers had to navigate; with some films being exhibited in cut versions in some states.
The Hays Code was so strict that even the display of cleavage was controversial. Producer Howard Hughes created controversy by his emphasis on cleavage, especially that of Jane Russell, first in the 1941 film The Outlaw and also in the 1953 film The French Line. The film was found objectionable under the Hays Code because of Russell’s “breast shots in bathtub, cleavage and breast exposure” while some of her decollete gowns were regarded to be “intentionally designed to give a bosom peep-show effect beyond even extreme decolletage”. Both films were condemned by the Legion of Decency and were released only in cut versions.
Independent film producers – i.e., those outside the studio system – were not bound by the restrictions of the Hays Code. However, they were subject to state censorship regimes and could be excluded from so-called “family” theatres. These films claimed to be educational and dealt with taboo topics such as drug parties, prostitution, and sexually transmitted infections. In the course of presenting the message, nudity at times made an appearance. These films, which emerged in the 1930s, were obliged to play in independent theaters or traveled across the United States in “roadshow” fashion. They were normally low-budget, and described as sensationalized exploitation films. Using this framework, brief nude scenes of women appeared in Maniac (1934) and Sex Madness (1937), and nude swimming sequences in Damaged Lives (1933), Marihuana (1936) and Child Bride (1938).
Exploitative films with pseudo-ethnographic pretensions continued well into the 1960s. For example, Mau-Mau (1955), presented as a documentary of the violent nationalist uprising in Kenya, played the grind-house circuit. Fabricated scenes filmed in front of a painted backdrop of an African village show nude and semi-clad “native” women being raped, strangled, and stabbed by machete-wielding maniacs.
Other films containing nudity were the early underground 8mm pornographic films and fetish reels which, due to various censorship regimes, had only limited (usually clandestine) means of distribution and were only shown in private until the 1970s.
Nudist films first appeared in the early 1930s as documentaries and docu-dramas promoting the healthy lifestyle of the naturist movement in Europe and the U.S. Earliest examples include This Nude World (1932) from Germany and Elysia, Valley of the Nude (1933), filmed at a nudist camp in Elsinore, California. Throughout the thirties, nudist films like Why Nudism? (1933), Nudist Land (1937), and The Unashamed (1938) flourished in road shows, but disappeared entirely in the forties.
The nudist-camp movie was revived in the fifties with Garden of Eden (1954), the first naturist film shot in color. Changes in censorship laws led to a flood of films such as Naked Venus (1958) directed by Edgar G. Ulmer, Nudist Memories (1959), and Daughter of the Sun (1962) by David F. Friedman, and Herschell Gordon Lewis. Doris Wishman was probably the most active producer/director in the genre, with eight nudist films to her credit between 1960 and 1964, with Hideout in the Sun (1960), Nude on the Moon (1961), Diary of a Nudist (1961), Blaze Starr Goes Nudist (1962), Gentlemen Prefer Nature Girls (1963), Playgirls International (1963), Behind the Nudist Curtain (1964), and The Prince and the Nature Girl (1964).
Ramsey Harrington produced For Members Only (1960), Arthur Knight produced My Bare Lady (1963) and Leo Orenstein (under the pseudonym Alan Overton) directed Have Figure, Will Travel (1963). Exploitation producer George Weiss also released films such as Nudist Life (1961), which comprised vintage nudist camp footage. In the same year, in England, Harrison Marks released Naked as Nature Intended which starred Pamela Green and was a box office success (Marks soon went to make softcore pornographic and caning/spanking fetish films.)
Nudist films claimed to depict the lifestyles of members of the nudism or naturist movement, but were largely a vehicle for the exhibition of female nudity. They were mainly shot in naturist resorts, but augmented by attractive glamour models. The nudity was strictly non-sexual and when filmed frontally the members’ pubic area was strictly covered by the angle of shot or some clothing or other objects. There was uninhibited exposure of breasts and backsides though. The acting and technical production standards were not very high and the outlets for their exhibition were very limited, as was the size of the audience interested in these films, and many films were re-released several times under new titles, to trick patrons into seeing the films additional times. What audience there was lost interest in these films by the mid-1960s and production ceased.
