The Celluloid Closet (1995)

R  |   |  Documentary, History  |  15 March 1996 (USA)
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Reviews: 45 user | 32 critic

A documentary surveying the various Hollywood screen depictions of homosexuals and the attitudes behind them throughout the history of North American film.


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Nominated for 4 Primetime Emmys. Another 7 wins & 4 nominations. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Susie Bright ...
Jan Oxenberg ...
Quentin Crisp ...
Richard Dyer ...
Jay Presson Allen ...
Mrs. Gustav Ketterer ...
Will H. Hays ...
Himself (archive footage)


A comprehensive documentary of the history of gays and lesbians in cinema, from negative to positive reflections of gay characters and the troubles of actors and actresses. Written by R. John Berggren <>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated R for some graphic footage of sexuality and violence, and for language | See all certifications »



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Release Date:

15 March 1996 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Celluloid Closet  »

Box Office


$1,507,800 (USA)

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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Did You Know?


The filmmakers originally planned a sequence discussing how gay historical figures were portrayed as heterosexual in films. They aborted the sequence when Richard Burton's estate denied the rights to Alexander the Great (1956), MGM denied use of Hans Christian Andersen (1952) (fearing that the filmmakers were trying to "out" Danny Kaye) and Charlton Heston declined use of The Agony and the Ecstasy (1965) (claiming that Michelangelo was heterosexual). See more »


Susan Sarandon: Oh, movies are important and they're dangerous because we're the keeper of the dreams. You go into a little dark room and become incredibly vulnerable - on one hand all your perspectives can be challenged, you could feel something you couldn't feel normally. It can encourage you to be the protagonist in your own life. On the other hand it can completely misshape you.
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User Reviews

A closet full of dreams
26 February 2006 | by (Sydney, Australia) – See all my reviews

"The Celluloid Closet" is a history of the treatment of homosexuals and gay themes in the cinema from the silent days to 1995, but it is a very partial account, focusing almost exclusively on Hollywood. The strength of the film is a huge number of clips from a vast range of films which show that, after a fairly liberal early period, homophobia reigned supreme until the late 1960s, and still can be seen in mainstream movies today. One of the great gay clichés is the homosexual movie buff in love with the likes of Judy Garland, so it is ironic that so many gay people should turn to the Hollywood product for distraction, given how anti-gay that product was. Some of the industry people interviewed for the film boast of how the censors were outsmarted on occasion, for example Gore Vidal's account of how Charlton Heston was fooled into acting gay in "Ben Hur", but it was not until "Boys in the Band", the film of a successful stage play in 1970, that homosexuality broke through as a topic for candid treatment.

With "Brokeback Mountain" in line for an Academy Award or two this year gay themes can clearly now be mainstream. This film reminds us that cinema reflects the society from which it springs, and the United States has not historically been tolerant to what we might call sexual minorities. Somehow things loosened up in the 1960s and film-makers followed the trend (though not the lawmakers in most states). The genie is now out of the box, gay rights are reasonably well established and there is no going back. It will be interesting to see how American gay cinema retains its edge, now that homosexuality has become domesticated.

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