Talking about the best LGBT movies is meant to highlight and give visibility to a series of stories, characters, and problems that rarely make it to mainstream cinema.
Whether they were blockbusters or unknown indie gems, these movies proved that there could be more to the big screen than usual, more than straight romances and cisgender-centric narratives, more than traditional sex models and stereotypes.
While the queer community has always been present in cinema in one way or another, it has been especially in recent decades when we have experienced an impressive wave of LGTB cinema with numerous, diverse and exciting examples. This list chronicles the development of queer representation in film, going way back in time to find the first instances where members of the LGBT community were featured on the big screen. A long time has passed since the release of some of these films, but they all managed to push LGBT representation a little forward.
Wondering where to watch? It depends on where you live in the world and which streaming services you have. We link to the streaming service we watch on in each case - be it Netflix, Amazon Prime, Apply TV+, or elsewhere.
You can get one month free of Amazon Pride (or a 6-month trial for students) of Amazon Prime and also get immediate access to FREE Two Day shipping, Amazon Video, and Music. While you won't be charged for your free trial, you'll be upgraded to a paid membership plan automatically at the end of the trial period - though if you have already binged all these, you could just cancel before the trial ends.
Apple TV+ also has a one-week trial, and Hulu has a one-month trial (which can be bundled with Disney!). Another option might be using a VPN to access Netflix titles locked to other regions. Netflix is now available in more than 190 countries worldwide and each country has a different library and availability. US Netflix is (understandably) one of the best.
While we wish everything could just be in one place - for now, it seems these are the best streaming platforms to watch on.
In this article we will cover...
The Boys in the Band, was directed by William Friedkin. This great director and cameraman would go on to shoot The French Connection a year later, and The Exorcist in 1973. Originally a play by Mart Crowley, which premiered on Broadway in 1968. Two years after its resounding success, it was decided to make its film version with the same actors who had performed it on the stages. To this day this is one of the greatest films to ever feature gay characters: it was born in a time when gay rights activism was becoming stronger and stronger, a time when the fights to fight where incredibly hard. Perhaps that’s why it’s shocking to see how many of the themes addressed in the film are still so current
A group of friends gets together to celebrate Harold’s birthday (the eldest of the group). With the heat of the night, alcohol, and drugs, the characters bring out their inner demons, and what began as a party ends with a catharsis that shakes each of the characters emotionally. Topics such as loneliness, the fear of aging, not accepting oneself, homophobia, the need to live hidden, fidelity, the impact produced by first love, the love-hate relationship between friends, alcoholism, the importance of physical appearance, prostitution or social obstacles to self-realization underlie throughout the film.
And a historical fact that would help to understand the film more is the actuality that the story takes place before the Stonewall riots, which marked a before and after in the civil rights of gay people in the United States.
Dog Day Afternoon (1975) is a classical heist and dramatic film directed by Sidney Lumet and written by Oscar-winner Frank Pierson.
The story sees two inexperienced thieves, Sonny (Al Pacino) and Sal (John Cazale), who try to rob a bank, planning to quickly enter, take the money and flee. As they are about to enter the vault, the authorities are alerted and they find themselves in quite a trouble. Within minutes, almost three hundred policemen are surrounding the place. It seems like the only choice for Sonny and Sal is to take hostages and negotiate.
The film is an exquisite mixture of police cinema, social criticism, thriller, and almost comical lines, introduced with such care that it maintains the dramatic tension, a hint of laughter in each irony, and between the lines to think a little beyond the big screen. Filmed during the seventies, the film was a key representation of the pacifist social movements that emerged in the United States after the country’s intervention in Vietnam in 1964. Dog Day Afternoon deals with the theme of sexuality with delicate handling, showing the ideological movements that were brewing in the seventies.
It was one of the first movies to feature homosexuality and bisexuality: as the viewer learns through the movie, the character of Sonny maintains a relationship with both a man and a woman.
My Beautiful Launderette, by Stephen Frears, is a romantic drama that was originally shot for television, but ended up pleasing its creators so much that they pushed for it to be released in cinemas, where it went on to become an international success.
The film portrays London during the times when Margaret Thatcher ruled the country, all through the eyes and the complex lives of its Asian community. The plot makes use of a large number of controversial and controversial issues, such as homosexuality, racism, and the economic and political laws passed during the Thatcher administration. It maintains a sense of humor that varies from ironic to scathing and seriously criticizes the racism that prevented Pakistani integration into English society. The film shows a then-unknown Daniel Ley-Lewis in the role of Johnny, a former member of an antisocial gang, who becomes the protagonist’s lover.
Omar Hussein (Gordon Warnecke) is a young man of Pakistani origin who lives in the London of the eighties, a city that he detests because of his racism towards his community, as well as the country’s current economic and international policies. His uncle, however, has perfectly integrated into English society where he has become famous as a businessman. Omar’s father asks him to help his son by giving him a job.