At the same time, some independent producers produced erotic feature films which openly contained female nudity without a pretext of a naturist context. The Immoral Mr. Teas (1959) directed by Russ Meyer was the first of such films. In that film, the context for the presentation of female nudity was the fantasies of the main character involving nude women. A feature of the film was the use of larger-breasted women, which became a feature of this genre. The film is widely considered the first pornographic feature not confined to under-the-counter distribution, and the film was commercially successful. For the next few years a wave of such films, known as “nudies” or “nudie-cuties”, were produced for adult theatres (in the United States sometimes called grindhouse theatres). Films in this genre included Doris Wishman’s science fiction spoof Nude on the Moon (1963), the Herschell Gordon Lewis and David F. Friedman film The Adventures of Lucky Pierre (1961), and Ed Wood’s horror-nudie Orgy of the Dead (1965), with its bevy of topless dancers from beyond the grave, following his western screenplay, Revenge of the Virgins (1959), which shows a fierce tribe of bare-breasted Indian women hunting a group of treasure seekers. There were very many other similar films and sequels. They all boasted their low budgets and were generally of poor quality. Their producers generally did not claim any artistic merit for their work, but such films were very profitable. The only director in this field to go on to mainstream and critical success is Francis Ford Coppola, who began his career writing and directing a pair of nudie comedies in 1962, Tonight for Sure and The Bellboy and the Playgirls.
The exhibition of female bodies in the nude came into mild, but mainstream competition in the so-called beach party films which started in 1963 and proved surprisingly popular. There were many imitators and series in this genre. Though there was no direct toplessness, the genre featured youthful females spending most of their time in brief bikinis while the young attractive, fit male counterparts spent much of their time barechested. The added attraction was the music, playful atmosphere and dancing and the quality of the production (though plots were typically thin but included some mild romance), as well as the fact that these films could be viewed at “family” theatres and at drive-ins, and in a mixed audience. The females who appeared in these films were invariably youthful, shapely and full-breasted. Interest in these films waned by about 1966.
Challenges to the Hays Code, 1960-1966
Jayne Mansfield on the poster for Promises! Promises!
In Michael Powell’s controversial British film Peeping Tom, released in 1960, a model (Pamela Green) lies back on a bed waiting to be photographed by the killer in a key scene. She undoes her top briefly exposing one of her breasts. The scene is regarded as the first female nude scene in a mainstream postwar English-language feature film, and notably the first such scene for a British film. The movie was panned by critics at the time and it reportedly destroyed Powell’s directing career in the UK. The film is now seen as a cult classic; Martin Scorsese re-released it in 1979. Another 1960 release, the American horror film Macumba Love, featured a brief topless scene of June Wilkinson frolicking in the ocean. This segment, which caused a sensation at the time, was only seen in the European release of the film.
By now the Production Code had been revised so that it served less as a doctrine of rules and more as a workable set of precautions, including those on sex and nudity, to which filmmakers were advised on the more graphic depictions and given exceptions that could be made. It gave the MPAA the power to label certain films that were seen as containing adult or provocative material as “Suggested for Mature Audiences”. In some instances this was shortened to “S.M.A.”, as with the 1967 release of In Cold Blood, which was also exhibited with an age restriction that foreshadowed the R rating, primarily for its violence.
In 1963, Jayne Mansfield was the first mainstream American actress to appear nude in a starring role in Promises! Promises!, though the pubic area is never visible on film. The film was banned in Cleveland and some other cities, though later the Cleveland court decided the nude scenes in the film were not lewd. Both the original and an edited version enjoyed box office success elsewhere. As a result of the film’s success, Mansfield landed on the Top 10 list of Box Office Attractions for that year. However, Chicago Sun-Times movie critic Roger Ebert wrote, “Finally in Promises! Promises! she does what no Hollywood star ever does except in desperation. She does a nudie. In 1963, that kind of box office appeal was all she had left.” Mansfield’s autobiographical book, Jayne Mansfield’s Wild, Wild World—which she co-wrote with Mickey Hargitay—was published directly after the release of the film. It contains 32 pages of black-and-white photographs from the movie printed on glossy paper. Photographs of a naked Mansfield on the set were published in the June 1963 edition of Playboy.
