Since 1980 I've seen 112 gay-themed movies, which is about 10% of all the movies I've watched, beginning with The Boys in the Band in 1981 through Oscar contender, Moonlight, at the end of 2016. On average, I've seen three films each year in this genre, with 1997 being the year I saw the most - eight (and in 1984 I saw none). About two-thirds could be considered "indie films" (in other words, very few theaters showed them and they made less than $500,000 at the box office). Despite this long list, there are some well-known films I've never seen, the most popular being Philadelphia, Dallas Buyers Club and Capote. What follows are my 20 favorite, a listing of some of my least favorite, and a summary chart of all of the movies. (Please note that movies with gay subplots aren't included.)
A SINGLE MAN
When & Where I Saw It: January 2010 at the Bronxville (NY) Playhouse
Starring: Colin Firth, Julianne Moore
Setting: Los Angeles, early 1960s
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 85%
Box Office: $25 Million
Comments: Firth was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of a grieving professor whose lover was killed in a car accident. Julianne Moore played the role of his best friend. Although it was on the depressing side, the film's ending was somewhat uplifting - and it was beautiful to look at. Directed by fashion designer Tom Ford.
BEFORE NIGHT FALLS
When & Where I Saw It: February 2001 at Chelsea Cinemas
Setting: Cuba in the 1960s and 70s/New York in the 1980s
Starring: Javier Bardem, Johnny Depp
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 73%
Domestic Box Office: $4.2 million ($6.5 million, adjusted for ticket-price inflation)
Comments: Based on the life of Cuban novelist Reinaldo Arenas (portrayed by Javier Bardem). Johnny Depp plays a cross-dressing prisoner in a Cuban prison. AIDS enters the picture at the end of the film as Arenas, now living in NYC, dies of AIDS. Directed by artist Julian Schnabel. Bardem was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar. At it's widest it showed in 127 theaters. The movie poster overpowers one of my doctor's exam rooms.
When & Where I Saw It: December 2005 at Chelsea Cinemas
Starring: Heath Ledger; Jake Gyllenhaal; Michelle Williams; Ann Hathaway
Setting: Wyoming and Texas in the 1960s and '70s
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 87%
Domestic Box Office Gross: $83 million ($112 million, adjusted for inflation)
Comments: Received eight Oscar nominations, and despite winning for Best Director and Adapted Screenplay, it didn't win Best Picture, which caused a stir (Crash won). Ledger, Gyllenhaal, Williams and Hathaway were all nominated.
THE BROKEN HEARTS CLUB
When & Where I Saw It: 2000 at Chelsea Cinemas
Setting: West Hollywood
Starring: John Mahoney, Zach Braff, Dean Cain
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 64%
Domestic Box Office: $1.8 million ($3 million, adjusted for ticket-price inflation)
Comments: The movie revolved around the lives of members of a gay softball team. Two of the movie's lead characters were known from their TV roles, John Mahoney of Frasier and Dean Cain of The Adventures of Lois and Clark. And Zach Braff would star the following year in Scrubs. Billy Porter was also in it - 13 years before winning a Tony for Kinky Boots. A highlight from the soundtrack was Giorgio Moroder's From Here to Eternity. Many who liked the film pointed out how it showed how "normal" gay men had become compared to those from The Boys in the Band era (late '60s to early '70s). Like many gay-themed films, it never played in more than 100 theaters.
GODS & MONSTERS
When & Where I Saw it: 1998 at Quad Cinema
Setting: Hollywood in the 1950s
Starring: Ian McClellan; Brendan Fraser; Lynn Redgrave
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 96%
Domestic Box Office: $6.5 million ($12 million, adjusted for ticket-price inflation)
Comments: The movie tells the true story of gay movie director, James Whale (played by McClellan). It received three Oscar nominations, with Lynn Redgrave winning for Best Supporting Actress. Brendan Fraser took his role to break his image as an action star (e.g., The Mummy movies).
