With Pride Month in full swing, it’s a great time to revisit some of the classic LGBTQIA+ films if you find you need a quiet night at home after all the partying. And don’t forget to also watch some of the best new movies to come out in the last few years made for and by queer creators, showing how far ideas about representation in storytelling have come. There’s comedy, drama, documentary, and lots and lots of historical romance full of longing glances followed by intense make-out sessions. Some of these films are sexy, some are sad, some are inspiring—one might even say there’s a rainbow of experiences available. Scroll down for your next movie night pick.
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Moonlight famously won an Academy Award for Best Picture after what was the most talked about on-air moment at the Oscars until 2022. It follows Chiron Harris (Trevante Rhodes) from childhood to his adulthood, as he’s guided by a drug dealer named Juan, played by the incredibly compelling Mahershala Ali. Chiron’s story isn’t necessarily one with a happy ending, but it’s full of poignant observations about growing up with a queer identity.
In a completely different vein, the buddy comedy Booksmart is the queer feminist answer to Superbad. The movie follows two best friends on their one epic night before graduation after playing it safe their whole high school careers. Amy, played by Kaitlyn Dever, happens to be a lesbian, but she has no angst over her identity. Only the usual angst over her unrequited crush.
Portrait of a Lady on fire
If you love subtitles, period pieces, and longing glances on a windy beach, this is the movie for you. A young woman is destined to marry, but not until an acceptable portrait is painted to send to her suitor. When a woman portraitist arrives on the scene, the movie becomes a tribute to the beauty of the French coast, the often unmarked lives of everyday women in history, and the passion that simmers there.
In 2015, the movie Tangerine was noted for an authenticity that films about transgender characters rarely have, casting actual trans performers in the main roles. It’s also a hilarious and moving comedy drama about sex, relationships, betrayal, and the importance of community in an ugly world.
Colin Firth plays a man overcome by grief after the loss of person who was, for intents and purposes, his husband. But he lives in a time when that relationship wasn’t acknowledged, and he’s been suffering alone for months. Firth’s character decides he is going to die by suicide, and the film follows him on what he believes is his last day on earth.
Bound is the Wachowskis’ directorial debut and it’s a campy, violent, mobster noir. The movie stars Jennifer Tilly as a mafioso’s girlfriend, and Gina Gershon as the ex-convict hired to do renovations on their apartment. The pair have an electric chemistry, and the sex scenes were coordinated by sex educator Susie Bright. This was 1996, long before intimacy coordinators became the norm on sets. And it shows.
Seventeen-year-old Alike spends a lot of time with her openly lesbian friend Laura at queer clubs, but she is still figuring herself out. When she eventually admits she is a lesbian herself, she is met with tentative acceptance of this “phase” by her father and outright violence from her mother. Alike finds the deepest acceptance in the end, choosing herself over her family’s demands.
Based on the erotic lesbian historical fiction Fingersmith by Sarah Waters, this South Korean erotic thriller is about a young con artist who tries to take advantage of a rich ingénue and ends up falling in love instead. Not only is the movie very sexy, the twists and turns in the plot will keep viewers guessing almost to the end.
There are a lot of historical films about queer people who can’t be together, but The Favourite is unique in its weird humor, grittiness, and the fantastic performances by its leading ladies, Olivia Coleman, Emma Stone, and Rachel Weisz. Though it’s definitely a movie about sex and romance, it’s more about loyalty and how hard it can be to trust others when every move takes you so close to ruin.
The Hours is based on the Virginia Woolf’s book Mrs. Dalloway, and it works Woolf into the narrative by focusing on her suicide and last weeks before her death. The modern section of the plot recasts the characters as friends who have lived through the trauma of the AIDS epidemic. While not everyone in the film is queer, The Hours is very much about identity and the sacrifices people make to live an authentic life.
If what you want is a goofy, classic romcom, but with lesbians in the lead, all you have to do is log into your Hulu account. Happiest Season has a stellar cast, including Kristen Stewart, Alison Brie, and Aubrey Plaza and takes place over Christmas, as any rom-com should.
Inspiring its own streaming TV spinoff, Love, Simon is a teen romance film about a boy trying to figure out exactly who he is in love with after sparking a romance online through emails. Simon is eventually forced out of the closet, and also forced to reconcile some of the messy choices he made while trying to protect his identity. The film does at least have a happy ending, which is what the teens deserve.
If you love a good biopic, you’ll love this film about gay icon Elton John and his larger-than-life career. The movie follows John from his early days to his explosion into stardom, and his descent into drug and alcohol abuse during an abusive relationship with his manager. Though John is a pretty unique individual, many of the issues he struggles with are extremely universal.
Written, directed, and starring Cheryl Dune (as a character of the same name) this is a movie about movies, and the lack of representation for Black women and queer Black women in particular. It’s also about racism in romantic relationships between white and Black lesbians, and a stunning entry into the genre of indie ‘90s films exploring queer identity.
This is more of a musical biopic for Joan Jett’s former band of the same name than anything, but it hints at the alleged relationship between Jett and Cherie Currie. It’s more suggestive than definitive, but a fascinating glimpse into Currie’s wild rise and fall in the music industry.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
There are a lot of side plots around the central character, Charlie (Logan Lerman), that have to do with queer identity—like his best friend Patrick (Ezra Miller), who is in a secret relationship with closeted football player Brad (Johnny Simmons). Meanwhile, Charlie is figuring out why he has been struggling through mental health issues for so long even though he’s just a teenager, while everyone around them is figuring out how to be honest about themselves, too. Even though its story isn’t solely about being gay, Wallflower is about understanding how to grow and recover from trauma.
This is another film set in another era to show the consequences of being queer in an unaccepting society. If only these themes weren’t so current. As the titular character, Cate Blanchett does end up with her love, Rooney Mara, but there is a very steep price in exchange.
Brokeback Mountain starred two mainstream actors, Jake Gyllenhaal and the late Heath Ledger. Yet, it was an uncommon story at the time it was released in 2005, a deeply romantic and tragic tale about two cowboys falling in love in the mountains. Directed by Ang Lee, the film was a huge hit and everyone knows what it means to say, “I wish I knew how to quit you.”
This John Waters film was originally rated NC-17 and stars the famous drag queen Divine as the notorious criminal Babs Johnson who has been named “the filthiest person alive.” The movie is surreal, hilarious, disgusting, and luckily one of a trilogy if you absolutely love it.
This black and white films combines archival footage of 1920s Harlem with scripted scenes, creating a dreamy, impressionistic story about Black gay identity and the arts scene of the Harlem renaissance. Though not a biopic, the film often addresses the history and work of Langston Hughes, using his life as inspiration and his death as a jumping off point.
Starring Jim Carrey as a truly fascinating man who really lived this fascinating life, I Love You Philip Morris is not about good people. You’ll still be rooting for this con artist to win one more play, especially when it brings him closer to love.
This British romantic comedy is about a woman who is very close to spending the rest of her life with a man, a steady, reliable mate. But then she meets Lena Headey, who most of us will recognize as Cersei Lannister from Game of Thrones. Who wouldn’t fall in love and blow up their life for her?
The Kids Are All Right was one of the first mainstream movies to depict a married same-sex couple. It’s about two women who have each had a child using a sperm donor, and what happens when those kids are old enough to start seeking answers about where they came from.
Directed by and starring auteur Isabel Sandoval, Lingua Franca is the story of a trans Filipina immigrant who is saving up for a green card marriage. Then, new love complicates things, as it tends to do.
If you loved Paris Is Burning, the much more recent documentary Kiki continues an exploration of the New York City ballroom scene. This doc more successfully integrates topics like discrimination against trans youth of color, sex work, gender affirmation care, and activism and generally focuses on much younger demographics in the community.
Gus Van Sant’s 2008 Oscar winning film about one of the first openly gay elected officials in the United States, Harvey Milk, is incredibly compelling. It keeps you on the edge of your seat despite knowing that the story leads to Milk’s assassination. Though he lived and died in the 1970s, Milk’s fight for civil rights feels as prescient today.
Originally banned in its home country, Rafiki was the first Kenyan feature film to be shown at Cannes. It follows two teen girls, Kena and Ziki, whose families have conflicting political allegiances. But they can’t deny their interest in one another, despite the dangers of fulfilling their love in a deeply conservative society.
This dramatic comedy is about a man whose family doesn’t really accept his sexuality, but it’s more about what it’s like to be an adult whose family is rapidly changing. The cast is full of comedians with the acting chops to pull off the darker moments, and will make anyone watching question the choices they make in their lives.
This 1968 documentary is a snapshot of the culture around drag, and sexual and gender identity in the late ‘60s in New York City during a beauty pageant. The movie is narrated by drag icon Flawless Sabrina, a passionate advocate for trans identity in both heterosexual and queer society—a poster featuring her face even makes a brief appearance in Pink Flamingos.
Natasha Lyonne is a queer icon despite being a straight actress, and it’s probably because of her role in this cult classic. Playing a cheerleader hilariously oblivious to her own sexuality, Lyonne eventually finds the light at a conversion therapy camp—meaning she falls in love with Clea DuVall. As anyone would.
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