Movie Reviews

The Best HIV/AIDS related movies

In the near 40 years that AIDS has been around (that we know of and still no vaccine) the topic has been mainly taboo in the television and film industry. Not surprising really but here are the ones that I’ve seen.

These are all from the US if anyone has any suggestions from other countries please feel free to let me know. You can email me at richardemery839@gmail.com please use ‘other HIV related from around the World’ in the subject line. Many thanks.

An Early Frost 1985 (Drama)

The first TV movie to show how AIDS had affected American society.

Starring Aidan Quinn (he had been in Desperately Seeking Susan the same year with Madonna) who has gone on to be a life long stalwart of American TV.

It’s the story of how a young lawyer not only has to tell his family that he is Gay but that he also has AIDS which was at the time a death sentence.

I vaguely remember seeing this made for television movie. Unfortunately I couldn’t find a copy to watch and comment on. However, trusting as I do IMDb’s ratings, a rating of 8.1 is more than average and to keep it as high for so long must be a testament to the movie’s credit.

Not surprisingly, being the first movie to touch on AIDS in the ravaged USA, it did very well at the awards winning one Golden Globe and 4 Primetime Emmy’s and getting a total of 14 nominations.

Parting Glances 1986 (Drama, Music, Romance)

Written and directed by Bill Sherwood. It was, to my knowledge, the first mainstream international film about anyone dying from AIDS. It was delicately, compassionately and artistically done. Sherwood himself succumbed to an AIDS related illness in 1990 at the age of 37.

The film is about a gay couple, Michael (Richard Ganoung – black jumper – who didn’t have much of an acting career after) and Robert (John Bolger who does have a very active acting career) , living in New York.

Michael has a best friend, Nick (the very beautiful at the time Steve Buscemi), dying of AIDS

and Robert can’t stand to watch so he takes a job in Africa for work and to escape the inevitable death of Nick.

The story revolves around the 24 hours before and just after Robert’s departure and involves a dinner party with Robert’s closeted boss. A New York loft party hosted by their lesbian friend Joan (Kathy Kinney), as a surprise leaving party for Robert, with the beautiful Peter (Adam Nathan)

a local shop assistant who is chasing Michael, turning up and trying to find out when Robert is leaving so he can get together with Michael.

Nick does a surprise visit and there’s an artistic straight German couple thrown in.

The film does depict how New York’s Gay Scene was at the time of filming. But it’s a fairly mild story with only small amounts of reasonably tame drama (to which I mean even the arguments between Robert and Michael were tame and Nick’s odd tantrum was weak) but as the poster says it was ‘Passionate’ and well worth watching.

As far as awards go it did win at the Sundance.

I don’t think this movie is available to buy anymore but you can rent on Amazon.

Longtime Companion 1989 (Drama, Romance)

A much more dramatic film. It follows the lives of a group of American men going through the devastation of the AIDS crisis in the 1980’s and their interactions as they watch each other slowly die. It’s a very moving movie and as there was no ‘cure’ (that is the medication that finally materialized in 1995) at the time is not a particularly happy movie but does show the anguish and pain so many gay men went through.

At the awards Bruce Davison

was nominated at the Oscars for Best Actor In A Supporting Role, which award he did win at the Golden Globes (as well as three other minor award wins). The film got a few other wins and nominations at the other awards as well.

And The Band Played On 1993 (Drama, History)

This made for TV movie is the dramatized story of how AIDS was discovered and how the ensuing bureaucratic fight, mostly between the US and France, to patent it came about. A bit dated if watched today but Alan Alda (M*A*S*H 1972 to 1983) plays a really good ‘bad guy’ role.

The cast was awesome, as can be seen from the poster. Starring the talented and beautiful Matthew Modine.

Although Ian McKellen (known later for his roles as Gandalf in The Lord Of The Rings and Magneto in X-Men)  was listed on the poster and had been ‘out’ for some 5 years at this point, the ageless BD Wong was not listed. He is another ‘out’ actor who had a very big role in the Jurassic Park franchise and was in the original that year.

The importance of the movie is that there was so much fighting, and time delay, over who actually discovered AIDS (and, of course, what it was or if it existed) it seriously hampered getting on with finding a cure.

Although only being nominated for a couple of Golden Globes it did win 11 awards including 3 Primetime Emmy’s. It had a total of 23 nominations – not bad for a made for TV movie.

You can buy or rent from Amazon here.

Philadelphia 1993 (Drama)

Fired for being Gay and HIV positive, Philadelphia lawyer, Andrew Beckett (played perfectly, of course, by Tom Hanks) wants to sue his employer but the only one who will take him on as a client is the homophobic Joe Miller (Denzel Washington).

Set in the “City of Brotherly Love” with the title song sang by Bruce Springsteen this movie pushed the boundaries of the two huge taboos of white middle class America and was set at a time when ‘they got what they deserved’ was almost a mantra across middle America.

Hanks moving role (for which he got the Oscar, 1994, Best Actor in a leading role) went a long way to change the minds of homophobes everywhere, not just for being Gay but being Gay and HIV positive, and for that we should all be truly grateful.

Springsteen’s song “Streets of Philadelphia” won Best Song, Original Music Oscar. Again by using ‘The Boss’ as the song writer/singer (a man a lot of straight men would ‘go gay for’) also went a long way in helping get the message across about changing views on homophobia.

