1. Jennifer Aniston
Funny is sexy, and Jennifer Aniston is funny—she was invited to join Saturday Night Live before her big break with Friends. Her down-to-earth persona makes her seem attainable, and anyone who’s seen her in Office Space has to admit she makes even pieces of flair look good. She rarely plays the airhead, and she seldom overplays a role: she’s funny in a quiet, refreshingly human way. And her all-too-human love life off screen inspires sympathy that not even a string of bland romantic comedies can diminish. Other sex symbols drift toward one-dimensionality, becoming flat icons in the process, but throughout her career Aniston has remained sexy, funny, and unmistakably real.
2. Raquel Welch
It’s one of the most iconic posters of all-time: a vulnerable Raquel Welch, clad in mankind’s first bikini. So vaunted was the still-shot that Andy Dufresne picked it to guard his escape route in the final act of The Shawshank Redemption. Dwell on that iconic pose long enough, and you’d have trouble believing Welch started her career not as a curvaceous, monosyllabic cave woman, but as a weather forecaster in San Diego. Later, after a string of modeling gigs and TV cameos, she starred in the 1966 sci-fi hit Fantastic Voyage. Roles like that inspired Playboy to name Welch the most desired woman of the ’70s. Though a Golden Globe followed for her (slightly) more subdued role in The Three Musketeers, it was Welch’s vivacious sex appeal that left the most lasting impression on Hollywood—and at least one jail cell.
3. Marilyn Monroe
She’s the quintessential blonde—the star who single-handedly seduced a sitting President, charmed a baseball legend, and inspired countless generations of women to stock up on peroxide. Marilyn Monroe—or, if you prefer, Norma Jeane Mortenson—was never apologetic about her sexuality. She once posed nude for a calendar—reportedly to help pay the rent—and helped launch the inaugural issue of Playboy, gracing the cover and the centerfold and spawning legions of imitators from Anna Nicole Smith to Lindsay Lohan, who dyed her signature red locks bleach-blonde for a nude photo shoot in New York. Monroe, no doubt, would have been flattered—though the key to her allure was always in its seeming effortlessness. “Sex is nature,” she once said, “and I believe in going along with nature.”
4. Britney Spears
Clad in a schoolgirl’s plaid skirt, white stockings, and pigtails, a 17-year-old Spears shot to fame with the music video for “(Hit Me) Baby One More Time.” The album, in turn, went double platinum, earning Spears a Grammy and becoming the highest-selling recording by a teen. After a series of follow-up hits, and a bit of reputed surgery that may or may not have increased the star’s “assets,” Spears was arguably the most famous (and sexually- charged) female performer in America. Near the height of her fame, Spears endured a very public meltdown, complete with embarrassing outbursts, rumors of substance abuse, and that whole thing with the head shaving. Thankfully, Spears overcame the drama, and after an extended lull she returned in 2011 with back-to-back hit singles off her most recent album, Femme Fatale.
It’s been a long time since the Material Girl was like a virgin. In fact, 30 years after she made her debut, Madonna—through more costume changes than a one-man stage production of Ben Hur—has captured the world’s heads, hearts, and hormones with startling consistency. She’s like a flip-book of fashion, gyration, and melody bonded by a Zeitgeist-defining compunction for incessant, provocative reinvention. It’s as impossible to imagine pop culture without Madonna as it is to guess what a light bulb would do without Benjamin Franklin. From shredded wedding dresses to cone-shaped bras, fascist military fatigues to, uh, absolutely nothing, being faithful to Madonna—who has sold some 300-million albums worldwide—is getting to love a million women at the same time, and that’s something we cherish.
6. Ursula Andress
When Ursula Andress walked out of the sea in 1962’s Dr. No, she set the standard for every Bond Girl who followed. And few could match her entrance: wet blonde hair glistening in the sun, conch shells in hand, and a diving knife clipped to that now-iconic white bikini. (It later sold for £35,000, by the way.) Even Sean Connery seemed almost outmatched by the Swiss bombshell, who had already caught Marlon Brando’s eye. When audiences got their eyeful she became an instant sex symbol. Small wonder she went on to play Aphrodite, the goddess of love, in Clash of the Titans. But it’s as Honey Ryder—beautiful, aloof, and a little dangerous—that she’ll always be remembered.
7. Bettie Page
She was the “Queen of Pinups,” a Southern bombshell with the curves, charm, and famous jet-black bangs to get her scarcely-clad figure into men’s magazines across the country. She was one of the first fetish models, getting her start with whips and spike heels before getting a big break in Playboy. Her centerfold and nude pictures later caused a Senate investigation into pornography. Page eventually quit the modeling business, many decades before a sudden resurgence in her work during the ’90s, which only proved her timelessness. The same shots that turned men on decades ago still work the same magic today.
8. Pamela Anderson
Holding the record for most appearances on Playboy’s cover would be enough to earn Pamela Anderson a place on this list. But the pneumatic Canadian has become a household name, from her early roles in Home Improvement and Baywatch, through her very public relationships with a series of rock stars, to her Comedy Central roast and reality-TV show. For over two decades she’s defined the busty blonde archetype, and her honeymoon video with Tommy Lee ushered in the era of the celebrity sex tape, for better and worse. She’s not afraid to use her status for good causes, whether in support of PETA or marijuana legalization. But she never takes herself too seriously, either, whether she’s being roasted or appearing in Borat. Pamela Anderson may have started as a centerfold, but she’s become one of the iconic sex symbols of our time.
9. Jane Fonda
Jane Fonda has always straddled the line between hot and crazy. In the campy 1968 science fiction film Barbarella, her title character was brimming with so much sexual energy that she broke a machine designed to kill her with orgasms. Only a few years later, Fonda stirred up controversy while protesting the Vietnam War, denying POWs’ claims of torture and earning the nickname “Hanoi Jane.” By the eighties, thankfully, Fonda was back to hot again after filming a series of exercise videos that popularized aerobics, spandex, and lonely guys watching videos of spandex-clad women doing aerobics. (It was before there was an Internet, okay?)
10. Angelina Jolie
We’re not sure what it says about us that we’re so drawn to a woman best known for playing characters who can beat us up—whether it’s as Lara Croft, the ass-kicking heroine of Tomb Raider, or most recently, Russian sleeper agent Evelyn Salt. Maybe it’s those famous lips, or the sultry promise of her myriad tattoos—no star in Hollywood conveys sexiness with just a hint of danger quite like Angelina Jolie. Off the screen, of course, Jolie conveys a radically different persona, taking frequent trips to Africa with husband Brad Pitt and their six children to act as United Nations Goodwill ambassadors.