Heath Ledger, Tom Hanks, and more got Oscar nods for playing gay characters

By John Young
Updated November 28, 2008 at 05:00 AM EST

Not long ago, playing a gay male character was considered a career killer. Now, thanks to these stellar performances, it’s often considered a path to the Oscars.

Al Pacino, Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
Pacino won an Oscar nom for his portrayal of a bank robber trying to steal money for his boyfriend’s sex-change operation.

Will Smith, Six Degrees of Separation (1993)
He wouldn’t kiss a man on screen in this film, but Smith’s role as a gay con hinted at his serious dramatic range.

Tom Hanks, Philadelphia (1993)
Hanks received his first Oscar for this now-iconic performance as a successful lawyer who was fired for having AIDS.

Russell Crowe, The Sum of Us (1994)
Before breaking out in Hollywood, Crowe starred in this Aussie comedy as the gay son of a well-meaning but obtrusive father.

Javier Bardem, Before Night Falls (2000)
Bardem’s turn as Reinaldo Arenas, a Cuban writer jailed for his sexuality and antirevolutionary work, won the actor his first Oscar nom.

Heath Ledger, Brokeback Mountain (2005)
Ledger broke hearts and received an Oscar nod for his role as a ranch hand tortured by his love for another man.