List: 10 Cinematic LGBT Chemistries that Scorched the Screen


Like all my film lists, this remains a subjective account of the LGBT couplings I find have the most palpable chemistry. Palpable is the key word here; you have to feel it. It has to make an impact. It has to be powerful enough to draw the viewer so closely into the intimate moments between two characters that we, subsequently, feel as if we are a part of something we aren’t. Nothing overtly sexual has to happen between the two; that is not what this is necessarily about. Reasons for inclusion can involve simply the strength of the two actors and how well they fuse together. It could equally involve the characters they play as well as the context of the situation they’re in. For this list, being a couple is not a requirement. There does however, have to be definitive inarguable romantic or sexual interest from at least one of the characters for the other.

Anyone expecting a really diverse list is going to be sorely disappointed. I have seen more than my fair share of LGBT films, but a great deal of them I saw so long ago, it was difficult to recall many of the films in question. Jeffrey, Lost and Delirious, Better than Chocolate, Show Me Love, The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, Killer Condom (are there any eligible couples in this film even? I can’t remember despite loving it), The Dying Gaul, The Killing of Sister George, Bedrooms and Hallways, Broken Hearts Club, The Children’s Hour, The Crying Game and The Living End are some examples of LGBT films I have seen but cannot recall enough to seriously consider. Then there are the ones that did not make the cut that I did remember well enough, but there was a limited number of spots.

But most importantly, there are the inordinate amount of LGBT films I have not seen. The number is many, and while I hope to rectify that at some point (by seeing such films as Bent, Beautiful Thing, Big Eden and more), for now I made the list to the best of my ability. And for now, the best of my ability means that I had to largely draw from films I have seen more recently or films I simply recall more vividly for one reason or another. If my reasons do not seem to go much into the actual chemistry between the two actors it is because it goes without saying that each pairing has sexual chemistry that melts off the screen.

Without further ado;

10. Jim Carrey as Steven Jay Russell and Ewan McGregor as Phillip Morris in I Love You Phillip Morris (2010)

There is a layer of genuine sincerity at the center of this romance that is really quite sweet. Especially when taking into account that Carrey’s Russell is anything but sincere in his scheming endeavors. McGregor is able to pull off a boy-like overeager charm with a touch of naivete better than any other actor. He has portrayed this air to equal effect in Moulin Rouge! and Big Fish. When he makes another appearance on this list, not a trace of that boyishness can be found. What makes the material between these two so engrossing is that the film is told, and played, with a fairy-tale like sensibility. This draws out a dreamy feel of old-school romance and the actors make us feel the love between the two.

9. John Cameron Mitchell as Hedwig and Michael Pitt as Tommy in Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001)

The scenes between Hedwig and Tommy are my favorites in the film. What starts out as a familiar relationship of experience/inexperience turns into betrayal and desertion made more complicated by Hedwig’s anatomical state; “it’s what I have to work with”.

8. Sean Penn as Harvey Milk and James Franco as Scott Smith in Milk (2008)

Penn and Franco make us feel the familiarity, history and comfort that these two men have together. Their scenes are conducted by Van Sant with love and warmth, all lending further depth to their sexual chemistry, which is already overflowing before the aforementioned elements are brought into play.

7. Naomi Watts as Betty Elms/Diane Selwyn and Laura Elena Harring as Rita/Camilla Rhodes in Mulholland Drive (2001)

The work coming from Watts and Harring in Mulholland Drive has so much to do with the careful stylization within the performances and the planning that goes into the contrast between Rita/Camilla and Betty/Diane. Each has to play antithetical emotions and dynamics within entirely different representations of their characters. The brilliance of the two performances is that they are able to instill the innocent and sudden blossoming of love  in one scenario and the toxic and disturbing levels of hate and self-destruction in the other. Add to this two sex scenes that have considerable impact (one is my favorite in all of film; the only sex scene that consistently has the ability to move me to tears) and there is nothing more to be said.

