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50 best LGBTQ+ films
Photograph: Curzon

The 50 best gay movies – the most essential LGBTQ+ films ever made

With the help of leading directors, actors, writers and activists, we count down the best LGBTQ+ films of all time

Written by
Cath Clarke
Written by
Tom Huddleston
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Queer cinema has come a long way. Inasmuch as gay lives and issues were ever allowed to be addressed on screen without devolving into gross stereotypes, for much of the past century, the perspective was limited to that of white, cisgendered men. Over the last few decades or so, though, the scope of LGBTQ+ experiences depicted on film has expanded greatly. So, too, have the opportunities for queer stories written by and for the queer communities. In 2022, we’ll see Billy Eichner’s Bros, the first romantic comedy penned by an openly gay man for a major studio, while the great Billy Porter will make his directorial debut with a story about a trans high school student.

Obviously, there are still many barriers left to breach, and much work to be done to achieve true equality in Hollywood. But the strides of the last half-century or so deserve to be celebrated. To that end, we enlisted some LGBTQ+ cultural pioneers, as well as Time Out writers to assist in assembling a list of the greatest gay films ever made – and the results show that queer life is far from a monolith.

Written by Cath Clarke, Dave Calhoun, Tom Huddleston, Alim Kheraj, Guy Lodge, Ben Walters and Matthew Singer.

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The best LGBT movies: 50-41

The Children's Hour (1961)
  • Film

Director: William Wyler

Cast: Audrey Hepburn, Shirley MacLaine

Old-fashioned and melodramatic it may be, but playwright Lillian Hellman’s tale of decent lives destroyed by idle gossip still hits hard. MacLaine and Hepburn play the proprietors of a prestigious all-girls school who are forced to close when an especially psychotic little brat claims she saw them kissing. Hepburn was sold as the movie's star – she's the dainty, glamorous one with the macho boyfriend (James Garner). But it's MacLaine who stands out, as the determined bachelorette forced to face a few things she's been hiding from herself. The supporting performances are stunning, especially Miriam Hopkins as MacLaine's voracious aunt, and it's lovely (and, even in 2015, unusual) to see a movie so dominated by women, with Garner the only guy who gets more than a line or two. TH

Bad Education (2004)
  • Film

Director: Pedro Almodóvar

Cast: Gael García Bernal, Fele Martínez

Pedro Almodóvar is one of the great directors of our time and Bad Education is perhaps his most personal film. In 1980s Madrid, young filmmaker Enrique Goded (Fele Martínez) is looking for a story for his next film. One day a man walks into his office, claiming to be Enrique’s old school friend and first love, Ignacio (Gael García Bernal). He brings with him a script, a revenge fantasy loosely based on their abuse by a priest at school. The story that follows is almost impossible to summarise, as Almodóvar takes us on a virtuoso spin from camp to noir. CC

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Show Me Love (1998)
  • Film

Director: Lukas Moodysson

Cast: Alexandra Dahlström, Rebecka Liljeberg, Erica Carlson

This is a heart-melting romantic classic from Swedish director Lukas Moodysson. It’s the age-old story of an anxious suburban girl, awkward Agnes (Rebecka Liljeberg), who falls for a confident firebrand, in the process learning how to love life and stand on her own two feet. The difference here is that the rebel in question, Elin (Alexandra Dahlström), is a girl in Agnes's high school who might not share her romantic feelings. A film that feels less like a two-dimensional experience and more like living someone else's life for 89 minutes, Show Me Love is one of the all-time great teen dramas, exploding with life, insight and warmth. TH

Pariah (2011)
  • Film
  • Drama

Director: Dee Rees

Cast: Adepero Oduye, Kim Wayans, Aasha Davis

Dee Rees's Brooklyn-set 2011 feature is the story of butch African-American lesbian teenager Alike (Adepero Oduye) as she tries to deal with feelings that increasingly put her at odds with her family (check out her mother's aghast response to things like Alike's preference for boys' underwear). The influence of religion in the family's life is also crucial – though that nice new girl at church doesn't exactly turn out to be the straight-and-narrow influence Mom had in mind. Expanded from a short film with the help of executive producer Spike Lee. BW

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Disclosure: Trans Lives on Screen (2020)
Photograph: Ava Benjamin Shorr/Netflix

46. Disclosure: Trans Lives on Screen (2020)

Director: Sam Fender

Cast: Documentary

Trans representation in Hollywood has a chequered, complicated and problematic past. What director Sam Fender does brilliantly with this eye-opening documentary, which was executive produced by Laverne Cox, is to demonstrate the sometimes violent and traumatising real-life repercussions that poor representation has on the lives of trans people. One particularly pertinent moment comes when actor Jen Richards brilliantly explains the causal link between cisgender actors playing trans characters and the epidemic of violence against trans women. You can also see how trans representation has been warped over the decades in Hollywood, becoming more damaging as time has progressed. Yet there is a thread of cautious optimism here; a sense of urgency and a demand for change as much from Hollywood as from those watching at home.

