With soccer moms now taking pole dancing aerobics at the Y, it’s safe to say that stripping (not to mention its costumed cousin, burlesque) has seduced mainstream America ... for better or worse.
However, for every relatively whimsical look at the profession ("The Full Monty," "Sin City"), there seems to be at least two darker examinations. In the case of "About Cherry," which has commenced with putting on a show in theaters as of today, sometimes working in a strip club can lead to stripping (and doing other stuff) on a porn set ... and a dubious romance with a coke-addicted lawyer (James Franco).
Still, whether their stories are super-serious or all in good fun, movie strippers certainly provide the eye candy along with a sense of intriguing, unattainable mystery. Here are 15 of our favorite on-screen adult entertainers.
Natalie Portman in 'Closer' (2004)
"Closer" is a sizzling melodrama following four adults as they explore their identities and moral limits... or... something. Honestly, no one remembers. Because halfway through the movie, Jane (Portman) bends over in a g-string. Rumor has it there's some strong performances and riveting dialogue. There might be -- that seems totally, totally plausible. But after Jane struts about in next to nothing but a hot pink wig for 10 minutes, the rest of the film becomes a murky haze. Julia Roberts might be in it too. It's hard to say.
Jessica Alba in 'Sin City' (2005)
Nancy, the stripper from the graphic novel on which this film is based, was drawn nude. But Alba, concerned her father would have a traumatic viewing experience (a.k.a. heart attack), decided to sport a modest leather bra and chaps instead -- the coy cowgirl look. Not to worry though. Much like the film's monochromatic milieu, Alba's less-is-more approach flaunts everything we need to see while leaving a few secrets in the dark.
Elizabeth Berkeley in 'Showgirls' (1995)
How does an actress known for being "the girl that isn’t Tiffani-Amber Thiessen" on "Saved By the Bell" break free and redefine her career? Elizabeth Berkeley took the path of least clothes, portraying Nomi, a tempestuous stripper who dreams of showgirl stardom, while battling the darkest recesses of the Vegas underworld in this so-bad-it's-good cult classic. And it worked; she is now known as "the girl on 'Saved by the Bell' who got naked in 'Showgirls.'" (Four years later, Berkeley graduated to prostitute in "Any Given Sunday.")
Salma Hayek in 'From Dusk Till Dawn' (1996)
In a border town club called The Titty Twister, Hayek is the main attraction. Wearing little more than an oversized snake, she undulates for a room of gawkers. But it's her coup de grace, wherein she channels liquor down her leg and into Quentin Tarantino's gullet via her bare foot, that elevates this tease from mere craft to fine art.
Warning: She's also an evil vampire so...resist the lap dance.
Marisa Tomei in 'The Wrestler' (2008)
Taking on the role of a stripper is risky, sometimes inviting all the wrong sorts of attention. But the gamble paid off for Tomei, who earned an Oscar nomination for her portrayal of Cassidy, an aging dancer in Jersey who, like the wrestler she befriends, is realizing it's time to hang up her tights. It's not every actress who can, at once, be both sexy and heartbreaking.
Demi Moore in 'Striptease' (1996)
Perhaps the story of a dancing, single mom spoke to Demi. Or the record-breaking $12 million-paycheck. Or maybe it was just the best forum from which to show off her recently renovated rack. While few can recall this box office bomb's plot, no one can forget Erin (Moore) ripping off her shirt on the catwalk while snarling like a jungle cat.
Rose McGowan in 'Grindhouse' (2007)
Cherry Darling (McGowan) discovers she has more talents than just go-go dancing when a town of zombies gets unruly. After her leg is torn off, she attaches a grenade launcher to her stump and takes care of business, Robert Rodriguez-style. Filmed in the yellowed colors of faux faded film, McGowan's opening tease welcomes us into a nostalgic tribute to the exploitation movies of the late '70s.
Pamela Anderson in 'Barb Wire' (1996)
Do you enjoy nudity but can't be bothered with waiting for the actual movie to begin? Good news. In this sci-fi thriller about a sexy assassin, Anderson's breasts have been freed from their oppressive shirt -- and diligently sprayed with a hose -- long before the opening credits have finished rolling. It's heartening when a filmmaker and an audience are on the same page.
Lindsay Lohan in 'I Know Who Killed Me' (2007)
There's something a little off about Lohan's stripping scenes. Frankly, there's something a little off about everything in this bizarre horror movie that boasts a record eight Razzie Awards (including Worst Picture and Worst Actress). If you can get past the fact that Lohan is, inexplicably, the only stripper in her club that isn't naked, and that her hand is slowly decomposing (really), her pole dancing scenes are quite sexy.
Warning: You will not get past that decomposing hand.
Jessica Biel in 'Powder Blue' (2009)
On a dismal Christmas Eve, Biel keeps it very real as Rose Johnny, a troubled dancer with a comatose son whose father (Ray Liotta) has tracked her down after leaving prison. Events morph from morbid to kinky, culminating in a sad stage performance in which Rose, in tears, splashes herself with hot wax. But despite all these depressing truth bombs dropping to and fro, Biel's expertly practiced pole routine is sure to lift your spirits.
Jennifer Beals in 'Flashdance' (1983)
It's a rare moment in history when all of America's teenage girls want to emulate the exact same stripper. But in '83, the stars aligned. Alex (Beals) is a Pittsburgh steel welder by day (like most strippers), and dances by night. Longing to be accepted into a legit conservatory, she choreographs elaborate -- and damp -- routines that have been referenced endlessly (and most blatantly by Jennifer Lopez). Beals' girl next door charm and hot moves made the film, and its soundtrack, a smash hit.
Jenna Jameson in 'Zombie Strippers' (2008)
Porn star Jameson gets undead in this not impossible, but improbable, story of a post-apocalyptic strip club where zombie dancers (infected by a virus created by the military) are more popular than fully alive ones. This is the cinematic answer for all those who have admired the acting chops of Jameson in her earlier work, but always wished that she looked...deader.
Gina Gershon in 'Showgirls' (1995)
Gershon plays catty rival to Jessie Spano in the only NC-17 rated film to ever get a wide release. As Cristal Connors, the top showgirl of the Stardust club that Berkeley's Nomi dreams of working at, she taunts and toys with Berkeley, calling her a whore one moment, seducing her the next. She's the diva you love to hate. Or, in other words: a diva.
Heather Graham 'The Hangover' (2009)
Graham has the solar ability to brighten any scene with those big blue eyes and serene smile. So even as Jade, a stripper/hooker with a newborn, we readily buy that Ed Helms pulled his own tooth out to impress her -- and gave her his grandmother's Holocaust ring. Jade is the mistake we all wish we could make in Vegas.
Warning: Most hookers do not look like Heather Graham.
The Men of 'The Full Monty' (1997)
No one asked for it. No one wanted to see it. But we got it. And it was funny and touching and... sexy? Hey, if you’re into them, we aren't judging -- this is a safe place. And this charming indie from the '90s finally gave the whole family -- even grandma -- a stripper they could get behind.
Originally published on Friday, Nov. 26, 2010 at 2:00 p.m. ET.