Of all the major film studios, Universal Pictures, founded in 1912, is the oldest. In 2004, Universal Studios merged with NBC becoming NBCUniversal, which was acquired by Comcast in 2009. In August 2016, Universal completed purchasing Dreamworks Animation, which was previously a holding of 20th Century Fox. Universal will begin distributing Dreamworks films in 2019. Having long focused on mass appeal films, many of Universal’s most classic films came from collaborations with director Steven Spielberg and included Jaws, E.T., Jurassic Park, and Schindler’s List.
Due to that focus on mass appeal, perhaps it is not surprising that it was not until the 1990s that any LGBTQ content began to appear in Universal films. The 1991 adaptation of Fried Green Tomatoes removed much of the source novel’s lesbian content, though the 1994 comedic drama Reality Bites did feature a prominent gay character.
Universal’s other inclusive films have also been a mixture of highs and lows, and include To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar (1995), Mulholland Drive (2001), I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry (2007), Bruno (2009), Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010), Kick-Ass 2 (2013), Riddick (2013), and Legend (2015).
BRIDGET JONES'S BABY
Widest theatrical release: 2,930 theaters
The third film in the Bridget Jones franchise includes a handful of gay and lesbian characters, but their stories largely come across as incredibly dated narratives we have seen before. Bridget’s cheeky best friend, Tom, returns as a spin class instructor. In the film’s opening, he surprises Bridget with the news that he is beginning adoption proceedings with his partner, Eduardo. Bridget’s mother is now running for local government on a “family values” platform. After Bridget challenges her to update her worldview, she changes her slogan to include “supports the majority of homosexuals.” An older gay couple is part of Pamela’s campaign team, though she is shocked to discover the two are together. The men mostly exist to make a point about Pamela’s constituents being a more diverse group than she thought. Later, Bridget and her two male love interests attend pregnancy classes together, and their cohort includes a lesbian couple. These characters only appear for a few seconds, and are primarily used to prop up a joke about the possible fathers being mistaken for a gay couple. One of the men is visibly uncomfortable by this assumption and the other plays along with the mix up solely to peeve the other. While the film clearly is set in a world where LGBTQ people are accepted, the inclusion of these outdated jokes and prop characters was jarring.
Widest theatrical release: 2,248 theaters
This drama revisits early-1950s Hollywood, as the old system of studios having near total control of a star’s image was collapsing. The film revolves around the abduction of Capitol Pictures star Baird Whitlock by a group of Communist film writers who intended to ransom him back to the studio. When Whitlock disappears, two rival gossip columnists surface and threaten to run a story about Whitlock agreeing to sleep with closeted male director Laurence Laurentz to secure his breakout role. The story is widely known in Hollywood, and is again used as a threat against Whitlock when he asks what is keeping him from revealing the names of his abductors. The trope of predatory gay characters bribing or pressuring a straight man into sex is both offensive and incredibly overdone through the years. Concurrently, closeted actor Burt Gurney – the star of the musical number “No Dames” who is referred to as “Laurentz’ new protégé”– is revealed as the head of the Communist cell before he boards a Soviet submarine. In the film’s finale, the columnist announces her plans to run the story on Whitlock’s past with Laurentz, naming Gurney as her source, but the studio “fixer” makes it clear that she cannot publish the column without ruining her own reputation by tying herself to a defected Communist.
MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING 2
Widest theatrical release: 3,179 theaters
Cousin Angelo returns in this sequel to the early 2000s original My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Over the course of the film, Angelo eventually comes out to his family who immediately accept him and his boyfriend and business partner, Patrick. While both characters are largely relegated to the sidelines and primarily engage in ensemble scenes, their story is sweet and still notable for a mainstream release.
NEIGHBORS 2: SORORITY RISING
Widest theatrical release: 3,416 theaters
Neighbors 2 includes an unexpectedly well-handled sub plot about former fraternity brother Pete getting engaged and how his moving forward in life strains his friendship with the central character, Teddy, who is struggling to find his niche post-college. Darren proposes to Pete with the help of Teddy and some of the other frat brothers at their weekly poker night. After Pete says yes, the camera pushes in on the two kissing as the rest of the guys cheer and hug them. Pete and Teddy have a falling out when he realizes Pete expects Teddy to move out of their shared home to give the couple their own space. Later, Teddy returns and the two reconcile after he realizes he is not losing his best friend, but “gaining a best friend’s husband.” The film ends on Pete and Darren’s wedding day. As Teddy prepares Pete to walk down the aisle, we learn that Teddy has finally found a steady job as a wedding planner for gay couples. Pete and Darren’s story was told very naturally, something that is rare in this type brand of comedy where affection between two men is overwhelmingly played for laughs or as a “gross-out” moment. There were some stumbles around jokes of men wanting to see two women kiss, but overall, the film’s inclusion was a pleasant surprise.
POPSTAR: NEVER STOP NEVER STOPPING
Widest theatrical release: 2,313 theaters
This mockumentary of the music industry and celebrity culture from the members of The Lonely Island includes a video for the track “Equal Rights.” In the video, the film’s star Connor4Real raps, “I’m not gay, but if I were, I would marry who I like,” and as the song progresses he references more and more absurd assertions of his own sexuality while waving a rainbow flag and attending weddings of multiple same-sex couples. The couples and his co-star, singer Pink appearing as herself, give Connor increasingly uncomfortable looks as he raps “not gay” after every other word. Ringo Starr notes at the end of the song that marriage equality was already signed into law in the U.S., invalidating Connor’s entire song. The single fails and later in the film, Connor himself says the song was offensive. While the song itself made a smart point about the absurdity of gay panic, the film did blunder in a scene where the concertgoers giggle when a stage malfunction disrobes Connor and his penis is not visible. The scene was not overtly transphobic, but the joke presumes the film’s audience will laugh at a person not having the expected genitals.
Focus Features was established in 2002 when USA Films, Universal Focus, and Good Machine combined into a single company. Focus Features produces and distributes its own features, in addition to distributing foreign films, establishing an impressive record of accomplishment of critically acclaimed and popular LGBTQ-inclusive films that include The Kids Are All Right (2010), Pariah (2011), and Milk (2008). Its most commercially successful LGBTQ-inclusive release to date is the 2006 Academy Award-winning drama Brokeback Mountain, adapted from the Annie Proulx novel about the romantic relationship between two men in 1960s Wyoming. In 2013, it released another prominent Oscar-nominated LGBTQ-inclusive film, Dallas Buyers Clubs, and followed it up with 2015’s The Danish Girl which was also Oscar-nominated.
Widest theatrical release: 1,262 theaters
This drama centers on Susan, an upper class art gallery owner, who receives a novel manuscript from her estranged ex-husband Edward that leads her to question the choices that led to her current loveless marriage. Early on, Susan attends a dinner party where she chats with Carlos and his wife Alessia, who are happily married even though Carlos is gay. Their “arrangement” works for them, and Alessia expounds on friendship lasting longer than lust. Later in the film, Susan talks about her brother, Cooper, who has been disowned by her family after coming out as gay. She mentions to Edward that Cooper used to have a crush on him. After Edward reacts only with concern that he inadvertently hurt Cooper because he was not aware of his feelings, Susan commends him for being accepting of a man having feelings for him. Cooper himself never appears. Though it is clear that this film takes place in a world inclusive of gay characters accepted by the protagonists, it is disappointing that their stories are centered on the straight women in their lives.