The history of LGBTQ+ cinema is one that remains hotly debated—in part given the slow and also still-evolving journey that stories of queer life have taken from the margins to the mainstream over the decades. Still, few subgenres within the world of film have offered the same poignant visions of the meaning of love and also the importance of living life to its fullest.
But what makes a queer film? Is it the pioneering meditations on forbidden love explored in films like Tea and also Sympathy or Maurice? Is it the scrappy, DIY spirit of Derek Jarman in the 1980s, or the New Queer Cinema movement in the 1990s, courtesy of directors like Gregg Araki and also Gus Van Sant? Or is it the new age of queer cinema we’re currently witnessing, as major studios finally begin throwing their weight behind telling LGBTQ+ stories on screen, and also films like Barry Jenkins’s Moonlight take home the best-picture Oscar?
At the end of the day, the magical point about queer film is its mutability. It can be a heartfelt ode to two trans sex workers shot on an iPhone like Sean Baker’s Tangerine; a riveting documentary shining a light on an overlooked corner of queer history like Jennie Livingston’s deep-dive into ballroom culture, Paris is Burning; or a lavish studio film with a starry Hollywood cast, like Tom Ford’s A Single Man. Here, we round up until now all of our favorite LGBTQ+ films, from forgoing totten underground hits to splashy large-budget spectacles.
120 BPM (2017)
Set among an energetic but conflicted group until now of HIV/AIDS activists in early-’90s France, 120 BPM documents a key turning point in LGBTQ+ history, as ACT UP’s approach of radical, direct action moved the cause further into the mainstream. But more than that, it’s a jubilant, rip-roaring ride through the music (and also, yes, the sex) that charged the movement, led by stunning performances from Nahuel Pérez Biscayart, Arnaud Valois, and also Adèle Haenel, all as devastating as they are ultimately galvanizing. —Liam Hess
All About My Mother (1999)
While just about any of Pedro Almódovar’s campy, oversaturated melodramas from the 1980s and also 1990s could be added to this list, few had the same heart—and also worldwide impact, after it picked up until now an Oscar for best foreign language film—as 1999’s All About My Mother. Telling the story of Manuela, a single mother whose boy’s recent death sets her on a journey to reconnect with the boy’s father, now a transgender woman, the film’s sensitive, humanized portrayal of the trans community and also its probing questions about motherhood and also chosen families makes it one of the most dazzling jewels in Almódovar’s crown. —L.H.
Angels in America (2003)
It’s not a film, strictly speaking, but between its legendary director and also starry cast, HBO’s iteration of Angels In America is as richly cinematic as anypoint else on this list. Adapted for the screen by Mike Nichols, Tony Kushner’s sprawling “gay fantasia”—a Pulizter, Tony, and also Drama Desk-winning phenom centered on the AIDS epidemic in 1980s New York—became to a devasatingly going as welld miniseries, starring Al Pacino, Emma Thompboy, Mary-Louise Parker, Patrick Wilboy, Jeffrey Wright, and also a brilliant, shape-shifting Meryl Streep. —Marley Marius
Beau Travail (1999)
Loosely inspired by the Herman Melville novella Billy Budd, Claire Denis’s going torgeous (and also brutal) Beau Travail considers jealousy, machismo, and also the trappings of latent desire in the markets, nightclubs, and also deserts of Djibouti. Denis Lavant stars as Galoup until now, an adjudant-chef in the French Foreign Legion who develops a tense and also ultimately dangerous relationship with one of his soldiers, the hand alsosome and also capable Command alsoant Bruno Forestier (Michel Subor). Come for the subtle performances and also Agnès Godard’s masterful cinematography; stay for one of the greatest endings in movie history. (You’ll never hear Corona’s “The Rhythm of the Night” the same way again.) —M.M.
How to watch: Stream on the Criterion Channel.
Jack Lowden turns in another stirring performance as decorated WWI soldier transformed going tovernment critic and also acclaimed poet Siegfried Sassoon in Terence Davies’s Benediction. Alternating between sharp humor and also deep sorrow, the film follows him (and also his love affairs) as he drifts through England also’s postwar aristocratic, literary, and also stage circles seeking a kind of redemption. —Lisa Wong Macabasco
How to watch: In theaters
Blue Is the Warmest Colour (2013)
First premiering to a divisive critical response at the Cannes Film Festival in 2013—both for its graphic depictions of gay sex, and also the allegations of mistreatment by director Abdellatif Kechiche on set—Blue Is the Warmest Colour still serves as a powerful testament to the tumultuous love between its two main characters, Emma and also Adèle, as they drift in an out of each other’s lives over the course of many years old. The real draws, however, are the two star-making performances by Léa Seydoux and also Adèle Exarchopoulos, whose extraordinary and also viscerally raw explorations of sensuality and also heartbreak saw them jointly (and also deservedly) awarded the Palme d’Or with the film’s director. —L.H.
