Dating back to Different From the Others in 1917, queer storytelling has always had a vital place in the world of movies.
However, all too often, the experiences, perspectives and even presence of queer people is erased outright.
This trend extends to the modern-day world, particularly in the world of blockbuster cinema.
Big-budget fare may have room for Wookiees and Vulcans, but it’s rarely had room for explicitly queer characters.
In recent years, several blockbusters have attempted to correct this issue with varying degrees of success.
This piece will examine these forays into inclusivity and examine how they either succeed or fail in bringing in queer perspectives into the world of blockbuster filmmaking.
There is some critical criteria to be included on this list.
To qualify for this list, the movie must be released after January 1, 2015 and carry at least a $75 million budget.
Also, no characters retroactively coded as gay or only made queer in supplemental material are included in this list.
This is why Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) from Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, for example, isn’t on this list.
Finally, the titles on this list are ranked from best to worst.
Let’s now begin this list, starting with one of the most recent entries.
Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) & Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), Birds of Prey
One of the many delightful charms of Birds of Prey is it embraces queerness in a way many comic book movies couldn’t even imagine.
An opening prologue revealing that Harley Quinn previously had a relationship with a woman establishes this trait right away.
Subsequently, viewers meet Renee Montoya, a Gotham City police officer who previously had a relationship with Ellen Yee (Ali Wong).
Both Quinn and Montoya get to have lead roles in the movie detached from stereotypes of queer female characters.
Quinn’s presence is especially interesting because her status as a sexually fluid person isn’t challenged despite her having recently had a relationship with a man.
This is something adult dramas struggle to deal with, so a DC Comics movie so deftly displaying this trait is impressive.
Meanwhile, the costumes of the films lead characters, particularly Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), are meant to appeal to a queer female gaze.
Birds of Prey doesn’t just make room for queer characters in small one-line roles.
It’s a film starring queer characters and plastered in a queer aesthetic.
Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand), Deadpool 2
With the second Deadpool movie, supporting character Negasonic Teenage Warhead got to take on extra dimensions.
Specifically, the character was shown to have a girlfriend in the form of fellow mutant Yukio (Shiori Kutsuna).
The first explicit same-sex relationship in a superhero movie, Negason and Yukio did not have a prominent role to play in Deadpool 2.
The duo did not even get to participate in the films climactic battle, they only appear once the majority of the fighting is finished.
However, the film did subvert some standards of how queer women are handled in genre films.
Most notably, the characters and their interactions are never framed in a way that’s meant to titillate the male gaze.
Instead, Negasonic Teenage Warhead and Yukio are allowed to be their own characters, ones who are allowed to be as violent and over-the-top as the heterosexual leads.
Their relationship also isn’t played for mockery as Lesbian couples so often are in mainstream cinema.
While far from perfect, Deadpool 2’s handling of queer characters is a significant step up from how other blockbusters have handled LGBTQIA+ characters.
Hikaru Sulu (John Cho), Star Trek Beyond
Read more: Tenet IMAX Review
With the third instalment in the Kelvin trilogy of Star Trek films, Hikaru Sulu was revealed to be gay.
A short scene in Star Trek Beyond’s first act see’s Sulu being greeted by, and subsequently holding hands with, his husband.
Per The Herald Sun, the choice was made by the filmmakers as a homage to original Sulu actor and LGBTQIA+ activist George Takei.
Screenwriter Simon Pegg also told The Guardian that he felt “the most inclusive, tolerant universe in science fiction” needed to have proper queer representation.
While the intent behind this move was noble, the execution left something to be desired.
Sulu’s sexuality is depicted in such a throwaway fashion that it was easily cut out of international versions of Star Trek Beyond.
In 2016, queer and heterosexual fans of Star Trek alike deserved more prominent and thoughtful queer representation.
Trini Kwan (Becky G), Power Rangers
Read more: Le Mans 66 Review
Considering that the 2017 Power Rangers film had room for gigantic golden beasties and robotic dinosaurs, how could it not also find room for an LGBTQIA+ superhero?
Such a figure emerged in Trini Kwan, a teenage girl who took on the identity of the Yellow Ranger and whose struggling with a difficult home life.
These struggles are briefly explored in a campfire talk where all the Rangers vent about their problems.
This resulted in a reference to Trini having “girl troubles”, which is implied to be the reason for a barrier forming between Trini and her parents.
While the attempt at inclusivity is welcome, the throwaway nature of Trini’s sexuality is far less so.
Having Trini’s sexuality be solely explored as a source of domestic friction is also troublesome.
Like many of the films on this list, Power Rangers can’t seem to conceive of queer characters reflecting their sexuality in ways that aren’t morose.
Pedro Peña (Jovan Armand), Shazam!
Read more: The Old Guard Review
In Shazam!, foster child Bill Batson has a whole array of foster siblings.
One of them is Pedro Peña, a largely shy child who doesn’t speak very much.
One of his few lines comes after Batson and his siblings inadvertently wind up in a strip club featuring female performers.
After walking out, Peña looks back at the locale, shrugs and remarks “Not my thing.”
This one line was apparently meant by the filmmakers of Shazam! as an indicator that Peña was gay.
“Don’t want to put spoilers [out there] or anything,” Shazam! director David F. Sandberg told PinkNews. “But I think you will see one sooner rather than later.”
Peña’s withdrawn personality doesn’t adhere to any sort of gay stereotypes and it’s a welcome sight to see him being an active participant in the films action-packed climax.
However, Shazam! is yet another example of a blockbuster delivering one throwaway line of ambiguous dialogue and considering it valid queer representation.
