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by Peter Knegt
October 28, 2013 11:46 AM
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Que(e)ries: The Highest Grossing Lesbian-Themed Films of All Time

Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis in "Black Swan"

This past weekend, Abdellatif Kechiche's Palme d'Or-winning lesbian relationship drama "Blue is the Warmest Color" had a very promising debut, suggesting that it will become only the third film with a main lesbian (or bisexual female, in some cases) character -- the others being "Your Sister's Sister" and "Farewell My Queen" -- to cross the $1 million mark since 2010's "The Kids Are All Right" and "Black Swan." How far it goes beyond that remains to be seen, but it wouldn't take much for it to become a hit by the standards of the queer female content films that came before it.

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

Only 13 films with a lead lesbian or bisexual female character (at least explicitly so -- thus "Fried Green Tomatoes" and "The Color Purple" not being included here) have ever grossed $5 million at the North American box office (oddly, over a third of them came from a two-year span from 2001-2003, and 3 of the top 4 all featured performances that won a best actress Oscar -- likely a big factor at the box office in itself).

It would be a major feat for "Blue" to hit $5 million, though that's largely because of its foreign language, NC-17 rating and three-hour length. Iits sexual content -- highly discussed due to its explicit nature -- should only help it. But it's certainly possible. If it does, it will end up on this on the underwhelming chart below. Which in itself offers a few questionable representations of queer female sexuality, but that's for another discussion.

Meryl Streep and Allison Janney in "The Hours"

1. Basic Instinct
Release Date: March 20, 1992
Distributor: TriStar
Gross: $117.7 million

2. Black Swan
Release Date: December 3, 2010
Distributor: Fox Searchlight
Gross: $106.9 million

3. The Hours
Release Date: December 27, 2002
Distributor: Paramount
Gross: $41.7 million

4. Monster
Release Date: December 24, 2003
Distributor: Newmarket
Gross: $34.5 million

Charlize Theron and Christina Ricci in "Monster"

5. Frida
Release Date: October 25, 2002
Distributor: Miramax
Gross: $25.9 million

6. Boys on the Side
Release Date: February 3, 1995
Distributor: Warner Brothers
Gross: $23.4 million

7. The Kids Are All Right
Release Date: July 9, 2010
Distributor: Focus
Gross: $20.8 million

8. Chasing Amy
Release Date: April 4, 1997
Distributor: Miramax
Gross: $12.0 million

Julianne Moore and Annette Bening in "The Kids Are All Right"

9. Mulholland Drive
Release Date: October 8, 2001
Distributor: Universal
Gross: $7.2 million

10. Kissing Jessica Stein
Release Date: March 13, 2002
Distributor: Fox Searchlight
Gross: $7.0 million

11. The Hunger
Release Date: April 29, 1983
Distributor: MGM
Gross: $6.0 million

12. Personal Best
Release Date: February 5, 1982
Distributor: Warner Brothers
Gross: $5.7 million

13. Three of Hearts
Release Date: April 30, 1993
Distributor: New Line
Gross: $5.5 million

**-Note these grosses are for North America only and do not reflect inflation adjusted grosses. If that were the case, "Black Swan" would still be #1 -- but with a slightly higher $108 million gross.


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9 Comments

  • katy | February 6, 2014 8:21 PMReply

    all studio releases....GIRLTRASH is OUT! Pls support POWER UP films in its 14th year of supporting lesbian filmmakers. girltrashallnightlong (dot) com

  • Jenni Olson | October 28, 2013 7:22 PMReply

    Thanks for doing this piece! I think it's super interesting to place the film in context. FYI — Notes on a Scandal (not a film one really wants to embrace, but a film with a very clearly lesbian protagonist) did $17 million at US box office in 2006. Also do have to point out in the bi visibility department that most of these lesbian characters would be more accurately described as bisexual. Thanks!

  • jwoo | October 28, 2013 5:21 PMReply

    Half of those movies I don't consider a lesbian movie. Most of those are films with a lesbian scene or a lesbian kiss in the film. Monster was a lesbian movie about a lesbian relationship. Films like Desert Hearts, Boy's Don't Cry, Pariah, Better Than Chocolate, etc are Lesbian Themed films. They're not high grossing but some on the list are more mainstream with a lesbian kissing scene. just my opinion

  • Mel P | October 30, 2013 1:20 AM

    Boys Don't Cry is NOT a lesbian movie, by anyone's definition. Brandon is trans.

  • SideEying Sally | October 29, 2013 1:14 PM

    Or objectifying. There's that too.
    A couple of exceptions, but mostly. Meh. Might as well put Single White Female up there, too.

  • SideEying Sally | October 29, 2013 1:11 PM

    Yes! These are not lesbian films. They are just mainstream films made by straight production houses with straight actresses for straight audiences that happen to feature sexual behavior between women, mostly as gimmicks, "examinations" of lesbians, or pathologizing female sexuality. Not really kosher.

  • overit | October 28, 2013 1:53 PMReply

    I find the whole concept of this piece: categorizing films with lesbian scenes with rating them according to how much money they made, completely offensive and tacky, yet totally unsurprising.

  • Kyle | October 28, 2013 12:57 PMReply

    The Hours is a masterpiece!!!

  • José | October 28, 2013 1:32 PM

    I agree, such a great movie!