This picture was considered one of the most controversial films within the Hollywood film industry in 1982. This movie has also been considered the first Hollywood studio movie that openly and directly marketed a feature film about homosexuality to the general public. The film was part of a breakthrough cycle of mainstream Hollywood studio movies featuring gay partnerships and drag characters. Others included Partners (1982), Cruising (1980), Victor Victoria (1982), Tootsie (1982) and Personal Best (1982).
This film's producer Daniel Melnick said of this movie in the documentary The Celluloid Closet (1995) that he had "had the unpleasant task of running the rough cut of the film" for a person who was not of "the film world, nor the intellectual world, nor the world of letters and arts". Visibly uncomfortable during the screening, at the scene in the film when the two men kiss, the man "jumped up and said 'you made a goddamn faggot movie'! and stormed out".
One of the film's movie posters/press ads featured a long descriptive preamble that told the public in a subtle way that the film was about a homosexual love affair between two men. It read: "After eight years of marriage, Claire had everything, a loving husband and an exciting career. Suddenly, Claire's whole world is threatened when she learns that her husband is involved in a love affair, but not with another woman. MAKING LOVE is the sensitive story of a courageous husband and wife who deal honestly with their problem. There's more to love than... MAKING LOVE".
Marvin Davis, the then new owner of the 20th Century Fox studio, unusually issued a special statement about this movie. It read: "I believe it to be a very fine motion picture and I admire its boldness. It is well acted, beautifully directed, and it is my hope that it will receive a favorable public response. I congratulate the producers for taking a controversial subject and bringing it to the screen in an honest and sensitive manner".
Infamous New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael never reviewed the movie properly, but eluded to having seen it in a 1984 review of director Arthur Hiller's film "The Lonely Guy". She called "Making Love" 'ineffable' (not able to describe adequately with words) which was probably a put-down.
When Roberta Flack was asked by Hotspots Magazine if she was nervous about recording the title song knowing the movie's content, Flack responded, "Afraid of singing a song about love? Never. I was so glad when that song charted. People who did not know that the song was about love between two men loved that song. I would talk about it in my shows, and about how love is love. Between a man and a woman, between two men, between two women. Love is universal, like music."
Harry Hamlin was eager to work with Hiller, and consulted his industry friends who advised against taking the role. However, his agents told him he'd be fine due to his then-relationship with actress Ursula Andress.
Screenwriter Barry Sandler attended a packed opening night screening of the film in 1982, and was confused by makeup of the audience in line. His idea that the studio sold them without telling them it was a gay-themed film came true when screams and walkouts occurred after the first kiss 45 minutes in.
Harry Hamlin's film career stalled due to the film's reception, but he later found success on TV and resumed his film career afterwards. He is still proud of the film and would make the same decision in a second.
Production designer James Vance originally included a huge portrait of Judy Garland on the mantelpiece in Bart's house, but screenwriter Barry Sandler vetoed it saying it wouldn't be realistic to have it.
For the "make love" scene, actors Michael Ontkean and Harry Hamlin only agreed to kiss and be in bed together but refused to do the simulated sex sequence, which was a last minute addition by director Arthur Hiller. Therefore, screenwriter and a location manager went to West Hollywood and picked up two similarly-built extras for the scene.