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The 50 best gay movies: the best in LGBT film-making

Leading directors, actors, writers and activists – including Todd Haynes, John Waters, Kimberly Peirce and George Takei – share the lesbian, bisexual, trans and gay movies they love the most

Which movies are most beloved for the light they shine on lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans experiences? Which screen stories involving LGBT characters are the most enduring, whether romances, horrors or comedies? Which are the most groundbreaking, politically or artistically? And which simply demand to be watched again and again?

We asked LGBT cultural pioneers – including Xavier Dolan, Christine Vachon, Bruce LaBruce and Roland Emmerich – to share with us their ten best gay movies. Here’s their out-and-proud list of 50 great LGBT movies.

The best LGBT movies: 50-41

50

The Children's Hour (1961)

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

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49

Bad Education (2004)

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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48

Show Me Love (1998)

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

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47

Blue is the Warmest Colour (2013)

Director: Abdellatif Kechiche

Cast: Adèle Exarchopoulos, Léa Seydoux

This aching, passionate and sex-heavy French film's two young stars shared the Cannes Film Festival's top prize, the Palme d'Or, with its writer-director Abdellatif Kechiche in 2013, and rightly so. Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux give performances for the ages as Adèle, a schoolgirl, and Emma, a slightly older art student, who meet and fall in love. Kechiche traces the details and movements of their relationship with forensic attention, including the sex – dividing opinion on whether he's deeply empathetic or exploitative. Whatever your take, it's hard to deny the power of his portrait of falling in love – time itself seems to stop in scenes of the pair's early courtship. DC

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46

Pariah (2011)

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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45

Theorem (1968)

Director: Pier Paolo Pasolini

Cast: Silvana Mangano, Terence Stamp, Massimo Girotti

As its title suggests, Pier Paolo Pasolini's 1968 fable has the formal rigour of an experiment. Working with professional actors for the first time, the radical Italian director sets a cat among the pigeons of bourgeois family life in the preternaturally beautiful shape of Terence Stamp. His enigmatic, sexually omnivorous, possibly angelic visitor has sex with each member of a household in turn – mother, father, daughter, son and maid – upending their lives in the process. The results are wildly various but universally queer compared to everyday conformity: the comfortable deceptions of domesticity give way to the harsh purity of the desert. BW

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44

Stranger Inside (2001)

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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43

Paris Is Burning (1990)

Director: Jennie Livingston

Cast: André Christian, Dorian Corey, Paris Duprée

Jennie Livingston's 1990 portrait of New York’s drag ball culture might be the most seminal LGBT documentary ever made. Initially a student project, it surveys with acuteness and sensitivity the underground scene that facilitated community and expression for many who were disenfranchised by their sexuality, gender identity, ethnicity and poverty. It also gave the world vogueing, as demonstrated by the legendary likes of Pepper LaBeija, Willi Ninja and Angie Xtravaganza, who are among the revelatory interviews. In many ways a response to mainstream pop culture, the ball scene in turn influenced it – from Madonna's ‘Vogue’ to ‘RuPaul's Drag Race’. BW

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42

Midnight Cowboy (1969)

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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41

High Art (1998)

Director: Lisa Cholodenko

Cast: Radha Mitchell, Ally Sheedy

Anyone fascinated with the New York art scene is urged to pick up this cool, calculating romance based loosely on the life and work of photographer Nan Goldin. We’re in a world of huge lofts, tiny coffee cups and tight black turtlenecks, as Radha Mitchell’s ambitious Syd takes a job with a photography magazine and finds her old life – and her old boyfriend – just a little dull in comparison. When she meets Ally Sheedy’s renowned photographer Lucy, their friendship takes a turn for the unexpected. TH

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The best LGBT movies: 40-31

40

The Wizard of Oz (1939)

Director: Victor Fleming

Cast: Judy Garland, Frank Morgan, Ray Bolger

Look, the status of this immortal 1939 fantasy as a cornerstone of gay pop culture is beyond dispute: the presence of the young, still-undamaged Judy Garland in the lead, the shrieking diva-dom of Margaret Hamilton’s Wicked Witch of the West, the glow of those glittering ruby slippers. The term ‘friend of Dorothy’ didn’t come about by accident, after all. Beneath the radiant surface, however, LGBT interpretations of a Kansas farmgirl’s long, colourful journey home can be more idiosyncratic, whether you see sanctuary in her merry band of socially ill-fitting outsiders or simply in the all-singing, all-dancing, rainbow-hued fantasia of Oz itself. Either way, from Garland’s plaintively sung ‘Over the Rainbow’ onwards, it’s a paean to the virtues of living life in Technicolor. GL

