It’s nearly Valentine’s Day, and since last week we recounted 10 of the most romantic male same-sex couples from modern gay film, this week we’re covering 10 of the least romantic. Their toxicity, infidelity and literal murderousness make them some of the worst gay couples ever to grace the silver screen. But if you like drama, you may well consider these horrible relationships among the best, you glutton for punishment, you.
Oh, and if you like non-romantic films, check out our list of 14 films that spit on love.
Editor’s Note: This article totally has spoilers. If you haven’t seen these films, you might want to just skim the titles and skip the descriptions of all these worst gay couples.
1. Happy Together (1997)
Lai and the appropriately named Ho, two Hong Kong expats who flee to Argentina to see the Iguazu waterfalls, are in an abusive on-again off-again relationship. Ho seduces other men in front of Lai, the two fight and then eventually get back together. Lai’s eventually able to break their alcoholic, nicotine-fueled cycle of enabling and co-dependence, but the slow demise of their miserably poor and emotionally toxic relationship makes their movie’s title one of the most ironic in film history.
2. The Living End (1992)
Depending on how punk rock you are, Luke the reckless kill-happy drifter and Jon the timid film critic either have the worst relationship or the most badass one you’ve ever seen. They’re both HIV-positive (at a time when antiretroviral HIV meds were still unavailable for most), on the run from the law as they kill and steal their way away from a conventional life. And all Luke wants to do — besides drinking, driving and killing anyone who pisses him off — is to blow his brains out right after he orgasms. Talk about a bad romance — no wonder Luke and Jon are one of the very worst gay couples on our list!
3. Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001)
Even though everyone remembers John Cameron Mitchell’s film musical for its upbeat songs and plucky titular hero, Hedwig’s romantic life is pretty much a five-alarm dumpster fire. Her first boyfriend Luther made her get a botched gender reassignment surgery before she could leave East Germany as a woman, and after arriving in the U.S. he left her for some boy toy. Then Hedwig falls in love with Tommy “Gnosis” Speck, a Bible-banging wannabe rocker who creates music with her before stealing all of her songs to start his own super-successful career without her. Even Hedwig’s competitive and non-communicative current relationship with current husband Yitzhak involves power plays, literal wig-snatching and Hedwig ripping up his passport when Yitzhak threatens to leave her band. Messed up!
4. Bad Education (2004)
Jesus Christ, where to start? When creatively blocked filmmaker Enrique runs into his childhood flame Juan, Juan’s tell-all story of the parochial school priest who abused them both as kids seems like the perfect fodder to get Enrique out of his creative slump. But then Juan turns out to be a lying, blackmailing, murderous cocktease willing to say (or slay) anything just to become a film star. Enrique is willing to have passionate (and seemingly painful) sex with Juan even though he doesn’t trust him just to get through the hardships of filmmaking — oh, the creative process.
5. Brokeback Mountain (2005)
Jack Twist and Ennis Del Mar could have the perfect relationship as two hunky cowboy boyfriends wrangling sheep and “stemming the rose” in Wyoming, except that Del Mar is so damned afraid of getting gaybashed and living life away from his kids that both men stay lovelessly married to two beautiful women while having the occasional affair with one another over two decades. Neither one is happy, and poor Jack has to appease his desire with sex workers. And the heart-shattering ending to their tale shows why closet cases should quit with the bullshitting and just run away with the men they love.
6. Contracorriente (2009)
Speaking of closet cases, Miguel the fisherman is totally fucking Santiago the painter, and pretty much everyone in their northern Peruvian oceanside village knows it (especially after Santiago dies and they discover nude paintings of Miguel in his house). Miguel could possibly live happily ever after with Santiago except that Santiago is dead and only exists in ghost form, haunting Miguel until he comes clean about their relationship. We’re normally fine with mixed relationships, but living/dead is one barrier that can’t really be crossed, making them one of our worst gay couples.
7. La Cage Aux Folles (1978)
Though this French comedy was the basis for the 1996 Robin Williams and Nathan Lane comedy The Birdcage, the original lacked some of the tender scenes of reconciliation between the male couple at the heart of the story. In The Birdcage, when Lane’s character dares Williams to hit him, Williams simply shoves away his face — in the French original, he hits him, but it’s played for laughs and the assaulter injures his hand after striking his husband. In both versions, however, the more “masculine” husband basically asks the flamboyant one to closet himself and disappear rather than risk outing their gay family to their son’s bigoted would-be in-laws. Love wins in the end, but it’s a rocky ride getting there.
8. Rope (1948)
Based on a real-life murder, the film opens with implied lovers Philip and Brandon strangling a fellow classmate to death just to broaden their intellectual horizons. They then host an increasingly agitated dinner party for their murdered friend, feigning ignorance about his whereabouts while literally serving dinner on the container holding his corpse. They’re literally the worst dinner hosts since Titus Andronicus, and one of the worst gay couples in modern film.
9. Shortbus (2006)
On the surface, James and Jamie might seem like a great couple — they’re both hunky, open to new sexual experiences and actively looking for a third in their relationship. But it turns out that James is super-depressed, only seeking a third to be Jamie’s replacement boyfriend for when James eventually kills himself and, when he does try to kill himself and goes missing for a while, he doesn’t even try to contact his old boyfriend to let him know he’s OK. Instead he just lets the next-door neighbor who saved him rawdog him. James and Jamie end up together in the end, but they should probably keep seeing their couples counselor.
10. Love! Valour! Compassion! (1997)
Arthur and Perry, a boring-but-loving business consultant couple, are the most stable set of lovers among Gregory’s friends in this film adaptation of Terrence McNally’s 1994 play. While the play follows gay friendship and heartbreak during three summer holidays at a New York lakehouse, the two other relationships at the heart of the story are all pretty fucked up: Gregory’s blind boyfriend Bobby is secretly having an affair with some hot guest named Ramon, and Ramon is sleeping with an embittered BDSM-loving Brit named John Jeckyll who treats everyone else like garbage. It’s nearly enough to make any guy want to stay single.