On Tuesday, Halle Berry received a Golden Globe nomination for playing the oldest role on the pole: the Stripper with the Heart of Gold. (Her stripper in Frankie and Alice also has multiple personalities, which is a much rarer phylum of movie exotic dancer.) Flinty and highly flexible, these women say stop where the hooker cannot, but what sadness hides behind their brusque attitude and thong full of ones? We decided to survey and rank film’s most memorable strippers on a heart scale of stone to gold. (Note: We only included dramatic strippers, not comedic — sorry, Demi Moore and Heather Graham! — as, by definition, those in humorous roles normally have a lighter, kinder side.)
Sob Story: Fifteen and parentless, Allison lives alone — until her fishnets and squalid apartment attract the unwanted fatherly aspirations of James Gandolfini.
Tough Girl Act: It’s not really an act; Stewart snarls her way through the movie before ditching out on Gandolfini and Melissa Leo’s offer of adoption.
Soft Spots: She may run away at the end, but at least she calls to say good-bye.
Sob Story: The standard trifecta: broke, with no family to turn to, in Vegas.
Tough Girl Act: Nomi (Berkley) takes a knife or knee to most anyone who threatens her — including, of course, her rival Cristal (Gina Gershon), whom Nomi climatically shoves down the stairs in a bid for the spotlight.
Soft Spots: On her way out of Vegas, Nomi visits Cristal in the hospital to say good-bye with a steamy make-out, otherwise known as the Showgirls Hug.
Aspiring poet by day, cynical stripper by night.
Tough Girl Act:
The sassiest of the Blue Iguana dancers, Oh takes a particularly hard, untrusting line with the boyfriend she picked up on the poetry scene. Plus: Oh’s famous bitchface.
: Well, there’s the poetry. And she tears up while reading a particularly revealing poem
to Nico (Kristen Bauer). We’re not totally sure, but we think it’s about loneliness?
Sob Story: In addition to the usual parental (crack-addict mother) and financial (broke) issues, Dakota was separated at birth from her twin sister, Aubrey, who has since been abducted.
Tough Girl Act: Refusing to give up on her twin, Dakota tracks down Aubrey’s captor — the piano teacher! of course — then chops off his hand.
Soft Spots: Dakota’s determination to save her twin is admirable, considering they’ve never met. Though they have shared a psychic connection, so maybe the heart is all Aubrey’s?
Sob Story: Frankie the stripper struggles with multiple-personality disorder, often becoming Alice, a racist Southern white woman living inside her own head.
Tough Girl Act: Frankie wants help from no one, least of all the psychiatrist (Stellan Skarsgaard) assigned to her in the psychiatric hospital.
Soft Spots: A third personality, Genius, reveals herself after enough therapy and helps Frankie address the childhood issues that created Alice. Genius is such a sweetheart that she brings up the gold average that racist Alice has been dragging down.
Sob Story: A former stripper, “Alice” starts dancing again so that she can stay in London with her supremely dicky boyfriend (Jude Law).
Tough Girl Act: One (1) verbally explicit striptease for Clive Owen; one (1) act of physical infidelity with Clive Owen. (Also: She lies about her name, and maybe everything else, for the duration of the movie. Make of that what you will.)
Soft Spots: The more emotional abuse Jude Law doles out, the more she clings to him.
Sob Story: Cassidy, the aging Jersey stripper, is (somehow) our first single working mother. Like Mickey Rourke, she just wants to go back to the eighties.
Tough Girl Act: She’s having none of Mickey Rourke’s romantic advances. None of them.
Soft Spots: She encourages him to reunite with his daughter and tries to keep him from getting back in the ring. Neither works out very well, so odds are she paved over those soft spots in short order.
Sob Story: Sad Working Mom No. 2 ups the ante with a kid in a coma, a missing dog, and some very weird father issues. She’s also a klutz, except for when she’s hanging upside down on a pole.
Tough Girl Act: Rose-Johnnie (as she’s known) gives some very real attitude to the sleazy Patrick Swayze, who plays her strip-club manager. There’s also one instance of physical assault (against her child’s doctor).
Soft Spots: She spends a good chunk of her off-duty time in the bathroom, crying about her kid, her dead mother, or her dreams of moving to Paris.
Sob Story: Has the most terrible stage mother in stage and movie history.
Tough Girl Act: High on her burlesque success, Gypsy finally stands up to Rose, telling her off and demanding the right to artily strip on her own.
Soft Spots: Even after timid Gypsy finally declares her independence, she takes Rose right back again. What a good daughter.
Sob Story: Alex welds during the day, strips during the night, and dreams of being accepted to a prestigious dance conservatory.
Tough Girl Act: Welding in Pittsburgh is pretty serious, macho business.
Soft Spots: Alex spends half the movie bonding with elderly women or saving friends from various shady dancing arrangements. And that final dance audition: Perseverance! Smooth moves! “What a Feeling”! If that’s not a triumph of heart over cynicism, we don’t know what is.