Point Break & Top Gun Are More Than Homoerotic Action Movies
I’m trying to convince my friend to watch the film Point Break (1991). She doesn’t believe me that it’s one of the greatest (and sexiest) action movies out there. Our conversation goes something like this:
“Do you like watching hot men stand a little too close to each other when they talk and act like they don’t have a hard-on for each other?”
“Do you also like really well choreographed action scenes that involve said hotties having a hard-on for each other?”
“Then you gotta watch Point Break.”
Alright, I’ll admit, that part is a bit of an exaggeration—but only a little. While I do hold the belief that Point Break is one of the best action movies out there due to its subtlety, dedication to true adventure (it’s about the ultimate rush), and stylized action, I also hold the belief that there is deep rooted homoeroticism between Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves) and Bodhi (Patrick Swayze).
While thinking about this, naturally I turned to the internet. I wanted to know if other people thought there was something deeper going on in this film. I mean, Utah chases Bodhi into the ocean during a game of pick-up football. While I’m not a football expert, I’ve seen enough games to know that chasing your opponent off the playing field is a bit intense. When I did a quick search for “is Point Break gay”, the first article that came up was from The Guardian. It dissects what makes a gay classic, and breaks down why Point Break is the ultimate gay subtext film (Top Gun fanatics, I see you, and I will get to that locker room scene). So, it’s clear I’m not the only one that thinks this.
The football scene is only the first of many nearly-gay scenes in Point Break. There’s also the scene when a bunch of angry shirtless surfers attack Utah while he’s rinsing off after a failed attempt at learning to ride the waves. Bodhi comes to his rescue and, after they both knock the shit out of the others, they stare at each other for a hot moment (emphasis on hot). Utah and Bodhi also share intense stares at a party, while other women cling to both of them as Bodhi tells Utah to make himself at home. “What’s mine is yours,” Bodhi mutters after another moment of eye contact before they part ways. Of course, without spoiling too much, there’s also the very dramatic and wet, final scene that comes complete with wrestling, handcuffs, and the infamous fifty year rain storm.
All of this thinking about homoerotic action heroes brought to mind a very prominent movie in gay history–I mean film history–Top Gun (1986). A quick little search on Google of “Top Gun gay” brought up a seemingly endless array of articles about the gay subtext within the eighties classic, very similar to my search of Point Break. In the first article I stumbled upon, the writer breaks down the many scenes and moments in the film that scream homoerotic. There’s the passionate and fiery rivalry-turned-mutual-respect between Maverick (Tom Cruise) and IceMan (Val Kilmer) that, like Point Break, leads to a lot of intense eye contact, flirtatious comments, and attempts to one up each other while standing a bit too close (or not close enough) in the locker room.
This, of course, led me to an incredible article about Top Gun not being homoerotic but actually just plain homosexual. The most prominent point of homosexuality being the classic volleyball scene, an iconic yet totally unnecessary moment that has zero relevance to the plot. If you’ve seen this movie, you know, and if you haven’t, well, picture several buff, shirtless, sweaty men playing a hot game of volleyball, wearing jeans, one of them flexing for absolutely no reason, all while Kenny Loggins’ Playing with the Boys is edited perfectly to the action. The writer of this article goes on to say this is the scene that confirmed their sexuality. Ironically, it confirmed mine as well–why wouldn’t I want to see hot men playing sports on the beach? (Yet another thing Point Break and Top Gun have in common.) During this homoerotic deep dive, I even discovered that Quentin Tarrantino has a monologue in the movie Sleep With Me (1994) where he goes into detail describing how and why Top Gun is actually a gay film.
Seeing the football game mirror the volleyball match, the intense stares and flirtatious comments, and predominantly, the overt homoeroticism in Point Break and Top Gun, I also noticed these films were released in the midst of the AIDS pandemic and ultimately an era where LGBTQIA+ representation was pretty much non-existent. There are only five years between these films, with Top Gun being released in 1986 and Point Break being released in 1991. This had me curious about how homoeroticism, and homosexuality in general, were perceived in the eighties and early nineties.
The AIDS pandemic was an extremely tragic time for gay people. This was also a time when homosexuality and its history were not talked about in schools. Television and movies rarely had gay characters, and being gay was often used as a punchline. This ultimately caused many gay people to remain closeted out of fear of judgment. While we know that Top Gun and Point Break were gay awakenings for many folks, it’s interesting that they came out during a very challenging and tragic time for gay people, and were also told through a straight lens. What is the weight behind these homoerotic movies? While Kathryn Bigelow, the director of Point Break, has not spoken on the homoeroticism of the film, the writer of Top Gun has, claiming that they did not write the movie as a homoerotic action film but they can see how it could be interpreted that way.
Why insert so much intensity between two male characters if it didn’t mean something? If the same intensity was between a man and a woman, we’d call that sexual tension, get a kick out of it, and never give it a second thought. To complicate this even more, if two women shared this intensity, how would society react? Would that be seen as “normal”, a friendship even, or would it be overly sexualized, potentially even fetishised? Why are we conditioned to assume intense emotion between two men is homoerotic? And is there a reason behind Kathryn Bigelow never commenting on the homoeroticism of Point Break? Maybe, like the Top Gun director, she didn’t intend for it to be viewed as homoerotic, but can’t admit that because she recognizes the detriment behind that denial?
More importantly, how do two men write Top Gun, a movie that is so often viewed with such vibrant homoeroticism, and then claim they didn’t mean for it to be that way? I think, depending on how you look at it, these films either represent internalized homophobia or they represent toxic masculinity. It’s all just masked by the gleaming, alluring sexuality of straight white men that is so indicative of the eighties and nineties.
But perhaps these are male characters who aren’t actually struggling with their sexuality. Maybe they are actually very confident in it, and we, as an audience, and society, are so unaccustomed to seeing two straight presenting men portray intense feelings towards each other and therefore we feel it’s “gay” or homoerotic.
At first, I felt that both of these films represent men who are struggling with their sexuality in an era and society that is far from accepting of homosexuality. However, the longer I think about it, research it, and the more I watch these movies (and I watch both of them far more than I care to admit), I realize that maybe it’s much more nuanced than that.
Michaela Emerson is a poet from Fort Worth, Texas. Her work is often inspired by pop culture, shame, religion, and the many nuances of life. Several of her poems have appeared in Polemical Magazine, Verses, and Jawbreaker Zine. She is getting her MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University Los Angeles and she is the Editor-in-Chief for the magazine Lunch Ticket. She currently resides in TX with her cat Dexter and a multitude of books she has yet to read.