At first, Omar works washing cars, but eventually an old laundromat is handed over to him, whose business he must help revive. Omar meets up with Johnny (Daniel Day Lewis), a former member of a racist and violent group, with whom he had a relationship during their student days. They become a couple, living happily as a couple while they rob Salim, a drug dealer, to get money for the laundry to get ahead. However, Omar’s family, and Johnny’s old gang, may pose a threat.
The Watermelon Woman is a romantic comedy film written, directed, and acted by Cheryl Dunye. It stars Dunye as Cheryl, a young black lesbian trying to pursue her artistic goals. It was the first feature ever film directed by a woman who was both black and lesbian. As such, and considering the deep themes of black sexuality and black womanhood the film deals with, it’s considered a milestone in New Queer Cinema and one of the best LGBT movies we have seen to date.
Set in Philadelphia, The Watermelon Woman is the story of Cheryl (Cheryl Dunye), a black lesbian in her 20s fighting to make a documentary about Fae Richards, a beautiful and elusive 1930s black actress popularly known as “The Watermelon Woman.” As she discovers what Fae Richards’s life was like, Cheryl experiences a total upheaval in her personal life. Her love affair with Diana (Guinevere Turner), an attractive white woman, and her interactions with the gay and black communities are comically and bitterly criticized by her best friend Tamara (Valarie Walker).
Meanwhile, each answer Cheryl discovers about The Watermelon Woman raises a host of new questions about herself and her future. By the film’s conclusion, the viewer will realize that The Watermelon Woman is clearly a metaphor for Cheryl’s search for her identity, her community, and her love for herself.
Boys Don’t Cry, by Kimberly Peirce, is a biographical film about the real-life story of Brandon Teena (played in the film by Hilary Swank), an American trans man who tries to find himself and love in Nebraska, but who became the victim of a brutal hate crime perpetrated by two of his male acquaintances.
After reading about the case while in college, Peirce did extensive research for a screenplay, which she worked on for nearly five years. The film focuses on the relationship between Brandon and his girlfriend Lana (Chloë Sevigny). The script took the dialogue directly from stock footage in the 1998 documentary The Brandon Teena Story.
The film was critically acclaimed, with many calling it one of the best movies of the year. Praise focused on the lead performances of Swank and Sevigny, as well as the film’s depiction of its tragic subject matter. However, some people who had been involved with Brandon in real life criticized the film for not portraying the events accurately. Boys Don’t Cry was nominated for multiple awards, with Swank winning an Academy Award for Best Actress the very next year.
In a poll carried out by the BBC in 2016, over a hundred critics have weighed in with their opinions about the best films ever to be made in the 21st century. And the top film on this list of best LGBT movies just so happens to chronicle the relationship between two women. This film is Mulholland Drive, David Lynch’s classic which shocked both audiences and critics alike upon its release with its avant-garde storytelling and mind-bending narrative.
The film tells, in the director’s own surreal and dreamlike style, the story of the relationship between Betty and Rita (or between Diane and Camilla, depending on which part of the movie the focus is set), played by Naomi Watts and Laura Harring. It goes as follows: after a car accident on the famous Mulholland Drive in Los Angeles, a half-unconscious woman hides wanders through the lonely streets and, fearing she may be followed, hides in a random house. Just the day after, Betty, the niece of her owner, arrives there and finds this woman in the house.
Betty, an aspiring actress recently arrived in Hollywood and an all-around kind soul offers to help the woman, who is suffering from amnesia. In the stranger’s bag, they find a blue key and several bundles of bills. The memory of a name, Diane Selwyn, will help them in the attempt to find out the identity of the mysterious woman. It is a complicated film, with many layers and many winks, but it’s truly worth a watch.
The Hours, by Stephen Daldry, is the adaptation of the homonymous novel by Michael Cunningham published in 1998.
The film begins with the recreation of the suicide of Virginia Woolf (Nicole Kidman), who throws herself into the River Ouse, very close to her house in Sussex (England), with her clothes stuffed with stones. Previously, she has left two letters: one for her husband Leonard and one for her sister Vanessa. This sequence gives way to the presentation of three women, whose stories will unfold throughout the film. Virginia Woolf, Laura Brown (Julianne Moore), and Clarissa Vaughn (Meryl Streep).
The first woman we are introduced to is Virginia Woolf (Nicole Kidman). She is the one who, in some way and through her novel, fosters the ties so that her work unites the lives of very dissimilar women. The writer is portrayed in the creative process of Mrs. Dalloway in 1923, two years before the novel saw the light. On the other hand, we have Laura Brown (Julianne Moore), an unhappily married woman who, on her husband’s birthday, discovers Virginia Woolf. In some way, her work represents for her an escape route from her reality.
Set in the year 1951, Laura is secretly in love with one of her neighbors, but upon learning of her illness, she begins to debate whether to leave her family or continue living a lie. Finally, the character of the great star Meryl Streep is that of Clarissa Vaughan who, in addition to sharing a name with the protagonist of Mrs. Dalloway, is a bisexual writer from New York. We know that she is taking care of a great friend and ex-lover of hers, a writer who has contracted AIDS.
