The History of Drag Queen Movies

Drag is when men impersonate women for the purpose of lifestyle or entertainment. Due to its perception of outrageousness, the Hollywood that used to shun drag has slowly learned to embrace it. From its B-movie origins to cult classics, it has evolved from fetish-based entertainment to family-friendly subject matter. The history is rich and varies from Ed Wood's Glen or Glenda, to Tim Curry's role in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, to that played by Robin Williams in Mrs. Doubtfire, In this video, WatchMojo.com takes a look back at the various Drag Queen movies in cinema.
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The History of Drag Queen Movies

Boys will sometimes be girls. Welcome to WatchMojo.com and today we’ll be taking a look back at Hollywood’s most iconic Drag Queen Movies of all time.

For those who don’t know, drag is when men impersonate women for the purpose of lifestyle and entertainment. Due to its perception of outrageousness, the Hollywood that used to shun drag has slowly learned to embrace it. From its B-movie origins to cult classics, it has evolved from fetish-based entertainment to family-friendly subject matter.

Perhaps the earliest film in this genre was the 1953 low-budget exploitation film “Glen or Glenda” directed by, and starring B-movie legend Ed Wood. In the picture he played the title character, drawing inspiration from the real-life and highly publicized sex change surgery of Christine Jorgensen in the early 50s. In the film, Ed Wood’s Glen changes into Glenda upon realizing that men’s clothes are dull and restrictive.

Later that decade, Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis starred alongside Marilyn Monroe as struggling musicians who join an-all girl band in “Some Like It Hot.”

While these were considered absolutely outrageous at the time, drag would be taken one step further in 1975 with the release of the rock musical “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” Adapting its existing stage play to the silver screen, the cult classic B-movie spoof starred Tim Curry as a devious and flamboyant bisexual scientist from Transylvania.

The production was so popular and exciting that fans have since attended screenings and stage plays in women’s clothes and lingerie for the full authentic experience.

Taking advantage of this new cult admiration for the genre, Dustin Hoffman put on a dress in the mainstream film “Tootsie.” The film told the wacky story of an unemployed actor that pretends to be a woman in order to land a role in a soap opera. Not only was the film incredibly successful, it was also nominated for numerous awards.

But not all drag queen movies would be as light-hearted. In fact, the 1988 play-to-movie adaptation of “Torch Song Trilogy” introduced audiences to a song-singing Jewish drag queen’s disillusionment with love.

As the 1990s began, Robin Williams starred in the most mainstream drag movie of all time, the family-friendly comedy “Mrs. Doubtfire.” Making drag mainstream overnight, Williams played the part of a father who would do anything to see his children, including cross-dressing as an elderly nanny.

Resulting from its wide-appeal and success, drag suddenly exploded in theatres. The subject matter went from deadly serious in “The Crying Game” to gloriously flamboyant when Hugo Weaving and Guy Pearce starred in “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.” And it was immediately followed by yet another drag road trip flick “To Wong Fu, Thanks For Everything Julie Newmar,” which starred Patrick Swayze, Wesley Snipes and John Leguizamo.

Rounding out the decade, Robin Williams returned to the genre. This time he starred opposite a dress-wearing Nathan Lane in the comedy “The Birdcage.” Throughout the film they attempt to hide their lifestyle choices, and their drag nightclub from their son’s soon to be ultra-conservative father-in law.

Since then there have been a steady flow of drag movies. However, few have recaptured the notoriety of these earlier films, despite the shocking casting the Wayans brothers in the bizarre comedy “White Chicks” and the likes of A-lister John Travolta in “Hairspray.”

From a taboo sub-genre of cinema, drag has attracted audiences of all walks of life since its incorporation into the mainstream as a celebration of lifestyle, comedy and freedom.
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