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Best LGBTQ+ Movies
Best LGBTQ+ Movies

Best LGBTQ+ Movies: A Guide to Essential LGBT Films

LGBTQ+ movies have come a long way in the last few decades. From the groundbreaking dramas of the 1980s and 1990s, such as MauriceMy Beautiful LaundretteParis Is Burning, and Boys Don’t Cry, to the mainstream successes of the 2000s and 2010s, such as Brokeback MountainMoonlightCall Me by Your Name, and Portrait of a Lady on Fire, LGBTQ+ cinema has explored diverse stories of love, identity, and acceptance across cultures and genres.

But what makes a movie LGBTQ+? Is it enough to have a gay, lesbian, trans, or queer character or theme? Or does it have to center on LGBTQ+ issues and experiences? There is no definitive answer to these questions, as different films may appeal to different audiences for different reasons. However, some common criteria that can help us identify LGBTQ+ movies are:

  • They feature LGBTQ+ characters who are portrayed in a realistic and respectful way, without resorting to stereotypes or clichés.
  • They address LGBTQ+ themes and topics, such as coming out, discrimination, homophobia, transphobia, queer activism, HIV/AIDS, etc.
  • They reflect the diversity and complexity of LGBTQ+ communities and cultures, across race, ethnicity, class, gender, age, religion, etc.
  • They contribute to the visibility and representation of LGBTQ+ people in cinema and society, and challenge the dominant norms and expectations of heterosexuality and cisgenderism.
  • They inspire and empower LGBTQ+ viewers and allies, by offering positive role models, affirming messages, and hopeful narratives.

Of course, not every LGBTQ+ movie will meet all these criteria, nor should they be expected to. Some films may focus more on the personal than the political, or more on the aesthetic than the activist. Some films may be more experimental, subversive, or controversial than others. And some films may be more popular, influential, or acclaimed than others. But all of them have something to offer to LGBTQ+ cinema and culture, and to anyone who is interested in learning more about the diverse and rich stories of LGBTQ+ people.

To help you discover some of the best LGBTQ+ movies ever made, we have compiled a list of 50 essential LGBT films, based on various sources, such as critics’ reviews, audience ratings, awards, and cultural impact. The list is not ranked in any order, nor is it meant to be exhaustive or definitive. Rather, it is a starting point for anyone who wants to explore the history and diversity of LGBTQ+ cinema, and to celebrate the achievements and contributions of LGBTQ+ filmmakers and actors.

Here are the 50 best LGBTQ+ movies of all time:

