When we think of queer film, a lot of us jump to instant favourites Call Me By Your Name or Portrait of a Lady on Fire. While these titles are discernibly favoured, there’s also a wide range of LGBTQ+ cinema that doesn’t get the mainstream attention it deserves. Many of these top 10 cult movies tap into beloved themes, powerful moments, and much-needed representation that we know our audience will enjoy.
From cultural classics to new horizon queer releases, we’ve pulled together a collection of movies that cover all the bases. You’ll no longer have to re-run Carol, but instead consider our recommendations for a Bollywood rom-com, an American drag doc that dives deep into queer subcultures, and other lesser-known favourites.
The Queen (1968)
Cast: Bernard Giquel, Bruce Jay Friedman, George Plimpton, Jack Doroshow, Jerry Leiber, Jill Krementz, Jim Dine, Mario Montez, Mary Ellen Mark, Rachel Harlow
A 1986 documentary, The Queen peels back the curtain behind the Miss All-American Camp Beauty Pageant. Directed by Frank Simon, this film offers a glance into the world of drag and competition through a fresh lens. The glitz and the glamour of the movie sees drag queens talk about sexuality, relationships, trans identity and, of course, the competition. As the beauty pageant wraps up, you’ll spot a few famous faces in the crowd (Andy Warhol, George Plimpton and Terry Southern) as a finalist is crowned and the drama ensues. This extraordinary documentary sheds light on an overlooked community and preserves their unique stories for all to see years down the line.
Jennifer’s Body (2009)
Cast: Megan Fox, Amanda Seyfried, Adam Brody
A retrospective favourite, Jennifer’s Body has been through the wringer. The now enjoyed feminist horror was at first maligned for its comedy horror blend. Now, in the wake of the Me Too Movement, the film has entered something of a cultural renaissance, as perspectives shift towards the gory hit. Megan Fox, who played the lead role of Jennifer Check, has spoken fondly of the project and has even vouched for a remake of the 2009 movie as a cult TV series.“I don’t think it’s a hard movie to make a sequel to,” the star told The Washington Post “I mean, they should make it into a TV series. Fox also acknowledged the movie was overlooked for its time, saying: “Jennifer’s Body is iconic, and I love that movie. This movie is art, but when it came out, nobody was saying that.” If any (streaming) network wants to chime in and remake the classic cult film a TV show, we definitely won’t be against it!
Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga (2019)
Cast: Abdul Quadir Amin, Abhishek Duhan, Anil Kapoor, Aron Mitr, Brijendra Kala, Daljit Arora, Juhi Chawla, Madhumalti Kapoor, Manoj Bakshi, Raj Kumar Yadav, Regina Cassandra, Sara Arjun, Sonam Kapoor
A Bollywood breakthrough, Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga is a heart-warming tale of self-discovery, romance, and coming of age. A young woman (Sweety Chaudhary) realises she finds women attractive which clashes with her cultural and religious beliefs. As her family looks to find the perfect husband to marry, Sweety falls in love with a woman (Kuhu) at a wedding party. This movie, directed by Shelly Chopra Dhar, has been integral in a new wave of LGBTQ+ films debuting in the Indian film industry in the last few years. A personal favourite of mine, Ek Ladki is a film that subtly showcases the potential of queer film outside of a Western lens, and charts the beginning of a new era of movies we can hope to expect.
Rebel Without A Cause (1995)
Cast: James Dean, Natalie Wood, Sal Mineo, Jim Backus, Ann Doran, Corey Allen, William Hopper, Rochelle Hudson
Now, before any says anything, yes, Rebel Without A Cause doesn’t have an overtly obvious same-sex relationship, however, it is a film laden with queer subtext. Featuring Sal Mineo, a famed Hollywood actor who came out as bisexual, it’s quite easy to view Mineo’s character (Plato) as a queer teen. In fact, in a later interview, the actor said his acclaimed role was a depiction of the “first gay teenager” on film. With this movie intertwined with his legacy as a bicon, Mineo (and Rebel Without A Cause) are markers of important figures and cultural moments in the queer film canon.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
Cast: Barry Bostwick, Richard O’Brien, Susan Sarandon, Tim Curry
Arguably one of the most iconic running musicals of all time, The Rocky Horror Picture Show has built up an incredible cult following. Released in 1975, Rocky Horror has become a cinematic hit for its bold themes, art-house style and mix of Victorian Gothic aestheticism. The comedy horror follows a newlywed couple, Brad Majors and Janet Weiss, as their car breaks down outside a castle. Brad and Janet embark on a fanatical journey packed with chaos, sex, cannibalism, and murder.
While the cultural heights of Rocky Horror are now a given, the movie emerged on the scene at a politically difficult time. The 1975 movie came around during a time where being LGBTQ+ was both criminalised and negatively stigmatised. Still, this movie arose with a largely open, unapologetic queer range of characters and continues to pave the way as a long-lasting production that has found a home with the LGBTQ+ community.
Paris Is Burning (1990)
Cast: Brooke Xtravaganza, André Christian, Dorian Corey, Paris Duprée, Pepper LaBeija, Junior LaBeija, Willi Ninja, Sandy Ninja
A powerful documentary, Paris Is Burning offers a window into the diverse world of ballroom culture in New York City. The Jennie Livingston-directed film captures the Black and Latinx drag-ball scene across the mid-to-late 80s, often seen by many as the golden era of the drag scene. The film upholds particular focus on powerful trans women like Venus Xtravaganza, Dorian Corey and Octavia St. Laurent throughout its running… and it was a long one. Taking years to be filmed and editied down, Paris Is Burning maintains a legacy as an irreplacable cultural moment, one that spotlights the thriving ballroom scene, which has even inspired modern day productions such as the Emmy-nominated hit show, Pose.
Mysterious Skin (2004)
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Chase Ellison, Brady Corbet, Michelle Trachtenberg, Jeff Licon, Mary Lynn Rajskub
A slightly lesser-known movie, Mysterious Skin is a coming-of-age drama that was adapted from a novel written by Scott Heim. The movie follows two young boys as they navigate trauma to uncover difficulties in their past. Filmmaker Gregg Araki is known for his contribution to the new queer cinema movement (see The Living End; a gritty movie with centres around two HIV positive people) and Mysterious Skin fits right in. Although the movie might not seem like your typical LGBTQ+ film, it’s one that explores sexuality and examines identity and trauma in a thoughtful, hard-hitting way.
Desert Hearts (1985)
Cast: Helen Shaver, Patricia Charbonneau, Audra Lindley, Andra Akers
Desert Hearts, in its time, was often written off for being too straightforward, but, for many, it was a film they had long waited for. Even today, the big-screen is reluctant to invest in Hollywood queer cinema, especially romantic film. Movies like Love, Simon and Happiest Season were unique moments in modern cinema, but what Desert Hearts achieved was instrumental to lesbian cinema long before the days of Carol or A Portrait of a Lady on Fire. The movie follows Vivian Bell who travels to Reno to get a quick divorce, but as she stays over at a guesthouse, she is confronted with feelings for a woman, Cay, who is also living there.
Loosely based on the romance novel by Jane Rule, Desert Hearts has become a cult classic with it being recognised as one of the few early lesbian films with a positive ending and remains one of the most impactful portrayals of a queer romance.
Cast: Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, Mya Taylor, Karren Karagulian, Mickey O’Hagan
An American comedy-drama, Tangerine is a small-budget film that made a lasting impact. Filmed on an iPhone 5s, the movie focuses on two trans women of colour as they test the boundaries of their friendship together.
Packed with beautiful cinematography, the film weaves humour with raw moments of solidarity and unity between two women who have been granted difficult circumstances. Fixed against snappy dialogue and energetic screenwriting, Tangerine delivers old-school wit to pull off a modern, sombre portrait of togetherness in hard times.
But I’m A Cheerleader (1999)
Cast: Natasha Lyonne, Clea DuVall, Michelle Williams, Brandt Wille, RuPaul
We had to end our recommendation with a timeless classic and But I’m A Cheerleader is exactly that. Starring Natasha Lyonne and Clea DuVall, this 90s reclaimed fan favourite was ahead of its time. The film takes the deeply uncomfortable prospect of conversion therapy for teens and flips it into a satirical comedy. Imagine Miseducation of Cameron Post, but nowhere as intense. It’s a fine line to walk but washed with bright tones and witty lines, the film gets away with it. If you haven’t seen it, But I’m A Cheerleader is a queer staple you must see. The movie follows a young Megan (Lyonne) an all-American teen with a boyfriend who faces an intervention from her family and friends who think she’s gay. Completely thrown, Megan ends up at True Directions (a conversion therapy camp) where she meets other kids and begins to figure out what she truly wants.