The 10 Best Movies on HIV/AIDS
The compilers of "Top 10" lists, "Best of the Year," etc. can try to take the high road and explain that their choices are based on a variety of extremely rational-sounding criteria. But let's face it, creating a Top 10 list is a highly subjective endeavor. A roundup of the best films in any genre can be held up as a prime example. Just think about movie reviews. How many times have you read a glowing appreciation of a film by one critic, only to find another reviewer has a slightly less effusive opinion?
Despite these hurdles, we're presenting our list of the Top 10 movies about HIV and AIDS. While some of these films were released years ago, their impact has not diminished. They serve as a measure of how far we've come in the battle against this virus. But they also remind us there's still work to be done to end the epidemic.
Since 1984, residents of the Coachella Valley have been coming together as a community in action caring for those living with and now aging well with HIV. DAP Health is proud to be an integral part of that effort and is committed to the greater good and the diversity of more than 10,000 people calling DAP Health their health care home.
Now, sit back and enjoy our list. It's not perfect, and people will certainly suggest some of the movies we considered, such as Longtime Companion, Rent, and Mapplethorpe, should be moved up from also-ran to the Top 10. So let the debate begin. Remember, nobody's right and nobody's wrong. It's all subjective.
Dallas Buyers Club, 2013: The real-life story of Texan Ron Woodroff, who was diagnosed with AIDS in the mid-'80s when treatment options were limited. Desperate for help, Woodroof formed the Dallas Buyers Club to smuggle non-approved medications for his use and to distribute them—for a monthly membership fee—to others. Matthew McConaughey (as Woodroff) and Jared Leto won Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor Academy Awards, respectively, for their roles.
Philadelphia, 1993: One of the first mainstream Hollywood films to confront HIV and AIDS. Tom Hanks won a Best Actor Academy Award for his portrayal of a lawyer who sues his law firm after he realizes he's been dismissed because of his sexual orientation and AIDS diagnosis.
Boys on the Side, 1995: This comedic drama follows three very different women as they set out on a cross-country road trip. Whoopi Goldberg, a musician who's recently broken up with her girlfriend; Drew Barrymore, who is trying to escape an abusive relationship; and Mary-Louise Parker, as a real estate agent who initially hides her HIV-positive status.
Common Threads—Stories from the Quilt, 1989: This powerful documentary uses a combination of photo montages, interviews with friends and family members, home movies, and news footage to tell the story of the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt.
Paris is Burning, 1990: In a cultural collision, this documentary focusing on the ball culture in New York City was released just six months after Madonna brought international attention to "voguing." The film explores the AIDS challenges and racism, transphobia, and homophobia primarily faced by the African-American and Latino communities who were at the heart of drag ball's heyday.
The Normal Heart, 2014: The rise of the HIV/AIDS crisis is chronicled based on Larry Kramer's semi-autobiographical play of the same name. In 1981, a "gay plague" began sweeping through New York City and Kramer's anger at the lack of support from the media and medical community, as well as his fellow members of ACT UP, is palpable. The film is a powerful and emotional reminder of the terror of those early days and what a Los Angeles Times review referred to as "a howling call to action."
Angels in America, 2003: A man who is abandoned by his lover when he reveals to him he has AIDS, a closeted Mormon attorney, a dying Roy Cohn, the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg. It's no surprise Tony Kushner's play, upon which this HBO film is based, was titled "Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes." As columnist Frank Rich noted in The New York Times, "This epic is, among other things, a searing indictment of how the Reagan administration's long silence stoked the plague of AIDS in the 1980s."
An Early Frost, 1984: This MOW was the first time a major network (NBC) broadcast a program about AIDS. Michael (Aidan Quinn) is a lawyer who contracts HIV from his boyfriend, who had sex outside their assumedly monogamous relationship. It depicts much of the fear and ignorance that surrounded the disease at that time: Nurses leave Michael's food outside his hospital room, his sister is afraid to let her son near him and then won't visit him when she becomes pregnant.
Straight Outta Compton, 2015: Nominated for an Academy Award for best original screenplay, this biographical film follows the rise and fall of the gangsta rap group N.W.A., including the AIDS death of member Eric "Eazy-E” Wright in 1985. Upon the movie's release, MTV News noted that, "The rap icon’s passing at 31 was an eye-opener for many people who weren’t educated about the disease at the time."
The Living End, 1992: Perhaps the least-known movie on our list, this film written and directed by Gregg Araki was nominated for a Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. Some reviewers dubbed it "a gay Thelma & Louise" for its plot revolving around two gay, HIV-positive men who go on the run after one of them murders a homophobic police officer.