It’s fair to say that we live in a time when movie studios have realized that audiences want more LGBTQ films. Lesbian movies, in particular, are having a golden age, where more and more films about women-loving-women are produced.
Yet sometimes it’s hard to find just the right film, or one that treats queerness with the respect and care that it deserves. These films do exist: queer filmmakers are on the rise, and the stories they tell are as honest as they get.
In this list, you will find the best lesbian movies available on Netflix US. These movies focus on one or more lesbian characters, with storylines that may be exclusively about a lesbian relationship or not. These highly entertaining films feature some of the best scenes of lesbian love and desire. Be warned: some of them will leave a tear in your eye.
In this article we will cover...
Duck Butter (2018), by Miguel Arteta, is an independent film about two L.A. women who, after meeting in a bar, try to live an entire relationship in twenty-four hours. The movie stars Alia Shawkat, known for her role of Maeby Fünke in the sitcom Arrested Development and, more recently, that of Dory Sief in the comedy series Search Party. Next to Shawkat stars up-and-coming Spanish actress Laia Costa, who played the titular character in the critically praised Victoria.
Struggling actor Nima (played by Shawkat) gets hired for her first major film role, but she can’t seem to achieve the vulnerability that her co-stars have on set. In a gay bar in Los Angeles, she meets Sergio, an eccentric Spanish-speaking woman who she ends up going home with. After they have sex, they jokingly reach an accord: they will live an entire relationship in just one day. While Shawkat wrote the script together with the director, a big chunk of the movie was improvised by the two actresses. This was only possible thanks to the fact that Shawkat and Costa have very strong chemistry, which allowed them to explore their day-long life-long relationship with great intimacy.
Duck Butter has a lot of sex in it. Part of the accord that Nima and Sergio get into is that they will have sex every hour on the hour, in order to get close to the full intimacy that long-lasting couples have. Shawkat is a bisexual woman in real life and, as such, had to coach her heterosexual co-star on how lesbian sex played out. Costa was set on portraying this crucial part in the life of lesbian women in the most authentic way possible. Luckily, she and Shawkat found they were very comfortable with each other, which led to a beautiful and honest portrayal of women loving women.
Elisa & Marcela [Elisa y Marcela] (2019), by Isabel Coixet, is a romantic drama film based on the life of the lesbian couple who would become Spain’s first same-sex marriage. For those who aren’t familiar with Coixet, you should know that she’s one of the most well-known film directors in Spain, and one of the most prolific too. She has been working in the Spanish film industry for more than fifty years, during which she has garnered many local and international awards.
Set in 1898, the movie follows Marcela Ibeas (played by Greta Fernández) a young woman who starts attending a strict Catholic school in the city of A Coruña, Galicia, Spain. There she meets older and wilder Elisa (Natalia de Molina) and the two of them become friends. They spend most of their time together, both in school and during their free hours. One day, while visiting one of A Coruña’s many beaches, Elisa tells Marcela that was the happiest she had ever been. The girls are falling in love with each other, but Marcela’s severe and wicked father is privy to this. He sends Marcela away, to a boarding school in Madrid. The film follows them as they talk through letters and as they meet again, years later.
The film deals with the struggles that in real life Elsa and Marcela had to go through in order to be together. Their separation by the hands of Marcela’s father was just the first of many attempts at keeping them apart. The ending of the story, however, doesn’t disappoint. Perhaps the best part of Elsa & Marcela is the depiction of their marriage. In order to get married, Elisa adopted a fake identity as a man, which fooled the priests at the church of Saint George. To this day, their marriage was never revoked.
Let It Snow (2019), by Luke Snellin, is a romantic comedy film set during Christmastime. It’s an adaptation of Let It Snow: Three Holiday Romances, a young adult written in collaboration by three best-selling novelists: Maureen Johnson (The Bane Chronicles), Lauren Myracle (Internet Girls), and John Green (Looking for Alaska, The Fault in Our Stars, Paper Towns). This Netflix original production stars an ensemble cast composed of several talented and trending young actors and actresses.
