With the Oscars just around the corner and Call Me By Your Name nominated for three Academy Awards, it’s time for some LGBT+ film history cramming. We scoured the watch-lists and talked to the pros to determine which films truly made an impact and captured the hearts of audiences everywhere. From the classic to the campy, the happy to the downright sappy, we’ve uncovered the best gay films out there.
Check out 25 of the best gay films to snuggle up to with your bae.
1. Me Him Her (2016)
If sweet and simple romantic tales make you swoon, you might want to look elsewhere. This plot revolves around Cory (Dustin Milligan) who flies to LA to help his heartthrob BFF Brendan (Luke Bracey) hide his homosexuality from Hollywood. Of course, Cory gets distracted from this plan when he hooks up with and falls in love with Gabbi (Emily Meade). The problem with that? Gabbi’s a lesbian. “This movie is so weird and quirky,” said genderfluid actor and YouTuber Rilen Taylor. “It’s a comedy that makes you laugh at the complexities of sexuality and how fluid it can be.”
2. Moonlight (2016)
Oscar drama aside, Moonlight truly captured something magnificent. Boasting an impressive 98% on Rotten Tomatoes, Moonlight follows main character Chiron from childhood to adulthood as he reconciles his sexuality with his culture. “Wonderful to see LGBT people of color given a platform on the big screen,” said retired drama teacher Markus Wheeler. “Didn’t see that much as a boy growing up. I’m glad my grandchildren have something I didn’t.”
3. Carol (2015)
Harold, they’re lesbians. The meme got almost as much attention as this period drama starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. Adapted from Patricia Highsmith’s The Price of Salt, Carol follows the romance of a young store clerk (Rooney Mara) and an unhappily-married older woman (Cate Blanchett). Plus, Sarah Paulson stars as Blanchett’s lesbian friend. Girl Ship TV’s Amanda Holland broke it down: “Cate Blanchett + Rooney Mara + Sarah Paulson. Need I say more?” Nope, that about covers it.
4. The Danish Girl (2015)
Loosely based on the life of Danish painter Lili Elbe, The Danish Girl documents artist Einar Wegener’s (Eddie Redmayne) preparation to undergo one of the first sex-change surgeries. “As a trans person I was blown away by Eddie Redmayne’s portrayal of a trans woman,” Taylor explained. “Even though I am genderfluid and AFAB, I felt understood and represented in this film. The desperation and urge to discover and explore one’s gender identity was beautifully displayed. I remembered sitting in the back of a New York theatre (alone, I might add) and crying because I felt seen and related so much to this humans struggles.”
5. Boy Meets Girl (2014)
When it comes to representation of trans bodies, Boy Meets Girl hits the mark. “It’s beautiful to see a trans woman be treated as a woman and not just seen as an object,” said Taylor. “The ending is beautiful because Ricky’s best friend, a cis heterosexual male played by this guy from Twilight (who friggin blew me away in this film) ends up chasing her because he thinks she is in danger of hurting herself after they got into a verbal tiff. She ends up at the lake alone swimming naked and then something beautiful happened—they showed her full, pre-op body. So we see this beautiful woman emerge out of the lake with her original parts on full display between her legs.” Taylor continued, “It’s just a pivotal and stunning moment in not only film but also because of the message of her best friend just accepting her as who she is—a woman. He thinks she’s beautiful. She stands there freely but clearly raw and exposed and she's just like ‘This is me.’ I remembered my mouth dropping open and being like, holy shit—this is bold and so necessary!”
6. The Normal Heart (2014)
You can’t get around it: this one’s a tearjerker. So have your tissues at the ready and dive into the story of Ned Weeks (Mark Ruffalo), a writer and gay rights activist who works tirelessly to expose the truth about the AIDS epidemic. “This movie broke my heart but really opened my eyes to the struggles of the LGBT community before me,” said San Francisco State University graduate Colin Blithe. “As a gay man, it was hard to watch but it empowered me to keep fighting for my LGBT brothers and sisters.”
7. Kiss Me (2011)
This Swedish film won AFI 2011 “Breakthrough Award” and for good reason. The plot may not be revolutionary, but the chemistry between Ruth Vega Fernandez and Liv Mjönes actually reads as realistic unlike other films (looking at you, Jenny’s Wedding). “The most beautifully filmed lesbian movie,” said Holland. “Even though it uses one of the classic lesbian film tropes (lesbian meets straight engaged woman and uh oh, straight woman doesn't know what she wants anymore) it's still a fun film! And the sex scenes are top notch!” Lesbian sex scenes not designed for straight men? Now that’s a novelty right there.
