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Top 10 Iconic Bathtub Scenes

by Warren Cantrell on September 27, 2010

in Top 10s

The wildman known as Warren J. Cantrell is back with another Top 10! Warren liked contributing Top 10s to Scene-Stealers so much, he started his own site, Check it out now. In the meantime, here’s Warren:

Why are bathtub scenes so frequently showcased in films? Though I know that many out there still take baths, really, between a shower and a soak, I have to figure that the disparity between the two is fairly large. I can’t imagine that baths represent much more than 20 percent of the western world’s daily bathing rituals, so why is it that these scenes keep popping up in films? Is it a connection to the womb; a cinematic throwback to a safer time for a given character, and the serenity involved in such a ritual? Perhaps, for it’s often the case that scenes that invoke the tub frequently juxtapose this with some kind of trauma, or imminent danger, thus disturbing an audience made complacent by such a peaceful image. In any event, bathtub scenes are here to stay, and throughout the decades, some of the most iconic moments in cinema have taken place within the confines of a bathroom, amidst the soapy, milky backdrop of a nice, long soak.

american-beauty-bathtubTo make today’s list, the scene in question had to represent a quintessential moment for that film, and for cinema in general, so the more famous and memorable the scene, the better. There were no real qualifications other than this, except that the scene had to involve a character from that film in a bathtub, and that there could be no question that it was a tub, and not some creek where a person happened to be wading, or engaging in some kind of half-assed shower. This was a thick category with a whole host of contenders, so I do apologize if some of your treasured bathtub scenes were omitted. I wish to honorably mention American Beauty, The Women, Billy Madison, Ghostbusters II, Shanghai Noon, Maverick, The Rules of Attraction, The 40 Year Old Virgin, The Tingler, and Duck Soup, which would have made it on this list without question had I thought better of things, and ran a site called website 20rant. Scarface also just about made the cut, but missed out because what Tony Montana was in might be considered a Jacuzzi.

Slumdog millionaire bathtub cash10. Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

If I was going to post a ‘Top 10 Most Uncool Bro Moments’ list, then this one would have a much higher slot. Yet being a somewhat new film, this movie’s bathtub scene is only just beginning to attain iconic status, thus it got the opening position today. But that’s okay, for as you can probably tell from the intro, this was a tough list to crack, even with an awesome tub scene, so Mr. Boyle’s most recent opus should feel privileged to get a ranking. After he betrayed his brother Jamal as a youth, Salim worked his way up the Indian crime syndicate, while Jamal piously clawed his way out of poverty, and into a shot at an ass-load of cash. The pair had grown up on the streets with another orphan, Latika, and she eventually became the wedge that split the brothers apart. Grown up, Salim worked for the criminal organization that held Latika somewhat captive, and in a last-ditch attempt to reclaim his honor, and the love of his brother, Salim helped her escape. In his final moments, he crawled into a bathtub, filled the fucker with cash, and waited for the assassination he knew was coming as a result of his betrayal. Though he was no saint, Salim found it in himself to let the good still in him to escape, and did it in a pretty heroic fashion. Surrounded by the money that had become more important to him than his own blood, he died as he lived: with style.

maclaine-eastwood-two-mules-tuco-bath9. Tie: Two Mules for Sister Sara (1970) and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966)

While “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” is by far the better film (and arguably in possession of a superior bathtub scene), I simply didn’t have it in me to exclude “Two Mules For Sister Sara.” Clint Eastwood’s Hogan was a gun-for-hire wandering the Mexican countryside when he happened upon a delicious redhead in a most unfortunate situation. Put simply, she was about to be gang-raped by a squad of unsavory villains when Hogan took it upon himself to kill the bastards and save the woman (Shirley MacLaine’s Sara). Sara told Hogan that she was a nun working for Mexican revolutionaries, and that she was helping them coordinate an offensive against the French. Though he wanted nothing more than to get drunk and play around with the woman, honest fellow that he was, Hogan didn’t have it in him to sully a nun. Once he got Sara to her destination, however, he learned that she was not affiliated with the Catholics at all, but was a prostitute. By this time, the two had fallen in love a bit, and the only thing standing between them was a fort-invasion/heist, which Clint’s character was spearheading. The mission ultimately successful, he returned with a strongbox full of money to claim his real prize, Sara, who he found naked and in a tub. When she asked if was going to take off his hat, he replied dryly “Haven’t got time for that” before diving into the water fully clothed to get his hands on the woman. Damn right.

