10 Macho Blockbusters With Hidden Homoeroticism
Plenty of films celebrate and bask in masculinity, featuring rugged men strutting onscreen and doling out macho violence. This ultra-manliness lends itself well to stealthy gay themes, characters, or even whole narratives that drive and strengthen the story.
Ravenous is an unusual black comedy horror film starring Guy Pearce and Robert Carlyle. Captain John Boyd (Pearce) escapes a battle during the American-Mexican War by playing dead, hiding under his comrades’ bodies. He’s exiled to a remote fort. Ives (Carlyle) arrives, having just left a failed expedition party that resorted to cannibalism.
On the surface, Ravenous comes across as a body horror movie about cannibalism. However, there is a strange twist. The men get stronger when they eat human meat and drink bodily fluids. The protagonist Boyd earlier discovered the healing power of cannibalism while hiding under the bodies; blood dripped into his mouth and healed him. He never forgets how good he felt after taking the blood in his mouth.
Boyd thinks he has to stop Ives, even though the men feel the exact same urges. Ives completely embraces cannibalism and finds strength and freedom. The climax is a battle with their own desires to embrace the lifestyle involved with consuming another man.
Some critics have looked at cannibalism as a metaphor for homosexuality because Ravenous is about two men who have urges that are condemned by society. The taboo act, which involves physically taking another man inside of them, is something both men struggle with. By the end, one wants to be out and live free, but the other wants to conquer his urges.
When the Spartans fought against the Persian Army in the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C., what do you think they wore? Historians firmly believe they didn’t go bare-chested into battle while wearing leather Speedos. They would have probably worn armor and a kilt-type covering. Yet, when making a comic book out of the classic story, Frank Miller consciously chose something that would show a lot of skin. Zach Snyder kept that exact look when translating the story to screen.
In addition to casting a bunch of muscular men and making them wear very little, there are many other homoerotic allusions, such as lots of thrusting and plunging. There are constantly shots of men stroking their swords and spears. Also, throughout the film is an emphasis on hardness and how hard the Spartans are.
Over on the Persian side, the 2.5-meter (8 ft) Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) comes across as pansexual. He is depicted as nearly naked, with an androgynous face. In one scene, he approaches King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) from behind and whispers in his ear, “Bow down to me.” This scene has overtly homosexual connotations, and it wasn’t an accident. Director Zach Snyder wanted to make the young men in the audience feel uncomfortable around the main antagonist. He said, “What’s more scary to a 20-year-old boy than a giant god-king who wants to have his way with you?”
Snyder said he was not trying to make a movie that was homoerotic (or homophobic). However, gay men certainly did like the movie and its sequel.
Top Gun oozes machismo. A group of manly and daring Navy pilots compete in Fighter Weapons School and engage in awesome dogfights. Tom Cruise’s character, Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, also carries on a relationship with a female civilian instructor, but that largely takes a backseat to the manly military antics. As a result, the movie comes across with incredibly strong gay subtext.
Sometimes, it’s as simple and subtle as how tight their uniforms are. Other times, it’s very obvious, like the shirtless volleyball scene where the men constantly embrace one another while the song “Playing with the Boys” roars in the background. Then there are the locker room scenes, which have long, lingering stares between men wearing only towels.
There’s also the question of what’s really going on between Maverick and Goose (Anthony Edward). Yes, they are wingmen, but after Goose’s death, Maverick is destroyed like he lost the love of his life. He mourns him until a replacement, Iceman (Val Kilmer), comes along. Once a new man has filled the void of the old one, Maverick becomes a new man himself, ready to take on the world.
In the movie Sleep with Me, Quentin Tarantino (who plays himself) argues that Top Gun is a metaphor for a man’s struggle with homosexuality. He says that Iceman and the other fighter pilots represent homosexuality, while the instructor represents heterosexuality. It’s up to Maverick, who doesn’t follow the rules, to figure out his life between the two competing sides.
7A Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge
The sequel to A Nightmare on Elm Street features Freddy Kruger (Robert Englund) haunting the dreams of teenaged Jesse (Mark Patton). Freddy wants to take over Jesse’s body and start killing people outside of their dreams.
