30 Best LGBTQ Films of All Time

If the art that we make as a society showcases how we think and feel about ourselves, then for art to truly serve its purpose, it must give space to a diversity of voices. We are all different, and therefore we all have different stories to tell. 

However, for most of its history, Hollywood has not been true to this ideal. Instead, the people in charge of creating films have focused on following profits and ignoring their own biases and prejudices. This has led to movies that often over-represent certain parts of American culture, while leaving others in the dark. Movies can have a tremendous impact on how we as a society think and feel about certain issues. The way people are portrayed onscreen can dramatically alter the course we take as a nation.

Underrepresenting the LGBTQ Community 

One group that has been historically underrepresented in films throughout history is the LGBTQ community. As a result, the issues this community faces often get pushed to the backburner, and longstanding beliefs about love and sexuality persist, making it difficult to build the kinder, gentler, more loving society we so desperately need. 

But just because this group has been underrepresented doesn’t mean there aren’t good films to watch that spotlight their community and share their stories. In fact, there are many. So if you’re looking to kick back and enjoy some films that explore complex and compelling issues about what it’s like to be LGBTQ, we’ve put together a list of the 30 best LGBTQ films of all time. 

The 30 Best LGBTQ Films of All Time

Below is a list of the 30 best LGBTQ films of all time. We should note that these are not in any particular order. Some of these films achieved mainstream success and are more well-known, whereas some enjoy a more subdued popularity in the background. Overall, all of these films are worth a watch, so don’t pay too much attention to where they appear on the list. 

Moonlight (2016)


Released in 2016 and adorned with all sorts of Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Screenplay, Moonlight is often considered not only one of the best LGBTQ films of all time, it is often included in lists of the best films of the century, as well as possibly all time. 

What makes this movie so special is that it not only takes a deep dive into the life of a young man struggling to understand his own sexuality, but it also touches on bigger issues of identity, as well as providing a harsh but very real look into what it’s like to grow up Black and poor in today’s America. 

Moonlight became not only the first LGBTQ film to win the Oscar for best picture, but it also became the first film with an all-Black cast to receive that honor. A sweeping epic that will tear at your heartstrings while also making it impossible to turn away, Moonlight is a must-watch for anyone looking to understand the great diversity of experiences that people have while growing up in the United States. 

Milk (2008)


Another LGBTQ film to receive a lot of attention at the Academy Awards, Milk is not only an excellent look into the gay communities of San Francisco and New York during the 1970s, but it also provides a detailed biography of gay-rights activist Harvey Milk. 

After moving to the West Coast from New York with his much-younger lover, Milk quickly becomes involved in the effort to develop the predominantly-gay neighborhood of San Francisco known as The Castro. 

Throughout the film, Milk’s dedication to the cause costs him a great deal personally, which only amplifies the drama. Not a spoiler since the opening scene reveals it, but Milk is eventually assassinated for his work, reminding us of the many, many hardships the LGBTQ community has had to endure in its fight for societal acceptance. 

In the end, the film did not win the Oscar for Best Picture despite being nominated, but Sean Penn won the award for Best Actor based on his portrayal of Milk, and it also won Best Screenplay.

The Kids Are All Right (2010)


Love can be messy. Really messy. That’s something we need to always remember, and the 2010 film The Kids Are All Right, starring Annete Bening, Julianne Moore, and Mark Ruffalo, reminds of just that in this excellent depiction of life as a lesbian couple.

In the film, Bening and Moore have two children. Each gave birth to one of them by using a sperm donor. The kids, who have never met their biological father, become interested in doing so as they move through their teenage years. Eventually, they track him down and try to keep it a secret from their mothers, but they cannot. 

What ensues is a complicated – messy – story about love and commitment, and what family means to us in the 21st century. 

Also nominated for Best Picture, The Kids Are All Right did not win, though it was nominated for a total of eight awards. This film, while dealing with intense issues, is also fun and lighthearted and is a must-watch for anyone interested in learning more about the LBGTQ community.

