The 20 Greatest Sex Comedies of All Time
Perhaps no genre is as disreputable as the sex comedy. Naughty by nature, these movies tackle a subject many people consider not meant for polite company. Their plots are often stunningly basic: It’s about people trying to get laid. They’re frequently about younger people, and so they usually cater to younger viewers, who may not have that much experience with sex themselves. The laughs are mixed with titillation, and especially in an era before the internet — back when the opportunity to see naked people randomly was far more difficult — the sex comedy gave impressionable horndogs a chance to check out a little nudity.
Sex comedies aren’t going for Oscars. They don’t even care about good reviews. (If anything, critics’ derision is merely more enticement for the target audience.) Rude and raunchy, these movies thumb their noses at prudes and squares, who are sometimes the villains in these films. Sex comedies are pure id and pure immature pleasure.
But, as a result, perhaps no genre runs the risk of aging as badly as the sex comedy. What’s shocking in one era can seem, when seen through modern eyes, just cruel, ugly and exploitative in another. By championing anarchic young (white) male behavior, these movies can perpetuate misogyny and racism. Don’t complain to me about “woke” whining or “snowflake” sensitivity: Some of these films, including some of the most influential, are just flat-out bad, and no amount of nostalgic rationalizing can take away from that fact. We needn’t hang our heads in shame: Adolescence is a confusing time, and we’re often looking to movies to explain things like sex and love to us since we’re too young to understand them ourselves. But with hindsight, we can also recognize that some of those naughty sex comedies from our youth are just plain gross. We’re old enough to know better now.
With that in mind, let me just say now that if you’re looking for Porky’s or Revenge of the Nerds, sorry, they didn’t make the cut. Without question, both were huge hits that were instrumental in launching the wave of sex comedies that were so popular in the 1980s. Both catered to younger viewers who wanted a taste of something forbidden at the movie theater. But as culturally significant as they are, they’re just not that good, and their treatment of women (and others) is pretty despicable. Those films are important in the history of the sex comedy, but they’re far from the best.
What I’ve tried to do is pick 20 sex comedies that, despite a few objectionable moments here and there, not only hold up but are still really funny. And that meant expanding the idea of what a sex comedy is. Traditionally, the genre is defined by the films that were released from the late 1970s to the present, almost always R-rated, that feature a lot of nudity and swearing. But there are a few key movies before that golden age that helped pave the way for what was to come — those pre-1970s films aren’t as raucous or graphic, but they’re comedies in which sex is very central to the story. If I can give someone another reason to check out a Marilyn Monroe classic, that’s cool with me.
Lots of funny movies have sexual innuendo as part of them, but I decided that great comedies like Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle and Booksmart didn’t quite count. Knocked Up is an interesting borderline case — after all, sex is pretty important to the plot — but I had enough Seth Rogen and Judd Apatow elsewhere on my list that I didn’t feel I needed that film, too.
Some are going to be mad that The Girl Next Door isn’t here: I wish its attitude about Elisha Cuthbert’s character’s former profession as a porn actress was handled a little better. (Also, I think the movie runs out of gas long before the end.) Readers may argue that a few of my picks aren’t, technically, sex comedies. My counterargument is: Well, they actually are if we broke free of the narrow confines of what we think the genre is. But I don’t think I’ve gone too far afield on my list, always having in my sights movies that explore what’s most hilarious about our insatiable need to screw — as well as our predictable tendency to screw sex up.
Bachelor Party (1984)
Made during the height of Tom Hanks’ zany-comedy era of the mid-1980s, Bachelor Party is exactly what you think it’s about: Hanks plays a nice guy who proposes to his girlfriend (Tawny Kitaen), prompting his buddies to throw him the titular blowout. Crazy antics ensue, but no matter how raucous things get, it’s Hanks — years before he’d be winning Oscars — who provides the film with a calm, decent moral center. “I consider myself an actor before I consider myself a comedian, but I’m certainly aware that I’m funny and that my movies are comedies,” he said in 2009, later adding, “People who intellectualize about (comedy) aren’t funny. That’s true about acting in general. But comedy’s more instinctual.” He proved it in Bachelor Party.
The To Do List (2013)
Aubrey Plaza has emerged as one of the most interesting actors of recent years thanks to Emily the Criminal and The White Lotus. But she’s blazed a trail across indie movies for a while now, including this low-key charmer about an awkward teen brainiac who decides she needs to bone up on sex before going off to college. Plaza turns down the snark for the role, but her off-kilter comedic instincts are very much evident as her virginal character stumbles from one sexual misadventure to the next. The To Do List brought newfound vulnerability to the sex comedy, while suggesting the kind of compelling star that the Parks and Recreation cast member was about to become.