When & Where I Saw It: October 1997 at Chelsea Cinemas
Starring: Kevin Cline, Joan Cusack, Debbie Reynolds, Matt Dillon, Tom Selleck
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 73%
Domestic Office: $64 million ($120 million, adjusted for ticket-price inflation)
Comments: This is only one of two comedies among my favorites. Its premise is based on a real-life event whereby Tom Hanks, during his 1994 Oscar acceptance speech for Philadelphia, mentioned that his high school drama teacher was gay. This also happens in the movie, but the drama teacher, played by Kevin Kline, is deeply closeted. Joan Cusack was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role as Kevin Kline's long-suffering girlfriend. Tom Selleck plays a gay news reporter who grabs Kevin Kline and kisses him hard on the mouth. A classic scene has Kline's character listening to a tape instructing him how to act more masculine, but it all falls apart when he's instructed that "manly men" don't dance, and then Diana Ross's remake of I Will Survive comes on to test him.
When & Where I Saw It: May 1990 at the Angelika
Starring: Bruce Davison; Mary-Louise Parker; Dermot Mulroney; Campbell Scott
Setting: New York City, 1981-1989
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%
Domestic Box Office: $4.6 million ($10 million, adjusted for ticket-price inflation)
Comments: The first mainstream movie about the AIDS crisis (five years after An Early Frost aired on network TV), Bruce Davison was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar. Although it was considered mainstream, it played in only 85 theaters. Some scenes were filmed at the beach on Fire Island. One of the few amusing scenes had two characters singing Dream Girls in their bedroom. The boyfriend I saw the movie with died from AIDS two years later.
LOVE! VALOUR! COMPASSION!
When & Where I Saw It: June 1997 at City Cinemas Village East (2nd Ave./12th St.)
Starring: Jason Alexander
Setting: Dutchess County, New York
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 67%
Domestic Box Office: $2.9 million ($5.5 million, adjusted for inflation)
Comments: I saw it on Broadway in 1996 (the play was written by Terrence McNally). In the movie version Jason Alexander (at the height of his Seinfeld fame) replaced Nathan Lane, which I was happy about because I found Lane's character cloying. In one scene a young stud sunbathes nude on a rock by a lake. AIDS is part of the plot. No female characters.
MAKING THE BOYS
When & Where I Saw It: March 2011 at the Quad Cinema
Starring: Mart Crowley (director of The Boys in the Band)
Setting: New York and Hollywood
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 95%
Domestic Box Office Gross: $34,000
Comments: Although I found the 1970 movie The Boys in the Band very depressing (I saw it in 1981) I recognized it as an important film, so this documentary about the making of it was fascinating. Crowley reveals that his friend, actress Natalie Wood, was instrumental in getting the Broadway production and then the movie written and made. It's shocking how little the documentary made at the box office. Director Crayton Robey also directed Where Sky Meets Ocean, a 2003 documentary about Fire Island Pines.
When & Where I Saw It: February 1982 at the Murray Hill Theater (E. 34th St.)
Starring: Kate Jackson, Harry Hamlin, Michael Ontkean
Setting: Los Angeles
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 31%
Domestic Box Office: $12 million ($35 million, adjusted for inflation)
Comments: Ontkean and Jackson are a married couple but he comes out of the closet after a brief affair with Hamlin's bed-hopping character. What made this film notable was the physical affection between the men and a positive ending for Ontkean and Jackson after they divorce.
Back in 1982 it was very risky for an actor to play a gay man (especially if physical affection was shown). Years later it was reported that Michael Ontkean would bristle if he was asked about his role. At the time Kate Jackson already had two successful TV series on her resume, The Rookies and Charlie's Angels, and a third would debut in 1983, Scarecrow & Mrs. King. Hamlin was part of the all-star cast of LA Law in the second half of the 1980s and was named People Magazine's "Sexiest Man Alive" in 1987. Ontkean appeared with Jackson in The Rookies in the 1970s and Twin Peaks in the early '90s.
