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Before ''Brokeback'': Memorable gay couples on film

As Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger saddle up to play cowboy lovers in ”Brokeback Mountain,” EW.com looks back at 10 memorable same-sex couples on film

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Bound: Randy Tepper

Image credit: Bound: Randy Tepper

Best Chemistry

Violet and Corky, ‘Bound’ (1996)

Gay love stories on film: ”Bound”

THE STORY Glamorous gangster moll Violet (Jennifer Tilly, left) and grimy-sexy ex-con Corky (Gina Gershon, right) conspire to swindle $2 million from the former’s volatile boyfriend.

WHY IT’S MEMORABLE Sure, the central relationship in this feature debut from the Wachowski brothers (The Matrix) is a triumph of sex over substance. But who’s got time for intellectual discourse when there’s so much scorching-hot chemistry between Gershon and Tilly, not to mention an almost nonstop onslaught of noir-ish thrills?

WHAT EW SAID ”The titillation, for humans of all genders, that comes from watching two beautiful actresses breathing hard for each other is not to be undervalued.” B+ (Read the review)

Image credit: Trick: J. Lofaro/Fine Line

Most Romantic

Mark and Gabriel, ‘trick’ (1999)

Gay love stories on film: ”trick”

THE STORY Insecure songwriter Gabriel (Christian Campbell, right) and stoic go-go boy Mark (John Paul Pitoc, left) spend a jaunty evening looking for a place to consummate their one-night stand.

WHY IT’S MEMORABLE Even during random bits of conversation — Gabriel blurting that his sex fantasy involves a piano (!), Mark unexpectedly recalling Gabriel’s latest composition — the young lovers come off as far more nuanced and interesting than characters you’d find in most standard-issue romantic comedies, gay or straight.

WHAT EW SAID ”By the time that trick reaches its disarmingly quiet climax of a kiss, you realize you’re seeing the single most romantic moment in any movie this year.” A- (Read the review)

Image credit: Wilde: Kobal Collection

Most Historic

Alfred and Oscar, ‘Wilde’ (1997)

Gay love stories on film: ”Wilde”

THE STORY Legendary playwright Oscar Wilde (Stephen Fry, right) and his unstable younger lover Lord Alfred Douglas (Jude Law, left) struggle to keep their love alive — and Alfred’s father at bay — in late-19th-century London.

WHY IT’S MEMORABLE Law’s Alfred can be a petulant brat, but the characters’ longing to shout about the love that dare not speak its name is palpable, particularly during a barely disguised date where ordering lobster and fois gras becomes an act of social defiance.

WHAT EW SAID ”Well over six feet tall, ungainly yet self-possessed, with a sad, fleshy face and a keen intellect of his own, the gifted screenwriter-comedian-novelist and actor [Fry]…brings dignity and delicacy to the part.” C+ (Read the review)

Most Neurotic

Helen and Jessica, ‘Kissing Jessica Stein’ (2001)

Gay love stories on film: ”Kissing Jessica Stein”

THE STORY The titular uptight journalist (Jennifer Westfeldt, right) discovers a chip in her hetero armor when, exasperated by her encounters with men, she decides to answer a personal ad written by free-spirited gallery manager Helen (Heather Juergensen, left).

WHY IT’S MEMORABLE Watching straight gal Jessica explore her same-sex attraction to Helen can occasionally be a maddening journey, but one that’s never short on laughs: How many big-screen heroines would be loopy enough to press pause before a big kiss, just to ask, ”Is this with tongue?”

WHAT EW SAID ”Cute? Sure, why not: Who wouldn’t enjoy snappy conversations between attractive women about how to do that thing that Sapphists do.” B- (Read the review)

Image credit: Beautiful Thing: Kobal Collection

Most Heartwarming

Ste and Jamie, ‘Beautiful Thing’ (1996)

Gay love stories on film: ”Beautiful Thing”

THE STORY Gawky outsider Jamie (Glen Berry, right) and his battered neighbor Ste (Scott Neal, left) slowly discover they have more in common than an address.

WHY IT’S MEMORABLE While Beautiful Thing never sugarcoats the difficulty of two working-class teens inching their way out of the closet in a London housing project, Berry and Neal’s candid, unadorned performances result in a message movie that preaches one universal truth: First love really is grand.