Dialogue tap-dancing around a critical part of a characters personality, like the “Not my thing” line in Shazam!, is not good enough when it comes to on-screen depictions of queerness.
Therapy Session Guy (Joe Russo), Avengers: Endgame
Read more: Project Power Review
The biggest Marvel Cinematic Universe movie also delivered the franchises first explicitly queer character.
This figure emerged in the form of Grieving Man, who appears in a group therapy session for people coping with the recent loss of half of all life on Earth.
This individual recalls how he broke down crying while on a recent date with another man.
Unlike other queer blockbuster characters, this character’s dialogue makes it explicit that he’s queer.
Being a queer man is also a welcome development given how often comic book fare only recognizes queerness in women who can appeal to the male gaze.
However, the problems with this character can be summed up with how he doesn’t even get a name.
It’s still just a throwaway role that comes and goes quickly.
While it’s a step up from past MCU depictions of queerness, that’s only because queerness has been entirely absent from the franchise up to this point.
Avengers: Endgame’s disposable queer character reaffirms how the Marvel Cinematic Universe has more room for talking raccoons than it does members of the LGBTQIA+ community.
Dan Lope (Demian Bichir), Alien: Covenant
In Alien: Covenant, a group of couples begin a voyage to a new planet in the hopes of starting a new civilization.
Among these couples is Dan Lope and his husband Tom Hallett (Nathaniel Dean).
It’s a welcome sign that Alien: Covenant recognizes that couples can emerge in a variety of forms.
However, the lacklustre screenwriting of Alien: Covenant ends up undercutting Lope as a character.
He’s never given much of a distinctive personality before the aliens start attacking everybody.
Things don’t get much better once the sci-fi carnage begins.
Here, Lope becomes just another piece of cannon fodder.
Worse, his actual relationship to Hallett is also left confusingly ambiguous in Covenant’s theatrical cut.
An internet-exclusive prologue entitled Last Supper showed the two being openly affectionate with one another.
However, they’re rarely shown mingling at all, either romantically or casually, in Alien: Covenant.
Only Lope clutching Hallett’s dogtags in despair after Hallett perishes hints at the two being a couple.
Alien: Covenant may be comfortable with buckets of gore, but it’s far less comfortable with giving any kind of depth to its only same-sex characters.
Richie Tozer (Bill Hader), It: Chapter 2
It: Chapter 2 arrived in theatres with an R-rating and a relatively low $79 million budget.
This would seem to be good news for It: Chapter 2’s most prominent queer character, the now grown-up Richie Tozer.
With its MPA rating and budget, It: Chapter 2 could have more freedom to explore the sexuality of its gay character compared to many of the big-budget films on this list.
However, while writer/director Andy Muscheitti has claimed he always intended for Tozer to be queer, the execution of this detail is clumsy.
Tozer being gay and his romantic feelings for the now deceased Eddie Kaspbrack are dealt with more in terms of suggestion via taunts from Pennywise the clown rather than as something more explicit.
Whether intentional or not, the subdued execution doesn’t come off as a side effect of thoughtfully exploring this side of Tozer.
Rather, it feels more like Muscheitti and company not wanting to alienate homophobic viewers.
The only time queerness is explicitly dealt with in It: Chapter 2 is the films opening scene, which depicts the character of Adrian Mellon (Xavier Dolan).
Mellon is attacked as part of a homophobic hate crime before being devoured by Pennywise.
At least Mellon gets to be explicitly queer before perishing in a traditional horror movie demise.
Tozer’s sexuality, meanwhile, is handled in a far more underwhelming fashion.
Commander Larma D’Acy (Amanda Lawrence) and Wrobie Tyce, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
“In the case of the LGBTQ community, it was important to me that people who go to see this movie feel that they’re being represented in the film,” J.J. Abrams said to Variety in December 2019.
He was referencing a brief kiss between Larma D’Acy and Wrobie Tyce in the background of a shot in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.
Abrams did end up fulfilling his hopes of representing LGBTQIA+ people…in terms of representing how members of this group are usually cast aside by society.
The first on-screen depiction of same-sex attraction in the live-action Star Wars films came as a background detail between two characters the audience barely knew.
D’Acy only has one line of dialogue in the entire movie.
A jar full of Snoke clones got more screentime than the first explicitly queer Star Wars characters.
Abrams intended this moment to be a reaffirming one for the LGBTQIA+ community.
Instead, it was a creative decision best summed up by a Mashable headline: “Star Wars’ Gay Moment Is A Reminder of How Far We Haven’t Come”
Le Fou (Josh Gad), Beauty and the Beast
With the live-action Beauty and the Beast movie, Disney delivered its most prominent queer character up to that point.
Unfortunately, it was in the form of Gaston’s sidekick, Le Fou.
Despite pre-release hullabaloo over his sexuality, Le Fou’s only explicitly queer behaviour was briefly dancing with a man in the climax.
Le Fou’s behaviour and mannerisms throughout the film makes use of troubling flamboyant stereotypes associated with gay men.
In the right hands, such a performance could have been interesting or at least amusing.
Unfortunately, this version of Le Fou was made all more uncomfortable given that it was delivered in a broad performance by heterosexual actor Josh Gad.
Disney has been guilty of numerous instances of lazy attempts at queer representation in their films in recent years.
However, the 2017 version of Le Fou is the most egregious given how he adheres to troubling stereotypes and is brought to life through such a grating performance.
What do you make of this article?
Which are your favourite gay characters in modern blockbusters?
Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.
And if you enjoy listening to film podcasts, why not check out Small Screen Radio wherever you get your podcasts!