6. Dakota Fanning as Cherie Currie and Kristen Stewart as Joan Jett in The Runaways (2010)

That Stewart and Fanning are able to make what they do of the mediocre material in front of them is impressive. Luckily director Sigismondi knows how milk every bit of tension between the two through cinematography (by the unbearably talented BenoĂ®t Debie) and visual flair that extrapolates what the two have together. In turn, the two actresses are able to make up for the underwhelming script (also by Sigismondi) through their performances and their chemistry together. They are able to portray the curiosity within teenage sexual  exploration and it feels especially authentic. I proclaimed the “I Wanna Be Your Dog” scene the sexiest of 2010 film and I continue to stand by that claim.

5. Jennifer Tilly as Violet and Gina Gershon as Corky in Bound (1996)

Despite reasonable assumptions, Tilly and Gershon do not have a great deal of screen time together in the Wachowskis debut directorial feature. Before the film turns into a constantly twisty and suspenseful take on neo-noir, its first half hour is a delightfully self-aware campy excursion into lesbian seduction. The filmmakers and actresses are aware of the sleazy expectations people must have had going into this film. They embrace that, complete with line readings that feel at times parodic, but by throwing in unexpected earnestness, it manages to be fun, sexy and genuine. Their big sex scene is beautifully choreographed in one long swooping take that focuses on the minutiae of bodily expression . Instead of it being just a sex scene, it smartly details the physicality of love-making.

4. Heath Ledger as Ennis del Mar and Jake Gyllenhaal as Jack Twist in Brokeback Mountain (2005)

What makes this story as remarkable as it is, is that every aspect of it is executed with unmatchable tact and grace. What Ledger and Gyllenhaal bring to the proceedings, besides two incredible individual performances, is an epic quality that their pairing lends both the film and the story it is telling. The film is quiet and closely observed and Lee allows the emotions of the actors play themselves out unfettered and raw. It is justifiably one for the ages.

3. Hertha Thiele as Manuela von Meinhardis and Dorothea Wieck as Governess Fräulein von Bernburg in Mädchen in Uniform (1931)

This seminal German LGBT  film made in 1931 is far more outright and honest about its lesbian story as anything that can be found during the entirety of Hollywood’s studio era (not surprising, but the point remains). And yet, only allowed to be forthright to a point, so much of the sexual chemistry between the two comes from the need to be discreet within the confines of 1930’s cinema. Let us not forget to take into consideration the Prussian authoritative school system the characters inhabit, (which is of equal interest to the storyteller’s motives) and that the love story is one between student and teacher. The two actresses are bursting in their mutual admiration for one another; Manuela is desperate for von Bernburg’s attention. A heavy reliance is put on both actresses ability to express their desire through facial expression, and it is impossible not to feel their yearning. The most is also made of small moments between the two that really make the most of the censorship placed on the filmmakers.

2. James Wilby as Maurice and Hugh Grant as Clive in Maurice (1987)

Not even taking into consideration how refreshingly complex and ever-changing  the relationship between Maurice and Clive is, Wilby and Grant lend repressed sensuality in their realistic portrayal of homosexual men living in the early 20th century. This repressed sensuality threatens to boil over in nearly every scene they share together. They are given different reasons for their purposeful suppression; Clive’s desire to ‘not ruin’ what they have and Maurice’s unwanted compliance to follow Clive’s chaste rule. This makes the tension between the two even more dynamic.

1. Jonathan Rhys-Meyers as Brian Slade and Ewan McGregor as Curt Wilde in Velvet Goldmine (1998)

At this point I know Velvet Goldmine like the back of my hand (I’ve seen it at least fifty times), so I have had adequate time to throw myself without reserve into the countless moments between these two actors that are nothing less than astonishing in their sexual power. Using Brian Eno’s “Baby’s on Fire” during a certain orgy scene, intercut with pretend-fellatio between the two in an onstage moment, is not exactly a coincidental song choice. I have never seen two people portray the kind of explosive chemistry Meyers and McGregor have together here. So much of their power is through the mutual exchange of glances between the two throughout. They both immediately know what the other has in mind and that understanding makes everything even sexier. The tumultuous relationship allows the two to play a variety of different moments with each other, always with a healthy dose of unbearable lust.

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