This 1994 dramedy from Australian writer-director Stephan Elliott stars Hugo Weaving, Guy Pearce, and Terence Stamp as a spectacularly camp trio of drag performers who travel across Australia in a converted school bus named "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert". Weaving plays Anthony "Tick" Belrose, a.k.a. Mitzi Del Bra. Pearce plays Adam Whitely, a.k.a. Felicia Jollygoodfellow. Stamp plays Bernadette Passenger.
In the wake of Bernadette's husband's death, Tick agrees to do a drag gig for his estranged wife in Alice Springs, bringing Bernadette and Adam along with him. Along the way they crack stereotypically cutting jokes, reveal secrets about themselves, drink themselves stupid, party with a camp of Aborigines in the desert, meet an Asian woman with interesting talents and pick up her repairman husband Bob for the ride, experience intolerance and danger from violent locals, and, of course, practice their drag show.
A year later Hollywood would tackle the same basic premise in To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar.
Provides examples of:
- Accidental Marriage: Bob married Cynthia, an Asian sex performer, when he was drunk and had no memory of having done so when he woke up the next day.
- Amicable Exes: Tick and Marion turn out to be this, as it's revealed throughout the movie that the trio are doing the shows as a favour for her hotel.
- Ambiguously Bi: Bob married Cynthia, an Asian stripper and prostitute, after a night of drunken sex with her. He seems to feel little affection or desire for her (though this is no doubt at least partly due to how obnoxious she is) and isn't all that sad to see her go. Meanwhile, Bob has a rather odd interest in and knowledge of drag shows for an Aussie Outback bloke, and grows increasingly close to and eventually involved with Bernadette.
- Marion is mentioned by Tick’s son to have had a girlfriend after Tick and her broke up.
- Anger Born of Worry: Tick yells at Adam for flirting with the violent and homophobic desert dwellers.
- Asian Hooker Stereotype: Cynthia, Bob's Asian stripper/prostitute wife.
- Attractive Bent-Gender: Adam is surprisingly attractive when he dresses as a woman without the over-the-top drag makeup.
- Bedouin Rescue Service: The Aboriginal camp.
- Brick Joke:
- When the trio launches Priscilla, their going-away party drowns out a ceremony announcing a girl who plans to run across Australia. The girl shows up twice later in the film, once just after the bus takes a short cut, and again when she runs right past the group and takes no notice of them.
- Early in the film, the protagonists find a hideous dress among the luggage, put it in a blowdoll and tie it to a kite they fly to pass the time. After the credits, we see the kite, blowdoll and all, landing on a Japanese temple near a monk.
- Burlesque: Cynthia, Bob’s wife, is a former burlesque dancer. Ping pong balls are involved in her act.
- Camp Gay: Adam. And Tick as well, but much less so.
- The Comically Serious: Bernadette, whose stoic demeanour makes for a very funny contrast to the flamboyant Mitzi and Felicia.
- Cool and Unusual Punishment: Adam threatening to sing.
- Costume Porn: The musical, which won a well-earned Laurence Olivier Award for Best Costume. The movie is no slouch either. It won the Oscar for best costuming and the designer received her award in a dress made out of American Express cards◊ made for the occasion; they all expired the day after the Oscars ceremony.
- Creator Cameo: Director Stephan Elliott appears as the doorman greeting the drag queens at their hotel resort destination.
- Cut His Heart Out with a Spoon: Bernardette makes the threat "I will punch in your face so hard yo'll need to stick a toothbrush up your ass to clean your teeth."
- Deadpan Snarker: Bernadette's dialogue consists mostly of bitter and snarky lines.
- Dirty Old Man: Adam's uncle in the flashback. He learns the hard way that Adam was smarter than he looked...
- Disappeared Dad: Tick had a son with Marion, his ex-wife and hasn’t been in the boy’s life out of fear that he would reject Tick for his lifestyle.
- Do Not Call Me "Paul": Bernadette's birth name was Ralph and she doesn't take kindly to being called that. Adam deadnames her just to rile her up and gets beaten up for it, which doesn't stop him.
- Double Standard: Rape, Male on Male: Played with. In a flashback, Adam's uncle tries to molest him. The build-up isn't played for laughs at all and is genuinely disturbing... cue an ingenious Groin Attack by young Adam, and cut back to the bus where Adam and Tick are cackling their heads off.
- Drag Queen: Take three guesses, you'll probably be correct on all of them.
- Effeminate Misogynistic Guy: Adam has aspects of this. He ridicules Tick for having been in a heterosexual relationship once and refers to Tick's ex-wife (and other women) as "fish".
- Expy: Cynthia, Bob's Asian stripper wife, seems to be modeled after the Vietnamese prostitute in Full Metal Jacket, e.g. the following is said in the same tone as FMJ's "Me love you long time, me so horny":Cynthia: Me perform for you! Me dance too!
- Faint in Shock: Bernadette faints in shock after discovering that Tick has a son. She later complains of having a bump on her head during the show, for which she blames Tick. Tick himself later faints when he sees his son in the audience during one of his shows.
- Flashback Cut: Used at various points for the main trio's histories. Also for Bob.
- Flying Under the Gaydar: Tick tries to dress macho in Alice Springs in front of Benji, wearing a long-sleeved khaki shirt and a cowboy hat. Marion makes fun of him.
- Freudian Excuse: Subverted with Adam. As the flashback progresses, it seems that Adam will be traumatized by his uncle tricking him into giving him a handjob as his uncle takes a bath...but instead of reaching under the water for his penis, Adam pulls the plug on the bathtub, sucking his uncle's balls into the drain. When the uncle tells him to get help, Adam just screams "No!" in his face.
- The Gadfly: Adam admits he gets a kick out of pissing people off while explaining to Tick why he deadnamed Bernadette.
