23 Of The Best LGBTQ+ Films That Perfectly Portray The Queer Experience

We all love films that can transport, educate, empower and simply make you feel something. But most important of all is its ability to raise up marginalised voices and experiences to a global audience, such as those that portray an LGBTQ+ narrative. Now more than ever, we’re seeing a range of protagonists and characters whose sexualities aren’t categorised by a singular bracket, yet representation still has a long way to go. Arguably one of the best subgenres there is out there, LGBTQ+ films often quite perfectly capture the emotions of love and embracing life as it comes.

From ground-breaking classics, such as 1994’s The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, to modern masterpieces like the modern cult favourite All Of Us Strangers and Ethan Cohen’s Drive Away Dolls with Margaret Qualley, the films on this list cast light on the LGBTQ+ experience from all angles. Here are the best LGBTQ+ films to watch:

1) Love Lies Bleeding (2024)

Love Lies Bleeding is the film director and screenwriter Rose Glass’s second feature film, which has so far received acclaim for its nuanced take on love, violence and codependency. Kristen Stewart (Lou) plays a gym manager who falls in love with Jackie (Katy O’Brian). Their obsession with one another becomes so severe that they become intertwined with Lou’s criminal family.

2) Drive-Away Dolls (2024)

Margaret Qualley, Geraldine Viswanathan and Beanie Feldstein star in Ethan Cohen’s American comedy road film. Qualley and Viswanathan play two friends looking for a fresh start, however soon enough, the pair’s hope of new beginnings turns awry when they find themselves intertwined with criminals and must then outrun a gang of dangerous mobsters to survive.

3) All Of Us Strangers (2023)

Pinned as one of the biggest tearjerkers of 2023, Paul Mescal (Harry) and Andrew Scott (Adam) star in this film that sees screenwriter Adam and his neighbour Harry meet by a chance encounter. As their budding romance ensues, an emotionally stunted Adam must continue to navigate and confront the loss of his parents to a fatal car crash. Get ready for twists, tears and an emotional story of tackling grief and loneliness.

4) The World To Come (2021)

Based on Jim Shepard’s novel of the same name, The World to Come is a story based on forbidden love in the 19th Century. In a similar vein to Brokeback Mountain, the narrative focuses on two couples who are neighbours – played by Katherine Waterston, Vanessa Kirby, Christopher Abbott, and Casey Affleck. As the foursome deals with isolation from the outside world, Waterston and Kirby’s characters soon find themselves falling in love with each other. The film premiered at the Venice International Film Festival in 2020 and won the Queer Lion for best LGBTQ-themed film. The film was released on February 12 in some theatres, in accordance with international Covid-19 restrictions, and on digital on March 2.

5) Disclosure (2020)

Starring Laverne Cox and several other trans actors, filmmakers and historians, this documentary sees Hollywood figures delve into the TV and film industry’s depiction of the trans community and how their stories have touched American culture and individuals. ‘My own life is such a profound example of what representation can do,’ Cox told the Guardian in 2020. ‘We need more trans folks working behind the scenes – directing, producing, below-the-line positions, just more,’ Cox added. ‘And more representation in positions of power.’

6) Uncle Frank (2020)

Writer-director Alan Ball’s 2020 film is set in the 1970s and sees a teenager leave her Southern home to study in New York City. There she meets up with her Uncle Franke (Paul Bettany) – a professor – who she comes to learn is gay and lives with his partner, Wally (Peter Macdissi). However, after the death of Frank’s father, he returns home with his niece to confront his past. With a cast including Steve Zahn and Judy Greer, we really love this feel-good film.

7) Call Me by Your Name (2017)

Nominated for three Golden Globes, two BAFTAs and two Academy Awards (including Best Actor and Best Picture), Call Me by Your Name is the film that made Timothée Chalamet the global sensation he is today. Based on André Aciman’s novel, Chalamet is Elio, a teenager living in Italy while Armie Hammer plays Oliver, an older student who stays with Elio’s family while working as the teen’s father’s temporary assistant. What starts as a frosty friendship between the men soon blossoms into a sun-drenched love affair. But with an inevitable expiration date looming, Elio’s angst and confusion as he comes to terms with his newfound sexuality and then having to say goodbye to Oliver is relatable viewing for anyone.

8) Love, Simon (2018)

Many films have been criticised for using straight actors to represent queer experiences, but Love, Simon – the first same-sex teen romance by a major studio – breaks away from this mould. The project is led by queer actor, Keiynan Lonsdale, playing one of Simon’s love interests, and Greg Berlanti, its director who is openly gay. This coming-of-age, coming-out story is based on the acclaimed novel, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli, and depicts 17-year-old Simon Spier as he debates whether to tell his friends and family he’s gay. What ensues is a delightful teen romcom that shows even when you grow up in the most supportive environment, coming out can prove challenging and life-changing.

