FROM INDIE QUEER CINEMA TO THE HOLLYWOOD MAINSTREAM, THE PINK LENS PUTS THE DEPICTION OF LGBT+ PEOPLE IN CINEMA IN THE UK UNDER THE MICROSCOPE.
What makes something "camp"? As there is no official definition of the word, it's actually quite difficult to pin down, but in terms of cinema it tends to refer to films that have been taken to the heart of LGBT people due to their flamboyance and vibrancy. Some are deemed camp for their exaggerated characters, while others are for featuring strong female leads who defy the conventions of male-centric cinema. Some are Oscar-winners; others are notorious for their tackiness. So what are the greatest camp movies of all time? Check out our top 20 below!
20. SHOWGIRLS (1995)
OK, so despite its notoriety as a truly terrible film, we can’t talk about “camp” without Showgirls. Elizabeth Berkley and Kyle MacLachlan star in this story about a girl who auditions to become a showgirl in Las Vegas, only to find that she is forced to leave her morals behind to do so. A hilariously overacted melodrama with tits aplenty, this is a film of genuinely terrible acting that has gone so far as to render it pastiche. And who can forget the world’s most unrealistic sex scene, flapping around in a swimming pool like penguins at feeding time?
19. BARBARELLA (1968)
We all love Jane Fonda, right? But just before she became one of the most acclaimed and controversial actresses in Hollywood, she starred as the blonde, bimbo sex-space-kitten from 41st century, Barbarella. Determined to stop the evil Durand Durand from destroying the earth with his Positronic Ray... well, actually, the plot is immaterial. What matters is that Fonda looks SENSATIONAL and the extended zero-gravity quasi-masturbation sequence set the tone for every sci-fi sexual fantasy for the rest of cinema history.
18. THE LITTLE MERMAID (1989)
There’s not much cancer than a Disney princess, but what puts Ariel above the others on our list? The entire film can be read as a big old LGBT metaphor. A girl wants to break the social boundaries of her people solely because of who she loves. In order to fall in love, she faces derision from her family and the threat of losing everything she loves. A stranger gives her the opportunity to live out her dream, but in return she is forced to leave behind her the thing that made her stand out... ok, so the metaphor gets a bit stretched here, but with songs like that and fabulous hair both above and below water, she is definitely the Queers’ Princess.
17. BEACHES (1988)
Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey star in this story of friendship. A privileged rich debutante and a struggling singer, the film charts their friendship from childhood to the grave, showing how sisterhood can overcome everything. A rollercoaster of the entire spectrum of emotions, this film will warm and then break even the hardest heart. Released at the height of the AIDS crisis, this was a film adopted by the Gay Community as a conduit for their own grief, subsequently earning significance far beyond the confines of its narrative.
16. MOMMIE DEAREST (1981)
We all know that Joan Crawford was a little bit mental, but when her daughter Christina published a book about the childhood trauma she suffered at the hands of her abusive mother, the film was soon to follow. Faye Dunaway stars as the Hollywood icon, except the version she delivers is a hyper-exaggerated caricature of Crawford that catapults fat into the realm of complete ridiculousness. As a result, this Hollywood melodrama is one of the campest films you’ll ever see, which subsequently ended Dunaway’s career.
15. DROP DEAD GORGEOUS (1999)
Everybody knows that behind the primped and coiffed exterior of beauty pageants lurk the ugly bitchiness of the petty rivalries between contestants. But what if the beauty queens would do literally anything to take the crown? Even murder? That’s exactly what Drop Dead Gorgeous explores, with a whole roster of stars in its ensemble cast, including: Kirsten Dunst, Denise Richards, Allison Janney, Kirstie Alley, Brittany Murphy, Amy Adams and Ellen Barkin. A razor-sharp satire, its characters are massive and it’s punchlines seriously dark. So if you ever want to watch beautiful people killing each other, this is the movie for you.
14. MURIEL'S WEDDING (1994)
In this Australian cult classic, Toni Collette stars as Muriel, a socially awkward young women riddled with self-doubt. Upon encountering an old friend from school, a wonderfully gregarious Rachel Griffiths, she moves to Sydney with her to start a new life, cut ties with her overbearing family and do the one thing she has always wanted: get married. This story of self-discovery and emancipation is easily relatable for most LGBT people, while its Abba-filled soundtrack makes for one of the most joyously camp non-musicals out there.
13. A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (1951)
This film is camp on two fronts. Firstly, Vivien Leigh’s iconic Oscar-winning performance as Tennessee Williams’ tragic heroine Blanche DuBois is nothing short of iconic. Unable to support herself, she arrives to stay with her sister while she recovers from financial ruin. Secondly, Marlon Brando stars in the role that catapulted him from actors’ actor to become one of the biggest sex symbols in film history. His sweaty labouring brute became the idealised image of masculinity that endured for gay men throughout the twentieth century. Together, these two performances are dynamite, creating glorious melodrama from what is otherwise a very literary play.
12. DEATH BECOMES HER (1992)
Meryl Streep stars as Madeline Ashton, a Broadway star who steals the handsome plastic surgeon husband of a young writer, played by Goldie Hawn. What follows is a ludicrous battle of the bitches as they compete for his affection, through makeovers, weight loss and facelifts, before they hear of a potion that will give them eternal youth. And immortality. A hilariously camp comedy about vanity and self-image, Streep is at her comic best, while Isabella Rossellini is iconic in her sensational supporting role.
11. BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S (1961)
Is there any image in the history of cinema that typifies glamour more than Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly in Breakfast At Tiffany’s? But while the glamourpuss is draped in designer clothes and pearls, what makes her character so likeable is the fact that this is all a front. She can barely afford to eat, let alone maintain the lifestyle that she pretends she has. In an apartment devoid of furniture, she lives alone with her nameless cat, desperate to fall in love with someone rich, only to find herself falling for someone barely better off than herself. This sounds exactly like any number of gay men we all know!
10. MEAN GIRLS (2004)
An entire generation of LGBT people have grown up quoting the razor-sharp wit of Tina Fey’s teen comedy. Whether it’s “you can’t sit with us” or “you can’t just ask someone why they’re white”, this bitchy teen comedy sees Lindsay Lohan, Rachel McAdams, Amanda Seyfried and... the other one... in the greatest roles they will ever perform. To say that Mean Girls is iconic is an understatement. The benchmark for all teen comedies, this subtly observed and brassily executed film depicts high school politics in its purest form; parodied but also wildly realistic. And who, secretly, doesn’t want to be in their clique?
9. HAIRSPRAY (1988)
John Waters is the self-proclaimed and internationally recognised King Of Camp. In his frequent collaborations with Divine he regularly pushed the boundaries of what was OTT or acceptable, but it is Hairspray that has endured the most from his cannon. Arguably the least gay of his films it is probably also the campest, with a sassy underdog unconventional lead who fights the oppressive establishment of the benefit of her friends. So popular that it spawned a Hollywood remake and a hugely popular Broadway stage adaptation, this remains Waters’ most popular work.
8. FIRST WIVES CLUB (1996)
Goldie Hawn? Bette Midler? Diane Keaton? Maggie Smith? Sarah Jessica Parker? Stockard Channing? Wronged women wanting revenge? A fabulous musical number at the end? With three divorced women on the rampage, seeking retribution from their ex-husbands, this story of female empowerment is executed in the campest possible way. What LGBT person doesn’t want them to exact their revenge? And does anyone not want to be Goldie Hawn? No. There is no one.
7. GREY GARDENS (1975)
Who would have thought a documentary could have made this list? This seminal film about Edith and Little Edie Beale, The aunt and cousin of Jackie Kennedy, shows the tragic lives lived in the faded grandeur of their decaying mansion. Destitute and alone, the pair reflect on their past lives but seem wholly unaware of their present situation or to have any real drive to change it. Extravagant and deluded, they appear almost too camp to be real people. Add to that the visit from Jackie midway through and this is a delight from start to finish.
6. SUNSET BOULEVARD (1950)
There’s something about ageing actresses that just screams camp. And is there a more tragic ageing actress than Norma Desmond, the reclusive ex-silent movie star played by Gloria Swanson? William Holden plays a young screenwriter hired to write her comeback movie, but instead finds himself embroiled in a dangerous, neurotic and, at times, psychotic relationship with her. Volatile, tempestuous and hyper-charged with every kind of tension, this is a brilliantly over the top character piece that I defy anybody to dislike.
5. THE SOUND OF MUSIC (1965)
There’s something about Julie Andrews’ performance as tearaway-nun turned governess Maria that inspires every possible emotion in LGBT people. An outcast, a beautiful misfit; her motherly warmth and her flawless voice - who couldn’t fall in love with her, regardless of your sexuality? With singing nuns, well-dressed villains, lederhosen aplenty and a rather dishy Captain Von Trapp, this is everything we could possibly need in a film. And at over three hours, this is one of those rare films that you actually wish is longer than it is.
4. THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA (2006)
Screw Meryl Streep’s Oscar-winning performances. Her role as Anna Wintour-esque fashion magazine editor Miranda Priestley is, hands down, her greatest performance to date. And while her scathing put-downs would make even RuPaul gasp, who doesn’t want to be Anne Hathaway, climbing the ranks in this Cinderella story that delivers on every level. And with Emily Blunt stealing every scene she’s in, you can almost forget that actually, these characters all pretty damned unpleasant.
3. WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? (1962)
If you’re a movie producer, playing on the rivalry between Hollywood juggernauts Bette Davies and Joan Crawford makes perfect sense. With the two famously hating each other but with both at the end of their careers, they were finally willing to star in a movie together. And the result is just as explosive as you might expect. Davies plays a former child star looking after her disabled sister in a decaying mansion, whom she blames for the loss of her career. As this character horror descends into the realms of camp horror, so too does the gasp-factor, as they enact venomous acts of scandalous revenge on one another. Much to EVERYONE’S viewing pleasure.
2. ALL ABOUT EVE (1950)
An actress obsessed with a stage star does everything in her power to meet, emulate, surpass and replace her idol. Crammed with pithy one-liners, bitchy verbal attacks and a cataclysmic battle of wits, this was a film seemingly built for its camp value, but completely unabashedly so. Its script is magnificent and is crammed with perfectly exaggerated performances including Bette Davies’ greatest ever role. To date, it is probably the gayest movie to win Best Picture. And that includes Moonlight.
1. THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939)
What could be more gay than The Wizard Of Oz? There’s a reason gay men are sometimes called “friends of Dorothy”, referring to the iconic performance that catapulted Judy Garland to stardom, cementing her as such a gay icon that her death arguably started the Stonewall riots, and making ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’ one of the most famous songs in the history of recorded music. This story of a girl lost in the mysterious land of Oz, following the yellow brick road in her ruby slippers to meet the wizard who is the only person able to send her home, is filled with technicolour vibrancy, hyper-camp showtunes, glitter, archetypal villains and one of the strongest female leads in cinema. And, released just as gay men began to feel the liberation of the openness toward homosexuality within the army during WW2, it captured the imagination of the very first people to recognise the changing of the tide toward LGBT people.