  • Mädchen in Uniform (1931): One of the earliest and most influential lesbian films, this German drama tells the story of a young girl who falls in love with her teacher at a strict boarding school.
  • Victim (1961): This British thriller was the first English-language film to use the word “homosexual”, and it exposed the persecution and blackmail of gay men under the laws that criminalized homosexuality at the time.
  • The Boys in the Band (1970): Based on the play by Mart Crowley, this film depicts a birthday party of a group of gay friends in New York, and their conflicts, secrets, and struggles with self-acceptance.
  • Cabaret (1972): This musical film, set in Berlin during the rise of Nazism, features one of the most iconic bisexual characters in cinema history: Sally Bowles, played by Liza Minnelli.
  • Pink Flamingos (1972): A cult classic by John Waters, this film is a grotesque and outrageous satire of American society, starring the legendary drag queen Divine as a criminal who competes for the title of “the filthiest person alive”.
  • The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975): Another cult classic, this film is a campy and fun musical tribute to sci-fi and horror movies, featuring Tim Curry as Dr. Frank-N-Furter, a transvestite alien scientist who seduces a young couple.
  • Word Is Out (1977): This documentary was the first feature-length film about gay and lesbian identity, and it consists of interviews with 26 LGBTQ+ people from different backgrounds and generations, who share their stories and perspectives.
  • Maurice (1987): Based on the novel by E.M. Forster, this film is a romantic and poignant drama about a young man who falls in love with two different men in Edwardian England, and his struggle to find happiness and freedom.
  • My Beautiful Laundrette (1985): This film, written by Hanif Kureishi, is a comedy-drama about the relationship between a young British Pakistani man and a white former skinhead, who run a laundrette together in London.
  • Paris Is Burning (1990): This documentary is a fascinating and influential portrait of the ball culture of New York in the 1980s, where LGBTQ+ people of color competed in drag contests and created their own families and communities.
  • The Crying Game (1992): This film is a thriller and a love story, about an IRA member who falls in love with the girlfriend of a British soldier he killed, only to discover that she is a trans woman.
  • Orlando (1992): Based on the novel by Virginia Woolf, this film stars Tilda Swinton as Orlando, a gender-fluid character who lives for centuries, changing sex and identity along the way.
  • The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994): This film is a comedy and a road movie, about two drag queens and a trans woman who travel across the Australian desert in a bus named Priscilla, to perform a show at a resort.
  • The Wedding Banquet (1993): This film, directed by Ang Lee, is a comedy-drama about a gay Taiwanese-American man who agrees to marry a Chinese woman to please his parents, but his plan backfires when they come to visit him.
  • Go Fish (1994): This film is an indie comedy and a lesbian romance, about a young woman who is looking for love in Chicago, and her friends who try to set her up with another woman.
  • Boys Don’t Cry (1999): This film is based on the true story of Brandon Teena, a trans man who was raped and murdered in Nebraska in 1993. Hilary Swank won an Oscar for her performance as Brandon.
  • All About My Mother (1999): This film, directed by Pedro Almodóvar, is a melodrama and a tribute to women, especially mothers. It follows a woman who loses her son in a car accident, and her journey to find his father, who is now a trans woman.
  • Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001): This film, based on the musical by John Cameron Mitchell, is a rock opera and a comedy-drama, about a genderqueer rock singer who tells her life story and her botched sex change operation.
  • Brokeback Mountain (2005): This film, directed by Ang Lee, is a romantic and tragic drama about two cowboys who fall in love in Wyoming in the 1960s, and their secret and doomed relationship over the years.
  • Transamerica (2005): This film is a comedy-drama and a road movie, about a trans woman who discovers that she has a son from a previous relationship, and decides to travel across the country to meet him.
  • Milk (2008): This film is a biopic of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in California, who was assassinated in 1978. Sean Penn won an Oscar for his performance as Milk.
  • A Single Man (2009): This film, directed by Tom Ford, is a drama and a character study, about a gay English professor who is grieving the death of his partner, and contemplates suicide.
  • Blue Is the Warmest Color (2013): This film is an epic and erotic romance, about a young woman who falls in love with another woman, and their passionate and turbulent relationship over the years.
