Love him or hate him, the Gay Best Friend plays a big role in pop culture.
Almost as long as rom-coms and high school TV shows have existed, the relationship between a straight character and their Gay Best Friend™ has been a source of comedy and controversy. Often an important first step in introducing queer storylines to mainstream audiences, the GBF trope still has a frustrating tendency to reinforce harmful ideas about gay men: that their only interests are makeovers, shopping and drama, that their struggles and relationships fade into the background unless they’re supporting a straight person’s story, and that they only exist to be wise oracles about love and romance.
As LGBTQ+ representation in Hollywood improves both onscreen and behind the camera, movies and TV shows are getting increasingly self-aware, creating gay characters who provide the comic relief we love while tearing down the old stereotypes. Here’s a look at some of the most notable GBFs of the past few decades, and recent characters who are changing the game. The Woman in Red
Perhaps the earliest example of the classic Gay Best Friend character is in 1984 movie The Woman in Red, a Gene Wilder comedy about a married man who becomes obsessed with a model (Kelly LeBrock) after he sees her skirt get blown up by a wind grate, Marilyn Monroe-style. Buddy (Charles Grodin), one of his circle of friends, comes to the rescue when Wilder’s character is nearly found out by his wife and mother-in-law at a birthday party.
A minor character with limited screen time, Buddy does win points for being portrayed as just another one of the guys, who happens to be gay — a big deal for movies in the 80s. Reality Bites
There are many things to love about Reality Bites (1994) — spot-on Gen X fashion, a memorable soundtrack, and Janeane Garofalo at her snarky best. Steve Zahn’s GBF character Sammy is also a nice touch, as fleeting as his screen time may be. More funny, cute, and insecure than fashionable and stereotypical, Sammy is a Houston slacker who pals around with Garofalo and her roommate, aspiring filmmaker Lelaina (Winona Ryder).
Sammy’s sexuality is revealed in clips of Lelaina’s documentary on her circle of friends, where Sammy describes his celibacy (non-sexual GBF, go figure) and his pained coming out to his family. By the end of the movie, we learn Sammy has a fella, but we don’t ever see him. His plotline may be thin as a wisp, but Zahn squeezes a lot of mileage out of a small role.