Why aren’t there more good gay movies? We hear this complaint at
AfterElton.com a lot, and we’ve even made it a few times ourselves (although we
think the results of this poll prove that there are more good movies than many
of us think!).
There are surely many reasons why more “mainstream” movies don’t include gay
or bisexual themes, but no doubt one of them is heterosexual discomfort – not
just discomfort on the part of audiences and network executives, but also
discomfort on the part of critics and others to champion these films.
This is where our poll of AfterElton.com readers on the 50 Greatest
Gay Movies comes in. We can think of no better way to encourage the creation of
more good gay movies than to praise and support the existence of past good gay
How does this list compare to our previous poll? Not surprisingly, many of
the same movies made the list. After all, a great movie is a great movie. But
there were some interesting shifts and additions.
Two films that came out last year didn’t just make this year’s list, they
actually made the top ten. It’s probably no surprise that the Oscar-winning Milk debuted at #4, but it’s downright
spectacular that the independent arthouse film Were the World Mine, made on a shoestring budget, landed at #8.
Sadly, some movies fell so far that they dropped out of the top 50 entirely.
Ang Lee’s The Wedding Banquet (1993), Love! Valour! Compassion!
(1997) and Priest (1994), which last year were ranked
29, 35 and 40, respectively, are nowhere to be found in this year’s top 50.
But the biggest plunge by far was Sordid
Lives (2000), which placed at
an impressive 20 last year, but dropped off the list entirely this time (and,
weirdly, couldn’t even be found in the higher ranking runner-ups), despite being the basis for
a Logo TV show earlier this season.
By contrast, the reputation of some films seems to be growing. HBO’s
miniseries adaptation of Tony Kushner’s play Angels in America (2003) rose from 39 last year all the way up to
16 this year. Edge of Seventeen (1998) moved up from 34 to 25. Burnt Money (2000) rose from 42 to 23.
Other recent films that were added to the list include the touching Lifetime
TV movie Prayers for Bobby (2009) at
#40 and the Charlie David movie Mulligans
(2008) at #49.
Here are a few more interesting statistics. In last year’s poll, 1/3 of the
movies heralded from countries other than the U.S. This year fewer than 20% did.
One explanation is that America
is now producing more gay-themed movies of its own. Another, less charitable
explanation is that American moviegoers, which make up the bulk of our voters,
are becoming even more insular.
Last year, the movies in our poll included little racial diversity – mostly
because most gay-themed movies in general contain little racial diversity.
That’s still true this year, but in addition to last year’s My Beautiful Laundrette (#26 this year),
Yossi and Jagger (2002) (#33 this
year), and Big Eden (2000) (#11 this
year), this year’s list also included The
Bubble (2006) (#35) and Noah’s Arc: Jumping the Broom (2008) (debuting
at an impressive #14).
Disappointingly, bisexual visibility remains almost non-existent. A few of
the movies, such as Torch Song Trilogy
(1988) (at # 13) and Sommersturm
(2004) (at #19), include a bisexual character, but bisexuality is rarely a
major theme. Even in gay cinema, bisexuality is mostly just a stop on the way
to being gay.
But that’s enough of an intro. Let’s get to the list itself!
Brokeback Mountain (2005)
It seems that our readers’ reaction to Ang Lee’s 2005 masterpiece is a love
that will never grow old; once again, you chose this as the best gay movie of
all time (and as with last year, it was by a large margin).
Tragically, actor Heath Ledger is dead now, and in the movie Lureen says of
one character, “He always said he wanted his ashes scattered on Brokeback Mountain,
but I wasn’t sure where that was … Knowing Jack, it was probably some pretend
place, where bluebirds sing and there’s a whiskey spring.”
Brokeback Mountain a pretend place? On the
contrary, it was the controversy that surrounded the movie’s release that
turned out to be the illusion: that ridiculous six-month orgy of conservative
outrage and mean-spirited jokes from late-night comedians – not to mention an
Oscar snub that was clearly motivated by Hollywood’s fears that the town might
be perceived as being too “liberal” as well as plain old-fashioned homophobia.
Four years after the movie’s release, we now know that Brokeback Mountain, both the mountain and the movie, was something
very real. Did it change Hollywood? Did it change America?
I don’t know, and I don’t really care. But I know for a fact it changed me,
profoundly and dramatically. And for most of you who voted in our movie poll, I
suspect it changed you too.
2. Shelter (2007)
What is the best shelter? Is it four walls and a ceiling to protect you from
the elements? Or is it the support and comfort of those we love as they help us
to achieve our dreams?
Gay and bisexual people know often all too well that family love can be
fickle and frighteningly conditional – which is why we created the notion of
the “chosen family.” There are surely a lot of reasons why the reputation of
this 2007 indie charmer continues to grow, being second only to Brokeback Mountain among our readers
(again, by a large margin). But the fact that it speaks so eloquently of the
balancing act between love and family, between obligation and desire, is surely
one big part of its success.
3. Latter Days (2003)
Opposites attract: it’s a formula as old as the movies, precisely because of
the endless comedic and dramatic possibilities. But there’s much more to the
2003 movie Latter Days than the odd
couple of the gay party boy hooking up with a closeted Mormon missionary.
Why are we sometimes drawn to those most different from us? Possibly because
they offer us exactly what we need. Latter
Days is extremely well written and directed, but what sends it into the
cinematic stratosphere is the work of Steve Sandvoss and Wes Ramsey – two
straight actors who, as with Brokeback
Mountain, inhabit their characters so convincingly that they stay with you
long after the movie is over. Not surprisingly, both actors have gone on to
respectable careers, but they’ll always have a fond spot in many hearts
directly as a result of their work here.