WHAT EW SAID ”Among the things going for this EastEnders-type romance: Jamie, a gym-o-phobe and Ste, a jock, aren’t starlet hunks, they’re just believably average-looking guys.” B (Read the review)

Image credit: High Art: Kobal Collection

Most Depressing

Syd and Lucy, ‘High Art’ (1998)

Gay love stories on film: ”High Art”

THE STORY Magazine editor Syd (Radha Mitchell, left) begins an affair with Lucy (Ally Sheedy, right), the strung-out photographer whose career she’s trying to kick-start.

WHY IT’S MEMORABLE Revelatory performances by Sheedy and Mitchell make it impossible to look away, even when Lucy’s descent into addiction is extremely painful to watch.

WHAT EW SAIDHigh Art understands the horror of heroin, and its power as well.” A- (Read the review)

Image credit: The Birdcage: Kobal Collection

Most Stereotypical

Armand and Albert, ‘The Birdcage’ (1996)

Gay love stories on film: ”The Birdcage”

THE STORY Drag performer Albert (Nathan Lane, right) and club owner Armand (Robin Williams, left) disguise themselves as a straight couple when their son’s ultra-conservative future in-laws come to pay a visit.

WHY IT’S MEMORABLE The idea of a grown man asking his parents — a long-term, committed gay couple — to participate in such a self-loathing ruse borders on the fiendish. But that’s not to say the couple in question aren’t occasionally hilarious.

WHAT EW SAID ”Swanning about in his layered silk outfits (everything he wears looks like some fancy form of pajamas), flaunting his pinky rings, his fussily coiffed bangs, and his theatrical woe-is-me pouts, Albert the powder puff couldn’t be less intimidating. Yet in his ridiculous way, he forces you to accept him on his own Nellie terms.” A- (Read the review)

Image credit: Aimee & Jaguar: Everett Collection

Most Defiant

Lilly and Felice, ‘Aimee & Jaguar’ (1999)

Gay love stories on film: ”Aimee & Jaguar”

THE STORY In 1940s Germany, Jewish lesbian Felice (Maria Schrader, right) seduces Lilly (Juliane Köhler, left), the wife of a German officer.

WHY IT’S MEMORABLE Talk about a complicated relationship! With every reason in the world not to explore their feelings, these finely sketched characters take the ultimate gamble on love. Don’t forget the Kleenex.

WHAT EW SAID ”Dark-haired Schrader stares with I-dare-you eyes, playing a brave flirt; blond, dewy Köhler smiles, playing a woman astonished by new feelings.” B+ (Read the review)

Image credit: Philadelphia: Everett Collection

Most Necessary

Andrew and Miguel, ‘Philadelphia’ (1993)

Gay love stories on film: ”Philadelphia”

THE STORY Andrew Beckett (Tom Hanks, left), an attorney who loses his job when his employers discover he has AIDS, decides to sue for damages, with his loyal lover Miguel (Antonio Banderas, right) offering tender support.

WHY IT’S MEMORABLE True, Andrew and Miguel’s relationship is glossed over in favor of the movie’s Big Message, but taken in the context of the film’s early-’90s release — at a time when the HIV crisis seemed nearly invisible in big studio movies — it’s hard not to offer them at least a small ”Huzzah!” (Oscar voters cheered even louder; they gave Hanks his first Best Actor statue for his work in this film.)

WHAT EW SAID ”Banderas barely gets any scenes, just enough to let us know that these two are as happy and committed as any heterosexual couple?But Andrew, as written, is less a character than a file-card hodgepodge of gay characteristics.” B- (Read the review)

Image credit: My Beautiful Laundrette: Kobal Collection

Most Unlikely

Omar and Johnny, ‘My Beautiful Laundrette’ (1985)

Gay love stories on film: ”My Beautiful Laundrette”

THE STORY Ambitious Omar (Gordon Warnecke, left) and street-smart Johnny (Daniel Day-Lewis, right) transform the dumpy local Laundromat into an aesthetic delight.

WHY IT’S MEMORABLE Laundrette doesn’t flinch from the racial tensions of Thatcher-era London, which makes the tender connection forged by our heroes all the more magnificent.

WHAT EW SAID ”Hair cropped short and dyed blond, [Day-Lewis is] a London punk startled to find himself in love with his best friend, an Asian entrepreneur.” A- (Read the review)