The sci-fi genre is a curious beast at times. You’d think that most sci-fi films would show future worlds teeming with diversity, but queer populations in sci-fi are rarely more pronounced than they are on modern-day Earth. At times in fact, sci-fi feels even more repressive (just check out the infographic on the lack of diversity in sci-fi movies below). The Star Wars series has yet to introduce a canonically queer character (since Disney has decided that only the films and animated series are considered true canon), and Star Trek’s treatment of queer characters could generously be described as “troublesome.”
So what’s a queer sci-fi fan to do? Sure, there’s The Fifth Element with its colorful, confident camp and Jean-Paul Gautier costumes, but what if you’re just not in the mood for a “Leeloo Dallas Multi-pass”? Well, never fear: here are a few queer sci-fi films you’ve never heard of, a few with queer subtexts you probably missed out on the first time.
Space Station 76 (2014)
It’s the future! As imagined by the past! Openly gay director Jack Plotnick — who also co-wrote the screenplay — stages Space Station 76 as if it were a deadly, obliviously serious sci-fi parable made in 1974: the fashions, the hair, and the crew’s robotic counselor whose only method of treatment is prescribing valium are all painfully, intentionally dated.
The tension between the station’s inhabitants gets pushed to the limit when Jessica, the ship’s new navigator (played by Liv Tyler) comes to replace Daniel (Matthew Morrison) who left because of reasons that ship’s captain Glenn (Patrick Wilson) doesn’t want to talk about. The fact that Glenn lives deep inside a very transparent closet should give you a clue.
If that’s not enough, there’s a bit of eye candy in the form of sentient gay Ken doll Matt Bomer as the ship’s (straight) mechanic.
Vegas In Space (1991)
Imagine Barbarella mashed up with 1958’s notorious Zsa Zsa Gabor vehicle Queen Of Outer Space, then throw in an entire cast of drag queens, and you have Troma Studios’ Vegas In Space. It features a team of male space explorers who go undercover on an all-female planet to unravel the mystery of who stole Empress Nueva Gabor’s jewels. Turns out that these accessories are so fabulous that their theft is causing global instability.
A film nearly a decade in the making, it stars one of the final performances of Australian drag legend Doris Fish, and the entrance scene of the Miss X as the imperious Queen Veneer (think Bianca Del Rio-meets-Divine on the third moon of Jupiter) is more than enough to merit it a place on this list (jump to 6:56 in the video above to see what we mean).
Bloody Mallory (2002)
While Bloody Mallory is more of a sci-fi/horror/action mash-up (with plenty of high-tech gadgets), it’s the coolest film you’ve never heard of, probably because it was only ever released in France before getting a very quiet straight-to-video American release.
Mallory is a vinyl-wearing commando with cherry red hair who leads a government-run paranormal defense force. Among her eclectic team is explosives expert Vena Cava, a mixed-race drag queen with electric blue hair, platform heels outfitted with machine guns and a miniature rocket launcher disguised as a tube of lipstick.
Mallory and her team reluctantly agree to rescue Pope Hieronymus I from demons — the film introduces him giving a Evita-esque speech railing against gay marriage and abortion to a wide-eyed, fanatical crowd chanting, “To the stakes!” It’s endearingly low-budget, unabashedly campy and has a surprisingly pro-queer message running throughout. And it’s also so French that it hurts.
The Stepford Wives (2004)
The original 1975 film version of Ira Levin’s novel The Stepford Wives was a transparent metaphor for the way men felt threatened by the growing feminist movement. Controlling husbands turn their rebellious wives into subservient, robotic housewives.
Re-imagined by openly gay writer Paul Rudnick (who also gave us Jeffrey, Addams Family Values, and In & Out), the encroaching danger isn’t feminism but non-conformity to gender and sexual stereotypes. The women of this Stepford were all powerful career women — CEOs, judges, etc. — who overshadowed their husbands. As punishment, they’re reduced to the perfect 1950s female stereotype in a McMansion-studded suburb that feels like an alien world all its own.
The 2004 Stepford also gives us a gay couple, one of whom is a buttoned-up up Republican and the other a flaming Mary. Guess which one of them ends up getting a Brooks Brothers makeover? While the film is often an effective black comedy, and Glenn Close is a total joy as the lead Stepford wife, it’s undone by its cop-out, test-audience-mandated ending. Luckily, this can be remedied by watching the original film’s ending on DVD.
Masters of the Universe (1987)
I know what you’re saying. Yeah, we get it: He-Man is pretty damn gay. But there’s more to it than just seeing a tanned, oiled-up Dolph Lundgren at his physical peak run around in fur underwear and a chest harness for 90 minutes (although that’s enough on its own).
What makes Masters of the Universe one of the queerest sci-fi films out there is the undeniably homoerotic subtext between He-Man and his arch-nemesis Skeletor, played with full Shakespearean gusto by Frank Langella. You can debate amongst yourselves whether gay director Gary Goddard put it there intentionally or not.
It’s not just Skeletor rebuffing Evil-Lyn’s advances because he’d rather have He-Man. It’s not just Skeletor’s constant wish that He-Man kneel before him. It’s not just Skeletor’s over-aroused reaction to seeing a nearly-naked He-Man getting whipped by a bald muscleman wearing an eye patch (video above). OK, so maybe it IS mostly that. If anything else, Skeletor’s costume change in the third act is shiny enough and fabulous enough to power an entire New Orleans Pride Parade for at least 36 hours.
Now, your mission is to explore new films and new queer worlds, and remember: don’t stop dancing. That’s how you save the universe.
Oh, and here’s that infographic we promised… also, check our our piece on 10 badass Black sci-fi heroes.