The best films can take a story and press it in to the flesh of your heart until tears run down your face or laughter erupts from your throat. Films will show you things you have never seen before and it can hold a mirror up to the audience. In movies, lost souls can find out that they are not really that alone after all. The movies on this list are ones that have made me sob, collapse with giggles, taught me to have empathy and some of them I have seen my own experiences in. This isn’t a list of the best in LGBTQ+ cinema, these are films I love and want to share.
Just a warning. Not all this movies share todays labels or understandings. Things evolve and I hope that you can take the time to consider the elements of these films that are out dated both within the time they were created and in the modern world. Art is about creating a discussion.
And hopefully in the future LGBTQ+ films will tell much more diverse stories and cast LGBTQ+ actors to actually tell them.
The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994)
In this legendary movie two drag queens and a transgender woman travel across the desert to perform their unique style of cabaret.
The first time I watched Priscilla, Queen of the desert was about two years ago. I was going through a bit of a crappy moment. You know the kind of thing I mean, where the news headlines make you think the world is succumbing to evil and I just needed something to make me feel better. Priscilla made me laugh so much. It gave me the joy of a messy weekend in Soho or Brighton. It has real heart and shows the love you can get from a family that is strengthened by shared struggle rather than blood.
Paris is burning (1990)
A chronicle of New York’s drag scene in the 1980s, focusing on balls, voguing and the ambitions and dreams of those who gave the era its warmth and vitality.
We all know how I ended up watching this… You can’t watch all the seasons of Ru Paul’s Drag Race and not have seen this. There is something so incredible about this documentary. So much of current culture, both lgbtq+ and mainstream, owes itself to the people in this documentary. From the language used by Youtube beauty influencers, or the fashion of Lady Gaga and the iconic dance routine of Madonna’s Vogue, there is something of the ballroom in all of them. The characters who lived in the New York Ballroom scene suffered for the beauty of their art. Darling, they deserve our respect.
Duck Butter (2018)
Two women, who are dissatisfied with the dishonesty they see in dating and relationships, decide to make a pact to spend 24 hours together hoping to find a new way to create intimacy.
It was so easy for me to feel myself in this film. A frustrated artist (I will never finish those three novels I’m writing) and someone who fiercely battles against commitment I recognised the way this story evolved. I did this sort of thing when I was in my early twenties. Find someone to belong with for a few days just to make myself feel something. It tugged at my heart strings as an unusual love story.
Behind the Candelabra (2013)
A chronicle of the tempestuous six-year romance between megastar singer Liberace and his young lover Scott Thorson.
Am I fan of Liberace? Eh… so I remember seeing the posters for this film everywhere over the Underground when it came out. I didn’t see it. Then one night about 2am this came on so I decided to give it a go. Within minutes I was completely enthralled. There was something so fantastic about the way the two actors worked together that had me absorbed. I cried so hard. Having to live your life in shadows and then to be humiliated by the media in death was just a fate too cruel for me to hold back the tears.
Velvet Goldmine (1998)
In 1984, British journalist Arthur Stuart investigates the career of 1970s glam superstar Brian Slade, who was heavily influenced in his early years by hard-living and rebellious American singer Curt Wild.
I was sixteen and heavily in a David Bowie phase when I first watched this film. I think my art teacher suggested this film to me. I bought it from the bargain bin in HMV. Watching it was like having a moment of pure clarity. That glittering wonderful sparkly word: bisexual became a reality. It was ok and I was ok. There would be others like me. Glam rock became this little safe spot for me to enjoy and I think I can safely say this is the only time in my life I ever related to a movie character played by Christian Bale. An absolutely gorgeous film.
The story of Harvey Milk, and his struggles as an American gay activist who fought for gay rights and became California’s first openly gay elected official.
I don’t remember when or where I first saw this movie but it stuck with me. I recommend this film to everyone. When I talk about this film I feel a wave of grief fall over me. I know, it’s odd. I wasn’t even born when he was around but there are some figures in history that leave such a legacy that their loss reverberates through time. His story is truly incredible.
The Birdcage (1996)
A gay cabaret owner and his drag queen partner agree to put up a false straight front so that their son can introduce them to his fiancée’s right-wing moralistic parents.
I got to see the Birdcage during that David Bowie phase and it made me want to be part of that wonderfully Queer world. All the glitter and the gold. The idea that a gay couple could work together and live together with such love was beautiful. Robin Williams and Nathan Lane just looked so domestically happy. It made me laugh while having this incredible message that there is nothing wrong with being a beautiful LGBTQ+ being.
A devoted husband in a marriage of convenience is forced to confront his secret life.