At 28 years old, Wil (Michelle Krusiec), a young New York surgeon of Chinese origin, has a promising professional future. At her 48th, Ma (Joan Chen), her mother, is recognized by her community for being a selfless woman and an exemplary widow.
Ma orchestrates encounters between her single daughter and prospective boyfriends, but Wil just so happens to be gay and keeping appearances. The protagonist will see her single life and her recent romance with Vivian (Lynn Chen), a talented dancer, perturbed when her mother shows up at her apartment door. Kicked out of her own parents’ house (Wil’s grandparents) because they found out she had gotten pregnant while also being a widow, Ma will settle in and impose her style and demands on her daughter’s space. Soon Wil will rediscover the woman who raised her, the same woman who in nine months will be a mother again.
Director Alice Wu wrote Saving Face as a “love letter” to her mother. She wanted to portray the idea that is never too late to reconcile with your own children. That it’s is not too late to rectify and take a new path, to discover the possibilities of a new life and a new love. The film touches on the subjects of understanding (and respecting) the tradition while at the same time gaining respect for what’s new and untraditional. Wu’s sensitivity is highlighted in her portrayal of her vulnerability, making Saving Face one of the most touching and best LGBT movies of the decade.
A Single Man, by Tom Ford, based on a book by Christopher Isherwood, tells the story of a man who loses his male partner in an accident and dives into a deep depression.
Set in Los Angeles, during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, the film follows George Falconer (Colin Firth), a mature British university professor and homosexual, who is struggling to find meaning in life after the death of Jim (Matthew Goode), his romantic partner. He finds solace with his close friend Charley (J. Moore), who is also filled with doubts about the future. Kenny (Nicholas Hoult), a student struggling to accept his true nature, stalks George because he sees a kindred spirit in him.
The film is a thoughtful portrayal of what it’s like to lose someone you love. While perfectly capturing the suffocating power of grief it also elevates happiness and shows that the grief one feels is just love taking on a different form. A Single Man captures things we all feel sometimes but maybe scared to admit. This film will surely make you cry.
Pride, by Matthew Warchus, has been defined as the British comedy of the year and has garnered much praise from critics and audiences.
It tells a true and unknown story, that of the alliance between the gay and lesbian movement with English miners, who had a harsh time during the Thatcher era between 1984 and 1985. This historical context served as the backdrop of other films such as Billy Elliot, or the aforementioned My Beautiful Launderette, to which the advertising for Pride appeals as a reference. The film conveys an idyllic vision of the rural and the message that one should put a gay in your life so there will be joy.
Pride is based on a real event, the far from easy or simple alliance between gays, lesbians, and miners. The film lets people discover two events many where not aware of the founding of the Lesbians and Gays Support Miners (LGSM) group and the subsequent participation of the mining unions in the 1985 Pride Parade. This dramatic comedy brilliantly manages the codes of the genre to build a commercial film that works and moves.
And this is one of the strengths of Pride, which, aimed at the general public, manages to make the LGBT fight visible and daily without losing its power.
God’s Own Country, by Francis Lee, is a romantic drama film set in the British countryside. This is one of the best LGBT movies that stood out the most in recent years. Its narrative is honest and calm. It stays away from common clichés in LGBT representation. It makes the subject its own, treating the relationship that develops between the main characters with great care. Because it shows interest in the representation of pertinent themes, such as racism, and does not fall into bad representations of farmers and people in living the countryside either. Accompanied by the brilliant performances of its cast and with a solid narration, the film covers the transformation of the protagonist, a misfit and alcoholic farmer, after the arrival of a Romanian immigrant.
The film begins with the sale of cattle in the town, after that and a moment of wild sex in the middle of an animal transport truck, the movie’s main part begins: with the arrival of Gheorghe Ionescu (Alec Secareanu) to the farm to help Johnny Saxby (Josh O’Connor) in the time of cattle childbirth, since his father cannot do it because he is ill. For Johnny, the arrival of someone new to the farm is not very welcomed, since he doesn’t want anyone to disturb his way of doing things, and nor does he want anyone to do things with him.
Yet he will find that, in the case of Gheorghe, he doesn’t feel apathy, but something else.
Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, and selected by France to represent the country at the next Oscars, BPM: Beats Per Minute, by Robin Campillo, is an incredible and brave story about a group of individuals who raised their voices to fight for their lives and defend their rights in the midst of the HIV epidemic. The film takes the viewer to the trenches to relieve the tireless battle of these young people, seeking to receive fair treatment from society and the government institutions.
Set in Paris, Nathan (Arnaud Valois) is an HIV-negative teenager who decides to join Act Up, an activist group made up of carriers of the virus who not only seek to educate and raise awareness in society about the virus, but also hope to find a cure for their condition. The group’s passion is perceptible in each of the group sessions in which they discuss their plans of action. Nathan falls in love with Sean (Nahuel Pérez Biscayart), one of the leaders of the organization whose physical condition begins to deteriorate gradually due to illness.
BPM: Beats Per Minute ditches its political side to focus squarely on the relationship that emerges between these two men, Sean’s struggle to hold on to life, and the impact of his illness on his family, friends, and loved ones.