- Gay Cowboy: Tick dresses like a cowboy while trying to please straight in front of his son.
- Gaydar: The trio detect that one Aboriginal man wouldn't mind being a little fab. They're right.
- Groin Attack: Adam does this to his Creepy Uncle in a flashback. Bernadette later does this to the leader of a bunch of men that try to beat up Adam.
- His and Hers: Upon learning that Tick is married, Adam says that he "would have bought you a lovely matching set of Hers and Hers bath mats."
- Homophobic Hate Crime: Early on, the residents of a town the characters travel through doesn't take kindly to having a bus full of drag queens around, and vandalizes their tour bus with homophobic slurs. Later on, Adam flirts in drag with some men in another small town, who beat him up and attempt to do much worse when they find out he is a man. Fortunately, Bernadette and Tick rescue him before too much damage is done.
- I Always Wanted to Say That: Felicia agrees to go along on the road trip because of a lifelong dream to "stand on top of Kings Canyon as a queen". Bernadette summarizes this as "a cock in a frock on a rock".
- I Choose to Stay: Bernadette decides to stay to help Marion run the hotel for a while at the end of the movie. Bob stays with her as well.
- I Have No Son!: After Bernadette underwent her operation, her family disowned her.
- Impractically Fancy Outfit:
- Felicia outruns the thugs for a while in that tight dress and high heels (and on drugs, no less).
- The only Oscar the film won was for Costume Design, and the only Tony the musical won was for...Costume Design.
- Interchangeable Asian Cultures: Cynthia speaks Tagalog but her cassette tape has Japanese written on it.
- Jerkass: Adam has his moments, but peaks when the trio are in Broken Hill when he deadnames Bernadette, who responds by throwing a lamp at him.
- Laughing Mad: Adam, running for his life from a pack of very pissed-off hard men in Coober Pedy, laughs hysterically.
- Lousy Lovers Are Losers: Bob ends up joining the drag queens on their road trip after his humiliated Filipino wife leaves him, taking all their possessions, and just before she leaves, tells him that she doesn't like him anyway, on account of his small penis. Then again, seeing as Bob's wife is clearly deferring blame for humiliating him the previous night with her sexually explicit entertainment of the other bar patrons overseeing the drag act, she's most likely an Unreliable Expositor, so Bob is portrayed more sympathetically than she is.
- Malicious Misnaming: Adam's teasing of Bernadette, calling her Ralph... until she finally snaps and beats him up.
- Mood Whiplash: The mood takes a suddenly dark turn when they find Priscilla graffiti-ed with homophobic slurs.Tick: No matter how tough I think I'm getting, it still hurts.
- "Miss X" Pun: The theatre adaptation introduces a character called Miss Understanding, who performs Tina Turner's "What's Love Got to Do With It?" in the first act.
- Naming Ceremony: Adam smashes a bottle of something against Priscilla's back bumper before the group sets off.
- No Celebrities Were Harmed:
- Bernadette is quite obviously based on transsexual former Les Girls performer Carlotta.
- Tick is based on Cindy Pastel, a famous drag queen from Sydney. Like Tick, Pastel was married with children but attempted to keep his bisexuality a secret.
- Pet the Dog: Adam is very friendly towards Tick’s son.
- Plot-Driven Breakdown: Priscilla keeps breaking down due to an issue with the gas tank, which the drag queens can’t replace without getting to the hotel on time for their show. Eventually, they befriend a mechanic named Bob who comes along with them to help them with the bus’ trouble after his wife leaves him.
- Pop-Cultural Osmosis: For a film about three drag queens on a road trip through the Australian outback, this is a surprisingly well-known movie.
- Road Trip Plot: A movie about drag queens trying to get to a venue at a hotel in the middle of the Australian desert.
- Scenery Porn: The movie is full of it during the three protagonists' trip towards Alice Springs. Combines this and Costume Porn during the climb to Kings Canyon.
- Shout-Out: Hugo's prancing in a green dress as rescue arrives is said to be one to The Sound of Music on the director's commentary.
- Stage Names: "Mitzi Del Bra" and "Felicia Jollygoodfellow", obviously.
- The Stinger: After the credits, we see a monk in a Japanese temple, where the kite and blowup doll seen early in the film finally land.
- To the Tune of...: Adam improvises a parody of "Ta-ra-ra Boom-de-ay" while packing for the trip:A desert holiday
Let's pack the drag away
You take the lunch and tea
I'll take the ecstasy
Fuck off, you silly queer
I'm getting out of here
A desert holiday
- Too Dumb to Live: Adam finds some ecstasy, gets high, and goes around dressed in drag (not the type for when he performs, but so he convincingly looks like like an actual woman) so he could pull jokes on people. He does this in a place infamous for homophobia and nearly gets the crap beaten out of him by some assholes.
- Travel Montage: Used for comedic effect when Tick and Adam sing songs in a montage, only for it to be revealed at the end of it that they've only been traveling for four hours.
- Unlimited Wardrobe: The girls seem to be carrying a whole lot more fabulous outfits than they'd need to set up even the most decadent of shows, perhaps that's why they wear them almost every second possible.
- Vitriolic Best Buds: The main characters play some really mean pranks on each other and throw insults in pretty much every line, but they also care for one another a lot.
- Yank the Dog's Chain: Bernadette walks through the desert, gets swarmed by flies, and ends up finding a old couple to help fix the bus, which has broken down. But when Bernadette and the old couple drive to where the bus is, the old couple hightails it upon seeing Tick in a fancy green dress and Adam, who’s shirtless and has breasts painted on his chest.
- Your Mom: Tick says to Felicia, "Is it true when you were born the doctor turned around and slapped your mother?"