I watched this film not long after Robin Williams’ death and I’m actually sitting here crying. The thing about Robin Williams for a lot of us of a certain age is it was like losing a distant grandparent. Hook, Mrs. Doubtfire, Patch Adams, Jumanji and all the other movies that he had ever been in. He was a face that was always there. This film broke me for a little while. There are moments of real anguish and despair that Robin Williams performs masterfully. Boulevard is an emotional story that hurts.
I love you Philip Morris (2009)
A cop turns con man once he comes out of the closet. Once imprisoned, he meets the second love of his life, whom he’ll stop at nothing to be with.
This is a film for me that I just get to blissfully enjoy. It is the story about a guy who loves another guy so much he will do anything to be with him. There are so many cute moments in this film and a ton of laugh out loud scenes. Jim Carrey is a great lead. There is so much chaos but you fall for it time and again because you just want to believe that love can conquer all. It is also great to have a gay character that is so charming yet so completely and utterly, beautifully flawed.
Brokeback Mountain (2005)
The story of a forbidden and secretive relationship between two cowboys, and their lives over the years.
I saw this at the cinema when it was released. Every time I see it I’m a weeping blubbering mess. We always see people rave about Heath Ledger playing the Joker but I’m blown away by his performance as a closeted gay man. The little subtle looks he gives Jake Gyllenhaal are so perfectly bittersweet. This film is heart breaking.
When a man with HIV is fired by his law firm because of his condition, he hires a homophobic small time lawyer as the only willing advocate for a wrongful dismissal suit.
One of my earliest memories is the news broadcast announcing the death of Freddie Mercury. Growing up in the 1990’s meant that HIV and AIDs were discussed a lot. Some of my secondary school class rooms had posters that featured detailed descriptions of the virus, its effects and how not to get it. It was terrifying and it wasn’t even happening to me. Fighting AIDs/HIV through education and fund raising is something I’m passionate about so you can guess that this film broke me. It is so important to educate yourself on LGBTQ+ history fully, so don’t just watch this film but read the books about how the Queer and Black community were devastated by this virus. It is so important.
Can you ever forgive me? (2018)
When Lee Israel falls out of step with current tastes, she turns her art form to deception.
This is so hilarious! Melissa McCarthy is just fantastic in this and there are some really cute and sweet moments in there. Also, the idea that the real Lee Israel came up with to get out of debt is just pure genius and it makes an incredible story.
Call me by your name (2017)
In 1980s Italy, romance blossoms between a seventeen-year-old student and the older man hired as his father’s research assistant.
Ahhhh! Everyone has their first love. This is one of those films that will drag up all those feelings you had when you were in your teens and no one understood you. The world was so awful and you just wanted to be with that person that you loved so they could love you right back. It cringy at times but who can say that they never did anything embarrassing as a teenager. If you like a weepy chick flick then this one is for you.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1974)
A newly-engaged couple have a breakdown in an isolated area and must seek shelter at the bizarre residence of Dr. Frank-n-Furter.
THIS IS A CULT CLASSIC. Warning: there are things that might offend but again I ask you to consider context when viewing.
For many people this film was an awakening moment. The one that made them realise that they were Queer in some way. This was the first time they saw themselves on screen. I was so beautifully confused when I first saw it at 8 years old. I didn’t know if I wanted to kiss Dr. Frank-n-Furter or be him. He was kissing girls but he was kissing boys. The girls were kissing girls. Everyone looked like they were having a great time and the music…..the music was so…. fucking….good. It’s more camp than Butlin’s. Enjoy it.
This is the film version of the Pulitzer and Tony Award winning musical about Bohemians in the East Village of New York City struggling with life, love and AIDS, and the impacts they have on America.
This film sounds as if it is going to be depressing. It is about poverty, loss, unemployment and a struggle to exist but it is so full of love, life and hope that it is just a stunning musical. It is wonderful to be able to see a love affair between two men given so much joy on screen. The “I will cover you” scene is just such an iconic moment in queer cinema. It’s the most incredible rock musical but make sure you’ve got the tissues handy as there will be tears.
In 1984 20 year old closet gay Joe hesitantly arrives in London from Bromley for his first Gay Pride march and is taken under the collective wing of a group of gay men and Lesbian Steph, when he meets flamboyant Jonathan and his Welsh partner Gethin’s in their London bookshop.
This really is wonderful true story. The cast is cracking and the energy that the film is made with means the tale will cuddle up to you and sit in your heart. Also, it features the story of everyone’s favourite queer bookshop, “Gay’s The Word”.
The Favourite (2018)
In early 18th-century England, the status quo at the court is upset when a new servant arrives and endears herself to a frail Queen Anne. The Favourite is directed by Yorgos Lanthimos who famously also directed the cult film The Lobster. The cast includes Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone. This film is a much loved award winner.
I loved this film. I watched it with my Dad and my sister and for days after all we kept doing was impressions of Queen Anne. We would pass each other in the kitchen and scream “Don’t look at me!” in the style of Olivia Coleman. Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone are incredible in their supporting roles and I couldn’t help but swoon every time Rachel Weisz popped on the screen. This is by far one of the funniest films on the list. Perfect for those who love a giggle.
