The Most Iconic Swimsuit Moments in Movie History 

The internet has been abuzz with the newly revealed Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue featuring Yumi Nu, which got us thinking about iconic swimsuit scenes in films. Movies have always been dedicated to the display of pretty humans, and nothing sets off pretty humans quite like swimwear.

Most of the major female stars of Hollywood, and quite a few of the male ones, have been dropped into a one-piece or two-piece on a more or less flimsy pretext. Below are some of the most memorable swimwear outfits for the beach and pool, arranged in chronological order.

Brigitte Bardot in Girl in the Bikini (1952)

brigitte bardot girl in the bikini
Courtesy of Atlantis Films

A teenaged Brigitte Bardot defied censors in a skimpy, pale two-piece at a time when bikinis were considered indecently risqué. Girl in the Bikini paved the way for many a provocatively bare midriff to come, including some of those on this list.

Marilyn Monroe in How to Marry a Millionaire (1953)

how to marry a millionaire marilyn monroe
Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

Many of the films on this list are of limited interest outside the swimwear, but Jean Negulesco’s screwball comedy is widely admired on its own merits. Like everything Marilyn Monroe wore, her red form-fitting one-piece with the plunging glittery bustline is iconic.

Burt Lancaster & Deborah Kerr in From Here to Eternity (1953)

from here to eternity
Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

Deborah Kerr’s halter-top swimsuit with a cinch at the waist is set against Burt Lancaster’s square-cut trunks. From Here to Eternity is a title that promises a range of pleasures, and in the swimwear, at least, delivers something for everyone.

Jane Russell in The French Line (1953)

jane russell the french line swimsuit
Courtesy of RKO Radio Pictures

In The French Line, Jane Russell plays an oil baroness who goes incognito to find someone who loves her for herself and not for her money. In this case, “incognito” means…spangles! Cut-outs! Did we mention spangles? And OMG, the gloves.

Elvis Presley in Blue Hawaii (1961)

elvis presley blue hawaii
Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Joan Blackman’s bikini is notable, but that wasn’t the swimwear that packed the theaters for this picture. It was the Elvis look that audience came for: the (very) tight, high-waisted white swim shorts with the racing stripes, hugging those famous Elvis hips.

Ursula Andress in Dr. No (1962)

dr no
Courtesy of United Artists

Andress and costume designer Tessa Prendergast worked together to create what may be the most famous two-piece in movie history. The white top with the center tie; the British Army Belt with its buckles; the scabbard; Andress’ 36-24-36 measurements—all were burned into the forebrains of a generation of adolescents of every gender, who rushed to buy the formerly taboo bikini in unprecedented numbers.

Sean Connery in Dr. No (1962)

sean connery no
Courtesy of United Artists

Less famous than Andress’ bikini but arguably just as awesome is this powder-blue terry-towel onesie with the zip front that allows just a touch of that Sean Connery chest hair to peek through. It’s chic, yet adorable.

Alain Delon in Knife in the Water (1962)

alain delon knife in the water 1
Courtesy of Zespol Filmowy

French heartthrob Alain Delon is so virile he doesn’t even need specially designed swimwear; just those tan belted shorts, pendant, and damp touselled hair. Oh, and that ropey-muscled chest, bare to the sun and to cinema-goers alike.

Raquel Welch in One Million Years B.C. (1966)

raquel welch one million years b.c.
Courtesy of Warner-Pathé Distributors

Set in prehistoric times, as the title says, Raquel Welch’s swimsuit was assembled from scraps of cloth, which makes it look like it’s about to fall off of her. That was no doubt part of what made this an iconic look, inspiring many a distressed, deconstructed science-fiction and fantasy two-piece to come.

Trina Parks in Diamonds are Forever (1971)

trina parks diamonds are forever
Courtesy of United Artists

Another Bond film bikini, this one in bright dramatic yellow and worn by the acrobatic guard Thumper, who faced off against Sean Connery's 007. Trina Parks rounded the look off with neck and armbands, a string around the waist, and hoop earrings

Pam Grier in Coffy (1973)

pam grier coffy
Courtesy of American International Pictures

Pam Grier’s wardrobe in Coffy is a hip Blaxploitation wonder, and nowhere more so than in this dramatic white halter-top bikini with teardrop cups. It wouldn’t be complete, of course, without those giant 70s sunglasses.

Bo Derek in 10 (1979)

bo derek 10
Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Nobody remembers anything about this film except for Bo Derek’s one-piece clinging to her as she runs across the beach. Somewhere the entire creative team of Baywatch was watching, too rapt to even take notes.

Phoebe Cates in Fast Times At Ridgemont High (1982)

phoebe cates fast times at ridgemont high
Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Director Amy Heckerling went meta with Cates' red bikini, which infamously features in another character’s sexual fantasy. The top—also infamously—fastens in the middle, allowing for what Rolling Stone called “the most memorable bikini-drop in cinema history.”

