What exactly is gratuitous nudity? If you have to struggle to come up with a rational explanation for why a person is getting naked in a film, that’s gratuitous. It’s not necessarily unwanted, but it definitely is unnecessary.
Cinema in the Seventies was basically one long nude scene; it would be easier to list films without nudity than with. The enormity of the task of picking the Top 20 from that decade is too great; so, we’ll stick to the Eighties where the gratuitous shedding of clothes was still plentiful but not approaching infinity.
20. Hot Dog… the Movie (1984)
There’s a scene where a couple check into a hotel room, and the desk attendant is stark naked for no particular reason whatsoever. She had just gotten out of a hot tub, and evidently didn’t want to trouble herself by wrapping up in a towel. The scene is itself isn’t anything to write home about; but the utter randomness of the nudity is the stuff of legend.
19. Trading Places (1983)
One of the first movies I ever watched on VHS, and I watched it with dear ol’ mom and dad. Suffice it to say, Jamie Lee Curtis’ sweater removal was painfully uncomfortable.
18. Saturn 3 (1980)
You’ve got to understand that Farrah was larger than life in 1980. To learn that she was topless for even a microsecond was epic news from sea to shining sea. The movie itself was only so-so, but did it really matter?
17. Weird Science (1985)
A girl is innocently playing piano, when a cosmic vortex sucks the clothing off her body and catapults her naked from a chimney. Need I say more?
16. Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers (1988)
On the right in the picture below is Rene Estevez, the daughter of Martin Sheen. In the center is Bruce Springsteen’s sister, Pamela Springsteen. But who cares about those two celeb relatives when at left is Valerie Hartman. Gratuitous Nudity, Thy Name Is Valerie Hartman.
Valerie Hartman plays “Ally”, the designated bad girl of the movie. I lost count how many times this girl removes her top throughout the course of this film. I literally began to wonder if the girl had a medical condition where her breasts were allergic to fabric; hence the constant shedding of clothing.
In one incomprehensibly gratuitous scene Esteves is having a poolside conversation with her boyfriend when Hartman inexplicably rises up from the water with a wet t-shirt. Not complaining. Just wow.
Valerie would go on to do a single scene in “Cheers”, a straight to video erotic thriller, and then she called it quits. I don’t know what became of her after that, but she will forever hold the honor of delivering one of the top ten gratuitous nude scenes of the Eighties, and that’s accomplishment enough.
15. Cat People (1982)
Nasstassja Kinski wandering naked in the night. A scene designed for no other reason than to show Nasstassja Kinski wandering naked in the night.
14. Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)
The Phoebe Cates pool scene is often cited as a prime example of gratuitous nudity. However, it somehow seems justified (non-gratuitous) in a movie about teen hormones in hyperdrive – Judge Reinhold is most certainly going to fantasize about his sister’s hot friend.
The real gratuitousness comes every single time “Somebody’s Baby” is played. When you hear Jackson Browne, you are going to see Jennifer Jason Leigh nude, guaranteed.
13. Lifeforce (1985)
Mathilda May is a space vampire that is naked for the entirety of the film. I mean, her wardrobe budget was exactly zero dollars and zero cents. Truly a landmark moment in cinematic nudity.
12. Return to Horror High (1987)
This lousy slasher film has the distinction of killing George Clooney off in the first ten minutes of the movie. It also features a bloody Marcia Brady (Maureen McCormick) feeling herself up…
But, obviously, neither of those distinctions, as awesome as they are, will earn you a place on this list. For that honor, Return to Horror High brings to the table one of the most random examples of nudity I’ve ever seen.
The girls’ locker room was an oft-visited locale in Eighties films and Return to Horror High delivers this scene with aplomb. Philip McKeon – the son on “Alice” and real life brother of Jo on “The Facts of Life” plays the William Zabka-esque douche of the film. The incredible example of gratuitousness comes in the locker room where McKeon is having a having an intense discussion with his girlfriend. Then for absolutely no reason, a girl drops her towel… …and he carries her naked over his shoulder. What in the ever-lovin’ f**k?!?
11. Mischief (1985)
In which John Travolta’s wife, Kelly Preston, unexpectedly takes every stitch of clothing off. You can almost hear the cheers in the background of every male on earth as it happens.
10. Galaxy of Terror (1981)
One of the most over-the-top moments in sci-fi cinema history has to be Taaffe O’Connell’s rape by a giant amorous space slug. Note: This film also stars Joanie from “Happy Days”. Thankfully she isn’t raped by a space slug – that would’ve been too much for my fragile psyche to handle.
9. Sixteen Candles (1984)
Molly Ringwald spies Miss Popularity in the shower. She’s envious of her well-developed body; male audiences are slack jawed. Completely unexpected, unnecessary, but well appreciated.
8. Return of the Living Dead (1985)
Linnea Quigley plays a punk rock girl who strips for no reason whatsoever in a cemetery. Admittedly, creative disrobing has become a ritual in all of Quigley’s film, so it’s not exactly a surprise.
