10 of Our All-Time Favorite LGBTQ Movies
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Queer cinema has really stepped it up as far as watch-worthiness goes in recent years. But that doesn’t change the fact that what are arguably some of the best gay movies came out more than half a century ago. In no particular order, here’s an anything-but-exhaustive list of some of our favorites that, with any luck, will have you laughing, crying, and — if anything — feeling seen.
Whether you’re looking for comedy, drama, tragedy, or education, adding these movies to your LGBTQ library will scratch your itch for unforgettable cinema.
1. Midnight Cowboy
Midnight Cowboy came out in 1969, the same year as the Stonewall riots that we still commemorate during Pride Month. Jon Voight plays Joe Buck, a Texan cowboy who moves to New York to become a hustler. Joe befriends a sleazy con artist, Ratso Rizzo (played by Dustin Hoffman), and the two develop a deep emotional bond with seriously queer undercurrents.
Directed by British filmmaker John Schlesinger and shot in New York, it went on to win the BAFTA Award for Best Film and the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 1969 before taking home three Academy Awards in 1970.
2. But I’m a Cheerleader
Natasha Lyonne plays Megan Bloomfield, a high school cheerleader sent to a conversion camp to “cure” her lesbianism. The film offers a satirical critique of conversion therapy, using humor to shed light on the harmfulness of these damaging programs. This gay movie’s wit, visuals, and positive representation of queer characters secure its place as a cult classic in LGBTQ film.
Directed by Jamie Babbit and shot in Los Angeles, the film won the Artistic Achievement Award at the 2000 Philadelphia International Gay & Lesbian Film Festival and the Audience Award for Best Feature Film at the 2000 Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. It’s also been nominated for several other awards in LGBTQ and indie film festivals.
3. Paris Is Burning
This must-watch LGBTQ movie documents the lives of NYC’s Black and Latinx queer communities and the ball culture that served as a response to the rampant homophobia and transphobia that drag queens and transgender people endured in the 1980s.
Directed by Jennie Livingston and shot in NYC, Paris Is Burning received significant attention after winning the Grand Jury Prize for Documentary at Sundance in 1991. It also took home the Berlin International Film Festival’s Best Documentary award and the Teddy Award for Best Documentary at the Berlinale that same year.
4. God’s Own Country
God’s Own Country explores queer identity and the unique challenges faced by queer people in rural settings. It follows Johnny Saxby, a young farmer in England, who falls for Gheorghe, a migrant worker from Romania. This gay film offers a nuanced depiction of a same-sex romance, addressing the struggles faced by many gay people as they come to terms with their sexuality and seek acceptance from themselves and their community.
Francis Lee directed God’s Own Country on location in Yorkshire, England. In 2017, the film won the World Cinema Directing Award at Sundance and the Michael Powell Award for Best British Feature Film at the Edinburgh International Film Festival.
5. My Beautiful Laundrette
In My Beautiful Laundrette, a young British-Pakistani man named Omar becomes romantically entwined with Johnny (played by Daniel Day-Lewis), a former punk he’s enlisted to help him revitalize a rundown laundrette. Released in 1985, this film was one of the first to portray a same-sex relationship in a positive and realistic light, offering a groundbreaking exploration of the challenges faced by gay men within a racially and culturally complex landscape.
Stephen Frears directed My Beautiful Laundrette, which was shot in London. It swept the awards circuit in 1986, receiving multiple BAFTA nominations and taking home the Academy Award for Best Screenplay, the Teddy Award for Best Feature Film at the Berlin International Film Festival, and the Best Screenplay award at the Evening Standard British Film Awards.
6. Happy Together
Shot on location in Buenos Aires, Happy Together explores the complex relationship between Ho Po-wing and Lai Yiu-fai, two gay men from Hong Kong. The film’s poetic, evocative storytelling beautifully portrays the challenges faced by queer people within the cultures of Hong Kong and Argentina.
Renowned Hong Kong filmmaker Wong Kar-wai’s work on Happy Together won him the Hong Kong Film Award for Best Director and the Best Director Award at Cannes. Actor Tony Leung Chiu-wai won the Best Actor Award at Cannes, as well as the Golden Horse Award for Best Actor, one of the most prestigious film awards in Chinese-language cinema.
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Set in the 1950s, Carol follows Carol Aird, an upper-class housewife played by Cate Blanchett, who falls for Thérese, a young shopgirl played by Rooney Mara. With queer icon Sarah Paulson rounding out the star-studded cast, Carol offers a riveting portrayal of the beauty and challenges of a lesbian relationship at a time when homosexuality was incredibly stigmatized.
Gay American filmmaker Todd Haynes shot the film primarily in Cincinnati and NYC. Carol received too many award nominations to count and won several categories at the Independent Spirit Awards. It also took home the Queer Palm at Cannes, an award honoring LGTBQ themes and films.
Queerness is especially difficult to navigate within marginalized communities, a topic addressed head-on in Moonlight, which follows a young Black man named Chiron who falls in love with Kevin, his childhood best friend.
Shot on location in Miami, Moonlight received widespread critical acclaim, becoming the first film with an all-Black cast to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. Director Barry Jenkins won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, and Mahershala Ali was the first Muslim actor to win an Oscar for his role as Juan, the drug dealer who served as an unlikely father figure for Chiron.
9. Call Me by Your Name
Set in northern Italy in the 1980s, Call Me by Your Name follows the sexual awakening of young Elio Perlman (played by Timothée Chalamet) as he falls for his father’s graduate student, Oliver (played by Armie Hammer). This coming-of-age love story received some criticism for romanticizing a sexual relationship between an older man and a minor, but its depiction of teenage love and acceptance helped bring queer cinema to the mainstream.
The Independent Spirit Awards honored Luca Guadagnino with the award for Best Director and Timothée Chalamet with Best Male Lead. The film’s adaptation of the book of the same name was honored at the Academy Awards and Critics’ Choice Awards. The movie also won the GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Film – Wide Release.
Unlike many of the films on this list, Philadelphia isn’t a gay love story, focusing instead on the legal and societal challenges faced by Andrew Beckett (played by Tom Hanks), a gay lawyer who partners with Joe Miller, a Black attorney played by Denzel Washington, to bring a case of AIDS discrimination against the law firm that wrongfully terminated Beckett.
Philadelphia was one of the first Hollywood movies to highlight homophobia and the AIDS epidemic in mainstream film. Director Jonathan Demme shot the movie on location in Philadelphia, and the film won several prestigious awards, including the Academy Award for Best Original Song for Bruce Springsteen’s “Streets of Philadelphia.”
10. The Birdcage
Set in Miami’s South Beach, The Birdcage is an American remake of the French-language comedy La Cage aux Folles. The film stars Robin Williams as Armand Goldman, the openly gay owner of a drag club called The Birdcage, and his partner, Albert (played by Nathan Lane), whose drag persona, Starina, is the club’s main attraction.
This classic comedy brought drag culture and positive LGBTQ representation to the mainstream several years before Nathan Lane came out as gay. Director Mike Nichols shot the film on location in Miami, and the film received multiple Golden Globe nominations and the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture.
Call us a bunch of size queens, but cutting this list at 10 is cutting it too short. Here are, also in no particular order, 10 additional must-see queer movies for your consideration:
- Hedwig and the Angry Inch
- The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert
- The Danish Girl
- Brokeback Mountain
- Boys Don’t Cry
- Bad Education (La Mala Educación)
- My Own Private Idaho
- Beautiful Thing
- To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar
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