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39

Parting Glances (1986)

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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38

By Hook or By Crook (2001)

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

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37

Longtime Companion (1989)

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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36

My Brother the Devil (2012)

Director: Sally El Hosaini

Cast: James Floyd, Fady Elsayed

Yet another gritty take on young men falling prey to violent gang culture in London’s council estates? Well, yes, but there hasn’t been one quite like this before or since. Sally El Hosaini’s beautifully shot microbudget debut is a far richer, more surprising examination of identity – cultural, religious and, most crucially, sexual – within this social demographic. Its protagonist Rashid (James Floyd) is a hard, swaggering young geezer of Egyptian origin who also happens to be secretly gay. As his conflicted true self is gradually revealed to those around him, most notably his younger brother (Fady Elsayed), prejudice emerges from all sides. El Hosaini provides a rare, empathetic window into a world where homosexuality is still aggressively denied and deplored. GL

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35

Pink Narcissus (1971)

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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34

Dog Day Afternoon (1975)

Director: Sidney Lumet

Cast: Al Pacino, John Cazale, Penelope Allen

Ellen Page, for one, has criticised the tradition of calling straight actors ‘brave’ for playing gay characters. But back in 1975, it was a genuinely bold move for Al Pacino to take the lead in Sidney Lumet's fiery, freaky hostage drama based on the real-life tale of a young New Yorker who robbed a branch of Chase Manhattan bank to pay for his lover's sex-change operation. The film strikes a perilous but surprisingly successful balance in the depiction of its LGBT characters, steering largely clear of camp without ever shrinking from the facts, and presenting Pacino's character as an out-and-proud hero. Crazy Al would push things even further with 'Cruising' five years later, with more troublesome results. TH

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33

Fellini-Satyricon (1969)

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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32

Edward II (1991)

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

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31

Pink Flamingos (1972)

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

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The best LGBT movies: 30-21

30

The Terence Davies Trilogy (1983)

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

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29

The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (1972)

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

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28

Philadelphia (1993)

Director: Jonathan Demme

Cast: Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington

Speaking in 2015 about the impact of ‘Philadelphia’, scriptwriter Ron Nyswaner told film industry paper Variety that a gay person once came up to him and said: ‘My parents stopped talking to me, then they saw “Philadelphia”.’ At a time when many still feared touching gay people for fear of contracting HIV this movie changed hearts and minds. Nyswaner and director Jonathan Demme wanted to write a film for a mainstream audience. And it worked. Their story, about a high-flying lawyer fired for being gay following an Aids diagnosis, played as a stirring courtroom drama, winning Tom Hanks the Best Actor Oscar. CC

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27

Death in Venice (1971)

Director: Luchino Visconti

Cast: Dirk Bogarde, Romolo Valli, Mark Burns

One of Britain’s greatest and mostly tonally adventurous actors, Dirk Bogarde was evasive about his own homosexuality his entire life. But he tacitly explored it in some of his strongest screen roles, none greater than this one. As the ailing composer Gustav von Aschenbach, who journeys to Venice to recuperate and becomes obsessed with a beautiful adolescent boy, Bogarde was ideally cast in Luchino Visconti’s ravishing adaptation of Thomas Mann’s novel. While Visconti’s typically ornate, immaculate mise-en-scene overwhelms the senses — to say nothing of that soaring soundtrack, incorporating Mahler and Beethoven — it’s Bogarde who gives this otherwise simple tragedy of unrequited desire its beating heart. GL

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26

Bound (1996)

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

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25

But I'm a Cheerleader (1999)

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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24

Transamerica (2005)

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

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23

Scorpio Rising (1964)

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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22

Maurice (1987)

Director: James Ivory

Cast: James Wilby, Rupert Graves, Hugh Grant

Merchant Ivory’s adaptations of EM Forster’s ‘A Room With a View’ and ‘Howards End’ were impeccable period films. With ‘Maurice’, the kings of British costume drama achieved something a bit different with a Forster work regarded (rather unfairly) by many scholars as ‘minor’, amplifying the buttoned-down emotions of this wistful gay coming-of-age tale set in Edwardian England to major effect. For romantic and professional partners Ismail Merchant and James Ivory, it was a personal project: working without their usual writer Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, Ivory co-wrote, and the result betrays an acute understanding of male companionship. An early career highlight, too, for a never-floppier-haired Hugh Grant. GL

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21

The Kids Are All Right (2010)

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

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The best LGBT movies: 20-11

20

Pride (2014)

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

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19

The Boys in the Band (1970)

