As GLAAD, the renowned media advocacy organization championing LGBTQ+ representation, observes a steady increase in the number of films featuring queer characters, the cinematic landscape is evolving. In the year 2023 alone, major releases like "Knock at the Cabin" and "Scream VI" have prominently featured LGBTQ+ characters. While acknowledging that challenges persist, these developments inspire reflection on the very best queer movies that have left an indelible impact, shaping narratives and fostering a more inclusive cinematic landscape. Here’s our take on the best LGBTQ+ movies of all time.
Welcome to Chechnya
Welcome to Chechnya (2020) is an urgent call to action, exposing the harrowing persecution of the LGBTQ+ community in the Chechen Republic. With tenacity and tenderness, the documentary unveils the courage of activists risking their lives to challenge Russian leader Ramzan Kadyrov's brutal campaign. It's a chilling portrayal of resilience in the face of systematic torment. Seek it out on streaming platforms for an eye-opening experience.
Mucho Mucho Amor: The Legend of Walter Mercado
Mucho Mucho Amor: The Legend of Walter Mercado (2020) is a captivating and affectionate tribute to the iconic Puerto Rican astrologer. Whether you're a devoted Mercado fan or a newcomer, this documentary delves into his life, career, and post-fame seclusion, offering a fond farewell and celebration of his extraordinary journey. Charming and uplifting, it's a must-watch for all audiences.
In Passing (2021), director Rebecca Hall explores the deeply personal theme of racial identity, drawing from her own family history. The film delves into the psychological toll of "passing" and the forbidden attraction between its two female lead characters. Hall's intimate connection with the subject matter adds a layer of authenticity to this thought-provoking exploration of identity, making Passing a compelling and emotionally resonant movie experience.
The Power of the Dog
The Power of the Dog (2021) captivates critics with a compelling narrative that diverges from mainstream expectations. Unlike romantic portrayals of the Wild West, director Jane Campion weaves a shocking tale of revenge and repression within a backdrop of toxic masculinity. the film garnered acclaim, earning Jane Campion an Academy Award for her storytelling.
A Fantastic Woman
In Sebastián Lelio's A Fantastic Woman (2017), the rarity of a trans character in a lead role stands out against industry trends. While addressing serious issues, the narrative remains both warm and ultimately inspiring. A Fantastic Woman is a testament to the importance of diverse storytelling, offering a poignant and empowering experience for audiences.
Set on Christmas Eve, Tangerine (2015) centers around an unbreakable friendship, much like traditional holiday classics. However, things take a distinctive turn, delving into the lives of transgender sex workers in Los Angeles. It made history with the first Oscar campaign for transgender stars and was filmed entirely on iPhone 5s smartphones.
After 11 years, Pariah (2011) earned its place in the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress, a testament to its cultural, artistic, and historic significance. Director Dee Rees made a compelling debut with this semi-autobiographical film, portraying a woman's journey towards self-acceptance and coming to terms with her sexual identity. Pariah stands as a poignant and timeless addition to the cinematic canon.
Transcending the "Superbad for girls" label, Booksmart (2019), defies expectations. Olivia Wilde's comedy shares a compelling lesbian love story. Star Beanie Feldstein highlights the film's radical approach, emphasizing the significance of showcasing queer sexuality as the norm. Booksmart breaks new ground, making its mark by portraying diverse experiences and challenging traditional cinematic norms.
The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert
While not without its imperfections, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994) remains a groundbreaking and essential part of LGBTQ+ cinema. The film navigates the stories of two drag queens and a transgender woman, pushing boundaries for its time. Though questioned for its casting choices and critiqued for its representation of racism and sexism, Priscilla's legacy endures as a pioneering work for its time.
In 2018, Love, Simon marked a historic milestone as the first major studio release to portray a gay teenage romance, breaking new ground in LGBTQ+ representation. Director Greg Berlanti crafted a refreshing teen rom-com that seamlessly integrated a gay protagonist into a conventional narrative.
In Tomboy (2011), ten-year-old Laure takes on the identity of Mikhael after relocating. Directed by Céline Sciamma, the film provides a relatable childhood experience for transgender individuals while also fostering a connection for a broader audience. Tomboy is a film that resonates across diverse perspectives and fosters understanding.
Signature Move (2017) is a unique cinematic gem featuring a heroine who breaks convention—a lesbian Pakistani Muslim living in Chicago, juggling a legal career by day and embracing amateur wrestling in her spare time. While Signature Move didn't receive a wide release in the U.S., it is available on streaming platforms.