The Pawnbroker, released in 1964, breached the Motion Picture Production Code with actresses Linda Geiser and Thelma Oliver fully exposing their breasts. Allied Artists refused to cut the film and released it to theaters without a Production Code seal. The nudity resulted in a backlash from moral and religious conservatives, including the Catholic Legion (which by that time had become a virtually powerless fringe organization). However, critical and overall public response was positive, and many Catholics rebuked the Legion’s condemnation of the film. The National Council of Churches even gave the movie an award for Best Picture of the Year.
The 1965 thriller The Collector contained mild nudity of Samantha Eggar and added to the challenge to the blanket prohibition of nudity in films. That same year Julie Christie appeared nude in the British drama film Darling. U.S. release prints of the film and even later U.S. video and DVD versions cut the nudity. In 1966, Michelangelo Antonioni’s seminal film Blowup was the first English-language film to show a woman’s pubic hair. Antonioni’s mod-influenced murder-mystery contained a scene involving two girls undressing before being chased around a studio by a fashion photographer, who wrestles them to the ground and exposes their torsos. There are additional scenes depicting sexuality and partial nudity, as well as blatant drug use. The film was produced in Britain and released to American audiences by MGM without Production Code approval, the first mainstream motion picture containing nudity to be released by a major studio in the US, the first open defiance by a major studio of the Code. That same year the biblical epic based on the book of Genesis, The Bible: In the Beginning, was released by Twentieth Century Fox featuring a nude Adam and Eve sequence. Another epic, the historical film Hawaii (1966) featured scenes of naked native girls. John Frankenheimer’s 1966 sci-fi thriller Seconds, starring Rock Hudson, contained an extended sequence of full frontal male and female nudity that was deleted from the original American release in which bohemian revelers dance and play in a wine vat.
By 1967, the MPAA had abandoned the Production Code altogether, and in November 1968, the voluntary MPAA film rating system was implemented. The rating system has changed in minor ways since its inception, but the type and intensity of nudity continues to be a rating criteria.
Sexploitation films in the U.S. and Japan
By mid-1960s, erotic independent films took on a harder edge with the end of cute, non-sexual erotic nudity of the nudie-cutie type and the ascent of nudity in a mix of sex and violence against the women known as “roughie” sexploitation. Prime examples include Lewis and Friedman’s Scum of the Earth! (1963), Russ Meyer’s Lorna (1964), R. Lee Frost’s The Defilers (1965), a study in abduction and sadism, with a young girl abducted and made into a sex slave, The Sexploiters (1965), Michael Findlay’s Body of a Female (1965), where a stripper is abducted, stripped and whipped, Doris Wishman’s Bad Girls Go to Hell (1965), The Agony of Love (1966), Michael Findlay’s psycho-killer trilogy starting with The Touch of Her Flesh (1967), and Joseph P. Mawra’s misogynistic Olga’s House of Shame and its sequels including White Slaves of Chinatown.
Sexploitation films initially played in grindhouse theatres and struggling independent theaters. However, by the end of the 1960s they were playing in established cinema chains. As the genre developed during the 1960s films began showing scenes of simulated sex. By the late 1960s, the films were attracting a larger and broader audience, including couples rather than the single males who originally made up the vast majority of patrons. The genre rapidly declined in the early 1970s due to advertising bans, the closure of many grindhouses and drive-in theaters and the growth of hardcore pornography in the “Golden Age of Porn”.
Frost’s Love Camp 7 (1968) was the forerunner of the women in prison and Nazi exploitation subgenres which have continued to the present day. Their stories feature women in prison who are subjected to sexual and physical abuse, typically by sadistic male or female prison wardens and guards. The genre also features many films in which imprisoned women engage in lesbian sex. These films discarded all moralistic pretensions and were works of pure fantasy intended only to titillate the audience with a lurid mix of sex and violence, including voyeurism (strip searches, group shower scenes, cat-fights) to sexual fantasies (lesbianism, rape, sexual slavery), to fetishism (bondage, whipping, degradation), and outright sadism (beatings, torture, cruelty).
