Gay Sex Scenes That Made Movie History

Once upon a time, there were no gay and lesbian sections in the video stores, no queer film festivals, no debates over whether or not showing gay men having sex was good for the gay community’s image. There were definitely no major theatrical releases of big-budget films in which gay men had sex, and certainly no one ever dreamed a film like that could ever be nominated for an Oscar.

Here, AfterElton.com takes a look back at the most important and groundbreaking gay male sex scenes in films. These are films that for the most part had a major American theatrical release, even if it was of limited scope, with a few groundbreaking foreign, art house and GLBT film festival movies included as well. These criteria are admittedly somewhat subjective, so if you feel we’ve missed a film that broke new ground with its use of sex between men, let us know.

The Golden Age

In the mid-’80s a kind of sea change hit American theaters. Far from being art house and gay film festival exceptions, foreign films with gay male protagonists and overt depictions of gay male sexuality began filling theaters in cities across the United States, earning rave reviews and doing well at the box office.

This “golden age” had its roots in the post-Code, post-Stonewall days of the ’60s, when a number of films with gay male sex scenes were made. And prior to the late ’80s, when the AIDS epidemic and the changing political scene sent many gay films back into the film festival closet, we saw a high watermark in terms of gay sex on screen.


Another Country
(1984)
The two lovers at the center of this lyrical and ultimately unsettling film are not shown in an explicit sex scene. Instead, their own delicately constructed romance is interwoven with the discovery of a sexual encounter between two other boys at the same British boarding school in the 1930s, and its aftermath.

While Another Country is loosely based on the Guy Burgess spy case that was more accurately recounted in John Schlesinger’s 1983 BBC film An Englishman Abroad, it’s primarily the love story of Burgess, played by a painfully young Rupert Everett, and James Harcourt, played by a dewy-lipped, even younger Cary Elwes. The film was shot at Cambridge, Oxford and Princess Diana’s childhood home, Althorp Hall, because Eton, which Burgess attended, refused permission.

Rupert Everett (left) and Cary Elwes

The sexual encounter between the two boys is intercut with Bennett’s dreamy glances at Harcourt during a school assembly, and ultimately with one gentle cuddle in the moonlight, during which Bennett presses a kiss into Harcourt’s hair. However romantic the relationship is, it doesn’t protect them from the heightened scrutiny on homosexual experimentation among the students resulting from the suicide of one of the boys discovered having sex in a gymnasium changing room.

Another Country opened in the United States to critical acclaim and was nominated for a Golden Palm at Cannes in 1984. Most significantly, it marked the beginning of what became a golden age of gay male films, many British, which appeared in the next few years. (1984 also marked the commercial release of Italy’s Ernesto, which was made in 1979 and had a film festival run in 1980.)

Hotness: 3
Romance: 10
Significance: 10

Kiss of the Spider Woman (1985)
This Brazilian/American co-production, directed by Hector Babenco, is based on the Manuel Puig novel. It tells the story of Valentin Arregui, a political prisoner played by Raul Julia, and his cellmate, Luis Molina, a gay man played by William Hurt. Hurt won the Academy Award for best actor that year, and the film itself was nominated for best film, best director, and more.

Raul Julia (left) and William Hurt

While the narrative style of the film is complex, as is the relationship between the two men, one of the central scenes involves them having sex. Even though the act itself fades to black, its thematic importance was unequivocal.

Reviews of the film at the time focused on Hurt’s “courage” in playing the role, and it was the first time an actor playing an openly gay character received the Oscar. He also won best actor awards from BAFTA and at Cannes for the role.

Hotness: 2
Romance: 5
Significance: 9

My Beautiful Laundrette (1985)
Laundrette was released in New York City the same weekend that Merchant-Ivory’s A Room With a View premiered. Both films were British and starred Daniel Day-Lewis, playing roles so opposite each other that it was almost impossible to believe one actor played them both.

In Laundrette, Day-Lewis plays a working class British punk named Johnny who pairs up with Omar, his lover from their teenage years, in opening a laundrette with stolen money. The film, directed by Stephen Frears, opens with a fairly straightforward story about Omar, the Pakistani-born son of an alcoholic journalist. He’s struggling to make his way and find his identity inside his extended family and his adopted country.