The most obvious bit of gay subtext is Jesse’s internal struggle. There is a man inside of him who wants to come out. In a specific scene early on, Jesse accidently wanders into a gay S&M bar, and he bumps into his gym teacher. The gym teacher takes Jesse back to the school, makes him run laps, and then has him shower up. The gym teacher is ultimately killed by Jesse’s inner monster. Lastly, Jesse and his girlfriend prepare to have sex, but he stops and flees when he finds Freddy taking him over from within.
When asked if the film was about a gay man’s struggle, the screenwriter said that he thought struggling with your own sexuality would be a terrifying experience, so he worked it into the script as subtext. Mark Patton, an openly gay actor, was given the lead. He brought his own fears and feelings to the role of a teenager who was struggling with an inner demon.
6Tango & Cash
Ray Tango (Sylvester Stallone) is a lieutenant in the Beverly Hills narcotics division, while Gabriel Cash (Kurt Russell) has the same position in the downtown Los Angeles department. Despite having the same rank in the same division, they are complete opposites; Tango looks like a banker and Cash looks like a drug dealer. They are forced to team up when a vicious drug lord frames them for murder.
Sounds like just another generic buddy cop movie, right? Well, it is, but it also has a great sense of self-awareness about its genre. The film seems to understand the parallels between buddy cops and couples in screwball comedies. In a screwball comedy, a man and a woman who are complete opposites meet and instantly dislike each other. However, due to circumstances beyond their control, they are forced to spend time together. By the end, they’re in love. The relationship between any two buddy cops follows virtually the exact same path.
As a result, the film has several homoerotic segments. In a prison scene, Tango and Cash are alone in the shower discussing how to escape. Cash drops the soap, which spooks Tango, thinking Cash is bending over as an invitation for sex. The conversation progresses, and Tango, looking down at Cash’s penis, calls him “Peewee.” Cash then swipes at Tango’s testicles and says, “Don’t worry. The other one will drop.” After grabbing at each other’s genitals and commenting on each other’s manhood, they walk out of the shower together naked.
Later on, Tango refers to Cash as the “Elephant Man” because of the size of his penis. In another scene, Cash dresses up as a woman, which shows fluidity in his sexuality. Finally, by the end of the film, they embrace, their high five ending up in interlocking fingers.
5X-Men: First Class
In the X-Men comics, the mutants have always been an allegory for minority groups. The mutants are often feared and not understood by the mainstream. When adapted for the big screen, the focus shifted to gay rights as opposed to the civil rights movement as in the comics. In X-Men: First Class, the filmmakers seem to be wearing the subtext on their sleeve. For example, Hank (Nick Hoult) even makes a bold reference when asked if he is a mutant, saying, “You didn’t ask, so I didn’t tell.”
However, the main homoerotic storyline running through the film is the relationship between Professor X (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender). Out of all the pairings in the movie, critics noted that they have the most chemistry. They share many experiences, including a bed in a strip club. They also connect in a powerful mind meld that ends with both of them in tears from sharing such an intense experience. In one scene, the younger characters divide themselves between the two much like children splitting when parents divorce. By the end of the film, Charles chooses to remain in the closet and wear normal clothes, while Erik has embraced his mutant side and dons his costume proudly.
Using the subtext, X-Men asks deep questions about the gay community’s relationship with mainstream society. Is it better for gay people to assimilate and be accepted or to embrace their own separate culture? Should they have to choose at all?
When asked if mutants represent gays, co-creator Stan Lee wouldn’t answer directly, just saying that the X-Men were against bigotry of any kind. When a Facebook user posted a comment about how X-Men movies weren’t about homosexuality, one of the contributing screenwriters, Zack Stentz, responded that all the movies have gay themes. Several people involved with the franchise, including director Bryan Singer and Ian McKellen, say they were drawn to it because of the metaphors.
4Rebel Without A Cause
Jim Stark (James Dean) is an out-of-control teen who drinks and hates his parents. When he goes to school, he crosses paths with a group of bullies and refuses to back down. In the process, he befriends a shy teenager named Plato (Sal Mineo) and falls in love with Judy (Natalie Wood). Or perhaps he falls in love with Plato, though most critics missed this at the time.
A lot of it is not done through words, because that simply was not allowed in 1955. Plato does try to express his feelings, but it’s rather coded. Instead, their feelings are seen through the looks that they give each other.
