Since 1992, MTV has put on a movie (and now TV) award show that aims to take the stuffiness out of prestige ceremonies such as the Oscars. The “golden popcorn” trophies are a visual clue to the mainstream blockbuster vibes of the event — as are the fun categories: Best Villain and Best Fight are among the longest-running, and viewers (who get to vote for winners online) have also crowned the Best Shirtless Performance and Best WTF Moment in certain years.
But, as the choice of Dennis Miller to host the first show will attest, times change. Like anything else, the MTV Movie Awards haven’t always aged gracefully, and one perennial award, Best Kiss, has seen its share of puzzlers. I’m not talking about Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore in The Wedding Singer beating out Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic — that was the right call. I’m referring to a few nominees (and some winners) that should have made us wonder about the producers and executives choosing them.
Let’s roll the very uncomfortable tapes…
Free Willy: Jason James Richter & Keiko the Whale, Nominated, 1994
Has to be included simply for being the one interspecies kiss in the record. (We are not including the kiss between an alien and human in the sci-fi horror flick Species, which won in 1996, as the extraterrestrial was played by Natasha Henstridge.) Sure, it’s just a boy giving an orca a smooch on the snout, but in the years after, we would all come to appreciate the cruelty of keeping such an animal captive — and the bitter irony of forcing him to perform in a feel-good children’s movie about his escape from the human world. Do not put your mouth on him!!
A Very Brady Sequel: Christine Taylor & Christopher Daniel Barnes, Nominated, 1997
Suddenly, our glut of incest porn makes total sense: In A Very Brady sequel, Greg and Marcia, the eldest brother and sister of the sitcom family, realize they aren’t related by blood and immediately get horny for each other. This, as you might expect, leads to a lot of awkwardness, particularly after Marcia performs mouth-to-mouth on Greg after he almost drowns in a surfing accident. Later on, they kiss for real, and I guess this step-sibling action caught the eye of someone at Viacom who wanted to normalize such behavior. Mission accomplished, you perv.
Inception: Elliot Page & Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Nominated, 2011
When a film by a director so notoriously sexless as Christopher Nolan ends up in the running for Best Kiss, you know something has gone awry. Indeed, the lip-lock itself is brief, without passion, and utterly extraneous to the mind-bending action and pseudo-philosophy that is Inception’s reason for being. Joseph Gordon-Levitt casually suggests that Elliot Page (who came out as trans in December) kiss him in order to deflect from the suspicions of his own dreaming subconscious (don’t ask). After Page complies and notices that it didn’t work, Gordon-Levitt acknowledges that it was more or less a pickup move. Ugh. What this nom really seems to be is an acknowledgement that Nolan can at least pretend to have a sense of humor.
Twilight: Kristen Stewart & Robert Pattinson, Winner, 2009
Although MTV had moved past some past problematic picks and celebrated some landmark years in the category — Brokeback Mountain won in 2006 — the stans lifted each of the four Twilight movies to victory in four consecutive years. It was an unfortunate and I’m sure unavoidable streak, but the first of these makeout scenes begins with Kristen Stewart asking, “How did you get in here?” and includes the Robert Pattinson line, “I like watching you sleep.” I get that he’s a vampire and all, but the stalking-your-crush trope here feels like a throwback to some 1980s rom-coms that you can’t help cringing at today. We could’ve left it back there.
Wild Things: Matt Dillon, Denise Richards & Neve Campbell, Nominated, 1999
Now we get into some truly worrying territory. Although it lost to the relatively prudish Shakespeare in Love, you’re far more likely to recall a sleepover spent watching this trashy, convoluted neo-noir in order to see Denise Richards topless in a threesome. Also the reason I can’t embed the video — which lives to this day on porn tube sites. Oh, it’s a steamy encounter between three hot actors, but the screenplay is so baffling that you probably forgot Richards and Campbell are playing teens, and Dillon is… wait for it… their high school guidance counselor. As we’ll see, this wasn’t the only time MTV hyped up imagery of age-inappropriate relations.
Hannibal: Anthony Hopkins & Julianne Moore, Nominated, 2001
Everyone has their idea of what makes for a “good” kiss, but I think we can agree that it’s not when a cannibalistic psychopath slams you against a refrigerator, acts like he’s going to eat your face and then plants a juicy one while still holding you in his grip. The saving grace here is that FBI agent Clarice Starling uses this opportunity to slap handcuffs on the murderous Hannibal Lecter, yet we’re nonetheless made to suffer Hollywood’s eternal lazy twist: What if these two deeply opposed antagonists want to fuck, actually? It might work for Jane Austen; at this stage of the Hannibalverse, it’s a hamfisted embarrassment. And a bit rapey for this award!
Lolita: Jeremy Irons & Dominique Swain, Nominated, 1999
Speaking of rape. Vladimir Nabokov’s novel of a man’s infatuation with (then abduction and continued sexual abuse of) a pubescent girl has caused ripples of controversy for decades. Comedian and writer Jamie Loftus covers the whole history with her audio documentary Lolita Podcast, including this late 1990s adaptation, in which 15-year-old actress Dominique Swain catapults herself onto middle-aged Jeremy Irons for a disturbingly composed moment of saliva-swapping. If Best Kiss is meant to recognize the hottest, sweetest or even funniest examples in film, this is, shall we say, an alarming choice. Or, if you prefer, a confession.
Cape Fear: Robert De Niro and Juliette Lewis, Nominated, 1992
The inaugural MTV Movie Awards recognized the one cinematic kiss of the era that compares — in horror — to the Lolita nightmare. Martin Scorsese’s Cape Fear remake sought to make the threat of rape more explicit than in the 1962 original, and so includes an excruciating sequence of Robert De Niro’s violent predator coercing a high school girl portrayed by Juliette Lewis. His first move is to stick his thumb in her mouth, and on set, Lewis didn’t know this was going to happen. The kiss that follows is no less stomach-churning. Whoever watched this and whispered “nice” to himself should be in jail.
Thank god the innocuous My Girl took the trophy: