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Hey, Hollywood: Queer Films Can Be Big Box Office

Hey, Hollywood: Queer Films Can Be Big Box Office

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Hollywood's reluctance to feature LGBT characters and themes ignores these top 15 queer box office hits.

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According to a new study from the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, in the 100 top-grossing films of 2014, fewer than 0.5 percent of the speaking characters were LGB-identified -- and no transgender characters appeared in any of the top 100 films.

In other words, LGBT characters were essentially invisible in the major films of 2014. The conventional Hollywood wisdom (or lack of it) is that audiences would simply not pay to see films that include, let alone feature, queer characters.

Yet many queer films are shot on shoestring budgets, so when they hit, they hit big. Sean Baker's film Tangerine, about two trans prostitutes, was shot on an iPhone 5 for $100,000 and in one month has made more than half a million dollars.

But by even traditional Hollywood standards, many mainstream films that feature LGBT characters and themes have hit it big at the box office. So here we salute the top 15 queer-themed money makers from 1980 to the present, with box office grosses adjusted for 2015 ticket prices. The complete list can be found at Box Office Mojo.

15. The Object of My Affection (1998)

* Box office gross: $50,533,100

Jennifer Aniston plays a pregnant social worker who falls in love with her gay best friend (the relentlessly adorable Paul Rudd) in this Hollywood take -- happy ending alert! -- on Stephen McCauley's lovely novel. The strong supporting cast includes Alan Alda, Allison Janney, and Nigel Hawthorne.

14. The Hours (2002)

* Box office gross: $56,120,900

Nicole Kidman stars as bisexual author Virginia Woolf in the film version of gay author Michael Cunningham's novel. It explores the intersection of the lives of Woolf, a 1950s bi-curious housewife (Julianne Moore), and a lesbian mother (Meryl Streep) who's caring for her AIDS-afflicted friend (Ed Harris). The film earned nine Oscar nominations and a Best Actress Oscar for Kidman.

13. Cruising (1980)

* Box office gross: $59,747,500

Before there were many positive portrayals of gay characters in Hollywood films, this movie that stars Al Pacino as a detective who infiltrates the gay S&M world to catch a serial killer triggered howls of protest from the gay community.

12. La Cage aux Folles (1978)

* Box office gross: $66,073,700

This French farce about a drag club owner and his drag diva partner inspired a sequel, a Broadway musical, and the 1996 American film version The Birdcage, starring Robin Williams and Nathan Lane (more on that to come).

11. Bruno (2009)

* Box office gross: $67,916,800

After his wildly subversive 2006 mockumentary film Borat, writer-star Sacha Baron Cohen turned the celebrity world on its ear (and ruined New York's Fashion Week) as the flamboyantly gay, and clueless, Austrian fashionista Bruno. Even though Cohen lampoons homophobia throughout the film, many accused the movie of being homophobic itself.

10. To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar (1995)

* Box office gross: $68,085,200

Hollywood's spin on the similarly themed Australian film The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert stars Patrick Swayze, Wesley Snipes, and John Leguizamo as three drag queens on a cross-country quest who become stranded in a backwoods small town. Swayze and Snipes are fabulous, but Leguizamo steals the show. Read how the film came together in this fascinating piece.

9. Victor/Victoria (1982)

* Box office gross: $77,928,400

This musical sex farce from director Blake Edwards stars Julie Andrews as a starving songstress who hits it big masquerading as a female impersonator. The fine cast includes James Garner as the tycoon who falls for him/her, Robert Preston as her gay mentor, and a deliciously shrill Lesley Ann Warren as a gold-digging chorus girl.

8. The Imitation Game (2014)

* Box office gross: $90,980,300

Benedict Cumberbatch shines in the true story of Alan Turing, the brilliant mathematician who broke the Nazis' Enigma Code, therefore helping the Allies win World War II, but was persecuted and punished for being gay. The film earned eight Oscar nods and one win -- for Graham Moore's screenplay.

7. Brokeback Mountain (2005)

* Box office gross: $103,226,600

This landmark tale of the lifelong love affair between two gay cowboys stars Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal and is currently celebrating its 10-year anniversary. The film was nominated for eight Oscars and won three -- for director Ang Lee, screenwriters Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana, and composer Gustavo Santaolalla.

6. In & Out (1997)

* Box office gross: $112,966,900

Kevin Kline is hilarious in this inspired farce about a small-town high school teacher who's outed as gay by an Oscar-accepting former student on the eve of his wedding -- then struggles to understand if he's actually gay or not. The cast includes Debbie Reynolds as his wedding-obsessed mom and Joan Cusack as his beside-herself fiancee.

5. The Crying Game (1992)

* Box office gross: $122,665,400

This twisty thriller written and directed by Neil Jordan stars Stephen Rea and Jaye Davidson, the latter as the soulful (spoiler alert!) transgender lover of a murdered British soldier. The film became a sleeper hit, earning six Oscar nods and a win for Jordan's screenplay.

4. The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)

* Box office gross: $124,992,800

Matt Damon gives his most complex and overlooked performance as a gay chameleon who reinvents himself to join the high society world of Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow -- which leads to obsession, intrigue, and murder.

3. Philadelphia (1993)

* Box office gross: $150,453,700

Tom Hanks won his first Best Actor Oscar as a gay attorney who's fired from his law firm for having AIDS. Denzel Washington is the antigay lawyer who's the only one willing to represent him in a wrongful termination suit. The film had five Oscar nominations and a win for Bruce Springsteen's song "Streets of Philadelphia."

2. Interview With the Vampire (1994)

* Box office gross: $204,036,300

Tom Cruise is miscast (in the role Daniel Day-Lewis was born to play) as the bisexual vampire Lestat, who seduces the tenderhearted Louis (Brad Pitt before he could act) into joining him in eternal life. The film is gorgeously grotesque, but why Pitt's character turns down an offer to spend an eternity in Paris with Antonio Banderas is beyond me.

1. The Birdcage (1996)

* Box office gross: $227,912,100

As a drag club owner and his longtime drag diva partner, Robin Williams and Nathan Lane are both over-the-top and compassionate as they try to pass for straight to please their prospective right-wing in-laws in director Mike Nichols's update of the 1978 French classic La Cage aux Folles.

* All figures are from Box Office Mojo and are adjusted for 2015 ticket prices.

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