How to Write the Best Movie Love Scenes
Things are about to get HOT around here.
We’ve all been there. We get to a certain point in our screenplay and realize that the characters have to have sex. Yup, it’s the way to get the story moving forward.
But how can you write the best movie love scenes without them feeling like reading porn? And what are the deeper reasons you need to show the characters connecting on the page?
Today we’re going to learn how to write a love scene, check out some of the best movie love scenes of all time, some tasteful love scenes, and even chat about a sex scene where a man makes love to a pie. And a woman makes love to a fish.
So loosen up your collars, dim the lights, and open a bottle of wine.
Mom, if you’re reading this, switch to my article on Cold Opens instead.
Let’s do it!
Not it-it. I mean the article.
Oh god just keep reading.
Or go rewrite another part of your script.
What is a Love Scene?
I don’t want to cover the scene where people close the doors and the lights dim. Those are more romantic scenes of love.
We’re talking about sex scenes in movies.
Doesn’t matter if they are funny love scenes or a sensuous love scene. If sex isn't happening, we won't be looking at the screenplay pages.
But what about writing love scenes?
There’s lots of semantics, but for the purpose of this article, I’m only going to cover consensual love scenes. There are lots of woke reasons to do this, and I don't think I need to spell them all out. I just want the material I’m reading in Hollywood to be better.
That starts with you.
Now that you understand the love scene definition, let’s get into learning how to write love scenes.
How To Write The Best Movie Love Scenes
Okay, you’ve gotten to that pivotal moment in your screenplay. It’s time for hanky panky. But how do you put that sex on the page?
First, some protection.
Why are your characters having sex?
I’m dead serious. Don’t just say because you want to see nudity. Or because you’re European. Sex on screen needs to be motivated. So whether its the first time Harry and Sally hooked up, or some 50 Shades stuff, sex needs to make sense for the audience to buy in.
As a society, we’re kind of moving past the pointless Bond-girl hookup in movies. So unless this is done with some pastiche, I want you to reconcile WHY your characters are having sex.
And why the audience needs to see it.
Perhaps you’re writing a movie like Lust, Caution, where sex plays an integral part in this spy story.
Or maybe you need the sex to be fun and awkward like in Knocked Up.
Whatever the case, once you’ve justified the sex, you need to decide how it factors into the story. Because just like any other set piece, the love scene you're writing needs to fit within the overall tone of the movie too.
No one wants to see some hardcore stuff in the middle of The Wedding Planner, and if your characters are in a post-apocalyptic society and a war with the machines was just won...you also don’t want to see some PG-13 kissing.
So let’s take a look at a few sex scenes in screenplays and see how they work.
The Best Movie Love Scenes
When I was researching this article, I kept coming across lists of the hottest Hollywood sex scenes. Those are totally fun. I read a few.
Sex scenes are crazy. I worked for Mickey Rourke for a little while (I’ll cover that another time), and it was hard looking him in the eyes after seeing 9 ½ Weeks.
But if you’re looking for a hot, softcore list, you’re barking up the wrong tree.
I want to take you into the screenplay pages and show you what sets up those memorable scenes.
First, let’s take a look at the opening scene that started the spec screenplay sale explosion of the late 80s and early 90s.
I’m talking Basic Instinct. Take a look at Joe Eszterhas’s opening pages.
INT. A BEDROOM - NIGHT
It is dark; we don't see clearly. a man and woman make love on a brass bed. There are mirrors on the walls and ceiling. On a side table, atop a small mirror, lines of cocaine. A tape deck PLAYS the Stones "Sympathy for the Devil."
Atop him... she straddles his chest... her breasts in his face. He cups her breasts. She leans down, kisses him...
JOHNNY BOZ is in his late 40's, slim, good-looking. We don't see the woman's face. She has long blonde hair. The CAMERA STAYS BEHIND and to the side of them.
She leans close over his face, her tongue in his mouth...she kisses him... she moves her hands up, holds both of his arms above his head.
She moves higher atop him... she reaches to the side of the bed... a white silk scarf is in her hand... her hips above his face now, moving... slightly,oh-so slightly... his face strains towards her.