In the Family
In the Family (2011) is an engrossing drama written, directed, and starred in by Patrick Wang. The story unfolds around a gay man battling for custody of his stepchild following his husband's passing. In a journey marked by complexities and societal prejudices, In the Family doesn't offer easy answers, leaving viewers yearning for a hopeful resolution.
Bad Education is not a film for a family movie night, having earned an NC-17 rating in 2004 for explicit sexual content. However, for those willing to look beyond the rating, the film unfolds as a dazzling, multi-layered exploration of youth, abuse, religion, and more.
Mäedchen in Uniform
Mäedchen in Uniform (1931) navigates teenage Manuela's journey. Sent to a boarding school run by the autocratic Fräulein von Nordeck after her mother's death, Manuela's initial withdrawal transforms into a poignant exploration of love and societal norms. The captivating narrative, coupled with exquisite performances, establishes Mäedchen in Uniform as a timeless classic.
Battle of the Sexes
In the spotlight of the most-watched televised sports event in history, Battle of the Sexes (2017) delves into the iconic 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs. Beyond the binary argument on the court, the film unravels the personal and complex battles each faced off-court. Billie Jean King grapples with the push for equal pay and her own sexuality, while Bobby Riggs risks legacy and reputation in a bid to recapture past glories.
In her debut as a writer-director, Megan Park tackles the challenging subject of life after a school shooting in The Fallout (2021). Jenna Ortega (“Wednesday”) and Maddie Ziegler ("Dance Moms") portray two high schoolers navigating a range of emotions, drawing closer through their shared experiences.
Cate Blanchett's portrayal of Lydia Tar in Tár (2022) sparked a unique debate among audiences. As an A-list, Oscar-winning actor taking on the role of a lesbian in a major awards film, the character's ambiguous (even villainous) nature left viewers questioning its impact on LGBTQ+ representation. Tár has become a point of discussion, highlighting the complexities of representation in film.
The Way He Looks
In Daniel Ribeiro's coming-of-age drama, The Way He Looks (2014), the story of a blind teenager falling in love with a classmate is told with exquisite charm. Praised for its endearing qualities, the film goes beyond surface charm, offering a refreshing and beautiful exploration of unspoken emotions.
In Pedro Almodóvar's Parallel Mothers, the acclaimed director explores a story that earned a GLAAD Media Award in 2022. At the heart of the narrative is a relationship that Almodóvar hesitates to strictly label as lesbian, preferring to see it as something more fluid and broad. Parallel Mothers shows Almodóvar's nuanced approach, offering an exploration of relationships that transcend traditional labels.
Cabaret (1972) is an Academy Award-winning musical, set against the backdrop of a politically charged Berlin A trailblazer for its time, it depicted bisexuality and queerness in a way that was ahead of its era. Beyond its critical acclaim, Cabaret also achieved box office success, and notably, propelled Liza Minelli into enduring acclaim as a gay icon.
The Crying Game
The Crying Game (1992), now more than 30 years old, continues to wield the power to shock and surprise. Its famous plot twist elicits diverse reactions, with some critics viewing the film as transphobic. However, director Neil Jordan vehemently disagrees, distinguishing his work from portrayals in other films. In contrast to characters wielding scalpels, The Crying Game presents a trans character that captivates and resonates with audiences, challenging stereotypes and leaving a lasting impact.
Brokeback Mountain (2005) is a groundbreaking film that played a pivotal role in bringing queer cinema into the mainstream in the 21st century. Often hailed as the "gay cowboy" movie, its impact went beyond its box office success and major star cast, earning it Oscar nominations.
Can You Ever Forgive Me?
In Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018), the narrative revolves around the real-life criminal exploits of writer Lee Israel, played by Melissa McCarthy, and her partner, a gay man. However, the film isn't specifically about sexuality. The result is a nuanced portrayal that transcends traditional narratives, focusing on the complex lives of its characters beyond their sexual orientation.
Boys Don't Cry
Boys Don't Cry (1999)recounts the real-life tragedy of its protagonist's rape and murder, shedding light on the extreme homophobia that trans men can endure. Hilary Swank's Oscar-winning performance as the lead adds a heartbreaking authenticity to the portrayal. The film, rather than relying on clichés, becomes a vital piece in bringing awareness to the harsh realities faced by LGBTQ+ individuals, particularly trans men, and the serious consequences of prejudice and discrimination.
Pride (2014) chronicles the unexpected alliance between British miners and LGBTQ+ activists for a common cause. Despite its lack of graphic imagery or strong language, the movie received an "R" rating in the U.S. and a 15 rating in Britain, sparking controversy and accusations of homophobic bias from outraged fans.
