The Top 175 Essential Films of All Time for LGBT Viewers

What is the most essential movie ever for LGBT viewers? There can be only one. We've made our pick, and now you can vote on Facebook and Twitter in a "Clash of the Classics!"

BY Advocate.com Editors

June 23 2014 6:33 AM ET

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21. My Beautiful Laundrette (1985): Combining racism, class issues, and gay love in one sudsy mix sounds like a recipe for heavy-handed treacle, but Stephen Frears's My Beautiful Laundrette is as entertaining as it is culturally resonant. The story of a Pakistani man and a street punk falling in love, challenging the conventions of Thatcher-era London, and classing up a laundromat in the way only gay men can do, My Beautiful Laundrette was immediately met with praise and its screenplay nominated for an Oscar. The film's punk was played by the brilliant Daniel Day-Lewis, while director Frears is still on a roll, recently Oscar-nominated for Philomena. —N.B.

22. The Times of Harvey Milk (1984): Before there was Milk, there was The Times of Harvey Milk. While the dramatized version offers a wonderful portrayal of the political trailblazer, there's nothing quite like getting to know the real man, as we do via archival footage in Robert Epstein's remarkable documentary, released just six years after Milk's assassination. There are also numerous interviews with people who knew him, demonstrating how many lives he touched and changed. Harvey Fierstein narrates this deserving Oscar winner. —T.R.

23. The Wizard Of Oz (1939): It’s no wonder that gay men have referred to one another as “Friends of Dorothy” for three quarters of a century. From the moment Judy Garland sings “Over the Rainbow” on a gray Kansas tractor, LGBTs found a heroine, one who so beautifully articulates an anthem for those yearning for “a place where there isn’t any trouble.” Her journey into the Technicolor Land of Oz, which so thrilled audiences in 1939, still continues to enchant both young and old. And while her friends the Lion, the Tin Man, and the Scarecrow may look like a motley crew, their quest for intelligence, courage, heart, and home is one that continues to resonate with and inspire the LGBT rights movement. —Daniel Reynolds

24. Auntie Mame (1958): Rosalind Russell as everybody's favorite naughty aunt. Little orphaned Patrick Dennis comes to live with his drinky, amorous, wealthy Auntie Mame. LGBT subjects are alluded to coyly — it was 1958, after all — but the core of the story is about conservatives objecting to Auntie Mame's "lifestyle." It's visually splendid, packed with great character performances, but you may want to strangle little Patrick by the second act. "Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death!" Be warned: The 1974 musical version Mame, starring Lucille Ball, is a sad disaster. —C.H.

25. Torch Song Trilogy (1988): This superlative early gay film was adapted from the three-part play of the same name by Harvey Feinstein, and centers around his character, Arnold, a shamelessly swishy Jewish drag performer who navigates New York's gay scene, finds love (with Matthew Broderick, at the height of his youthful fame), fights with his mom (Anne Bancroft), and adopts a teen. It's both hilarious and tragic; some moments are at once sad and sentimental and funny. —D.A.M.

 

26. Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001): In this multi-award-winning new cult classic, a trans front woman of an East German punk rock band tells her life story in song form, of falling in love with an American soldier, getting a botched gender surgery (hence the "angry inch"), and of being left for another man. It's less TransAmerica and more Rocky Horror, but John Cameron Mitchell, who wrote and directed it, is smashing in the title role. —D.A.M.

 

27. Latter Days (2003): Long before the South Park team took on The Book of Mormon, gay writer-director and former Mormon C. Jay Cox explored the damage done to families by the antigay attitudes within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints with his ultimately sweet film Latter Days. Sure, the film falls into some classic rom-com tropes — the closeted Mormon missionary moves to Los Angeles, where he encounters the sassy, out actor-turned-waiter ironically named Christian in a predictable laundry room meet-cute — but the performances turned in, especially by Steve Sandvoss as the conflicted missionary, are honest and powerful. Keep an eye out for scene-stealing supporting actors like Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Elder Paul Ryder, Rebekah Johnson as Christian’s musician roomie Julie Taylor, and even Jacqueline Bisset and Amber Benson. —S.B.