The scarf in her hand... she ties his hands with it...gently... to the brass bed... his eyes are closed... tighter...lowering hips into his face... lower... over his chest... his navel. The SONG plays.
He is inside her... his head arches back... his throat white.
She arches her back... her hips grind... her breasts are high...
Her back arches back... back... her head tilts back... she extends her arms... the right arm comes down suddenly... the steel flashes... his throat is white...
He bucks, writhes, bucks, convulses...It flashes up... it flashes down... and up... and down... and up... and…
Okay, what can we take from this one?
This scene gives you the blow by blow, and definitely gets incredibly descriptive, but look at how it uses sex to mirror the violence. That becomes a theme for the film, so it’s incredibly smart to add it to the first pages.
Also, this movie love scene isn’t so hyped up on describing the sex as much as building a mood. We’re getting this guy tied up, we’re disguising his assailant, and then we get him dead.
This is also a dynamic opening scene.
So what if we want our movie love scene to be a little more chaste?
How about the movie love scene from Titanic?
Learning From the Titanic Love Scene
124 INT. HOLD
PUSHING IN on the rear window of the Renault, which is completely fogged up. Rose's hand comes up and slams against the glass for a moment, making a handprint in the veil of condensation.
INSIDE THE CAR, Jack's overcoat is like a blanket over them. It stirs and Rose pulls it down. They are huddled under it, intertwined, still mostly clothed. Their faces are flushed and they look at each other wonderingly. She puts her hand on his face, as if making sure he is real.
The writing here is all about the moment. On a boat full of thousands, it’s just Jack and Rose for this moment. Instead of being completely caught up in the actual sex, this movie love scene keeps it completely personal.
Since Cameron wrote AND directed it we can see how he wound up shooting it. Also shot for shot what’s on the page.
If you prefer your love scenes a little more fun, or between a man and his food, then let’s bring in American Pie. Written by Adam Herz, this movie reenvisions the sex scene.
INT. JIM'S HOUSE - KITCHEN - DAY
Jim enters his house, slinging his backpack off his
Mom?! I'm home!
No response. Jim walks into the kitchen, noticing a
fresh-baked pie on the counter. Next to it is a note:
"Jimmy - Apple, your favorite. I'll be home late.
Enjoy! Love Mom."
Jim sniffs the pie, taking in the aroma. Then stops...as
a quizzical look spreads across his face.
After a moment of thought, he slides a finger intothe
pie. Moves it around a bit, studying the consistency.
Then Jim becomes more curious. We can see the gearsin
his head start to turn. He looks down at the pie like
it's... well, not a pie.
EXT. JIM'S HOUSE - DAY
Jim's dad gets out of his car, carrying his briefcase.
INT. JIM'S HOUSE - CONTINUING
Jim's dad comes in the door and stops dead in his tracks.
His face drops, appalled.
It's not what it looks like!
Okay, so what can we learn from this scene? Aside from how much Jim loves pie?
There’s the old adage, “show, don’t tell” in screenwriting. So this is all about implied sex. This love scene is not easy to write. This all has to be set up in act one when someone describes sex like apple pie.
So when we get home, the description has to build off planted knowledge, and while never explicitly described, this love scene has to play so we understand the payoff when Jim’s Dad gets home.
Again, when we talk about fitting the tone, this movie nails it. Pun intended.
If sex with a pie is a little too insane for you, may I present sex with a fish? But not any fish, an Academy Award Winning Sex with a Fish movie.
The Shape Of Water Love Scene
The Shape Of Water love scenes are intricately plotted and placed.
And a lot of that is thanks to using a female perspective. It’s important to remember (in sex and screenwriting) that it takes two to tango. So you want any gender of people watching to connect with what’s on screen.
Get other people to read your work!
I tried to make sure we had some female screenwriters and their movies on this list. Vanessa Taylor and Guillermo Del Toro collaborated on this story.
Since you're trying to get an audience to buy in on some fantastical sex, you really have to write this movie love scene delicately.
But Taylor doesn't shy away from diving in.