Sal Mineo was a gay actor, and Dean was rumored to be bisexual. Both Dean and Mineo seemed aware of Plato’s love for Jim. When doing a pivotal scene in an abandoned mansion, Dean told Mineo to look at him the same way he looks at Natalie Wood.
Today, Rebel Without a Cause is considered a landmark film for its gay-friendly message.
Ben-Hur tells the story of Judah Ben-Hur (Charlton Heston), a wealthy Jewish prince and merchant who returns to Jerusalem in A.D. 26 and makes an enemy of his old childhood friend, Messala (Stephen Boyd). Messala, commander of the Roman garrison, condemns Ben-Hur and his family on trumped-up charges. After three years as a slave, Ben-Hur returns to Jerusalem to get revenge on Messala. This culminates in a chariot race, which is considered one of the best action scenes ever made.
Gore Vidal, who contributed to the script, said there needed to be a better reason for Messala and Ben-Hur to hate each other besides disagreeing over politics. To add a bit of depth to their hatred, Vidal claimed that the two had been lovers when they were younger. When Ben-Hur returned to Jerusalem, Messala wanted to resume their relationship, but Ben-Hur didn’t want to. When they see each other for the first time after many years apart, Messala shoots Ben-Hur looks of yearning that seems to indicate that he’s still in love with him.
According to Vidal, director William Wyler didn’t want conservative Republican Heston to know about the subtext, so only Stephen Boyd, who played Messala, was let in. Not until 1995, when the documentary The Celluloid Closet was released, did Vidal reveal the hidden context.
Heston adamantly denied this claim for the rest of his life. He said Vidal wrote a few pages of the script, but everything he wrote was rejected by Wyler. Heston said Vidal just made the claim to annoy him—which it did; it “irritated the hell out of [him].”
Fight Club is a pretty macho movie. The film starts off with men consensually beating each other into submission in the basement of a bar while a group looks on. Later, the fighters band together to form an anarchist group that attacks the parts of modern society they find detestable.
Fight Club is also about a bunch of everyday men that meet in secret and get physical with each other in a way that society doesn’t understand. Later, they revolt. Some critics have drawn parallels between this and the 1969 Stonewall Riots, demonstrations responding to a police raid on a well-known gay club.
Besides those parallels, there are some broad hints at the gay subtext, like the scene when Tyler (Brad Pitt) is in the bath and the narrator (Edward Norton) is bandaging himself up. Tyler says, “We’re a generation of men raised by women. I’m wondering if another woman is really the answer we need.”
However, if you’ve seen the movie, you know that the narrator and Tyler are not a couple, which speaks to the complexity of the story. The narrator and Tyler could be both an allusion to a gay couple and the internal struggle of a gay man. Tyler embraces “being yourself,” while the narrator bemoans the confines of mainstream society. The whole plot is pushed ahead based on Tyler trying to liberate the narrator and the other men to embrace their own wants and desires.
The gay subtext throughout the movie is not an accident. First off, source novel author Chuck Palahniuk wanted to surprise readers, particularly men attracted to the title “Fight Club,” into thinking they could be reading a queer novel. In the book, Tyler and the narrator meet on a nude beach, and the narrator talks about how nice Tyler’s body is. This aimed to suggest that Tyler and the narrator are lovers, to make later revelations an even bigger surprise.
When making the film, David Fincher retained a lot of the homoeroticism. In fact, the gay subtext made the film hard to market. At first, the marketing team directed it at men who liked WWE. As a result, the movie didn’t do well at the box office. Fincher said it was too “homoerotic” for that type of audience.
1The Wild Bunch
Gritty Western movies don’t get more macho than Sam Peckinpah’s bloody masterpiece The Wild Bunch. The film is about a group of aging outlaws living along the Mexican-Texas border looking for one last score before retiring.
One manly man sticks out among the rest. Dutch, played by Ernest Borgnine, doesn’t associate much with women. He is seen dancing with one but otherwise doesn’t even enter the whorehouse. The object of Dutch’s affection instead appears to be leader Pike (William Holden). They sleep side by side, and they confide in each other like lovers. Eventually, Dutch and Pike die together, with “Pike . . . Pike . . . Pike . . . ” as Dutch’s last earthly words.
One critic argued that this particular type of group of men enjoy a “gay utopia.” Out in the wild, men are free to do what they want, and some of those men will indulge in their gay urges. That adds a whole new meaning to the expression “the wild bunch.”