Love Is Strange (2014)
After Ben and George get married, George is fired from his teaching post, forcing them to stay with friends separately while they sell their place and look for cheaper housing — a situation that weighs heavily on all involved.
When I saw this I was quite literally running round to everyone I knew telling them to watch it. Love is Strange has scenes that I would say are some of the most beautiful moments I have ever seen in cinema. I was completely broken after I had seen it too. My poor little heart still hurts when I think about it.
A New York Times travel writer comes to Tel Aviv after suffering a tragedy. The energy of the city and his relationship with a younger man brings him back to life.
I absolutely adored this film when I saw it at The BFI Flare festival at the beginning of this year. It was a truly unique story that kept me transfixed throughout the whole movie. The chemistry of the whole cast is just magical and somehow the director has managed to make Tel Aviv itself feel like it is part of the dialogue. This is one not to be missed.
Rebel dykes (2021)
Rebel Dykes returns in all its ass-kicking, leather-wearing glory. The film follows a tight-knit group of friends who met at Greenham Common peace camp and went on to become artists, performers, musicians and activists in London.
This film is so much fun and so eye opening. I almost feel like the lesbian experience in history can be a bit invisible. What this documentary does is rip up your lesbian stereotypes, then it covers you in hot wax and spanks you with them. I loved every second and furthermore it has a delicious soundtrack and some great animations. It’s a fantastic slice of history.
Mama Gloria (2020)
Mama Gloria is incredible! It the life story of an LGBTQ+ matriarch and full time legend. This documentary is an intimate portrait of a trailblazing 73-year-old black transgender woman who transitioned before Stonewall, started a charm school for transgender youth in her 60s and is aging with joy and grace.
I would love to know Mama Gloria. It’s a cliché but her story is so inspiration. The documentary shows why we should know our history and pay respect to the LGBTQ+ icons and activist who came before us.
The Greenhouse (2021)
Grieving the death of her mother Lillian, Beth Tweedy-Bell wakes one night to find a portal to the past in the forest surrounding her family home. Swept away by visions of her idyllic upbringing with her three siblings and two loving Mums, Beth becomes mesmerized by the past, unable to see the dangers that lie ahead.
This film is beyond anything I have ever really experienced. The Greenhouse is incredibly emotional but at the same time it fills all those sci-fi and horror itches that you can’t quite reach with a lot of LGBTQ+ movies. It’s like a bit of a queer episode of The Twilight Zone. If you enjoyed the beautiful gay moments in Black Mirror, you are gonna love this.
AIDs Diva: The legend of Connie Norman (2021)
Seizing her power as she confronts her mortality, trailblazing trans activist Connie Norman evolves as an irrepressible, challenging and soulful voice for the AIDS and queer communities of early 90’s Los Angeles.
I haven’t been able to stop thinking about Connie Norman since I watched this movie. She is the sort of woman who saw a problem and screamed at the top of her lungs until people started to take notice. When we think of the lives claimed by the AIDs crisis it is so easy to forget the tenacious activists who did everything in their power to hit back against governments who were standing by doing nothing as millions died. Connie Norman’s was a woman who went down fighting. Her memory should inspire young transgender folks everywhere.
No Ordinary Man (2020)
No Ordinary Man is an in-depth look at the life of musician and trans culture icon Billy Tipton. Directed by Aisling Chin-Yee, Chase Joynt. With Billy Tipton Jr., Holden Bernstein, Kate Bornstein, Ryan Cassata.
I was completely blown away by this documentary. It about the jazz legend Billy Tipton and his life story but it also about young Trans men living now, in a world that seems to be becoming increasingly hostile to the trans community as a whole. Filled with experiences and honesty this film is a wonderfully crafted window in to the history of a long forgotten icon.
Jump, Darling (2020)
A rookie drag queen, reeling from a break-up, escapes to the country, where he finds his grandmother in steep decline yet desperate to avoid the local nursing home. Directed by Phil Connell and starring Cloris Leachman, Jayne Eastwood, Linda Kash and Andrew Bushell.
Absolutely hilarious, yet touching. Watching this film was a fantastic experience. It kicked off the BFI Flare festival and it really set the bar. I couldn’t help but adore every single character. I laughed so much. It reminded me a bit of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri but it also reminded me of Ladybird. I can’t help thinking it deserves an Oscar but who listens to me?!
Rocket Man (2019)
Dressed in a flamboyant devil’s outfit, Elton John enters an addiction rehabilitation session, recounting his life in a flashback.
It was wonderful. I loved the fantastical spirit of the whole thing…it would make a great west end show. Oh let’s be honest, who doesn’t love a bit of Elton?!