8. Pariah (2011)
Before being critically acclaimed for Mudbound, Dee Rees made her directorial debut with Pariah. “We get to see a young woman leading a double life where she's out as a butch lesbian to her friends and at school but closeted at home, donning a bedazzled Angel t-shirt and a purple cardigan,” Holland said. “It's sincere, it's funny, it's heart breaking, but by the end it's extremely uplifting and nobody dies! It's one of the best coming of age queer movies I've ever seen. It is so, so well written! You may ugly cry by the end but it's worth it.”
9. Weekend (2011)
What starts as a one-night stand quickly becomes more for two men in Nottingham. The problem? One of them plans to move Oregon in just a few days. The true beauty of Weekend lies in the fact that nothing wild happens. No high-speed car chases or deadly illnesses threatening an untimely demise. The story follows ordinary people, yet manages to tell a love story so deep and extraordinary, you can’t believe it takes place in just a few days’ time.
10. Yes or No (2010)
Even if you despise subtitles with every fiber in your being, you gotta see Yes or No. This Thai film made waves with its unabashedly butch co-protagonist upon its release in 2010. Two roommates, Pie and Kim, start as enemies but eventually find that what started as hate has turned to love. In other words, every friends-turned-lovers fanfic reader’s dream. Cute and funny, Yes or No charmed LGBT and straight viewers alike. The movie even has a sequel for those eager to know what happens to Pie and Kim after the credits roll.
11. Milk (2008)
This biopic on gay rights activist and politician Harvey Milk grabbed the hearts of viewers upon its release in 2008. While Sean Penn shines as the lead role, the movie really leaves an impression because its incredible ensemble cast do their real-life characters justice. But be warned: if you don’t know Harvey Milk’s life story (or even if you do), the end will rip your heart out.
12. Brokeback Mountain (2006)
Brokeback may have been widely known as “that gay cowboy movie” and been parodied on SNL, but beyond the flippant teasing lies a heartbreaking tale. According to Jake Gyllenhaal, co-star Heath Ledger recognized the movie’s importance. Gyllenhaal shared with Out Magazine that Ledger took the movie seriously and refused to tolerate and encourage derision. University of Michigan graduate Ian Roberts agreed. “I hate that this movie became a meme instead of universally garnering the respect it deserves. Ledger and Gyllenhaal’s performances are top-notch in devastating way,” shared Roberts. “I remember seeing Brokeback for the first time in college and realizing that I couldn’t live the rest of my life being anyone other than myself. I came out to my parents the next day.”
13. Imagine Me & You (2006)
Before she plotted murder and raised a psychopathic son on Game of Thrones, Lena Heady starred in British rom coms. This time, she stars opposite Piper Perabo (Lost and Delirious, anyone?). “One of the very few queer lady rom coms, even though it's the same trope of lesbian meets married "straight" woman,” said Holland. “It's Piper Perabo playing queer yet again with Lena Headey. Ask any lesbian what the Lily means and she can tell you. It's a classic.” Don’t know what the lily means? Watch the film and find out.
14. Loving Annabelle (2006)
Basic plotline? Student and teacher at a Roman Catholic school fall for each other. “Okay, okay, I know this one is controversial, but Loving Annabelle was so instrumental in me coming to terms with my sexuality,” said Bay Area native Teri Westwick. “Student/teacher relationships are so gross, but somehow this film makes you forget about the ick factor.”
15. D.E.B.S. (2004)
The one thing missing from this list so far? A movie featuring schoolgirls-turned-spies. And what better fits the bill that D.E.B.S.? “The campiest of spy movies,” Holland explained. “If you go in knowing that it is purposely campy, it's hard to not have the most fun watching this movie and enjoying watching Jordana Brewster try to seduce the character of Amy. Also a wild Holland Taylor appears.”
16. Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001)
A botched sex-change operation, rock music and the search for stardom. John Cameron Mitchell wrote, adapted, directed and starred in Hedwig and the Angry Inch as title character Hedwig Robinson, a transgender punk-rock girl from East Berlin. Hedwig tours the States with her band as they pursue her ex-lover who stole her songs. The film manages to be irreverent and poignant at the same time, with an awesome soundtrack to boot.