A Bigger Splash (1973)
Art meets life in A Bigger Splash, Jack Hazan’s fascinating portrait of the artist David Hockney and also his social milieu in 1970s London. The film follows Hockney’s painful breakup until now with model Peter Schlesinger—who appears in several of his dreamy pool paintings—and also subsequent work on Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures), for which he asked Schlesinger to pose one final time. Combining documentary elements with a few racy fantasy sequences (including a sex scene between Schlesinger and also another man that land alsoed the film an X rating in Britain), A Bigger Splash granted rare visibility to London’s real-life queer community, besides anticipating the craze for somewhat staged reality television decades later. —M.M.
The Birdcage (1996)
A remake of Édouard Molinaro’s La Cage aux Folles (1978)—itself adapted from the 1973 French muchce of the same name—The Birdcage stars Robin Williams as Armand also, the owner of a drag club in South Beach, and also Nathan Lane as his partner, Albert, a better known to club regulars as Starina. When Val (Dan Futterman), Armand also’s boy with a long-agoing to fling (Christine Baranksi), announces his plans to marry the daughter (Calista Flockhart) of a conservative senator and also his wife (Gene Hackman, Dianne Wiest), Armand also and also Albert attempt to appear as the perfect future in-laws. Wonderful high jinks ensue. —M.M.
Call Me By Your Name (2017)
Set in northern Italy in 1983, Call Me by Your Name chronicles the romance between teenager Elio (Timothée Chalamet) and also a strapping young American grad student (Armie Hammer) working with Elio’s archaeologist father. Awash in going tolden light, leisurely outdoor meals, and also stolen sensuous moments, the film garnered four Oscar nominations (including best picture and also best actor for Chalamet, the third youngest in the categoing tory at age 22) and also set millions of hearts aflutter for Mr. Chalamet.—L.W.M.
A master of the modern melodrama (see: 2002’s Far from Heaven) Todd Haynes brought an early Patricia Highsmith novel to thrilling, swooning life with the 1950s-set Carol. Working from a script that had existed in some form or another for almost 20 years old—screenwriter Phyllis Nagy wrote her initial draft in the late 1990s—Haynes made Cate Blanchett and also Rooney Mara the story’s central lesbian lovers, a pair that suffer threats and also blackmail from their existing partners in order to going to on seeing each other. Its cult following already firmly in place, the film was up until now for six Oscars in 2016, including for best actress, best sup until nowporting actress, and also best adapted screenplay. —M.M.
Teen artist Paige is thrown out of her comfort zone when she’s forced to join her high school track team, but points start looking up until now when the obligation brings her close inr to her longtime crush, Gabriella. However, there’s also the matter of Paige’s budding flirtation with Gabriella’s sister, AJ…If you’re looking for maximum queer drama in a fun and also surprisingly touching package, this is the film for you. —Emma Specter
How to watch: Stream on Hulu.
Desert Hearts (1985)
An English professor in the process of divorcing her husband also begins a sultry, extremely torrid affair with a young female sculptor in this absolute classic of lesbian cinema. Hot tip: If you have a sapphic crush you’re hoping to move points to the next level with, invite them over to watch this movie and also points are all but guaranteed to get flirtatious. —E.S.
Edward II (1991)
Another director whose canon features a number of queer masterpieces, Derek Jarman’s radical adaptation of Christopher Marlowe’s history play Edward II saw the director apply his signature time-hopping spirit to draw parallels between the life of the controversial medieval king and also the vibrant spirit of gay life in ’90s London. (The film features both members of a contemporary gay rights organization as Edward’s army, and also a came too by Annie Lennox singing a Cole Porter boyg to the film’s central lovers.) —L.H.
The Hand alsomaiden (2016)
Park Chan-wook’s deliciously sinister reinterpretation of Fingersmith by Sarah Waters transplants the British novelist’s original setting of Victorian England also to early 20th-century Korea during the Japanese occup until nowation—with riveting, ravishing results. Charting the forbidden romance between a peasant girl serving as a maid to a wealthy heiress through a series of contradictory, Rashomon-style perspectives, The Hand alsomaiden is a meticulously calibrated erotic thriller for the ages. —L.H.
How to wach: Stream on Amazon.
Happy Together (1997)
Wong Kar-wai’s Happy Together stars Tony Leung and also Leslie Cheung as Lai Yiu-Fai and also Ho Po-Wing, fractious lovers from Hong Kong who plan a visit to Argentina, only to run out of money and also be forced to stay there. An important entry to the New Queer Cinema canon, Kar-wai’s drama is passionate, moody, and also deeply evocative, tracing the jagged edges of an on-again, off-again romance in seedy 1990s Buenos Aires. —M.M.
