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Why Don't LGBT Movies Make Money At The Box Office Anymore?

Photo of Peter Knegt By Peter Knegt | /Bent August 5, 2014 at 11:07PM

5 reasons that might explain this rather sorry state.
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Blue is the Warmest Color

There's quite the slate of LGBT films heading to theaters in the next couple months, from 5 films during the month of August to "The Skeleton Twins," "Lilting" and "The Imitation Game" soon after. But while we certainly hope they all prove exceptions, the odds are against them managing to make much of a dent in the box office.  Only seven films with lead LGBT characters have grossed over $1 million in North American since 2010: "Farewell My Queen," "Kill Your Darlings," "I'm So Excited,"The Kids Are All Right," "La Mission" and "I Love You, Phillip Morris." One could arguably also include "The Perks of Being a Wallflower," "Dallas Buyers Club," "Your Sister's Sister" and "Beginners," though in all four cases the LGBT characters (played by Ezra Miller, Jared Leto, Rosemarie DeWitt and Christopher Plummer, respectively) are supporting a heterosexual lead. Even so, if you did include them that's still only 10 films in four and a half years where well over 1,200 films crossed the $1 million mark -- most of them just barely.

READ MORE: 5 LGBT Films You Should See This August (In Theaters!)


What about critically acclaimed and considerably discussed recent LGBT offerings like "Stranger By The Lake," "C.O.G.," "Concussion," "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 lead LGBT character 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 around 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
6. The Object of My Affection (1998) - $29,187,243
7. Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil (1997) - $25,105,255


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
6. Rent (2005) - $29,077,547
7. Capote (2005) - $28,750,530

Top Grossing Films With Lead LGBT Character (2010-present)
1. The Kids Are All Right (2010) - $20,811,365
2. Blue is the Warmest Color (2013) - $2,199,787 
3. I Love You, Phillip Morris (2010) - $2,037,459
4. Farewell My Queen (2012) - $1,347,990
5. I'm So Excited (2013) - $$1,368,119
6. La Mission (2010) - $1,062,940
7. Kill Your Darlings (2014) - $1,030,064 


It's definitely worth acknowledging that this decade still has five and a half years to catch up, but there's no denying so far, so dismal. By the fourth 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.