'Dog Day Afternoon'; 'Pink Flamingos'

The current "It Gets Better" campaign uses celebrity-made videos to buck up gay and lesbian teens who've been hounded by bullies. Alternatively, the teens could take some self-esteem pointers from a handful of fierce gay and lesbian Hollywood movie characters, including Jim Carrey in the new 'I Love You Phillip Morris' (opening Dec. 3).

Carrey plays Steven Russell, a real-life con man and frequent prison escapee. Granted, career criminal Russell is no role model. Yet audiences have to admire his outlaw resourcefulness, his ability to outwit the system and his refusal to let anything (even prison walls) stand in the way of his romance with fellow convict Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor).

Carrey's performance reminded us at Moviefone of other badass gay and lesbian characters in movies. Some are based on real people, some are heroic, some are on the wrong side of the law. But all earn our admiration for their fearlessness, their unwillingness to take abuse, and their determination to live unapologetically and defiantly.

'Bound'12. Corky (Gina Gershon) in 'Bound' (1996). Rocking a tank top as the sexiest plumber in movie history, Gershon's Corky is also a wary ex-convict trying to stay out of trouble. But trouble and romance find her in the form of Violet (Jennifer Tilly), a mobster's moll with a stopped-up sink and a scheme to steal $2 million in laundered cash while leaving her violent boyfriend (Joe Pantoliano) holding the bag. Corky proves she's adept with more than just a wrench, and she also proves that, in the world of James M. Cain-style film noir, there's plenty of room for a lesbian twist on the genre.

'Election'11.Tammy Metzler (Jessica Campbell) in 'Election' (1999). High schooler Tammy comes up with a unique solution for heartbreak. When her fickle crush Lisa spitefully dumps her to become the girlfriend of Tammy's brother Paul (Chris Klein), Tammy decides to run against Paul for student body president. A gleeful anarchist, she throws the election into chaos when she urges everyone not to vote and promises if elected to disband the student council. (Her speech is met with resounding applause.) Tammy gets the last laugh when she learns her punishment: She's sent to an all-girl Catholic school.

'Chasing Amy'10. Hooper X (Dwight Ewell) in 'Chasing Amy' (1997). Hooper may create comic books for a living, but he's not to be trifled with. He preaches militant gay black radicalism, writes a comic called 'White Hatin' Coon' and, during a speech at a comic book convention, pulls out a gun and shoots fellow author Holden (Ben Affleck). Turns out the militant attitude, like the blank-filled pistol,is just playacting meant to scare the squares. He's actually a loyal friend to Holden, to whom he dispenses sound romantic advice when Holden falls for a lesbian comic auteur (Joey Lauren Adams).

'The Rocky Horror Picture Show'9. Dr. Frank-N-Furter (Tim Curry) in 'The Rocky Horror Picture Show' (1975). In the words of his signature song, he's just a "sweet transvestite." But he's also a mad scientist who's building his own boytoy, an equal opportunity seducer (successfully bedding both of the virginal protagonists, Brad and Janet), and an alien invader. Oh, and he carves up Meat Loaf and serves him for dinner out of spite. Still, Curry gives poignance to Frank's quest for love and pleasure, so much that he becomes a sympathetic tragic figure whose fall fans mourn at the end of the film.

'The Mexican'8, Leroy (James Gandolfini) in 'The Mexican' (2001). In a role not that far removed from Tony Soprano, Gandolfini's Leroy is a mob hit man, a kidnapper, and a cold-blooded killer. He's also a surprisingly sympathetic character, commiserating with his captive (Julia Roberts) about how hard it is to be in a committed relationship with a man. Maybe "thief" should be on Leroy's résumé, too; Gandolfini makes him the liveliest thing in this crime farce, and he steals the movie from marquee stars Roberts and Brad Pitt.

'Kiss Kiss Bang Bang'7. Gay Perry (Val Kilmer) in 'Kiss Kiss Bang Bang' (2005). Yep, even his name is gay, but Perry is also a no-nonsense private eye with a steady gig in Hollywood coaching actors on how to behave like gumshoes. He's pretty handy with a gun, which he keeps hidden on his person (you don't want to know where), and he's the first character in this action spoof to figure out the movie's convoluted kidnap plot.

