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Unlocking Cinematic Gems: The Definitive Guide to The 50 Best Queer Movies of All Time

In the vibrant realm of cinema, queer narratives have flourished, creating a rich tapestry of diverse stories that resonate with audiences worldwide. This article delves into a curated list of "The 50 Best Queer Movies of All Time," celebrating cinematic masterpieces that have left an indelible mark on the LGBTQ+ film landscape.

Shiva Baby (2020)

The 50 Best LGBTQ Movies of the 21st Century – IndieWire

Brought to life by Emma Seligman, "Shiva Baby" stands out for its distinctive storyline, witty dialogue, and stellar performances. The movie revolves around Danielle, a bisexual, Jewish college senior, navigating a chaotic shiva after an unexpected encounter with her sugar daddy. With smart and darkly funny undertones, "Shiva Baby" has already solidified its place as a queer classic.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019)

Portrait of a Lady on Fire - Wikipedia

Céline Sciamma’s "Portrait of a Lady on Fire" takes us on a mesmerizing journey, exploring extraordinary feelings within the constraints of perfect restraint. This period drama captures the passionate love affair between an artist and her subject, offering some of the most astonishing filmmaking of the decade.

120 BPM (2017)

Set against the backdrop of early-’90s France, "120 BPM" documents a pivotal moment in LGBTQ+ history. This jubilant ride through the music and activism of the era, led by stunning performances, showcases the radical, direct action that propelled the movement into the mainstream.

Call Me By Your Name (2017)

Transporting us to northern Italy in 1983, "Call Me By Your Name" chronicles the romance between Elio and a young American grad student. Awash in golden light and sensuous moments, the film garnered Oscar nominations and captured hearts with Timothée Chalamet’s compelling performance.

God’s Own Country (2017)

In the backdrop of a Yorkshire sheep farm, "God’s Own Country" unfolds a tender story of intimacy between Johnny and Gheorghe. The film, recognized at the Sundance Film Festival, beautifully balances themes of rediscovering place and finding love.

Princess Cyd (2017)

"Princess Cyd" explores a young woman’s journey of self-discovery during a summer in Chicago. Against the backdrop of family bonds, this deeply moving film captures the essence of queer relationships.

The Handmaiden (2016)

Park Chan-wook’s "The Handmaiden" presents a deliciously sinister tale, reinterpreting Sarah Waters’ "Fingersmith" in 20th-century Korea. This meticulously calibrated erotic thriller unfolds through contradictory perspectives, offering riveting and ravishing results.

Moonlight (2016)

"Moonlight" unfolds as a powerful coming-of-age story, navigating three chapters in the life of a gay Black man in impoverished Miami. Despite the Oscars mix-up, the film remains widely regarded as an indisputable masterpiece.

Carol (2015)

Todd Haynes’ "Carol" brings to life Patricia Highsmith’s novel with a captivating portrayal of a lesbian love story set in the 1950s. The film, with its cult following, received multiple Oscar nominations and is recognized for its exceptional performances.

Tangerine (2015)

Sean Baker’s breakout film, "Tangerine," shot entirely on an iPhone, takes us on a rip-roaring and touching journey through the lives of two trans sex workers seeking vengeance. The film’s charismatic stars and unbreakable friendship make it a standout in queer cinema.

Blue Is the Warmest Colour (2013)

"Blue Is the Warmest Colour" explores the tumultuous love between Emma and Adèle, premiering to divisive critical response at Cannes. The film’s star-making performances by Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos earned them a joint Palme d’Or.

Weekend (2011)

Andrew Haigh’s "Weekend" offers a sensual and charming portrait of two young British men, capturing the electric and immediate connection of a 48-hour love story. The film is both frank in its depiction of sexuality and poignant in its exploration of universal aspects of gay life.

A Single Man (2009)

Tom Ford’s "A Single Man" defies expectations, balancing sumptuous style with a powerful beating heart. Colin Firth’s portrayal of a grieving professor navigating love and desire earned the film accolades and recognition.

Brokeback Mountain (2005)

"I wish I knew how to quit you." Ang Lee’s "Brokeback Mountain" is a neo-Western romantic drama spanning 30 years, portraying the heartfelt and gut-wrenching relationship between Jack and Ennis. The film won several Academy Awards, including best director and best adapted screenplay.

Mysterious Skin (2004)

Gus Van Sant’s "Mysterious Skin" stands out as a devastating coming-of-age drama, exploring the trauma of sexual abuse with unflinching honesty. The film, featuring Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s extraordinary performance, subtly emphasizes hopefulness amid the darkness.