Of course, if I have to explain Tuco’s bathtub moment to you, then you probably don’t deserve to live. When cornered, the one-armed man looking for Tuco (Eli Wallach) made the classic movie villain mistake: he talked. “I’ve been looking for you for eight months. Whenever I should have had a gun in my right hand, I thought of you. Now I find you in exactly the position that suits me. I had lots of time to learn to shoot with my left.” At this point, a gunshot, not from the one-armed man, but from Tuco, exploded from beneath the bubbled foam of the tub, and Tuco gave the world one of the greatest and most poignant lines of all time. “When you have to shoot, shoot: don’t talk.”

Pentangelli bath godfather II8. The Godfather, Part II (1974)

Tom Hagen: When a plot against the Emperor failed, the plotters were always given a chance, to let their families keep their fortunes, right?
Frankie Pentangeli: Yeah, but only the rich guys, Tom. The little guys got knocked off and all their estates went to the Emperors. Unless they went home and killed themselves: then nothing happened. And the families, the families were taken care of.
Tom Hagen: That was a good break. A nice deal.

godfather-part-iiThis movie is so fucking awesome it’s like poetry manifested into a visual state. Every inch of this film was crafted in such a meticulous, deliberate manner that the assembled pieces represent nothing less than absolute perfection. I won’t waste time trying to sum up the plot of this film, for that would be like a person trying to give a summation of ‘War and Peace,’ or ‘The Odyssey,’ but I will say that “The Godfather, Part II” is about family, and the susceptibility of the human spirit to wither into evil out of a desire to do good. When Michael (Al Pacino) went to visit his father in the hospital in the first film and stood up to the police in cahoots with his family’s enemies, Don Vito’s son took the first step down a slippery slope that would ultimately save his family at the expense of his soul.

Decisions made thereafter were always grounded in a passionate love of his family, yet Michael began to slip deeper and deeper into the darkness over time until he reached a moment, at the end of the second installment, when it was his family that suffered as a result of his machinations. The path he started down so as to protect his family terminated at a point that saw the death of his elder brother, Fredo (John Cazale), for no other reason than because the dummy had been stupid and weak. Michael’s brother could have remained within the Corleone circle without detriment to the safety or prosperity of the family, yet Michael had devolved to the point where such a decision was impossible. Fredo had to die, as did Hyman Roth, and, sadly, Frankie Pentangeli (Michael V. Gazzo), who was cut something of a break because it was clear he was fooled into betraying the family. Roth orchestrated Frankie’s betrayal exquisitely, and fooled the well-intentioned old-timer into believing Michael had betrayed him. Old soldier that he was, Frankie knew the score when Tom (Robert Duvall) came to visit him in prison, and understood the deal the family consiglieri had offered. Given the chance to maintain his honor, and to preserve his family’s privileges, Pentangeli did his duty as a member of the Corleone family, and took his conspirator’s bath like a man.

pleasantville bath joan allen7. Pleasantville (1998)

My affection for this movie knows almost no bounds, and it was with deep regret that I had to slot this one at a mere number seven. While the entries listed below housed more iconic bathtub moments, few if any maintain as guarded a place in my heart as “Pleasantville.” Though the movie began in a whimsical, benign fashion, it gradually evolved into a treatise on the sacred human right to express one’s self freely, and how fear of change can drive good men and women toward evil ends. Trapped in the idyllic fairy tale that 1950s consumer culture proposed as the new American standard, the town of Pleasantville operated in a manner that allowed only the passage of the non-threatening. The roads all led back into town, implicitly blocking any danger that might encroach upon the citizens from the outside world. David (Tobey Maguire) and Jennifer (Reese Witherspoon) were transported from the 1990s into this television universe, and rather than a utopia, the world David and Jennifer invaded revealed itself to be more of a dystopia. The fears that quickly came to the surface once changes occurred evolved into outward manifestations of prejudice with shades of fascism and racial segregation.

pleasantville-posterWhen David and Jennifer became Bud and Mary Sue, they started a chain reaction that led to an awakening within the fictional community. The turning point in the film occurred when Bud and Mary Sue’s mother (Joan Allen) discovered a sense of purpose via a liberation of pent up desires previously unexplored. In the tub, alone with her thoughts (and fingers), the once placid mother dared to venture into something dirty, something unknown to the “perfect” world of 1950s television. The once-fictional mother Betty opened herself up to the possibility of pleasure in a way that did not fit into the rigid categorization of the “proper” suburban wife, for the act of masturbation served only to please her, and not those society demanded she serve. By taking the initiative to engage in a selfish act, albeit a well-deserved one, Betty took the first step in realizing a life outside of her maternal responsibilities, and finally came to appreciate what it was to be a normal, functioning human being with independent feelings. As a town, Pleasantville would soon follow suit, and a world that was once drawn completely in black and white sprung to life in ways that transcended even the shocking appearance of color.