My Own Private Idaho (1991)


Some films take time to find their audience, and My Own Private Idaho, which was released in 1991 is a perfect example. After screenwriter Gus Van Sant scrapped and rewrote the script several times, the film finally found funding and hit theaters. But it didn’t receive a lot of attention until later in the 1990s, when people began recognizing it as one of the launching points for the New Queer Cinema movement, which was based around independent, queer-themed film making. 

The movie follows two men, both street hustlers, as they travel from Seattle to Idaho and then to Italy to try and find the mother of one of the main characters. 

Depicting the lives of street hustlers in 1991 certainly clashed with mainstream society, but It’s honest, open look at a difficult life, as well as its exploration of sexuality, have turned it into a classic film that everyone must see.

Brokeback Mountain (2005)


Some of the films on this list made it because of their raw quality, others made it more because of their significance to the LGBTQ community. Brokeback Mountain, released in 2005, fits both labels. 

Following the relationship of two men (Ennis Del Mar, played by Heath Ledger, and Jack Twist, played by Jake Gyllenhaal) living in the American West from 1963-1983, this film was truly groundbreaking. During the movie, the two men become sexually involved while also maintaining two very separate lives, making for a heart-wrenching drama that will keep you glued to your seat. 

In addition to being a first-rate film nominated for all sorts of awards, Brokeback Mountain also made lots of headlines. First, it was the target of quite a bit of censorship, particularly from conservative media outlets who did not like the open display of male-on-male sex. In addition, despite winning the top award at ceremonies around the world, Brokeback Mountain lost out to Crash at the Academy Awards, which many argue was the result of the film’s subject matter; we mentioned that an LGBTQ film did not win Best Picture until Moonlight in 2016, though this probably should have happened in 2005.

However, despite this, many look at the release of Brokeback Mountain as a landmark moment in the history of LGBTQ film as it was one of the first films featuring a homosexual couple to really make waves in the mainstream, opening the door for people to revisit past classics and also embrace more openly new films that explore these issues.

The Birdcage (1996)


If you’re looking for a film that takes a look at LGBTQ life but that will also have you rolling on the floor laughing, then look no further than The Birdcage. Starring Robin Williams, Nathan Lane, Gene Hackman, and Dianne West, this classic comedy is a must-watch. 

The plot follows Armand Goldman (Robin Williams), who is the owner of a South Beach drag club called the Birdcage. It’s Williams at his finest, and the combination of him and Lane make this an unforgettable comedy that also teaches and informs about LGBTQ life.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001)


For fans of rock music and biopics, Hedwig and the Angry Inch is a film you must see. The movie’s main character – Hedwig – is an East German transgender rock singer who sings with a band known as The Angry Inch. Early in the film, Hedwig begins a relationship with a younger man, named Tommy, who eventually steals her music. 

Later, Hedwig moves to the United States and has various relationships while continuing to try and play music. The film shows how Hedwig was often intentionally ignored, despite her talent, because of her sexuality, providing a glimpse of insight into transgender life. 

Pride (2014)


Using the same name as the yearly celebration of LBGTQ life and culture, one might think this film is a bit of a cliché. But it’s not. It’s anything but. 

The story revolves around the lesbian and gay rights activist groups in the United Kingdom who raised money and support for the 1984 miners’ strike. It’s based on a true story and not only provides insight into LGBTQ life in 190s Britain, but it also is a poignant reminder of what it takes to achieve true social change – the combined forces and wills of various oppressed groups. 

The winner of several British film awards, as well as a nominee for the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture, Pride is loved by both audiences and critics alike.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019)


One thing we always need to remember is that while LGBTQ issues have taken a more prominent seat in the public sphere over the past few decades, these issues are not new to the human experience. People have been trying to understand the nature of their own sexuality essentially since the beginning of time. 

