When I was a kid, I would spend up to eight hours each weekend submerged in a bathtub, reading and subsequently damaging hundreds of library books. One day, I took a bath so hard that the water overflowed, seeped through the floor, and collapsed the ceiling below. As an adult, I have listed “bathtub” as my only criteria when renting apartments; every day that I have had to take a shower instead of lying down and slowly boiling my internal organs is a day wasted. In fact, halfway through writing this, I had to go take a bath. What I am trying to tell you is that baths are important to me, so important that they have caused me to destroy public property, private real estate, familial relationships, and, eventually, the Earth.
Recently, I was taking a bath with my (water-damaged) laptop perched on top of my (closed) toilet, watching the perfect show Sharp Objects. In one early scene, Amy Adams steps into a piping hot claw-foot bathtub. The audience is meant to gasp at the scene, as it’s the first time we see Adams’s naked body, which is covered in self-imposed scars. My brain, warped from 30 years of inhaling bath-bomb chemicals, could only think, Damn, that’s a good bath.
Which got me wondering: What is the best cinematic bath of all time? I’m not talking about the bath scene — that is, the character development being conveyed, the plot machinations, or whether or not someone is getting violently murdered in the bath. I’m talking about the actual bath itself. How calming does this bath look? Are there bubbles? Music? How fancy are the accoutrements? What is the bathtub like, structurally? How good is this bath at distracting its inhabitant from the inexorable constraints of the human experience (time, space, work, money, death, other people)? How private is the bath? Is the person in immediate danger of being interrupted? How long are they in the bath? Does the water appear to be a good temperature? How aspirational is this bath, on the whole?
Below, I’ve ranked 20 iconic movie baths, from worst to best, based on the above criteria. A few caveats: These are only baths that have appeared in movies, not in TV or music videos, because I am the movie editor, and I don’t want to lie to you and pretend that I am an expert in TV or music-video baths. Also, all baths involving more than one person inside the tub itself are eliminated from this list, because sex baths are not the same thing as baths. Sex baths are, quite honestly, bad. Take your sex elsewhere, this is MY bath!!
20. Al Pacino, Yelling in Bath: Scarface
Well, I hate this bath. First off, the tub itself is too big. One of the primary purposes of a bath is to make you feel as if you have reentered your mother’s womb: ensconced in a quiet, warm, cozy space, free from the cold limitations of our earthly plane. Whose mother’s womb is this massive? No offense, Mrs. Montana. Secondly, there is a very fine line between classy bath accoutrements and ostentatious fuckery. This bath is overflowing with the latter: Champagne AND a cigar AND mock Greco-Roman columns AND a pile of fruit AND whiskey AND a candelabra AND a full bar AND a chandelier AND a mini fountain AND a telephone AND a television?! Moreover, Al is violating the golden rule of a good bath by allowing two separate people to roam around in the bathroom with him (one of whom is Michelle Pfeiffer; why are you taking this doom bath when you could be hanging out with Michelle Pfeiffer?). The cherry on top of this hell sundae: the four separate security camera feeds. Al Pacino might as well be bathing in the hot mouth of Satan.
19. Eli Wallach, Hiding Gun in Bath: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
I’m sorry, is this even a bathtub? This “bathtub” violates the number one rule of a bathtub: You must be able to lie down in it. Putting aside the questionable structural integrity of this tub, I’m profoundly disturbed by the lack of privacy here. The only thing standing between our dude and the man who’s pissed at him and a giant hole in the wall are two swinging saloon doors that don’t even extend to the ceiling. However, points are awarded for the very cool move of hiding a gun inside the tub to prevent one’s own murder. We should all be taking notes on that one.
18. Natalie Portman, Dissociating in Bath: Black Swan
I don’t mind the fact that Natalie is bleeding here. Free the blood, live your truth, the bath is your space to be your weirdest, grossest self! Her brief confrontation with her subconscious is also a healthy bath-time activity, too. Where else do you want her to temporarily dissociate? My primary issue with this bath is the lighting. Fluorescent AND overhead? I’d rather have my imaginary doppelgänger murder me during the ballet, thanks. I’m not crazy about the color scheme of this bathroom, either. Any bath connoisseur will tell you it’s important to pick three colors for your bathroom and stick to them, and if they’re not rich earth tones or jewel tones or minimalist whites, you might as well just lie back in that tub and inhale through your nose.
17. Marilyn Monroe, Stressing Out in Bath: The Seven-Year Itch
A bathtub in the middle of the room instead of in the corner (the only acceptable place for it, since there must be a nook situation happening). A cluttered vanity. Mismatched towels everywhere. Enough lighting for 12 football fields. A man sitting directly next to Marilyn, staring at her as she bathes. A man … wearing overalls! I am sick. The only thing I like about this bath is Marilyn’s hair, which is the single appropriate bath-time hairstyle: piled on top of a head. Hair is a boring human concern that should neither be heeded nor addressed during a bath, when a human is elevated to the level of a peaceful ghost, floating effortlessly in space.