Carrie Fisher in Star Wars: Return of the Jedi (1983)

carrie fisher return of the jedi
Courtesy of Lucasfilm

The largely sexless Star Wars series ditched the sexlessness in a big way in its third installment when it decked Carrie Fisher out in a satiny metallic golden bikini and then physically bound her to a giant phallic sentient slug. Never fear though; Princess Leia chokes her captor to death with the very chains of the patriarchy. While still wearing that bikini, of course.

Daryl Hannah in Splash (1984)

splash
Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios

Hannah doesn’t usually get considered in iconic swimwear looks since her look lacked…well, swimwear (unless you count the fishtail.) Mermaids don’t wear bikinis, and Hannah’s only covering was her own long blonde mane. It is for obvious reasons, not a style much imitated, though you can tell how well-remembered it was by the immediate outcry when Disney censored some shots of Hannah for Splash’s release on Disney+.

Keanu Reeves in Point Break (1991)

point break
Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

Most movie swimwear makes the most of skin. But director Kathryn Bigelow found eroticism in cling rather than exposure, taking Keanu Reeves’ perfect lines and streamlining them further in a dark full-body wet suit.

Salma Hayek in From Dusk to Dawn (1996)

from dusk till dawn
Courtesy of Miramax Films

Robert Rodriguez's cult classic From Dusk Till Dawn asked the question: how do you spruce up the by now familiar film bikini? Add a big headdress—and a giant snake! And, of course, Salma Hayek is a writhing vampire queen.

Denise Richards in Wild Things (1998)

wild things
Courtesy of Sony

Wild Things is a twisty, trashy neo-noir exercise in sexploitation sleaze. But nothing in it is more risqué than Denise Richards simply pulling herself out of the water wearing this blue and more than a little transparent one-piece.

Angelina Jolie in Tomb Raider (2001)

tomb raider
Courtesy of Universal Pictures

The costume designers on Tomb Raider wisely determined that you don’t need to do much to make Angelina Jolie look great in swimwear. They settled on a basic black bikini which is close enough to utilitarian that Jolie makes you believe she could actually raid tombs in it.

Rachel McAdams in The Notebook (2004)

the notebook
Courtesy of New Line Cinema

Known for its heartbreaking plot and rainy kiss scene, The Notebook also features an iconic swimwear moment. Rachel McAdams’ vintage-inspired red-checked two-piece is an exuberantly flirty tour-de-force. And that’s even before you add the head-wrap!

Daniel Craig in Casino Royale (2006)

casino royale
Courtesy of United Artists

Male pulchritude was always part of the Bond allure, but the series reached new levels of equity in fan service with the beach scene from Casino Royale. It is difficult to remember any other James Bond when Daniel Craig walks out of the water wearing a perilously tight La Perla speedo.

Kiera Knightly in Atonement (2007)

attonement
Courtesy of Universal Pictures

The sleek demure white 30s one-piece in Atonement, with the cap hiding Knightly’s hair, reflects the character’s sexual repression. But that hemline and the peek-a-boo cutouts wink at sensuality sliding up from the depths.

Selena Gomez, Rachel Korine, Vanessa Hudgens, & Ashley Benson in Spring Breakers (2012)

spring breakers
Courtesy of A24

Director Harmony Korine dressed his four stars in pastel neon bikinis in contrasting colors, a taste apocalypse meant to epitomize the decadence of youth culture in general and these girls on Spring Break in particular. Selena Gomez’s peach top and the green bottom is a particularly eye-popping, and/or eye-gouging excess.

Jason Momoa in Justice League (2017)

jason momoa
Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Momoa had a full-body suit in 2018’s Aquaman. But his best fashion moment as the King of the Seas was undoubtedly in the otherwise undistinguished 2017 Justice League. In that film, heavily tattooed and shirtless, he wades into the water wearing only Garment Hotel denim jeans. Because when you are an amphibian, streetwear is swimwear, and vice versa.

Andy Samberg in Palm Springs (2020)

palm springs
Courtesy of Hulu

He’s no Momoa or Craig, but Adam Samberg has his own nebbishy charm, which he drapes in a sloppy, casual open-front Hawaiian shirt, yellow draw-string shorts, and an inevitable pair of clunky shades.  It’s an outfit built for comfort more than speed—but that’s understandable since his character is caught in a time loop and so is essentially wearing these clothes forever.

Bottom Line

There are certainly lots more swimsuits you could pick from, but the one that I would add if I could add one is probably Pamela Anderson’s red lifeguard one-piece from Baywatch. Which is a TV show, not a movie. So it’s not here. But otherwise, it would be.

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This post was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.

Image Credit: 20th Century Fox/United Artists/Lucasfilm.


Noah Berlatsky is a freelance writer based in Chicago. His book, Wonder Woman: Bondage and Feminism in the Marston/Peter Comics was published by Rutgers University Press. He thinks the Adam West Batman is the best Batman, darn it.