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!"



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61. Better Than Chocolate (1999): This Canadian production resonated with audiences thanks to its sexy leads and light touch, coming off off as just another enjoyable romantic comedy, save for a lesbian twist. High jinks ensue when a young woman tries to keep her visiting mother and brother from her new female lover, but things turn out just fine in the end. In the days of Boys Don't Cry, LGBT audiences were hungry for a queer love story that didn't end tragically, and Better Than Chocolate delivered. And who can forget that sexy yet strange body-painting scene? —N.B.

62. Jeffrey (1995): Featuring a star-studded cast that included Steven Weber, Michael T. Weiss, Bryan Batt, and Patrick Stewart, Jeffrey provided an inspiring message and an honest examination of dating, romance, and lasting relationships for gay men in the time of AIDS. —J.P.




63. La Cage aux Folles (1978): Leave it to the French and Italians to take the subject of homophobia and skewer it with a hilarious farce. A mainstay at big-city art houses and small-town video stores for most of the '80s, the European film production of La Cage tells the story of a gay St. Tropez couple, Renato and Albin, trying to play straight for the girlfriend of Renato's son and her conservative family. There's no shortage of stereotypes in the movie, based on a play and later remade into a Broadway musical and then the film The Birdcage, but everyone's a target. Most importany, Renato and Albin come off as lovable and very much in love. —N.B.

64. Rope (1948): Another example (see also Strangers on a Train) of Alfred Hitchcock putting one over on the Hollywood censors. Farley Granger and John Dall play an obviously gay couple who decide to murder a friend just to prove they can (there are echoes of the Leopold-Loeb case in the film), and they expect to get away with it. No, the gay characters aren't likable or admirable, but not every movie has to have role models. The film is known for its technical expermentation, with Hitch shooting in long, continuous takes, but that's really less important than the excellent characterizations, including James Stewart out of nice-guy mode as the couple's former professor, and the director's signature macabre humor, with the couple holding a cocktail party for the victim's friends and family while his body's in a trunk in the same room. —T.R.

65. The Children's Hour (1961): Not a positive consideration of lesbianism but a historically significant one. Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine run an exclusive girls' school, and a bratty student starts a rumor that they're lovers. This being a 1961 film of a 1934 play (by Lillian Hellman), the rumor is devastating and the consequences tragic. The stars are appealing and their performances excellent, but the movie will most likely enrage you. Still, it's an important example of how even the intimation of homosexuality was depicted in a less enlightened age. —T.R.

66. To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar (1995): At a time when LGBT representation was primarily reserved for independent and art films, Universal Pictures brought the battle against homophobia to the mainstream with To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar. The adventures of three drag queens who find themselves stranded in a small town after their car breaks down on a cross-country trip starred Hollywood hunks Wesley Snipes, Patrick Swayze, and John Leguizamo. The star power of the three leading men not only made the film a modest success but also helped usher in a new era for LGBT representation in mainstream movies. —J.P.

67. Beginners (2010): This thoughtful story of a father who, after his wife dies, comes out to their son (Ewan McGregor) was inspired by the real-life experiences of filmmaker Mike Mills. It follows Christopher Plummer, who won an Oscar for the role, as a senior relieved to finally embrace his identity, and who is trying to keep up with a new (and much younger) boyfriend while learning what it means to be gay at age 75, just five years before he would die of cancer. All of a sudden dad is writing political letters and even tries out a gay club. Why not?  —Lucas Grindley

68. Velvet Goldmine (1998): There are glam bisexuals and gays, a sometimes confusing style, and a top-notch cast in director Todd Haynes's '70s-era drama, said to be based loosely on David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust period. Areporter played by Christian Bale goes in search of a former glam-rock star, Slade (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) by interviewing his former lover Curt (Ewan McGregor) and ex-wife Mandy (Toni Collette), and the film recounts their stories in a haphazard series of vignettes. —D.A.M.

