50 LGBTQ+ Movies That Changed Our World


Which one changed *your* life?

Long before I fell in love with a woman, I fell in love with film. I grew up in New York City and when I got my fake ID at 15, I used it to buy cigarettes, drink Midori sours, and see R-rated indie and foreign films by myself. Movies were a crucial outlet for my closeted self’s unnamed and most hidden longings, desires, and fantasies of being someone else. When it came to applying to college, I found myself drawn to LA, a place I’d never been before. It seemed like it would be easier to be myself – or someone else – there.

At USC’s School of Cinematic Arts, I learned how to analyze film using a combination of theory, history, and intuition or that mix of emotion and thought that art so often triggers. Film studies is all about context and understanding the bigger picture. It’s not just about seeing where it fits into film history but also how it relates to a social, cultural, and political context as well. I see film analysis as a simultaneous process of unpacking and naming, which have been two of the more important tools I’ve had to use since coming out.

The history of LGBTQ+ film goes back to the early days of cinema itself. Different from the Others, the first feature movie about gay love, was made in 1919 during the interwar period of the Weimar Republic in Germany and includes both a tragic ending and a message of tolerance at the end. The earliest queer images on film go back even further to the 1894 short, The Dickson Experimental Sound Film, which shows two men dancing together. While mainstream representation of queer characters has gone from subtext to text over time and embraced more positive messages that don’t just reinforce the heteronormative way of life, the fact is, our film history is marred by a lot of problematic representation. Still, even imperfect films can have a significant impact, as they bring what might otherwise be invisible to light.

All of which is to say, this list of classic LGBTQ+ movies is a complicated one. How do I define what’s classic or the best when I’m working with a more limited pool and outside of the rulebook that others are using? Does something have to be “good” in the film school bro “all-hail-Kubrick” sense or can it be “good” in the “this-moved-me-as-a-person sense? Arguably, self-discovery is at the heart of this extremely broad category of LGBTQ+ cinema that spans genres, time periods, and cultures, so I think both criteria are needed here.

As a gay viewer whose experience of watching movies changed drastically after coming out, I have found that my motivating force has remained the same pre and post-coming out: to bear witness. To myself, to the community, to the possibilities of life. This comes in different forms. Sometimes, it’s in an expertly made Oscar-winning film that captures a time, place, and feeling of queerness in a way that stops me in my tracks. Other times, it’s in a movie that others might forget or pass over, but that turned me on at a time when I couldn’t even acknowledge what my own desires were. Both responses – and everything in between – are important because for queer folks, one of our biggest sources of power is to bear witness to ourselves and others. So, here are some LGBTQ+ films that do just that.

A Fantastic Woman

Chilean director Sebastián Lelio made a name for himself with 2017’s A Fantastic Woman, which follows Marina (Daniela Vega), a trans woman whose older boyfriend Orlando (Francisco Reyes) suddenly dies. In the midst of dealing with the grief of the loss of her lover, Marina must also contend with Orlando’s judgmental family, who want to dump their shame on her and erase her existence from Orlando’s life.

A Fantastic Woman made history as the first Chilean movie to win the Foreign Language Oscar and as a result, it became a tool to push forward gender affirming laws in Chile. A Fantastic Woman is a fantastic movie about someone who just wants enough space to grieve. Instead, she’s boxed in at all turns by transphobic and homophobic people, who see her as an object or an idea – anything but a full, complex human being, whose feelings are as real as anyone else’s.

The film hinges upon Vega’s performance and she delivers here, as she goes through the stages of grief and straddles the line between showcasing the specific experience of being a trans woman in Chile and the universal one of being someone who’s suffering a great loss.

A Single Man

Gay fashion designer Tom Ford made his directorial debut with 2009’s A Single Man, which is an adaptation of queer icon Christopher Isherwood’s book of the same name. It’s 1962 and George (Colin Firth) is struggling with the recent death of his lover Jim (Matthew Goode) so much that he has decided that he can’t go on without Jim. On this planned last day of his life, he opens himself up to interactions with others – like his best friend Charley (Julianne Moore) and young student Kenny (Nicholas Hoult) – and to memories of his love.

A Single Man is a beautiful but devastating film. It balances its bold visual style with deep substance, as it explores both the specific and universal in its look at grief. Everyone in the world knows profound loss at some point but it changes things when you can’t even experience that loss openly or truthfully. A Single Man is exactly that – a movie about a man who’s not just single because his lover died, but one who’s always single, alone, standing apart from the rest. It’s not all by his choice and perhaps that’s the most devastating aspect of all – George is closeted, terrified of being cast out of society because of who he is, and now in the moment when he needs people the most, he doesn’t have the tools or even permission to connect.

The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert

The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert combines the joys of drag culture with the freedom of a road trip to tell the story of three drag queens driving across the Australian outback in a bus named Priscilla. The trio of friends are all at different stages of their lives – Mitzi (Hugo Weaving) is wavering on coming out to his young son, baby gay Felicia (Guy Pearce) believes he knows everything, and Bernadette (Terrance Stamp) is an older trans woman mourning the loss of her partner. As they embark across the desert, they encounter a variety of people and instances of homophobia, while also learning about themselves and each other in the process.

The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert is a cult classic that is also a product of its time. It’s an indie Australian film from 1994, so perhaps it’s not surprising that straight cis men play the three main roles and people have called the film out for this in the years since its release. But ultimately, what has made this film beloved by many in the community is both its joy and representation of queer elders.

All About My Mother

Arguably, one could make a list of classic LGBTQ+ films made entirely of gay auteur Pedro Almodóvar’s movies but since we can only pick one here, we’re going with the best: All About My Mother. Single mother Manuela (Cecilia Roth) has just suffered the sudden death of her 18-year-old son Esteban. Unable to cope with her solitude, Manuela moves to Barcelona to track down her ex, Lola (Toni Cantó), a trans woman who doesn’t know that she and Manuela had a child. While trying to find Lola, Manuela crosses paths with others connected to her own life: She starts working for the actress who inadvertently caused Esteban’s death and she begins taking care of Rosa (Penelope Cruz), a pregnant nun carrying Lola’s child.

All About My Mother is all about women. Manuela is straight but she’s surrounded by queer women, like her best friend Agrado (Antonia San Juan), a trans woman who offers as much sass as she does support. When Manuela can only see darkness, Agrado offers light and she’s able to bring much-needed laughter to Manuela’s life. While we don’t meet Lola until the end of the film, her shadow also looms large, as she’s the glue between all these characters. It’s long been said that Almodóvar writes female characters better than men and All About My Mother is one of the best examples of the way he does so – with equal parts joy, tenderness, humor, and emotion.

Anaïs in Love

Charline Bourgeois-Tacquet’s 2021 French romantic comedy Anaïs in Love tells the story of a chaotic woman, who suddenly finds an eye in the middle of her own storm. 30-year-old Anaïs (Anaïs Demoustier) is a bit lost: She doesn’t know what she wants and she can’t commit to anything. She starts dating the older academic Daniel (Denis Podalydès) but quickly forgets about him after meeting his magnetic wife, the writer Emilie (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi).
Anaïs in Love is part of a genre that includes movies like The Worst Person in the World and Frances Ha i.e. a woman in her late 20s to early 30s doesn’t know what she wants and jumps from thing to thing in a chaotic but charming way to figure it out. What sets it apart from these other movies and LGBTQ+ ones generally, however, is the way queerness drives that movement.

