Generally speaking, I’m not a huge fan of being drenched from head to toe in freezing-cold water.

To the characters in movies, being drenched from head to toe in freezing-cold water is the most romantic state imaginable.

That is one of the stranger facts that emerges when you watch a lot of movie kisses (as I did as part of the research for ScreenCrush’s new list of the greatest movie kisses). An inordinate number of the most famous kisses in film history involve people standing in the pouring rain. Like this moment from Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man:

Or this one from Mike Newell’s Four Weddings and a Funeral:

Or this one from John Ford’s The Quiet Man:

Or this much-discussed kiss from Nick Cassavetes’ The Notebook:

I don’t dispute the public opinion on any of these scenes; these are all outstanding smooches. Every single one either made our list, or narrowly missed the cut. But the proliferation of these rain-soaked movie makeouts does make me wonder: Why? On a practical level, kissing in the rain sucks. It ruins your hair. It gets in your mouth. It makes you chilly. So why do we enjoy watching people kiss in the rain when most of us in these situations would run for cover rather than shove our tongue in our partner’s mouth?

Part of it has less to do with what we want than what movie cameras like, and movie cameras love to film things that are wet. Things just look better on the big screen that way. It’s the same reason nighttime streets are always wet in movies, even when there isn’t a cloud in the sky. Pouring rain also injects visual energy and drama to kissing scenes, which, for all their heightened emotions, are otherwise relatively static activities.

Speaking of injecting visual energy into scenes, there’s another crucial element: Water makes most clothes clingy and translucent. Check out that scene above from The Quiet Man; that sudden thunderstorm basically turns John Wayne’s dress shirt invisible. He’s basically naked from the waist up without even taking off his necktie. Particularly back in the days of the strict Production Code, when actual nudity was totally verboten, a good soaking rain like this one was a great way to sneak a little skin into a picture without drawing the ire of the censors.

So there are technical advantages. There are also scandalous implications. I see Hugh Grant and Andie MacDowell standing there like incredibly attractive drowned rats and think about the discomfort. Her shoes must be so squishy! His socks are going to be soaked! I hope he has another clean pair of pants! But maybe that’s part of the point. Anyone who gets this wet is going to have to change their clothes. And anyone who has to change their clothes has to get naked to do it. Movies rarely show us that part, but the unspoken implication that nudity is imminent is enough to set our imaginations racing.

When it comes right down to it, sparking our imaginations might be the most important element of rainy movie kisses. Any rational person would reach for an umbrella, so it’s worth noting the characters above are so into each other that rationality has gone right out the window. They’re so into their partners they barely notice they’re standing in the middle of what looks like a Category 3 hurricane. If they do notice, they’re way too turned on to be bothered. Who cares if I get hypothermia; it’s worth it if I get to kiss this person right this second. 

That’s why a rainy kiss is the ultimate cinematic symbol of uncontrollable passion. It represents a moment when the movies leave the real world behind to enter a land of pure romantic fantasy, where love is so intense and all-consuming that literally nothing else matters. And it’s fun to visit that world, if only from the comfort of a dry, warm movie theater or living room. But please: Do not try anything you’ve seen in this article at home, at least without checking the weather forecast first.

Gallery - Great Romance Movies Available on Streaming:

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