Roberta Flack sang the title song, which peaked at #13 on Billboard's Hot 100 in the spring of 1982.
When & Where I Saw It - Released in 1987, I didn't see it until March 1991 when I rented it while on vacation in Palm Springs
Setting: England, early 20th century
Starring: James Wilby, Hugh Grant, Rupert Graves, Simon Callow
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 90%
Domestic Box Office: $2.4 million ($5.3 million, adjusted for inflation).
Comments: A beautiful to watch, Merchant-Ivory production, Maurice was released two years after A Room With a View and five years before Howard's End. The build-up to the scene where Maurice (James Wilby) and the working class boy he lusted after (Rupert Graves) consummate their attraction gave most viewers a case of blue balls.
When & Where I Saw It: February 2009 at Chelsea Cinemas
Setting: San Francisco in the 1970s
Starring: Sean Penn, James Franco, Josh Brolin, Victor Garber
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 94%
Domestic Box Office: $32 million
Comments: The movie won two Oscars (it was nominated for eight) - Adapted Screenplay and Best Actor (Sean Penn). James Franco portrayed Milk's lover (as a blond). Sylvester's classic You Make Me Feel, which was on the soundtrack, perfectly captured the the late '70s gay disco scene. At its widest the movie played on 882 screens, half as many as Brokeback Mountain - and it grossed $50 million less (domestically), barely breaking even.
NOTES ON A SCANDAL
When & Where I Saw It: January 2007 at Chelsea Cinemas
Starring: Cate Blanchett & Judi Dench
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 87%
Domestic Box Office: $50 million
Comments: Judi Dench is a conniving, jealous and somewhat pathetic lesbian with the hots for a fellow schoolteacher, Cate Blanchett, who is fiercely heterosexual (and carrying on an affair with a student). This is the only movie on mytop-20 list with a lesbian theme. It received four Oscar nominations, including Best Actress for Dench, Best Supporting Actress for Blanchett and Best Adapted Screenplay.
THE OPPOSITE OF SEX
When & Where I Saw It: September 1998 at the Greenwich Playhouse
Starring: Christina Ricci, Lisa Kudrow, Lyle Lovett
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 80%
Domestic Box Office: $6 million ($11 million, adjusted for inflation)
Comments: Many thought Lisa Kudrow, one of the co-stars of Friends, should have received an Oscar nomination for her performance. This is the second of my favorite movies set in Indiana. I saw the movie at the Greenwich Playhouse, which is now the site of a multi-level Equinox gym.
When & Where I Saw It: March 1986 at a theater on W. 72nd St.
Starring: Steve Buscemi
Setting: Manhattan and Brooklyn
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 80%
Domestic Gross: $538,000 ($1.25 million, adjusted for ticket-price inflation)
Comments: One of the first films to tackle AIDS, it was Steve Buscemi's first major role. The movie's director died of AIDS in 1990.
When & Where I Saw It: September 1996 at Quad Cinema
Setting: New York City in the second half of the 1960s
Starring: Guillermo Diaz, Luis Guzman
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 63%
Domestic Box Office: $692,000 ($1.4 million, adjusted for inflation)
Comments: Although it grossed less than $1 million, this was nearly four times as much as the much maligned remake from 2015 (which got just a 10% on Rotten Tomatoes). In 2012, one of the movie's leads, Guillermo Diaz, began his role as Huck in the TV show Scandal. I had a few dates (before the movie was filmed) with one of the extras who was in a few scenes depicting a demonstration in Philadelphia.
When & Where I Saw It: February 2014 at the IFC Center (formerly the Waverly, West 4th/6th Ave.)