The film takes a sudden turn for the unexpected, however, when Omar’s car gets stopped one night by a gang of white supremacists thugs. He gets out of the car and walks up to the apparent leader of the pack (Day-Lewis), who is lounging against a nearby wall.

“It’s me,” he tells him.

Johnny’s face breaks into a twisted smile. “I know who it is.” The two men drive off together, to the confusion of Johnny’s mates, and then, without any form of foreshadowing, kiss in the shadow of a building. Audiences at the film’s opening gasped.

In a very beautiful and poignant scene set on the day of the opening of the laundrette, Johnny and Omar make love in the tiny office. The scene, in which Omar drinks champagne from Johnny’s mouth, was both erotic and romantic, and their sexual bond continued to be an important part of the film. Towards the film’s end, when Omar’s cousin challenges Johnny about the way Omar treats him and asks him to come away with her, Johnny tells her no; he’s staying with Omar. She warns him that their family won’t let that happen, and he tells her he’ll stay with his friend and “fight it out,” adding, “You wouldn’t understand; you haven’t touched him.”

Hotness: 8
Romance: 9
Significance: 8


Buddies
(1985)
This film somewhat defies the criterion used for this overview, because it had only the most limited gay film festival release. But its significance is enormous: This is the first feature film about AIDS. It includes a scene in which a hospitalized, dying man and his volunteer “AIDS buddy” have a very simple sexual encounter. It was amazing in what it said about the power of touch at a time when the idea of touching someone with AIDS, especially sexually, was very controversial.

Although other films, such as Parting Glances, Longtime Companion and even the sexually sterile Philadelphia, have endured the test of time much better than Buddies, it was undeniably groundbreaking. It was written and directed by Arthur Bressan Jr., who died of AIDS two years later.

Hotness: 2
Romance: 2
Significance: 10

 

Parting Glances (1986)
Parting Glances came out the year after Buddies, and also took on the theme of AIDS in the gay community. It was directed by Bill Sherwood, who died of AIDS in 1990, and starred Steve Buscemi in his first film role.

The story centers around Michael (Richard Ganoung), whose current lover, Robert (John Bolger), is about to leave the country to work in Africa for a year, and whose former lover and best friend, Nick (Buscemi), has AIDS. It’s set in a Manhattan of witty banter and unconventional relationships, and while the sex in this film is minimal, it is used effectively to showcase the disconnection between Michael and Robert, and contrast it with the emotional intensity of the connection between Michael and Nick.

Steve Buscemi (left) and Richard Ganoung

Unlike Buddies, Parting Glances has aged beautifully, and is particularly successful in its underlying assumption that gay people and our experiences — including our sexual experiences — are a fully integrated part of the world and of life, love, and loss.

Hotness: 3
Romance: 10
Significance: 10


Maurice
(1987)
Based on the novel by gay author E.M. Forster, the nature of sex between men is at the very heart of the story.

Written starting in 1913 (although only published after Forester’s death in 1971) and set in the early 1900s, Maurice, like Another Country, takes place at an upper class school in Britain. In fact, many of the same actors appear in the smaller roles, and the actor who plays Maurice, James Wilby, at times bears a striking resemblance to Cary Elwes.

Maurice’s first love is schoolmate Clive Durham, played by Hugh Grant. Clive confesses his love to Maurice, who rejects him, only to admit his love later on. The two kiss passionately, but during an idyllic country picnic, Clive convinces Maurice that their relationship would reach its highest levels of honor only if it remained platonic.

James Wilby (left) & Rupert Graves in Maurice

While visiting Clive and his wife in the country one weekend, Maurice meets and has sex with the new groundskeeper, Alec Scudder (Rupert Graves), after Alec climbs in his bedroom window in the middle of the night. It is apparently Maurice’s first sexual experience, and it changes his life. The lovers have two more sexual encounters in the film, one in a boathouse and the other in a London hotel, before parting, supposedly for life. There is a probably unrealistic happy ending, however, and the two spend one last night at the boathouse before embarking on a life together.