In Japan, Seijun Suzuki’s ground-breaking Gate of Flesh (1964) was the first mainstream film with nudity seen in “general release” (as opposed to adults-only) theaters. Suzuki was a pioneer of the film noir–inspired yakuza genre. His surreal and influential Branded to Kill (1967) also contains several scenes of casual nudity. (The actors had to wear adhesive patches to avoid censorship problems.)
At the same time, Japan’s adult film industry began churning out sex-and-violence B-movies similar to the roughie sexploitation films coming out of the U.S. These so-called pink films (aka Pinku eiga and “pinky violent” movies) were partly influenced by the Ero guro movement which focuses on eroticism, sexual corruption, and decadence. Many, such as Shogun’s Joys of Torture (1968), deal directly with sadomasochism or include fetishistic scenes of female victims being bound, whipped, and otherwise abused. Other films use the theme of strong women exacting violent revenge for past injustices.
Violence, sex and nudity also found their way into mainstream films such as Stanley Kubrick’s controversial 1971 crime film A Clockwork Orange and Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1972 romantic drama Last Tango in Paris which fully exposed the attractive 19-year old actress Maria Schneider. As a result of her experience with the film and her treatment as a sex symbol rather than as a serious actress, Schneider resolved never to work nude again. The 1969 Ken Russell film Women in Love of the D. H. Lawrence novel had a nude wrestling scene between the two male co-stars, and the British film censor John Trevelyan who had passed the film received a complaint that they were “displaying their genials” (sic).
A film’s rating can have significance to a film’s commercial success. For example, X-rated films generally do not receive the same opportunity for exposure, though a few have been achieved critical success. In the United States, nudity in film alone generally attracts either a MPAA NC-17 (or X, in the past) or R rating. For example, Porky’s (1982), a broad sex comedy, that featured several full-frontal nude scenes involving multiple men and women, though never both together, obtained an R rating.
In the 2000s, most nude scenes led only to an R rating. Broken Flowers (2005) was rated R for containing “graphic nudity”, though it only contains one brief nude scene featuring Alexis Dziena. However, the 2003 film The Cooler originally received an NC-17 rating specifically for a scene in which Maria Bello’s pubic hair is exposed, though the film was edited to receive an R rating. Bello appeared in several full-frontal nude scenes in A History of Violence, which was rated R. Many films that were once rated X have been “re-rated” R; the rating on Midnight Cowboy, for instance, was so changed in late 1970 (the year after its original release).
Few mainstream American films show male or female genitalia in what is often called a full frontal nudity scene. In 2007, Judd Apatow announced “I’m gonna get a penis or a vagina in every movie I do from now on. . . . It really makes me laugh in this day and age, with how psychotic our world is, that anyone is troubled by seeing any part of the human body.” The cases where a penis appears fully or semi-erect in mainstream films are extremely limited, in part due to ratings pressure from the MPAA, which finds it more acceptable for a male’s genitals to be depicted in a flaccid state.
Actors and actresses are usually informed of nude scenes well in advance, and nudity waivers require directors to state what will be shown and how it will be presented. Actress Anne Hathaway said in an interview with National Public Radio, “The director submits a shot list, and you look over them for approval. And a lot of times, if an actor feels the shot demands a lot of them, they’ll demand money for it.”
The tastefulness of nude scenes is hotly debated in the United States. In the 2000s, adding nudity to films may hurt a film’s commercial potential. Some movie critics[who?] view gratuitous nudity (that which is not necessary for the plot) negatively. Various actors have refused to appear on film in the nude, citing either their personal morals or the risk to their reputations and careers. Since 2000s, many American films have included actresses in nude or partially nude roles.
European cinema since 1929
Europeans were more relaxed about nudity in film than the United States. European films exhibited in the United States were not subject to the Hays Code, though some did create controversy. The 1931 Greek film Daphnis and Chloe by Orestis Laskos featured the first nude scene in a European fiction film, showing Chloe bathing in a fountain.
Gustav Machatý’s Extase (1933) with Hedy Lamarr was condemned by Pope Pius XI. It was very controversial on its release in the United States and is credited with contributing to the repressive regime under the Hays Code.