This isn’t a movie about sexuality per se – Anaïs sleeps with both men and women but who she sleeps with isn’t commented on, other than Daniel understandably being pissed that she’s pursuing his wife. It’s a movie about Anaïs floundering about, trying to figure out who she is and what the hell is going on without anything to anchor or understand herself that feels realistically queer, more so than her falling in love with a woman. Her lack of a guidebook here resonates and the fact that it’s rendered with joy and fun – and spoiler alert, no tragic ending – makes this a new LGBTQ+ classic.

And Then We Danced

And Then We Danced offers viewers a glimpse into the world of Georgian dance. Merab (Levan Gelbakhiani) is training as a traditional Georgian dancer with a prestigious dance company but he’s often criticized for not being “masculine” enough. His world gets turned upside down when the rebellious Irakli (Bachi Valishvili) arrives and offers Merab the opportunity to explore sides of himself that he’s tried to deny.

And Then We Danced includes a scene of Merab doing a sexy impromptu dance to Robyn’s “Honey,” which would be reason enough to land it on this list. What really lands it on the list though is the importance of its existence. Director Levin Akin told the SBIFF Cinema Society that while filming And Then We Danced, the crew had to hide the content of the film. They told people an alternate story to what they were doing to avoid harassment. Eventually, news of the movie’s LGBTQ+ love story spread and ultimately, the crew had to get security guards, as they started receiving death threats.

The film’s release in Georgia was marked by violent anti-LGBTQ+ protests and Akin noted that protestors created a “corridor of shame” that moviegoers had to walk through just to be able to watch the film. It’s a disturbing example of life imitating art – or surpassing it, really, since the movie actually is quite hopeful – and it’s all the more reason to add this one to your queue.

Appropriate Behavior

Writer-director Desiree Akhavan’s feature film debut Appropriate Behavior is the bisexual rom com the world needs. Shirin (Akhavan) is going through a breakup with her ex Maxine (Rebecca Henderson) and finds herself totally lost. She doesn’t have a home, partner, or job, so she decides to get her life together and maybe even come out to her Iranian family.

While Akhavan later explored more serious subject matter with the feature adaptation of The Miseducation of Cameron Post (not on this list but worth watching), she takes a more lighthearted approach with Appropriate Behavior. The movie is often laugh-out-loud funny and brings the specific lens of a bisexual Iranian-American New Yorker to the universal bummer of experiencing a breakup. That specificity elevates it above other LGBTQ+ rom coms, as the storyline of Shirin struggling to come out to her parents after the end of this important – but hidden – relationship is one that a whole lot of folks can relate to.


Writer-director Mike Mills’ semi-autobiographical tale centers around Oliver (Ewan McGregor), who is dealing with the recent death of his father Hal (Christopher Plummer). Oliver reflects on the last few years, when Hal came out as gay in his 70s, which transformed the relationship between the two of them. Not long after Hal’s coming out, he gets diagnosed with cancer, and Oliver takes care of him, all while starting a new relationship with Anna (Mélanie Laurent).

Beginners is a sweet, gentle, funny movie about something that isn’t often shown on screen in any genre: an emotional and intimate relationship between a father and son. There’s no toxic masculinity here or a father teaching his son how to be a “man.” It’s about two men discovering each other and themselves, perhaps for the first time ever. Hal’s coming out initiates an exciting but painful process of confronting the idea of who you are versus the reality.

The film is based on Mills’ experience with his father and his understanding and affection for the subject shows. Beginners is a classic that illustrates that it’s never too late – to come out, to love, or to transform your relationship with a parent.

The Birdcage

Director Mike Nichols and writer Elaine May adapted the 1970s French comedy La Cage aux Folles into the 1996 classic The Birdcage. Armand (Robin Williams) is the uptight owner of gay club The Birdcage, where his partner Albert (Nathan Lane) performs as a drag queen. When Armand’s son Val (Dan Futterman) unexpectedly shows up with his new fiancée and conservative in-laws in tow, Armand and Albert are asked to closet themselves to help Val pretend he’s part of a “normal” American family.

The Birdcage is a complicated movie. It’s dated with a somewhat stereotypical depiction of gay men, and the plot’s driving force is shame, as two out and proud men closet themselves for the sake of their straight son, who doesn’t want to be embarrassed by them. It’s made with the brilliant talents of Mike Nichols, Elaine May, Nathan Lane, Robin Williams, and Hank Azaria, so not surprisingly, it’s also really funny, which makes it a beloved, if not somewhat iffy, part of the LGBTQ+ film canon.

The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant

Rainer Werner Fassbinder brings his own stifling chamber play to life in this tale of a power struggle between two women. Set in one location – the bedroom of fashion designer Petra Von Kant (Margit Carstensen) – the film follows the ups and downs of Petra’s dynamics with other women. There’s Marlene (Irm Hermann), another fashion designer with whom Petra has a dominant-submissive type of relationship. And then there’s Karin (Hanna Schygulla), a beautiful woman who catches Petra’s eye, but isn’t exactly the person that she seems.

Fassbinder was one of the faces of the New German Cinema movement of the early ‘60s to the ‘80s and to date, is one of the most influential gay directors in film. Scratch that: He’s one of the most influential directors period. His films turn a mirror onto our relationships with power and identity and while The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant is beautiful and stylish visually, it’s not so beautiful emotionally. It’s a sharp-edged tale of women seeking power in different ways and it’s ugly and hard and filled with self-loathing. But it examines these things, rather than just mindlessly replicating them or even idolizing them, which is what makes The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant a powerfully bitter classic.

Blue is the Warmest Color

Perhaps the most controversial film of the lesbian canon, Abdellatif Kechiche’s adaptation of Jul Maroh’s graphic novel is a three-hour epic dedicated to first love and first loss. High school student Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos) is going through the motions of life but senses there’s something more to it. She discovers what that is when she meets the college-aged Emma (Léa Seydoux), who brings Adèle into a world of love and pleasure for the very first time.

Blue is the Warmest Color is in many ways THE lesbian movie rendered by a straight male gaze. Notably, Maroh disowned the film and speculated that the movie’s pornographic take on sex shows that there were no actual lesbians on set. Exarchopoulos and Seydoux have publicly spoken about the uncomfortable ways that Kechiche pushed them in making the film, particularly with the sex scenes.

All of which is to say, it’s confusing watching this movie as a lesbian. I saw it for the first time in the fall of 2013 just before it was released. I’d just gone through a breakup with my own first love and we were still on good terms. We were spending time together platonically, but we weren’t together romantically. I went to see Blue is the Warmest Color by myself and three hours later, found myself sobbing alone in the movie theater at my alma mater. It was the place where I’d spent most of my time in film school a few years prior, when I thought I was straight and when the idea of love was just that – an idea. A totally unattainable, unfathomable one, until I met my first love a year after graduating and realized that love was available to me too, just in a way I never expected. After the film ended, I called my ex to tell her that I couldn’t see her at all, for a long time. And I didn’t.

That was my own experience and some may share it, some may not. What feels undeniable about this movie – despite its problems and fetishizing of lesbian sex – is that it captures first love and first loss on a visceral level. The end of my first relationship was a decade ago and yet I still weep when I watch the final scene of this movie, as that feeling remains after all these years.


While trans siblings the Wachowskis blessed this world with the trans allegory of The Matrix (which Lilly Wachowski confirmed in 2020), they first made their mark in 1996 with a queer film that isn’t allegorical at all: Bound. Violet (Jennifer Tilly) is shacked up with small potatoes mob guy Caesar (Joe Pantoliano) but soon finds herself dreaming and scheming of a new life when she meets butch queen handyman Corky (Gina Gerson). Violet and Corky decide to run away together but realize the only way they can do so safely is if they steal a casual few million from Caesar a.k.a. the mob.

