When you’re in your 20s, movies tend to validate your existence. Time and again, great films focus on the exploits and big feelings — and, sure, great sex — of 20- and 30-somethings. Kate Winslet’s hand on that steamy window of an old-timey car in Titanic is a good example, to say nothing of that famous pool scene in Cruel Intentions or the more titillating moments in Y tu mamá también. If Hollywood mirrored life, you’d think sex stops being interesting after 30.
In the Nora Ephron classic When Harry Met Sally, Meg Ryan makes this point explicitly when she bemoans, “I’m going to be 40!” Billy Crystal points out that she won’t turn 40 for eight years, but it’s made hilariously clear: Turning 40 is a death sentence. From The 40-Year-Old Virgin to the depressing machinations of Judd Apatow’s This Is 40, Hollywood movies reinforce one stereotype over and over again: If you’re over 40, you’re not having hot and heavy movie sex. Essentially, when it comes to Hollywood sex scenes, Amy Schumer’s biting “Last F*ckable Day” sketch is all too true.
So, what do we make of the mainstream Hollywood movies in which two people over 40 have sex? For one, they’re extremely hard to find. Finding movies in which one romantic partner is over 40 (Lost in Translation) is easy enough. (Hollywood most certainly perpetuates the idea that successful older characters want nothing more than flings with young hot people.) But, the ones in which both sex partners are over 40 are much harder to find. Even when you get close — like Paul Giamatti and Virginia Madsen in Sideways, you realize that somehow, Giamatti was 37 at the time even though Madsen was 42. Ditto for the excellent film Young Adult, in which you’d think Charlize Theron and Patton Oswalt’s scene would meet our criteria, but no! Yes, Oswalt was 42, but Theron was 36!
The point is, unless you want to dig into foreign films, actual pornography, or the occasional Woody Allen movie (2015’s Irrational Man had Parker Posey and Joaquin Phoenix, 47 and 41 at the time) you’re going to have a difficult time finding a mainstream movie featuring two sex partners over 40.
Still, we did the hard work and dug up all the Hollywood movies featuring decent sex scenes in which each person was over 40 we could find. What do they tell us about sex in Hollywood? That there are some very healthy characters like Diane Keaton’s Erica Barry in Something’s Gotta Give (“I do like sex!” the 56-year-old divorcee shouts). But for the most part, when it comes to portraying healthy, happy sex that lasts into old age, it has a very long way to go.
Something’s Gotta Give (2003)
The Award For … The Sweetest Over 50 Sex In Cinema History
- Diane Keaton: 56
- Jack Nicholson: 65
Because Something’s Gotta Give exists, sometimes it’s hard to remember that Diane Keaton was in The Godfather when she was 26 years old. Similarly, for those of us who grew up with Jack Nicholson as the Joker in 1989, the existence of Five Easy Pieces or Carnal Knowledge (a film co-starring Art Garfunkel!) is hard to reconcile. But that’s kind of the power of Something’s Gotta Give. Some movies make the actors eternally youthful in our minds. But because Something’s Gotta Give presented sex between people over 50 as real and healthy, it was somehow revolutionary. Obviously, this shouldn’t be as big of a deal as it is, but it’s hard to imagine the world of cinema without it. Nicholson and Keaton’s chemistry isn’t smoldering per se, but it is realistic. There’s a lot of talking when Nicholson and Keaton get it on, perhaps more than we’d want in real life. There’s also a lot of laughing, which again, might not be realistic but is aspirational. Not all sex has to be about domination and aggression. The sweetness of Nicholson and Keatons sex is what works here. The hookup is healthy. Why weren’t there 10 more movies made like this between 2003 and now? Where’s the Something’s Gotta Give of 2022?
Fatal Attraction (1987)
The Award For … Fiercest and Most Realistic Femme Fatale
- Glenn Close: 40
- Michael Douglas: 43
Before the 1990s, when your parents were renting Basic Instinct, Sliver, and The Color of Night while you were sleeping, the concept of an “erotic thriller” was edgy and new. Fatal Attraction didn’t outright invent this genre, but the notion of a sexy-scary couldn’t have snuck into the zeitgeist without it. Sure, the concept of the “femme fatale” existed way before these kinds of NC-17 movies became all the rage, but what makes Fatal Attraction famous is that the sex scenes don’t focus on age; it’s just simply a fact. When Douglas and Close go at it, it’s dangerous, full of pushing and clothes being ripped and lips being bitten. People talked a lot about the sex in 50 Shades of Grey, but Fatal Attraction makes that look like an after-school special. Keywords here: ripped shirts.
The movie is famous for presenting Alex (Close) as a psychotic villain hellbent on possessing married family man Dan (Douglas). But, the kinky side-effect here is that if you leave out the murder stuff, there’s a veneer of realism to the sexual relationship. Fatal Attraction doesn’t glamorize having an affair or almost getting killed. It does, however, effectively glamorize the idea of people having sex over the age of 40 and that sex changing the story of their lives. If only there were a movie like Fatal Attraction but without the infidelity and stabbing. Maybe it would be called just Over Forty Attraction. It doesn’t have the same ring, but it would be nice.
