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Here Are The Top Grossing Lesbian Films, in Honor of “Circumstance”

Here Are The Top Grossing Lesbian Films, in Honor of "Circumstance"

indieWIRE has a new weekend feature: A retrospective box office chart, based on one of the top indie titles opening this weekend. Today, iW is taking a look at the track record of lesbian dramas, in honor of “Circumstance,” Maryam Keshavarz’s Iran-set drama about a young woman rebelling against archaic cultural norms in her sexual relationship with someone of the same sex.

Listed below are the top 10 grossing lesbian or bisexual female-themed films of all time, without adjusting for inflation. If you look at the top grossing films featuring queer themes more generally, lesbian content makes up a unsettling three of the top 30 grossers (“The Hours,” “Monster,” “The Kids Are All Right”). More over, two of those three feature prominent lesbian characters that are far from emotionally stable, with “Monster”‘s serial killing Aileen Wuornos clearly taking that particular cake (not that there isn’t a need for emotionally unstable lesbians in film, it just would be nice if there was more of a balance).

In fact, the actual list of the top grossing lesbian films is more than anything indicative of how sorry the state of lesbian representation in cinema has been. Besides the fact that so few have even been made, they often feature characters experimenting or unconfident with their lesbianism, and even more often are portrayed by ultra-feminine actresses with considerable sex appeal.

Here’s the overall top ten; figures are for North America only and not adjusted for inflation. The list does not include films that feature bisexual women as lead characters in which their primary relationship in the film is with a man (or else “Frida” and “Chasing Amy” would have made the list… though some might question included examples of “The Hunger” and “Mulholland Drive” in this regard). If an oversight has occurred, kindly let iW know.

1. The Hours (2002) – $41,675,994
2. Monster (2003) – $34,469,210
3. The Kids Are All Right (2010) – $20,811,365
4. Mulholland Drive (2001) – $7,220,243
5. Kissing Jessica Stein (2002) – $7,025,722
6. The Hunger (1983) – $5,979,292
7. Personal Best (1982) – $5,672,311
8. Three of Hearts (1993) – $5,495,507
9. Bound (1996) – $3,802,260
10. Heavenly Creatures (1994) – $3,049,135

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Girl Interruptus

How many of these “lesbian” films are actually stories about bi-sexual women? If two female characters prefer intimacy only with their same sex, and roll the hay only with their same sex, then they are homosexual beings and lesbian stories. However, when the main “lesbian” character rides off into the sunset with a guy, the lesbian film category is left in the dust. “Desert Hearts” is still the example by which all lesbian genre films are held up to: no one is mentally wacked, none of the “lesbians” toy-around with men, sexual intimacy isn’t obscured with low lighting and fade outs, and the two main lesbian characters prefer each other during the length of their story and at the ending.


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bob hawk

DESERT HEARTS — with a final cume of $2,492,088 for a 1985 film — would surely be way up there if this was adjusted for inflation. I’ve watched many a lesbian film on the giant Castro screen in S.F. (with up to 1,500 people) and no other such film in my experience provoked such a palpable sense of heart-stopping silence and, well . . . cosmic/collective wetness.

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