Portrait of a Lady on Fire, which is actually a French film, reminds us of just this by depicting the love affair that emerges between an 18th century aristocrat and the artist commissioned to paint her portrait. The film is a classic love story, but it’s told in a different way, serving as a reminder of the complexity of sexuality and identity, in any era.

Boys Don’t Cry (1999)


Even if this film weren’t based on a true story, it would still be tragic. But it’s very real, and that just makes it all the more sad. However, don’t shy away from the tragedy, for within this sadness is a beautiful story that is worth being told. 

Boy’s Don’t Cry is a biography of Nebraska teenager, Brandon Teena, who is trans. Played by Hilary Swank, Teena develops a relationship with a woman from his hometown, but he is eventually subjected to a brutal hate crime by two men in the area. 

It’s sad, but it’s real. And everything about this film, from the acting (Swank won the Academy Award for Best Actress thanks to this role), to the writing and directing is spot on and every bit worth your time.

Philadelphia (1993)


For a legal thriller that also deals with LGBTQ issues, look no further than Philadelphia, the 1993 classic starring Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington. 

In the film, Hanks plays Andrew Beckett, a high-profile lawyer who is the partner at one of Philadelphia's major firms. He is also gay. Eventually, lesions begin to appear on his body, which are an indicator that he also has HIV/AIDS. He attempts to hide this fact from his employer, but eventually they find out and fire him. Beckett then launches a wrongful termination lawsuit, in which he must represent himself since he cannot find a lawyer to help him.

The movie was one of the first to handle the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s and 1990s directly, and it also called to attention some of the most pressing issues facing the gay community at the time. This story, plus Hanks and Washington, an original song from Bruce Springsteen, and more make it one of the best LGBTQ films of all time. 

Blue is the Warmest Color (2013)


Another French film to make waves in the American movie scene, Blue is the Warmest Color follows the story of Adele, who is a French teenager who meets Emma, an aspiring female painter. It’s a raw and insightful look into how teenagers navigate the murky waters of sexuality and identity. It received numerous accolades from critics, including a Golden Globe nomination for Best Foreign Language Film.

Tangerine (2015)


Perhaps one of the most unique films on this list, due largely to the fact that it was shot using just three iPhones, Tangerine is equal parts drama and comedy. But despite the laughs that come, the subject matter of this film is anything but. 

Based on transgender sex worker Sin-Dee Ralla, played by Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, the film follows her as she discovers that her boyfriend, who is also her pimp, is cheating on her with a cisgender woman, meaning a woman who was born with female parts and who also identifies as female. The complexities, and real human emotions, that come from this make this film very relatable, and have helped secure its place as one of the best LGBTQ films of all time. 

Carol (2015)


In the 21st century, sexuality is much more in question than it ever was before. Yes, the LGBTQ community still faces tremendous oppression and prejudice, but conversations are taking place that never would have even just a few decades ago. 

Carol, which stars Cate Blanchetter, is a poignant reminder of this fact. Set in the 1950s, it tells the story of a love affair between a female photographer and an older woman who is dealing with a divorce. 

A hit at the box office and also at film festivals such as Cannes, Carol is an excellent film that reminds us just how much, and how little, things have changed in the past half century.

Pariah (2011)


Of the many challenges people of the LGBTQ community face, those that arise within the family are often the most intense. By nature, we look to the family as a source of unconditional love and care. But all too often, especially when kids don’t turn out the way their parents had hoped they would, this love is questioned, and this can leave lifelong scars. 

In Pariah, this is what we get. The main character, Alike, played by Adepero Oduye, by hanging out at lesbian bars with her friend, begins to embrace her own sexuality and identity as a butch lesbian. However, her mother, who sees this transformation happening, does not approve, and so she tries to force more “feminine” things upon her daughter. 

This is just one of the many conflicts that arise from Alike’s quest to be herself, and this film, which keeps you engrossed from beginning to end, serves as a good reminder of just how difficult it can sometimes be to live authentically in today’s world.