Road Trip (2000)
Long before Todd Phillips made Joker, he directed a low-budget comedy about a group of friends who hit the road so that college student Josh (Breckin Meyer) can get to his long-distance girlfriend Tiffany (Rachel Blanchard), who’s been accidentally mailed a sex tape he filmed during a one-night stand with Beth (Amy Smart). Road Trip was a sex comedy that mixed gross-out gags with shameless nudity, delivering the sort of nihilist pre-millennium humor perfectly embodied by supporting player Tom Green. Proudly crude, the film would sow the seeds for Phillips’ upcoming hits, Old School and The Hangover.
The Last American Virgin (1982)
In the late 1970s, writer-director Boaz Davidson made Lemon Popsicle, about a group of Tel Aviv teenagers dealing with unrequited love and raging hormones. A few years later, Davidson came to America and redid the story, setting it in L.A. The Last American Virgin has many of the familiar trappings of the genre — the sexual shenanigans, the conflict between the “cool” guy and the “sweet” guy — but while not every element has aged well, there’s a bluntness to the proceedings that mark this as a more realistic movie about high-school courtship and hooking up than what you normally see. As funny as the film is, The Last American Virgin is also a little heartbreaking, reminding viewers that those adolescent exploits don’t always lead to the hero getting the girl.
Zack and Miri Make a Porno (2008)
Initially rated NC-17 before last-minute trims and an appeal from writer-director Kevin Smith, Zack and Miri Make a Porno is a romantic comedy with a dirty mind and a clever premise. Buddies Zack (Seth Rogen) and Miri (Elizabeth Banks) are low on money and behind on their bills, so they decide to do something radical: star in a porn film that they’ll make with their friends. In a sense, Zack and Miri is like When Harry Met Sally: Both films are about the difficulties of straight men and women being just friends, except Smith’s movie has far more swearing and fewer faked orgasms.
Good Boys (2019)
Director Gene Stupnitsky’s second film was the so-so sex comedy No Hard Feelings. His debut was better, and also a wittier variation on the genre. In Good Boys, three sixth-graders (Jacob Tremblay, Keith L. Williams and Brady Noon) plan to go to a classmate’s party, where maybe they might be able to… kiss a girl! Raunchy and filled with sexual innuendo, Good Boys uses its young protagonists to illustrate how scary and confusing all that grownup stuff around love can be — and also how kids will lie to pretend they know more than they do. This is easily the most adorable, wholesome film on this filthy list.
Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)
Cameron Crowe wanted to write about the reality of high school, so he went undercover, a 22-year-old Rolling Stone journalist pretending to be a teenager. Out of the experience came the book Fast Times at Ridgemont High, which a year later was adapted into this hit comedy about smart-asses, virgins, stoners, raging hormones and random nudity.
The film resonated with its young audience, a discovery director Amy Heckerling made first hand: “(S)omebody called and said, ‘Hey, you know what’s going on with your film?’ And I was like, ‘No, what?’ And they were like, ‘Go to the theater.’ It was in Westwood. So I go there and everybody is saying the dialogue along with the film. This was like two weeks after it came out. And that blew my mind.” For Gen-Xers, Fast Times at Ridgemont High became a cultural touchstone, and for younger viewers it was a promise of the excitement and hilarity that awaited them as puberty beckoned.
National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978)
The movie that was the Star Wars of lowbrow comedy, Animal House pitted the lovable losers of Delta Tau Chi against those snobby twits from Omega Theta Pi, offending the campus’ college administrators and uptight viewers equally. There’s a case to be made that this blockbuster is fairly sexist — the women are basically there to be leered at or tricked — but for its time, Animal House was revolutionary, the Deltas’ attempts to get laid, get drunk and generally goof off serving as a pointed metaphor for younger Americans’ anger at Nixon and the Vietnam War. But a lot of audiences didn’t read that deeply into the film’s message: They just enjoyed watching John Belushi check out some boobs.
Wet Hot American Summer (2001)
One of the best sex comedies is actually a parody of the genre. Written by buddies (and partners in the comedy troupe the State) David Wain and Michael Showalter — and directed by Wain — Wet Hot American Summer took the tropes of bygone films like Meatballs, setting the action at an early-1980s summer camp where the counselors are horny and dumb. It’s easy to forget that, at the time of its release, this sly sendup was mostly critically reviled, but history has judged it far more fondly — in part because so many stars got their start here. (There’s Amy Poehler. Hey, look, that’s Bradley Cooper.) Many real-life ‘80s sex comedies were stupid: By comparison, Wet Hot American Summer was stupid-brilliant.
Pillow Talk (1959)
In 2003, Peyton Reed, who went on to make Ant-Man movies, directed Down With Love, a romantic comedy that satirized old-fashioned rom-coms — specifically, the kind that Rock Hudson and Doris Day made in the 1950s and 1960s. The height of their collaboration was Pillow Talk, which might seem too squeaky-clean to be considered a proper sex comedy. But that’s overlooking just how sly director Michael Gordon was in telling this love story between two very different neighbors who end up falling for one another.