Leni Riefenstahl’s Olympia (1938), which was produced as Nazi propaganda and a documentary of the 1936 Summer Olympics held in Berlin, has an opening sequence noted for its idealized, non-exploitive use of male and female nudity. Another less artistic film from Germany, Liane, Jungle Goddess (1956), featured Marion Michael as a topless female variant on the Tarzan legend.
Alessandro Blasetti’s La cena delle beffe (Dinner of fun, 1941) had Clara Calamai in what is credited as being the first topless scene in an Italian film. It was soon followed by similar scenes in the Italian films La corona di ferro (The Iron Crown, 1941) and Carmela (1942). Other noteworthy European films which contained nudity include Era lui… sì! sì! (1952, with Sophia Loren), Ingmar Bergman’s Summer with Monika (1953), Jean-Pierre Melville’s Bob le flambeur (1956, with Isabelle Corey, then aged 16), François Truffaut’s Shoot the Piano Player (1960), The Awful Dr. Orloff (1961), a French-Spanish horror film by Jesús Franco, Brigitte Bardot’s casual nude scenes in Contempt (1963) by Jean-Luc Godard, the French film The Game Is Over (1966, with Jane Fonda), Luis Buñuel’s Belle de Jour (1967, with Catherine Deneuve), and Isadora (1968, with Vanessa Redgrave).
Makers of the British film The Pleasure Girls (1965) shot an alternate version of a party scene with brief nudity that only appears in the export print. The 1966 British-Italian film Blowup became the first mainstream English-language film to show a woman’s pubic hair, although the particular shot was only a few seconds long. (Some sources, such as Playboy magazine’s History of Sex in Cinema series, have stated that the pubic hair exposure was unintended.)
Two Swedish films from 1967, I Am Curious (Yellow) and Inga, were ground-breaking—and famous—for showing explicit sex and nudity. Both were initially banned in the U.S., and were rated X when they were shown in 1968. I Am Curious (Yellow) was banned in Massachusetts, more on the basis of the sexuality than the nudity, and was the subject of prosecution. The film was held not to be obscene.
There was a surge in nudity in film in the United Kingdom after 1960. The gritty social drama This Sporting Life (1963) was among the first to include glimpses of male nudity. Judy Geeson’s uninhibited nude swim in Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush (1967) created a stir at the time. The surreal student protest film If…. (1968) was notorious and controversial for its frontal male nudity (excised by censors), female nudity, sex, violence and homosexuality. Originally X-rated, it was subsequently edited and re-rated down to an R. Ken Russell’s Women in Love (1969) was especially controversial for showing frontal male nudity in a wrestling scene between Oliver Reed and Alan Bates. Glenda Jackson won the Academy Award for Best Actress in that film, the first performer to win for a role that included nude scenes.
There was also a long line of sex comedies, beginning with Mary Had a Little… (1961), which were more intended to display nudity than sexuality. Other British sex comedies included What’s Good for the Goose (1969). There apparently are two versions of the film, one being an uncensored version (105 minutes versus the cut 98 minute version), which shows nudity from Sally Geeson (Judy’s sister); this version was released in continental Europe. Other films include Percy and its sequel, Percy’s Progress, as well as the Carry On series, which added nudity to its saucy seaside postcard innuendo. Series producer Peter Rogers saw the George Segal movie Loving and added his two favourite words to the title, making Carry On Loving the twentieth in the series, followed by Carry On Girls, based around a Miss World-style beauty contest. Next in the series was Carry On Dick, with more risque humour and Sid James and Barbara Windsor’s on- and off-screen lovemaking. There was also the science fiction comedy Zeta One (1969) with Yutte Stensgaard and biographical films such as Savage Messiah (1972) which contained a long nude scene with Helen Mirren.
Traditionally conservative Hammer Film Productions introduced nudity into their line of horror and fantasy films starting with The Vampire Lovers (1970), Countess Dracula (1971), both featuring Ingrid Pitt, When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth (1970) with Victoria Vetri, Lust for a Vampire (1971), Twins of Evil (1971), et al.