Bound really does have it all. Jennifer Tilly and Gina Gershon having sex? Check. Ralphie from The Sopranos being his usual charming but sociopathic self? Check. An airtight film noir courtesy of the most successful queer filmmakers ever? Check and check. The movie was marketed as an erotic thriller with many a viewer and reviewer clutching their pearls at its explicit sex scenes. The sex is graphic, sure, by 1996 standards, but it’s not really exploitative. Perhaps what was actually shocking to folks wasn’t seeing sex between two women – it was seeing sex between two women who enjoy it, love each other, and wind up riding off into the sunset together (gasp).

Boys Don’t Cry

Out lesbian director Kimberly Pierce’s Boys Don’t Cry follows the true story of Brandon Teena (Hilary Swank), a trans man who moves to Falls City, Nebraska to start a new life. There, he meets Lana (Chloë Sevigny) and as the two fall in love, they start dreaming of a future together that’s cut short by a horrific hate crime.

Released in 1999, Boys Don’t Cry remains the most known and visible representation of a trans male character on screen and for that reason, it’s a complicated classic. Undeniably, it’s a highly significant landmark film made by and about queer people and it needs to be acknowledged as such. But the stories about trans men have not increased over the years at the rate that LGBTQ+ films have. So, we also have to acknowledge that the most prominent trans male character in film to date is one whose story is deeply traumatic, violent, and tragic. And he’s played here by a femme cis woman, who won the Oscar for the role … for best actress.

As trans actor JJ Hawkins noted to The New York Times, this sends the message that people “see me as a girl dressed up as a boy” because those were the optics both from the film and press of Boys Don’t Cry. These are very real issues of this film but ultimately, when discussing classic or influential LGBTQ+ movies, it’s hard to dismiss the significance of Boys Don’t Cry, which remains a powerful and devastating look at the ugly reality of the world.


BPM (also known as 120 BPM) is a French film about a group of activists taking part in the ACT UP movement in Paris in the 1990s, as they try to get the government to support them in the fight against AIDS.

BPM manages to do what very few movies about AIDS do: find joy and in that, find power. Of course it’s important that movies about AIDS show the realities of trauma and loss at the time, but it’s equally important to show a multi-dimensional picture of this defining moment of history that doesn’t just fall into sad, nostalgic, movie-of-the-week vibes that so often happens.

Directed and co-written by Robin Campillo, who based the film in part on his own experiences in the ACT UP movement, BPM reflects that reality of someone who actually lived this. It expresses joy, anger, impotence, fear, and all of the emotions of the time in a way that not many LGBTQ+ movies do, which makes it a classic through and through.

Brokeback Mountain

Based on Annie Proulx’s short story of the same name, Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain tells the story of two cowboys – Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) – who begin a clandestine love affair while caring for a herd of sheep in a Wyoming mountain range. However, when they come down the mountain, they’re confronted with the outside world of 1960s America, which doesn’t have much room for two men to love each other freely, openly, or at all.

When it came out, Brokeback Mountain immediately became a punchline as “the gay cowboy movie.” Ledger was one of those who hated the way people joked about the film, as Gyllenhaal told Out in 2015: “A lot of times people would want to have fun and joke about it, and he was vehement about being serious, to the point where he didn’t really want to hear about anything that was being made fun of.”

As frustrating as it is to have yet another prominent tragic gay story, the importance of Brokeback Mountain also can’t be denied. It became a part of the zeitgeist and it exposed many people to the realities of the closet and self-denial, which unfortunately, aren’t just a product of the film’s time period of the 1960s.

But I’m a Cheerleader

Jamie Babbit’s But I’m a Cheerleader takes something deeply unfunny – gay conversion therapy – and turns it into an absurdist, hilarious tale in this classic of queer cinema. Megan (Natasha Lyonne) is a popular cheerleader, who’s sent to a gay conversion camp after her family suspects that her love of Melissa Etheridge might be masking a love of women. At the camp, she meets Graham (Clea Duvall) and despite the best efforts of the counselors there, Megan soon realizes that perhaps there’s some truth to those suspicions after all.

But I’m a Cheerleader didn’t get the best reviews when it came out but it’s stood the test of time as a beloved favorite in the community thanks to its campy style and talented cast that also includes RuPaul and Melanie Lynskey. Released the same year as Boys Don’t Cry, But I’m a Cheerleader takes the polar opposite approach to the darkness of reality for queer folks. It’s a John Waters-esque satire but that doesn’t make it any less emotional or important than a more serious drama. Sometimes, comedy is the best tool to highlight just how absurd and quite frankly, stupid, reality can be, which queer folks know so well.


Based on Christopher Isherwood’s semi-autobiographical novel The Berlin Stories, Bob Fosse’s 1972 Cabaret introduced gays to one of our most beloved icons: Liza Minelli as Sally Bowles. Set in 1931 Berlin, the film follows Brian (Michael York), a bisexual British writer, who meets the extroverted Kit Kat Club performer Sally Bowles. Sally brings Brian into her life of whimsical freedom and decadence and their relationship develops as the threat of Nazism looms larger and larger over the city.

As a film, Cabaret is brilliant thanks to the performances, choreography, and balance of musical and drama genres. As a queer film, it’s brilliant because it is about self-destruction and self-celebration and the fine line that separates the two, which is something that resonates with many queer folks. For me, that translates to my experience of being closeted and having a drinking problem – i.e. wanting to erase myself by self-destructing – and then coming out and still having a drinking problem, but wanting to celebrate instead. By that point, I didn’t know how to separate the two or not do one without the other.

Sally just wants to have fun but there’s chaos inside – it’s a destructive force, which draws people in and then pushes them away (“Maybe This Time”). She wants to celebrate life but she’s always outside of it too – alone, with herself, seen but unseen (“Cabaret”). Brian gets to see behind the mask and it’s no coincidence that he’s bisexual – he’s got his own outsider position to deal with and it’s there, outside on the fringes, where the two of them meet. For them – and for many queer folks – life is a cabaret, old chum, and much like the world expressed in this film, life is that mix of light celebration and dark destruction, which makes this an enduring classic 50 years on.

Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Based on a true story, Can You Ever Forgive Me? tells the story of lesbian writer Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy), who leads a forged letter-writing business to make some extra cash. Lee is trying to complete her biography of Fanny Brice but it turns out, no one cares about another dusty, dry book and it turns out, she needs to pay her rent and take care of her sick cat. When she discovers that there’s good money in selling the salacious letters of famous authors, she tries her hand at embodying her favorite writers and passing off forged letters “written” by them.

Can You Ever Forgive Me? stands out because it’s about a morally questionable gay person living her life. Because of limited representation – and this goes for any group of othered people – there can be this pressure to be “perfect” and be the ideal spokesperson for an entire community.

Thankfully, Can You Ever Forgive Me? pays no mind to that feeling. Lee is self-centered, a bad friend, a semi-alcoholic, and she’s angry. Plus, she’s committing fraud. She is not the picture-perfect lesbian that makes people feel “safe.” More than that, she’s lonely. Her loneliness cuts through this film in a way that makes this black comedy ring true.


Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Price of Salt gets the feature film treatment in Todd Haynes’ 2015 classic Carol. Set during Christmas 1952, the film follows Therese (Rooney Mara), an independent introvert working at a department store. Life is in black in white for Therese – not even her boyfriend’s promises of a trip to Europe excite her. But the world suddenly goes into color when she meets Carol (Cate Blanchett), a fur-clad Wo-man with a capital W. Carol is dealing with a nasty divorce and Therese is struggling to find her purpose in life but the two of them soon discover that they can give each other the answers they need.

