When we here at AfterElton.com originally conceived the idea to present our first annual poll of the best gay male movies of all time, we wondered how many gay movies could possibly be considered “great.” Fifty seemed like a nice solid number, but we weren’t quite sure. We opened the polls anyway, and you voted.
For a grand total of 570 different movies.
At AfterElton.com, gay movies are much of what we do. All day long, we watch them, think about them, and write about them. But even we were surprised by the quality and diversity of the films selected in this poll: big budget dramas, quirky indie darlings, romantic comedies, musicals, and even a certain gay teen sex comedy.
In short, there are a lot of gay movies that are damn good!
Here are some interesting statistics. Except for two films, The Boys in the Band (1970) and The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), every movie on this list was produced in the 1980s or later. What’s this? Don’t gay people like classic films? A more likely explanation, of course, is that gay-related content rarely existed on film until the 1980s — and if it did, it was almost invariably offensive.
Films from outside the U.S. including England, Spain, Australia, Canada and others occupied nearly 1/3 of the top 50 slots. More dramas made the list (33) than comedies (17). So do gay people prefer drama, or is it that most gay movies to date have tended to be more serious?
What is a “gay movie” anyway? That was for you to decide, but in every case, it was a film with at least one leading gay or bisexual character.
And what makes a movie “great”? That’s ultimately a subjective call, but we think it’s worth noting that almost every movie on this list was new or different in some important way from all the gay films before it. This seems to us to prove a lesson that Hollywood never seems to learn: audiences like that which is fresh and original, not tired retreads of what was popular in the years before.
While the list is very diverse when it comes to subject matter, it’s a different story when discussing racial diversity. Of the top twenty films, only Big Eden (2000) and My Beautiful Laundrette (1985) include substantive roles for men of color – Eric Schweig plays the Native American character Pike in Big Eden while Gordon Warnecke is Omar in Laundrette.
Since this will be an annual poll, it should be fascinating to watch older movies fall off of the list and new ones climb on to it. No doubt some movies that received a great deal of press this year, and subsequently placed high on this list, will fade somewhat over time while new movies — the soon-to-be released Milk comes to mind — will no doubt make a big splash on next year’s list. Hopefully there will be a great deal of movement as gay cinema continues to grow and thrive.
Without further ado, we present AfterElton.com’s Fifty Greatest Gay Movies!
1. Brokeback Mountain (2005)
Ferragamos or Birkenstocks? Mojitos or good ol’ beer? Gay men don’t seem to agree on much. But by a wide margin of nearly two-to-one, you chose Brokeback Mountain as the greatest gay movie of all time. And how could it be otherwise? “It’s not ‘gay,’” said some, trying to broaden the film’s appeal, “it’s a ‘universal love story’!”
But is it really? Plenty of heterosexuals have had the experience of hiding a love affair, but how many of them know what it’s like to be forced by society to deny themselves the very possibility of love? This is the daring and fundamentally “gay” question at the heart of Ang Lee’s 2005 masterpiece: can two men simply allow themselves to love each other? And though the movie is set in the past, it is, ultimately, the very choice that every gay man still must make.
Jake Gyllenhaal is flawless as Jack Twist in arguably the movie’s most difficult role. But Heath Ledger’s heartbreaking portrayal of Ennis Del Mar, a walking cautionary tale of homophobia’s logical end result, is a revelation — a total acting transformation made all the more tragic by Ledger’s death earlier this year. But the indignities and injustices that Jack and Ennis faced did not end at Brokeback Mountain’s closing credits. Upon the film’s release, the movie’s makers and fans were subjected to a six-month orgy of tasteless jokes from clueless comedians and bile-filed commentary from right-wing pundits. All of this negativity culminated when the movie, long considered the Oscar front-runner, lost Best Picture to a fine but unremarkable movie called Crash, perhaps the most egregious upset in Oscar history and almost certainly the result of lingering homophobia in Hollywood’s old guard.
But that fusillade of ridicule and outrage is already fading into the gloom of a bigoted past while the movie’s artistry and quiet power shines brighter than ever. Let’s face it: this isn’t just the greatest gay movie of all time, it’s one of the greatest movies ever.