69. Rent (2005): We know there’s nothing that can compare to the powerful impact of seeing Rent performed live onstage. But for those of us who weren’t able to see the iconic AIDS musical on the Great White Way, the 2005 feature film brought the passion, heartbreak, and inspiration of living for “No Day But Today” into our Midwestern movie theaters. And since the film featured six of the actors who originated the roles on Broadway, being in the theater was like having a front-row seat for one of the longest-running and most powerful shows ever to grace that famous thoroughfare. —S.B.

70. The Broken Hearts Club (2000): A cute comedy about a group of everyday gay men in West Hollywood from out director Greg Berlanti, creator of Everwood and Arrow, based on him and his friends. Some great actors are in the cast, including Timothy Olyphant, Zach Braff, and Dean Cain, but the best is Frasier star John Mahoney, who plays an older restaurant owner who serves as mentor, friend, and father figure, totally debunking the chickenhawk sterotype. The comic ordinariness of the movie — after decades of films about coming out, loss, and angst — turns out to be its biggest strength. —D.A.M.

71. Bent (1997): A beautiful love story set in a devastating place, Bent is about two men who fall in love in a concentration camp. Starring Clive Owen and Ian McKellan among others, and based on a play, it won the 1997 Prize of the Youth at the Cannes Film Festival. It's a horrific reminder that among the prisoners locked away and killed during the Holocaust were those wearing pink triangles — where that tragic symbol originated. At the start of the story, Owen's character strikes a deal to wear a yellow star reserved for those who are Jewish but eventually dons the pink triangle with pride. —L.G.

72. The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999): Adapted from the 1955 novel by Patricia Highsmith and directed by Anthony Minghella, The Talented Mr. Ripley, much like its protagonist, manages to be both beguiling and terrifying in its portrayal of a man trying to rise from his lowly social station through deception and charm. Tom Ripley’s (Matt Damon) desire to be among the upper crust, exemplified by a couple portrayed with WASPy ease by Gwyneth Paltrow and Jude Law, frequently overlaps into his sexual longing for the character played by Law, who has never looked handsomer as a selfish scion. The Talented Mr. Ripley is an essential film for LGBTs because it understands with cutting acumen the yearning to belong as well as the life-and-death consequences that can come from revealing a secret. The movie also contains a brief but stellar performance from the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, who in his wry portrayal of the social gatekeeper Freddie Miles (“Tommy, Tommy, Tommy…”) steals every scene he's in. —D.R.

73. Dallas Buyers Club (2013): Sure, it has its critics, some of who see the transgender character as a tired trope, and some who feel that because it focuses on a straight man (who in real life may not have been so straight), Dallas Buyers Club de-gayed the early years of the AIDS epidemic — when the concept of “living with HIV” was nonexistent — as well as the impact of gay men who fought the makers of AZT, set up buyers’ clubs, and died of the disease. But the film stands as a time capsule of those early days as well as an emotional treatise on living and dying fearlessly. Based on the true story of Ron Woodroof, a hard-drinking and drugging rodeo cowboy who tests positive for HIV and must battle the specter of death, a scientific community dragging its feet, and his redneck buddies who, like him, are homophobic. He must learn to navigate a world of gay and transgender people, those who he begrudgingly befriends and finds support from when he begins importing medications from Mexico that he thinks will treat HIV better than AZT. As Woodroof, Oscar-winner Matthew McConaughey is pure revelation, so immersed in the role that the Kaposi’s sarcoma lesions, the sweat, and the emaciation (he lost 60 pounds for the role) seem as real on him as they were on friends who were dying all around you in 1989. Fellow Oscar-winner Jared Leto, as a trans woman who serves as the heart and soul of the film, is similarly captivating. —D.A.M.