28. Trick (1999): A quintessential film for a generation of gay men, 1999’s Trick took a lighthearted look at the pleasures and pitfalls of one-night stands as Gabriel (Christian Campbell) and Mark (John Paul Pitoc) discover that hooking up in Manhattan isn’t as easy as it looks and romance can blossom at the most unexpected times. —J.P.

 

 

29. Shelter (2008): Jonah Markowitz’s gay-surfers-in-love movie Shelter is a sweet, sexy, sun-soaked valentine to true love and family values. Zach (Trevor Wright), who has pushed his art-school dreams aside to take care of his selfish deadbeat sister, Jeanne (Tina Holmes), and her 5-year-old son, Cody. Zach gets knocked out of his funk — and his closet — when his best friend’s hunky older brother, Shaun (Brad Rowe), a disillusioned Hollywood screenwriter, retreats to his family’s beach house to try to get his mojo back. They hang. They surf. They fall in love. They’re Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello without the chastity. —The Advocate in 2008

30. The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975): Nearly every slightly off-kilter high school student in America who rolls with the drama club crowd could say that this film was essential to their upbringing and their appreciation of sexual exploration, camp, and absurdity. This musical has so many things: a satire of ridiculous B-movies, fun with fishnets and heels, insane science fiction, artsy weirdness, and unabashed sexuality. And it's chock-full of very catchy, fun music. —M.G.

 

31. Capote (2005): The late Philip Seymour Hoffman handily won the Academy Award for his portrayal of the literary world’s enfant terrible Truman Capote in the 2005 biopic. The film shines a light on Capote’s life just as he was beginning research on his true-crime masterpiece In Cold Blood, about the 1959 Clutter family murders in Kansas. Director Bennett Miller’s movie focused on Capote’s unhealthy attachment to one of the killers, Perry Smith (Clifton Collins Jr.), whom Capote visited in prison. The supporting cast includes a pitch-perfect Catherine Keener as Capote’s dear friend, To Kill a Mockingbird author Harper Lee. Chris Cooper, Bruce Greenwood, Amy Ryan, Mark Pellegrino, and Bob Balaban round out the superb cast. While Hoffman was physically much larger than Capote, he nailed the role of a lifetime, imbuing him with complicated pathos as a writer who obliterated boundaries for his story. —Tracy E. Gilchrist

32. The Women (1939): Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, and Rosalind Russell head up an amazing cast of dozens of the greatest female actors of the late '30s. And not one man. Anita Loos added zip to Clare Booth Luce's stage script about the savage backstabbing and mercenary marriages of the Park Avenue set. The zingers race by so fast it demands multiple viewings to savor every barb. Before gay people had films of their own to reflect them, films like this were iconic touchstones. If you heard a man quoting the film, you knew you were among friends. If you want to stay friends with us, don't mention the 2008 version. —C.H.

33. The Wedding Banquet (1993): Before Brokeback Mountain, there was The Wedding Banquet, director Ang Lee’s first film to deal with LGBT themes. Notable as the first film of Taiwanese origin to positively depict an interracial gay couple, The Wedding Banquet is a groundbreaking comedy of errors that centers on a Taiwanese-American who is afraid to come out to his traditional family. In order to placate his relatives, he hides his long-term relationship with a man and makes plans to marry a woman — a plot that, as in many real-life instances, fails miserably. A nominee for Best Foreign Film at the Golden Globes and the Academy Awards, The Wedding Banquet has withstood the test of time as a film that tackles the perennial and often thorny issues that come with the collision of love and family. —D.R.

34. My Own Private Idaho (1991): Gay director Gus Van Sant's meandering story follows River Phoenix, who plays Mike, a troubled gay street hustler, and his best friend (played by Keanu Reeves) from the streets of Portland to Seattle to Italy and Idaho. Along the way, the film explores love and loss, betrayal and the street life a lot of LGBT kids find themselves in. It's a bit of a gay Easy Rider and a must-see; poignant, emotional, frustrating, and don't expect a happy ending. —D.A.M.

