Call Me By Your Name didn’t exactly set the box office on fire…
When we conducted research for our article highlighting the ten highest-grossing LGBTQ films in history, we were shocked to discover the low box office totals for some of our favourites such as Carol, Moonlight and Call Me By Your Name.
We wouldn’t call them financial disasters, because most of these films made back their budgets and received accolades at the Academy Awards, but with the amount of acclaim and love from fans and critics, they should’ve made a lot more money.
We’ve rounded up eight legendary queer films that should’ve – in our opinion – slayed the box office a little bit harder.
The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994)
Box office total: $29,000,000
Cast: Terence Stamp, Hugo Weaving, Guy Pearce, Bill Hunter, Sarah Chadwick
Two drag queens, Anthony (Weaving) and Adam (Pearce) and transgender woman Bernadette (Stamp) travel across the Australian desert in Priscilla (a silver tour bus) to perform a drag show in Alice Springs. Along the way, they encounter a number of obstacles, including homophobic abuse, violence and some other nice stuff. It’s an absolute classic and is still referenced 25 years after release, yet it grossed under $30,000,000 at the worldwide box office.
Call Me By Your Name (2017)
Box office total: $41,887,595
Cast: Armie Hammer, Timothée Chalet, Michael Stuhlbarg, Amira Casar, Esther Garrel
We couldn’t create a list like this without featuring Call Me By Your Name. In just a couple of years, it’s become one of the most beloved gay films of all time thanks to the charisma between its two leads and melancholy soundtrack. For all the criticism it’s faced – whether it’s the age gap, or the fact that it’s set in the 1980s and doesn’t address the AIDS crisis – the themes of first love, heartbreak, and the intense emotions queer young adults feel when becoming who they’re meant to be are relatable for everyone. Despite its dedicated fanbase and multiple Oscar nominations, it failed to light up the box office.
Box office total: $40,272,135
Cast: Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Sarah Paulson, Jake Lacy, Kyle Chandler, John Magaro, Cory Michael Smith
Set in the 1950s, Carol stars Cate Blanchett as an older woman navigating a difficult divorce who embarks on a forbidden affair with an aspiring female photographer (Mara). Blanchett won universal acclaim for her performance, ultimately earning nominations at the Academy Awards, Golden Globes, BAFTAs, Critics Choice Movie Awards and Screen Actors Guild Awards. However, acclaim didn’t translate into box office for this one either. You could argue that the underperformance of other entries on this list are because of the time they were released, or the lack of star power, but Carol had Cate Blanchett, two-time Academy Award-winning actress.
Love, Simon (2018)
Box office total: $66,316,289
Cast: Nick Robison, Jennifer Garner, Josh Duhamel, Katherine Langford, Alexandra Shipp, Jorge Lendeborg Jr, Keiynan Lonsdale
Love, Simon became the first film by a major Hollywood studio to focus on a same-sex teen romance when it was released in 2018, making history and receiving acclaim from viewers and critics. It also feels groundbreaking for being a feel-good queer romance. Sure, there are the usual trials and tribulations teens go through – in addition to a great portrayal of the difficulty that is coming out – but ultimately friendship and love win out. Seeing as how the film was a historic moment for LGBTQ cinema, we expected the gays to flock in hordes to see it, so $66 million feels a tad underwhelming.
Box office total: $54,586,584
Cast: Sean Penn, Emile Hirsch, Josh Brolin, Diego Luna, James Franco, Alison Pill, Victor Garber, Denis O’Hare
Gay rights activist and politician Harvey Milk, who became the first openly gay person to be elected to public office in California, is portrayed by Penn in this critically-lauded biopic. The film received eight Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, winning two for Best Actor in a Leading Role for Penn and Best Original Screenplay for Dustin Lance Black, so $54,000,000… We expected more?
Box office total: $65,046,687
Cast: Trevante Rhodes, André Holland, Naomie Harris, Janelle Monáe, Mahershala Ali
Moonlight is a queer coming-of-age tale that charts the life of a disenfranchised African-American man in poverty-stricken Miami. It’s an emotional rollercoaster for any viewer, but especially anyone who’s struggled to accept themselves for who they really are. Most importantly, it offered a rare chance for black gay men to see themselves reflect on screen. It became the first film with an all-black cast and the first LGBTQ-related film to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards, but also the second lowest-grossing film domestically.
My Beautiful Laundrette (1985)
Box office total: $2,451,545
Cast: Gordon Warnecke, Daniel Day-Lewis, Saeed Jaffrey, Roshan Seth, Derrick Branche
Before there was Call Me By Your Name, Moonlight and Brokeback Mountain, there was My Beautiful Laundrette. The film, which was nominated for an Academy Award and a BAFTA, explores the complex relationships between Pakistani and English communities in the Thatcher years, and follows the romantic relationship between Omar (Warnecke) and street punk Johnny (Day-Lewis) as they become joint managers of a family-owned laundrette in London. It only garnered $2.4 million – worldwide.
To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar (1995)
Box office total: $47,774,193
Cast: Wesley Snipes, Patrick Swayze, John Leguizamo, Stockard Channing, RuPaul, Blythe Danner
The legendary American comedy stars Patrick Swayze, Wesley Snipes and John Leguizamo as Vida, Noxeema, and Chi-Chi, three New York City drag queens who embark on a road trip for the Drag Queen finals in Hollywood. During the journey, their car breaks down, leaving them stranded in a small town. Swayze and Leguizamo were nominated for Golden Globe Awards for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor, and despite its measly 41% approval rating and lack of box office success, it has become a cult favourite.