I’m pretty over straight men telling lesbian stories but luckily, Todd Haynes is not straight, nor is Carol screenwriter Phyllis Nagy or Patricia Highsmith, and so, queerness runs throughout this film that’s based on the very first novel to have a happy ending for lesbians. The words that come to mind about Carol are: tender, beautiful, longing. It’s a far cry from other gay period pieces that so often end in tragedy. Carol’s sexuality is a part of the story, as it’s used against her in her divorce, but as she says, this is about people refusing to live against their own grain. Therese just accepts her feelings as they come and Carol has long known she’s gay. Ultimately, this is a movie about two people finding connection and following it through, rather than agonizing over it.

Desert Hearts

Based on Jane Rule’s 1964 novel Desert of the Hearts, Donna Deitch’s 1985 romance Desert Hearts follows uptight professor Vivian (Helen Shaver), who travels to Reno in 1959 for a quickie divorce. She has to establish residency there for a few weeks, so she takes a room at the house of Frances (Audra Lindley) and there, she meets the young, wild, and free Cay (Patricia Charbonneau). The two fall for each other and Helen must decide whether to keep living in the fantasy of the desert or to return to her old reality once again.

Desert Hearts has the distinction of being the first lesbian movie to have a happy ending. Technically, 1985 is a long time ago but it’s wild to think about it taking so long to get to a place of seeing two women end up happily together. And it’s wild to think about how even now, nearly four decades years later, we still don’t often see it.

Luckily, Desert Hearts is an excellent movie to carry this torch. You can feel the languid heat of the desert coming off screen, especially once Helen and Cay get together. That’s the best way to describe the movie – warm. It’s a love story between two people with sizzling chemistry and as Gene Siskel wrote at the time of its release, the film is “a gentle story of someone being brought in from the cold.”


Sebastián Lelio adapted Naomi Alderman’s debut novel Disobedience for this film about a woman returning home for her father’s funeral. Ronit (Rachel Weisz) is an ex-Orthodox Jewish photographer living in New York, who receives word that her estranged father has passed, so she returns to London. There, old emotions get stirred up when she reconnects with her friend Esti (Rachel McAdams), who has stayed with the faith and married their other childhood friend Dovid (Alessandro Nivola).

Also known as “the movie where Rachel Weisz spits into Rachel McAdams’ mouth,” Disobedience is a mixed bag. On paper, it sounds like the perfect movie: My eternal crush Rachel McAdams plays a repressed lesbian Jewish woman and then has sex with Rachel Weisz. Secrets! Lesbians! Judaism! Rachel McAdams! It’s got it all. On screen though, it’s less thrilling, as the film has this overarching feeling of coldness to it. Perhaps it’s the drab gray tones but it feels like the film doesn’t have much of a beating heart. Although it does have much gentle hand-kissing, which I appreciate.

However, what lands it on this list is the fact that it tells a story of people usually unseen – in this case, the Orthodox Jewish community – and it does so with kindness and empathy. We can clearly see the difficult position that Esti is in – how does she reconcile who she is with her faith without losing one or the other? That’s a very real question for many queer people, whether it’s those who are religious or occupy other spaces that seemingly bump up against this identity, and Disobedience shows the intersection of those worlds.

The Fear Street Trilogy

Based on R.L. Stine’s beloved ‘90s book series, Netflix’s Fear Street Trilogy centers around a group of teenagers who try to break a centuries-old curse put on their town by a rightfully angry witch. Deena (Kiana Madeira) leads the charge and enlists the help of her ex-flame Samantha (Olivia Scott Welch) and kid brother Josh (Benjamin Flores Jr.) to fight supernatural evil in this story that travels back in time from 1994 to 1978 to 1666 over the course of three films.

Now, before you cast a hex on me, hear me out. The Fear Street series is quite fun but it isn’t a cinematic masterpiece – as far as gay horror goes, we’ve got our bases covered with Hellraiser and Nightmare on Elm Street 2. But significantly, those – and many other – LGBTQ+ horror classics aren’t explicitly queer with characters or stories, even if the subtext is not so sub and even if Hellraiser is basically a leather daddy nightmare courtesy of one of horror’s most influential and gayest minds.

Fear Street, however, is a great and gory horror series in which an out lesbian and woman of color is at the center. She’s the Final Girl, which is necessarily an androgynous trope, but that has been rendered differently here. She’s gay and she’s not a virgin, which are deviations from the traditional Final Girl, and she doesn’t get punished for either of those things. Okay, it’s a horror film, of course she gets “punished” but it’s not some dated treatment of women as whores, who must learn their lesson (hear that, Ryan Murphy?).

Go Fish

Rose Troche and Guinevere Turner co-wrote this ‘90s indie lesbian favorite about Max (Turner), who starts seeing Ely (V.S. Brodie). Their instant connection hits a snag when Max finds out that Ely has a long-distance girlfriend, so the two try to see if it’s possible to just be friends. Spoiler alert: it’s not.

These days, both Troche and Turner are pillars of the lesbian film and TV world. Troche went on to be an executive producer of The L Word, while Turner wrote the feature adaptation of American Psycho and introduced the world to the sociopath that straight bros seem to love the most, Patrick Bateman. But it all began with Go Fish, which is a slice of life of gay dating in the ‘90s.

The Handmaiden

South Korean director Park Chan-wook takes Sarah Waters’ lesbian period piece book Fingersmith and translates it to a new time and place: 1930s Japanese-occupied Korea. Count Fujiwara (Ha Jung-woo) comes up with the most complicated scheme ever to steal the fortune of Lady Hideko (Kim Min-hee). The plan is to get his partner in crime Nam Sook-hee (Kim Tae-ri) hired as Lady Hideko’s maid, so she can convince the lady to marry him and from there, he can steal her money and have Lady Hideko committed to a mental institution. But in Lady Hideko’s world, nothing is as it seems, and Nam Sook-hee soon finds herself a pawn in her mistress’ game.

In many ways, The Handmaiden is spectacular. It’s lush and detailed and the world needs more queer stories involving POC and showcasing historical moments and settings that people in places like the US don’t often get to see.

But The Handmaiden feels so obviously, painfully, and almost shockingly fetishistic towards lesbians, that I find it impossible to love this film. Park Chan-wook is known for his strong vision, which is a double-edged sword here, since his straight male gaze dominates this movie about two women scheming and then falling in love.

Ultimately though, I recognize that the beauty of the film and the story that it’s telling – about two women who are initially used by men and then turn the tables to work in their favor – are important. There are many in the community who love this movie, all of which brings it onto this list.

Happy Together

Wong Kar Wai’s Happy Together follows the on-and-off-again relationship between Ho Po-Wing (Leslie Cheung) and Lai Yiu-Fai (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai), as they travel to Buenos Aires to make a fresh start. They soon break up, run out of money, and find themselves stuck in an unknown city and a toxic relationship.

Released in 1997, Happy Together is one of the major films of the New Queer Cinema movement, a term coined by scholar B. Ruby Rich. This movement of the ‘90s – led by gay directors like Gregg Araki, Todd Haynes, and Gus Van Sant – focused on queer characters not only on the fringes of society, but who more often than not, actively rejected the expected rules and norms.

In Happy Together, Fai and Po-Wing do that and then some – the movie is marked by Wong Kar Wai’s trademark atmospheric beauty and coolness, but also by explosiveness, as seen in repeated shots of the waterfalls that the couple never make it to and of the two men fighting. It’s empowering to see queer characters acting like real, flawed human beings, which isn’t a given in films helmed by straight directors.

Heavenly Creatures

Peter Jackson threw his hat into the LGBTQ+ ring with this 1994 thriller about two teenagers committing a murder, which is based on a true story. Wealthy and extroverted Juliet (Kate Winslet) befriends shy outsider Pauline (Melanie Lynskey) and the two form their friendship around a rich fantasy life and world that they build in their heads. But when Pauline’s mother starts to question their friendship, Pauline and Juliet go to extreme measures to protect their private dream world.