Although well written I felt the film was a bit slow but the cast (which included the incredibly sexy Antonio Banderas

as Hanks boyfriend) was perfectly picked, but it has aged quite badly and didn’t really show what was going on in society at large at the time. 1993 was a particularly bad year for deaths from AIDS as it was a further 18 months, or so, before the cocktail of medications that went on save so many millions lives became available.

For the awards list click here.

You can buy or rent from Amazon here.

Angels in America 2003 (Drama, Fantasy, Romance)

Tony Kushner‘s adapted epic is actually a TV mini series that lasts nearly 6 hours. Its a saga about a group of New Yorkers and how their lives connected and crossed over during the AIDS epidemic of the mid 1980’s.

A plethora of amazing actors lined up for roles in this production. Outstanding performances abounded. Indeed Al Pacino‘s role

as the bitter homophobic and closeted Roy Cohn is really a spectacle to behold as are many of the others, especially the other award winners.

Angel’s was so well written and produced that winning 5 Golden Globes was just the start as it won 60 other awards and got a further 43 nominations,

As far as the Golden Globes go:

Best Miniseries or Motion Picture Made for Television.

Best Performance by an Actor – Al Pacino.

Best Performance by an Actress – Meryl Streep (who had 4 roles).

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role – Jeffrey Wright (who has been playing Felix Leiter in the Bond movies since 2006).

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role – Mary-Louise Parker.

You can buy or rent from Amazon here.

How To Survive A Plague 2012 (Documentary, History, News)

Written (along with a large team) and directed by David France. It tells the story of how ACT UP and TAG (Treatment Action Group) got the US Government and big pharma to get AIDS treatment pushed through the bureaucracy of the time to get medication available to everyone who needed it as soon as possible.

It’s filmed in a sequence of interviews and personal videos, some of which are with Larry Kramer (a life long AIDS activist who managed to live to 84 despite being HIV positive for many years. He also wrote the Normal Heart 2014) from over the years with a lot of disturbing, but necessary, scenes to show how the ‘war’ on AIDS was was fought and eventually beaten. It’s a highly emotional film but a necessary one and should be watched by every gay man wherever and whoever they are to see what our community did for us and the sacrifice that was given.

The film got one Oscar nomination and 19 other nominations with 13 wins at various other awards.

You can buy or rent from Amazon here.

Dallas Buyers Club 2013 (Biography, Drama)

This is the true story of Ron Woodroof (brilliantly played by Matthew McConaughey) an approaching middle aged electrician and part-time bull rider who was an extremely homophobic heterosexual. He was also a heavy drinking, drug (mainly cocaine) using and shamelessly promiscuous guy who caught HIV in 1985. HIV was a death sentence then and Woodroof was given 30 days to live. When given the news by the doctor he went straight into heavy denial exclaiming “I ain’t no faggot, motherfu*ker”.

As the reality starts to kick in Woodroof starts to do research, such as it was in 1985 being 10 years before the internet really took off, and the scene when he realizes he’s been dicing with death because of having unsafe sex with drug users and not even knowing what he was doing is really jaw dropping.

The film goes on to show how Woodroof was determined to live and tried everything he could, including buying AZT illegally from hospital orderlies, after being denied access to a research study, to going to Mexico to find alternative medicines. He befriends a transsexual drug addict along the way, Rayon (played by Jared Leto),

and together they set up a clinic, the Dallas Buyers Club – membership $400/month – giving medication away free to those who needed it.

As the film progresses Woodroof changes his attitudes towards the people he once loathed and makes for some compelling watching. Making it one of the most successful movies of the year grossing over $50M profit worldwide.

Such clinics were set up in a number of cities around the US at the time due to the policies of the Government, big pharma (who were dragging their heals finding a cure for AIDS), and the FDA who kept closing them down.

McConaughey, who lost 40lbs for the role, won best actor at the Oscars and Leto got the Oscar for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role.

The movie, which was visually spectacular, won 83 other awards and got a further 83 nominations!

You can buy or rent from Amazon here.

The Normal Heart 2014 (Biography, Drama, History)

Winning 29 awards and getting 55 other nominations is no easy feat! Especially for a ‘made for TV’ movie.

Larry Kramer,

who survived the AIDS epidemic and being HIV positive for many years, lived to 84 and dying in 2020, wrote the play (the original Off Broadway production was first seen in 1985) and the screenplay for this movie. It’s a testament and legacy to his life long activism in the fight against AIDS.

With a full cast of famous actors, all of which gave stellar performances, it is an outstanding movie.  Mark Ruffalo

was the star and was nominated for the role at the Golden Globes but his boyfriend in the movie, Matt Bomer,

actually got the best actor award. Bomer, another of Hollywoods ‘out’ actors, had taken a month off during shooting at one point to loose weight for the role and became so weak that he could not physically move. Both their performances are just awesome as is Julia Robert‘s

as Dr. Emma Brookner who seems to be on a one person crusade in the war on AIDS at the time.

Ruffalo won the Screen Actors Guild Awards, 2015 – Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Television Movie or Miniseries and it was more than well deserved. Not only perfectly cast but perfectly played. The film won 29 awards and had 55 nominations.

It’s the incredibly moving story about Gay activism during the early 80’s and how the Gay community went about raising awareness of HIV and AIDS that led the Government to finally take responsibility and action in finding a ‘cure’. When I say ‘moving’ I mean ‘MOVING!!’ if you don’t shed a tear or two then you have no heart. In fact if you want to know if you have a heart then this movie is the test.

You can buy or rent from Amazon here.