Movies with gay leads have really gained steam over the past few decades, but honestly, plenty of them have sucked. Perhaps they were written by straighties who wanted a lick of the ring without thinking. Perhaps the quality was poor due to low budgets that many true LGBTQ films are forced to work with. I don’t know. But I do know what I like, and the following 5 movies are some of the best out there with gay lead characters.
5. The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
Okay, so we’re going to start things off by cheating. Dr. Frank-N-Furter is technically a bisexual, but this 1970s cult-fest is just full of too much queerness to not honor across the entire LGBTQ spectrum. It opened America’s eyes to the depth and breadth of sexual exploration, poking particular fun at straight, white, cisgender, suburban couples everywhere. The moral of this movie? Lulz. You’re doing it wrong.
4. Brokeback Mountain (2005)
Yeah yeah, I know. This one was recent enough and made it so big with the straight community that we may be sick of hearing about it. (“Oh my God, I saw ‘Brokeback’ and I totally get what you’re going through now.”) But you know what? Despite its occasional slow bits and irritating fans (and haters), this movie ultimately did good by further opening up dialogue. Based on Annie Proulx’s short story, it also depicts a pretty accurate portrayal of the overall confusion and struggles we can feel when trying to hide ourselves in a hostile world.
3. Torch Song Trilogy (1988)
Yeah, I may be biased here if only because I want to squoosh Harvey Fierstein’s face and squeal. But I swear it’s also a fabulous movie in all senses of the word. Also, it’s one of the few (and successful) movies out there with a gay lead character that’s actually played by a gay man. Adapted from the Tony-award-winning play, “Torch Song” follows the romantic trials of a Jewish homosexual…who, wouldn’t you know it, has to go through a lot of the same emotional issues that a straight guy would. Imagine that!
2. The Birdcage (1996)
This is, without a doubt, my go-to movie when I’m feeling down. Grabbing big-name stars during their heyday, this movie kills with its delivery, script, and performances. I’ve even gotten disgruntled bigots to laugh along with this one…and some of them even learned something. That’s an amazing thing for a movie to do, let alone a comedy. (Also, as an important sidenote: Rest in peace, Robin Williams. I’ll always love you.)
1. Philadelphia (1993)
This movie just has to win because, you know, woah. Talk about shattering the glass of its time. Armed with the stellar performances of Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington, “Philadelphia” tackles HIV/AIDS, prejudice, and early 90s homosexuality without hesitation or apology. They lay it all out on the table. It’s a hard movie to watch, but only because of how raw and powerful it is. This movie broke taboos and barriers in a way I’ve never seen another movie do before. And probably won’t see again for a long, long time.