16. Kirsten Dunst, “Let Them Eat Cake”-ing in Bath: Marie Antoinette
Famine threatens France. The proletariat are starving. You are the queen and everyone is mad at you. This is a very good time to take a bath, IMHO. However, it is never a good time to take a bath with full makeup, starchy hair, and fancy jewelry. Are you freaking kidding me, Kirsten?
15. Heather Langenkamp, Dragged to Hell in Bath: A Nightmare on Elm Street
Heather gets points for her usage of a nice big shell bath pillow, but then loses all of those points because she is using this big shell bath pillow entirely wrong. The bath pillow should support your neck, not force it into an unnatural 90-degree angle. Heather … Jesus Christ. However, the points are then added back due to the revelation that this bath is secretly an unholy portal to hell. A built-in escape route from our gruesome dimension is an incredible bath perk. The bath gets additional points for bubbles, as does Heather’s entirely appropriate “get the eff away from my bath, MOM” attitude. Unfortunately, falling asleep in the bath is tacky and against bath law.
14. Natalie Wood, Losing It in Bath: Splendor in the Grass
Expressing a death wish before taking a bath is only natural. After all, what is a bath if not a relaxing flirtation with death? In this scene, Natalie is temporarily dissuaded of her death drive once she hops in the tub, which is exactly the point of hopping in the tub. The vibe of this bath is extremely positive and chill — until Natalie’s mom interrupts her, sporting a harsh plaid, to remind her of her earthly worries. Talking about a man during a bath violates every single bath-time law I can think of, including Statute No. 125, which states, “Should a man’s name be uttered during your bath, you have the right to sue the person who uttered it.” Things end with Natalie running naked out of the bath and hurling herself onto her bed, screaming. Understandable, as we can all agree that there are few worse feelings than getting out of the bath and not having a towel.
13. Tania Saulnier, Attacked by Tiny Slug Monster in Bath: Slither
Claw-foot tub, headphones, hair entirely wet instead of just half-wet (second only to hair on top of head in terms of ideal bath hairstyles), bubbles, low-key lighting? All very aspirational. However, the table behind Tania is far too busy — catch a glimpse of that mid-bath and you start thinking about the inherent chaos of the universe and how, no matter how hard you try, you can only stave off mayhem for so long, until, one day, you’re trying to self-soothe in the tub when you open your eyes and find an alien snail burrowing its way into your throat. I’m also concerned about the casual way this girl leaves a plugged-in hair curler right on the sink.
12. Glenn Close, Killed Violently in Bath: Fatal Attraction
Glenn Close is stabbed, strangled, and shot in this bath, which is unfortunate for her — it’s not a great bath. The lighting in this bathroom is atrocious, both bright and cheap-looking. The shower curtain is gauche. And the water is clearly far too hot; if your bathroom is full of steam before you even step into the tub, you’ve really got to do a toe-check before hurling your entire body and the body of your lover into it. Lastly, who puts family photos in the bathroom? Staring at your family is the antithesis of relaxing.
11. Leonardo DiCaprio, Thrown Backwards in Chair in Bath: Inception
This is inappropriate bath-entering technique. You should never sit in a chair and fall backwards into a bathtub while sleeping. Very important to step foot-first into a bath while awake. Otherwise, the tub itself seems nice: deep, wide, clean. Great natural lighting.
10. Sally Hawkins, Masturbating in Bath: The Shape of Water
Almost everything about this bath is positive: The bathroom’s lighting is on point (dark, but not depressing), it’s got a nice aquatic color scheme, and there’s enough room for a grown woman to get freaky with herself. Unfortunately, the presence of the egg timer on the sink utterly destroys the very point of a bath, which is to temporarily suspend the sustained oppressiveness of time and space.
9. Jennifer Connelly, Screaming Underwater in Bath: Requiem for a Dream
Baths should be cathartic. Catharsis is subjective. Screaming underwater appears to be cathartic for Jennifer Connelly, playing an addict who must participate in a demoralizing sex show for drugs. Who are we to say this is not a good bath? Plus, she has a loofah and candles! The only problem here — outside of the color palette being a bit grim — is that Jennifer is sitting the wrong way in the bathtub. If she reclines, she gets a faucet right in the back.
8. Elizabeth Taylor, Playing With Boat in Bath: Cleopatra
As we have stated many times, under no circumstances should any woman ever be forced to have a conversation while in the bath, especially with two men, especially if one of them is wearing gladiator sandals. The surrounding foliage is a nice touch, as is the little infinity waterfall situation, and I like Liz’s little bath boat. But I could really live without the silent, looming bath attendants, the intrusive political negotiations, and the uncanny blue tint of the water (as always, I am concerned for my heroine’s pH balance).