Stranger Inside (2001)
  • Film

Director: Cheryl Dunye

Cast: Yolonda Ross, Davenia McFadden, Rain Phoenix

Prison has been a perennial setting for lesbian drama of one stripe or another, from 1960s exploitation pictures to Orange Is the New Black. Stranger Inside – directed for HBO in 2001 by Cheryl Dunye, but released to cinemas in the UK – stands out both for its consultation of actual prisoners, and for its rich evocation of aspects of African American identity seldom seen on screen. Treasure (Yolonda Lee) is a juvenile inmate who engineers a transfer to adult jail hoping to find her birth mother. Instead she finds herself navigating a daunting world of aggression, intimacy, religion, politics and an unforgiving pecking order. BW

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Paris Is Burning (1990)
  • Film
  • Documentaries

Director: Jennie Livingston

Cast: André Christian, Dorian Corey, Paris Duprée

The same year Madonna lifted the concept of ‘voguing’ out of New York’s queer underground and took it to the top of the charts, film student Jennie Livingston brought a camera into that same world and allowed its stars to dance, sashay and, most crucially, speak for themselves. The performances are wild, expressive and still a joy to behold, even after 14 seasons of RuPaul’s Drag Race, which owes the film a great debt for paving the way toward the mainstreaming of drag culture. But it’s the conversations that truly make Paris Is Burning an LGBTQ landmark. At the time, simply allowing the gay community to tell their own stories, in their own words, was a radical act, and Livingston gave her subjects space to discuss the pleasure and pain of queer existence with unvarnished honesty. Debate and controversy still surround the film - some subjects accused Livingston of underpaying them for their participation, for one - but it remains a vital and uncommonly empathetic work. 

Midnight Cowboy (1969)
  • Film

Director: John Schlesinger

Cast: Dustin Hoffman, Jon Voight

The first X-rated film ever to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards, John Schlesinger’s sad, soulful portrait of a male prostitute trying to get by on the unforgiving streets of New York City may not raise that many eyebrows today – but its view of masculine insecurity and male companionship hasn’t dated at all. Tall, lunkish Texan Joe Buck (Jon Voight, in his best ever role) comes to the city with dreams of becoming a gigolo to society ladies, but gets more attention in the lonelier corners of the gay community. The film never puts a pin on Joe’s own sexuality, but the gay undertow is clear in his gradually tender friendship with scuzzy street hustler Ratso Rizzo — immortally played by Dustin Hoffman. GL

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  • Film
  • Drama

Director: Sebastián Lelio

Cast: Daniela Vega Francisco Reye,s

Sebastián Lelio's Chilean drama packs a powerful and universal message about the isolating nature of prejudice. Staggering newcomer Daniela Vega brings quiet determination and no little fury as a grieving transgender woman who is stripped of everything but her dignity by her dead lover's bigoted family. A worthy winner of Best Foreign Language Film at the 2018 Oscars, it also features one of the greatest dream-logic dance sequences you'll ever clap eyes on.

  • Film
  • Drama

Director: Céline Sciamma

Cast: Noémie Merlant, Adèle Haenel

It might be set in the 1770s, but this glorious, sea salt-flecked romance feels totally contemporary and relevant in its energy and in what it says about art and who’s making it, and how that affects how we view the world and each other. It’s also an intensely moving evocation of female love and friendship between an artist (Noémie Merlant) and the seemingly aloof subject she’s been commissioned to paint (Adèle Haenel). It’s bold and proud, without ever being coy or unnecessarily erotic. It exists in a world dominated by men but refreshingly, director Céline Sciamma strips them out of the film almost entirely, apart from during its bookends. It’s deeply romantic and also deeply thoughtful – an electric combination. DC 

The best LGBT movies: 40-31

The Wizard of Oz (1939)
  • Film
  • Family and kids

Director: Victor Fleming

Cast: Judy Garland, Frank Morgan, Ray Bolger

The story, on the surface, doesn't hold any obvious LGBT significance: it's the simple fantasy of a country girl, Dorothy (Judy Garland), who encounters a magical land after she receives a bump on the head during a storm. So why has The Wizard of Oz become an LGBT classic, even giving us the term 'friends of Dorothy'? Cultural theorists have spent many hours debating the answer to that question, with some suggesting that it's simply a matter of camp and others digging deeper and equating the black-and-white conservatism of the film's Kansas scenes to repression and even homophobia, and the colour and energy of Oz to being out and proud. Whatever the reason, somehow it just makes sense. DC

Parting Glances (1986)
  • Film

Director: Bill Sherwood

Cast: John Bolger, Richard Ganoung, Steve Buscemi

Shot in 1984, Bill Sherwood's feature – the only film he completed before his death from an Aids-related illness aged just 37 – was one of the first films to deal directly with the disease. Set over just 24 hours, it's pegged to the relationship between Robert (John Bolger) and Michael (Richard Ganoung), though the latter's ailing ex Nick (an early lead role for Steve Buscemi) is also central. Although it burns with injustice, Parting Glances is far from po-faced, giving a vivid sense of the humour and partying vital to the spirit of defiance that marked the New York downtown scene of the day. BW

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By Hook or By Crook (2001)
  • Film

Director: Harry Dodge, Silas Howard

Cast: Silas Howard, Harry Dodge, Stanya Kahn

Harry Dodge and Silas Howard's 2001 debut feature caused quite a splash at the Sundance Film Festival, offering a window into kinds of experience that arguably remain marginalised even within queer life. Howard plays trans man Shy while Dodge is butch dyke Valentine. These ‘two freaky grifters’, both getting to grips with unresolved issues around their parentage, team up to launch a petty crime spree that offers each a lesson in the potential of collaboration. The result is a heady and distinctive mix of working-class truthfulness and magic realism, created with the help of early digital video technology. BW

Longtime Companion (1989)
  • Film

Director: Norman René

Cast: Stephen Caffrey, Patrick Cassidy, Brian Cousins

By the end of the 1980s, mainstream Hollywood was just about ready to confront the Aids crisis, and leading the way was Norman René's 1989 Longtime Companion. Taking its name from the New York Times obituary page’s euphemism for the partners of the dead, it covers the whole decade, structured around well-heeled couple Sean (Mark Lamos) and David (Bruce Davison) and their friends and family (played by the likes of Campbell Scott, Dermot Mulroney and Mary-Louise Parker). For many without experience of the crisis, it opened a window onto the realities of Aids-related illness. BW

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120 Beats Per Minute (2017)
  • Film
  • Drama

Director: Robin Campillo

Cast: Nahuel Pérez Biscayart, Arnaud Valois, Adèle Haenel

An essential and moving film centred on the Paris faction of ACT UP, the international action and advocacy group formed at the height of the HIV/AIDs epidemic, in the early 1990s. The group publicly protested against the French government and the pharmaceutical companies for their slow responses to the pandemic.

To begin, we’re introduced to ACT UP via the thrillingly handsome newbie Nathan (Valois), who gradually becomes more politically involved with the group. In this febrile setting, an increasingly tender romance blossoms with sparky activist Sean (Pérez Biscayart). Campillo, himself an ACT UP militant in the early ‘90s, deftly makes the transition from political agency to personal urgency, painting an intimate, sometime erotic and often devastating picture of the group’s members as they celebrate, make love and mourn in the face of tragedy and societal inaction. AK

Pink Narcissus (1971)
  • Film

Director: James Bidgood

Cast: Don Brooks, Bobby Kendall, Charles Ludlam

Goings-on behind closed doors have always been part of the LGBT experience – including LGBT filmmaking. Throughout the 1960s, James Bidgood shot a series of no-budget luxurious fantasias on 8mm film in his New York apartment, featuring hot young thing Bobby Kendall in such guises as a sexy matador, a sexy belly dancer and a sexy slave boy. Strung together as the erotic imaginings of an idling gigolo, these gorgeously imaginative scenes were released anonymously in 1971 as Pink Narcissus. Their ability to quicken the pulse while retaining a kind of kitsch innocence made them an influence on French artists Pierre et Gilles, among others. BW

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  • Film
  • Drama

Director: Barry Jenkins

Cast: Trevante Rhodes, Ashton Sanders, Janelle Monáe, Naomie Harris, Mahershala Ali

The lingering sense of lives left unfulfilled permeates Moonlight, even if the film, directed by Barry Jenkins, does end on a somewhat positive note. Set in a barely recognisable yet unsettlingly realistic Miami, the film’s portrayal of the three stages of main character Chiron’s life, from boyhood to adulthood, thrums with pain, tenderness and understanding. The complexities of his situation and his internal and external crisis of masculinity are sharply matched and cut down by moments of kindness, Mahershala Ali and Janelle Monáe both deliver heartfelt performances. The burgeoning – and conflicted – relationship between Chiron and Kevin is the sort of romance that, while filled with strife, is also overrun with possibility. There’s plenty of tough stuff in it, but you can’t help but walk away from this one feeling a bit warm and fuzzy. AK

Fellini-Satyricon (1969)
  • Film

Director: Federico Fellini

Cast: Martin Potter, Hiram Keller, Max Born

‘I am examining ancient Rome as if this were a documentary about the customs and habits of the Martians.’ So said Federico Fellini of his decadent, surreal dream of a movie. It's loosely based on surviving fragments of the first-century satirical work of fiction by Petronius (who was employed by emperor Nero as his unofficial ‘elegantiae arbiter’ or ‘judge of elegance’).  Set in imperial Rome, Fellini’s film is fragmentary like its source, playing out in a delirium. It opens as two friends, students Encolpio (Martin Potter) and Ascilto (Hiram Keller), quarrel over a beautiful young boy (Max Born). In the pursuit of pleasure, decadence piles upon decadence – never has the term Felliniesque been so appropriate. CC

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Edward II (1991)
  • Film
  • Drama

Director: Derek Jarman

Cast: Steven Waddington, Andrew Tiernan, Tilda Swinton

Derek Jarman's typically eccentric spin on Christopher Marlowe's 1593 play about the doomed fourteenth-century king (played by Steven Waddington) catapults the present into the past – not least by having protesters from the pressure group Outrage playing characters in the drama. In exploring Edward II's sexual relationship with the unpopular Piers Gaveston (Andrew Tiernan) – a rare example of a gay romance in the literature of the time – Jarman lashes out at establishment forces then and now. Jarman's interest is more modern than historical, but he forcefully and playfully makes his point about homophobia through the ages. DC

Pink Flamingos (1972)
  • Film

Director: John Waters

Cast: Divine, David Lochary, Mary Vivian Pearce

A lot of LGBT films ask mainstream audiences for sympathy, understanding, even pity. That ain't John Waters's style. In his delirious realm of bad taste, it's the straights who deserve pity for their intolerably timid stifling conformity while the freaks live it up on their own grotesque terms. The apex of this sensibility is of course 1972's midnight movie par excellence, Pink Flamingos, in which outsized drag legend Divine defends her title of Filthiest Person Alive by any means necessary. Cue sex, drugs, murder, cannibalism, fame and – how could we forget – the shit-eating grin to end them all. BW

The best LGBT movies: 30-21

The Terence Davies Trilogy (1983)
  • Film

Director: Terence Davies

Cast: Terry O'Sullivan, Wilfrid Brambell

As the title suggests, this isn't a single film but a trio of interlinked shorts, three portraits of the artist as a young, middle-aged and old man. Davies has never been afraid to draw on his own experiences in his work – both his first two feature films are about his own childhood – and the ‘Trilogy’ is no different, tracking Davies’s alter ego Robert Tucker from his school days in 1976's Children, though struggles with religion and sexuality in 1980's Madonna and Child to his bitter end in 1983's heartbreaking Death and Transfiguration. The result is self-reflective, for sure, but far from self-indulgent. Davies is offering audiences a glimpse into his life in the hope that it'll offer some note of comfort, companionship or clarity as they wrestle their own demons. TH

The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (1972)
  • Film

Director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

Cast: Margit Carstensen, Hanna Schygulla, Katrin Schaake

For two hours, German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder locks us inside the flat of Petra von Kant (Margit Carstensen) a world-famous fashion designer – though it’s her silent drudge of an assistant (Irm Hermann) who does all the work while Petra spends her time lounging in bed. This S&M relationship works for both of them until Petra becomes obsessed with a young model, Karin. The master becomes a slave and when Karin breaks it off, Petra sinks into self-pity. Watch it for the knockout all-woman cast and the barbed-wire dialogue: ‘My heart is sore as if it had been stabbed.’ CC

Buy, rent or watch 'The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant'

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  • Film
  • Drama

Director: Francis Lee

Cast: Josh O’Connor, Alec Secareanu

To label Francis Lee’s feature directorial debut as Yorkshire’s answer to Brokeback Mountain does the film and its actors a disservice. While both films feature the farming of sheep and two men who, while camping in the hinterland, share an intense sexual and romantic bond, the similarities end there. ‘God’s Own Country’ is more of a quiet love story that avoids melodrama for internal struggles with isolation, loneliness and the stark circumstances of hard rural lives. The inability of protagonist Johnny Saxby to open up is delivered with piercing melancholy and palpable physical frustration by Josh O’Connor. This is contrasted with Alec Secareanu’s portrayal of the thoughtful Gheorghe, who exudes a gentle sensitivity. Their unlikely love affair will melt even the most jaded of hearts. AK

Death in Venice (1971)
  • Film

Director: Luchino Visconti

Cast: Dirk Bogarde, Romolo Valli, Mark Burns

Italian filmmaker Luchino Visconti adapted Thomas Mann's 1912 novella in 1971, keeping the pre-World War I Venice Lido setting but centring on a composer rather than a writer. He is troubled, unwell Gustav (Dirk Bogarde), an ageing man increasingly obsessed with a young blonde male hotel guest. Mann's more philosophical enquiries are watered down to offer a good-looking and atmospheric study in one man's late-life longing for unreachable beauty and youth. There's something undeniably shallow about Visconti's film (although the Mahler on the soundtrack eases the feeling of repetition), but there's no mistaking the sadness and lost opportunities at its core. DC

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Bound (1996)
  • Film
  • Drama

Directors: Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski

Cast: Jennifer Tilly, Gina Gershon, Joe Pantoliano

On release, Bound was taken to task by some sectors of the LGBT community. Here was a film centred on a lesbian relationship but directed by two male movie nerds, a product of the post-Tarantino irony boom in which a gay relationship was used as a shock tactic to make an otherwise traditional crime flick stand out from the crowd. But in the wake of Larry Wachowski’s gender transition to Lana, the film’s gender politics have been reassessed. Now Bound can be appreciated for what it is: a heartfelt, quietly subversive, wonderfully entertaining thriller having a whale of a time flipping genre conventions on their backs and watching them kick. TH

  • Film

Director: Jamie Babbit

Cast: Natasha Lyonne, Clea DuVall, Michelle Williams

Imagine John Waters directing a teen take on ‘Cool Hand Luke’ and you’ve got a rough idea of this genius pray-the-gay-away satire, in which Natasha Lyonne’s pom-pom princess is sent away to re-education camp when her parents and friends suspect she’s a little that way inclined. The cast is flawless – Michelle Williams, Melanie Lynskey, Julie Delpy and RuPaul butching it up as a camp counsellor in a ‘straight is great’ t-shirt – and the use of colour is eye-frazzling. If you’ve not seen it, look forward to a night of pleasure. TH

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Transamerica (2005)
  • Film
  • Drama

Director: Duncan Tucker

Cast: Felicity Huffman, Kevin Zegers

One of the earliest mainstream studio pictures to engage with trans experience, director Duncan Tucker's 2005 film stars Felicity Huffman (Desperate Housewives) as Brie, a trans woman on a journey with a teenage tearaway who doesn't know he's her son. Turns out he isn't the only one with a few things to learn. The road-movie/voyage-of-discovery formula proved to be an appealing vehicle for encouraging mainstream acceptability of an unfamiliar subject – though the flip side was a flurry of accusations that the filmmakers were selling the subject short by not casting a trans actor in the lead. BW

Buy, rent or watch 'Transamerica'

Scorpio Rising (1964)
  • Film

Director: Kenneth Anger

Cast: Ernie Allo, Bruce Byron, Frank Carifi

Kenneth Anger's half-hour 1963 joyride can lay claim to a whole bunch of firsts: it was the first movie to mash up 1950s biker culture with the story of Jesus, as well as pioneering the use of pre-existing pop songs to score a picture (including the likes of Blue Velvet and Wipe Out). By fetishising auto accidents, it anticipated David Cronenberg's Crash to boot. A wittily observed and edited scrapbook of perverted dreams, it clocked up another first when the California Supreme Court ruled that, racy content notwithstanding, it didn't count as obscene because of its ‘redeeming social merit’. BW

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Maurice (1987)
  • Film

Director: James Ivory

Cast: James Wilby, Rupert Graves, Hugh Grant

This 1987 Merchant-Ivory film is based on an EM Forster novel published in 1971, a year after the author's death, but written over five decades earlier and assumed unpublishable by the writer. Forster wrote the first version of Maurice in 1913, roughly the time events are set, and it tells of a love affair between two Cambridge students, Maurice (James Wilby) and Clive (Hugh Grant), which becomes more complicated once each of them leaves university. While Clive marries and seeks political office, an increasingly troubled Maurice refuses to discard his feelings, leading to a dangerous (considering the legal and social binds of the time) affair with a gamekeeper (Rupert Graves). The story is heartbreaking but also radical for offering an ending which suggests happiness – however isolated – in a same-sex relationship that crosses the class divide. DC

The Kids Are All Right (2010)
  • Film
  • Comedy

Director: Lisa Cholodenko

Cast: Mia Wasikowska, Julianne Moore, Annette Bening, Mark Ruffalo

On the surface, Lisa Cholodenko’s sunny, heartwarming comic drama about family life doesn’t seem very unusual. There’s something familiar, even conventional, about its take on parent-teen tensions and infidelity. In a sense, however, it’s the film’s sticking to convention that makes it sweetly subversive: its portrait of a lesbian two-mum household in Californian suburbia demonstrates how any variety of family can fracture and unite along much the same lines. Also, who wouldn’t want Annette Bening and Julianne Moore as their mums? It’s a ‘love is love’ film made before the catchphrase took off, and a lot less mushy than that makes it sound. GL

Buy, rent or watch 'The Kids Are All Right'

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Shiva Baby (2020)
Photograph: Mubi

20. Shiva Baby (2020)

Director: Emma Seligman
Cast: Rachel Sennott, Molly Gordon, Danny Deferrari

Based on writer-director Emma Seligman’s short film of the same name, Shiva Baby is a dark comedy about the limited power dynamics of sex and millennial messiness. It follows Danielle (Rachel Sennott), a disorganised twentysomething bisexual Jewish woman, as she navigates a shiva with her parents, only to be confronted with her sugar daddy, Max (Danny Deferrari), his wife (Dianna Agron), who is unaware fo their relationship, their crying baby and her former girlfriend Maya (Molly Gordon). Taking place almost in real time in one location, the film has a tense and claustrophobic quality, as Danielle grapples with the dynamics of her relationships and her prospects for the future under the intense scrutiny of her family and the wider community. It has a hopeful conclusion, though, that acts as a reminder that no matter how bad things seem in the moment, peace and contentment can be found in the end.