Whether you know Peter Jackson as the director of Lord of the Rings or gruesome horror films like Braindead, one thing is clear: The man has got a rich imagination. And he has the skills and determination to turn fantasy into reality, which is at the heart of Heavenly Creatures. The movie is about two young women who need fantasy to survive and who panic with the potential loss of it. While their solution may be over the top and violent, their anxiety resonates, as many queer viewers have felt like there’s no place for them in reality and turned to imagination instead, only to be forced to leave their fantasies behind down the line.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch

Writer-director John Cameron Mitchell adapted his off-Broadway show into a feature film in 2001 with Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Mitchell plays the titular Hedwig, a trans German woman, who lives in Kansas in the 1980s, where she’s feeling stuck following a botched gender reassignment surgery. She moves between the past and present and finds some happiness in teenager Tommy (Michael Pitt), who mitigates her loneliness. But when Tommy steals Hedwig’s songs and uses them to become a big rock star, she finds herself wondering what to do next.

On the surface, Hedwig is a fantastic musical, whose songs will be stuck in your head for days. While others have played the role in the years since its release, no one embodies Hedwig quite like her maker, John Cameron Mitchell. Although the thing is, she’s such a complex and lived-in character that it actually feels wrong to call anyone her maker or creator. Hedwig is those things for herself and this movie is about exactly that: how do we create our senses of selves and more importantly, how do we accept them? The world will tell you who you are but luckily, we have teachers like Hedwig to show us how to drown out the noise and hear our own songs.

The Hunger

Tony Scott – brother of Ridley and director of Top Gun – made his feature debut in 1983 with The Hunger, an ode to extremely stylish bisexual vampires. Miriam Blaylock (Catherine Deneuve) is a super old, hot, and immortal vampire living it up in New York City with her also immortal companion John (David Bowie). Except it turns out John isn’t so eternal after all, as he wakes up one day to suddenly find his 200+ years catching up to him and within hours, he’s aged into a decrepit near-corpse. Miriam enlists the help of Dr. Sarah Roberts (Susan Sarandon) to help find a cure for her beloved but the two women soon quickly forget about the task at hand, as they fall under each other’s spell.

Susan Sarandon has waxed poetic about working with Catherine Deneuve and claims to have slept with her – plus she also dated David Bowie. So, we have her to thank for some of the less male gaze-y and more empowered aspects of the film, as she noted in a 2009 interview that it was her idea to have the sex scene between her and Miriam be mutual, consensual, and sober: “It was also originally written that I was drunk. And I said, ‘You know, I’m sorry, but do you really need to be drunk to go to bed with Catherine Deneuve? Wouldn’t it be much more interesting if I went to bed with her because I chose to? And because she’s hot and I want to?’” She’s not wrong about any of this and it’s this energy of equal desire – plus extremely fabulous outfits courtesy of Catherine Deneuve – that makes The Hunger an all-time LGBTQ+ classic.

Imagine Me and You

Rachel (Piper Perabo) and Hector a.k.a. “Heck” (Matthew Goode) are a happy couple, who celebrate their wedding. But this next phase of their lives begins in an unexpected way, when Rachel meets the florist Luce (Lena Headey) at her own wedding and finds herself unable to stop thinking about her new close “friend.”

Imagine Me and You is one of those movies that’s pretty mediocre and probably would never have made an impression on anyone had there not been such a dearth of happy, positive lesbian love stories to begin with. Imagine Me and You came out in 2005 when the extent of lesbian representation that I was aware of was The L Word. I was a freshman in college and was still super closeted but I remember the secret, scary feelings of longing it elicited inside me when I first got it on Netflix DVD.

Imagine Me and You doesn’t subvert any clichés – there’s a “chasing down the woman I love to tell her how I feel” scene and everything – but you know what? I love those clichés and the gays deserve them too.

Je Tu Il Elle

Lesbian auteur Chantal Akerman brings a breakup to life in the 1974 experimental slice of life, Je Tu Il Elle. Akerman stars as a woman who spends a month locked up in her house, moving her mattress around and laying on it, writing a letter, and eating sugar by the spoonful (she must be a Taurus). She finally decides to leave and picks up a trucker before winding up at her ex-girlfriend’s house.

Akerman was the first woman to top Sight and Sound’s Greatest Films of All Time Poll in 2022 with her 3.5-hour epic Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles and here, she showcases her fixed-camera, feminist, radical style that marks her films.

For me, Je, Tu, Il, Elle isn’t an emotional film but it’s an important one. It features what’s regarded as cinema’s first explicit lesbian sex scene, which is a wild, gripping, chaotic smashing together of bodies. That’s what makes Akerman so significant. She puts the camera in one spot for long periods of time and lets life unfold in front of it.

Jennifer’s Body

Shy and meek Anita aka “Needy” (Amanda Seyfried) is best friends with the beautiful, popular, and biting Jennifer (Megan Fox). Their codependent friendship goes to a new and unexpected place when Jennifer is turned into a succubus and starts literally feeding on the men in town.

The #metoo movement has had a number of effects, including the revisiting of once-dismissed films and the problematic ways they were originally discussed. Jennifer’s Body is one of those movies, as many have finally seen that which a lot of queer folks have known since its release in 2009: Jennifer’s Body is powerfully subversive. Written by Diablo Cody and directed by Karyn Kusama, the film is female-led through and through.

It’s an old story by now: It was marketed as a turn-on for teenage boys and older men – look, it’s Megan Fox! And she’s making out with Amanda Seyfried! – which undermined everything the movie is about. The irony is, men can stand to learn a lot from this film, which is about the way that women’s bodies are used – and quite literally, sacrificed – for their own power. Female bodies and sexuality are the blood of the film, as we see both how men use them, as well as how Jennifer does, once she finds herself in this strange in-between space of life and death. For once, she gets to be the one to suck the life energy from men and she does so gleefully, which is a joy to watch.

The film balances horror, comedy, and emotion in surprising ways, as it features one of the most devastating scenes of men attacking a woman I’ve ever seen. It’s hard to watch Jennifer’s sacrifice and not cry, which is a testament to the subversion of this film.

Kiss Me

Swedish writer-director Alexndra-Therese Keining burst onto the LGBTQ+ scene with her 2011 romantic drama Kiss Me. Mia (Ruth Vega Fernandez) has an ordered life – all is in its place and she gets engaged to her boyfriend as planned. But everything gets thrown into chaos when her father announces his own upcoming engagement and she meets her future stepsister, Frida (Liv Mjönes). Frida is carefree, wild, and everything Mia is not, but the two quickly discover that opposites do, indeed, attract.

I don’t know anyone outside the LGBTQ+ community who has seen this movie but I wish more people did. Sure, the stepsister taboo has its problematic connotations thanks to its prevalence in porn but also, whatever, they’re not related! They didn’t grow up together! What’s more important here is that this is a joyful, pleasurable movie about love and the ways that the unexpected relationship between these two women not only reveals things about themselves, but reveals a world that Mia never let herself dream of.

Queer people know this and straight people deserve to know it about us. While many queer movies rely on that same concept, only to reinforce that no, we shouldn’t be dreaming of anything at all because if we do, we’ll die or get dumped for a hetero relationship, Kiss Me shows how our fantasies can become reality.

