While there are plenty of films in which men play women, there are far fewer flicks featuring females in male roles. So we’ve dug up 11 modern films where women play men. In most of them, women masquerade as men in order to overcome societal sexism, but in one film, a woman actually plays a man. Most of the films also verge into queer themes of closeted identities and same-sex attraction as the disguised women fall into love with men while trying to keep their gender identities a secret.
1. Catriona MacColl as Oscar François de Jarjayes in Lady Oscar (1979)
Based on the manga The Rose of Versailles (written by female artist Riyoko Ikeda), this drama set in 18th century France follows a girl raised as a man by her military general father so that she can be his successor in the royal guard. However, she falls in love with a man and, as the country descends into the French Revolution, they find themselves on different sides of the battle as the people try and storm the French prison known as the Bastille.
2. Julie Andrews as Count Victor Grazinski in Victor/Victoria (1982)
A longtime favorite among gay viewers, this film is actually a remake of the 1933 German film Viktor und Viktoria. In it, Andrews plays a starving singer in 1934 Paris who, at the advising of her gay friend (fabulously played by Robert Preston), pretends to be a male drag queen. Her male persona, Victor, soon becomes the toast of Paris, but when American mafia nightclub finds himself attracted to Victor, hijinks ensue as he struggles to reconcile his same-sex attractions with his macho identity.
The depiction of gay Parisian nightlife, stunning stage productions, arch gender politics, comedic performances and non-stop catchy showtunes make this a must-watch musical.
3. Linda Hunt as Billy Kwan in The Year of Living Dangerously (1982)
This 1982 Australian romantic drama, adapted from a 1978 novel of the same name, stars actress Linda Hunt in the role of fictional Indonesian photographer Billy Kwan. Kwan serves as a contact for Australian Guy Hamilton (played by Mel Gibson), a journalist who watches as the Communist Party starts its 1965 coup on the Indonesian government. Hunt’s portrayal won her the 1983 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, which is pretty twisted considering that she’s basically acting in yellowface.
4. Barbra Streisand as Anshel Mendel In Yentl (1983)
This film is about a Polish Jewish girl named Yentl who disguises herself as a boy named Anshel to study at an all-male Hebrew school. It was adapted a play which was itself adapted from a short story. Though the film begins by addressing sexism, it expands into a romantic triangle between Anshel, his handsome classmate whom Yentl pines for and his fiancee who falls in love with Anshel. It bristles with homoerotic tension, which seems fitting as Streisand herself is a gay icon.
5. Joyce Hyser as Terry Griffith in Just One of the Guys (1985)
Terri Griffith wants to be a professional journalist, but she feels newsroom sexism blocking her way into a coveted newspaper internship. So she disguises herself as a boy named Terry and enrolls into a rival high school to start publishing under a male name.
There she meets Rick, a sweet but awkward nerd who she helps become more social. Of course, she develops feelings for Rick while navigating the tricky worlds of the boys’ locker room and heterosexual dating.
6. Suzy Amis as Jo Monaghan in The Ballad of Little Jo (1993)
Although the film was criticized for presenting “a feminized image of Asian males in American mass media,” its depiction of a woman’s plight in the American Wild West bears some resemblance to reality. In fact, its story about a female protagonist who poses as a male for her own safety in the male-dominated frontier, is somewhat similar to that of real-life stagecoach driver Charley Darkey Parkhurst.
Parkhurst was a person who, after dying, was discovered to have been assigned female at birth despite having lived as a man for most of adulthood.
The film also features openly gay actor Ian McKellen, which is always a plus.
7. Whoopi Goldberg as Robert S. Cutty in The Associate (1996)
Tired of Wall Street sexism, investment banker Laurel Ayres (Goldberg) goes into business for herself as an independent stockbroker and invents a fictional male associate named Robert S. Cutty to do business on her firm’s behalf. But as her business becomes more successful, New York’s business magnates (including, barf, Donald Trump) start seeking a face-to-face meeting with Mr. Cutty in the flesh. Ayres eventually seeks out a drag queen to transform her into Cutty, a guy who is supposed to be an older white man. The film is a satirical comedy with a moral, albeit an idyllic one.
8. Hillary Swank as Brandon Teena in Boys Don’t Cry (1999)
At a 2016 screening at Oregon’s Reed College, student activists shouted down lesbian filmmaker Kimberly Peirce for “profiting off of” the real-life 1993 murder of trans man Brandon Teena, the story of which forms the heart of this film. The film also stars cisgender actress Hilary Swank, who won an acting Oscar for controversially playing a trans role.
But to the film’s credit, there were almost no films about trans issues before it, and it helped raise public awareness about transphobic violence. It maintains this legacy despite failing to live up to modern standards of social justice.
9. Amanda Bynes as Sebastian Hastings in She’s the Man (2006)
This college sports comedy is actually a remake of the 1985 film Just One of the Guys (mentioned above) with a lot of Shakespeare’s gender-bending comedy Twelfth Night sprinkled in.
In it, Bynes plays Viola, the twin sister of Sebastian, a soccer player who attends an all-male private school. When Sebastian goes to London to tour with his fledgling rock band, Viola agrees to cover for him by pretending to be him at school. But while masquerading as her brother, Viola falls in love with her brother’s roommate Duke (played by an age-inappropriate Channing Tatum) who in turn is interested in a girl who is attracted to “Sebastian.”
While a lot of the film’s humor relies on homoerotic awkwardness when “Sebastian” absent-mindedly expresses sexual interest in men, the film at least nails the confusing love triangle from Shakespeare’s play.
10. Cate Blanchett as Bob Dylan in I’m Not There (2007)
Directed and co-written by openly gay filmmaker Todd Haynes (Velvet Goldmine and Carol), this non-linear fictionalized retelling of the “many lives and songs” of American musician Bob Dylan features six different actors playing characters that represent different aspects of Dylan’s life.
In the film, Australian actress Cate Blanchett plays Jude Quinn, a folk musician who represents Dylan during the mid-’60s. In Blanchett’s section, Quinn descends into a trippy existential breakdown after being accused of selling out for playing an electric guitar at a folk music festival.
The real-life Dylan’s music was used to advocate for social justice positions against violence and institutional racism.
11. Glenn Close as Albert Nobbs in Albert Nobbs (2012)
In this late 18th century Irish drama, Academy-award nominated actress Glenn Close plays Albert Nobbs, a humble hotel butler who secretly dreams of having a wife and owning his own tobacco shop. However, Nobbs has another secret too: He was assigned female at birth and few people know.
Nobbs life becomes complicated when he starts developing feelings for a young maid named Helen. Helen is involved with a scheming and hot-tempered man named Joe, and if either one discovers Nobbs’ secret, Nobbs could end up in danger.
Close not only starred as the film’s titular lead character, but also co-wrote the script and performed its original song with Sinéad O’Connor. Close received 19 award nominations for her work in this film, including an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress.
What do you think of these 11 films where women play men? Did we miss any? Sound off in the comments.
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