There’s a theme to this movie, it’s about transcendent love, and we show that via a series of positive and negative movie love scenes.
It opens with a sex scene, masturbation to emphasize loneliness, and then becomes a really sweet story about a woman who finds someone who completes her.
Here you also juxtapose the love between the Amphibian Man and Elisa with the sexual aggression by Strickland.
Of course, we don’t really believe in love until this pivotal moment, where it just happens.
INT. ELISA’S BEDROOM / BATHROOM - DAWN
Elisa is alone- ready to sleep on the sofa. It’s dark but she’s awake, wired. She has her night mask on her forehead. Winds up her clock.
She eyes the bathroom door. She gets up, disrobes.
Elisa pulls the curtain back on the bathtub. Amphibian Man opens his eyes. She gets in, pulls the curtain shut. His markings light up. She closes the curtain.
They make love. Water splashes all around.
Sometimes the best way to show a movie love scene is just to tell us “They make love.”
Let the director sort it out later.
This brings me back to what we talked about at the beginning of the post. This script gives you what you need to know without being pornographic.
These two beings are in love. The rest of the movie will hinge on this fact. That's simple enough stuff that can help you craft romantic scenes of love.
So far we’ve looked at a lot of scripts with characters who are comfortable with their sexuality. But how do you write a sex scene that’s about the discovery of that sexuality?
I feel like we are in great hands with Barry Jenkins.
Moonlight is a masterpiece. It’s so complicated to balance timelines and emotions, but this movie does it with incredible aplomb.
Let’s take a look at this beach love scene from the middle of the movie.
Their eyes meeting here, Kevin slowly working his hand along
Chiron’s neck, small movement, with feeling.
Slowly, nearly subconsciously, Chiron going weak, leans
toward Kevin, their weight supporting one another here on the
All sound drowned by the echoing ocean, the night covering
these two as close as they’ve ever been.
Both sit up again, facing each other and still close, noses
These are waters they’ve never charted, the culmination of
invitations they’ve been sending since day one.
Kevin smiles, his open lips brushing Chiron’s. Chiron
startles and... leans in.
Heavy this kissing, much deeper than just the meeting of
lips. A moment more of this heavy petting then...
...the sound of a buckle being undone, Kevin’s hand
disappearing down below, a gasp from Chiron and...
Pressure and rhythm as Chiron’s breath
catches in his chest, head fully leaned to Kevin’s shoulder,
free hand grabbing at the sand as Kevin takes hold of him, a
caressing and a pulling and a soothing as....
...Chiron comes, holding onto Kevin for dear life, choking on
the sea breeze.
Kevin removing his hand, looks at the cum there before wiping
it on the sand
Kevin looking at him with the kindest, most open face:
What you got to be sorry for?
Chiron considering that. Honestly so. The sound of the ocean.
I included this scene because it’s the pinnacle of coming of age movies. For this movie, it’s Chiron letting himself be truly open with someone.
The writing here is poetic, it really builds the tension before the love scene begins.
Both boys here are becoming who they will be, and fostering their love. Look at the way the action is written.
I particularly love this line:
All sound drowned by the echoing ocean, the night covering
these two as close as they’ve ever been.
We’re put in the mood, we understand there’s tension before the love can proceed. As the scene builds, the action takes us through each person’s emotions, and that reflects upon us.
This is more than just the cliche “gay love scene” on this list.
It’s universal and beautiful.
Summing up How To Write the Best Movie Love Scenes
Alright, let’s towel off and see what we learned about writing the best movie love scenes.
See how you can work them into three-act structure.
Romantic scenes of love aren’t easy to describe on the page, but I think you now understand that your work needs to match the tone, have a point to it, and consider every side.
Make sure your writing takes the audience through the emotions and gives them all the information they need to know.
Above all else, movie sex scenes need to have a point.
When you sit down to write them, understand why they need to happen, and make sure they always take the audience to a deeper place.
Even if that place is a laugh.
Okay, let’s all take a cold shower and move on.
Got a favorite sex scene? Let me know in the comments.
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And no matter what, keep writing.