Director: William Friedkin

Cast: Kenneth Nelson, Peter White, Leonard Frey

A decade before he sparked outrage with ‘Cruising’ (in which the leather scene supposedly nudges Al Pacino towards homicide), 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 dealing with gay life on its own terms, including copious boozing, relationship strains and lacerating self-recombination. 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. BW

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18

Heavenly Creatures (1994)

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

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17

The Hours (2002)

Director: Stephen Daldry

Cast: Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore

Michael Cunningham’s Pulitzer-winning three-tiered novel was always a tricky proposition for screen treatment, and not just because of its intricate structure. Yet director Stephen Daldry and screenwriter David Hare improbably triumphed here, finding cinematic momentum in the storytelling without simplifying or coarsening the current of quiet, inchoate female yearning that binds the stories of a contemporary bisexual New Yorker (Meryl Streep), a depressed housewife in 1950s picket-fence suburbia (Julianne Moore) and, in Britain, the brilliant, frustrated author Virginia Woolf (Nicole Kidman, in an Oscar-winning turn). Woolf’s Miss Dalloway, of course, is the textual ribbon woven through this complex inquiry into womanhood. GL

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16

Fox and His Friends (1975)

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

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15

Un Chant d'Amour (1950)

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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14

Weekend (2011)

Director: Andrew Haigh

Cast: Chris New, Tom Cullen

Andrew Haigh’s breakthrough film is the quintessential portrait of gay dating in modern Britain. It’s perfectly observed in every detail, from closing-time stragglers on the dancefloor to those painstaking deliberations over how to punctuate a post-hookup text. Those details add up to a hugely resonant study of what seems, at first glance, a very small romance beginning on a Friday night in Nottingham. Boy meets boy, boy sleeps with boy, boys spend weekend together, before one boy leaves town. Just a 48-hour fling, then, made up of hot sex, candid conversation, cups of tea, cocaine and more hot sex. But Haigh and his two stars, Tom Cullen and Chris New, convey just what a profound, possibly unrepeatable connection can be built from such unremarkable events. The train-station farewell is one for the ages. GL

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13

The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert (1994)

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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12

Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001)

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

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11

My Beautiful Laundrette (1985)

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

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The best LGBT movies: the top ten

10

Orlando (1992)

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

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9

Beautiful Thing (1996)

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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8

Milk (2008)

Director: Gus van Sant

Cast: Sean Penn, James Franco, Josh Brolin

Gus van Sant’s Oscar-winning biopic of crusading San Francisco politician Harvey Milk – the first openly gay elected official in America – finds the director in multiplex-friendly ‘Good Will Hunting’ territory, rather than on visionary ‘Private Idaho’ turf. But that’s appropriate to the material. This is a sturdy, old-school biopic centring around an Oscar-winning performance from Sean Penn and tracking Harvey Milk from high times in New York City to lobbying for gay rights in California. The result is hardly groundbreaking, but it is sweet, entertaining and big-hearted. TH

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7

Ma Vie en Rose (1997)

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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6

The Killing of Sister George (1968)

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

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5

All About My Mother (1999)

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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4

My Own Private Idaho (1991)

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

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3

Happy Together (1997)

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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2

Boys Don't Cry (1999)

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

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1

Brokeback Mountain (2005)

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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Who contributed to the best gay movies?

The 50 best gay movies: contributors

How did we choose the 50 best ever LGBT movies? We asked the experts. Our voters include actors, writers, directors, activists and performers whose work has touched on transgender, lesbian and gay themes. Explore their lists here.

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By: Cath Clarke

How many LGBT movies have you seen?

The 50 best gay movies: how many have you seen?

Test your movie expertise with our checklist of the best gay movies ever made. Take the quiz to discover how many of Time Out's LGBT movies you've seen and don't forget to share your score

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By: Laura Richards

Comments

5 comments
Johnny H
Johnny H

"The Way He Looks ", and "4th Man Out" are my favorites, you should check them out.

Ennis J
Ennis J

I am surprise the movie Contracorriente (Undertow) not in the list

Debby S
Debby S

Are these gay movies or erotic movies with gay people? What about Boys in the Band, The Birdcage, To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar, Rocky Horror Picture Show, The Fox, As Good As It Gets, etc. A romantic movie with gay characters doesn't make a "great" gay movie.

Christophe N
Christophe N

What, Shelter doesnt even make it to the top 50 ??

Kenny O
Kenny O

Ugh.

Why, oh why must best of Gay come as the densest essay of dry arty historical drama? Surely.

The Fall? Coming out? Any number of 'foreign films' that address NOT some GLBT 101 class. Please.

Weekend is the only one here.

Yossi & Jagger? At least you had Btokeback.

It poses me off.