Setting: Provence, France
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%
Domestic Box Office: $325,000
Comments: A disturbing, drawn-out drama about a murderer in a lakeside setting where gay men sunbathe nude and cavort in the woods. The protagonist, Franck, witnesses the murderer (Michel) drown his lover but nonetheless finds himself very attracted to him; and he doesn't help in the murder investigation. Additional murders ensue. The movie ends in darkness with Franck calling out for Michel, bringing to mind the end of The Blair Witch Project. This isn't usually my type of movie but I found it mesmerizing, perhaps because the setting brought to mind the Meat Rack at Fire Island (and how a maniac could do harm to persons cavorting in it at night). Despite critical acclaim, it showed in no more than sixteen theaters in the US.
When & Where I Saw It: 2004 at Quad Cinema
Setting: A fishing village on the coast of Peru
Starring: A cast of unknowns
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 88%
Domestic Box Office: $146,000 (widest distribution was 30 theaters)
Comments: A married fisherman with a new-born falls in love with a gay artist, which creates tension in his fishing village. It was a nice change of pace from the urban settings of most gay-themed films.
WERE THE WORLD MINE
When & Where I Saw It: November 2008 at Cinema Village (W. 12th St.)
Setting: A small town outside of Chicago
Starring: Tanner Cohen
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 71%
Domestic Box Office: $124,000
Comments: An openly gay high school student makes a love potion and uses it to turn straight people in his town gay, including his crush, the school's quarterback. A wonderful film, but like so many gay-themed movies, despite positive reviews it had no distribution; at its widest it showed in four theaters nationwide. The following year I saw Tanner Cohen walking through H&M on Fifth Ave./17th St. and I stopped him and told him how much I enjoyed the movie. Five years later he had a one-minute scene in the premiere episode of HBO's Looking, where he took part in a threesome with Augustin and his boyfriend.
YOSSI & JAGGER
When & Where I Saw It: January 2003 at Film Forum (Soho)
Setting: Near the Israel-Lebanon border
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 88%
Domestic Box Office: $267,000
Comments: The movie is about two soldiers who fall in love. Shot in the hinterlands of Israel. One beautiful scene is of the two of them playing in the snow. The film was only 67 minutes in length.
NOW FOR MY LEAST FAVORITE MOVIES ...
Another Gay Movie (2006) - Appearances by Graham Norton, Lypsinka ... and Richard Hatch. This has the third lowest IMDB user score of the movies I've seen. Perhaps I would have enjoyed it more if I were 30 years younger.
The Country Teacher (2009) - Set in a farm community in the Czech Republic, I found it depressing and maddeningly slow (but it got a decent IMDB score of 7.0). The most interesting part of the movie was a graphic scene where a cow gives birth.
Happy Together (1998). Tells the story of boyfriends from Hong Kong living in Buenos Aires. Its director won the highest honor at Cannes and its Rotten Tomato rating was 78%, but I found the two characters very unlikable as they carried on their dysfunctional relationship.
I'm So Excited (2013) - Perhaps the nadir of Pedro Almodovar's career, this tacky movie tells the story of a peculiar flight on a Spanish airline and how the gay flight crew manages it. It has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 48% (and 5.6 on IIMDB).
Kiss Me Guido (1997) - Use of the word "Guido" in the title should have been a tip-off about the quality of this movie. It was turned into a sitcom on CBS that lasted for only a few episodes.
Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil (1997)- I didn't read the book (a big best seller for weeks and weeks), and I'm not a big fan of drag, but I went to it thinking it might be interesting. I was wrong.
The Next Best Thing (2000) - Starring the insufferable Madonna and Rupert Everett. And it featured the cringe-worthy remake of the song American Pie (a duet). This has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 20% - the lowest IMDB score of any of the gay-themed movies I've seen. Even the poster is unappealing. However, it managed to gross $15 million at the box office ($24 million when adjusted for ticket-price inflation).
What's the Name of the Dame? - I saw this as part of Queerfest 2012. It was a revue of nine drag queens who sing songs by ABBA, in various styles. Although I like ABBA, this was excruciating to watch. Not surprisingly, it never went beyond the film festival circuit.