The Award For … Most Realistic Bond Hookup
- Daniel Craig: 47
- Monica Bellucci: 50
The James Bond franchise obviously has a bumpy history when it comes to depicting any kind of healthy views on sex, much less age-appropriate relationships. In 1985’s A View to a Kill, Tanya Roberts was 30 when Roger Moore was 57, for example. Now, James Bond is often over 40; Sean Connery was 40 in Diamonds Are Forever, Timothy Dalton was 41 in The Living Daylights, and Pierce Brosnan was over 40 for all four of his Bond films, which is also true of Moore, who was 45 when he started playing Bond in Live and Let Die. That said, so-called Bond Girls are rarely played by actors over 40. In the classic era, the closest Bond Girl to play an “older woman” was Honor Blackman as Pussy Galore in Goldfinger. She turned 39 years old when filming was completed, while Sean Connery at the time was a good five years younger than her.
Still, it wasn’t until the fourth Daniel Craig film, Spectre, that we really saw a mature 007 hooking up with a woman over 40. Although Léa Seydoux is perhaps the first woman people think of when they think of Spectre, Monica Bellucci made history as a 50-year-old paramour of Bond. This, by the way, is a real sex scene. Bond has sex with Lucia (Bellucci) while she’s basically up against a wall. They’re both partially clothed, which makes it pretty dangerous and very 007. Still, in the world of contemporary Bond, this is the closest the franchise came to having an on-screen sex pairing where the ages of Bond and his lover were close. Even the more-progressive Daniel Craig swan song, No Time to Die, didn’t pull this off. As of today, Daniel Craig is 53 and Seydoux is 36. So, given the age-appropriate sex in Spectre, that means Bond’s most realistic sex was in the same movie in which they brought back the ejector seat for his car. You can have realistic sex or realistic action in Bond movies, apparently, but not both.
Star Trek: First Contact (1996)
The Award For … Best ’90s Sci-Fi Sex
- Brent Spiner: 47
- Alice Krige: 42
First of all, if you think Star Trek isn’t sexy, you clearly haven’t seen a single second of the ’60s show. Sex and sexuality drive like half of the plots, and Capt. Kirk makes out with more women than James Bond, to say nothing of all the dudes being constantly shirtless, including Sulu (George Takei) and Spock (Leonard Nimoy). Plus, Star Trek’s first costume designer, William Ware Theiss, intentionally designed costumes to be as titillating as possible while also slipping by the NBC censors. This is why you’ll see all sorts of random shoulders, naked backs, and yes, Kirk’s oiled-up chest a lot in the classic Trek. That said, the ’90s era shows, like The Next Generation, got a slightly undeserved reputation for being more buttoned-up, even though Capt. Picard (Patrick Stewart) was often hanging around in satin nightwear with a plunging deep-V.
But, for the purposes of over-40 sex, the Next Generation era was great because the vast majority of the main characters were grown-ass adults. Patrick Stewart was 47 years old when he began playing Captain Picard in The Next Generation, and by the mid-’90s most of the entire cast was over 40, too. By the time the Next Gen crew started making movies, Patrick Stewart was suddenly wearing more tank tops and kicking more ass. That said, the steamiest Star Trek sex scene in the films probably doesn’t go to Stewart, or even his co-stars Jonathan Frakes and Marina Sirtis, who, in the 1998 film Star Trek: Insurrection shared a hot tub scene at the respective ages of 46 and 43.
No, no, the Star Trek mature sex award easily goes to that “fully functional” android Mr. Data, played by Brent Spiner, and the seductive — and straight-up evil — Borg Queen played by Alice Krige. Yes, Data is a robot, and she’s a conniving cyborg, but that’s kind of what makes it hot. Before making out with him, the Borg Queen — with glistening zombie skin — blows on little arm hairs on Data and says, “Was that good for you?” This is both great and strange: Despite the fact that several human characters were over 40, and could totally get it on, the biggest Trek film of the ’90s gave the sexiest scene to two nonhumans. It feels like the Hollywood curse of looking away at over 40 sex even pervades the 24th century’s evolved sensibilities. Because although Krige and Spiner were over 40 in the scene, the audience isn’t thinking about the age of an android and a cyber-zombie queen.
While We’re Young (2014)
The Award For … Most Hopeful Sex for 40-Year-Olds
- Ben Stiller: 49
- Naomi Watts: 46
In this underrated Noah Baumbach film, Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts play a childless couple in their mid-40s unsure of what they want to do with their lives. This movie has its fair share of sex scenes, of both the embarrassing and sensual kind. When our wayward couple meets a younger couple (Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried), they start trying to rekindle their own sense of sexy coolness. Interestingly, this movie plays fast and loose with how much we see Stiller and Watts really get it on, but it does something clever: It shows us, honestly, how they might want to have sex with each other, even when it’s a case of mistaken identity. In one scene, Cornelia (Watts) gets high and then grabs who she thinks is her husband, Josh (Stiller), only to realize she’s trying to have sex with Driver’s much younger character, Jamie. It’s an exciting scene, which makes you hopeful that Josh and Cornelia are starting to fix their dormant sex life. But, of course, because we later learn that’s not what’s happening at all, it reads as a little more complicated. At the time, Driver was 31, and in two years, he’ll be 40. (So, who knows maybe Adam Driver is our next great hope for over 40 sex scenes!)
In While We’re Young, Cornelia and Josh fail miserably at being cool over 40, which is kind of the point of the film. But, they do end up together in the end, and back in bed together, too. While We’re Young is a smart movie about sex that dares both be realistic and funny at the same time. It’s not a downer, but it’s not a fantasy either. And best of all, it’s the kind of movie that will make you actually want to snuggle with your partner because, you know what, you are still young.