The commedia sexy all’italiana genre of Italian film of the 1970s and early 1980s featured abundant female nudity in a clichéd form, most of it for the local market, but some for the international market. The Italian produced Last Tango in Paris (1973), directed by Bernardo Bertolucci, was one of the first commercial films to openly contain nudity, and led to the boom of other fashion erotic films, such as the French produced Emmanuelle (1974) and the Frenco-German production Story of O (1975) by Just Jaeckin, the Franco-Japanese production In the Realm of the Senses (1976) by Nagisa Oshima, and the Italian-American produced Caligula (1979) by Tinto Brass.
The films of Catherine Breillat, a French filmmaker, are well known for containing explicit nudity. Her film Une vraie jeune fille (1975) contains close-ups of actress Charlotte Alexandra’s vulva and actor Bruno Balp’s penis, some of which are particularly graphic in nature (including a sequence where an earthworm is inserted into Alexandra’s vagina). This resulted in the film not officially being released until 1999. Other actresses who have appeared in explicit full-frontal nude scenes in Breillat’s films include Caroline Ducey in Romance (1999) and Roxane Mesquida in Sex Is Comedy (2002). Bernardo Bertolucci’s film The Dreamers (2003), included extensive full frontal nude scenes, male and female, and graphic sex scenes.
European attitudes towards depictions of nudity tend to be relatively relaxed and there are few taboos around it. Showing of full frontal nudity in movies, even by major actors, is common and it is not considered damaging to the actors’ careers. In recent years explicit unsimulated sexual intercourse occurs in movies which target the general movie-going audience, albeit those usually labeled ‘arthouse’ product; for example, Michael Winterbottom’s 9 Songs and Lars von Trier’s The Idiots.
The Finnish documentary Steam of Life about men in saunas shows nudity throughout the film.
In the Dutch movie All Stars 2: Old Stars the main characters stay in a nudist campsite. Much full frontal nudity is displayed, but not of any of the main characters.
East Asian cinema since 1929
Full-frontal male nudity (in which genitals are fully revealed) has traditionally been taboo in cinema from East Asia (and for actors of East Asian origin living outside East Asia), in sharp contrast to the situation in mainland Europe, but similar to the US. However, two rare examples of a challenge to this taboo occurred: first, in the early years of cinema in mainland China, in the black-and-white silent film The Big Road (1934), which features the full-frontal nudity of a group of young men skinny-dipping in a river, while being observed by two women, a scene described as “very advanced for the time”, and second, in Japan in 1976, with explicit sexual scenes featuring Tatsuya Fuji in the historical story In the Realm of the Senses. However, the unexpurgated version of the film has never been shown in Japan, and the film negatives had to be secretly shipped out of the country to France for developing.
However, a number of films from the early 1990s onwards have begun to lift this taboo. Among them are: the notable frequent full-frontal nudity of Hong Kong Chinese females and the brief but particularly notable full-frontal adult male nudity of a Hong Kong Chinese male actor, Chung Lin, who plays the robot version of Japanese scientist Ryuichi Yamamoto, in the 1991 science fiction/comedy film Robotrix (perhaps the first time in Hong Kong cinema that a Chinese adult male’s genitals have been fully revealed on camera in a film on general release), the full-frontal appearance of Hong Kong Chinese actor Michael Lam, who was the lead in Bugis Street (1995), as his clothes and underwear are torn off by his lover, fully exposing his genitals; a variety of East Asian actors in The Pillow Book (1996); of Hong Kong Chinese lead actor Sunny Chan in a bathroom scene as he enters a shower, fully revealing his genitals for a few moments, in Hold You Tight (1997); of mainland China lead actor Wang Hongwei in Xiao Wu (English title: The Pickpocket, 1998), directed by a leading Sixth Generation movement Chinese film director, Jia Zhangke, in which a young Chinese man takes off all his clothes in an empty bathhouse and his genitals are shown; of mainland China lead actor Liu Ye in Lan Yu (2001), whose genitals are shown as he lies naked on a bed; a variety of East Asian actors in Under One Roof (2002); shots of the bodies and genitals of Chinese male actors who openly brag about the size of their “packages” in the mainland China film Green Hat (2004), directed by Chinese director/film writer Liu Fendou; of French Vietnamese actor Steve Tran whose genitals are shown as he walks naked in a high school locker room in Cold Showers (2005); of Singapore Chinese actor/director Zihan Loo, who removes all his clothes, uncovering his genitals, and while waiting to meet a prostitute, masturbates on camera, eventually revealing his fully erect penis, in Pleasure Factory (2007); a variety of Taiwanese Chinese actors who dare each other to skinnydip in Winds of September (2008), and of lead actor Ron Heung and the Hong Kong National Baseball Team, who are shown naked in City Without Baseball (2008), with their genitals fully revealed on camera.
