Last week, we ranked the 50 greatest female sex symbols of film. This week, we're tackling the men, before they tackle us. Remember, there's an important distinction here. These aren't just sexy men; they're men who had a seismic impact on male sexuality. To be safe, it's probably best to avoid eye contact.
50. John Travolta
In his younger days, Travolta had a distinctly masculine grace and sensitivity that recalled the young Marlon Brando. Neither actor aged especially well, but we'll always have Grease.
49. James Franco
Go ahead and laugh at his pretensions and his ubiquity, but James Franco perfectly captured a particular brand of irresistible teen bad boy in Freaks and Geeks, and his good looks and undeniable talent keep him among the ranks of contemporary sex symbols despite his best attempts to silly-art-project his fame away.
48. Viggo Mortensen
There's a reason the Lord of the Rings movies sold millions of tickets to people who didn't really care about hobbits.
47. Leonardo DiCaprio
Had he stuck with his floppy hairstyle from Titanic, we might remember Leonardo DiCaprio as we do Leif Garrett. Luckily, he put his good looks to better use, establishing himself as a globe-trotting, supermodel-nailing sex symbol for grown-ups.
46. Tom Cruise
We know it's tough at the moment, but try to remember why Tom Cruise got famous in Risky Business, Top Gun, et al. The fact that he alienated Katie Holmes doesn't negate that when she was in high school, she and every other teen girl in Christendom wanted a piece of him.
45. Bruce Willis
Women want him, men want to be him, etc. Bruce Willis has swagger.
44. Gregory Peck
Contemporary audiences mostly remember Gregory Peck for his genteel nobility as the ultimate Southern gentleman in To Kill a Mockingbird. But he'd already established his sex appeal in a series of Westerns that used his angular jaw to the fullest. In that light, the hot-dad quality of his Mockingbird performance seems inevitable.
43. Javier Bardem
Javier Bardem's face looks like it was chiseled from a red sequoia by a Cubist, mescaline-amped sculptor, and it's disturbingly sexy. That's probably how he managed to secure People's Sexiest Man Alive award while sporting the doofiest haircut in the annals of film villainy.
42. Richard Roundtree
Emerging from the beige eroticism of the '70s, Richard Roundtree was a black-as-hell sexual pioneer, instantly iconic as a sex machine to all the chicks.
41. Alain Delon
Just being French generally makes you sexier than most people, but Alain Delon's sly and seductive performance in Purple Noon, as the sexually ambivalent Tom Ripley, propelled him into a new realm of lust.
40. Robert Wagner
Cf. Warren Beatty, the best way to become a sex symbol is often to sleep with other sex symbols. Take it from Robert Wagner, who slept with Joan Collins, Joan Crawford, Natalie Wood, Anita Ekberg, Barbara Stanwyck, and Elizabeth Taylor.
39. Keanu Reeves
When you don't trouble yourself with his didn't-know-he-was-being-filmed approach to acting, you will remember that Keanu Reeves was the wet dream of the '90s, in Speed, The Matrix, and My Own Private Idaho. Even today, we might not rewatch his movies, but we'd probably fuck him.
38. Gael García Bernal
Gael García Bernal and his unspeakably pretty face could have suffocated quietly in telenovelas. Instead, he earned international recognition with edgy performances in sexually charged dramas like Y Tu Mama Tambien. We're very grateful.
37. Burt Lancaster
One flash of that iconic smile in From Here To Eternity, and a few thrusts amid a surge of waves on a Hawaiian beach, and we have the blue-eyed Burt Lancaster, forever emblazoned in sex-symbol history.
36. Ryan Gosling
Thoughtful, intense, and unabashedly feminist, Ryan Gosling is a sex symbol for our time. Just ask every single woman in your Facebook feed.
35. Ramón Novarro
Lauded as the new Rudolph Valentino, Mexican actor Ramón Novarro subverted the trope of the distant, unattainable masculine love interest with his flashy romanticism in films like Scaramouche and Ben-Hur. He remains a comely vanguard for early gay (and straight) actors.
34. Patrick Swayze
When Patrick Swayze gyrated against a lithe virgin in Dirty Dancing, the world panted. When Patrick Swayze came up behind Demi Moore working a potter's wheel in Ghost, our seats got wet. He illuminated the '80s with his brusque charm, and remains lodged in our memories somewhere between crushable campiness and genuine lust.
