Taking It All Off (Part One)

February 25, 2006
A thought by James Berardinelli

While regarding the cover of a certain magazine depicting revealing images of Kiera Knightley and Scarlett Johanssen, several random thoughts came to mind. One was to wonder how many Oscar nominated actresses have done nude scenes during their careers. The more I considered this, the more intrigued I became about looking into the statistics. Was there a difference in the percentages between Lead Actresses and Supporting Actresses? Was such nudity more prevalent in the '80s, '90s, and/or '00s? Ideally, I would have liked to compare the nudity by award-winners to the nudity of the female acting community at large, but I don't have the time to analyze the filmographies of a representative population. (If someone else would care to do this, I'll publish the findings.)

This will be a three-part series that may be too dry for some and too salacious for others. The first part sets the parameters. The second part presents the results. And the third part provides some observations. If I get enough sufficently interesting e-mail responses, I'll print them in a future installment.

The first thing I had to decide when embarking upon this study is with which year I wanted to begin. The Hays Code prevented nudity in American movies for much of the 20th century. It wasn't until the late 1960s and 1970s and the advent of the current MPAA ratings system that screen nudity became mainstream. For my purposes, I wanted to start at a time when nakedness was commonplace. The choice of 1980 is arbitrary, but seems as good a place as any to start.

Having established a starting point, the next issue was to define "screen nudity." It may seem like a no-brainer, but there are gray areas. Is it nudity if a woman displays her breasts with her nipples discreetly covered? (Scarlett Johansson in A Love Song for Bobby Long) What about when a nipple is accidentally revealed, and can only be seen when the film is stepped through frame-by-frame? (Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman.) Or when a blurred nipple can be see through frosted glass? (Winona Ryder in Autumn in New York) My criteria for screen nudity is that buns, nipples, and/or the pubic region must be visible for more than a few frames, and the exposure has to be intentional, not accidental. That means the three examples indicated above don't count.

The study reflects three measurements. The first is "naked nominations." Since 1980, there have been 135 nominees in both the Lead and Supporting Actress categories. This indicates how many of those nominations featured an actress who has done screen nudity at some time during her career. The second is "naked nominees." This eliminates duplicates. While an actress nominated five times would count five times for "naked nominations," she would count only once for "naked nominees." Finally, there are "naked winners" - how many Oscar winners over the past 27 years have done screen nudity. (There are two duplicates in the Lead Actress field - Sally Field and Jodie Foster - and one in the Supporting Actress field - Dianne Wiest. Each is counted once.)

I can't claim that the results are 100% accurate. With some actresses (mostly older ones who appeared in European films), it can be difficult to ascertain whether they appeared in nude scenes. So assume an error factor of about plus/minus 4%.

Finally, what about Lead Actors and Supporting Actors? The fact is, it's far more rare for actors to do nude scenes. Plus, since I'm a guy, it's less interesting for me to research male nudity than the female kind. If any of my female (or gay) readers would like to embark upon this study, I'll put up the results. Now, on to the percentages. (If you are hoping for screen caps, you're going to be sorely disappointed.)