9) Alex Strangelove (2018)

Often compared to Love, Simon for its teen romcom vibes, this Netflix Original follows Alex Truelove, the high school senior who seemingly has it all – he’s the class president, gets excellent grades and has a great girlfriend. But when he meets openly gay Elliott, everything Alex thought he knew begins to change. He’s decided he wants to lose his virginity, but now the question is, to who? What follows is a charming and honest look at sexual and self-exploration at a time in life that’s already confusing enough during puberty.

10) The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994)

Full of enough feathers and fabulousness to make RuPaul jealous, you could be fooled for forgetting the historical and cultural importance this film holds. Following the AIDS epidemic of the Eighties, homophobia continued to infect society in the Nineties. That said, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert brought us a joyous, must-see classic of a film that put drag culture on the map in an era of TV and cinema that consistently misrepresented this marginalised community. Two drag queens (Hugo Weaving and Guy Pearce) and a transgender woman (Terence Stamp) road trip across Australia in a tour bus (which they soon pimp out with some pink paint and christen Priscilla) to take their drag show to a resort in the middle of the Outback. Along the way they encounter hilarity and mishaps, but also homophobic abuse, all while uncovering new secrets about each other. See the film first, then catch the musical version that first graced the West End in 2011.

11) Beach Rats (2017)

Looking for something dark and moody? Beach Rats is the captivating and poignant film that won Eliza Hittman the award for Best Director in the US Dramatic Features category at the Sundance Film Festival. It’s a tale about an aimless youth, Frankie (Harris Dickinson), who balances delinquent friends and a bleak home life with a potential new girlfriend, as well as the men he meets online. Dark? Yes, but gloomy this is not. It’s a raw and emotional depiction of masculinity and the experience of being a closeted gay man.

12) The Birdcage (1996)

The ever-magnificent late Robin Williams stars as a gay Miami nightclub owner whose son wants to introduce him to his super conservative in-laws-to-be. Hilarity ensues (with Williams involved, how can it not?) as they attempt to portray a wholesome American family, with Williams’ drag queen partner posing as his wife – Mrs Doubtfire style. It is in fact a remake of the musical La Cage aux Folles, but this modern adaptation is a truly riotous comedy with an ultimately uplifting tale to boot.

13) Blue is the Warmest Colour (2013)

Featuring the cooler than cool Tarantino-approved French actress Léa Seydoux (Inglourious Basterds), Blue is the Warmest Colour won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for a Golden Globe and a BAFTA for Best Foreign Language Film. One of the most beautiful cinematic depictions of discovering your sexuality as a young woman, Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos) is a French teenager who falls in love with an older, blue-haired art school student called Emma (Seydoux). With both actresses giving outstanding performances, what is most captivating about this film is their portrayal of not just first love, but the most catastrophic, cataclysmic, all-consuming kind of love.

14) Carol (2015)

Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara star in this achingly beautiful film about love against the odds set in Fifties New York, where sodomy had just been reduced to a misdemeanour, but could still earn a person six months in prison. An honest depiction of lesbian love from big Hollywood studios is rare, but Carol really did set the bar for all future LGBTQ+ films and earned Blanchett universal acclaim for her performance. Therese (Mara), an aspiring photographer working in a department store, finds herself charmed one day by an older customer, Carol (Blanchett), who herself is going through a messy divorce. Watch and prepare to become obsessed.

15) God’s Own Country (2017)

This powerful British-made film brought us a truly compelling Romanian migrant/Yorkshire farmer love story in 2017. The film came amid the height of the Syrian refugee crisis, making it all the more poignant for the way it helped to humanise refugees in a time of tension for many people in Britain. Following Johnny (Josh O’Connor) who works in isolation on his family’s remote Yorkshire farm, he numbs the dullness and loneliness of his job with nightly binge drinking and casual sex. But when migrant worker, Gheorghe, shows up to work on the farm, Johnny’s tough, angry exterior is forced to soften. The two men wrestle with their toxic, heteronormative ideas of masculinity (sometimes even with each other) and the sexual tension and inner turmoil is rife throughout. This is not your standard cookie-cutter coming out story – it concentrates on issues of solitude, frustration, intimacy and xenophobia.