33. Tom Selleck
Though Burt Reynolds paved the way for the hairy man, Tom Selleck earned his own witty niche in the mustachioed market.
32. Melvin Van Peebles
Standing at the helm of his own acclaimed film about a revolutionary hustler, Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, Melvin Van Peebles created blaxploitation and returned black men's sexuality to a cinema that had emasculated them for decades.
31. Wesley Snipes
He probably seems like less of a sex symbol now that he's in prison for tax evasion. But once, the chiseled Wesley Snipes projected the sex appeal of a man who could rip your dress off with one throw of a glaive. Just ask Jada Pinkett Smith, Halle Berry, and Jennifer Lopez.
30. Antonio Banderas
Antonio Banderas is actually a pretty good actor (see him in an Almodovar movie), but it almost didn't matter in the mid-'90s, when he capably filled the "big-eyed Latin lover" niche. The camp appeal of stuff like the sex scene from Desperado should not be underestimated.
29. Michael Fassbender
If you're wondering if you can be called a sex symbol, ask yourself if George Clooney has complimented your enormous penis on national television.
28. Rock Hudson
Rock Hudson was an aircraft mechanic for the Navy and truck driver before gaining recognition as an actor, and he brought a working-class, salt-of-the-earth masculinity to films like Giant. His breezy chemistry with Doris Day in their string of romantic comedies established him as a charming, urbane prototype for generations of male stars.
27. Sidney Poitier
In 1963, Sidney Poitier became the first African-American to win the Academy Award for Best Lead Actor. But his suave, sophisticated style carried more lasting resonance than any award.
26. Matthew McConaughey
McConaughey is one of the few men on this list who's publicly stated that he feels comfortable being called a sex symbol. But part of this Southern boy's charm is his exhibitionistic self-regard.
25. Warren Beatty
Warren Beatty was a good-looking guy, but that alone isn't enough to make you a sex symbol. What is enough to make you a sex symbol is sleeping with an alleged 12,000 partners. Of his promiscuity, Beatty has modestly remarked, "It was what it was."
24. Steve McQueen
You aren't given the nickname "King of Cool" by just being averagely sexy. With a background in drag racing, Steve McQueen greatly advanced the devil-may-care sexy-man archetype.
23. Michael Caine
Because he's sustained a prolific career well into his seventies, Michael Caine's name may suggest "dignified elder statesman" more than "ascot-bedecked lust object." But watch Alfie and you'll see why he got famous in the first place.
22. Tony Curtis
With his dark curls and dark eyes, Tony Curtis radiated an intensity that allowed him to stand next to Marilyn Monroe in pumps and rouge in Some Like It Hot and still be widely regarded as a sex symbol. His bisexuality (see Spartacus for an on-screen example) only adds to the sense you get that this real-life satyr would sleep with anyone.
21. Errol Flynn
If you inspire an enduring locker-room boast ("in like Flynn"), it is safe to say that you have earned your spot as a sexual icon.
20. Bruce Lee
With one flying high-kick in Fist of Fury, Bruce Lee shattered a sign reading "No Dogs and Chinese Allowed." With the whole of his career, he shattered the similar restrictions about Asian-Americans in Hollywood, allowing actors who'd once been relegated playing waiters and servants to take roles with agency, sex appeal, and killer abs.
19. Ewan McGregor
Though Ewan McGregor's square jaw, bright blue eyes, and lovely speaking voice are indisputably appealing, we're most attached to his penis, which he shows off at any opportunity (see Trainspotting, The Pillow Book, Velvet Goldmine, Nightwatch, or Young Adam). More than his handsome face, it's that fearlessness that makes him a sex symbol for our time.
18. Rudolph Valentino
Rudolph Valentino was known as "The Latin Lover" despite being French-Italian. Part of that was just the total racial cluelessness of his times, but his fans may have been responding to the ambiguous exoticism of his sexuality, which tempered the usual action-hero machismo with a mysterious femininity.
17. Clint Eastwood
Before Clint Eastwood was exclusively speaking to empty chairs, his taciturn brand of masculinity was speaking directly to our downstairs parts. His work with Sergio Leone introduced us to a rough manhood that was terrifyingly sexy.
