In honor of our cover inspired by beloved Columbus drag royalty Nina West, we’re counting down 10 great movie performances that crossed gender lines.
10. Patrick Swayze in “To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar”
The campy drag road trip movie had its flaws, but this was a bold career move from the star of “Road House” and “Dirty Dancing.”
9. Jaye Davidson in “The Crying Game”
Yes, Davidson’s transgender Dil is part of one of the most famous movie twists of the last 30 years, but his underrated performance also set up the touching love story that followed the reveal.
8. Dustin Hoffman in “Tootsie”
Hollywood has a boring cliché of finding zany reasons for gender role switches — one of several reasons you won’t find “White Chicks” on this list — but Hoffman transcended that in the film named the No. 2 comedy of all time by the American Film Institute.
7. Johnny Depp in “Ed Wood”
Director Tim Burton’s look at the “worst film director of all time” was buoyed by one of Johnny Depp’s greatest performances, particularly as related to Wood’s struggle to reveal his transvestitism.
6. Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon in “Some Like It Hot”
Another movie that plays drag for laughs, but its attitudes were far more open than much of 1959 America. Oh, and this topped “Tootsie” for AFI’s No. 1 comedy of all time.
5. Divine in “Pink Flamingos” et al.
John Waters’ late, great movie muse was his partner in crime in celebrating bad taste in the face of American Puritanism.
4. Hilary Swank in “Boys Don’t Cry”
Swank won the first of her two Oscars for a heartbreaking performance as a transgender man who found both love and hate in the Heartland.
3. Tim Curry in “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”
Curry’s Dr. Frank-N-Furter in the movie adaptation of the rollicking musical took American audiences through a time warp where gender and sexuality were more fluid concepts.
2. Jared Leto in “Dallas Buyers Club”
Leto won a much-deserved Oscar for portraying a (fictional) transgender woman with AIDS whose unlikely friendship with Matthew McConaughey’s homophobe gave the story heart.
1. John Cameron Mitchell in “Hedwig and the Angry Inch”
Mitchell adapted his rock ’n’ roll musical about a transgender rock singer and a botched sex change for the screen. Neil Patrick Harris is getting raves for his current Broadway Hedwig, but the role will always belong to Mitchell (and “The Origin of Love” should still make everyone teary).