There’s a long history of female nudity in science fiction and fantasy - everything from naked Moon babes to sexy vamp tramps. So why aren’t men stripping down too? Perhaps our history of male nudity in SF will enlighten you.
While naked women are used to infuse alien planets with exotic allure, naked men are almost always associated with dystopia. In fact, it sometimes seems like the only time we get to see naked men in science fiction is when they’re in prison.
Take Twelve Monkeys, for example. Here we get a nice butt shot of Bruce Willis (looking nice and firm!), but of course it has to be in the context of a psychotic near-future dystopia where Bruce is imprisoned. We only get naked Bruce when he’s forced to do it in this awful way.
Even worse is A Clockwork Orange, where we first get a glimpse of nudity when our anti-hero rapes and kills a nice lady. Then he’s sent to prison and forced to strip in this weird scene. Again, an otherwise nice example of nudity (even with a bit of peen!) is only given to us in a context where we’re really not in the mood to scope out Malcolm McDowell’s skinny Brit boy bod.
One of the main ways that men bare their butts in science fiction, however, is a little less disturbing. Let’s call it the “I’m in some kind of futuristic device and have to be naked” excuse.
That’s how we get this incredibly great shot of Jeff Goldblum looking snacky in his teleportation pods from The Fly. You can almost always rely on director David Cronenberg to get a little nudity out of his male leads, which is why we love him so. (Seriously - that naked steam room knife fight scene with Viggo Mortenson in recent Cronenberg flick Eastern Promises? Wow.) Here’s Goldblum:
We only get this statuesque sculptiness after Goldblum’s been ripped apart at the genetic level and turned into a horrific mutant. So you get a naked guy, but unfortunately he’s a proto-monster.
And then there’s the best nakedness excuse ever, which is “well for some reason time travel requires you to be naked.” Makes perfect sense. That’s why we got to see Arnold’s butt in every Terminator flick. Unfortunately, this isn’t the frisky, sexy goodness you get from naked SF ladies - it’s more of a menacing badass thing. Plus, naked Arnold couldn’t really float anybody’s boat.
Another great excuse to show a guy naked in science fiction is if you stick him in some kind of goo pod. Seriously, how many freakin movies and TV series have naked men covered in goo? I’m not kidding - it’s not just Keanu in The Matrix. Here are just a few.
There’s Anders in Battlestar Galactica, whose nakedness is just hinted at:
You wouldn’t want to show a man without his clothes on if he wasn’t somehow part of a machine or being experimented on. That there is functional nudity, not something fun to look at! And in case you wanted to gaze in adoration at this desirable boy object, forget it. He’s going to be covered in some kind of industrial solvent or weird polymer that makes him look gross.
Then there’s the naked homoerotic goo pod scene from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Yes, that’s a goo-covered Robert DeNiro, recently reanimated in a steampunk goo tank, showing off his shapely form.
And how about the scene where Wolverine emerges from the goo, his Adamantium bones freshly installed, and rips the shit out of everything while also showing off his utterly shapely buns? Seriously, we want to see naked Wolverine but not like this! Keep his clothes on when he’s fighting, and then strip him down later in a more friendly setting. But no - because Wolvie is manly, he can only be naked when he’s penetrating steel walls with his mega-claws.
How often have you said to yourself that you’d like to see Russell Crowe - especially a delicious, young, version - totally naked? He has a seriously sweet bum, and now you can see it for yourself, with a little dancing action. Except of course you only get that when he’s a virtual serial killer (in Virtuosity) who has managed to climb out of VR and into a nanobot android body that immediately sets to work killing everybody. Why can’t we have peaceful, happy naked men in our science fiction? Couldn’t he have ended that sexy little dance by doing something other than chopping off his own finger?
Well, maybe we can get a few peaceful naked men. Once we get away from the goo thing, we’ve got another class of male nudity in SF: The “I just got a body so I have to be naked” subgenre of bare-assery. The problem with these nudie moments? Too innocent. Nobody wants to leer at somebody who just grew a body! They’re almost like kids or something. Except, of course, they really aren’t.
There’s nothing better than seeing bare-butted Jeff Bridges in Starman. He’s come from far away and borrowed the DNA of Karen Allen’s dead husband to make himself a body. Later, we actually do get to see him in sexed-up mode, but this “being born” scene gives us the full buttal deal. Forget full frontal. That just never happens.
You can also be naked if you’ve just regenerated, like Captain Jack did in an episode of Torchwood. Even though Jack is the sexiest guy in the universe, he only gets to give us a double bun when he’s feeling completely awful and is covered in dirt. Couldn’t we have gotten a little of this naked Jack in a scene with his boyfriend Ianto?
The much-missed show Kyle XY started with a fully naked moment, when the vat-grown Kyle awakens in a forest with an adult body and the brain of a computer. There’s something so sweet and innocent and utterly hot about this moment.
When men aren’t birthing themselves into nudity, they use nakedness as a way of showing their true selves and scaring the crap out of people. That’s one way to read this bizarre and sad sequence in cult film The Man Who Fell To Earth, featuring David Bowie as an alien who has been hiding among humans. At last, he decides to show his girlfriend his true (naked) self - intercut with his memories of having sex back on his homeworld.
When Dr. Manhattan has sex with Silk Spectre in Watchmen, the whole thing quickly devolves into something creepy. Even though we get to see lots of glowing nakedness, and even get a few CGI penis glimpses, the body of Dr. Manhattan is anything but erotic.
So you can tell I’m pretty critical of male nudity as it stands in science fiction. Are there any examples of good, friendly nudity that isn’t about deathtripping and mad science?
We got good eye candy on Star Trek Enterprise when it turned out that nudity is required in the decontamination chamber. This is what I’m talking about, people. Even though sadly there is underwear involved, this is a perfect example of male nudity reaching the gratuitous, just-there-to-be-looked-at-ness of female nudity in science fiction. No killing, no scary vats of goo, no “innocent newborn” crap. Just good, old-fashioned erotic nudity purely to make you feel tingly.
Wouldn’t you know that Charlton Heston got there first with this whole frisky, friendly version of male nudity? The gun-lover’s first-ever nude scene was in science fiction classic Planet of the Apes. He and his astronaut pals decide (totally randomly) to take a naked dip in the water. Why is this scene here? For the same reason all those nude scenes with ladies are there in every other movie. Just so we can take a nice break and check out old CH’s sculpted buns.
My point, other than to share pictures of naked men with you on a Friday night, is that something is wrong with the way science fiction deals with male bodies. Male beauty is always being undermined by violence, defaced with goo, or attenuated by its association with birthing. I’m not saying it’s wrong to show men engaged in action, or in ugly situations. But I do think it’s odd that lovely male bodies are almost always put on display in contexts where we are made to feel uncomfortable or upset by seeing them.
There’s something almost schizophrenic about male nudity in science fiction. We see glimpses of men’s allure, only to have it erased. It’s as if these scenes are titillating you, only to slap you in the face.
As somebody who appreciates the male form, I’d like to be given a few more options in my science fiction, please. Nudity should not have to end (or begin) in tragedy.