Screening Room

11 cinematic breakthroughs that celebrate coming out everywhere

October 11 marks National Coming Out Day. From military to marriage equality, personal coming out narratives was almost universally the key strategy behind the progress.

Not surprisingly, those groundbreaking narratives lent themselves easily to the big screen, which help project them into the nation and even international consciousness. So in honor of National Coming Out day, we’ve assembled this list of great coming out films. These have a vintage feel to the modern eye, perhaps because in the world of streaming video LGBTQ characters are the rule rather than the exception.

These eleven films span the decades and the spectrum of queer folk, but nevertheless reinforce a truth we share: it gets stuffy in the closet.

1. Making Love

Hollywood itself came out with this tender 1982 drama. Harry Hamlin plays an out writer that falls for a closeted, married man, played by Michael Ontkean. Director Arthur Hiller, working from a script by out-screenwriter Barry Sandler, handles the coming out scenes with surprising thoughtfulness. Scenes of the two men at their hunkiest add a bonus.

2. Normal

Before Transparent made transgenderism into the subject of a successful comedy, HBO supplied Normal. In the movie, Tom Wilkinson plays Ruth, a middle-aged man that comes out as a transgender woman. The movie covers Ruth’s transition and coming out with sweetness and accuracy. If the sight of a cisgender man playing a transgender woman seems insensitive, rest assured that Tom Wilkinson delivers a sincere, respectful performance as Ruth, as does his on-screen wife Jessica Lange.

Related: ‘Making Love’ celebrates 35 years. Barry Sandler muses on how far cinema has come.

3. Beautiful Thing

The British produced this charming and romantic coming out story back in 1996. The main story of two teenage boys named Jamie & Ste in love will no doubt warm hearts, though much of the real fun of the movie comes from supporting characters like Leah, a Mama Cass-obsessed friend of Jamie’s, and Sandra, as his hard-drinking protective mother.

4. The Haunting

What, you may ask? The horror masterpiece from director Robert Wise gets remembered as a thriller classic, and for a startling performance by actress Julie Harris as psychic investigator, Nell. What often goes overlooked, however, is the matter-of-fact way the character Theodora (played by Claire Bloom) comes out as a lesbian. That the movie also hints at a possible romance between Nell and Theo, makes it a classic indeed.

5. Bound

The Wachowski sisters (back when they were known as the Wachowski brothers) wrote and directed this noir thriller about two girls in love. Gina Gershon plays Corky, a lesbian plumber seduced by Violet (Jennifer Tilly), a mobster’s girlfriend. After an intense romance—and some very sexy love scenes—the two hatch a plan to liberate Violet and make off with $2 million.

6. In & Out

Queer writer Paul Rudnick penned this hit comedy from the 1990s, which features Kevin Kline as a High School teacher trying to assure everyone he isn’t gay. With scene stealing performances by Joan Cusack, Debbie Reynolds and, of all people, Tom Sellick (as a gay news reporter), the movie provides some very big laughs and a twist as funny as it is sweet.

7. Moonlight

You knew it was coming! This year’s Best Picture Oscar winner tells a coming out story of a different kind. The movie follows the life of Chiron, son of a cracked-out mother growing up in Miami. Chiron falls for his friend Kevin, and the two have a romance that spans decades with muted tenderness and a near-voyeuristic realism.

8. Kissing Jessica Stein

The movie that could have been titled “The Good Bi Girls,” Kissing Jessica Stein follows a New York City romance between the unlucky-in-love writer Jessica, and the free-spirit artist Helen. The film features one of the best coming out scenes ever in the movies, between Jessica and her mom. Big gay bonus: keen eyes will spot a cameo by Idina Menzel as a bridesmaid.

9. The Wedding Banquet

Before he changed cinema with Brokeback Mountain, director Ang Lee made this comedy about an Asian man marrying for US citizenship so he can stay with his male partner. Ultimately a story about familial love, The Wedding Banquet may not have the reputation of Brokeback Mountain, but in its own way, it’s just as important and tender.

10. Far From Heaven

Queer director Todd Haynes made this film in the style of a 1950s melodrama about a husband (Dennis Quaid) having an affair with a man, and his wife (Julianne Moore) who falls in love with their African-American gardener. The movie shatters the nostalgia for the 1950s as a sort of American paradise, and reminds us all that heaven is where we make it.

11. Esteros

Call it leading by example. In the Argentine film Esteros, grown scientist Mattias crosses paths with his childhood friend, an out movie special effects artist named Jeronimo. Their reunion–and the reminder of an affair they had as adolescents–awakens deep, repressed feelings within the anxious Mattias, complicated all the more by the presence of his girlfriend. Less a tale of romance than one of self-awareness, Esteros captures the feelings of liberation and frustration so many queer folk feel when coming out.

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10 Comments

  • KaiserVonScheiss

    And Get Real isn’t on the list… ERROR! ERROR!

    • DarkZephyr

      Loved that one when it first came out. Although it was still from the era of gay films ending crappily, but over all I did love it.

    • jjose712

      I loved Get real (even more than Beautiful thing, and i really liked Beautiful thing)

    • Terrycloth

      I bought get real ..Tori Spelling ruined it for me she never shut up obnoxious thing…Story was good otherwise.

  • Artiewhitefox

    The homosexuals are free. Christ in people is setting the gay free, Don’t forger et the other sexuality names including people who love another species. White fang is zoophila like with the main character wanting to stay in Alaska not so much to search for Gold. He wanted to be with White fang.

    • AllanSum

      Nurse, she’s out of bed again!

    • Ander

      If she can just be *good* for two more hours, she can have a pudding snack out in the solarium.

  • Artiewhitefox

    The homosexuals are free. Christ in people is setting the gay free, Don’t forger the other sexuality names including people who love another species. White fang is zoophila like with the main character wanting to stay in Alaska not so much to search for Gold. He wanted to be with White fang

    • AllanSum

      Could someone call Matron?! She’s agitating the other patients.

  • Stevenw

    ERROR! ERROR! The Asian man *isn’t* marrying for US citizenship, but to placate his parents.

    His wife is the one marrying for the green card.

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