74. Showgirls (1995): The movie that simultaneously launched and killed the film career of Elizabeth Berkley may have bombed at the box office, but it quickly grabbed the attention of LGBT fans — who enjoyed the film as much for its campy, over-the-top performances as the sexual tension between Berkley’s Nomi Malone and Gina Gershon’s Cristal Connors. Now considered a queer cult classic, Showgirls has enjoyed a second life largely due to the film’s sizable LGBT following and can still be seen at event screenings hosted by groups of drag queens in theaters throughout the country. —J.P.

75. Some Like It Hot (1959): "Why would a guy want to marry a guy?" "Security!" OK, Billy Wilder's comedy of cross-dressing is from an era when no one thought that someday same-sex marriage would be accepted, but it's a gender-bending masterpiece nonetheless. Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis play Roaring Twenties musicians who must go on the lam after they witness a gangland slaying, so they disguise themselves as women and join an all-female orchestra. While in drag, Lemmon's character attracts a wealthy male suitor (veteran comic Joe E. Brown). It's hilarious fun as well as a little subversive, and it also features Marilyn Monroe at her most pulchritudinous. By the way, the film's famous last line, "Nobody's perfect" (to avoid spoilers, we won't tell you the context), is engraved on Wilder's gravestone. —T.R.

76. Were the World Mine (2008): If only there were a magic potion that lets you make your neighbors gay, then maybe they'd finally understand what it's like to be us. Scoring a hit at Outfest, filmmaker Thomas Gustafson makes that dream happen for a fictional homophobic town as one high school student discovers the power to turn people gay. While playing the mischevious Puck in a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream (naturally), he teaches the town about falling in love, without labels. —L.G.


77. Far From Heaven (2002): Gay writer-director Todd Haynes pays worthy homage to the 1950s melodramas of Douglas Sirk. Julianne Moore is exquisite as a suburban housewife whose life is upended when she discovers her husband (Dennis Quaid) is gay, and she finds herself attracted to a black gardener (Dennis Haysbert). Haynes does it all in the lush Sirk style, while addressing issues that stayed under the radar of '50s films. —T.R.


78. Querelle (1982): Based on Jean Genet's novel Querelle de Brest, this sultry, sexy, surrealistic film was directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, who unfortunately died of an overdose during the editing. Ridiculously sexy Brad Davis stars as Querelle, a sailor who likes to take it rough, so purposefully loses a wager to brutish Nono (played by Fassbinder’s real-life ex), and Nono takes Querelle's ass as his winnings. It was freighted by bad reviews on release but now has a trapped-in-amber charm. Jeanne Moreau sings the title song endlessly, with lyrics by Oscar Wilde. The camp is dry, and the sky stays at a permanent golden dusk. Jean Cocteau would approve. —C.H.

79. The Crying Game (1992): The film is a bit misunderstood, in large part due to the amount of parody “the twist” received after it hit theaters (Ace Ventura might be the most famous example). But looking more closely, it emerges as a pretty meaningful story of an IRA member (Stephen Rea), his prisoner (Forest Whitaker), and the woman he promises to protect (Jaye Davidson). It’s complex and nuanced as it tackles race, gender, and sexuality, and though it would be more groundbreaking had it flipped the film’s subjectivity around, the film at best offered up not what “should” happen but what too often “does” happen when straight men realize their own ideas about gender are wrong. (See Boys Don’t Cry for another example of the same thing.) —D.A.M.

80. In & Out (1997): The first big blockbuster comedy about coming out (unless you count Mr. Wrong, which is a read-between-the-lines allegory of Ellen's coming-out), this Frank Oz popcorn flick is famous for the (then-groundbreaking) 10-second kiss between Kevin Kline and Tom Selleck, both big stars at the time. The film is inspired by Tom Hanks's real-life Oscar speech in which he thanked his gay high school drama teacher. In this one, Kline plays the teacher who is outed by a former student at the Oscars, only it's news to him. But something about it inspires him to reevaluate, and it's not just hunky Tom Selleck. Laughs ensue. It's the type of gay movie you can watch with your grandparents. —D.A.M.

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