blockbuster or bust?

These are the Top 10 highest-grossing LGBTQ+ films of all time—but how gay are they, really?

Photo Credits, left to right: ‘The Birdcage’ (MGM), ‘Brokeback Mountain‘ (Focus Features), ‘The Talented Mr. Ripley’ (Paramount Pictures)

After Brosdisappointing box office numbers last year, we couldn’t help but wonder: What queer films could be considered blockbusters?

Thankfully, there’s a place dedicated to answering questions just like this: Box Office Mojo. Among their pages and pages of movie-nerd information, the website hosts a ranking of the top-earning theatrical features under the genre keyword “LGBTQ Themes.”

Now, what does it take for a film to be considered to include “LGBTQ Themes?” Well, that’s a bit more difficult to answer, but perusing this fascinating list tells us that it’s all pretty loosey-goosey. Some of these films are unquestionably queer classics, and others? Well… not so much. (Frankly, it’s all the more reason to get out to theaters and support proudly queer films like Bros!)

In any event, we decided to take a closer look at the 10 highest-earning (so-called) LGBTQ+ films and figure out: Just how gay are they, really?

*And, just to clarify, the data discussed below is based on total lifetime gross from U.S. box office numbers, not adjusted for inflation, as reported by Box Office Mojo.

10. The Crying Game: $62,548,947

Released November 27, 1992. Woof, what a way to start. Lauded playwright Neil Jordan writes and directs this political thriller that’s perhaps best remembered for its—spoiler alert—reveal that the protagonist’s love interest is transgender. It was the early ’90s, and there’s something to be said about The Crying Game‘s then-radical portrayal of a trans woman as a multi-dimensional human being, but the problematic moment casts a shadow over this otherwise competently made thriller. It’s certainly not the best representation of LGBTQ Themes.

Related: ‘The Crying Game:’ classic queer cinema or transphobic?

9. In & Out: $63, 856,929

Released September 19, 1997. Twenty-five years before Bros, a major studio released this gay rom-com about a teacher accidentally outed by a former student, which throws his wedding plans into disarray and sends him on a journey of self-acceptance. Sure, the lead is played by a straight man (Kevin Kline), and yes the film relies on a whole host of easy stereotypes, but In & Out really does walk the walk and gives its protagonist the big, gay happy ending he deserves.

8. Philadelphia: $77,446,440

Released December 24, 1993. Often referenced as one of the first major Hollywood films to touch on homophobia and the AIDS epidemic, this capital-I “Important” legal drama from Jonathan Demme treats its gay characters with respect and humanity, even as it delves into its often hard-to-swallow subject matter. Of course, here’s another one with straights playing gay—Tom Hanks won Best Actor, inspiring the long-held belief that going gay-for-pay is surefire Oscar bait.

Related: ‘Philadelphia’ at 25: Ron Nyswaner reflects on the movie that changed America

7. The Talented Mr Ripley: $81,298,265

Released December 25, 1999. Matt Damon’s Tom Ripley isn’t the most exemplary gay protagonist, but his disarming performance does anchor this exceptionally good psychological thriller (one of the best films of the ’90s, if you ask us). Based on Patricia Highsmith’s novels, the Anthony Minghella-directed film nails the homoeroticism and queer desire at the heart of the Ripley stories, even if it doesn’t quite make it explicit.

6. Brokeback Mountain: $83,043,761

Released December 9, 2005. Much like Philadelphia before it, Brokeback Mountain‘s success—especially at the Oscars, where it racked up 8 nominations—has made it a flashpoint for queer cinema’s movement into the mainstream. With hot young stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger (both straight—sensing a trend?) as the ill-fated lovers, Ang Lee’s heartsick drama deserves credit for not holding back and showing us that these two “cowboys” shared an intense physical connection.

Related: Still can’t quit: A brief history of Jake Gyllenhaal’s comments on ‘Brokeback Mountain’

5. The Imitation Game: $91,125,683

Released November 28, 2014. You don’t get much more “Oscar Bait” than the biopic The Imitation Game. Benedict Cumberbatch was Oscar-nominated for his performance as Alan Turing, the gay cryptanalyst who invented an early computer during World War II. But the film was widely criticized for downplaying Turing’s homosexuality, instead investing more time in his relationship with former fiancé Joan Clarke.

4. Rocketman: $96,368,160

Released May 31, 2019. The most recent film on the list, Rocketman came hot on the heels of another gay music biopic (that we’ll touch on in a second), but fared a bit better in terms of telling the story of queer trailblazing musician Elton John. Much can be said of the way the film connects John’s homosexuality with his career-damaging hard partying ways, but Rocketman does at least allow the icon to be loudly, defiantly gay. Plus it’s pretty much a musical, and that? Is gay rights.

3. Interview With The Vampire: $105,264,608

Released November 11, 1994. The queer subtext of this vampire flick is loud and clear if you’re looking for it, but can we really say this one has LGBTQ themes? There’s the right amount of sexual tension between Tom Cruise’s Lestat and Brad Pitt’s Louis to keep your blood pressure up, but not enough that anyone involved couldn’t deny it. Still, it does feel pretty progressive for a mid-’90s movie, and we can’t complain too much given the fact that AMC’s new take on the material is explicitly, sexily queer.

2. The Birdcage: $124,060,553

Released March 8, 1996. We’ve got nothing but love for The Birdcage, the ’90s comedy that dared to put a queer family front-and-center and rarely made its gay characters the butts of the jokes—we were laughing with them, not at them! Nathan Lane (gay) and Robin Williams (straight, but we’ll allow it)—both at the top of their game—are endearing and entirely believable as longtime partners. And The Birdcage‘s astounding box office success (it was the 7th highest grossing film of the year), proves that there is a massive audience out there eager to watch and laugh along with queer stories.

Related: Celebrating 25 years: ‘The Birdcage’ is still queer comedy at its best

1. Bohemian Rhapsody: $216,428,042

Released November 2, 2018. Cashing in with a box office total of nearly $100 million more than anything else on this list, Bohemian Rhapsody was an unmitigated blockbuster success. It’s also fairly depressing that this is our #1 LGBTQ-themed film considering how much more gay it could’ve been. Queen is one of the most successful rock bands of all time, and its frontman Freddie Mercury one of the most prominent queer stars in music history, and yet the film (like the other biopics on his list) downplayed and de-centralized his sexuality as much as possible. It’s not that Mercury’s queerness isn’t brought up—there’s a pretty emotional coming-out scene—but Bohemian Rhapsody feels afraid to address and embrace it in any real way.