Maurice is notable both as a novel and as a film for being about not just homosexuality as an identity but specifically about sex between men as an act of personal expression and even liberation.

Hotness: 7
Romance: 10
Significance: 7


Law of Desire
(1987)

The golden age of gay male sex in film came to an end in 1987, but not before the U.S. release of two foreign films. One was Pedro Almodovar’s Law of Desire, starring a youthful Antonio Banderas, who plays a jealous young man sexually obsessed with a film director. In sharp contrast to the romantic glow of Maurice, Almodovar’s characters are deeply flawed, their lives disastrous, and the film not only doesn’t end happily, it couldn’t possibly end happily.

Eusebio Poncela (left) and Antonio Banderas in Law of Desire

This was the first Almodovar film to really make a huge international splash, and while reviews were mostly good, it’s only now, 20 years later, that the plea at its heart, for everyone to be themselves and specifically against living a sexually closeted existence, stands out most clearly. It’s also notable for a very sexually explicit performance by Banderas, which contrasts sharply with his sexless characterization of Tom Hanks’ lover in Philadelphia, an American film released six years later.

Hotness: 7
Romance: 5
Significance: 8

 

Prick up Your Ears (1987)
Directed by Stephen Frears (My Beautiful Laundrette), Prick up Your Ears is about gay British playwright Joe Orton and his lover Kenneth Halliwell, and based on the book by John Lahr. Halliwell murdered Orton, and the film pulls no punches in describing their dysfunctional relationship, Orton’s promiscuity, and the cost that denying his sexuality took on the playwright and on the couple.

Gary Oldman as Joe Orton in Prick Up Your Ears

The film is significant in particular for its frank depiction of anonymous sexual encounters in London ’s public restrooms, something never before seen in a mainstream feature film.

Hotness: 2
Romance: 2
Significance: 7

After the Golden Age

Of course, gay films continued to be made after the “golden age” ended, but the dual impact of the AIDS epidemic on gay culture and the changing political climate in the U.S. left most gay-themed films out of the limelight, at least as far as box office success went. Only two mainstream features with gay characters were released in the early ’90s, and both were AIDS-themed: Longtime Companion (1990) and Philadelphia (1993). The gay film festival circuit was, for a time, the only place audiences could see films depicting gay male sexuality.


Looking for Langston
(1988)

Not exactly a feature film and certainly not a biography of poet Langston Hughes, Looking for Langston is a British tribute to the Harlem Renaissance and Hughes by filmmaker Isaac Julien. It looks at how black male sexuality has been presented in American and African-American culture, and is notable for being one of the very few cinematic portrayals of black gay men having sex together with its depiction of the romance between Langston Hughes (Ben Ellison) and Beauty (Matthew Baidoo).

Less than one hour long and told in a non-narrative style, it won the Best Short Film award at the Berlin International Film Festival in 1989.

 

Ben Ellison (left) and Matthew Baidoo in Looking for Langston

Hotness: 5
Romance: 5
Significance: 10

 


Macho Dancer
(1988)
Macho Dancer was made in the Philippines, where it suffered the heavy hand of censorship for its depiction of the lives of teenage hustlers in Manila. Filipino censors only released a severely edited version of the film, and director Lino Brocka had a single uncut version smuggled out of the country for exhibition at film festivals. That version of the film is now safe at New York City’s Museum of Modern Art.

Macho Dancer tells the story of a boy abandoned by his American lover who moves to Manila where he becomes a stripper and is embroiled in prostitution, drugs and murder. It is one of the few films of its era depicting Asian men in sexual situations with other men.

Hotness: 3
Romance: 3
Significance: 10

 


Longtime Companion
(1990)
Sex was most conspicuous — and meaningful — when it disappeared from Longtime Companion. The inability of the film’s central couple to continue to connect sexually in the face of the AIDS epidemic and the multiple losses they suffered was one of the movie’s strongest themes.