Having to be wary of uptight censors, Gordon could only hint at the growing desire between Hudson and Day, using split-screens to make it appear like they were sharing the same bathtub as they flirted on the phone. Modern sex comedies flaunt their raunchy, inappropriate humor in delicious ways, but there’s something undeniably witty about the way Pillow Talk makes the characters’ carnal attraction a wink-wink secret between them and the audience. We don’t see the sex, but we can definitely sense what’s going on under the surface.
Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008)
“I can honestly say that at the age I was when I wrote that movie, 24 or 25 years old, getting over a bad breakup was the most vital, visceral and real pain I had experienced,” Jason Segel said in early 2023. “It was the biggest thing I’d gone through at that age and I think watching somebody scramble through new emotions in their life is what makes it funny.”
Most know that the Freaks and Geeks star based his Forgetting Sarah Marshall screenplay on a real-life dumping — the nude humiliation actually happened, too — which helped propel him to movie stardom. Segel plays the stereotypical nice guy who tries to take his mind off his ex-girlfriend (Kristen Bell) by going on a Hawaiian vacation — only to realize she’s there as well, with her new boyfriend (Russell Brand).
Produced by Judd Apatow, the sleeper hit found plenty of laughs in the feelings of jealousy and self-loathing that are common when your beautiful ex kicks you to the curb and then hooks up with someone who seems far hipper than you are. But Segel’s character ultimately ends up in a better place — and so have similarly heartsick viewers who related to Segel’s plight. “I hear a lot that people have watched it and it’s helped them make it through a breakup, which is a really cool thing,” he said.
Girls Trip (2017)
Before Girls Trip, Tiffany Haddish dated losers who, according to her, would say things to her like, “I don’t know why you’re wasting your time with this comedy stuff. It’s never going to pan out. You just need (to) have a baby.” But after this 2017 smash? “Now they’re all like, ‘Hey girl. I’m so proud of you. I knew you would make it,’” she said. “I just laugh at them.”
Regina Hall, Jada Pinkett Smith and Queen Latifah were established names, but Haddish was the film’s scene stealer, her DGAF character teaching her old college chums about the finer points of giving dynamite oral sex while encouraging them to have the time of their lives during a meet-up in the Big Easy. Sexy and confident, Girls Trip was a sex comedy that centered on women for once, and was all the more hilarious because of it.
Y Tu Mamá También (2001)
When Alfonso Cuarón and his son would go to movies, the director would let his kid pick the film sometimes. “(B)asically I had to see a lot of crap,” Cuarón recalled, “and a lot of teen comedies. The problem with the teen comedies is that there’s something really interesting at their core: They’re so moralistic and they have a phony and overly respectful sense of character. You don’t have to make fun of the characters or invent clever plots to humiliate one or the other, or have them sticking their dicks into a pie.” Cuarón decided he wanted to make a sex comedy for his son that was better than the shit he was watching.
Y Tu Mamá También isn’t typically thought of as a sex comedy, but its premise sure makes it sound like one: Two horny buds (Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna) invite a beautiful older woman (Maribel Verdú) to accompany them on a road trip, both guys scheming about how to go to bed with her.
Hilarity does, in fact, ensue, as the guys prove how sexually out of their depth they are with this experienced woman, leading to all kinds of humiliation on their part. But Cuarón, who would go on to win Best Director Oscars for Gravity and Roma, wasn’t after puerile jokes, instead exploring male friendship, mortality and the passage of time with beautiful sensitivity. That he managed to do all that while creating a story this funny and sexy makes the achievement even more impressive.
The Graduate (1967)
A generational call to arms, and a star-is-born moment for Dustin Hoffman, The Graduate didn’t feature the sort of raunchy humor that would soon become the stock-in-trade of the sex comedy. But in its exploration of a lost twentysomething who has an affair with an older, married woman (Anne Bancroft, who was only about six years older than her costar), the film inadvertently invented many of the tenets of the genre, delivering a farce about being young, dumb and directionless — and discovering that suddenly getting laid doesn’t necessarily make you feel better. Hoffman’s deadpan ennui was a balm for a counterculture resisting their parents’ outdated values, and The Graduate’s romantic triangle remains a bittersweet examination of the fallacy of thinking you’re ever going to live happily ever after.
American Pie (1999)
Adam Herz wanted to write a movie about his teenage years in Michigan. “There was a lull in teen sex comedies and sort of teen comedies in general because the genre killed itself,” he said later. “They started to really suck. … (T)here was like an eight-year span where Hollywood forgot that teenagers love movies.” And so he brought the world American Pie.
