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Nudity in film refers to the presentation in motion pictures of people without clothing, whether as full nudity — a view of someone's entire nude body — or more modest versions of nudity.

Nudity in film should be distinguished from sex in film. Nudity of a sexual nature is common in pornographic films. In softcore films there are limitations, such as avoiding depicting a penis. Erotic films are suggestive of sexuality, but need not contain nudity. A film on naturism or about people where nudity is common may contain non-sexual nudity, and some other non-pornographic films show some seconds or fractions of seconds of nude scenes, but the vast majority of nudity in film is in pornographic films.

Nude scenes can be controversial because they may challenge some people's standards of modesty. These standards vary by culture, and depend on who is exposed, which parts of the body are exposed, the duration of the exposure, the pose, the context, and other variables. Regardless, many cultures use censorship or a rating system to manage content of films, with the intention of limiting content that is deemed by the government and/or the movie industry to be harmful or undesirable, morally or otherwise. Nudity is usually one of the aspects of a film subject to censorship or rating.

For this reason, it has been said that 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.[1] Thus adults are denied images just because these images are not considered suitable for teenagers. This applies even for scenes explicitly about a character showing or seeing nudity. Directors and producers may also 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.


U.S. cinema

Audrey Munson in Inspiration (1915), the first non-pornographic film containing nude scenes.

Audrey Munson appeared in Inspiration, a silent film released in 1915, and believed to be the first American film to feature nudity by a leading actor.[2] Annette Kellerman, famous for her swimming and bathing suits, made Daughter of the Gods in 1916 produced by Fox. This film was made in Jamaica (away from American prudism) and featured Kellerman in several nude scenes. Kellerman also 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 be lost, have been rediscovered in Australia.

Several early films of the silent era and early sound era included nude scenes, presented in a historical or religious context. Fox produced The Queen of Sheba in 1921 starring Betty Blythe. The film, now lost was a huge hit for Fox and Miss Blythe displayed ample nudity even when wearing 28 different diaphanous costumes. Cecil B. DeMille, whose later reputation was that of a family entertainment specialist, included several nude scenes in his early epics such as The Sign of the Cross (1932). Other filmmakers followed suit. Harry Lachman's Dante's Inferno featured many naked women suffering in the bowels of hell. The early Tarzan films with Johnny Weissmuller featured at least partial nudity justified by the natural surroundings in which the characters lived. Nudity of natives was also portrayed in jungle epics.

In response to objections voiced by several groups – and at least partly due to the notorious 1933 Czech film Ecstasy, which featured a nude scene by Hedy Lamarr – scenes of nudity were forbidden in films from the major American studios from 1934 until the late 1960s under the Motion Picture Production Code, also known as the Hays Code. During this time, the only acceptable cinematic displays of nudity in the U.S. were in naturist quasi-documentary films and in foreign films. Other portrayals were in early pornographic films which, due to limited means of distribution, were not widely seen.

Exploitation and nudist films

Another notable exception to emerge in the 1930s were the low-budget, sensationalized exploitation films that traveled across the United States in "roadshow" fashion and played in independent theaters. Filmmakers managed to skirt the production code and churned out lurid exposes on taboo subjects such as drug parties, prostitution, and sexually transmitted infections, by presenting them as moralizing educational films that delivered a cautionary message. Using this framework as a pretense, brief nude scenes of women appeared in Maniac (1934), Sex Madness (1937), and skinny-dipping sequences in Damaged Lives (1933), Marihuana (1936) and Child Bride (1938).

Nudist films are a genre of films associated with the 1950s and 1960s, although the genre has roots dating back to the 1930s with such titles as This Nude World (1933) and The Unashamed (1938). Nudist films claim to depict the lifestyles of members of the nudism or naturist movement, but were largely a vehicle for the exhibition and commercial exploitation of female nudity within the context of public theatrical screenings.

Famous examples of nudist films are Garden of Eden (1954) directed by Max Nosseck and Naked Venus (1958) from Damaged Lives director Edgar G. Ulmer. Other producers and directors active in the genre included David F. Friedman, Herschell Gordon Lewis, and Barry Mahon. Filmmaker Doris Wishman was probably the most active producer/director in the genre, with seven nudist films to her credit between 1960 and 1964. [3] Exploitation producer George Weiss released films such as Nudist Life (1961), by editing together vintage nudist camp footage. That same year in England, Harrison Marks released Naked as Nature Intended starring Pamela Green to box office success. (Marks soon went to make softcore pornographic and caning/spanking fetish films.)