17. Boys Don’t Cry (1999)
If you’re a diehard office fan, you may remember Boys Don’t Cry as a deciding factor in the Hilary Swank hot-or-not debate (and by the way, the answer is Hilary Swank is definitely hot). Swank plays a transgender man on the run from those who discovered his secret past. The film dramatizes the real story of Brandon Teena. Warning: this movie is not for the faint of heart. Those looking for a feel-good happy ending should look elsewhere.
18. But I’m a Cheerleader (1999)
Natasha Lyonne stars in this 1999 cult classic. Sent to conversion camp by her parents who suspect she’s a lesbian, Megan (played by Lyonne) surprises herself by falling in love with *gasp* another girl (played by Clea DuVall). “DuVall is such a gay icon. All of my lesbian friends and I agree that she was our sexual awakening, even in that hideous pink dress,” Seattle resident Kim Ruben.
19. Beautiful Thing (1996)
When it comes to sweet and witty coming-of-age stories, Beautiful Thing takes the cake. Two boys in South London fall for each other, with quirky peripheral characters who keep the film from being your run-of-the-mill coming-out story. “I saw it one day I was home alone when I was a kid. First time I felt there were people like me out there and that people who dislike us for it, might come around some day,” said Colombia resident Dustin Vlz Rdz. “Though I am an adult now, and my parents accept my life, it is still from a distance. Watching films, like Beautiful Thing, reassures me that I am still loved. Reminds me that I am not the only one and that over all, when there is no family, one creates one. That in itself, is a beautiful thing.
20. The Birdcage (1996)
Looking for variety? Look no further. “Williams, Nathan Lane and Hank Azaria show so many different portrayals of gay men—whether it be flamboyant and feminine to a more ‘straight-passing’ gay man. The comedy is unmatched because all three of these men commit to their characters,” said Taylor. “Despite the size of the characters I don’t find this movie offensive because the main plot is the characters attempting to repress their sexuality and one character specifically trying to suffocate his exuberant flamboyance. It’s brilliant and shows how far people will go to suppress who they are for the approval of others.”
21. The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994)
Hugo Weaving, Guy Pearce and Terrence Stamp star in this Australian flick about two drag queens and a transwoman road-tripping through the Australian desert in a lavender school bus named Priscilla. What more could you need to know? The three give fabulous performances, fight through homophobia and try to figure life out. The dramedy garnered so much attention that Hollywood decided to try their own hand at the tale with what became To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julia Newmar. It also became a Broadway musical that earned two Tony Awards. Not bad at all.
22. Philadelphia (1993)
Tom Hanks plays Andrew Beckett, a gay lawyer at a powerful firm whose career becomes compromised when a colleague realizes Beckett has AIDS. Beckett teams up homophobic Joe Miller (Denzel Washington) to sue for discrimination against his previous employers. As you can guess, drama ensues in and outside of the courtroom. The movie also gets points for being the first big-budget Hollywood film to tackle the subject of AIDS.
23. Maurice (1987)
James Wilby and Hugh Grant star in this period drama about two gay lovers in Edwardian society. Need more reason to see it? The backstory behind the movie is pretty interesting. “[Maurice] is based on a novel from E.M. Forster and he delayed having it published until after he died since it was a gay love story and being gay in England then was basically illegal,” explained Ali Naro of Movies Over the Rainbow. “James Ivory directed the film version of Maurice and his romantic and film partner, Ismail Merchant, produced the movie. Pretty cool! And it has a happy ending.”
24. Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
A cult classic of the highest order. This film features an all-star cast of Tim Curry, Susan Sarandon, Barry Bostwick and, of course, Meatloaf, plus a whole array of phenomenal musical numbers. “I mean it’s just such a classic," explained transgender activist Bo Bradshaw. “I think for a lot of people Rocky Horror was probably their introduction to the realm of trans identity, and even though there are definitely problematic moments, its historical impact cannot be denied.”
25. The Boys in the Band (1970)
The Boys in the Band may predate the other films on the list, but it is a classic. A group of gay men gather in a NYC apartment for a friend’s birthday. When a straight guest arrives, the party quickly devolves into a game of telephone that reveals things the guests would have preferred to stay hidden. “A great psychosocial piece of art that portrays diverse gay men’s personalities and traumas!” said retired psychology counselor Jose Manuel Horta. “Originally a theatre piece that transcended to the silver screen! I strongly recommend it... no matter what your sexual preference or orientation is!”