If you have been awake at any point over the last year, it has surely come to your attention that there is a new movie from the Harry Potter universe on the horizon. Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, aside from having an M.C. Escher-esque labyrinth of a name, also features Jude Law playing a young version of Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore. This is a character who author J.K. Rowling has stated is a homosexual man, a fact that by all early reports is barely even hinted at in the movie.
Honestly, this is hardly a shock. Mainstream culture (especially the culture that hopes to sell itself in worldwide box office markets) isn’t exactly comfortable with a character who is explicitly and comfortably out of the closet. But the fact that we’re sandwiched in between this film and Bohemian Rhapsody, a Freddie Mercury biopic that really wants to bury his sexuality offscreen beneath a pile of sequins and mustaches (seriously, what movie did they think they were making?) is infuriating. There’s literally more man-on-man contact in the film Dude, Where’s My Car? than in either of these movies.
As a gay man myself, watching Hollywood constantly push away my entire culture as if it were some vaguely icky nuisance has worn very thin. This especially hurts when you consider that these are some of the better examples of representation in recent film. 2016’s Star Trek Beyond showed us Sulu was gay by having him put his arm around another man in the background of a shot while walking away. 2017’s Beauty and the Beast remake made a huge fanfare of having Gaston’s sidekick LeFou be its first openly gay character (which is a whole can of worms in and of itself), and then had him kinda sorta glance at men. Sometimes. Or take that same year’s Power Rangers, which had a lesbian character whose sexuality was revealed over a campfire chat that was about as clear as Jodie Foster’s coming out at the Golden Globes, then never mentioned again.
With this enervating Hollywood trend roiling around my brain this week, I thought I’d point Alternate Ending’s dear readers to some great, worthwhile movies with gay characters that actually do more than make furtive eye contact with same-sex partners when they think the editor isn’t looking. I’m not talking art films like Moonlight or Call Me By Your Name or Brokeback Mountain. I’m talking fun films with populist genre elements that could totally play wide if only studios would stop walking on eggshells and give these kinds of movies an actual budget.
5) Ideal Home (2018)
The newest film from The Craft director Andrew Fleming has a pretty well-worn independent comedy concept. A couple who are on the rocks are shaken up by the arrival of a long-lost child that one member of the couple unknowingly fathered many years ago. The only difference is, that couple just so happens to be played by Paul Rudd and Steve Coogan. It’s certainly got a bit of that low-key indie atmosphere, but it’s a warmly funny movie that really explores the bitterness between the two – both as a source of cutting, sardonic humor and a thoughtful reflection on how long-term relationships gradually change over time without either partner really noticing, as well as what one might be able to do about that.
4) D.E.B.S. (2004)
Now, D.E.B.S. is just plain nuts. It’s a low budget parody of Charlie’s Angels, about four young women who are graduating from a super secret spy program known as D.E.B.S. (Discipline, Energy, Beauty, and Strength). Sara Foster plays the leader of this group, who struggles with her feelings for superthief Lucy Diamonds (Jordana Brewster). Even mentioning the names of things highlights how campy the whole affair is, I don’t even need to dig into the plot. It’s an over-the-top celebration of popcorn movie mayhem that doesn’t make a big deal about the lesbian relationship at the center, it’s just one more bit of fun to be had with these outsize characters.
3) Alex Strangelove (2018)
One of the many millions of movies Netflix dropped onto its service over the course of the year, Alex Strangelove tells the story of a young teen learning about his own sexuality and the consequences that it will have on his hormonally-charged world, which doesn’t make it sound much different from Love, Simon on paper. But this particular entry, helmed by The Skeleton Twins’ Craig Johnson has a surprisingly honest and dirty approach to its high school characters and their social and sexual experimentation. It’s like a woke American Pie, embracing the awkward fumbling that is teen sexuality with a wry, embarrassingly relatable smile.
2) Were the World Mine (2008)
Were the World Mine is a combination of such specific niches that it certainly isn’t for everyone. But if you’re one of the people it’s meant for, it will light up every cell in your body. The film is a musical retelling of A Midsummer Night’s Dream set at an all-boys’ school, where a bullied gay teen gets his Puckish revenge by turning the jocks in school gay and making his crush follow him like a puppy dog while all the other boys are… busy. But rather than merely being a wish-fulfillment fantasy about gays changing the world for the better and bringing light to the hicks in a small town (think To Wong Foo), Were the World Mine approaches every character with love, allowing its lead to be flawed as well and learn his own, more appropriate, way to approach the world around him. The music is lovely, the costuming and sets are beautifully stylized to within an inch of their lives, and it’s all held together by Twin Peaks’ Wendy Robie as the drama teacher, delivering what is maybe the most pitch-perfect camp performance ever conceived.
1) Bound (1996)
OK, I might be cheating a tiny bit with this one. The first film from the Wachowskis, Bound is the film on this list that made the biggest splash in America, and that’s certainly because mainstream culture doesn’t mind exploiting lesbians as long as they’re hot enough for straight guys to fantasize about. But not a single thing about Bound itself is exploitative in the slightest. It’s actually fascinating to use a 2018 lens to look at this film, about a lesbian ex-con (Gina Gershon) who beds a mob wife (Jennifer Tilly) and then plots with her to pull off a major heist against her husband.
Although both the Wachowskis identified as male at the time, they have since come out as transgender women, and their nascent queer identities are spilling out all over this movie. In Bound, the women don’t have sex to provoke or to titillate, which is exactly what a pair of cisgender straight male directors would have had them do. They have sex because they want to, and that agency is incredibly important to their relationship, and to the film. And what a film it is! Bound is an electrifying thriller that is such a huge, explosive exercise in pure cinema that you don’t even notice it almost entirely takes place on a single floor of an apartment building.
Brennan Klein is a writer and podcaster who talks horror movies every chance he gets. And when you’re talking to him about something else, he’s probably thinking about horror movies. You can find his other work on his Dread Central column applying film school theory to silly horror movies, his Ghastly Grinning column pairing the week’s releases with the perfect classic horror double feature, and his blog Popcorn Culture where among other movie reviews, he is running through every slasher film of the 1980’s. Also check out his podcasts, Scream 101, where he and a non-horror nerd co-host tackle horror reviews with a new sub-genre every month, and Attack of the Queerwolf!, an LGBTQ discussion of horror classics that he produces for the Blumhouse Podcast Network.