Ma Vie En Rose
Ma Vie En Rose’s (1997) storyline draws from co-writer Vander Stappen's own experiences of navigating life as a woman who lived as a man due to a deep sense of being "born in the wrong body." The film leaned into these childhood experiences to infuse Ma Vie En Rose with authenticity. The result is a thought-provoking exploration of gender identity and the challenges faced by those who feel their true selves don't align with societal expectations.
Victor/Victoria (1982) starring the iconic Julie Andrews, stood out as a musical comedy that embraced and brought the queer subtext to the forefront. The film navigated the complexities of gender and identity with humor and grace, challenging traditional norms.
The Imitation Game
The Imitation Game (2014), despite having a real-life gay hero, faced scrutiny from viewers questioning its portrayal of homosexuality. Some critics accused the filmmakers of downplaying the character's homosexual relationships to cater to a wider audience. The Imitation Game explores the intricacies of identity and acceptance in the context of historical events.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch
John Cameron Mitchell's directorial debut, Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001) is a musical that resonated across diverse identities, with trans, non-binary, queer, and straight individuals finding it activating, liberating, and empowering. The success extended to the stage, with a massive Broadway revival in 2015 that continues to captivate audiences.
The Wedding Banquet
The Wedding Banquet (1993) is an unexpected success story. Produced on a modest budget of $1 million, this film about a marriage of convenience turned out to be the most profitable of 1993, earning over $23 million globally.
Call Me by Your Name
Despite the controversy surrounding star Armie Hammer and the age gap between characters, Luca Guadagnino's Call Me by Your Name (2017) remains a moving cinematic experience. While allegations against Hammer may give pause, the film's emotional depth and impact have resonated globally, inspiring a dedicated book exploring how Call Me by Your Name touched and changed the lives of viewers.
Moonlight (2016) secured its place in history as the first LGBTQ+-themed film to win the Best Picture Oscar at the Academy Awards. Moonlight transcends its historical achievements, standing as a remarkable film that has been praised by critics as one of the best of the 21st century.
Basil Dearden's Victim (1961), set in early 1960s London, follows barrister Melville Farr on the verge of success. However, when he becomes entangled with blackmailers exposing his connection to a young gay man, Farr's carefully constructed world unravels. The revelation of Farr's closeted homosexuality, complicated by Britain's anti-sodomy laws, puts everything at risk. Rather than succumbing, Farr decides to confront the challenges head-on, embarking on a courageous fight against prejudice and societal expectations.
Pain and Glory
In Pain and Glory (1918), Pedro Almodóvar's eighth collaboration with Antonio Banderas, the director explores deeply personal material. Banderas portrays a character partially inspired by Almodóvar himself, engaging in eye-opening actions within the film.
Blue Is the Warmest Color
In Blue Is the Warmest Color (2013), Adèle's life takes a transformative turn upon meeting Emma, a young woman with distinctive blue hair. Through their connection, Adèle explores desire and asserts herself as a woman and an adult. The film navigates Adèle's journey of growth, self-discovery, and the complexities of love and loss in the presence of others.
120 BPM (Beats Per Minute)
In 120 BPM (Beats Per Minute) (2017), director Robin Campillo draws on personal experience as a former ACT UP militant in the '90s, offering a vivid portrayal of the AIDS crisis in France. The film follows a group of activists from the AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power as they passionately advocate for attention to the epidemic.
Portrait of a Lady on Fire
Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019) captured attention in 2022 when it debuted as the highest new entry on Sight & Sound's prestigious Greatest Films of All Time list. The film, recognized as a manifesto about the female gaze, defies traditional portrayals of lesbian romances, contributing to its esteemed place in cinematic history.
C.R.A.Z.Y (2005) was initially released worldwide in 2005, and only reached U.S. theaters in 2022. Director Jean-Marc Vallée expressed a desire for the film to transcend being categorized solely as a gay film, emphasizing its central theme of a boy resisting acceptance of his perceived differences.
All About My Mother
All About My Mother (1999), directed by Pedro Almodóvar, is an Oscar-winning comedy-drama that revolves around Manuela. The story unfolds after her son Esteban is fatally struck by a car, prompting Manuela's quest to find Esteban's father, now a transvestite. Esteemed critic Ebert hailed the film as an apotheosis in Almodóvar's career, as it skillfully weaves together the director's recurring themes. Not only does it represent a pivotal moment in Almodóvar's shift towards more dramatic narratives, but it also earned him an Academy Award.