A style icon is one thing; a great actress another. A sex symbol can be neither, though our favorites are both. The women on this list inflamed the lusts of entire generations. Many of them changed the cultural history of sex itself. Ranking them was not easy, but we can't say it wasn't fun. Expect more fun next week, when we get intimate with Paul Newman and forty-nine other male sex symbols; in the meantime, read on.
50. Cameron Diaz
An accomplished goofball, Cameron Diaz fits snugly between the "dippy blonde" and "flirtatious spitfire" tropes that define most sex symbols. Her blue eyes and long legs meet sex-symbol prerequisites, but it's her remarkable capacity for playing innocent in the face of overwhelming innuendo that secure her the spot.
49. Helen Mirren
A highly-lauded and wise English actress like Helen Mirren should hardly be diffident, but when today asked about her notoriety as a '60s and '70s sex symbol, she blushes. Demure as she may be now, looking at her in Age of Consent, we have to think that she knew exactly what she was doing.
48. Melanie Griffith
When a baby voice emerged from a barely-clothed Melanie Griffith in films like The Drowning Pool and Night Moves, the world paused.
47. Jane Russell
Jane Russell's oxygen-depriving turn in 1943's The Outlaw earned her a place on this (or any) list of female sex symbols. The iconic image of her lounging in a bed of hay with an intimidating snarl on her face caused a stir with the censors, thanks to the work of a widely-publicized brassiere.
46. Marlene Dietrich
Dietrich's high cheekbones and exotic stare in Shanghai Express and Desire pummeled audiences into aroused submission without her ever having to say a word. Taking on iconic and sexually provocative roles was second nature to Dietrich, and though she was often bathed in stark butterfly lighting, her haunting leer needed no cinematic tricks to do its work.
45. Daryl Hannah
The '80s belonged to Daryl Hannah. No one could ever forget the torn fishnets and precocious sexuality of "basic pleasure model" Pris in Blade Runner (far from basic, to our eyes), to say nothing of how she managed to make a fish tail sexy in Splash.
44. Rose McGowan
If Jessica Rabbit were not a cartoon character, she would have made this list. The closest available human is Rose McGowan.
43. Brooke Shields
Winking under her legendary thick eyebrows, Brooke Shields purred at us in the famous jean ad: "You want to know what comes between me and my Calvins? Nothing." That and her nudity in Blue Lagoon made her a uniquely discomfiting jailbait sex symbol.
42. Gina Gershon
With her pouting mouth, upturned brow, and long, dark hair, Gina Gershon appeals to men, women, and anyone in between. She's made her mark on contemporary sexual iconography with memorable roles as sexual chameleons, taking both gay and bisexual roles in Bound and Showgirls.
41. Dolores Del Rio
Dolores Del Rio's natural beauty hit the screen at a time in the 1930s when makeup and coy mugging were the dominant flavors. As the first Mexican actress to ascend to critical acclaim, Del Rio was an alternative (and for the time, exotic) reprieve from the band of blonde bombshells crowding the sex-symbol market.
40. Charlize Theron
The versatile Theron was as comfortable in the absurd universe of Arrested Development as she was in the gritty North Country, proving that true beauty lies in adaptability. And also in incredible bone structure.
39. Megan Fox
An icon for our time, Megan Fox's parted full lips and sloping eyebrows evoke the image of Elizabeth Taylor on a stripper pole.
38. Monica Vitti
As Michaelangelo Antonioni's muse and the star of Red Desert, Italian actress Monica Vitti feasted on the public's gaze like a wolf. With her long, fawnlike lashes and impeccably structured face, Vitti inspired a sense of adventure and longing that somehow made lust feel like high art.
37. Eva Mendes
If Eva Mendes' ass is not insured, it should be. It first came to prominence via a brief turn in Training Day, before occupying a more prominant role in Once Upon A Time In Mexico. But in that later film, audiences came to appreciate more about Mendes than just her curves — she was able to match Johnny Depp's smoky sex appeal without breaking a sweat.
36. Lucy Liu
There's something ominous and commanding about Lucy Liu's sexuality, whether she's in full business wear or a kimono. Her piercing glances and cutting line readings started commanding attention and libidos in Charlie's Angels and Kill Bill, proving that you don't need whips or chains to be every inch the dominatrix.
35. Anita Ekberg
You could argue that Fellini made Anita Ekberg a sex symbol with her frolic through the Trevi Fountain in La Dolce Vita. But with a perfect pin-up physique and purposely staged wardrobe malfunctions, the Swedish-American, wide-mouthed blonde probably would've done it on her own.
34. Aishwarya Rai
Aishwarya Rai is an unreal, uncommon beauty worthy of the title Miss World, which she took home in 1994. That she remains an international sexual dynamo despite her reserved M.O. and absence of American film credits only speaks to the potency of her heavy-lidded green eyes and caramel-toned skin.
33. Michelle Pfeiffer
Michelle Pfeiffer clad in a plunging red dress, legs spread across a grand piano, growling out "Makin' Whoopee" in The Fabulous Baker Boys seems like a play from a sex-symbol how-to guide.
32. Ava Gardner
Though this classic screen actress was often flanked by giants like Clark Gable, Humphrey Bogart, and third husband Frank Sinatra, Ava Gardner's incomparable grace needed no foundation to lean on.Often cited as the most beautiful woman in film history, she deployed a less-overt sexuality that often placed her in direct opposition to the conspicuous eroticism of Marilyn Monroe. Talk about a clash of the titans.
31. Kim Basinger
One of the many model-turned-actresses to grace this list, Kim Basinger suggests a sharper-edged Brigitte Bardot. There was something for everyone in this Bond girl; she aggregated quite an eclectic group of lovers, from Alec Baldwin to Prince.
30. Sharon Stone
Sharon Stone's canniness sets her apart from the dumb-blonde stereotype. By flashing her crotch in Basic Instinct, she earned herself a permanent place in sex-symbol infamy.
29. Scarlett Johansson
Scarlett Johansson is Marilyn Monroe nouveau for the more learned, David Foster Wallace-toting man. With a throaty voice that can carry a Tom Waits tune, her mystique is a marriage of classic and contemporary.
28. Jacqueline Bisset
Jacqueline Bisset's breasts, glimpsed through a soaking wet white t-shirt, are pretty much all anyone remembers about The Deep.
27. Penelope Cruz
Watching Penelope Cruz requires nearly all five senses just to keep up with the lilt of her Spanish accent, the gleam of her hair, and the intensity of her sex appeal.