7. Jeff Bridges, Dealing With Ferret in Bath: The Big Lebowski
This is an extremely aspirational bath: At least 400 candles, all of their flames leaping furiously to the ceiling as if to say, “Screw a fire hazard, it is bath time”; a lovely, soft pink color palette; light music emanating from a now-vintage device. Impressively, when three men carrying baseball bats intrude and turn on all the lights, then hurl a mammal into the bath, things are only temporarily ruined. Jeff Bridges quickly rediscovers his bath-time equilibrium. An important reminder that a truly good bath takes place in the mind, not the body.
6. Joan Allen, Learning to Orgasm in Bath: Pleasantville
This bath would be a bit higher up on the list were the bathroom decor less aggressively floral. I find cutesy wallpaper oppressive, though it’s a non-issue for Joan Allen, who literally gets off to it. Points for the pile of towels behind the head — an inspired choice — and the beautiful design of the bath itself. However, points docked for the extraneous husband, standing directly outside the bathroom and listening in, and the bird, watching Joan Allen like a goddamn maniac. Worse than a sex bath is a bath interloper, and worse than a bath interloper is a bath eavesdropper.
5. Brad Pitt, Smoking in Bath: Fight Club
Brad Pitt, a figment of Edward Norton’s imagination, bathes in a filthy bathroom while Edward chats with him about shucking neo-capitalist norms in a society where men have not yet discovered the phrase “toxic masculinity.” I’ve docked a few points for the filth, and normally, I’d dock points for bath-time conversation, but considering Edward is talking to himself, this is fine. Brad’s cigarette-and-face washcloth combo is inspired, and there are few things more delightful than drinking while horizontal in a pool of water. This movie is embarrassing and we should all be ashamed of ourselves, but I like this bath.
4. Michelle Pfeiffer, Drowning in Bath: What Lies Beneath
Michelle Pfeiffer has just been dosed with a paralyzing drug and placed in an overflowing tub by her husband, whom she’s just learned has been gaslighting her for years to cover up the fact that he murdered his mistress, whose waterlogged ghost has been haunting Michelle in an attempt to expose his ass. But still, this bath is fabulous: Gorgeous, deep tub with old-timey faucets, solid water pressure, extremely fast drainage capabilities, very private space. Docked points for ugly lighting, unfortunately.
3. Julia Roberts, Singing Prince in Bath: Pretty Woman
This bath would be number one if not for the rude intrusion of Richard Gere, staring freakily at Julia Roberts as she tries to enjoy herself without a man for one goddamn minute. The bubbles are mountainous. The tub is the perfect size: big enough for two, but holding only one. The lights are off (very important — remember, lights suck) but the giant window and pink wallpaper bathe the room in a warm, natural glow. Prince is the only acceptable bathtime soundtrack. There are enough towels stacked nearby for Julia Roberts to smother Richard Gere, then dry off her body and wrap her hair. Speaking of which, a few points have been docked for Julia’s hair, which should obviously be in a Marilyn Monroe bath bun and not dragging around in the bubbles. There are few feelings worse than getting out of a bath with hair that is half-dry and half–covered in soap. What do you do with that hair? Please, I’m really asking.
2. Rachel McAdams, Sulking in Bath: The Notebook
This was almost the number-one bath before I switched it for a bath that is very clearly superior. But let’s break it down: Rachel McAdams, having fainted (very good pre-bath move, ensures you will be left alone very shortly thereafter), is ensconced in a high-backed, claw-foot bathtub, totally unbothered by other human beings. The bath is small enough that she can control the faucets with her toes, but big enough that she can fit into it years’ worth of paranoid ennui. She’s got a glass of wine in one hand, and next to her, a fluffy local newspaper for light, non–anxiety-inducing perusal. There’s no overhead lighting, only low lamplight. The fact that she’s wearing an expensive wedding veil while in the bath makes the whole thing extremely goth and metal — material possessions pale in comparison to lying down angrily in a pool of water and destroying said possessions. Finally, the red walls are a surprising but inspired touch, both womblike and lightly spooky. It’s nice to be a little scared to leave the bath, because then you just have to stay in the bath.
1. Lia Beldam, Mouldering in Bath: The Shining
Well, this is it. We’ve made it to the number-one movie bath. Imagine: You’re taking a low-key bath in a beautiful hotel room in an abandoned hotel, having some much-deserved Me Time after centuries of haunting people inside a complex parallel-universe time warp that you’ve been participating in for reasons beyond your control and anyone’s understanding. Not only do you have your own room — you have your own suite, complete with a giant purple couch and plenty of warm lamplight. The bathroom is a nice, soft green, with a massive His and Hers vanity, both of which are yours, because He is probably dead. The lighting is a liiiittle harsh, but then again, look at those beautiful sconces! The bath has its own sweet, cozy alcove! Suddenly, you’re interrupted by a man — points docked. But then! You stand up, start to rapidly age, begin to decompose, chunks of your flesh falling off of your body, terrifying said man straight into a psychotic break so deep and unyielding he will certainly never bother you again. You have a nice, jolly laugh to yourself. Then you get to go back to your bath, forever.