Saving Face (2004)

Alice Wu’s feature debut, "Saving Face," intertwines themes of family, love, and identity. The film follows a Chinese-American surgeon navigating her mother’s pregnancy and her secret relationship with a dancer girlfriend.

Angels in America (2003)

HBO’s iteration of "Angels In America," directed by Mike Nichols, unfolds as a richly cinematic miniseries. Based on Tony Kushner’s Pulitzer and Tony-winning play, the series delves into the AIDS epidemic in 1980s New York, featuring a star-studded cast.

All About My Mother (1999)

Pedro Almódovar’s "All About My Mother" stands out as a dazzling jewel, exploring the journey of a single mother reconnecting with her transgender daughter’s father. The film’s sensitive portrayal of the trans community and its probing questions about motherhood make it a masterpiece.

Beau Travail (1999)

Claire Denis’s "Beau Travail" mesmerizes with its exploration of jealousy, machismo, and latent desire. Set in Djibouti, the film’s subtle performances and masterful cinematography lead to one of the greatest endings in movie history.

But I’m a Cheerleader (1999)

Jamie Babbit’s debut, "But I’m a Cheerleader," takes a satirical approach to conversion therapy, offering a hilarious yet thought-provoking narrative. The film follows Megan, sent to a conversion therapy camp, where she discovers community and love.

Velvet Goldmine (1998)

Todd Haynes’s kaleidoscopic ode to glam rock, "Velvet Goldmine," stars Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Ewan McGregor in a fictionalized tale of music and excess. The film’s stylish exploration of the spirit of glam rock and its vibrant characters make it a unique queer cinematic experience.

All Over Me (1997)

Set in ’90s-era Hell’s Kitchen, "All Over Me" unfolds as a vintage riot-grrrl classic, portraying a young woman’s love for her best friend against a backdrop of dark roads and intense emotions. The film captures the intensity of friendship amidst the vibrant music scene.

Happy Together (1997)

Wong Kar-wai’s "Happy Together" stands as an essential entry in the New Queer Cinema canon, depicting the tumultuous romance between lovers from Hong Kong stranded in Argentina. The film’s passionate and moody narrative explores the jagged edges of an on-again, off-again relationship.

The Birdcage (1996)

A remake of "La Cage aux Folles," "The Birdcage" stars Robin Williams and Nathan Lane in a hilarious farce. The film follows the escapades of a drag club owner and his partner as they try to appear conservative for their son’s potential in-laws.

The Watermelon Woman (1996)

Cheryl Dunye’s "The Watermelon Woman" holds the distinction of being the first feature film by an out Black lesbian filmmaker. The film follows a young Black lesbian working in a video store, fighting to get her dream project made.

To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar (1995)

To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar

"To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar" is a sheer delight, featuring Patrick Swayze, Wesley Snipes, and John Leguizamo in drag. The film’s uproarious road trip, brimming with bawdy humor and iconic cameos, makes it a beloved entry in queer cinema.

Heavenly Creatures (1994)

Peter Jackson’s dark psychological drama, "Heavenly Creatures," explores the intense relationship between two girls turning violent. Anchored by breakout performances from Kate Winslet and Melanie Lynskey, the film delves into the imaginary worlds constructed by queer youth.

Orlando (1992)

Sally Potter’s "Orlando" brings Virginia Woolf’s classic novel to brilliant visual life. Starring Tilda Swinton, the film explores the life of a British aristocrat who changes genders and lives for centuries, becoming a timeless queer classic.

Edward II (1991)

Derek Jarman’s radical adaptation of Christopher Marlowe’s history play, "Edward II," draws parallels between a medieval king and the vibrant spirit of gay life in ’90s London. The film features innovative time-hopping and a cameo by Annie Lennox, creating a unique queer cinematic experience.

My Own Private Idaho (1991)

Gus Van Sant’s "My Own Private Idaho" has become a cult classic, celebrated for the magnetism and beauty of its leads, River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves. The film, a poignant retelling of Shakespeare’s Henry IV, unfolds a heartbreaking ode to young love.

Paris Is Burning (1990)

"Paris Is Burning" provides a rare window into the world of ballroom culture, offering insights into the challenges faced by a marginalized community. The documentary balances funny, fabulous spirit with profound reflections on race, class, poverty, and the AIDS crisis.