South Korean lead actor Song Kang-ho appears frontally naked in Thirst (2009). Hong Kong Chinese actors Sean Li and Osman Hung appear frontally naked in Permanent Residence (also 2009), as does Thai lead actor Phakpoom Surapongsanuruk, in a scene of full frontal male nudity and attempted masturbation in the Thai film Mundane History (also 2009), and the full-frontal nudity of lead Hong Kong Chinese actors Byron Pang and Hong Kong half-Chinese/half-British actor Thomas Price in Amphetamine (2010), and the full-frontal nudity of numerous Hong Kong Chinese actors in the film Love Actually… Sucks! (2011), including a scene of masturbation revealing a Chinese young man’s fully erect penis. These appearances contrast with those nearer the beginning of the decade: the much briefer nude (side) appearance of young mainland Chinese actor Cui Lin (in which his genitals are shown) at the beginning of the shower scene in Beijing Bicycle (2001), and the brief full-frontal appearance of a Singapore Chinese actor in the film 15 (2003), and of Japanese puppeteer Sota Sakuma, whose body and genitals are fully revealed but shown briefly, in a nude beach scene in EuroTrip (2004), and even the brief frontal view of mainland China lead actor Guo Xiaodong in Summer Palace, later in the decade (2006).
The appearances of mainland Chinese teenage lead actor Xu Dialing in Red Cherry (1995), of Lee Kang-sheng in The Wayward Cloud (2005), of Joseph Chang and Bryant Chang in Eternal Summer (2006), of Korean lead actors Lee Yeong-hoon and Kim Nan-gil in No Regret (also in 2006), of Tony Leung Chiu-Wai in Lust, Caution (2007), and of Qin Hao and Chen Sicheng in Spring Fever (2009), are all described as featuring full-frontal nudity, although no genitals are shown.
Another example of nudity (but with simulated genitals) in East Asian cinema is the Japanese film Hanzo the Razor (1972). It is the first part of a trilogy, depicting Officer Hanzo Itami’s foiling of a plot by corrupt officials in Edo period Japan. Simulated male and female genitals are shown in various scenes. There are also scenes showing Hanzo using sexually aggressive tactics in order to extract secrets from women who associated with Hanzo’s suspects.
The Indian film Gandu (2010), starring Anubrata Basu, features full-frontal nudity and a fully erect penis.
In animated films in the U.S., nudity is limited. Only a few mainstream animated films like Fritz the Cat, Fantastic Planet, and Heavy Metal have contained significant female full frontal nudity. The Simpsons Movie (2007) has a brief scene in which Bart Simpson is fully nude, and carries a PG-13 rating. Another famous exception is South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut (1999), which carries an R rating, and shows both nude female breasts and full frontal male nudity.
In the Franco-Belgian Kirikou animated films, full-frontal nudity of the titular little boy appears throughout the film, in addition to female nudity in the form of exposed breasts.
In Canada, Rock & Rule (1983) features brief female toplessness.
In Japanese cinema, nudity taboos have evolved greatly since the dawn of animation, and anime, the general category of animated films, includes some films with a spectrum of nudity and sexual situations. The Toei Animation films Hols: Prince of the Sun in the 1960s and Tatsu no ko Taro in the ’70s include brief full nudity of their titular characters. The popularity of OVA (Original Video Animation) direct-to-video series in Japan has been a major factor in the unique blend of content in Japanese anime. Starting in the mid-1980s when video tape players became common home appliances, themes of nudity and sexual content flourished in Japanese animation with the hallmarks of many modern sub-genres being established early with such films and OVA series as Lolita Anime, Cream Lemon and Urotsukidōji. Such sexually explicit films or those with significant nudity are referred to as hentai outside of Japan.