Kissing Jessica Stein

Jennifer Westfeldt and Heather Juergensen used their multi-hyphenate talents to write, produce, and star in 2001’s Kissing Jessica Stein. Westfield plays Jessica, a fast-talking, over-thinking New Yorker, who’s feeling the pressure to find “the one” because she’s in her late 20s. But as is the case throughout human history, the dating scene sucks, so she finds herself unexpectedly looking elsewhere: namely, in the arms of Helen (Juergensen), a chic and smart art gallery worker. As Jessica enters into her first relationship with a woman, she struggles with what it all means and whether or not she can be in love with someone who doesn’t look like the person she dreamed of.

Like many who entered adolescence in the early 2000s, Kissing Jessica Stein was one of the first and only LGBTQ+ titles I found. It may have been THE first title. So, for that, it will always hold a special place in my heart. Plus, it captures the neuroses of New Yorkers and dating in the city that I grew up in in this way that feels like a cozy yet annoying warm blanket.

However, the film is dated in its approach to Jessica’s bisexuality, as it feels like it renders her relationship with Helen as just a “phase” rather than a part of who she is. The film ends with Jessica losing interest in Helen and pursuing her boss Max, which isn’t necessarily problematic but the way the film does it makes it feel like it’s erasing this relationship that we’ve just watched bloom on screen. Regardless, it’s impossible to deny the importance of this movie in the lesbian genre.

Mädchen in Uniform

Leontine Sagan made Mädchen in Uniform as an adaptation from out lesbian Christa Winsloe’s play Gestern und heute, which makes this 1931 classic one of the few lesbian movies rendered entirely in the female gaze. Manuela (Hertha Thiele) is a new student at a boarding school, where she feels like an outsider. She finds a sympathetic ear with her teacher Fräulein von Bernburg (Dorothea Wieck). Manuela falls in love with her teacher but discovers that there isn’t much room for her to explore her feelings within the confining walls of her school or the world outside.

Mädchen in Uniform is an astonishing film. While it’s on the verge of ending tragically, it doesn’t, and perhaps this is what made it so offensive that the Nazis tried to destroy it by burning all copies of the movie. We almost never saw it in the US either, were it not for the passionate lobbying of one very (allegedly) closeted Eleanor Roosevelt who saved the film from total destruction.

What really stands out about it is that it’s a female-led film both on and off-screen and it features explicit queerness. For better or worse, the film established tropes seen in the years to come – a lesbian boarding school story (we see you, Lost and Delirious), a student falling for her teacher (what up, Loving Annabelle), and (attempted) suicide (again, Lost and Delirious).


A young girl, Lucie, is held captive in a basement and manages to escape. Years later, she returns with her girlfriend Anna (Morjana Alaoui) to the house of the people who captured her and there, the two of them discover a secret underground society of people determined to find out what comes after death.

Martyrs is the most stressful movie I have ever seen in my life and this is coming from someone who paid actual money to watch The Human Centipede in the theater. Seriously, Martyrs is such a soul-crushing movie that one of my friends blames it for causing the end of his relationship.

Queer folks have a complicated history with horror, as we’re often forced to identify with “the other” a.k.a. the monster. We’re rarely shown as the protagonists of horror and that’s why Martyrs stands out. Lucie and Anna are together and they’re not punished for it. Okay, yes, they are punished in the most horrific ways possible but it’s not because they’re gay, which is important. It’s because they’re women, which is also important, and understandably, a lot of people hate this movie because of that.

But if you can sit through it, you’ll see a film that’s about exactly that: the ways in which women are used and abused under the guise of “spirituality.” It’s an extreme take on Catholicism and the very real harm that has been done to so many folks throughout history in the name of God, spiritual transcendence, righteousness, and “goodness.”


Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight – based on Tarell Alvin McCraney’s unpublished play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue – follows a young gay Black man over the course of three stages of his life. In childhood, Chiron aka “Little” (Alex Hibbert) discovers an unexpected home and father figure with drug dealer Juan (Mahershala Ali). As a teenager, Chiron (Ashton Sanders) forms a friendship with Kevin (Jharrel Jerome), who shows him kindness when no one else does. Finally, in adulthood, Chiron – now known as “Black” (Trevante Rhodes) – finds himself alone, until a reunion with Kevin (André Holland) gives him the chance to experience intimacy that he’s never had.

Moonlight offers a view of a life not usually shown on-screen – that of a gay Black man. Specifically, it does so emotionally and tenderly, but not traumatically. And specifically, it shows the various ways that someone can be loved.

The world can sometimes be a cruel and hopeless place for those on the margins of society but every so often, a profound moment of justice occurs and all you can do is scream “yes, bitch, YES!” as you watch Moonlight rip the Best Picture Oscar out of the hands of La La Land. Because, really, there is nothing like Moonlight, which is – to quote Mary Berry – “sheer perfection” in its representation of love, loneliness, and longing.

Mulholland Drive

Of all the people to direct a queer masterpiece, I’m not sure that David Lynch is the first name that comes to mind but it also makes sense, since he is the king of films about outsiders. He puts his talents to his best use in 2001’s psychological thriller Mulholland Drive. A woman (Laura Haring) wakes up on the side of the road of Mulholland Drive in Los Angeles after a car accident. She doesn’t remember who she is or what happened but soon crosses paths with Betty (Naomi Watts), a fresh-faced aspiring actress, who’s just landed in the City of Angels. As Betty and the woman try to figure out what happened, they discover a dark and shadowy world underneath the glitz and glam of Hollywood.

Despite its Lynchian twists and turns, Mulholland Drive in many ways remains his most accessible film, perhaps because it’s about that which so many people understand: the break between fantasy and reality. Certainly, this is what makes it Lynch’s queerest film (besides its very “oh my, is it hot in here” sex scene) and a necessary part of the LGBTQ+ film canon, as Mulholland Drive brilliantly explores and exposes the inner and outer life of a queer woman.

Betty has her social mask fastened on tight but underneath is the self that she hides from others and even herself. In this way, Mulholland Drive is a dark, disturbing, and affecting representation of how the closet can feel for many – a split, and a seemingly crossable distance between the internal and external that proves to be farther than we thought.

My Own Private Idaho

Gus Van Sant’s 1991 drama My Own Private Idaho follows the journey of two friends and street hustlers, as they make their way across the US and to Rome in search of answers and themselves. Mikey (River Phoenix) is a sex worker, who suffers from narcolepsy and the pain of not having a relationship with his mother. One day, he runs into his friend Scott (Keanu Reeves), who’s also working as a street hustler until he comes into his inheritance. The two of them embark on a journey to find Mikey’s mother, who’s supposed to be in Italy, and along the way, their relationship deepens and transforms in ways that surprise them.

Boundaries are blurred in My Own Private Idaho: Mikey often wakes up in a new place after a narcoleptic episode and while he develops feelings for Scott, Scott maintains that his sex work is just that: work. The lines between love, sex, friendship, time, and place blend together in this film that’s one of River Phoenix’s best.

My Own Private Idaho is a landmark of New Queer Cinema thanks to its avant-garde style and approach to a subject not typically seen on film then or even now: male sex workers. And perhaps more than that, male friendship.


Written for her lover Vita Sackville-West, Virginia Woolf’s novel Orlando was called “the longest and most charming love letter in literature” by West’s son and director Sally Potts translated that charm to the screen in 1992. This fantasy period piece follows nobleman Orlando (Tilda Swinton), who receives a command from Queen Elizabeth I just before her death: “Do not fade. Do not wither. Do not grow old.” With that, he becomes immortal and spends the centuries writing poetry until one day, he wakes up as a woman and finds that living in the world is quite different for a woman.

While Virginia Woolf’s work is typically dense and often depressing, Orlando marks a delightful departure that gave the world a fabulous and immortal trans character. And who better to play that person than Tilda Swinton? Potter’s take on Orlando is appropriately playful and whimsical, as the film blends history with fantasy in its depiction of Orlando as someone who’s just really trying to figure out what the hell is going on as the centuries roll on by and perhaps it’s this aspect that makes the film continue to resonate with queer folks.


