80s Bits: Tequila Sunrise

Tequila Sunrise

Welcome back to 80s Bits, the weekly column in which we explore the best and worst of the Decade of Shame. With guest writers, hidden gems and more, it’s truly, truly, truly outrageous. With Tequila Sunrise, it’s all about sex. Epic sex.

Tequila Sunrise (1988)

80s Bits Logo Small

Tequila Sunrise (1988) poster

DirectorRobert Towne

Writers(s)Robert Towne

Runtime: 115 minutes

StarringMel GibsonMichelle PfeifferKurt RussellRaul Julia

Distributor: Warner


Rating: Worth A Look (?)

More 80s Bits

Buy from Amazon.com

Sex in the 1980s was a strange beast (with two backs).  I don’t know this first hand. I was born towards the end of that decade, so sex during the twentieth century would be a complete mystery to me if not for films. Using the many films I’ve watched from many different decades, I can conclude that nobody was having sex during the first half of the 1900s. During the 1960s, people begun having sex, but it was always taking place elsewhere – you never actually saw it. In the 1970s however, everybody was having sex with everybody, everywhere. At least that’s what films tell me.

Come the 1980s, the amount of sex being had decreased, but the type of sex became much weirder. Sex during this decade was dramatic and overwrought. You needed billowing curtains, flickering candles, soft-rock or saxophone music, and water – lots and lots of water. One thing you didn’t need was a bed. Beds were now only for sleeping and sex instead took place in cars, on beaches, down back alleyways and in kitchen sinks.

I submit as evidence: Robert Towne’s 1988 action flick Tequila Sunrise. The film stars Mel Gibson, Kurt Russell and Michelle Pfeiffer. If it was a 1970s’ film, everyone would be having sex with everyone, but because it’s the 1980s there’s only a Pfeiffer-Gibson and Pfeiffer-Russell pairing – the Russell-Gibson pairing exists only as subtext for those willing to go there.

The Pfeiffer-Russell scene happens first. It takes place in a leaky wine cellar. Pfeiffer is trying to move a barrel beneath the leak (for some reason) and tells Russell she doesn’t need his help as he might get dirty. Russell ignores her warning and starts to move the barrel himself, but the pressure from the leak builds up and it gushes down, completely soaking him. Russell is embarrassed, so he passionately starts kissing Pfeiffer as the saxophone music swells. The scene fades out.

The Pfeiffer-Gibson pairing occurs much later. Gibson and Pfeiffer are outside Gibson’s house. He leans against a caravan as they discuss his business. Pfeiffer makes a comment and Gibson takes offense, so Pfeiffer apologises. Gibson is embarrassed, so he passionately starts kissing Pfeiffer as the soft-rock music swells. The scene ends.

Or so we think! It merely cuts to the FBI’s recording of the conversation, before cutting back to an exterior shot of the house. Slowly, the camera voyeuristically works its way from outside the property, over a fence, and alongside the caravan until it’s back where the conversation was taking place. Suddenly, the Pfeiffer-Gibson pairing explodes out of a hot tub in slow-motion, while white sheets billow in the background.

We watch their sex reflected in the water of the hot tub, masked by steam, their figures in silhouette. Gibson stands and lifts Pfeiffer off the ground before pulling the white sheets down over top of their soaked bodies. It’s kind of weird, but I’d have to assume it’s normal behaviour, given the decade.

Afterwards, she spoon-feeds him yoghurt. (No, seriously.)

Tequila Sunrise


Built around these drenched, 1980s sex-scenes is a fairly compelling crime film. Towne is the legendary screenwriter of The Parallax View and Chinatown and this is only his second outing as director. His direction may be fairly action-film standard, but the story still excels and the banter between our three leads is very enjoyable.

In true 1980s’ style, the film ends with a freeze-frame. Two of our leads are kissing and, of course, they’re both soaking wet. I know there’s a lot more to this film, but it seems to me its main goal is to be a prime example of 1980s’ sex. Mission Accomplished.