One of the most streamed movies on Netflix right now is the 1995 family film Casper. Though the goofy ghost romp is nearly 30 years old, its lingering popularity should come as no surprise.
For one, ’tis the season. With Halloween fast approaching, those in the mood for some seasonally appropriate comfort food can’t resist this feel-good favorite. It’s like candy corn! (Unless, of course, you’re one of those people who don’t like candy corn…)
Secondly, nostalgia is queen, and this totally ’90s movie—with its campy character actors, ornate sets, and questionable CGI—still has the ability to transport you right back to your childhood.
Based off the classic cartoon character, Casper is the story of widower Dr. James Harvey (Bill Pullman), a “paranormal therapist” who moves with his teen daughter Kat (Christina Ricci) to the haunted Whipstaff Manor in the hope that he can excise its meddling ghosts at the request of its spoiled owner Carrigan Crittenden (Cathy Moriarty). While the troublemaking “Ghostly Trio” do prove to be a handful, what they don’t expect is their growing bond with Casper, the friendliest ghost of all.
So, no, we’re not about to tell you Casper is secretly some queer masterpiece about sexual repression or found family or how ghosts are “othered” and therefore representative of minorities like the LGBTQ+ community (there are plenty of pieces that are thoughtfully doing that already).
But what we will say is that the movie remains beloved by queer audiences 28 years later for one very specific reason: Devon Sawa.
(Or maybe that’s two reasons, if you’re into Pullman’s brand of nebbish, cardigan-wearing daddies.)
That goes especially for gays of a certain age, who will never forget the fleeting moments near the end of the film when Casper appears in human form, played by a young Sawa looking like he was ripped off the cover of a Tiger Beat magazine.
Maybe it was the perfectly coiffed hair, or the billowy white shirt, or maybe the way he whispers “Can I keep you?” to Ricci’s Kat (a line that would be creepy in most other contexts, but here is just achingly sweet).
Whatever it was, many millennials who grew up with Casper will recall Sawa as a formative early crush—in fact, his on-screen appearance is frequently joked about as a pop culture moment that turned many of us gay. For proof, look no further than Gay Twitter™:
We all know how it goes with childhood crushes—they don’t always age so well. But we have good news for anyone who holds a special place in their heart for Sawa: The man has aged like a fine wine.
At 45, he’s an uncomplicated hottie, a total daddy (in both senses of the word), and a real LGBTQ+ ally, to boot! Take a look for yourself:
After Casper, Sawa appeared in a string of generation-defining hits in the late ’90s and early 2000s, from coming-of-age dramedy Now And Then to the wild SLC Punk! to the first in a long line of Final Destination movies.
And though his career was a little quieter for a while there, he’s had a great resurgence of late, with guest appearances in TV favorites like Hacks (where he plays a hot younger guy who woos Jean Smart’s Deborah Vance) and Syfy’s wonderfully twisted Chucky series, where he’s play a different, increasingly more important role each season.
It’s the latter role that should especially delight the gay fans who fell in love with Sawa in Caper all those years ago. With out horror creator Don Mancini behind it, Chucky is good, campy, queer-inclusive fun—and it has no problem finding excuses for the actor to take his shirt off…
But Sawa isn’t just walking the shirtless walk—he’s talking the talk, too. He’s frequently shown his support for the LGBTQ+ community online, and is known for showing love to the queer fans who have vocalized how much his Casper role meant to them.
So let’s give it up for the hot, talented, unproblematic fave that is Devon Sawa, still managing to make us swoon after all these years.