The best LGBT movies: 20-11

Pride (2014)
  • Film
  • Drama

Director: Matthew Warchus

Cast: Bill Nighy, Dominic West, Andrew Scott

In 1984, when the miners went on strike people got together all around the UK to raise money for the miners and their families. One of the biggest fundraisers was a group of gay and lesbian campaigners in London – who saw the harassment of the miners by Margaret Thatcher’s government as mirroring their own persecution. Calling themselves LGSM (Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners), they set off from London in two minibuses and a clapped-out campervan to a village in South Wales carrying buckets of loose change raised in gay clubs. In 2014 that story was turned into the gorgeous, biggest-hearted Brit film Pride. CC

The Boys in the Band (1970)
  • Film

Director: William Friedkin

Cast: Kenneth Nelson, Peter White, Leonard Frey

A decade before he sparked outrage with Cruising , the thriller in which Al Pacino goes undercover in a gay leather bar to hunt down a serial killer, director William Friedkin presented this portrait of a group of New York friends on the cusp of liberation. Set around a birthday party, it’s one of the first features to deal with gay life on its own terms, including copious boozing, relationship strains and lacerating recriminations. It's noteworthy for some electrifying performances, transplanted from the stage – playwright Mart Crowley adapted his own hit play – and location footage shot at Julius, now the oldest surviving gay bar in Manhattan.

Following a critically-acclaimed Broadway revival of the play in 2018, venerable theatre director Joe Mantello, alongside mega-producer Ryan Murphy, teamed up for a remake starring an all queer cast, including Jim Parsons, Zachary Quinto, Matt Bomer and Andrew Rannells, which premiered on Netflix in 2020.

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Heavenly Creatures (1994)
  • Film

Director: Peter Jackson

Cast: Kate Winslet, Melanie Lynskey

The idea of a relationship as a world entire, created and sustained by two people, was rarely more vividly expressed than in Peter Jackson’s story of adolescent infatuation in 1940s New Zealand. Loosely based on real events, Heavenly Creatures follows two teenage girls, Juliet (Kate Winslet) and Pauline (Melanie Lynskey), as they meet, fall in friend-love, obsess over male movie stars, build up an increasingly ornate fantasy world and, ultimately, plan and execute a murder. TH

  • Film

Director: Stephen Daldry

Cast: Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore

There is far more to Stephen Daldry’s adaptation of Michael Cunningham’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel than Nicole Kidman’s prosthetic nose. In fact, rarely has a Hollywood film depicted such complex and compelling female characters. Like Cunnigham’s book, the film tells the story of the lives of three women all linked in some way by Virginia Woolf’s timeless novel Mrs. Dalloway. Both Julianne Moore and Meryl Streep give excellent performances, the former playing a depressed 1950s housewife, while the latter plays a modern-day literary editor whose life is changed irrevocably by a tragic event. Kidman, meanwhile, plays Virgina Woolf herself in a role that, deservedly, won her an Oscar for Best Actress. Each woman’s story is told over the course of a single day, Daldry expertly weaving together the narrative threads to emphasise themes of mortality, unexplored desires and the confines of societal expectations.

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Fox and His Friends (1975)
  • Film

Director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

Cast: Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Peter Chatel, Karlheinz Böhm

Fox and His Friends might just be the unstoppable Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s most lacerating, mordant and righteous takedown of postwar bourgeois hypocrisy (and Lord knows there’s some competition). The enfant terrible of radical German cinema stars in his own 1975 feature as a working-class gay boy who wants love, craves acceptance and happens to have won the lottery — the cue for his merciless exploitation by more savvy acquaintances. As well as being a trenchant case for class consciousness, it's a bruising reminder that people can share your sexuality without giving a shit about your welfare. BW

Un Chant d'Amour (1950)
  • Film

Director: Jean Genet

Cast: André Reybaz, Java, Coco Le Martiniquais

Outlaw poet Jean Genet left his mark on the work of various queer directors – see Fassbinder's Querelle or Todd Haynes's Poison – but 1950's Un Chant d'Amour was the only film he made himself. Barely half an hour long, it unfolds without words in two of Genet's regular registers, incarcerated and bucolic, as it explores the love of two separated inmates and the jealousy of their guard. It features set-piece sequences of erotic dancing and masturbation, but neither is as hot as one captive blowing smoke through the wall into the other's cell. The US Supreme Court declared it obscene. BW

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Weekend (2011)
  • Film
  • Drama

Director: Andrew Haigh

Cast: Chris New, Tom Cullen

In the decade since its release, director Andrew Haigh’s tender and nuanced film about gay life in modern Britain has become something of a blueprint for a certain type of intimate and naturalistic form of queer cinema, with films like Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau’s Theo and Hugo, Lucio Castro’s End of the Century and Hong Khaou’s Monsoon clearly indebted to it.

Following two men over a 48-hour period as a casual hookup that snowballs into something deeper, it’s perfectly observed, capturing the minutiae of human interaction, from the nuances of cruising the dancefloor at the end of the night to the painstaking deliberations over how to punctuate a post-hookup text. Thanks to subtle, often improvised performances by Tom Cullen and Chris New, you can almost see the sparks of attraction as the feelings between them quietly deepen and you become aware of how profound connections can be built from such average beginnings.

 

The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert (1994)
  • Film

Director: Stephan Elliott

Cast: Hugo Weaving, Terence Stamp and Guy Pearce

Now that the West End musical adaptation of this 1994 Aussie indie has become a jolly hen-night standard, it’s easy to forget how subversive Stephan Elliott’s loud, proud and in-your-face drag spectacular once seemed. Where transvestism had previously been played for absurdity in the cinema, this filthy-gorgeous comedy instead played up its lavish beauty. The sight of a drag queen atop a pink commuter bus, miles of glittering tinfoil fabric billowing into the desert behind her, was enough to make even the most obstinately tweedy dresser jealous of her boogie. (It’s hard to imagine we’d have RuPaul’s Drag Race without it.) Full marks to the cast, including Guy Pearce, Hugo Weaving and Terence Stamp, but it’s the costume designers who walked off with one of the most deserved statuettes in Oscar history. GL

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Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001)
  • Film
  • Drama

Director: John Cameron Mitchell

Cast: John Cameron Mitchell, Miriam Shor, Stephen Trask

An underground cause célèbre before it was the toast of Broadway, Hedwig and the Angry Inch was writer-director-star John Cameron Mitchell's stellar 2001 debut feature. Fuelled by his jet-propelled performance and sensational songs co-written with Stephen Trask, it's a bittersweet ode to the survival of the freakiest. Born in East Germany but marooned in the American heartland, Hedwig has been doubly shortchanged – first by a botched sex change, then by her ex achieving stardom with music they made together. Hilarious, poignant and often quite spiky, the film, like its subject, is a one-off. BW

My Beautiful Laundrette (1985)
  • Film
  • Comedy

Director: Stephen Frears

Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Gordon Warnecke

Sexuality is only one element in a storm of conflicting values and behaviours in Hanif Kureishi's screenplay about Omar (Gordon Warnecke), a young British-Pakistani man caught between the entrepreneurial, Thatcherite dreams of his uncle (Saeed Jaffrey) and the more romantic, intellectual ambitions of his alcoholic father (Roshan Seth). Omar's unlikely attraction to Johnny (Daniel Day-Lewis), an old friend turned neo-fascist hooligan, results in a sex scene in the back of Omar's refurbished laundrette that makes literal the idea of everything coming out in the wash. DC

The best LGBT movies: the top ten

Orlando (1992)
  • Film
  • Fantasy

Director: Sally Potter

Cast: Tilda Swinton, Billy Zane, Quentin Crisp

Sally Potter's 1992 adaptation of Virginia Woolf's novel is remarkable for its casting alone. Tilda Swinton as an immortal, gender-swapping aristo who looks equally good in doublet and hose or on a motorbike? Yes please. Octogenarian Quentin Crisp as Elizabeth I? Brilliant. Billy Zane as our hero's bit on the side? Yum. But Orlando is so much more – ravishingly beautiful, elegantly unassuming in its magic realism, quietly critical of dead-end models of masculine power and revolutionary in its message about the power of queer will. Plus some special musical contributions from Jimmy Somerville. BW

Beautiful Thing (1996)
  • Film

Director: Hettie MacDonald

Cast: Glen Berry, Scott Neal, Tameka Empson

This is the film of British writer Jonathan Harvey's 1993 play, a tender story of emerging sexuality and friendships between outsiders on a south London council estate. Sweetly it shows the tentative coming together of two white, working-class schoolboys, Jamie (Glen Berry) and Ste (Scott Neal), whose wide-eyed romance, when it happens, turns out to be less complicated than the lives of some of the characters around them. Those characters include their eccentric teenage neighbour Leah (Tameka Empson), who is obsessed with Mama Cass and plays her records loudly in the middle of the night. A soft-hearted urban fantasy. DC

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  • Film
  • Romance

Director: Luca Guadagnino

Cast: Armie Hammer, Timothée Chalamet, Michael Stuhlbarg, Amira Casar

Based on the acclaimed novel by André Aciman and with an Oscar-winning screenplay written by James Ivory (yes, of Merchant Ivory heritage), Call Me by Your Name is more than just a bittersweet meditation on the enduring impact of a summer romance.

Director Luca Guadagnino captures the confusion, simmering lust and crackling tension between precocious and thoughtful 17-year-old Elio (Chalamet) and the allure of the older, magnetic and dashingly handsome Oliver (Hammer). Elio’s obsessive nature and infantile arrogance, as well as his fraught desires, are captured so vividly that, regardless of whether or not you’ve ended up screwing a slightly older man in your parents’ summer house in northern Italy, it still feels oddly recognisable and nostalgic. The stirring monologue delivered by Elio’s father (Stuhlbarg) about the necessity of pain and heartbreak throbs with empathy, as does the film’s final scene of Elio sitting in front of the hearth weeping. It’s a gentle and devastating coming-of-age romance that’ll leave you aching and ready to book a holiday to Italy. AK

Ma Vie en Rose (1997)
  • Film

Director: Alain Berliner

Cast: Georges Du Fresne, Michèle Laroque, Jean-Philippe Écoffey

Little Ludovic's parents think their young child is a boy with a worrying thing for Barbie-style dolls. But Ludovic isn't worried. She just feels she's a girl. Childhood trans identity remains a controversial subject and Belgian director Alain Berliner's 1997 work was a bold early attempt to put it at the heart of a film. It stands up well, too. Georges Du Fresne gives a beautiful central performance as Ludovic, the irreverent humour is a joy and this is a solidly empathetic portrayal of a child pursuing happiness in a world that fears difference. An illustration of that: this sweet, gentle story was rated R in America. BW

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The Killing of Sister George (1968)
  • Film
  • Drama

Director: Robert Aldrich

Cast: Beryl Reid, Susannah York, Coral Browne

Six years after delivering the 1962 Grand Guignol camp classic What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, director Robert Aldrich was back at it with this towering exercise in macabre lesbian psychodrama. Beryl Reid wolfs down the scenery as June, an actor known and loved as sweet Sister George in a TV soap but in real life a boozed-up monster given to molesting nuns in taxi cabs. Her behaviour threatens both her work and her relationship with pliable Childie (Susannah York), yet Reid maintains our sympathy. The film includes scenes shot at real-life legendary London lesbian club the Gateways. BW

All About My Mother (1999)
  • Film

Director: Pedro Almodóvar

Cast: Cecilia Roth, Marisa Paredes, Candela Peña

Pedro Almodovar’s filmography practically constitutes an LGBT cinema canon in itself. But this rich, ripe, wrenching Oscar winner from 1999 may represent his most generous Valentine to the community. It’s also the ideal bridging point between the messy, manic high camp of his earlier career and his later, more refined embrace of melodrama and ‘women’s cinema’. Cecilia Roth is Manuela, a grieving mother searching Barcelona’s colourful queer scene for the transvestite who unwittingly fathered her late son. If that sounds like a lot, Almodovar isn’t afraid to overload his film, incorporating pregnant nuns, stage divas and the Aids crisis into a heady stew. It’s a film that finally celebrates the togetherness of outsiders. GL

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My Own Private Idaho (1991)
  • Film
  • Drama

Director: Gus van Sant

Cast: River Phoenix, Keanu Reeves

For years, ‘playing gay’ was seen as a brave move for young male movie stars (what did Hollywood think: that straight women would get all confused and suddenly stop fancying their boy-crushes?). My Own Private Idaho is the film that conclusively disproved that lazy assumption. River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves play a pair of rent-boy drifters on the streets of Seattle – and still the tweenies swooned and put their posters up on the walls. Gus van Sant’s film is dreamy, earthy and pretentious in the best sense, and both leads are impossibly beautiful. TH

Happy Together (1997)
  • Film

Director: Wong Kar-wai

Cast: Leslie Cheung, Tony Cheung

Love hurts in Wong Kar-wai's characteristically swoonworthy account of the codependent tango between impulsive Ho (Leslie Cheung) and down-to-earth Lai (Tony Cheung), a Hong Kong couple adrift on the other side of the world. Having decamped to Argentina, the pair prove incapable of nourishing one other yet equally incapable of ending the relationship that defines them. Powerful performances are supported by Wong's elliptical structure and the superb work of regular collaborators like cinematographer Christopher Doyle and production designer William Chang. Made in 1997, it's a metaphor for Hong Kong's handover to China and an unforgettably poignant bad romance. BW

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Boys Don't Cry (1999)
  • Film

Director: Kimberly Peirce

Cast: Hilary Swank, Chloë Sevigny, Peter Sarsgaard

‘We have come a long way,’ Hilary Swank said on stage at the 1999 Oscars, brandishing the Best Actress prize she’d just won for starring in Kimberly Peirce’s tough-minded but profoundly compassionate biopic of Brandon Teena, a young transgender man murdered for living his truth in the American Midwest. It sounded self-aggrandising to some, but Swank was right: Peirce’s film was one that opened minds and hearts to the concept of trans identity at the turn of the millennium, dramatising Teena’s identity crisis with unsentimental frankness and shivery sensuality. (The latter most present in an aching romance with Chloe Sevigny’s trailer-park dreamgirl.) And while trans activists continue to decry the casting of a cis actor in the lead, Swank’s bruised, many-layered performance remains astounding. GL

Brokeback Mountain (2005)
  • Film
  • Drama

Director: Ang Lee

Cast: Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal

It made over £140 million worldwide, which means that Ang Lee’s muscular yet delicate cinematic interpretation of a slender Annie Proulx story will be hard to beat as the highest-grossing gay romance of all time. It’s something of a miracle that it reached such a summit – in addition to scoring eight Oscar nominations – without compromising the subtle, laconic sadness of Proulx’s prose. Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal star in the tragedy-bound love story as strapping sheep-herders in 1960s Wyoming. Lines like ‘I wish I knew how to quit you’ immediately entered the all-time quote list. And to this day, no one can look at a flannel shirt on a hanger without getting misty-eyed. GL

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