Composing a list like this a decade ago would’ve been… difficult. Over the years, however, representation for the LGBTQ+ community has grown exponentially on the big-screen with numerous high-profile productions boasting A-List talent, box office galore and accolades at prestigious awards ceremonies such as the Oscars and Golden Globes. While authentic representation still isn’t quite there, with heterosexual actors still taking on roles that could’ve spotlighted the talents of a struggling slash emerging LGBTQ+ entertainer, it’s important to recognise the strides that have been made in cinema with more diverse and inclusive storytelling. Gone are the days when the LGBTQ+ characters were the sidekick, the stereotypical depiction of a queer person who made a fleeting appearance for comedic effect. Now, we’re centre stage. To commemorate the start of Pride Month, we’ve curated a list of the 21 best LGBTQ+ films you need watch right now. Just FYI, this doesn’t include documentaries, which will receive its own coverage later this week. Let us know what you have and haven’t seen, what you liked or disliked, or if we’re missing a crucial entry…
The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994)
Cast: Terence Stamp, Hugo Weaving, Guy Pearce, Bill Hunter, Sarah Chadwick
Directed by Stephan Elliott, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert follows drag queens Anthony (Hugo Weaving) and Adam (Guy Pearce) and transgender woman Bernadette (Terrence Stamp) as they travel across the Australian desert in Priscilla, a lavender tour bus, to perform a drag show in Alice Springs. Along the way, they encounter a number of obstacles including homophobic abuse, violence and, of course, other drag-related shenanigans. The Australian comedy film was lauded at the time of release for helping introduce LGBTQ+ themes to mainstream audiences. The storyline serves as the basis for a musical of the same name, which has since toured in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the UK and the US.
Blue is the Warmest Color (2013)
Cast: Léa Seydoux, Adèle Exarchopoulos, Salim Kechiouche, Aurélien Recoing, Catherine Salée, Benjamin Siksou
After meeting in a gay bar, French teenager Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos) falls in love with a blue-haired art student called Emma (Léa Seydoux). The romantic drama follows their relationship from Adèle’s high school years until her adult life as a school teacher. Based on the 2010 graphic novel of the same name from Jul Maroh, Blue is the Warmest Colour received widespread critical acclaim and nominations at the Golden Globe Awards and the BAFTAs. It also earned won the Palme d’Or from the official jury and the FIPRESCI Prize, becoming the first film in history to win the Palme d’Or for both the director and lead actresses.
Brokeback Mountain (2005)
Cast: Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal, Anne Hathaway, Michelle Williams, Randy Quaid, Linda Cardellini, Anna Faris
Ang Lee’s celebrated same-sex romance Brokeback Mountain stars Jake Gyllenhaal and the late Heath Ledger as Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist, cowboy lovers in the American West in the 60s. The film became a critical and commercial success when it was released in 2005, and went on to win three Academy Awards including Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay, with further acting nominations for Ledger, Gyllenhaal and Williams. The film memorably lost Best Picture to Paul Haggis’ drama Crash, which is widely regarded as one of the worst decisions in Oscar history. Despite this, Brokeback Mountain is widely regarded as a turning point for the advancement of LGBTQ+ stories in mainstream cinema.
But I’m a Cheerleader (1999)
Cast: Natasha Lyonne, Clea DuVall, RuPaul, Melanie Lynskey, Eddie Cibrian, Katrina Phillips, Michelle Williams
Orange is the New Black star Natasha Lyonne stars as Megan Bloomfield, a popular high school cheerleader who is shipped off to conversion therapy camp after her parents discover her lesbianism. But I’m a Cheerleader received negative reviews at the time of its release because of its stereotypical portrayal of gay men and women, and the similarities with John Waters films, but later reassessments have appreciated Waters’ influence and its deliberately satirical and campy themes. It has since developed a cult following in the LGBTQ+ community, particularly amongst queer women.
Call Me By Your Name (2017)
Cast: Armie Hammer, Timothée Chalet, Michael Stuhlbarg, Amira Casar, Esther Garrel
In just four years, Call Me By Your Name has become one of the most beloved gay romances of all time. The themes of first love and heartbreak, as well as the dreamy and idyllic world created by director Luca Guadagnino has evoked such a strong and impassioned emotion in viewers around the world. Based on the 2007 novel of the same name by André Aciman, the film is set in 1983 in Northern Italy and chronicles the brewing relationship between 17-year-old Elio Perlman (Timothee Chalamet) and Oliver (Armie Harmer), a 24-year-old graduate assistant to Elio’s father (Michael Stuhlbarg). Call Me By Your Name earned numerous accolades including four nominations at the Academy Awards, winning for Best Adapted Screenplay.
Cast: Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Sarah Paulson, Jake Lacy, Kyle Chandler, John Magaro, Cory Michael Smith
Set in the 1950s, Carol stars Cate Blanchett as an older woman navigating a difficult divorce who embarks on a forbidden affair with an aspiring female photographer (Rooney Mara). Watching the effects of homophobia and a jealous soon-to-be-ex-husband on their relationship is heartbreaking, and if nothing else, the pure melodrama of it all will get you in a state of melancholy. After making audiences sob throughout most of the film with its beautiful portrayal of queer heartbreak, wistful cinematography and evocative soundtrack, the final shot signals that there’s hope yet for the title character’s romance yet, helping challenge the notion that all queer stories end in tragedy. We challenge you to find a film more breathtaking than Carol.
A Fantastic Woman (2017)
Cast: Daniela Vega, Francisco Reyes, Luis Gnecco, Aline Küppenheim, Nicolás Saavedra
Chilean drama A Fantastic Woman won Best Foreign Language Film at the 90th Academy Awards, and for good reason. The film follows young trans woman Marina – played expertly by Daniela Vega – who’s working as a singer and waitress in Santiago when her older boyfriend Orlando (Francisco Reyes) dies unexpectedly. The subsequent events highlight the struggles of living as a trans woman in a conservative society, as Marina faces investigation from detectives, loses her home and pet dog, and faces transphobia and abuse from Orlando’s family. The film raised awareness of trans experiences and was utilised by LGBTQ+ activists in Chile to help push through a gender identity bill which the government eventually approved of in 2018, allowing trans people to update their name and gender identity on official documents.
God’s Own Country (2017)
Cast: Josh O’Connor, Alec Secăreanu, Ian Hart, Gemma Jones
This same-sex British love drama, which takes place in the Yorkshire highlands, tells the story of sheep farmer Johnny (Josh O’Connor) whose life changes with the arrival of Romanian migrant Gheorghe (Alec Secăreanu). Having received almost universal acclaim (and currently holding a 99% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes), with praise aimed at the direction of Francis Lee (in his directorial debut) and the performances of O’Connor and Secăreanu, God’s Own Country is a must-see for lovers of queer cinema.
The Imitation Game (2014)
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Rory Kinnear, Charles Dance, Mark Strong
Loosely based on the life of Alan Turing and the biography Alan Turing: The Enigma, The Imitation Game became a massive success at the box office and was lauded for Benedict Cumberbatch’s lead performance as the British cryptanalyst. It earned eight nominations at the 87th Academy Awards (winning for Best Adapted Screenplay). Although the drama was praised for bringing Turing’s legacy to a wider audience, the film was heavily criticised for its historical inaccuracies, as well as for downplaying his sexuality and the portrayal of his relationship with close friend and one-time fiancée Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley). As of 2021, The Imitation Game is the second highest-grossing LGBTQ+ film of all time behind Bohemian Rhapsody.
Cast: Dhruv Ganesh, Shiv Pandit, Siddharth Menon, Rishabh J. Chaddha
Indian romantic drama film Loev explores the relationship between Wall Street deal maker Jai (Shiv Pandit) and Mumbai-based music producer Sahil (Dhruv Ganesh), two friends with a complicated past who set off to the Western Ghats for the weekend. Loev, pronounced as ‘love’, received unanimous praise from critics for its depiction of same-sex love in India – winning the Audience Award for Best Feature Film at the 2016 Tel Aviv International Film Festival. It has been one of Netflix’s biggest queer hits since it premiered on the streaming service in 2017.
Love, Simon (2018)
Cast: Nick Robinson, Jennifer Garner, Josh Duhamel, Katherine Langford, Alexandra Shipp, Jorge Lendeborg Jr, Keiynan Lonsdale
Marketed as the first major studio romantic comedy featuring two gay lead characters and a same-sex love storyline, Love, Simon was a momentous achievement in queer cinema history. Not only did it mark the first time LGBTQ+ people saw themselves represented properly in this very mainstream genre, it also proved that yes, queer stories can make a profit too, putting to bed any myths that had previously suggested otherwise. Based on Becky Albertalli’s brilliant novel Simon vs. The Homo Sapien Agenda, the film follows Simon Spier (Nick Robinson), a closeted gay high schooler who struggles to balance his friends and family, as well as the blackmailer threatening to out him to the entire school. Paired with incredible performances from the diverse and talented cast (that scene with Jennifer Garner’s speech gets us every time), it felt like a real moment not only for the community, but pop culture in general.
Cast: Sean Penn, Emile Hirsch, Josh Brolin, Diego Luna, James Franco, Alison Pill, Victor Garber, Denis O’Hare
Directed by Gus Van Sant and written by Dustin Lance Black, Milk chronicles the life of gay rights activist and politician Harvey Milk, who memorably made history as the first openly gay person to be elected to public office in California. Portrayed by Sean Penn, the drama explores his move from New York to San Francisco, where he settles in the Castro District and opens a camera shop as a safe haven for the LGBTQ+ community, as well as his murder at the hands of Dan White (Josh Brolin). The biopic received eight Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, winning two for Best Actor in a Leading Role for Penn and Best Original Screenplay for Black.
Cast: Trevante Rhodes, André Holland, Naomie Harris, Janelle Monáe, Mahershala Ali
This groundbreaking queer coming-of-age tale that charts the life of disenfranchised African-American man Chiron (Trevante Rhodes) and takes viewers through three pivotal chapters in his life. Little follows a young nine-year-old Chiron as he grows up with a drug addict mother in a rough neighbourhood in Miami; Chiron shows his awkward and painful teenage years, including bullying he experienced at school; and finally Black, which shows how he’s developed as a fully-grown man, and the internalisation of his sexuality. The film was rewarded for its brilliance with three Oscars back in 2017. It’s an emotional rollercoaster for any viewer, but especially anyone who’s struggled to accept themselves for who they really are. Most importantly, it offered a rare chance for black gay men to see themselves reflected on screen.
The Normal Heart (2014)
Cast: Mark Ruffalo, Matt Bomer, Taylor Kitsch, Jim Parsons, Julia Roberts
From queer mastermind Ryan Murphy, best known for creating beloved shows such as American Horror Story, Glee and Pose, The Normal Heart is an adaptation of Larry Kramer’s award-winning play of the same name. Told through the eyes of Ned Weeks (Mark Ruffalo), the founder of a prominent HIV/AIDS advocacy group, the film depicts the rise of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in New York City between 1981 and 1984. With career-high performances from Ruffalo, Julia Roberts, Matt Bomer and Jim Parsons, The Normal Heart is one of the most devastating LGBTQ+ films of all time and a reminder of those who paved the way for the LGBTQ+ community today.
Cast: Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington, Jason Robards, Mary Steenburgen, Antonio Banderas, Joanne Woodward
One of the first films in history to acknowledge HIV/AIDS, homosexuality and homophobia, Philadelphia stars Tom Hanks as Andrew “Andy” Beckett, a closeted gay man who hides his status from his co-workers at a prestigious corporate law firm. It was a monumental success at the worldwide box office, grossing over 200 million (adjusted for inflation, it would rank as the second highest-grossing LGBTQ+ film ever) and earned Hanks his first of two consecutive Academy Awards for Best Actor. Over 20 years after its release, Philadelphia is still widely regarded as one of the most impactful films in queer cinema.
Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019)
Cast: Noémie Merlant, Adèle Haenel, Luàna Bajrami, Valeria Golino
Set in France in the late 18th century, Portrait of a Lady on Fire tells the story of a forbidden love affair between Héloïse (Adèle Haenel) an aristocrat, and Marianne (Noemie Merlant), an artist commissioned to paint her portrait. The historical drama made history when it screened at the Cannes Film Festival, with Céline Sciamma becoming the first ever female director to win the coveted Queer Palm award. It earned further nominations at the Critics’ Choice Awards and Golden Globe Awards, and became the second highest-reviewed film on Rotten Tomatoes in 2019.
Prayers for Bobby (2009)
Cast: Sigourney Weaver, Henry Czerny, Ryan Kelley, Austin Nichols, Dan Butler, Carly Schroeder
Oscar-nominated actress Sigourney Weaver plays Mary Griffith, whose son Bobby (Ryan Kelly) commits suicide due to her intolerance over his homosexuality. Following his death, Mary questions herself and revaluates her religious beliefs, before committing the rest of her life to supporting the LGBTQ+ community in their fight towards equality. The Lifetime drama is based on a true story and adapts the book written by Leroy F. Aarons, titled Prayers for Bobby: A Mother’s Coming to Terms with the Suicide of Her Gay Son. Weaver earned nominations at the Primetime Emmy Awards and Golden Globe Awards for her performance as the LGBTQ+ activist, who sadly passed away in 2020.
Cast: Ben Schnetzer, Joe Gilgun, Faye Marsay, Dominic West, Andrew Scott, Freddie Fox, Chris Overton, Imelda Staunton, Jessica Gunning, Liz White, Bill Nighy, Paddy Considine, Rhodri Meilir
It may not be a traditional tear-jerker, but this feel-good story of community – based on true events and featuring an all-star cast – will leave you weeping with pride. A group of lesbian and gay activists come together to raise money for families affected by the 1984 British miners’ strike, which ultimately formed the highly successful Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners campaign. It was instrumental in the progression of LGBTQ+ issues in the United Kingdom. Featuring an incredible cast of British heavyweights including Imelda Staunton, Bill Nighy and Andrew Scott, the film is a must-watch for anyone LGBTQ+ or simply interested in queer British history.
Cast: Samantha Mugatsia, Sheila Munyiva, Neville Misati, Nini Wacera
Tensions run high when Kena (Samantha Mugatsia) and Ziki (Sheila Munyiva) start a same-sex love affair and are forced to hide their affection from the Kenyan locals. Homosexuality is still illegal in the African nation, and when they are caught, they are confronted by an angry mob. However, with this film the fictional discrimination on screen shone a harsh spotlight on the reality queer people in Kenya face when the Kenya Film Classification Board banned its release because of its “homosexual theme”. Director Wanuri Kahiu sued the Kenyan government to get the film released so it could be submitted as the country’s entry for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. The ban was lifted for seven days and went on to sell out cinemas, becoming the second highest-grossing Kenyan film of all time.
Cast: Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, Mya Taylor, Karren Karagulian, Mickey O’Hagan, Alla Tumanian, James Ransone
Filmed using only three iPhone 5S smartphones, Tangerine follows Los Angeles-based transgender sex worker Sin-Dee Rella (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez), who finds out that from her best friend Alexandra (Mya Taylor) that her boyfriend and drug dealer Chester (James Ransome) has been cheating on her with a cisgender woman while she’s been in prison. What follows is a hilarious buddy-comedy that puts trans narratives at the forefront without reducing them to victims or forcing sympathy from viewers. Director Sean Baker spent eight months on the streets with his team getting to know the area and its people, while stars Taylor and Rodriguez provided an authentic insight into life for trans sex workers. Tangerine also (importantly) set a precedent for casting trans actors in trans roles.
To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar (1995)
Cast: Wesley Snipes, Patrick Swayze, John Leguizamo, Stockard Channing, RuPaul, Blythe Danner
Arguably one of the most iconic LGBTQ+ comedies of all time, To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar stars the late Patrick Swayze, Wesley Snipes and John Leguizamo as Vida, Noxeema and Chi-Chi, three fierce drag queens who embark on a road trip from New York City to Los Angeles for the Miss Drag Queen of America Pageant – accompanied by an autographed photo of Julie Newmar. During the journey, their car breaks down, leaving them stranded in a small town. Despite its measly 41% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, To Wong Foo was nominated for Golden Globe Awards for Best Actor (Swayze) and Best Supporting Actor (Leguizamo), and is regarded as a cult classic.