out-of-sight-tub-lopez-clooney6. Out of Sight (1998)

Yes, the scene was in a dream, yet I don’t think that should disqualify it from contention, for few other moments in cinema have struck as erotic and sleek a chord as this one. And make no mistake about it: this movie was a romance first, and a crime caper second. Indeed, just because it was able to pull both off so flawlessly shouldn’t obscure the fact that it was one of the sexiest films of the last 20 years. Though not a new tale by any means, the modern update of a love story between two people from completely different worlds was done in a way that blew the hinges off this particular genre, and infused “Out of Sight” with an energy aided in no small part by electrifying performances and near-perfect directing. One of this film’s most iconic moments (shit, the flick was full of them) occurred at the beginning of the second act, when U.S. Marshal Karen Sisco (Jennifer Lopez) walked into Jack’s (George Clooney) bathroom and found the celebrated bank robber resting peacefully in the bathtub. Her gun drawn, game-face set firmly into place, Jack suddenly came awake and got a hold of the U.S. Marshall’s wrist, pulling the gun aside as he brought the delicious Lopez in.

out-of-sight-tub-lopez-clooney-2The two had recently shared an intimate moment in the trunk of a getaway car, yet did so without so much as a kiss to pass between them. The raw energy that was pulsating off each of them was volcanic in nature, and the only thing which seemed to keep the pair from devouring each other in a sexual binge feast was the station that each played within the confines of respectable society. Karen was a custodian of the law while Jack was a man dedicated to the transgression of that sacred social contract. Like two creatures from different species, their passion could never be fully realized, yet like animals, they seemed unable to control the fire burning within. Though she knew better than to let it happen, though she understood that it could produce only negative results, Karen relented and allowed herself to be drawn in to Jack’s dirty water, both literally and metaphorically, and for a moment the two allowed themselves some primal satisfaction. Of course, that’s right when she woke up. Yet the taste of the fantasy never seemed to leave her lips, nor the mind of Jack, who wasn’t a party to the dream yet seemed to be hypnotized by the effects nonetheless. In Detroit, the pair found each other again and turned a dream into reality, and for the briefest of moments, during a “time out,” two species came together and stole a moment not meant to be.

del toro fear loathing bathtub5. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998)

Good Christ, this was a messy one. After Duke (Johnny Depp) had come down a bit and leveled out after a fierce LSD trip and desert dirt-bike race, he and his attorney obliged themselves of some mescaline and ether, and went gallivanting around Las Vegas for a good ol’ fashioned American adventure. After the pair returned to their hotel room to calm down a bit, it became obvious that while Duke had leveled out and regained control of his faculties, his attorney, Dr. Gonzo (Benicio del Toro) , had not. Dr. Gonzo had a fairly large hunting knife in his possession, sharpened to a razor’s edge, and wasn’t shy about waving it around and making fairly serious threats about chopping people the fuck up. Duke took a little time away from the room to give his lawyer a few moments to sober up, yet when he returned it was clear that nothing of the sort had happened. In fact, it was quite the opposite.

fear-loathing-vegas-tubGonzo went ahead and ate an entire sheet of acid, then submerged himself in the bathtub with a tape recorder nearby, a long shower rod in his hands pointed at the electrical device when Duke entered the bathroom. When asked why he was trying to electrocute himself, Gonzo explained that he wanted a surge of electricity at the exact moment that Jefferson Airplane’s ‘White Rabbit’ peaked, and that if Duke wasn’t willing to help with the endeavor, Gonzo was more than happy to stab his client, and “get a goddamned maid to do it.” The scene played out like something from Dante’s ‘Inferno’, the bathroom a flooded, shit-smeared mess lit by flickering, damaged lights and with a 290 pound Samoan holding court at the vortex of it all, hunting knife in hand. Duke was able to fool his attorney into believing he had complied with his request, and swapped the stereo he was supposed to throw into the tub with a grapefruit, which was hurled viciously at Gonzo, exploding in a citrus burst upon the lawyer’s head. The ruse was temporary, however, for while Gonzo spent time trashing about in the fetid water in the belief that electricity was surging through his body, he quickly realized what had happened and emerged from the bathroom like some kind of angry tiger. Generally speaking, drugs and tubs don’t mix, and this is an outstanding example of why that is so. For another, I would ask that you look to…

lebowski-bathtub4. The Big Lebowski (1998)