35. Big Eden (2000): In this romantic dramedy, one of the more underrated gay films, Arye Gross (from the sitcom Ellen) plays Henry, a gay New York artist who has to go back to his hometown of Eden, Mont., to care for his ailing grandfather. But it differs from other “homecoming” stories in that Henry’s openly gay and the people in his hometown are not only tolerant of that, some of them are downright supportive (it’s a superb gay fantasy vehicle for anyone who ever left a rural community and dreams of going home). Even better, as Henry deals with his unrequited high school crush, Pike, a quiet Native American shopkeeper (played expertly by Eric Schweig) is falling in love with him. —D.A.M.

36. Strangers on a Train (1951): Alfred Hitchcock was not only the master of suspense, he was the master of getting taboo subjects past the censors in the days of Hollywood's Production Code. It's impossible to miss the sexual tension between tennis player Guy (Farley Granger) and man of leisure Bruno (Robert Walker) from the moment their fashionably shod feet brush together in a train's club car. Guy wants to be free of his wife, while Bruno despises his father, so Bruno proposes that the two commit murders for each other. That sets in motion a film that offers plenty of suspense along with the homoeroticism, plus marvelous Hitchcockian set pieces and well-used D.C. scenery. It's one of Hitch's best, and Walker, usually cast in more lightweight roles, is a revelation as the sinister Bruno. Sadly, Walker died the year the movie was released; he was only 32 years old. —T.R.

37. Transamerica (2005): This award-winning film, starring Felicity Huffman in an Oscar-nominated performance as transgender woman Bree, admittedly doesn’t get everything right when it comes to portraying a fully developed trans character on the big screen. For starters, Huffman is a cisgender (nontrans) woman, whose character discovers that she fathered a son who is now a teenage runaway living in New York. Cue the trans-as-surprise-twist critique. But the film, which had trans woman and vocal coach Andrea James as a consulting producer, was a substantial step forward in mainstream visibility for transgender characters, and remains an accessible way to introduce folks wholly unfamiliar with the concept of gender identity to a sympathetic depiction of some of the struggles that come from seeking an authentic life. —S.B.

38. Another Country (1984): Never has homosexual repression in the British public school system (think Eton) looked quite as beautiful as in director Marek Kanievska’s 1984 big-screen version of Julian Mitchell’s period play of the same name. Based in the 1930s, the film stars a young, gorgeous Rupert Everett as Guy Bennett, an unrepentant gay student who challenges authority, an equally stunning Colin Firth as a budding Marxist, and Cary Elwes as Bennett’s delicious love interest. The film explores burgeoning desire, gay panic in the era, progressive politics, and class war against the backdrop of academia, which is just about everything one can hope for in a movie. —T.E.G.

39. Victor/Victoria (1982): Julie Andrews and James Garner star in this feel-good picture made for a mainstream market that addresses gender, homophobia, and the place of women in society — in song! Set in the 1930s and directed by Andrews’s husband, the extremely gay-friendly Blake Edwards, this farce centers on Andrews as Victoria Grant passing herself off as a male tenor assisted by her fellow cohort in crime, Robert Preston as gay cabaret singer Carole “Toddy” Todd. Tough guy James Garner, much to his own confusion, falls for the young “man.” Also chagrined is Garner’s moll, played to perfection by Lesley Ann Warren in her naughtiest performance ever. Gender hilarity ensues. —C.H.

40. Get Real (1998): This British film about Steve (Ben Silverstone) and his unexpected romance with the star jock of his prep school, John Dixon (Brad Gorton), may not have broken new ground in 1998, but its sincere portrayal of young love has made this gay romantic coming-of-age story a favorite of LGBT fans for more than 15 years. Based on the play by Patrick Wilde, the film’s story of one young man embracing his sexuality, another rejecting it, and the complications that arise from their feelings for one another provides an honest look at the pain, confusion, and potentially liberating experiences that are found on the road to coming out. —J.P.

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