All About My Mother (1999)


Pedro Almodovar is not only one of Spain’s most celebrated filmmakers and directors, but he is also regarded as one of the best in the world. He has been making top-notch films since the early 1980s and has won more awards than can be counted. It should come as no surprise, then, that his film All About My Mother, which deals with issues such as AIDS, homosexuality, faith, and existentialism, makes it onto the list of best LGBTQ films of all time. 

The plot of this film is actually connected to one of Almodovar’s prior films and it centers around an Argentine nurse who manages donor transplants at a major hospital in Madrid, Spain. ‘

The complex narrative (a staple of Almodovar’s films) takes the audience to Barcelona, A Coruna, and other places in Spain, reminding us of our connectivity while also asking us to contemplate complex issues about sexuality and gender identity.

Beautiful Thing (1996)


The story of “coming out,” i.e. embracing your true identity and sharing it with the world, is one that never gets old, mainly because it is so incredibly different for each member of the LGBTQ community. Therefore, any story that manages to capture this part of life well is one worth telling, as it reminds the rest of the world how hard some things we take for granted really are. 

Beautiful Things follows Jamie, played by Glen Berry, as he explores, discovers, and begins to understand his own sexuality. He spends a good deal of the film hiding his true self from others while also being bullied by the kids at school. Eventually, he learns to be more accepting of himself, and while hardship does not go away, it makes life a bit easier. 

As an added bonus, this film features lots of music from The Mamas and The Papas. So, if you happen to be a fan, then there’s another reason for you to check out Beautiful Thing.

14 More LGBTQ Films You Should Warch

In addition to these 16 classics, here are 14 more films featuing LGBTQ characters and themes that you should definitely watch: 

  • My Beautiful Laundrette (1985) deals with a love story between an English and Pakastani man during the Thatcher years. 
  • But I’m A Cheerleader (1999) – Follow the story of a high school cheerleader who is sent to conversion therapy when her parents discover she is a lesbian. 
  • Keep the Lights On (2012) details the relationship between two gay men living in New York City, touching also on issues of addiction.
  • A Fantastic Woman (2017) is a Chilean film that follows the life of a transgender woman working as a singer and waitress in Santiago, Chile.
  • Bad Education (2004) is another Almodovar film that focuses on two friends and lovers caught up in a murder mystery. Praised by critics, the film also received an NC-17 rating in the United States, in part for its depiction of homosexual sex.
  • The Handmaiden (2016) is a Korean-made psychological thriller that takes place during a time in history when Japan occupied Korea, and when sexuality was even more taboo of a subject than it is today.
  • The Dallas Buyers Club (2013) follows the story of a man who begins trafficking in prescription medication after the FDA doesn’t approve a key drug in the fight against AIDS. It’s a penetrating look into the epidemic, and into the response by the US government, which many see as biased and unfair towards the LGBTQ community.
  • Weekend (2011) showcases the relationship that emerges between two men just as one of them plans to leave the country.
  • Stranger By the Lake (2013) tells the story of a gay man who witnesses a homicide, but who is also in love with the murderer.
  • BPM (2017) deals with the AIDS activism that took place during the 1990s in France.
  • The Boys in the Band (1970) is a film based on a play of the same name that was one of the first movies ever to feature a set of characters who were all gay.
  • Maurice (1987) reminds us again how the issues the LGBTQ community face today are not new as it explores a gay relationship\p during Edwardian England.
  • The Watermelon Woman (1996) is the first film ever directed by a black lesbian woman and deals with the issues faced not only by the LGBTQ community but also women of color.
  • The Children’s Hour (1961) stars Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine, two women accused of having a lesbian affair, a claim which nearly ruins their lives. One of the earliest films to deal with this subject, it helps provide context for many of the issues the LGBTQ community faces today.

Start Watching!

Okay, now you have 30 different films to watch that all showcase a different part of the LGBTQ community and their struggles and triumphs over the years. Of course, there are many more films than these. Start with this list of the best, and enjoy some quality art that also tells us a great deal about our modern society.

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