Talk about going from happy to sad in a matter of seconds; the Dude (Jeff Bridges) was relaxing in his private residence, enjoying the quiet solitude of a peaceful evening whilst smoking a joint when he heard a message on his answering machine explaining that his car, recently stolen, had been recovered. Leave it to a bunch of nihilists to ruin a perfect moment, for as soon as the Dude reached his emotional peak, the marijuana smoke settling in his lungs, the knowledge of a recovered vehicle freshly upon mind, the asshole crew showed up. And they did more than just arrive. They busted the poor fucker’s door in, smashed some shit in his living room, then moved on to the bathroom, where the Dude had been enjoying his perfect moment. In many ways, it’s a hard scene to get through, for you have to feel for a guy who is naked, alone, and in the midst of a complete privacy violation. To make matters worse, the nihilists tossed an angry ferret into the bathtub with the Dude, which seemed to piss the animal off something awful!

ferret-attack-lebowski-tubThe-once serene atmosphere came crashing down all around the Dude as he wrenched around violently in the water, whipping the joint and attached roach clip at the creature, which seemed to be tearing apart the poor stoner’s crotch and mid-section. This clearly did no good, however, for the offending creature not only survived the melee, but seemed to shake the fracas off without much of a problem. The Dude, on the other hand, went from the highest peaks of complacent happiness to the lowest depths of violation and despair. It’s hard to imagine the guy ever sparking a giggle-stick and slipping into the warm confines of a tub ever again, at least not before padlocking the shit out of his door. And speaking of traumatic moments that likely scared the character in question away from any future bathtub incursions in the future, I have to imagine that the next scene did a number on the offended party, and likely would have scarred the man for life (had he survived the winter to tell about it…).

the-shining-tub3. The Shining (1980)

I own this film, and popped this bad boy in so I could get a refresher on this scene, yet as the ominous moment approached, I found myself flipping through a magazine, turning away almost without thought. This was some creepy shit, and makes me anxious just writing about the damn thing. About halfway through his psychosis adventure, Jack (Jack Nicholson) went for a stroll and happened upon a comely lady, naked, taking a bath. Somewhat hypnotized by the apparition, yet seemingly unconcerned about the fact that a hotel filled with just three people in the middle of a frozen wasteland had an unaccounted for guest, Jack moved toward her to get a little sugar. As the woman rose out of the bathtub, the two embraced and began to make out furiously, that is until the naked, fine-tittied woman suddenly transformed into a hideous she-beast, and began chasing the film’s lead. Ugh!! Talk about a cold bucket of water, and it didn’t even happen to me.

You have to give it to Kubrick for crafting this moment so well, for it went from 0-nasty in about two seconds flat. There’s more I could write about this scene, and the picture as a whole, but I feel dirty just thinking about this one, so I’ll leave it at this. Besides, the next film, horror classic that it is, deserves a moment to shine…

nightmare-elm-street-tub-19842. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

Once again, this scene played into that sense of complacency when a person is immersed in a bathtub’s warm, soothing embrace. Of course, in this film, the peace was broken by a razor-sharp knife claw that emerged from the water right in front of Nancy’s vag., which sort of ruined the serenity of the moment, but, what can you do? Wes Craven has been culling us into complacency then shattering that safety for years, so it’s fitting that one of the most iconic bathtub moments in cinematic history would be a shit-your-pants terror dagger straight to your heart, courtesy of the fright-master himself. Technically speaking, this is not one of the man’s stronger efforts, however, and was filled with pretty cheesy special effects and enough contrived acting to make Spike Lee blush. Yet none of that mattered, just like the shitty attitude of the Vatican can’t interrupt the majesty of the Sistine Chapel. This film touched upon a basic human fear that movies had left surprisingly alone up to that point: the helplessness of an individual when lost to sleep. We are at our most vulnerable when unconscious, and no matter how strong a person is, or how well protected they are in the real world, once a man or woman slips behind the curtain of their dreams anything is possible. This movie took it a step further, and introduced danger into the equation not from a threat from the real world, but from the imaginary assaulting from within.