  • Dallas Buyers Club (2013): This film is based on the true story of Ron Woodroof, a homophobic AIDS patient who smuggled unapproved drugs into the US to treat himself and others. Jared Leto won an Oscar for his performance as Rayon, a trans woman who helps Ron.
  • Carol (2015): This film, based on the novel by Patricia Highsmith, is a romantic and elegant drama, about a young shopgirl who falls in love with an older married woman in 1950s New York.
  • Moonlight (2016): This film is a coming-of-age and a coming-out drama, about a young black man who grows up in Miami, and his struggles with his sexuality and identity. It won the Oscar for Best Picture.
  • Call Me by Your Name (2017): This film, based on the novel by André Aciman, is a sensual and nostalgic romance, about a 17-year-old boy who falls in love with a 24-year-old man in 1980s Italy.
  • A Fantastic Woman (2017): This film, directed by Sebastián Lelio, is a drama and a thriller, about a trans woman who faces discrimination and hostility after the death of her older boyfriend.
  • Love, Simon (2018): This film is a teen comedy and a rom-com, about a closeted high school student who starts an online relationship with another anonymous gay student, and tries to find out his identity.
  • The Favourite (2018): This film, directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, is a historical and dark comedy, about the rivalry between two women for the favor and affection of Queen Anne in early 18th century England.
  • Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019): This film, directed by Céline Sciamma, is a period and feminist romance, about a female painter who is hired to paint the portrait of a young woman who is about to be married against her will.
  • Booksmart (2019): This film is a teen comedy and a buddy movie, about two best friends who decide to have one night of fun before graduating high school, and one of them realizes that she has a crush on another girl.
  • Pain and Glory (2019): This film, directed by Pedro Almodóvar, is an autobiographical and introspective drama, about an aging gay filmmaker who reflects on his life, career, and relationships.
  • And Then We Danced (2019): This film is a dance and coming-of-age drama, about a young Georgian man who competes for a spot in the national dance ensemble, and falls in love with his rival.
  • The Old Guard (2020): This film is an action and fantasy movie, based on the comic book by Greg Rucka, about a group of immortal warriors who fight for justice, and two of them are a gay couple who have been together for centuries.
  • The Half of It (2020): This film is a teen comedy and a queer twist on Cyrano de Bergerac, about a shy Chinese-American girl who helps a jock woo the girl she secretly likes.
  • Disclosure (2020): This documentary is an insightful and comprehensive analysis of the representation and impact of trans people in media and culture, featuring interviews with prominent trans actors, activists, and scholars.
  • The Boys in the Band (2020): This film is a remake of the 1970 film, based on the play by Mart Crowley, and it reunites the cast of the 2018 Broadway revival, all of whom are openly gay actors.
  • I’m No Longer Here (2019): This film is a drama and a social commentary, about a young Mexican man who is the leader of a street gang that dances to cumbia music, and who flees to New York after a violent incident, where he struggles to fit in and find his identity.
  • The Prom (2020): This film is a musical and a comedy, based on the Broadway show, about a group of washed-up theater stars who decide to help a lesbian teenager who is banned from attending her prom with her girlfriend.
  • Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (2020): This film is a drama and a biopic, based on the play by August Wilson, about the legendary blues singer Ma Rainey and her band, and the conflicts and tensions that arise during a recording session in 1927 Chicago.
  • Welcome to Chechnya (2020): This documentary is a harrowing and courageous exposé of the persecution and violence against LGBTQ+ people in Chechnya, and the activists who risk their lives to rescue them.
  • Shiva Baby (2020): This film is a comedy and a cringe-fest, about a bisexual college student who runs into her sugar daddy and her ex-girlfriend at a Jewish funeral service.
  • The Happiest Season (2020): This film is a Christmas and rom-com movie, about a lesbian couple who visit one of their parents for the holidays, but one of them has not come out to her conservative family yet.
  • Circus of Books (2019): This documentary is a personal and fascinating portrait of the owners of Circus of Books, a bookstore and gay porn shop that was a landmark of the LGBTQ+ community in Los Angeles for decades.
  • The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson (2017): This documentary is a tribute and an investigation of the life and death of Marsha P. Johnson, a trans activist and icon who was one of the leaders of the Stonewall uprising in 1969.
  • God’s Own Country (2017): This film is a romance and a drama, about a young farmer in Yorkshire who falls in love with a Romanian migrant worker who comes to help him with the sheep.