Lovers Willie (Campbell Scott) and Fuzzy (Stephen Caffrey), who start out with a lovingly depicted physical relationship, find it increasingly hard to connect sexually while dealing with the illness and death of friends and fears for their own health. One night, in a scene that shows them lying next to each other in bed but not touching, Fuzzy asks Willie, “What do you think happens when we die?”

“We get to have sex again,” Willie answers.

Longtime Companion was groundbreaking as well in that Bruce Davison was nominated for the Academy Award for best supporting actor for his role in the film as David, a man caring for his lover who has AIDS.

Hotness: 3
Romance: 5
Significance: 10

 

The Living End (1992)

Craig Gilmore (left) and Mike Dytri in The Living End

Far from the cautious approach of Longtime Companion and Philadelphia, Gregg Araki’s twisted gay/HIV Thelma & Louise homage manages to offend virtually everyone (the film’s tagline, “An Irresponsible Movie by Gregg Araki,” pretty much says it all). It’s loaded with sex and violence, and centers on a very unhealthy relationship between two HIV-positive gay men.

There are a number of sex scenes in the film, but the most significant is an emotionally intense — and erotic — shower scene where Luke convinces Jon to have sex without a condom. It’s a rough movie with uneven production values, and is very much a small indie film. But among all the far more polished and politically correct AIDS films coming out of Hollywood at the time, it’s a standout for the anger at its heart.

Hotness: 8
Romance: 3
Significance: 8

 

Priest (1994)
A British look at gay Roman Catholic priests, Priest is the story of Father Greg (Linus Roache), a gay man torn between his commitment to his vocation, his vow to guard the secrecy of the confessional and his relationship with another man (Robert Carlyle). The film was re-edited to be less sexually explicit for its U.S. theatrical release, but the original version is available on DVD. The sex scenes between Greg and his lover, Graham, are erotic, explicit and tender.

Priest stands out because it examines Greg’s homosexuality in the context of a bigger discussion about celibacy and ethics in the Catholic Church, including heterosexual relationships in the priesthood, and the value of celibacy and vocation. While being confronted with the moral challenge of his relationship with Graham, Greg also has to deal with a young girl who has confessed to him that her father is molesting her, an interesting juxtaposition of ethical issues for the young priest.

The contrast of his tender love scenes with Graham, the heterosexual relationship of his parish priest and the abuse of his young parishioner by her father makes it clear that sexual morality is about something other than the gender of your partner, but about issues of harm and honor. The story would never have worked if Greg and Graham didn’t have a genuine connection based on love as well as attraction, and their sex scenes show that connection powerfully.

Hotness: 9
Romance: 5
Significance: 8

 


Threesome
(1994)
This really could have been just another throwaway teen movie about a bunch of college students trying to find their way in life, but it wasn’t. And it’s not just because one of the three roommates is a gay man.

The triangle is a fairly predictable one: The girl is in love with the gay guy, who is in love with the straight guy, who is in love with the girl. So far, other than its sympathetic characterization of the gay guy, which by 1994 was not really that earth-shattering, there was nothing new here.

And then they end up in bed together, where it’s made absolutely clear to the audience that the two men have sex together as well as with the woman, and not in the standard “the girl is in the middle and the guys don’t touch” way. The straight guy very deliberately takes the gay guy’s hand during sex and puts it on his leg.

 

The film stars a young Lara Flynn Boyle as the girl, a young Josh Charles as the gay guy, and a young Stephen Baldwin (who later became a right-wing Republican and disavowed the role) as the straight guy. In a sign of things to come, none of the characters ends up dead or even unhappy, they all treat each other as equals, the girl was clearly in charge of her own sexual destiny, and everyone involved with the film went on to be successfu in the industry.

Hotness: 6
Romance: 6
Significance: 10

 

Beautiful Thing (1996)

Britain has produced some of the most beautiful and important gay-themed films in history, and Beautiful Thing has to be near the top of the list. It tells the very simple story of two working class boys in a housing project in the U.K. who fall in love. One of them, Jamie (Glen Berry), has a supportive although unconventional mother, while the other, Ste (Scott Neal), has a violent, alcoholic father and an abusive older brother.