A massive hit that spawned a franchise, American Pie became the template for a whole new wave of teen sex comedies. The formula was simple: Combine the outrageous and heartfelt, the shocking and the sweet. Everybody remembers that one scene, but just as important was the emphasis on the real-world insecurities of high school guys and girls trying to navigate their complicated hormones.
The movie now resides in this weird bygone age before social media changed adolescence forever, and as a result there are added layers of innocence and nostalgia to watching Jim (Jason Biggs) and his buddies try to get laid. God, it all seemed so simple back then when you didn’t have to worry about Instagram and DMs.
The 40-Year-Old Virgin (2005)
The movie started with a simple idea that Steve Carell pitched to Judd Apatow: “A guy is desperately trying to keep up with these other guys who are telling great sex stories, and it quickly becomes apparent that he’s out of his element.” From there, the two men wrote The 40-Year-Old Virgin, which was Apatow’s directorial debut and Carell’s coming-out party as a romantic leading man, playing the lovable but awkward Andy.
Sex in this sex comedy is something fairly hard to come by: Andy’s buddies at the electronics store may give him shit for being a virgin, but it’s not like they’re a bunch of studs themselves. But once he meets Trish (Catherine Keener), his love life finally starts looking up. When Andy finally cashes in his V-card, it’s Virgin’s literal (and metaphorical) happy ending, leading to one of the film’s best jokes.
Risky Business (1983)
In 2011, Tom Cruise explained what he thought Risky Business was about. “It’s about today’s capitalistic society,” he replied. “Do the means justify the ends? Do you want to help people, or do you just want to make money? Joel is questioning all that. So am I. … The movie is Joel’s exploration of society, how he gets sucked into this wild capitalistic ride.”
That’s certainly a deeper theme at play, but for many who just know the movie from its most iconic moments, this is the sex comedy — the ultimate “parents are away” fantasy in which a horny young man (Cruise) ends up with a beautiful sex worker (Rebecca De Mornay), experiencing adult pleasures like he’d never imagined. Of course, what makes Risky Business great is that it isn’t just that, also proving to be a sophisticated character study and coming-of-age drama. Where most sex comedies tend toward the gleefully juvenile, Cruise’s first big smash was adult in other ways without denying what was so titillating about its premise.
Wedding Crashers (2005)
Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn as divorce meditators cynical about love who spend their weekends crashing weddings, sleeping with unsuspecting, amorous women? It was a can’t-miss conceit, and this R-rated comedy was the high point of the bromances that dominated the aughts. Few movies of its era so expertly executed its shocking laughs, outrageous scenarios, machine-gun vulgarity and unexpected sweetness, and Wedding Crashers’ ensemble was stacked with heavy hitters like Rachel McAdams, Bradley Cooper, Isla Fisher and a wonderfully randy Jane Seymour. There’s been talk for years of a sequel — but, honestly, it’s hard to imagine the original’s inspired hilarity being successfully repeated.
The Seven Year Itch (1955)
Because it came out before the age of the sex comedy, Billy Wilder’s adaptation of the hit play doesn’t often show up on lists like this. But in the modern era, a story about a married father (Tom Ewell) who says goodbye to his wife and son as they take off for summer holiday, soon lusting after his beautiful single neighbor (Marilyn Monroe), would definitely sound like it had all the genre ingredients. Wilder, who a few years later would release Some Like It Hot, which could also be considered a sex comedy, had to tone down some of the play’s more provocative elements, but Wilder keeps the sexual tension between the two characters simmering throughout. All these years later, Monroe’s famous “subway grate” scene remains one of the pinnacles of on-screen sexiness.
When Seth Rogen and his buddy Evan Goldberg banged out the first draft of Superbad as teenagers, they were writing what they knew. “Essentially there was a party and the guys were trying to buy beer,” Rogen later said about the initial plotline. “It was inspired largely just by our desire to buy alcohol at the time. That was very true. We liked going to house parties. We had a ton of house parties at our high school for whatever reason. And it always was a challenge to get booze.”
Out of that came a comedy that helped boost the profiles of Jonah Hill and Michael Cera, who played the lovably profane pals looking for babes and a good time. It also was a launching pad for a new crop of young actors, including Dave Franco, Emma Stone and McLovin himself, Christopher Mintz-Plasse. The very cringe-inducing sexual pratfalls — yes, Rogen and Goldberg knew a young lady who had her period while dancing — made Superbad not just outrageous but also deeply relatable.
So what ultimately made me give this movie the No. 1 spot? Because it’s a sex comedy that doesn’t skimp on the outrageousness while also understanding something profound about the importance of having a best friend that you’re stumbling through these adolescent anxieties with. This much heart alongside this much inspired, R-rated insanity? Pretty super.