Watching Knight and Day the other night, I was struck by how little heat I sensed between Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz. Here are two attractive, charismatic actors in great physical shape but I didn’t believe for a second that they wanted to sleep with each other.
Then it occurred to me that I’ve really never seen Tom Cruise exude chemistry with anybody. Certainly not with then-wife Nicole Kidman in Eyes Wide Shut. Not with then-girlfriend Penelope Cruz in Vanilla Sky. He had a nice rapport with Renee Zellweger in Jerry Maguire, but it was chaste. Top Gun? He had more chemistry with Val Kilmer than Kelly McGillis (and here’s where the gay rumors kick in). Perhaps Risky Business is the last Tom Cruise performance that was downright sexy.
Then it hit me that this isn’t just a Tom Cruise thing. I started running through the top Hollywood superstars in my mind and realized that most of them are sexually safe. Big dogs like Will Smith and Tom Hanks, funny men like Will Ferrell and Adam Sandler, even ostensibly virile stars like Russell Crowe and Denzel Washington. When’s the last time any of them burned up the screen with the sparks they produced with their lead actresses?
And it’s not much different for the women. Julia Roberts, Sandra Bullock, Reese Witherspoon, Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman… I’m certainly not getting hot and bothered typing out that list.
Two actors who break the mold are George Clooney and Clive Owen. Clooney, for all of his self-deprecating wit (and maybe in part because of it) is unquestionably a sexual presence. Just look at the steamy rapport he shares with Vera Farmiga in last year’s Up in the Air.
And Owen could generate chemistry with a lawn chair. In Mike Nichols’ Closer he burned up the screen with Julia Roberts and Natalie Portman (two actresses not known for their sensual sides) and even got me a little hot under the collar in his scene with Jude Law (who once showed promise on this front as well before becoming increasingly boring).
Following is a list, in no particular order and by no means complete, of screen pairings that exuded chemistry. Please post your own favorites in the comment section. [Note: This list is restricted to movies, but I want to give a shout out to two television pairings that fog up my TV screen: Josh Halloway and Elizabeth Mitchell on Lost and Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton, the quintessential hot married couple on Friday Night Lights]
George Clooney & Jennifer Lopez — Out of Sight
This is the pairing that comes to mind first anytime I think about screen chemistry. As soon as Clooney’s prison escapee is locked in a trunk with Lopez’ federal Marshal, electricity flies off of these two like a downed power line.
It culminates in one of the best love scenes in movie history, where director Steven Soderbergh cuts between an intimate conversation in a hotel bar and the action to come upstairs. Soderbergh makes literal what we know from watching Lopez and Clooney’s whispered conversation… that as soon as they sit down across from each other they’re already making love.
Kevin Costner & Susan Sarandon — Bull Durham
Also, Kevin Costner and Rene Russo in Tin Cup. For some reason, Costner, who is bland as milk in most of his films, turns into a sexual dynamo when he plays washed-up sports stars for writer/director Ron Shelton.
Kathleen Turner & Michael Douglas — Romancing the Stone
I’m highlighting this pair because the film is similar in some ways to Knight and Day (though much better). But I could just as easily go with Kathleen Turner and William Hurt in the ultra-steamy Body Heat.
Ethan Hawke & Julie Delpy — Before Sunrise and Before Sunset
This was a largely non-physical relationship (explored over two days ten years apart) but the attraction between Hawke and Delpy is palpable from the very first scenes.
Michelle Pfeiffer & Michael Keaton — Batman Returns
Pfeiffer remains the most alluring woman to ever squeeze into tights for a comic book movie. Her Catwoman was equal parts temptress and sadist and she stirred Batman more than Vicki Vale could ever dream.
Harrison Ford & Kelly McGillis — Witness
Never has an Amish woman been so sexy. Ford is another major star who doesn’t exactly steam up the screen with his leading ladies, but he and McGillis were perfectly matched in Peter Weir’s romantic drama. (Unfortunately YouTube doesn’t have the classic barn dance scene, but I found a fan video that does the trick.)
Naomi Watts & Laura Haring — Mulholland Drive
It probably seems easy to pick a movie featuring two hot chicks who spend a lot of time naked and rolling around in bed with each other. But beyond the obvious, Watts and Haring form the central beating heart around which the film’s mind-bending plot revolves.
So, which screen pairings do you consider the hottest?