Interestingly, Linnea refuses to appear completely nude in her films. “To me, it doesn’t look good on screen,” she explained. “It looks less silly. Usually if I’m nude, there’s not a sex scene-it’s just silly stuff going on. Full frontal nudity takes away from that. When you’re watching a movie and you see a pubic hair, it’s not fun anymore.”
Many would beg to differ.
7. Joysticks (1983)
Two girls are playing video games topless… what’s the big deal? The big deal is not so much the quality of the scene, but rather the insane groundlessness of it all. Every entry on this list can be somewhat justified, albeit by the flimsiest of excuses. This one has no excuse whatsoever.
6. Stripes (1981)
Yes, there’s an incredibly gratuitous shower scene, but the prize here goes to P.J. Soles, instead. Even though her onscreen nudity in Stripes makes sense (she’s having sex will Bill Murray), she still makes this list. Why are we giving her such a handout? Quite simply, P.J. Soles is the Patron Saint of Gratuitous Nudity, a title she earned in the Seventies via her memorably gratuitous nude scenes in Carrie (1976) and Halloween (1978).
5. Porky’s (1982)
The hole in the girl’s locker room scene needs to description. Truly an iconic example of gratuitous nudity. It has been copied many times (ex. Revenge of the Nerds), but this is the gold standard.
4. Private School (1983)
This film is an embarrassment of riches when it comes to gratuitous nudity. Which to choose? There’s a shower scene, a topless chick on a horse, and a girl gets champagne on her outfit and naturally must immediately strip to get out of those uncomfortable wet clothes.
If you’ve seen the film, then you know the winner. Betsy Russell on horseback is one of the most senseless acts of nudity ever put to celluloid…. yet, oh so very memorable.
3. Re-Animator (1985)
Re-Animator is actually a great movie. It’s over the top and quite graphic at times, but it doesn’t take itself seriously; so, you’re more inclined to view it as campy fun than nihilistic gore like a Saw film, for example. That being said, the movie does contain a rather shocking scene – the kind that will have you asking: “What did I just see? That didn’t just happen, did it?”
The scene I’m referring to is where a headless mad doctor kidnaps Barbara Crampton, rips her clothes off, then takes his still animated severed head and puts it between her legs to…. well, I think you can guess the rest.
How in the world did the director get Barbara (who was currently starring on a popular soap, Santa Barbara) to agree to this? Incredible.
2. Just One of the Guys (1985)
This is gratuitousness in its purest, most pristine form. Terry has been pretending to be a boy for most of the film. Then, in the climactic scene, she decides to convince the guy she’s in love with that she is really a girl. How does she go about doing this?
I suppose the logical thing to do would have been to show him her driver’s license. Or perhaps shown up to his house not dressed as a boy, and maybe just told him. Instead, she shows him her breasts (!)
Why does this rank so high on the list? For one, it’s so senseless that it’s textbook gratuitousness. For another, it was 100 percent unexpected for everyone first seeing it back in ’85. The closest comparison would be the spit-take inducing nude scene in Michael J. Fox’s Doc Hollywood – but that film was released in the 1990s, and thereby ineligible to make today’s list.
1. Screwballs (1983)
One of the most memorable scenes of the movie involves a student of T&A High (Taft and Adams High School – what did you think it stood for?) dressing up as a doctor and administering breast exams to the Freshman girls. Amazingly, the girls disrobe and don’t suspect a thing. I guess that’s just how the world works in Eighties teen comedies – a willing suspension of disbelief to see a little boob.
As fine a demonstration of gratuitous disrobing as this is, it isn’t enough to rank as the number on this list.
What about the scene everyone was talking about in ’83? Okay, not everyone – just horny American teenagers: The infamous Strip Bowling scene. The five main characters of the film challenge the cheerleaders to a game of bowling, where an item of clothing is removed when a player does not throw a strike (essentially every throw). Unfortunately, before any gratuitous anatomy is revealed, one of the guys gets his penis stuck in a bowling ball, and the game is aborted.
That won’t do. The ultimate in cinematic 1980s gratuitous nudity is the magnetic disrobing of Miss Liberty.
Purity is Miss Liberty, and will sing the national anthem in front of the assembly. The plan of the five main characters is to magnetize the two basketball poles at either end of the gymnasium. Purity’s dress has been painstakingly embedded with metal, and designed to pull off toward the basketball poles when the magnets are engaged.
Other than the side effect of attracting every metallic object in the entire gym, the plan comes together perfectly. Persistence has paid off – the boys finally see her topless. A singular focus and steadfast determination wins in the end – a good lesson to all you boys and girls, and the ultimate gratuitous nude scene of the decade.
Would you like to support Flashbak?
Please consider making a donation to our site. We don't want to rely on ads to bring you the best of visual culture. You can also support us by signing up to our Mailing List. And you can also follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. For great art and culture delivered to your door, visit our shop.