Nudie-cuties and sexploitation

The 1959 film The Immoral Mr. Teas by Russ Meyer, in which the main character was overcome with fantasies of nude women, was the first non-naturist feature film to openly exhibit nudity and is, because of that, widely considered the first pornographic feature. For the next few years a wave of films known as "Nudies" or "Nudie-cuties" were produced for grindhouse theatres. Examples from this era include Doris Wishman's science fiction spoof Nude on the Moon (1963), the Hershell Gordon Lewis and David F. Friedman film The Adventures of Lucky Pierre (1961), and Ed Wood's horror-nudie, Orgy of the Dead with its bevy of topless dancers from beyond the grave.

By 1964, underground films with a harder edge such as Russ Meyer's Lorna, and Joseph P. Mawra's misogynistic Olga's House of Shame and White Slaves of Chinatown marked the end of the nudie and the ascent of a mix of sex and violence known as "roughie" sexploitation. Prime examples include R. Lee Frost's The Defilers (1965), a study in abduction and sadism, The Sexploiters (1965), 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 Frost's Love Camp 7 (1968), which was the forerunner of the women in prison and Nazi exploitation subgenres.

Nudity in mainstream films

One of the first, if not the first, female nude scene in a postwar English language mainstream feature film was Michael Powell's 1960 film Peeping Tom, in which the actress Pamela Green lays naked on the bed for Mark (Carl Boehm) the photographer. Earlier in the movie Green exposes her breasts. The movie was panned by the critics at the time and it destroyed Michael Powell's career. The film was subsequently re-edited leaving out the nude scenes. Martin Scorsese released the film in 1979. The film is now a cult classic and a critic's favourite. It is revered as one of the most important films of British postwar cinema and is often referred to as the British Psycho.

In 1963, Tommy Noonan persuaded Jayne Mansfield to become the first mainstream American actress to appear nude with a starring role in the film Promises! Promises!. Photographs of a naked Mansfield on the set were published in Playboy. In one notorious set of images, Mansfield stares at one of her breasts, as does her male secretary and a hair stylist, then grasps it in one hand and lifts it high. The sold-out issue resulted in an obscenity charge for Hugh Hefner, which was later dropped. Promises! Promises! was banned in Cleveland, but it 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.[4] The autobiographical book, Jayne Mansfield's Wild, Wild World, she wrote together with Mickey Hargitay, was published right after Promises! Promises! and contains 32 pages of black-and-white photographs from the film printed on glossy paper.[5]

The 1964 film The Pawnbroker was controversial for its breaches of the Motion Picture Production Code by depicting nude scenes in which actresses Linda Geiser and Thelma Oliver fully expose their breasts.[6] The nudity resulted in a "C" (condemned) rating from the Catholic Legion of Decency. Allied Artists refused to cut the film and released it to theaters without a Production Code seal.

In 1966, the 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 in their History of Sex in Cinema series, have stated that the pubic hair exposure was unintended).

In autumn 1966 the Motion Picture Association of America unveiled a new Production Code. The new Code replaced specific rules, including those on nudity, with more general principles advising caution in matters like nudity and sexual intimacy. It also gave the MPAA the power to label certain films as "Suggested for Mature Audiences". Only a handful of Hollywood films dared to show a fleeting glimpse of partial nudity, usually a bare breast seen from a distance or in a dark setting.

In November 1968, the MPAA abandoned the Production Code altogether and replaced it with the voluntary rating system. Nudity could then be legitimately included in a commercially distributed film. However, many movie theaters still refuse to show films with X ratings, which is frequently a barrier to commercial success. A few X-rated films, however, have been critical successes, including A Clockwork Orange (1971), Last Tango in Paris (1973), and Midnight Cowboy (1969), which won an Academy Award for Best Picture.

At present, genital nudity is still rare in U.S. cinema. Anything more than a very small amount of genital nudity, especially in a sexual context, often leads to an NC-17 (or X, in the past) rating. (One notable exception is Porky's (1982), a broad sex comedy with an R rating that featured several full-frontal nude scenes with multiple men and women, though never both together.) In the 2000s, most nude scenes lead only to an R rating from the MPAA, instead of NC-17. 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).

In 2002, J.A. Steel made history by being one of the first female directors who has written a nude scene for herself, as the film character C. Alexandra Jones in The Third Society, spent a lot of time in the shower to wash away the grime from the fight scenes.[7]

Few mainstream American films show male or female genitalia (in what is called by many full frontal nudity scene). While it is not entirely uncommon for women to appear in full frontal nude scenes, the female genitalia commonly remains obscured by pubic hair. In 2007 Judd Apatow announced "I'm gonna get a penis 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."[8] The cases where a penis appears fully or semi-erected in mainstream films are very 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.