  • Tangerine (2015): This film is a comedy and a buddy movie, shot entirely on an iPhone, about a trans sex worker who goes on a rampage to find her cheating boyfriend on Christmas Eve, accompanied by her best friend.
  • Pariah (2011): This film is a coming-of-age and a coming-out drama, about a 17-year-old black lesbian who struggles with her identity and her relationship with her family and friends in Brooklyn.
  • Weekend (2011): This film is a romance and a drama, about two men who meet at a gay club and spend a weekend together, developing an intense connection that changes their lives.
  • The Birdcage (1996): This film is a comedy and a remake of the French film La Cage aux Folles, about a gay couple who own a drag club in Miami, and their attempt to act straight when they meet their son’s fiancée’s conservative parents.
  • The Handmaiden (2016): This film, directed by Park Chan-wook, is a thriller and an erotic romance, based on the novel Fingersmith by Sarah Waters, about a con man who hires a young woman to pose as a maid and seduce a wealthy heiress, but things get complicated when the two women fall in love.
  • The Normal Heart (2014): This film, based on the play by Larry Kramer, is a drama and an activist movie, about the rise of the HIV/AIDS crisis in New York in the 1980s, and the efforts of a group of gay men to raise awareness and fight for their rights.
  • Kiki (2016): This documentary is an uplifting and empowering portrait of the contemporary ball culture of New York, where LGBTQ+ youth of color compete in drag contests and create their own families and communities.
  • Taboo (Gohatto) (1999): This film, directed by Nagisa Oshima, is a drama and a historical movie, about a young man who joins a samurai militia in 1865 Japan, and causes a stir among his fellow warriors with his beauty and charm.
  • The Wound (Inxeba) (2017): This film is a drama and a cultural movie, about three men who participate in a tribal initiation ceremony in South Africa, and their secret and forbidden relationship.
  • 52 Tuesdays (2013): This film is a drama and an experimental movie, about a 16-year-old girl who visits her mother every Tuesday for a year, as she undergoes a gender transition.
  • Tomboy (2011): This film is a drama and a family movie, about a 10-year-old girl who moves to a new neighborhood and pretends to be a boy, making new friends and exploring her identity.
  • XXY (2007): This film is a drama and a coming-of-age movie, about a 15-year-old intersex person who lives in an isolated town in Uruguay, and faces the challenges of puberty and social pressure.
  • Stranger by the Lake (L’Inconnu du lac) (2013): This film is a thriller and an erotic movie, about a man who frequents a cruising spot by a lake, and becomes obsessed with another man who may be a killer.
  • The Way He Looks (Hoje Eu Quero Voltar Sozinho) (2014): This film is a romance and a teen movie, about a blind boy who falls in love with his new classmate, and his journey of self-discovery and independence.
  • Fire (1996): This film, directed by Deepa Mehta, is a drama and a controversial movie, about two women who are married to two brothers in a traditional Indian family, and who develop a lesbian relationship.
  • Milkshake (2018): This film is a comedy and a mockumentary, about the reunion of an all-gay boy band from the 1990s, and their attempt to make a comeback.
  • Rafiki (2018): This film is a romance and a political movie, about two teenage girls who fall in love in Kenya, where homosexuality is illegal and punishable by imprisonment.
  • The Miseducation of Cameron Post (2018): This film is a drama and a satire, based on the novel by Emily M. Danforth, about a teenage girl who is sent to a conversion therapy camp after being caught kissing another girl.
  • Portrait of Jason (1967): This film is a documentary and a character study, about a gay black hustler who tells his life story and his dreams to the camera in a single night.
  • Tongues Untied (1989): This film is a documentary and a poetic movie, about the experiences and expressions of black gay men in America, using various forms of media and art.
  • The Celluloid Closet (1995): This film is a documentary and a history movie, based on the book by Vito Russo, about the representation and evolution of LGBTQ+ people in Hollywood cinema.
  • But I’m a Cheerleader (1999): This film is a comedy and a parody, about a cheerleader who is sent to a conversion therapy camp by her parents, where she meets and falls in love with another girl.

These are just some of the best LGBTQ+ movies ever made, but there are many more to discover and enjoy. Whether you are looking for drama, comedy, romance, action, or horror, there is an LGBTQ+ movie for you. LGBTQ+ cinema is not only entertaining and enlightening, but also empowering and inspiring. It shows us the beauty and diversity of LGBTQ+ people and cultures, and it challenges us to be ourselves and to love who we want. Happy Pride Month! 🌈

Disclaimer: This article contains personal opinions and perspectives of the author.

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