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Body Heat
Photograph: Warner Bros.

The 10 (literally) hottest films in cinema

Movie heatwaves even sweatier than we are

Phil de Semlyen
Written by
Phil de Semlyen
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With temperatures nearing the forties across Europe and the sun feeling uncomfortably like it’s about 40 yards away, the living room is a natural place to take shelter. You’ve got a TV in there, possibly a fan – aircon, if you’re a prepper – and a sofa to lie on until it all blows over and we can get back to the milder, damper summer that we’ve actually shopped for. Happily, you’ll find plenty of kindred spirits in cinema: hot-as-hell movie stars negotiating unreasonable climactic conditions in the name of crime, sex, surfing or just plain old survival. Close the curtains, strip down to your shorts and join them on their sweaty odysseys. 

10 heatwave movies

  • Film

His hands may be cool, but the rest of him is a Sheffield blast furnace. Paul Newman’s defiant war veteran, Luke Jackson, is incarcerated in the sweatiest of penitentiaries in the muggiest of states – Florida – and chain ganged to with an inch of his life by Strother Martin’s hard-ass warden. Filmed in California in winter, it’s still the source of a few of Hollywood’s hottest scenes – mostly involving a Newman wielding some kind of sickle.

Hottest bit: Jackson lying flat out after a heavy chain gang sesh in the baking sun. What we’ve got here is a failure to deodorise.

  • Film
  • Thrillers

Like a 1940s noir, only 70 percent clammier, this lusty potboiler set in South Florida features William Hurt as a sleazy lawyer whose fall for Kathleen Turner’s seductive femme fatale is matched only by the collapse of his personal hygiene as he falls under her spell during a heatwave. Defying traditional Hollywood logic that a romantic lead shouldn’t boast whopping great sweat patches, Body Heat wears its seamy, sultry side majestically on its sleeve – will also making you feel much better about the state of your shirt.

Hottest bit: A postcoital Turner rubs an ice cube over her face in a bath she shares with Hurt and a whole lot more ice cubes. 

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  • Film
  • Comedy

Alongside In the Heat of the Night, Spike Lee’s iconic New York drama is cinema’s most timeless case study in what happens to race relations when the temperature suddenly lurches up. Lee plays pizza deliveryman Mookie, who gets caught in the crossfire between the Black community and the Italian owners of the pizza parlour. The weather is the spark that threatens to set the whole place ablaze – a rising fury on both sides that threatens violent tragedy. 

Hottest bit: A montage of Bed-Stuy locals trying to cool off, using showers, cold beers and even a fire hydrant to take the edge off the heat.

The Wages of Fear (1953)
  • Film
  • Action and adventure


Featuring a huge oil refinery fire and enough nitroglycerine to send a corner of South America into orbit, Henri-Georges Clouzot’s nerve-shredding thriller has all the raw materials to bring beads of sweat to the calmest brow. The desperate, mismatched men charged with hauling about an A-bomb’s worth of TNT across potboiled terrain to put out that fire are drenched in the stuff. It’s potentially the sweatiest movie about men in trucks – a famously sweaty genre – ever made.

Hottest bit: When the heats get so stifling, even the nitroglycerine starts sweating.

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  • Film
  • Drama

Featuring the frostiest beer in the movies – and subsequent star of its own TV ad – this dadcore war flick is set on the baking sands of the Western Desert. John Mills, Sylvia Syms, Anthony Quayle and Harry Andrews are the four Allied soldiers wishing they’d packed the Factor 100 as they try to make it to Alexandra without being betrayed by the Nazi in their midst or flambéed by the desert sun. In truth, it’s the sun that’s the bigger worry – the common enemy whose burning heat is palpable even in black-and-white.   

Hottest bit: The quartet try to push their ambulance up a massive sand dune in a billion degree heat. With their hands. 

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  • Thrillers

Just squeezing out 12 Angry Men in that sub-category of Sidney Lumet movies that could have used a bigger on-set aircon unit comes a one-location drama in which Al Pacino’s hapless heist man gradually, through sheer tension, as well as the heat, turns into a puddle of sweat in a New York bank. It’s a true story, but while the real heist took place on an 30-plus degree day, the shoot took place in the chill of autumn. That’s not real sweat on Pacino’s brow, it’s acting juice.

Hottest bit: The draining phone call scene towards the end has Pacino’s stick-up man caked in twelve hours’ worth of perspiration.

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  • Film
  • Action and adventure

River cruises come a lot more luxurious than the one Martin Sheen and co take down the Mekong to apprehend a rogue officer (Marlon Brando) at his jungle HQ in this Vietnam War classic. Famously filmed in the jungles of Philippines during a civil war, a sense of sweaty discomfort radiates from every frame. Even when these men on a mission aren’t being shot at, the jungle heat and mozzies make the whole thing a waking nightmare. The Redux version is even sweatier. 

Hottest bit: Sheen’s Captain Willard losing touch with reason in that sweltering hotel room. And, well, the rest of it.

Sunshine (2007)
  • Film
  • Science fiction

Hiroyuki Sanada leads an international team of boffins and astronauts to reboot the sun – think Armageddon with a PhD – in Danny Boyle’s solar-powered sci-fi. Humanity’s very existence hangs on the team’s ability to bomb the waning fire-orb back to life. But, with the best will in the world, it’s a pretty crummy mission where success and failure both end up the same way: being incinerated like overcooked bacon. 

Hottest bit: When they crash into the sun, obvs. 

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Touch of Evil (1958)
  • Film
  • Thrillers

Orson Welles sweats like a picnic brie as corrupt cop Hank Quinlan in a thriller that bakes in the suffocating heat of a Mexican border town. Welles’s great cinematographer Greg Tolland fills its twisty plot with noirish shadows but even in high-contrast monochrome, there’s no escape from the sense that everyone and everything on screen is about to melt. It’s almost a surprise that Charlton Heston’s dubious pencil moustache doesn’t slide right off his face.

Hottest bit: Quinlan’s final drunken, sweat-stained meltdown, all while still, somehow, clad in an overcoat.

  • Film

Sultry, half-repressed desires inch into focus in Joseph Losey’s still-underappreciated English summer gem. And if you’re trying to wrap your head around this particular English summer, its landscape of parched fields and perma-azure skies will feel pretty familiar. Aristocrat Julie Christie and local Norfolk farmer Alan Bates are having a secret affair and manage to coax a young schoolboy, Marcus (Richard Gibson), into running messages between them. Needless to say, the chat is not end-to-end encrypted and it all goes pear-shaped. Atonement definitely owes it a pint of bitter or two.

Hottest bit: Any scene where Marcus has to negotiate the heatwave clad in Edwardian casual.

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