Glenn Berry (left) and Scott Neal in Beautiful Thing
thing

Beautiful Thing is nothing more and nothing less than a love story between two teenagers. Their first sexual encounter is tender and romantic, and despite the many obvious obstacles, the ending is a happy one (although somewhat vague). Its depiction of working-class gay youth, the simple lines of the storytelling and the brilliant acting all add up to one of the most beautiful things in the history of gay cinema.

Hotness: 7
Romance: 10
Significance: 8


Velvet Goldmine
(1998)
From gay director Todd Haynes comes a dazzling and quite unusual film about British glam rock of the ’60s, with thinly veiled portrayals of Bowie, Jagger and other androgynous rock luminaries. It stars Jonathan Rhys-Myers as the Bowie-esque Brian Slade and Ewan McGregor as a version of Iggy Pop named Curt Wild, with whom Slade’s wife (Angela Bowie-clone Mandy Slade, played by Toni Collette) finds him in bed — which, legend has it, is actually where Angela found David, only it was with Mick Jagger.

Homosexuality is used mostly to shock, although it’s refreshing to see the coy “androgyny” of the glam era resolved into actual gay sex for a change.

Hotness: 7
Romance: 5
Significance: 7


Wet Hot American Summer
(2001)
Just another “going to summer camp” movie? Not really. Set in 1981, Wet Hot American Summer has become a cult favorite, especially among gay viewers for its unabashedly positive portrayal of a gay couple — sex and all. In fact, the gay couple is the only one in the film who even has a sex scene, and it’s played more for heat than laughs.

Bradley Cooper (left) and Michael Ian Black
wethotsummer1

The camp’s hottest preppy (played by Alias’ Bradley Cooper) is in love with another counselor (comedian Michael Ian Black), and they even get married, to the supposed dismay of the straight colleagues who — in true summer camp form — have been trying to get one of the men laid with a girl counselor all summer (the straight guys, far from horrified, actually buy the newlywed gay couple a chaise lounge for a wedding present).

They’re well-liked by everyone at camp, and their relationship is taken as seriously as the genre allows — and more so than the heterosexual relationships in the film. The film actually took some criticism for being too gay-positive, or perhaps straight-negative, which is definitely something new for a mainstream flick.

Hotness: 8
Romance: 5
Significance: 10

Latter Days (2003)
Latter Days is a nicely produced, possibly overambitious film that portrays a young gay Mormon man who falls in love with an actor/waiter in Los Angeles while doing his missionary work. The film dips into melodrama once or twice, but their relationship, including a beautiful and erotic sex scene in an airport hotel, is extremely sweet and romantic. A happy ending and Mormon underwear — it’s a first.

Steve Sandvos (left) and Wes Ramsey in Latter Days

Hotness: 8
Romance: 8
Significance: 7

 

HellBent (2004)

Dylan Fergus in Hellbent

In just about every slasher film ever made, there’s at least one couple who gets shredded while having sex in some out-of-the way spot. And HellBent is no exception. What makes it exceptional is something else entirely: Everyone in it is a gay man, and they’re all having sex with apparently no guilt, remorse or second thoughts.

HellBent was the brainchild of writer-director Paul Etheredge-Ouzts and Joseph Wolf (Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street). It’s set at West Hollywood ’s Halloween Carnival and focuses on a group of gay men just trying to make it through the night without getting killed. There’s no gay-bashing angle, just your standard teen slasher flick with hot gay men standing in for hetero teens.

One couple gets killed after having sex in a car, and the lead guy and his new fella have a big sex scene at the end before the killer attacks them. As ever in slasher flicks, the wages of sex are apparently violent death, but it’s the sexual orientation-neutral approach that makes HellBent a queer film first.

Hotness: 5
Romance: 5
Significance: 10

 

Brother to Brother(2004)
Brother to Brother focuses on Perry (Anthony Mackie), a young gay artist who has been thrown out of his family home after his parents find out he’s gay, and his friendship with Bruce Nugent (Roger Robinson), a down-on-his-luck poet and artist who was in his youth an intimate of Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston and other famous figures of the Harlem Renaissance.

