Film fans still have a few more days before Friday’s theatrical release of Bros, “the first gay rom-com ever made by a major studio.” But luckily, gay cinema is filled with other rom-coms that paved the way.
While even gay rom-coms uphold problematic notions of heteronormative monogamy and physical attractiveness, these films were also a welcome break from the gloomy narratives about homophobia and HIV that marked the start of gay mainstream cinema. They also gave gay viewers a chance to laugh at the community’s quirks while also seeing themselves falling happily in love.
Frightened by the HIV epidemic, Jeffrey completely swears off sex. Of course, he then meets a total hunk named Steve. This film adaptation of on Paul Rudnick’s 1992 Off-Off-Broadway play is fast-moving and funny. It features Nathan Lane and Patrick Stewart playing flamboyant comedic roles, and it’s also one of very few gay comedies about HIV. Other such films include the 1986 Steve Buscemi flick Parting Glances, the 1993 Canadian musical Zero Patience, and the 1996 bandit caper Red Ribbon Blues (featuring RuPaul).
Beautiful Thing (1996)
This film adaptation of Jonathan Harvey’s 1993 play has equal parts drama and comedy as it depicts a sweet romance blossoming between Jamie and Ste, two bullied teens growing up in a South London slum. It features a terrific cast of three-dimensional characters, heartfelt moments of true vulnerability, an incredibly hot makeout scene, and a hilarious performance by Tameka Empson, who plays a sassy, drug-using neighbor who’s totally obsessed with Mama Cass.
Billy’s Hollywood Screen Kiss (1998)
Before Sean Hayes ever played the flamboyant Jack on Will & Grace, he played an understated and somewhat butch photographer in Los Angeles who flirting with his handsome and questionably straight model. This stylish indie film came out around the same time as bigger-budget mainstream flicks, like The Birdcage and In & Out, but it differs from other rom-coms in that it also emphasizes the benefits and necessity of self-love.
It’s easy to see why people love this light-hearted film about a baby-faced New Yorker who spends a night searching with a hot go-go dancer for a place where they can get bizzay. The leads are boyishly hot, Tori Spelling charms as a somewhat self-involved best-friend, and Miss Coco Peru’s monologue about getting spunk in her eye during a bad hookup is cinematic gold.
The Broken Hearts Club (2000)
This tale of close-knit softball teammates seeking love in West Hollywood features a young well-known cast, including Zach Braff as a party boy, Dean Cain as a vain sexpot, Billy Porter as a freshly heartbroken beau, and the now-deceased John Mahoney as a sweet-hearted restauranteur. The film’s gay director Greg Berlanti went on to marry out soccer pro Robbie Rogers and then direct the very queer-inclusive DC Comics “Arrowverse” for The CW network as well as Love, Simon (another film in this list).
Noah’s Arc: Jumping the Broom (2008)
The groundbreaking Black gay romance series Noah’s Arc wrapped up with this film which follows the unraveling relationships of Noah and his three besties during the weekend of his wintertime wedding in Martha’s Vineyard. While the film is a bit politically heavy-handed and leans on comic misunderstandings, actors Rodney Chester and Jason Steed bring genuine laughter to what’s possibly the only gay rom-com exclusively about Black men.
Make the Yuletide Gay (2009)
When Gunn, a closeted college student, returns to his parents’ home for the holidays, the unexpected arrival of his out boyfriend Nathan complicates his Christmas plans. This film predates Hallmark’s and Lifetime’s recent release of LGBTQ-themed holiday flicks by nearly a decade. It also has its heart in the right place, even if it feels a bit over-sentimental and stiffly acted.
Date and Switch (2014)
Date and Switch offers a playful, bro-y twist on the rom-com genre with its tale of two male high school besties whose friendship hits the rocks after one of them comes out as gay. Michael wants to be supportive of Matty’s newfound gay life, but then both start dating people that the other objects to. While the result is uneven and avoids a deeper, messier exploration of shifting teenage relationships, its heartfelt moments shine through.
Alex Strangelove (2018)
High school student Alex Truelove feels torn between his ideal (and rather horny) girlfriend Claire and Elliott, a charming gay teen who wants to get closer. The resulting comedy accurately captures the anxiety of teenage sexual awakening. There are also enough funny daydream sequences and hilarious bits of gross-out humor to keep things from getting too sentimental.
Love, Simon (2018)
The first gay teen rom-com to be released by a major Hollywood studio, this adaptation of a 2015 young adult novel follows Simon, a closeted gay teen who is blackmailed by an awkward straight classmate into manipulating his friends’ romances. The script does a good job of not making a complete villain out of anybody, but sticks to typical rom-com tropes, even as the character’s shady dealings come to light.
Fire Island (2022)
Apart from being a monumental step forward for gaysian representation, this smart adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice delivers jaw-dropping laughs and blisteringly accurate depictions of gay racism and body-shaming. The male romantic leads are a total DRAMA — it’s Austen, after all — and the Black plus-size character doesn’t get his due, but Margaret Cho and her fellow castmates bring plenty of humor and heart to the long-historied gay vacationland.