Bring on the bad gays! Unforgettable LGBTQ+ villains of cinema

From monsters and killers to scam artists and plain old meanies, there have been some truly memorable queer characters you love to loathe.

Two film villains face to face.
Image: 'Rope' film still

Pop culture guru David Ferguson is back with a list of bad gays, queer villains and LGBTQ+ characters you can’t help but like even when they’re at their worst.

I was thinking the other day about how far we have come from the days where a lot of gay characters in TV and movies seemed to be the inoffensive best friends. Years ago I watched Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and remarked to my friend that, amongst other things, I loved that his gay friend was allowed to be a horrible character.

All this got me thinking about the best LGBTQ+ villains in movies. Full disclosure: I used the Google machine but there were two caveats for my list: 1) I had to have seen the performance for myself (yeah I watched a few movies!) and 2) the portrayals couldn’t be, at least in my opinion, harmful or horribly stereotypical performances. Anyway, the list!

Brandon Shaw and Philip Morgan (Rope, 1948)
Brandon (John Dell) and Philip (Farley Granger) decide to murder their former classmate as an exercise to prove their superiority by committing the “perfect murder”. The play this was based on had them portrayed more explicitly as a couple but John Dell was believed to be gay as was Farley Granger and so too was the screen writer, Arthur Laurents.

Granger freely discusses his personal life in his memoir Include Me Out, which he wrote with his domestic partner Robert Calhoun. Critics agree that Granger’s performance was the best thing about this Alfred Hitchcock movie. I enjoyed it overall but tend to agree on that point.

(Sidenote: There is actually a bit of queer coding in Hitchcock’s work. I noted two famous villains – Norman Bates in Psycho and Bruno Anthony in Strangers On A Train. I immediately excluded Bates as I feel he is a dangerous stereotype. I was on the fence about Anthony but removed him after I came up with someone else.

Lestat De Lioncourt (Interview With The Vampire, 1994)

It’s hard to believe that people missed the homoeroticism and queer subtext when Interview With The Vampire first came out. While not explicitly a queer couple, Lestat (Tom Cruise) appears to turn Louis (Brad Pitt) as he is in the need of company (which could be seen as platonic) but they act in some ways like a married couple.

However, it is a bit more obvious when Lestat then turns Claudia (Kirsten Dunst) so they can be together as a family and they both treat her as a daughter. Implicit if not explicit. Tom Cruise is great in the role and easily disliked.

Tom Ripley (The Talented Mr. Ripley, 1999)
Tom Ripley (Matt Damon) is recruited to travel to Italy to persuade Dickie Greenleaf (Jude Law) to return to the United States. Ripley begins to enjoy Dickie’s lavish lifestyle and becomes obsessed with him. He ends going to dangerous extremes to make that lifestyle his.

A wonderful cast in some sumptuous locations. Matt Damon creates a monster that you may feel some sympathy for.

Michael Alig (Party Monster, 2003)
Probably the most questionable pick on my list (especially if you look at the film in question’s Rottentomatoes score) as it is based on a real person. However, I found Macaulay Culkin compelling as Club Kid Michael Alig in a big departure from his child star roles. It was his return to the screen after nine years away.

His performance was described by Roger Ebert as “fearless” and he gave the movie 3 out of 4 stars. It was also nominated for the Grand Prize at the Sundance Film Festival in 2003. I would say – decide for yourself.

Barbara Covett (Notes On A Scandal, 2006)

Despite being a Judi Dench fan, I hadn’t heard of this movie before I started working on this piece and I’m glad I discovered it as Dench is wonderful as Barbara Covett. When new teacher Sheba Hart (Cate Blanchett) joins her school, Covett is immediately attracted to her and they strike up a friendship. Covett later catches Hart in a sexual encounter with an underaged student. She confronts Hart and uses the scandal as a way of manipulating her. Both actresses got Academy Award nominations as did the screenplay.

Wallace Wells (Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, 2010)
The character who actually made me think of coming up with this list. I remember walking out of the screen after the movie and telling my friend that it was great seeing a gay character who was a jerk. (As I said earlier, it felt like I had lived through a lifetime of inoffensive gay best friends on screen). Wallace Wells (Kieran Culkin) is Scott Pilgrim’s friend and roommate who has a history of stealing friends’ boyfriends and appears to be living his best gay life.

I recommend this movie in general due to its many levels of geekiness but Wallace is one of my favourite villains in the movie.

Lee Israel (Can You Ever Forgive Me?, 2018)

This is a weird mix of actors for me as Melissa McCarthy was someone who managed to change my opinion of her as an actor (especially as she took on more serious roles) but I have always loved Richard E. Grant since Withnail And I. McCarthy plays Lee Israel, a writer who can’t sell her work anymore (partly due to her bad attitude). In the course of researching a book on Fannie Brice, she discovers two letters by Brice. When she tries to sell one, she was surprised by the low offer she gets, due to the letter’s bland content. Israel adds to the letter herself and manages to get more money. This leads her to create more forgeries.

During the course of the movie, she befriends Jack Hock (Grant) who eventually gets dragged into her scheme. It may be a bit sad but I empathised with Lee Israel in some ways. This another one that racked up a few Academy Award nominations.

I’m probably missing some obvious LGBTQ+ villains so feel free to enlighten me on Twitter or let me know what you think of the list!

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