While gender-bending films is a niche subgenre, it’s slowly gathered up an impressive catalog of films, including the upcoming Doctor Jekyll. Films about crossdressing, drag queens, the transgender community, and even fantasies that involve body-swapping and magical transformations fall into this category.
The best films on this gender-swapping side of cinema are unusual, challenging, and smart. They take on concepts that most films aren’t willing to tackle, introducing new ideas and highlighting old prejudices in ways their fans didn’t expect.
10 Freak Show Tells The Heartwarming Story Of A Genderqueer Teen
With a strong supporting cast that includes Abigail Breslin, AnnaSophia Robb, Bette Midler, and Laverne Cox, Freak Show tells the story of how a proudly flamboyant young gay man overcomes his peers’ prejudices by not only becoming a drag queen but also the homecoming queen.
Billy is played well by Alex Lawther and the character is easy to root for. All he wants is to be his most fabulous self and his journey is a joy to watch. Even the film’s sadder moments are leading up to Billy getting the happiness he deserves.
9 Zerophilia Understands The Difference Between Gender And Sexual Identity
More of a young adult drama, Zerophilia focuses on a young man who transforms into a woman every time he experiences sensual bliss. Unlike most gender-bending stories, Zerophilia features a more realistic depiction of what would happen if someone swapped genders in an instant.
Luke is understandably unnerved and uncomfortable in the new body, but the more often they become Luca, the more they enjoy being a woman and exploring new feelings. It’s an interesting take on the gender-swap concept and manages to introduce some nicely unexpected twists and turns.
8 Orlando Shows A Man Restart Life As A Woman
Based on the novel by Virginia Woolf, Orlando focuses on the struggle a man would have if he suddenly woke up as a woman. Tilda Swinton deserves so much credit for her portrayal of an androgynous male who has to start a new life when he transforms into a woman and lives for centuries in his new body.
Rather than going for cheap gags, Orlando is a strong period drama that treats its concept with sincerity and grace. Adjusting to her new body is a slow process for Orlando, as is confronting the feelings that were dormant in her previous life but her new body has brought front and center.
7 Your Name Tries Something Different With Body Swaps
The concept of a man and woman swapping bodies to walk a mile in each other’s shoes is clichéd at this point. Your Name, on the other hand, tries something different by having two total strangers switch bodies. Instead of comedic antics as they try to learn to be each other, they both have to learn completely on their own.
By the end, Mitsuha and Taki learn so much about each other that they develop a genuine love for each other without ever meeting. Your Name can even be tear-jerking at times. The animation is gorgeous and the dual character study is executed well, making the film more than just a novel concept.
6 To Wong Foo… Showcases The Beauty Of Drag Queens
There’s immediately something enjoyable about seeing action and thriller stars Wesley Snipes, John Leguizamo, and Patrick Swayze play drag queens. It could have been so easy for To Wong Foo to shine a poor light on drag queens, but instead, it’s a fun, positive representation of the community.
To Wong Foo‘s three leads nail their performances as they get into all sorts of misadventures on their road trip. The film also successfully mixes comedy and drama and provides a healthy look into the world of drag queens. In a time when the LGBTQIA+ community was rarely the focus of pop culture, To Wong Foo was a truly forward-thinking film.
5 Freaky Provides A Bloody Twist On A Classic Plot
A slasher villain a lot like the famous Jason Voorhees accidentally swaps bodies with a teenage girl. It’s a simple concept but Freaky makes it smart, funny and horrific at the same time. Vince Vaughn is incredibly effective at playing both the Blissfield Butcher and the young woman who’s trapped in his gigantic, powerful body, showcasing a wide range throughout the film.
The same can be said for Kathryn Newton, who ends up stealing the film when she has to portray a killer trying to hide in a high school. Freaky also showcases the pros and cons in both situations, with a killer in a weaker but easily underestimated body, and an inexperienced young woman piloting a massive middle-aged body.
4 Priscilla Is To Wong Foo’s Australian Precursor
To Wong Foo… might be more famous than The Adventures Of Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert but this Australian film tackled the concept first. With Guy Pearce, Terence Stamp, and Hugo Weaving turning in strong performances like their To Wong Foo counterparts, this film deserves recognition for its LGBTQIA+ representation and its tender, playful heart.
Not only does it feature drag queens, but Terence Stamp’s character is a transgender woman. It was rare to find transgender characters, let alone main characters, in this era, not to mention queer people with kids. The filmmakers deserve praise for treating these communities with respect while also delivering a fun road trip adventure.
3 The Danish Girl Is The True Story Of A Transwoman
The Danish Girl is one of the most endearing biopics ever centered on a trans character. What begins as a fun bit of cross-dressing at a party becomes a closeted trans woman’s journey of rediscovery and transition. It’s eloquently told, showing the long journey transgender women go through, depicting it as both fulfilling and heartbreaking.
The Danish Girl showcases the courage it takes to burn important bridges and go through multiple surgeries on the way to becoming the person they are in their hearts. Eddie Redmayne gives a heart-stealing performance in the lead with Alicia Vikander also turning in a memorable performance.
2 Some Like It Hot Is Surprisingly Ahead Of Its Time
In the relatively small world of gender-bending movies, Some Like It Hot is the one that crafted the mold for the others, and it shows. It has all the hijinks fans expect when men disguise themselves as women to hide from the mob, and it features a strong performance from Marilyn Monroe as the unforgettable Sugar Kane.
For 1959, the humor manages to still hold up since it doesn’t try to paint crossdressers and drag queens in a bad light. In fact, Some Like It Hot is ahead of its time. One of the leads even start to embrace life as their female persona named Daphne and gets engaged to a man they genuinely like. It’s not perfectly balanced or enlightened, but it’s smart and funny from start to finish.
1 Dr. Jekyll & Sister Hyde Is As Scary As It Is Fascinating (1972)
One of the underrated gems in the library of Hammer horror films, Dr. Jekyll & Sister Hyde features a familiar concept, though in this iteration the scientist transforms him into a gorgeous woman. However, instead of the usual comedic hijinks, Sister Hyde fully a horrific story as intriguing as it is thrilling.
Sister Hyde is more than simply a gender-swapped version of Jekyll & Hyde. It delves deeper into the psychological side of the story, where Jekyll and Hyde’s minds meld to the point where they both feature aspects of each other. By the end of the film, both sides can come off as either the victim or the villain, making it difficult to side with either persona.
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