A snowy Christmas Eve approaches and the lives of eight high school seniors are about to change. Since her mother is sick, Julie (Isabela Merced) can’t follow her dream and go to Columbia. But hanging out with famous pop star Stuart (Shameik Moore) may change her outlook on her situation. Fearful Tobin (Mitchell Hope) is in love with her long-time friend Angie (Kiernan Shipka). Frustrated with her boyfriend Jeb (Mason Gooding), Addie (Odeya Rush) pushes her friend Dorrie (Liv Hewson). Meanwhile, Dorrie is trying to deal with Kerry (Anna Akana), who is in love with her but isn’t out. And then there’s Keon (Jacob Batalon). He just wants to impress a famous DJ by throwing a huge party everyone in the group will attend.
The best part of Let It Snow is, without a doubt, Dorrie and Kerry’s lesbian romance. Their love story about dealing with the pressures of being inside the closet and not feeling safe coming out to your friends and family will resonate with many watchers. What’s best is that both actors are part of the LGBTQ community in real life: Anna Akana is bisexual and Liv Hewson is a non-binary person attracted to women. This inevitable gives their romance in Let It Snow and authenticity difficult to match. It’s a great feel-good movie to watch during a queer Christmas.
Wine Country (2019), by Amy Poehler, is a comedy film about a group of friends who go on vacation to Napa Valley, a region in Northern California known for its vineyards. The movie was Poehler’s first as a director, although the famous Saturday Night Live comedian had experience in this role directing sitcom episodes (like includes Parks and Recreation, the well-regarded sitcom where she starred as Leslie Knope). With a cast of great SNL alumni, both in the acting and writing department, Wine Country uses these talented comedians to tell a heartwarming tale of sorority and female love.
The goes as follows: Rebecca (Rachel Dratch) is turning 50th and wants to have a quaint birthday, but her friend Abby (played by Poehler) insists on doing something different. She proposes spending a weekend in Napa Valley, a hot tourist spot for middle-aged Americans, with their four long-time friends: Catherine (Ana Gasteyer) is a successful yet jealous businesswoman, Jenny (Emily Spivey) is a writer who feels miserable, Naomi (Maya Rudolph) just wants to have a break from her kids and Val (Paula Pell) is a lesbian looking for someone to love. During their trip, they will reminisce about old days and come to terms with their new lives. Some of them may find something new, perhaps a friend, or something else.
Wine Country features a very sweet lesbian romance between Val and Jade (Maya Erskine). The characters in this movie are deeply inspired by their actors, so it’s no surprise that Pell’s search for a loving lesbian relationship after her divorce was reflected in the character of Val. When the lovers meet, Val had been alone for some time. It’s rare to see a relationship with an age gap told well, yet the movie manages to nail the beauty of a relationship between two women who respect and love each other.
The Prom (2020), by Ryan Murphy, is a musical comedy film about a lesbian student who was banned from her high school’s prom for wanting to bring her girlfriend and the Broadway actors who help her. The movie is an adaptation of a homonymous 2018 Broadway musical written by Tony Award-nominee Matthew Sklar. The movie’s director, Ryan Murphy, is a very influential gay television producer known as one of the people behind the recent affluence of queer-led movies and shows. He has directed several movies, but his most well-known work was in television shows like Glee, American Horror Story, and Pose. He has been nominated for thirty-six Emmy Awards, winning six of them.
The film begins with the cancellation of the James Madison High School prom dance: the Parent Teacher Association wanted to prevent Emma (Jo Ellen Pellman), a lesbian student, from bringing her girlfriend, Alyssa (Ariana DeBose) to the dance. Disappointed by this backward decision, Emma tells her story on the Internet. The news goes viral and ends up reaching a group of down-on-their-luck Broadway actors (Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, James Corden, and Andrew Rannells). Seeing that Broadway has turned its back on them, they decide to travel from New York City to Indiana in order to help Emma.