Writer and director Dee Rees first made a name for herself with 2011’s Pariah. Alike aka Lee (Adepero Oduye) is a young Black teenager who – like most teens – is trying to figure out who she is and how she fits into the world. For her, the question is where her gay identity lies, as she feels butch but doesn’t see many others like her. While Lee explores this side of herself, she struggles to find common ground with her mother, who wants her daughter to be more feminine.

Pariah is a film that’s about first love and first loss, told through the eyes of a young Black butch woman, which is a perspective we don’t often get to see on-screen. Rees has noted that the film is semi-autobiographical, and her connection and understanding of the subject shows. The film has an intimacy and truthfulness to it, particularly as it navigates the intersection of various identities and relationships, such as queerness and spirituality, gender performance and social norms, and the tension between wanting to figure out who you are and being told who you are by those closest to you.

Paris is Burning

Jennie Livingston’s 1990 documentary Paris is Burning introduced many folks – both straight and not – to the world of drag ballrooms. The film follows a number of drag queens in New York, who are all part of the ballroom culture and members of different houses. Angie Xtravaganza, Pepper LaBeija, and Dorian Corey are just some of the folks featured in this film, which looks at life both inside and outside of the ballrooms for these mostly queer people of color.

Paris is Burning is seen as influential as it is problematic. At the time of its release, the documentary’s participants spoke out about not being properly compensated for the film that benefitted Livingston, who is a lesbian herself but is also white. And in the years since then, others have revisited the film’s complicated legacy with this lens. Unfortunately, this wasn’t an anomaly, as the movie was released the same year as Madonna’s “Vogue,” another example of a white woman benefiting off of drag culture and the people of color who created it.

While these questions of race, class, and privilege can’t be ignored in discussing the film, when looking at the film itself, we can understand its significance as a snapshot of a world hitherto unknown and unseen by many people. Paris Is Burning does offer insight into the world of drag queens and ballrooms and perhaps most importantly, it does so with the words and actions of those who were participating in and shaping it at the time.

Pink Flamingos

One can’t really have a list of classic LGBTQ+ movies without including the most subversive and transgressive gay director in history: John Waters. Pink Flamingos stars drag queen Divine as “the filthiest person alive.” She relishes that title but soon finds herself in an all-out war to keep it after the Marbles (David Lochary and Mink Stole) decide that they want that honor for themselves.

Throughout history, queer folks have been seen as transgressions just by virtue of our existence. John Waters – with the help of Divine – takes that idea and turns it into a source of power. If you think we’re already on the outside and don’t deserve to be inside, then fine, we’re gonna have our dog shit on your boundaries. And then eat it. Pink Flamingos isn’t an easy movie by any means but it’s so radical in its queerness – in its everything, really – that nothing has touched it before or since.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Out writer-director Céline Sciamma set the world on fire with her 2019 release Portrait of a Lady on Fire, which follows the romance between two women on a remote island in 17th century France. Painter Marianne (Noémie Merlant) is hired to paint a portrait of Héloïse (Adèle Haenel). This portrait will be sent off to Héloïse’s betrothed but since she doesn’t want to get married, she refuses to sit for the painting. Marianne is hired as her “companion,” so she can paint Héloïse in secret and the two soon discover the power of looking at each other and being looked at.

Unlike many male-directed lesbian films, Portrait of a Lady on Fire knows exactly where to put the camera because as a queer woman, Sciamma knows all about looking, which is at the heart of this film. How do queer women look at each other? How are we looked at? And what happens when we are both subject and object of that act?

In A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf talks about the most brilliant female writers of the time – Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, and George Eliot – standing above the rest because “they wrote as women write, not as men write.” Portrait of a Lady stands above the rest – of cinema generally and of queer cinema – precisely for this reason. It is not a film made in relation to men. It’s a film made about, for, by, with, and around women. And queer women at that.

Professor Marston and the Wonder Women

Writer-director Angela Robinson released arguably the better of the Wonder Woman movies in 2017 with Professor Marston and the Wonder Women. Based on the true story of the creation of everyone’s favorite lasso-wielding heroine, the film follows psychologist William Moulton Marston (Luke Evans), who works with his wife Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall) at Harvard and Radcliffe in 1928. When they bring on research assistant Olive (Bella Heathcote), they both fall in love with her and the three enter into a polyamorous relationship. But that’s not the only new thing going on in Moulton’s life, as he hits upon much-needed inspiration for the sex-positive, feminist comic book that he wants to write to educate the kids of America.

Queer folks may know lesbian director Angela Robinson for her cult classic gay teen spy movie D.E.B.S. and she brings her discerning eye to this story that could have easily become salacious or fetishizing in someone else’s hands. Robinson deftly explores the love triangle and dynamics here by giving equal weight to each iteration: William and Elizabeth are legally married and in an “acceptable” hetero relationship, but theirs is not treated as more important than his with Olive or Elizabeth’s and Olive’s.

So, perhaps it’s more accurate to call this a love point rather than a triangle because the film positively shows this polyamorous relationship by looking at how these three characters converge, rather than exclude one person at any given time. Or rather, the inevitable exclusion is done healthily in a way that very few throuple-themed titles have successfully done (interested parties can check out Trigonometry for the TV version of this).


Wanuri Kahiu’s 2018 Kenyan romance “Rafiki” centers around Kena (Samantha Mugatsia), a young woman who works with her father by helping him campaign for a local election. But soon, his political future and her own place within her close-knit family are threatened when she falls for Ziki (Sheila Munyiva).

On its own merit, Rafiki is a sweet film about two women committing to their love in the face of getting ostracized by their community. Homosexuality is still illegal in Kenya, so the Kenyan film board banned the movie. However, the filmmakers were able to get it screened for a week so it could be eligible for the Oscars. Rafiki sold out during its limited screening and was met with enthusiastic claps and cheers throughout and it also became the first Kenyan movie to premiere at Cannes.

Despite all of this support, Rafiki is a stark reminder of the reality that many LGBTQ+ folks still face: one of danger, disownment, and threats. However, it’s also a reminder of another aspect of our existence, which is that when given the chance, many people will stand by and support us. Many times, we need to be seen and acknowledged to be supported and Rafiki didn’t just accept the silence imposed upon it.

The film could have shown a tragic love story and in fact, Kahiu was told she could avoid the ban if she changed the ending from hopeful to hopeless. Its original ending implied that LGBTQ+ relationships could be accepted, which the Kenyan Film Classification Board found more problematic than its displays of lesbian intimacy. In some ways, perhaps that would have been a true and real ending but instead, Rafiki takes a joyful and hopeful route. At the end of the day, it’s much harder to feel joy and hope than anger and fear – and to even allow ourselves to feel them – which is part of what makes this sweet movie a powerful one as well.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show

Jim Sharman’s 1975 musical The Rocky Horror Picture Show is an iconic camp movie about bringing a creature to life. Straight-laced couple Brad (Barry Bostwick) and Janet (Susan Sarandon) get stranded when their car breaks down. They seek shelter in a nearby castle and soon find themselves learning to let loose with the help of wild and wacky trans scientist Dr. Frank-N-Furter (Tim Curry).

When Rocky Horror first came out, it wasn’t exactly a critical or even cultural hit. But thanks to midnight screenings, it gained a new life and position in the zeitgeist. Over the decades, it has tapped into a passion of fans that is perhaps only matched by the fandom of Star Wars or Star Trek. Screenings of Rocky Horror are institutions in and of themselves – folks dress up, sing along, and interject according to the rules and conventions of the Rocky Horror community. If you know, you know and if you don’t, someone will initiate you in.