4. Milk (2008)
Let’s get one thing straight: successful biopics are much harder to make
than they look. Some people might say, “Well, how hard can it be to tell a
‘real-life’ story? The plot is all right there!” But the plot isn’t all right there. Any person’s
“life” is a sprawling, complicated mess.
Encapsulating any individual’s life in a coherent, two-hour narrative arc is
one of the most difficult cinematic feats there is – especially when the life
in question is as important, and as complicated, as Harvey Milk’s. And yet Milk’s Oscar-winning writer, Dustin
Lance Black, and Oscar-nominated director, Gus Van Sant, both openly gay, did
This isn’t just one of the best gay movies of all time; it may be one of the
best biopics ever.
5. Beautiful Thing (1996)
This movie, based on a stage play by Jonathan Harvey (who also wrote the film’s screenplay), was originally intended for television, but it was so successful that the producers decided to give it a theatrical release. And no surprise.
Is it possible to watch this 1996 movie and not be moved by its simple story
of two working class teenagers, a jock and a dork, who find love amid the
bigotry and abusive family lives of South East London – all set to the
infectious tunes of Mama Cass Elliot?
Sadly, the people who most need to see Beautiful Thing never will.
6. Get Real (1998)
It’s interesting that Get Real
placed so close to Beautiful Thing in
our poll, since this 1998 British import shares such a similar story: a teenage
dork and jock try to make love work in the dark confines of the closet.
They also share similar rousing endings where the main characters say, “To
hell with it!” and decide to come out. In the case of Get Real, it’s Steven’s rousing high school speech in which he
tells the school he’s gay (and is rewarded with a standing ovation). But
there’s one difference in the ending of the films: in Beautiful Thing, Jamie and Ste end up dancing together, but in Get Real, it’s far more bittersweet. Get
7. Maurice (1987)
E.M. Forster started writing Maurice,
the novel upon which this movie is based, in 1913. He showed it to friends, but
decided not to publish it – he was certain the gay subject matter, and its
happy ending, would make it far too controversial.
Fortunately, the story of the novel itself has a happy ending too, as it was
published posthumously in 1971, and then turned into this stunning 1987 movie
adaptation – a labor of love from the gay filmmaking duo of Ismail Merchant and
James Ivory, co-starring Hugh Grant and Rupert Graves (at his most adorable).
But even in 1987, the movie was decades ahead of its time and didn’t receive
nearly the acclaim it deserved, so we’re thrilled to be able to feature it
8. Were the World Mine (2008)
Take a look at the top ten movies on this list: with the exception of
perhaps Beautiful Thing and Get Real, none of them are the “typical”
gay coming out story. Instead, most of them are profoundly different from
almost every gay movie that came before them at the time – and that is surely
why our readers have responded so favorably to them.
But Were the World Mine, last
year’s arthouse sensation, may be the most different of all: in the movie, a
high school is putting on a production of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream when a
heartsick gay boy discovers the secret of the play’s love potion hidden in the
text of the play. Boy, do complications ensue!
This movie was made on a shoestring, but there must have been some real
pixie dust floating around the set, because the musical numbers, and entire
look of the film, are absolutely breathtaking.
9. Trick (1999)
Can I make a confession? I’m a little disappointed that the principles
involved with Trick – director Jim
Fall, writer Jason Schafer, and co-stars Christian Campbell and John Paul Pitoc
– never really found break-out successes to showcase the talents they so
obviously possess in this 1999 independent gem, probably gay cinema’s best
romantic comedy ever.
Frankly, even Tori Spelling has never matched the heights of her hilarious
and pitch-perfect turn as a talent-less “queer peer” in this movie – instead
choosing to branch off into irony-free TV movies and occasionally cloying
reality shows. But hey, there’s still time for the folks listed here to find
the success they truly deserve. And while we’re at it, how about a sitcom for
Ms. Coco Peru?
Juste une Question d’Amour (Just a
Question of Love) (2000)
The highest ranking foreign language film on our list, Juste une Question d’Amour tells the story of Laurent, a single,
closeted gay guy with a loving, but intolerant family. But when Laurent meets Cédric,
who comes from a family where everyone is honest and open, he is suddenly
pressured to come out and upend everything.
Originally airing as a TV movie in France, Juste une Question d’Amour is something truly rare in gay cinema: a
family drama where the straight family members are not merely bigoted
simpletons – and the questions asked are real and complicated.
And now for the rest of the top 50….
11. Big Eden (2000)
12. The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994)
13. Torch Song Trilogy (1988)
14. Noah’s Arc: Jumping the Broom (2008)
15. Broken Hearts Club (2000)
16. Angels in America (2003)
17. Longtime Companion (1990)
18. Jeffrey (1995)
19. Sommersturm (2004)
20. All Over the Guy (2001)
21. Mysterious Skin (2004)
22. Philadelphia (1993)
23. Burnt Money (2000)
24. Birdcage (1996)
25. Edge of Seventeen (1998)
26. My Beautiful Laundrette (1985)
27. Boy Culture (2006)
28. Parting Glances (1986)
29. Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001)
30. The Trip (2002)
31. Shortbus (2006)
32. The Boys in the Band (1970)
33. Yossi and Jagger (2002)
34. Another Gay Movie (2006)
35. The Bubble (2006)
36. The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
37. C.R.A.Z.Y. (2005)
38. Coffee Date (2006)
39. Making Love (1982)
40. Prayers for Bobby (2009)
41. East Side Story (2006)
42. Love Songs (Les Chansons D’Amour) (2007)
43. Mambo Italiano (2003)
44. Adam & Steve (2005)
45. In and Out (1997)
46. My Own Private Idaho (1991)
47. Rent (2005)
48. Eating Out (2004)
49. Mulligans (2008)
50. Transamerica (2005)