16. Marcello Mastroianni
Marcello Mastroianni's flawless features and brooding, European inscrutibility made him the international sexual ideal of the 1960s.
15. Johnny Depp
Though everyone agrees that he's been laying on the pancake makeup a little thick this decade, Johnny Depp can't make us forget the soulful persona he built up in the '90s. He's probably responsible for more unnamed adolescent stirrings than any other actor in history.
14. Kirk Douglas
A gift from the Golden Age, Kirk Douglas made himself a sex symbol with a series of virile, often bare-chested performances; no woman of 1960 could resist his sexual ferocity in Spartacus.
13. Cary Grant
Cast beside iconic female leads like Sophia Loren, Grace Kelly, and Audrey Hepburn, Cary Grant persuaded us that his suave, devilishly good-looks were not to be outshone. His very name still connotes suave handsomeness.
12. Harrison Ford
Even as he has turned into a cranky old guy with an earring before our eyes, Harrison Ford remains, somewhere, the irresistible rake we remember. His performances are actually generally quite chaste — probably as a result of his getting famous in the adolescent fantasies of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg — which makes it all the more impressive that he's an international sex symbol. He's just that fine.
11. Sean Connery
The domineering brow and the panty-dropping lilt of his Scottish accent were enough to make Sir Sean Connery an indelible sex symbol. Then, put that combo in a tux with a handgun and a rotating band of arm-candy.
10. Robert Redford
Robert Redford's sandy-haired, blue-eyed hunk persona has transcended the decades. That he leveraged his sex-symbol status on behalf of environmentalism and political advocacy only made it more lasting.
9. Gary Cooper
With relationships with sex symbols Clara Bow and Lupe Vélez, and starring roles in over one hundred films, Gary Cooper fastened himself as more than just a winsome face. When you've been immortalized in two separate songs ("Puttin' On The Ritz" and "Mr. Sandman") for being one stylish, sexy sonofabitch, you know you've made it as a sex symbol.
8. Clark Gable
There was something quintessentially dashing and commanding about Gable's Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind, with his thick brow, debonair charms, and knowing glances. As Joan Crawford said, "He was a king wherever he went. He walked like one, he behaved like one, and he was the most masculine man that I have ever met in my life."
7. Burt Reynolds
If there's one hirsute body that could make the term "mustache ride" appealing, it belongs to Burt Reynolds. The Smokey and the Bandit star's animalistic appeal translated off-screen, as he shuffled through starlets like Tammy Wynette, Sally Field, and Dinah Shore. The vision of Burt Reynolds, in the buff, lounging on a bearskin rug, inspires something downright primitive in all of us.
6. Denzel Washington
Denzel Washington's sexiness is by turns domineering, genuinely charming, and grave. By toggling back and forth between those three erotic settings, he's managed to muscle his way not just to three Oscars, but into our hearts and loins.
5. Brad Pitt
Brad Pitt proves that a man can be as captivatingly beautiful as a woman, but still rawly masculine enough to make men think he could beat the hell out of them. His universally recognized gorgeousness transcends character, costume, hair length, and beard style.
4. George Clooney
George Clooney represents every American male's fantasy of aging — he's gotten sexier over time. The silver streaks in his hair and crinkles in his eyes have only enhanced his sandpaper-voiced appeal. By avoiding middle-aged paunch, and perpetually flashing that mile-wide grin, Clooney's managed to make an eternal bachelor look like a catch.
3. Marlon Brando
Just watch A Streetcar Named Desire, okay?
2. James Dean
If Paul Newman is the quintessential sexy man, then James Dean is the quintessential sexy boy. No one will ever pull it off the tragic-rebel thing as well as he did, but it's an ideal worth aspiring to: forever encircled by a puff of smoke and pulling away to angst-ridden pastures on a Triumph.
1. Paul Newman
Whether it was the brooding masculinity of Cat On a Hot Tin Roof or the unyielding self-assurance in Cool Hand Luke, Newman's sexiness varied, but never wavered. Ice-blue eyes, chiseled torso, winking good humor, confidence that radiated outward for miles, and a universally acknowledged decency; the man had it all.
Want to meet Paul Newman? Meet him on Nerve. In spirit.