In an tale told in black-and-white flashbacks, viewers see the artistic, political and sexual struggles of the circle around Hughes interwoven with Perry’s experiences as a gay man in the black community, as a black man in the gay world, as a student and as an artist.

A controversial element of the film’s sex scenes is that, with one unclear exception, every single sex act is between a black and a white man. Perry and his friends do discuss the racial issues in his short affair with a white fellow student, but it’s still a surprisingly unexplored territory in the film.

The dearth of images of black gay men having sex in the movies can’t be overstated, and for that reason this one pretty much goes off the significance meter.

Hotness: 5
Romance: 5
Significance: 10

 

Brokeback Mountain (2005)

Jake Gyllenhaal (left) and Heath Ledger in Brokeback Mountain

It would be hard to find anything new to say about Brokeback Mountain, and that’s kind of the point. In addition to adding the word “brokeback” to the American vocabulary as slang for “gay,” there has never been a gay-themed film that broke so many records — and hearts.

Brokeback Mountain was nominated for a staggering number of awards. To quote AfterElton.com’s Michael Jensen, “During the awards’ season leading up to Sunday night’s Oscars, Brokeback Mountain became the most honored movie in cinematic history. It had more Best Picture and Director wins than previous Oscar winners Schindler’s List and Titanic combined. Just to name a few, Brokeback won various awards at the Golden Globes, the BAFTA’s, Venice Film Festival, NY Film Critic’s Circle, LA Film Critics, National Board of Review, and the Independent Spirit Awards. (Click here for a complete list.)”

Nothing could be this big and not generate a certain amount of controversy. Brokeback was not a happy film, and given the shortage of counterbalancing images of gay men in mainstream cinema, its relentlessly grim story line was a little bitter to some gay viewers. It did not, however, shy away from the sexual nature of the bond between the two lovers, and their first sexual encounter was raw and explicit — so much so that it raised a great deal of controversy on its own.

Probably the biggest controversy of all, however, was that despite its record number of nominations and awards, Brokeback didn’t win the Oscar for best picture, prompting an unprecedented outcry against the Academy for homophobia and an ad campaign paid for by the donations of fans praising the film.

Hotness: 7
Romance: 8
Significance: 10

 

Another Gay Movie (2006)
More genre-busting along the lines of Wet Hot American Summer without the straight characters or HellBent without the gore, this flick is a weird hybrid of American Pie and everything ever made by John Waters. Since the entire premise is the attempt of the four main characters to have anal sex before the end of the summer, there are plenty of sex scenes. They’re not meant to be hot … which is good, since they’re not. They’re meant to be funny, and whether they are or not is a matter of taste. They’re definitely, however, groundbreaking; this is the first stupid, raunchy, gross-out gay teen sex comedy ever.

Michael Carbonaro in Another Gay Movie

Hotness: 2
Romance: 2
Significance: 9

Where It Came From

Neither the golden age nor the Brokeback Mountain era came out of nowhere. When the Production Code for American films was abolished in 1967, it was possible for filmmakers to depict sexuality more openly. A number of films with gay themes were made in the ’60s, including John Schlesinger’s Midnight Cowboy, the first X-rated film to be nominated for an Academy Award.

And then in 1969, the Stonewall Riots gave birth to the modern gay rights movement, and everything changed again.

A low-budget indie film called Song of the Loon was released, depicting gay male sexuality in romantic and positive terms. By contrast, the monumentally depressing film version of playwright Mart Crowley’s Boys in the Band was a much more polished offering and got decent reviews and some critical respect. There was much bitter banter but no kissing and no sex.

Things brightened a little bit in 1971, when a critically acclaimed British film by John Schlesinger called Sunday, Bloody Sunday showed lovers played by Peter Finch and Murray Head exchanging a passionate kiss. Although the film broke ground both with that kiss and by taking the gay relationship for granted in the same way it took the bisexual character’s heterosexual relationship, there wasn’t a single overt male/male sex scene in the film.


Song of the Loon
(1970)

song-loonIn 1970, two very different films were released to two very different receptions. One was a campy movie called Song of the Loon, based on the novel of the same name. It was a gay romance with a western setting, but cinematically speaking, it was no Brokeback Mountain. In fact, although it was considered to be sexually very explicit by many viewers, it was tame even in comparison to Brokeback.