By the time she slipped into her bath, Nancy had already begun to put together the mystery surrounding the murder of her friends, and knew better than to relent to fatigue. It’s appropriate that one of the film’s most iconic moments, that of Freddy’s claw emerging from the bath-water, did so in a way that framed it against the lead’s vagina. On several occasions, the film keyed in on themes unique to late-adolescence, and the fears and anxieties associated with pre-adulthood. Freddy Krueger’s lust for teenage blood, and that age-group alone, represented a larger theme about the insecurity of that moment in a person’s life, and how traumatic it can be for some. Freddy only attacked high schoolers, and tying sex together with violence in a way that evoked a lot of familiar emotions for people who had a rough go of things at that age worked exceedingly well. While the special effects and performances aren’t terribly impressive, the imagery, themes, and style involved with the project launched the movie into legendary status, and might have even clocked in at number one had the next film not blown the fucking doors off of bathtubs in film…

fatal-attraction-tub1. Fatal Attraction (1987)

It’s funny how seriously people took this movie when it came out, and how quickly it changed the landscape of film and television. You’d think nobody had done a bat-shit-crazy-woman-stalking-uninterested-dude-after-humping movie, but good ol’ Clint did “Play Misty For Me” about a decade and a half before, and did it well. Yet in the years after Fatal Attraction, everything from “Saved By the Bell” to “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” were referencing or talking about this movie. It’s a credit to Glenn Close (Alex), I suppose, for the skill she displayed in this performance convinced a whole generation of men that there was no such thing as an “innocent” affair. You see, Michael Douglas’ character, “Dan” had a little innocent sex with Alex off the clock, when his wife and daughter were out of town. Dan figured he had pretty much wrapped the whole situation up when he said “bye now” yet nothing could have been further from the truth. This bitch Alex had some serious problems, and a simple “goodbye” wasn’t cutting it. Like any psychotic maniac, Alex started calling Dan’s office and pursuing the guy even though she knew he was married as shit. She asked the fella out to the opera, then took a plunge after the fifteenth denial and showed up at the dude’s house! Before he had a chance to catch his breath, Dan had a boiled bunny and a kidnapped daughter on his hands, not to mention a wife (Anne Archer) who was understandably distraught by the instant crumbling and destruction of everything she trusted and held dear.

fatal-attraction-tub-closeDan leveled with his wife and told her what had happened, and even tried to get the police involved, yet Alex was too quick for such mundane action, and eventually showed up at Dan’s happy home looking to cut a bitch. Alex figured that if she could eliminate the wife, then Dan would be all hers, so she went looking for Archer’s character hoping to slice the poor woman up a little (okay, a lot). The film climaxed in the bathroom when a vicious struggle broke out between Alex and Dan, the latter beating five shades of shit out of the former before he tossed her body into the filled bathtub. Going for the double-scare, the movie gave Alex one last chance and its audience one last gasp, and the crazy whore came to life, knife in hand, looking to stab somebody. Luckily, Archer’s character had located her husband’s gun, and took the liberty of putting a pill in the crazy bitch. Thus, there came an end to one of the craziest females in cinematic history, as well as the greatest and most iconic bathtub scene of all time.

“Obvious Child” is the debut novel of Warren Cantrell, a film and music critic based out of Seattle, Washington. Mr. Cantrell has covered the Sundance and Seattle International Film Festivals, and provides regular dispatches for Scene-Stealers and The Playlist. Warren holds a B.A. and M.A. in History, and his hobbies include bourbon drinking, novel writing, and full-contact kickboxing.


{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

1 John September 30, 2010 at 3:34 pm

What about Europa?


2 ronnie f October 10, 2010 at 3:09 pm

how can u have a scene in a bathtub without including the “ouch” scene out of classic gore film “i spit on your grave” made men cower from the tub for ages


3 Jeremy October 31, 2010 at 10:17 am

It isn’t iconic, But the scene in Gummo with the kid eating spagetti in the bathtub with a piece of bacon taped to the wall has haunted me for years.


4 Jonathan December 27, 2010 at 7:44 pm

Seriously? Where is Psycho, that has to be the most iconic.


5 Dixie Burge December 13, 2016 at 3:32 am

Because the scene had to be played with the person SITTING in the tub, not taking a shower.


6 Stephen Grossman October 18, 2011 at 11:09 am

Kudos for including Tuco!


7 Dixie Burge December 4, 2016 at 9:39 pm

Agreed! When I discovered this article, I looked at it just to see if Tuco’s bathtub scene is included. Mr. Cantrell, you didn’t let me down!


8 Dixie Burge December 4, 2016 at 9:46 pm

And that iconic line, “When you have to shoot, shoot; don’t talk” was made up by Wallach on the spot! Not bad, eh?


9 James February 2, 2014 at 3:11 am

No love for Shanghai Noon?


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