16) The Miseducation of Cameron Post (2018)

Winning the Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize, Chloë Grace Moretz stars as the titular character in this young adult film that tackles big, dark topics with just the right amount of lightness for its target audience. It’s 1993, and Cameron is sent to a gay conversion therapy centre called God’s Promise by her conservative aunt when she catches her kissing another girl. But contrary to her aunt’s (and every authority figure at the camp’s) hopes, Cameron does not submit to their way of thinking – if anything she becomes more assured of herself, her sexuality and the way the world works (or should).

17) Pride (2014)

With a stellar ensemble cast, including Dominic West, Imelda Staunton, Andrew Scott and Bill Nighy, Pride tells the inspirational true story of a group of lesbian and gay activists in 1984 who want to support the mining strike. Warning: this film will make you laugh until you cry, and cry until, well you cry some more – and it will stay with you long after. Golden Globe-nominated and BAFTA-winning, the film follows the LGBT activists as they travel to a small Welsh mining town, pushing for the two marginalised communities to come together in support of each other, ultimately forming the highly successful Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners campaign, which was instrumental in progressing the fight for LGBTQ+ rights in the UK. Pride is one of the most heart-warming, uplifting British-made films you’ll ever see.

18) Tangerine (2015)

With a completely fresh perspective to many other LGBTQ+ films out there, Tangerine follows two transgender sex workers working in Hollywood who are played by two transgender women (Mya Taylor and Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) who weren’t even professional actors before joining the project. Dark, dirty and sharp, this film was released to much critical praise and was awarded the GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Film (Limited Release). It became an instant queer classic for its authentic and raw portrayal of trans life and sex work. Oh, and did we mention it was shot entirely on an iPhone?

19) Brokeback Mountain (2005)

If it’s a critically lauded, Oscar-smashing movie you’re after, Brokeback Mountain soared straight to the top of the LGBTQ+ film canon on its release and is credited with being the first major mainstream queer film. Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal portray two cowboys who meet in the Sixties and develop a secret, forbidden love for each other. As we follow the two men throughout their lives, the shame around being openly gay in America at that time is so poignantly and heart-wrenchingly clear, it’s no wonder the cast and crew won a veritable army of Golden Globes, BAFTAs and Academy Awards, among many other accolades.

20) Moonlight (2016)

Based on the play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, Barry Jenkins’ Oscar-winning film follows Chiron, a young African-American boy, from childhood through to adulthood, as he grows up in Miami and embarks on a path of self-discovery. Exploring ideas of masculinity, repression, identity and the black body, this epic coming-of-age film doesn’t shy away from some of the most complex, messy and intricate aspects of what it means to grow up as a gay, black man in America – all without putting a foot wrong. Grab your tissues and prepare to weep.

21) Milk (2008)

Sean Penn won an Oscar for his stunning portrayal of the first openly gay person ever to be elected to public office in America, Harvey Milk. Milk follows the politician’s revolutionary life, from the day of his 40th birthday and through his ascension into politics until his eventual tragic assassination in 1978. While San Francisco had a thriving LGBT community in the seventies, the rest of the state of California (and the US) had not yet quite caught up with its progressive ways – homophobia was rife at this time and Harvey had to fight hard to break down walls and get the LGBTQ+ community the rights they deserved. Yes, it’s another LGBTQ+ narrative being portrayed by a straight big-time Hollywood actor, but this is definitely not one to be discounted on those grounds.

22) Desert Hearts (1985)

Lauded for being the first film with a lesbian storyline where the women end up together (sorry, spoiler alert) and for showing a lesbian relationship in a positive light (there really weren’t many at the time – and it still isn’t much better 35 years on), you won’t be surprised to learn Desert Hearts was directed by a queer female filmmaker, Donna Deitch. Vivian (Helen Shaver) heads to a ranch in Reno to await the finalisation of her divorce, and meets self-assured, free-spirited Cay (Patricia Charbonneau) who almost immediately falls in love with her. Winner of the Special Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival, the film simply tells the story of two women falling in love – and it’s lovely.

23) The Kids Are All Right (2010)

The Kids Are All Right is one of the first mainstream movies to show a same-sex couple raising children which is pretty shocking given that it was released as late as 2010. That aside, Annette Bening (who won a Golden Globe for her performance) and Julianne Moore (who received a nomination) star as a same-sex couple whose kids were fathered by the same anonymous sperm donor, played by Mark Ruffalo – who the kids decide one day they want to meet. What ensues is a chuckle-worthy, easy-to-watch comedy that makes its difference in the LGBTQ+ genre by not putting the lesbian relationship front and centre – it’s simply part of the narrative.

Check out the Original Article At ELLE UK

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