The Prom will resonate with many queer watchers. Even though it´s glamour and campiness may make it look a little less like real life, it packs a strong message that should always be sung. Seeing acting stars likes Streep or Kidman singing about being yourself and being happy while being queer is fantastic. As a feel-good lesbian musical, the filmmakers accomplished everything they set out to do and it’s a joy to watch.
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (2020), by George C. Wolfe, is a biographical film about the titular blues singer pioneer. Set in 1927 Chicago, the movie tells the story of the partnership between established blues star Ma Rainey (played by Emmy, Tony, and Academy Award-winning Viola Davis) and her hotshot trumpeter, Mel Sturdyvant (played by Chadwick Boseman). It was based on a homonymous play written by August Wilson in 1982.
Considered one of the best films of the year, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom won two of the five Academy Awards it was nominated for: best Costume Design and Best Makeup and Hairstyling. The movie is also significant for being beloved actor Chadwick Boseman’s (known for Black Panther) last film before his untimely death. Both he and Davis won the Screen Actors Guild Award for best acting in their respective categories. It was the first time two black actors won the prizes at the same time.
Known as the “Mother of the Blues”, Gertrude “Ma” Rainey is responsible for blues as we know it today. She has been an important influence on all-female black singers: from her pupil Bessie Smith (known as the “Empress of the Blues”) to jazz extraordinaire Billie Holiday and gospel star Ethel Waters. One of the most interesting aspects of Ma Rainey’s work is her lyrics, which contain many references to her love of women. She is considered a precursor of the lesbian cultural movement that would arise in the seventies, being one of the first musical artists to crystalize her love for women in song. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom chronicles a key figure in black queer history, a true icon of the lesbian community.
The Half of It (2020), by Alice Wu, is a coming-of-age film retelling of a classic story of unrequited love. A surprising hit, this charming movie was praised for its innovative LGBTQ story and the performances by the three talented young actors. It also won an award for Best Narrative Feature at the Tribeca Film Festival. The script for The Half of It was inspired by the 1897 French play Cyrano de Bergerac, where poetic Cyrano writes love letters to his cousin Roxane in the name of the dimwitted Baron Christian.
In a remote American town, Ellie Chu (Leah Lewis) lives a lonely life with her widowed father. She’s a good student, but she can’t seem to make any friends at school. Her teachers like her, one of them encouraging her to study English in college. Yet Ellie doesn´t want to leave her father alone. One day, Ellie is biking back from school when she’s stopped by Paul Munsky (Daniel Diemer), a football player from her school, who offers to pay her if she writes a love letter to his crush, Aster Flores (Alexxis Lemire). While reluctant at first, Ellie accepts in order to help her father pay the bills. As she begins texting and writing letters to Aster, Ellie finds out she has a lot in common with her. Before she knows it, she falls in love with her.
The Half of It perfectly captures the feeling of longing, this unstoppable desire for something you can’t experience. Many teenagers know this feeling, particularly those who are part of the LGBTQ community. It’s not your run-of-the-mill love story, but it is a beautiful depiction of lesbian love, whether it is unrequited or not. This movie is bound to hit you right in the feels.
Ride or Die (2021), by Ryuichi Hiroki, is a Japanese romance thriller. The film is an adaptation of Gunjō, a manga by queer mangaka Ching Nakamura’s published from 2007 to 2009 chronicling the toxic relationship between two unnamed lesbian women. While it was directed by a man, it wasn’t the director’s first time portraying an LGBTQ couple: in 1994, Hiroki became widely known in the Japanese film industry with 800 Two Lap Runners, a film about relationships, both gay and straight, between track and field runners.
