Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...

Qu(e)eries: Why Don't LGBT Movies Make Money At The Box Office Anymore?

Photo of Peter Knegt By Peter Knegt | Indiewire August 14, 2013 at 1:07PM

It is indeed rare for a film to feature lead gay or lesbian characters -- as "I'm So Excited" does -- to cross the $1 million mark, at least these days.
37
"I'm So Excited"
"I'm So Excited"

Last week, Pedro Almodovar's "I'm So Excited" crossed the $1 million mark in North America. That's not so exciting as far as Almodovar films go -- every one of them has crossed that milestone since 1988's "Women On The Verge of a Nervous Breakdown" (most of them going on to make considerably more).  But it is indeed rare for a film to feature lead gay or lesbian characters -- as "Excited" does -- to cross that mark, at least these days. 

"I'm So Excited" is the first film with a primary gay or lesbian character to gross $1 million since last summer's "Farewell My Queen" (which portrays Marie Antoinette as a lesbian), which grossed just over $1.3 million.  It's also only the fifth film to do so since 2010, following "Farewell," "The Kids Are All Right," "La Mission" and "I Love You, Phillip Morris." One could arguably also include "The Perks of Being a Wallflower," "Your Sister's Sister" and "Beginners," though in all three cases the LGBT characters (played by Ezra Miller, Rosemarie DeWitt and Christopher Plummer, respectively) are supporting a heterosexual lead. Even so, if you did include them that's still only 8 films in three and a half years where over 800 films crossed the $1 million mark.

What about critically acclaimed and considerably discussed recent LGBT offerings like "Keep The Lights On," "How To Survive a Plague," "Pariah," "Weekend," "In The Family," "Laurence Anyways," "We Were Here," "Circumstance" and "Gayby," you ask? None of them hit that mark. In fact, only one of them -- "Pariah" -- even grossed $500,000.

These numbers are all the more striking when you look at what came before them. In the 1990s, 48 films with a significant LGBT characters grossed over $1 million at the box office. In the 2000s, 20 did. If we continue at this rate, the 2010s should end up with just under 15.  

More over, the amount the movies are making has been greatly reduced. Just look at these charts for the North American grosses of films with LGBT leads:

"The Birdcage"
"The Birdcage"
Top Grossing Films With Lead LGBT Character (1990-1999)
1. The Birdcage (1996) - $124,060,553
2. The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999) - $81,298,265
3. Philadelphia (1993) -  $77,446,440

4. In & Out (1996) - $63,856,929
5. To Wong Foo (1995) - $36,474,193

Top Grossing Films With Lead LGBT Character (2000-2009)
1. Brokeback Mountain (2005) - $83,043,761
2. Bruno (2009) - $60,054,530
3. The Hours (2002) - $41,675,994
4. Monster (2003) - $34,469,210
5. Milk (2008) - $31,841,299

Top Grossing Films With Lead LGBT Character (2010-present)

1. The Kids Are All Right (2010) - $20,811,365
2. I Love You, Phillip Morris (2010) - $2,037,459
3. Farewell My Queen (2012) - $1,347,990
4. I'm So Excited (2013) - $1,216,168
5. La Mission (2010) - $1,062,941

It's definitely worth acknowledging that this decade still has six and a half years to catch up, but there's no denying so far, so dismal. By the third year of the 1990s and 2000s two films had grossed over $30 million -- this decade we've only seen one film gross over $3 million. And that none of these numbers aren't even adjusted for inflation. If they were, all but one of the 1990s titles listed would have grossed over $100 million.

It's already clear that the 2010s will be remembered as a benchmark decade for the legal rights of queer folks in the United States, but for some reason financial success -- even on a very minor level -- is a rarity when it comes to queer folks in the movies. So what gives, exactly? On the next page are five potential explanations being tossed around, some of which seem to definitely be contributing to the issue. Others, not so much.

This article is related to: Que(e)ries, Box Office, I'm So Excited , Brokeback Mountain, The Kids Are All Right, Farewell, My Queen, LGBT