Male frontal nudity in a non-sexual context is seemingly becoming more acceptable in mainstream American cinema. The 2007 film Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story,the 2008 films Forgetting Sarah Marshall & Zack and Miri Make a Porno and the 2009 film Observe and Report all featured male frontal nudity in the context of comedy. Another movie, the mockumentary Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan has a brief scene in which Borat shows a full-nude frontal picture of his son. Also in the movie, Borat and his producer, Azamat Bagatov, have a full nude fight scene, where Borat's genitals were censored with a black bar. Azamat, because of his weight, did not need one, because it was not visible during the film. The film received an R rating by the MPAA.

In the 2006 film, Snakes on a Plane, a woman was seen full nude in an airplane lavatory having sexual intercourse with a man, then getting bitten on the nipple by a snake. The film received an R rating by the MPAA.

The tastefulness of nude scenes is hotly debated in the United States. Adding nudity to films may increase both audience interest and publicity. However, some movie critics view gratuitous nudity (that which is not necessary for the plot) negatively. Various actors refuse to appear on film in the nude citing either their personal morals or the risk to their reputation and/or career. Elisha Cuthbert and Lindsay Lohan are two examples who have publicly stated that they will never do a nude scene.[9][10]

European cinema

The approach to nude scenes in Europe is much more lenient than in the U.S. As early as the 1920s a topless Josephine Baker was filmed performing exotic dance routines for the French cinema. The 1922 Swedish/Danish silent film Witchcraft Through The Ages contained scenes of nudity, torture and perversion — an edited version was shown in the U.S. The 1956 German film, Liane, Jungle Goddess featured Marion Michael as a topless female variant on the Tarzan legend. Other notable examples from Europe include Sophia Loren in Era Lui, Si Si (1952), François Truffaut's Shoot the Piano Player (1960), Brigitte Bardot's casual nude scenes in the 1963 Jean-Luc Godard film Contempt, Jane Fonda in the French film The Game is Over (1966), Catherine Deneuve in Belle de jour (1967), Vanessa Redgrave in 1968's Isadora, and Helen Mirren in the Australian film Age of Consent (1969).

Two Swedish films from 1967, I Am Curious (Yellow) and Inga, were ground-breaking—and notorious—for showing explicit sex and nudity. Both were initially banned in the U.S. and received an X-rating when they were shown in 1968.

In England, the Ken Russell film 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.

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' career. In recent years explicit unsimulated sexual intercourse also 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.


In animated films, nudity is also limited. Only a few mainstream animated films like Fritz the Cat, Fantastic Planet, and Heavy Metal have contained such content. In the two Kirikou films full-frontal nudity of the little boy Kirikou appears throughout the film. 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.

See also

Notes and references

  1. ^ In the US the strict rating NC-17 reduces the number of people going to the movie theater not only because it excludes people under 18, but also because few theaters show these films at all.
  2. ^ "IMDB Bio of Audrey Munson". Retrieved 2008-11-26. 
  3. ^ Blaze Starr Goes Nudist (1962), Hideout in the Sun (1960), Diary of a Nudist (1961), Gentlemen Prefer Nature Girls (1962), Playgirls International (1963), Behind the Nudist Curtain (1963), and The Prince and the Nature Girl (1964).
  4. ^ Jayne Mansfield: A Bio-bibliography by Jocelyn Faris, p. 10
  5. ^ Jayne Mansfield's Wild, Wild World on
  6. ^ World Sex Records. Retrieved on 8 March 2009.
  7. ^ "Curve Magazine" (USA) November 2004, Vol. 14, Iss. 7, pg. 59, by Diane Anderson-Minshall, "The Schlock Factor"
  8. ^ Judd Apatow Vows to Include Wangs in Every Film He Makes
  9. ^ 'Girl Next Door' Won't Take It Off For Audiences - Entertainment News Story - KETV Omaha
  10. ^ Lohan says she'll never do a nude scene - Access Hollywood -

Further reading

  • Jones, Marvin. (1996). Movie Buff Checklist: Male Nudity in the Movies. (5th ed.) Panorama City, Cal.: Campfire Productions. ISBN 1-888211-04-0.
  • Hosoda, Craig. (2001). The Bare Facts Video Guide. Bare Facts. ISBN 0-9625474-9-2.
  • Mr. Skin (2004). Mr. Skin's Skincyclopedia: The A-to-Z Guide to Finding Your Favorite Actresses Naked. St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0-312-33144-4.
  • Storey, Mark. (2003). Cinema Au Naturel: A History of Nudist Film. Naturist Education Foundation. ISBN 0-9740844-0-9.

External links

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