Where do Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman place?
Last decade saw a significant increase in mainstream LGBTQ films, several of which have received universal praise from critics and earned nominations for Academy Awards, Golden Globes and more prestigious awards.
It seems like audiences are also more willing to part with their cash to see queer stories represented on screen, as films like Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman are earning hundreds of millions at the worldwide box office.
Here, we present the 10 highest-grossing films in history that have clear LGBTQ narratives or characters – we’ve excluded films such as Interview with the Vampire and The Talented Mr Ripley, both of which only have ‘homoerotic’ themes.
10. The Favourite (2018)
Box office total: $95,918,706
Set in the early 18th century as England and France are at war, the film follows the life of ailing UK royal Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) and her closest friend Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz) who governs the country in her stead. But the arrival of Sarah’s cousin Abigail Masham (Emma Stone), who’s fallen on hard times, promises chaos in the monarchy as the two women begin to fight for their place as Queen Anne’s right-hand woman and companion. The film received universal acclaim and was nominated for ten Oscars at the 91st Academy Awards—including Best Picture.
9. The Hours (2002)
Box office total: $108,846,072
Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman and Julianne Moore star as three generations of women who are all personally affected by Virginia Woolf’s novel, Mrs Dalloway; Streep as Clarissa Vaughan, a woman preparing a party for her AIDS-stricken friend (Ed Harris), Moore as an unhappy 1950’s housewife and Kidman as Woolf in 1920’s England. The film received nine Academy Award nominations including Best Picture and a win for Kidman for Best Actress.
8. Bruno (2009)
Box office total: $138,805,831
Sacha Baron Cohen’s third mockumentary comedy follows the star’s politically incorrect character, Bruno, a gay Austrian fashion reporter who travels to the United States to become “the biggest Austrian superstar since Hitler”. Although it received mixed reviews from LGBTQ groups for perpetuating gay stereotypes, it was a box office success, opening in the top spot in the US and grossing over $130 million worldwide.
7. Alexander (2004)
Box office total: $167,298,192
War epic Alexander starred Colin Farrell as the titular Alexander the Great, alongside Angelina Jolie, Val Kilmer, Anthony Hopins, Jared Leto and Rosario Dawson. The film chronicle’s Alexander’s rise to power and his relationships with his wife Roxana (Dawson) and his childhood friend Hephaiston (Leto). Although it ranks seventh on this list with over $160 million at the box office, it was deemed a financial failure due to its $155 million dollar budget.
6. Brokeback Mountain (2005)
Box office total: $178,062,759
Ang Lee’s celebrated same-sex romance Brokeback Mountain starred Jake Gyllenhaal and the late Heath Ledger as cowboy lovers in the American West in the 60’s. The film became a critical and commercial success when it was released in 2005, and went on to win three Oscars including Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay. It lost Best Picture to the Paul Haggis drama Crash, which is widely regarded as one of the worst decisions in Oscar history.
5. The Birdcage (1996)
Box office total: $185,260,553
The late Robin Williams stars as Armand Goldman, the openly gay owner of a drag club called The Birdcage. When his son Val (Futterman) announces his engagement to a young woman Barbara (Flockhart), Armand is forced back into the closet and pretends to be heterosexual to satisfy Barbara’s ultraconservative Republican parents. Upon release, the film was commended by GLAAD for “going beyond the stereotypes to see the characters’ depth and humanity”.
4. Rocketman (2019)
Box office total: $195,200,000
Starring Taron Egerton as the iconic British singer-songwriter, fantasy musical” Rocketman blends traditional biopic storytelling with fantastic sequences soundtracked by some of Elton’s most famous songs. It historically became the first major Hollywood production to include a gay male sex scene, and missed the $200,000,000 mark by just five million dollars. Egerton received critical acclaim for his performance, winning the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy, and was nominated in the Best Original Song category at the 92nd Academy Awards for (I’m Gonna) Love Me Again.
Box office total: $206,678,440
Tom Hanks earned his first of two Academy Awards for his performance in Philadelphia as Andrew “Andy” Beckett, a closeted gay man who hides his AIDS status from his co-workers at a prestigious corporate law firm. The film is noted for being one of the first mainstream Hollywood films to acknowledge HIV/AIDS, homosexuality, and homophobia. It was a huge box office success, grossing over 200 million. Adjusted for inflation, it would rank as the second highest-grossing LGBTQ film in history.
2. The Imitation Game (2014)
Box office total: $233,555,708
Based on the life of British cryptanalyst Alan Turing, The Imitation Game became a massive success at the box office and was lauded for Benedict Cumberbatch’s lead performance. It earned eight nominations at the 87th Academy Awards (winning for Best Adapted Screenplay). Although it was praised for bringing Turing’s legacy to a wider audience, the film was heavily criticised for downplaying his homosexuality.
1. Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)
Box office total: $903,655,259
When it was announced that the long-delayed biopic of legendary rock band Queen and their iconic frontman Freddie Mercury would finally be made, fans were naturally concerned over whether the film would get everything right. Fortunately, for the most part, the film delivered on its promise. Some criticised the way Freddie’s sexuality was presented – we even took a deep dive into this ourselves – and were disappointed that the film wasn’t a warts-and-all look into the life of Freddie. But then, realistically, it never was going to be that. What it does do is provide a damn good time for viewers and fans of Queen’s legacy, and remind the world that an unapologetically queer person of colour is responsible for some of the most beloved music in history. It became the highest-grossing biopic with a worldwide box office total of over 900 million, therefore securing its place as the most financially-successful LGBTQ film of all time.