It was notable for its positive depiction of love and sex between men, and particularly in its expression of the philosophy of free love. Production values are extremely low.

 

Hotness: 3
Romance: 3
Significance: 8

 

A Very Natural Thing (1974)
Another film that had a fairly limited release, A Very Natural Thing took a look at monogamy vs. open relationships in gay male culture. It had a couple of mild sex scenes, but is notable mostly for historic reasons.

Hotness: 3
Romance: 6
Significance: 8

 

bathsSaturday Night at the Baths (1975)
An interesting early film about a young man who goes to work at the Continental Baths in New York City in the ’70s. Considered somewhat sexually explicit at the time, particularly for its final scene, which depicted the young man and his lover in bed together. That scene was lost when, supposedly, a projectionist stole it. Jenni Olson, who presented a screening of the film at UCLA, told AfterElton.com contributor Alonso Duralde that Water Bearer is working on a restored version for a DVD that will include the missing scene.

While this film had a limited release and fairly poor production values, it was the first serious depiction of the gay bathhouse scene of the ’70s.

Hotness: 3
Romance: 3
Significance: 8

 

Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

rocky-horror1

In 1975, a film destined to make all kinds of movie history had its initial theatrical release. It contained an actual, albeit somewhat obscurely filmed, man-on-man sex scene — the first such scene in a film with a major theatrical release in the United States.

The film was 1975’s Rocky Horror Picture Show, starring Tim Curry as the sexually voracious Frank N Furter, Susan Sarandon as the virginal Janet, and Barry Bostwick as the geeky Brad.

While it barely made a splash at the box office, it went on to become the most popular cult film of all time, spawning many generations of high-heeled, lipsticked boys strutting their stuff at midnight showings across the nation.

Hotness: 2
Romance: 2
Significance: 8

 

Taxi zum Klo (1980)

Reminiscent of the much less sexually explicit British film Nighthawks that was released two years earlier, this feature with documentary overtones was directed by, stars and is based on the life of Germany’s Frank Ripploh.

To say that sex is an important theme in Taxi is an understatement; Taxi is the story of a German schoolteacher’s sexual odyssey in pre-AIDS gay West Berlin. It opens with Ripploh settling into the local public restroom to grade papers and take advantage of a few strategically placed glory holes, and moves on to him meeting and moving in with his lover. His character is so sexually compulsive that, while in the hospital, he tucks his hospital gown into his jeans and takes a taxi to a well-known cruising area.

Hotness: 9
Romance: 3
Significance: 8

 

Making Love (1982)
Given the name, there surprisingly little love-making, but this was the first major Hollywood film about gay men, and probably Brokeback Mountain’s most direct precursor as far as audiences outside of the cities are concerned.

While the sex was of the “fade to black” variety, the two lovers (played by Michael Onktean and Harry Hamlin) were shown undressing each other and in bed together, and it was established that Ontkean’s character tricked with a man his wife (Kate Jackson) meets while trying to understand his secret life.

This film was greeted with boos, hisses and laughter at many theaters — so much so that the filmmaker reportedly walked out of one showing. Both Onktean and Hamlin later said that playing the roles harmed their careers, and the film did poorly at the box office. Still, at the time it was made there had never been anything like it, and it was years before there was again.

Hotness: 2
Romance: 6
Significance: 10

 
querelleQuerelle (1982)

It’s hard to believe this strange and graphic film came out the same year as Making Love, but nothing more clearly underscores the difference between American and European attitudes toward gay male sexuality in film than that fact.

The last film of late gay filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder and based on the novel by gay French author Jean Genet, Querelle starred Brad Davis as a French sailor drawn into a life of homosexuality and crime.

The film is highly stylized, completely unrealistic in its execution, and definitely not for everyone. It does contain graphic sex, and is, if nothing else, a tribute to the power of male beauty and eroticism.

 

Brad Davis in Querelle

Hotness: 8
Romance: 1
Significance: 7