'Milk'6. Harvey Milk (Sean Penn) in 'Milk' (2008). Based on the life of the 1970s San Francisco alderman who was one of America's first openly gay elected officials, this biopic focuses on Milk's successful defense of the rights of gays and lesbians to serve as public school teachers in California, a battle that pitted him against a nationwide coalition spearheaded by the popular singer Anita Bryant. In his Oscar-winning performance, Penn reveals that there's joy to be found in street protest, community organizing and standing up for one's own civil rights.

'Dog Day Afternoon'5. Sonny Wortzik (Al Pacino) in 'Dog Day Afternoon' (1975). In one of Pacino's landmark performances, he plays a man (based on the real-life John Wojtowicz) who robs a Brooklyn bank in 1972 order to pay for his lover's sex-change operation. Despite his desperado act, which turns into an epic hostage standoff, he earns the respect of his captives and becomes a rebellious folk hero to the public, playing on the era's widespread anti-authoritarianism and distrust of the police. Everyone all together now: "At-ti-ca! At-ti-ca!"

'Primary Colors'4. Libby Holden (Kathy Bates) in 'Primary Colors' (1998). Based loosely on Betsey Wright, the deputy chair of Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign, Libby is hired to combat unflattering stories about the personal life of a Clinton-esque governor (John Travolta). She calls herself the Dustbuster (because "I'm stronger than dirt"). An open lesbian, she also shacks up with a cute campaign aide who looks like Winona Ryder. When a doctored tape of a phone conversation purporting to reveal an affair between the governor and a hairdresser emerges, Libby finds the operative who made the fake, takes out a pistol, and threatens to shoot off his genitals until he agrees to confess the fraud. For all her hard-charging behavior, however, Libby's also the campaign's biggest idealist, and Bates' scene-stealing performance makes her the heart and soul of the movie.

Richard Harris as Albus Dumbledore in the 'Harry Potter' movies3. Albus Dumbledore (Richard Harris, pictured, and Michael Gambon) in the 'Harry Potter' films (2001-2011). Well, the Hogwarts headmaster is certainly heroic, for being a powerful wizard, a respected educator, a kindly mentor and a leader of the forces facing off against Voldemort and his Death Eaters. But gay? All we have to go on there is the assertion of Potterverse creator J.K. Rowling, in a speech she made after all seven books were published, that she envisioned Dumbledore as gay. So far, there have been no hints at all of Dumbledore's sexual orientation in the Potter movies, though in 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II,' due next summer, there's the remote possibility of exploring in flashbacks the relationship between the young Dumbledore and renegade wizard Gellert Grindelwald, which has an impact years later on Harry's final face-off against Voldemort. Still, whether or not Dumbledore had romantic feelings for Grindelwald doesn't matter, and neither does his sexual orientation during the years he spends as a heroic teacher. Which is the point of Rowling's statement.

'The Boondock Saints'2. Paul Smecker (Willem Dafoe) in 'The Boondock Saints' (1999). You might not think there's room for a flamboyant gay hero in a film about the macho, tribal, Catholic world of organized crime in Boston, but you'd be wrong. Enter FBI Agent Smecker, the only truly intelligent law enforcement officer in a movie full of Keystone Kops. (He quickly figures out that two vigilante brothers are the ones behind the pileup of gangster corpses, and he decides to support them instead of jailing them.) He's also the only lawman who doesn't mind going undercover in drag, and the only one who can take out a room full of mobsters while dressed as a hooker. Dafoe's performance is pretty over-the-top, but no more so than the rest of Troy Duffy's cult-fave movie.

'Pink Flamingos'1. Babs Johnson (Divine) in 'Pink Flamingos' (1972). In John Waters' notorious cult classic, everyone's favorite obese transvestite plays a woman who spends the movie defending her title as the "filthiest person alive." Her transgressions range from mere acts of bad taste to murder, dismemberment and cannibalism. Waters presents her offenses with a cheerful lightness of tone that suggests none of Babs' reign of terror is to be taken too seriously, but Divine seals the title in the movie's final shot by scooping a freshly-laid dog dropping off the sidewalk and putting it in her mouth. Top that.

•Follow Gary Susman on Twitter @garysusman.
CATEGORIES Features