The film follows Rei Nagasawa (Kiko Mizuhara) and Nanae Shinoda (Honami Sato), two high school students in Japan. Even though Nanae is married to a man, the two of them are having an affair. In one of their nights alone, Nanae tells Rei that her husband is an abuser who hits her every day. Then she jokingly asks her if she would kill him. And that’s exactly what Rei does. The couple flees the crime scene in search of a place where they can be alone, yet they won’t be able to outrun their past very easily. The film sees the couple break apart as the days go by and the reality of what has happened settles in.
While the manga Ride or Die is based on has some extra chapters focusing on side characters and flashbacks, the film does a pretty good adaptation of this cult classic. Perhaps the biggest difference, between the source and the adaptation is its tone: Gunjō is both less explicit than Ride or Die, but it’s also much bleaker. Hiroki delivers an incredible tale about a love so strong that it cuts like a knife, creating one of the most impactful lesbian movies in recent years.
Catfight (2016), by Onur Tukel, is a black comedy about the rivalry between two women. The Turkish-American director is known for his independent films that touch on themes of relationships and gender identity. With Catfight, he managed to create an entrancing meditation on anger, shedding light on the things that make us made and what we are conditioned to do with these feelings in this patriarchal society.
Set in the times before an imminent war between the United States and a country in the Middle East, the story follows two middle-aged women who are unhappy with their lives. Played by Anne Heche, Ashley Miller is a lesbian artist. Her paintings are known for their bleakness, reflecting her inner cynicism. Perhaps that’s why she can’t manage to sell them. Her frustration with the art world and modern society, in general, puts strain on her relationship with her girlfriend, Lisa (Alicia Silverstone). Then there’s Veronica Salt, played by Sandra Oh. She’s an alcoholic stuck with a rich but unloving husband. She also has a son who loves to draw, but she can’t seem to make herself stop mocking his drawings. Like Ashley, Veronica is emotionally closed off, with plenty of rage pent up inside. One day, Veronica’s husband hosts a party and the two women assist. What ensues is an intense release of emotions through violence: they get into a fight and one of them ends up in a coma.
Catfight is a film about female competition, and its uselessness. It’s certainly one of the most unique takes on female relationships: it explores the shared feelings between women, whether they be love, anger, or sadness. You should know that Catfight features many violent scenes between Heche and Oh. It’s a movie filled with emotions, an outlier in modern cinema trends. If you’re interested in new stories, you should give it a try.
I Care A Lot (2020) is a dark comedy thriller film both directed and written Jonathan Blakeson. The film stars Rosamund Pike as con artist Marla Grayson, who has set up a scam where she gets legal guardianship of elder rich people. The movie was praised for its harsh criticism of Grayson’s capitalist pursuit of wealth at the cost of others and the impressive depiction of her character. For her performance in I Care a Lot, Pike won a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Motion Picture.
The film beings with Grayson on top of the world. Her scam is running at full force: she gets legal guardianship of wealthy elders and moves them to her own assisted living facility, where her nurses and doctors prevent any family member from visiting the elders. But things are bound to go wrong. Like an omen of what’s to come, she gets a visit by Mr. Feldstrom (Macon Blair), a man who wants to see his mother. With help of the court, Grayson manages to deny his right to see her, so Mr. Feldstrom leaves, but not before threatening Grayson. She dismisses the situation, continues with her scam, and, accidentally, scams the mother of Roman Lunyov (Peter Dinklage), a powerful crime lord. He won’t be so easy to dismiss.
I Care a Lot wouldn’t be so impactful if we didn’t care about the character of Marla Grayson. But the protagonist of this story is a greedy scammer who preys on the old. The film manages to portray her as a layered individual who’s not a good person, but is capable of love: Marla is gay and is deeply in love with her girlfriend, Fran (Eiza González), who works with her on the scam. Their relationship is a ray of light in this dark movie. They are an incredible duo. A misguided one, yes, but it’s not every day you see such a resourceful and confident lesbian relationship in a movie. I Care a Lot packs a strong punch and characters you will take a long time to forget.