It’s this interactive cult following – besides the film itself – that renders it so queer. It’s a movie about sexual freedom, yes. And it’s about a trans doctor, however problematically rendered. It’s a super campy movie musical – it was inevitable that we’d adopt it as one of our own. But as anyone who loves the film will tell you, it’s a movie about the freedom and acceptance of being yourself, which Rocky Horror fans get to express openly and unabashedly at screenings. What’s more queer than that?

Saving Face

Gay Chinese-American director Alice Wu made her feature debut in 2004 with the romantic drama Saving Face about Wilhelmina aka Wil (Michelle Krusiec), a young doctor leading two lives. Wil is a closeted lesbian, who’s anxious about coming out to her overbearing mother Gao (Joan Chen). But it soon becomes very difficult to keep this secret when she starts dating Vivian (Lynn Chen) AND her mother unexpectedly gets pregnant and moves in with her.

Saving Face is a significant film for a number of reasons. It’s sweet, funny, and emotional, so there’s that, but it also was the first major Hollywood film about Chinese-Americans to be released since the release of The Joy Luck Club in 1993. It’s a specifically queer and Chinese-American film but what makes Saving Face a classic all these years later is that it’s about something that nearly everyone in the world can understand – clashing with your family.

Shiva Baby

Writer-director Emma Seligman made their feature debut with 2020’s Shiva Baby, based on their short of the same name. Danielle (Rachel Sennott) is graduating college and has no idea what she wants to do next. She’s been working as a sugar baby to get some extra cash but has told her parents Joel (Fred Melamed) and Debbie (Polly Draper) that she’s babysitting. Danielle’s world gets thrown upside down when she attends a shiva – a Jewish wake – with her parents. She finds herself face-to-face with her ex-girlfriend Maya (Molly Gordon), her sugar daddy Max (Danny Deferrari), and Max’s wife Kim (Dianna Agron), whom she didn’t know existed.

Despite the judgments of her mother and acquaintances, Rachel is openly bisexual – although the vibe at the shiva seems to be somewhat “don’t ask, don’t tell” – but she is leading a secret double life as a sugar baby. She’s balancing all these plates on sticks and they’re bound to crash down, which is a feeling that many queer folks know well.

Aspects of identity never really stand alone or are exclusive, which is why the best films are often those that explore the whole rather than just a part of a person. There is a growing number of films that look at the intersection of queer and Jewish identities – like Disobedience and Attached – and Shiva Baby does so in a way that’s equal parts funny, stressful, and relatable.


Much like its title, Catherine Corsini’s 2015 French-Belgian romantic drama feels like a warm summer day. Set in 1971, the film follows Delphine (Izïa Higelin), who moves from her family’s farm in the country to Paris. It’s a totally new world there and Delphine gets involved with a group of feminists led by Carole (Cécile de France). They start a relationship that’s new for both of them: Delphine has never openly been with a woman, while Carole has never been with a woman at all. Their bubble bursts when Delphine’s father falls ill and she has to return home to help her mother run the farm. Carole joins her and soon discovers that there may not be room for her or their relationship out in the country.

Summertime is one of those movies that make you feel like you’re living in Europe. Or more accurately, make you want to just pack up and do so. It’s a beautiful movie filled with beautiful people and we can all agree that the French have long had a handle on sex scenes. But what sets it apart is that it’s not all just cicadas and wheat fields – underneath is a very real story of the clashing of class, which is intertwined with that of coming out. Carole is a city girl running a feminist group – she’s about ideals and ideas but the reality of many folks, like Delphine or Delphine’s mother, are unknown to her.

She gets frustrated with Delphine’s refusal to come out but as anyone who’s been closeted knows, it’s never so easy. Not when there’s family and work and money involved and even when those things aren’t – even when your family is supportive – it’s not so easy. Summertime lays out this reality while also giving the characters space to discover themselves and what’s right for them, which makes it a definite LGBTQ+ classic.


While he’s more of a household name in the indie world now thanks to The Florida Project and Red Rocket, Sean Baker first made that name for himself with 2015’s Tangerine. The movie is a snapshot of the day in the life of a group of friends and sex workers in Los Angeles on Christmas Eve. Sin-Dee-Rella (Kiki Rodriguez) gets out of prison and is ready to celebrate, until she discovers that her boyfriend is cheating on her. She enlists the help of her friend Alexandra (Mya Taylor) to find him so she can confront him and the two of them soon embark on an unexpected journey around LA.

Folks may know Tangerine as “that movie shot on an iPhone” and it’s this approach – plus its use of non-professional actors like Rodriguez and Taylor – that makes it feel like a documentary. The chemistry between these two women is so real that the movie feels like we’re sitting in on a live-stream of a joyous and energetic adventure between two friends.

It’s a breath of fresh air and quite frankly, a relief that a film centering on trans sex workers of color doesn’t feel exploitative or patronizing coming from a cis straight white male director. In the case of Tangerine, the movie feels as much – if not more so – in the hands of Rodriguez and Taylor as it does Baker. He’s not the “I am film god, I am auteur” director, even though his style is very much present and his own. Instead, he’s telling a story about these women and actually just letting it be about them. It’s not about him. And THAT is new and that’s what sets this apart from other straight male-directed LGBTQ+ movies.

Watermelon Woman

Writer-director Cheryl Dunye created a meta LGBTQ+ classic in 1996 with The Watermelon Woman. Dunye plays a version of herself as a mid-20s woman working in a video store. She comes across an old film featuring an unnamed Black actress, who’s credited only as “the watermelon woman” and sets out to find out who this woman was. Cheryl starts making a documentary about her journey and as she gets absorbed in her quest, she finds herself juggling a new relationship with Diana (Guinevere Turner).

The Watermelon Woman has multiple layers, as it’s part autobiography, romance, and documentary. It’s about Cheryl Dunye the director making a movie about Cheryl Dunye the character making a movie about an unknown woman. And it’s about this very essential thing, which has often been denied to queer folks, people of color, and those rendered as “other:” naming. While Shakespeare thinks “that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” for many people, names do matter when the act of doing so has been taken away. When you don’t get a name or you’ve been given the wrong one, perhaps people don’t even see your essence. Because they don’t see you at all. Would a rose be as sweet if you couldn’t or just refused to smell it? Perhaps it would, but it’s not so simple.

The Watermelon Woman is about Dunye searching for this unknown Black woman to learn her real name – that which this woman was given or wanted to go by, not a stereotypical racist epithet. It’s an unexpected, funny, and powerful film that digs into this process and not surprisingly, it’s been an LGBTQ+ classic since its release.


Writer-director Andrew Haigh made a splash with his critically acclaimed 2011 British drama about two men’s love affair over the course of a weekend. Russell (Tom Cullen) is solitary and introverted and meets artist Glen (Chris New) one weekend. Glen is about to leave for the US for a few years, so the two have a last hurrah, anything-goes affair over the course of a few days, which brings up unexpected questions of intimacy, connection, and love.

Weekend is a deeply moving film about the exciting and terrifying power of intimacy. If you’ve ever had a one-night stand or travel hook-up or anything that you knew was fleeting, perhaps you’ve felt the same thing: the safety of intimacy when you know it’s going to end. It’s a feeling that many queer folks know – or have had to know – in part because for so many years, we’ve been told that we don’t deserve things that last like long-term relationships. It’s still an anomaly to even see that on screen, as I’m still waiting for a gay rom-com about middle-aged lesbians who have been together forever and come to a crossroads in their relationship.

Short-lived intimacy is a reality for different people for many reasons and Weekend captures it beautifully, as it examines what’s possible between these two men, who are scared to connect but also deeply desire it.

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