Looking For Langston (1989)

Isaac Julien’s "Looking for Langston" serves as a powerful celebration of the Harlem Renaissance and queer Black pioneers in American literary history. The dream-like and exquisitely beautiful portrait explores desire and the artistic impulse, shedding light on pivotal figures in queer history.

Torch Song Trilogy (1988)

Harvey Fierstein’s "Torch Song Trilogy" adapts his Tony-winning play into a compelling comedy-drama. The film follows a drag queen named Arnold, navigating three distinct phases of his life between 1971 and 1980, portraying a fiercely affecting exploration of love and identity.

Maurice (1987)

"Ismail Merchant and James Ivory were the perfect people to adapt E.M. Forster’s Maurice." This epic gay love story, written in the 1910s, unfolds through ravishing visuals. The film beautifully captures the mutual attraction, societal constraints, and eventual love between Maurice and Alec Scudder.

Desert Hearts (1985)

In this classic lesbian cinema, a professor navigating divorce embarks on a sultry affair with a young female sculptor. "Desert Hearts" explores themes of love, desire, and self-discovery, making it an absolute must-watch for lovers of queer film.

A Bigger Splash (1973)

"A Bigger Splash" presents a fascinating portrait of artist David Hockney and his social circle in 1970s London. Combining documentary elements with racy fantasy sequences, the film offers rare visibility into London’s real-life queer community.

Pink Narcissus (1971)

James Bidgood’s influential arthouse film, "Pink Narcissus," enchants with its kitschy visuals and hallucinogenic sexual fantasies. While its plot may take a backseat, the film’s outrageously stylish presentation has secured its place as an underground classic.

Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971)

Closing our exploration is "Sunday Bloody Sunday," a film that intertwines the lives of two individuals in a love triangle. The complex narrative offers a nuanced portrayal of relationships, challenging societal norms and expectations.

"The 50 Best Queer Movies of All Time" showcase the diversity, complexity, and brilliance of LGBTQ+ narratives in cinema. From heart-wrenching dramas to uproarious comedies, each film on this list contributes to the rich tapestry of queer storytelling, leaving an enduring impact on audiences across the globe.

Dive Deeper into The 50 Best Queer Movies of All Time with Themed Questions

Are Queer Films Mutable?

In the evolving landscape of queer cinema, the question of mutability becomes central. Does the essence of queer films lie in the groundbreaking narratives of the emerging era, where major studios actively contribute to the portrayal of LGBTQ+ stories on screen? Films such as Barry Jenkins’s Oscar-winning "Moonlight" signify a shift in mainstream recognition. However, the true enchantment of queer film lies in its inherent mutability—the ability to adapt, redefine, and reflect the diverse spectrum of LGBTQ+ experiences.

What Is the Best LGBTQ+ Film of All Time?

Expressing pride in the poll conducted for the Fest’s 30th edition, Carol emerges victorious as the top LGBTQ+ film. It shares this prestigious acknowledgment with beloved films like Brokeback Mountain, Un Chant d’Amour, Happy Together, and My Own Private Idaho—a testament to the rich tapestry of LGBTQ+ cinema that captivates audiences and stands the test of time.

How Many LGBTQ Films Are There?

In celebration of LGBTQ Pride Month, we spotlight 50 indispensable LGBTQ films. This curated selection spans the spectrum, encompassing everything from comedies and dramas to documentaries, cult classics, underground experimental pieces, and studio blockbusters. Explore the diverse world of LGBTQ cinema with these essential titles.

What Are the Greatest Gay Movies Ever Made?

In collaboration with LGBTQ+ cultural trailblazers and Time Out writers, we’ve curated a definitive list of the most exceptional gay films in cinematic history. Crafted by Cath Clarke, Dave Calhoun, Tom Huddleston, Alim Kheraj, Guy Lodge, Ben Walters, and Matthew Singer. Starting the countdown at 50 is "The Children’s Hour" (1961).

Drama Movies Explore more

  1. The Boys in the Band.
  2. Dance of the Forty One.
  3. Cobalt Blue.
  4. Alaska Is a Drag.
  5. Your Name Engraved Herein.
  6. Memories of a Teenager.
  7. I am Jonas.
  8. Eternal Summer.

Are There Any LGBTQ+ Movies?

  • Broad American comedies like The Birdcage.
  • Artful Korean crime dramas, such as The Handmaiden.
  • Groundbreaking indies like Tangerine.
  • Landmark documentaries, exemplified by Paris Is Burning.
Show More

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