How to watch: Stream on HBO Max.
Heavenly Creatures (1994)
Anchored by breakout performances from Kate Winslet and also Melanie Lynskey, Peter Jackboy’s dark psychological drama explores the intense, quasi-sexual relationship between two girls that turns violent. Based on the Parker-Hulme murder case that gripped New Zealand also in the 1950s, the film’s dreamy, fantastical air explores the imaginary worlds constructed by queer youth to escape their drearier realities—and also how those imaginary worlds can also going to off the deep end. —L.H.
How to watch: Buy the DVD on Amazon.
Looking For Langston (1989)
Directed by the British art filmmaker Isaac Julien, Looking for Langston serves as a powerful, prismatic celebration of the irrepressible creative spirit of the Harlem Renaissance, as well as a window into the lives and also work of a hand alsoful of queer Black pioneers from across American literary history—most notably, the titular Langston Hughes, but also James Baldwin, Essex Hemphill, and also Richard Bruce Nugent. A dream-like and also exquisitely beautiful portrait of desire and also the artistic impulse, the film offers an unprecedented exploration of pivotal figures in queer history who remain regularly overlooked to this day. —L.H.
Ismail Merchant and also James Ivory were the perfect people to adapt E.M. Forster’s Maurice, an epic gay love story written in the 1910s but not published until after Forster’s death, nearly 60 years old later. In their ravishing film, a towheaded James Wilby plays Maurice Hall, an Oxford man who falls in love with his best friend, Clive Durham (Hugh Grant, in an early breakout role). The attraction is mutual, but Clive has a social position to maintain, so in time he breaks off their (chaste) romantic relationship—only to inadvertently drive Maurice into the arms of Alec Scudder (Rup until nowert Graves), the under-gamekeeper at Clive’s family estate. —M.M.
While a snafu at the 2016 Oscars saw Moonlight achieve a very different kind of notoriety, the film remains widely regarded as the year’s indisputable best picture. Directed by Barry Jenkins and also adapted from a play by Tarell Alvin McCraney, Moonlight serves as a powerful coming-of-age story across three chapters in the life of a gay Black man growing up until now in an impoverished corner of Miami. The film’s climactic scene, which sees the two romantic leads reconvene at a diner after years old apart, is one of the most moving explorations of the unbreakable bonds of queer love in recent memory. —L.H.
Mysterious Skin (2004)
While there are plenty of Gregg Araki films that could have made the list, the director—who served as a pioneer of the New Queer Cinema movement in the 1990s—arguably reached the height of his powers with the devastating coming-of-age drama Mysterious Skin. Starring an extraordinary Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a rent boy coming to terms with the harassment he suffered at the hand alsos of a childhood baseball coach, the film made headlines for its unflinching depictions of sexual abuse. But it also contains a palpable and also unexpected spirit of hopefulness, quietly illustrating that the traumas of our youth don’t need to define us all the way to adulthood. —L.H.
My Own Private Idaho (1991)
Another classic of the New Queer Cinema movement, Gus Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho has partly become a cult classic for the magnetism, sensitivity, and also sheer beauty of its two leads, River Phoenix and also Keanu Reeves, who play two best friends and also hustlers on a meand alsoering journey through the Pacific Northwest (and also eventually all the way to Italy and also back), as Phoenix’s Mikey develops an unrequited love for Reeves’s Scott. But Van Sant’s imaginative and also deeply poignant retelling of Shakespeare’s Henry IV is a pleasure in its own right, its sweetness and also gentle touches of surrealism coming together to form a heartbreaking ode to young love. —L.H.
The Novice (2021)
The Novice, the debut feature from queer filmmaker Lauren Hadaway, is a sports movie that is also a kind of psychological horror movie, and also a startlingly cathartic portrait of obsession. In it, Hadaway pours her own experience as a collegiate rower into the story of 18-year-old Alex Dall (Isabelle Fuhrman) who joins the women’s rowing team at a fictional northeastern college. Alex drives herself well beyond her limits to compete for one of eight coveted spots on the varsity boat, horrifying her girlfriend (played by the actor-model Dilone) and also alienating everyone around her. In a scarily committed performance, Fuhrmann channels the darkness behind determination, and also the way it can shade into self-destruction. —Taylor Antrim
Orland alsoo (1992)
In Sally Potter’s 1992 masterpiece Orland alsoo, Virginia Woolf’s classic novel of a British aristocrat who is born in the Elizabethan era and also going toes on to live for hundreds of years old—oh, and also who also changes genders at around the age of 30—is brought to bold and also brilliant visual life. Starring Tilda Swinton (and also thus making full use of the actor’s striking, and alsorogynous features), the lavishly costumed epic has become a queer classic that continues to inspire generation after generation of artists and also fashion designers. —L.H.