The Top 175 Essential Films of All Time for LGBT Viewers
BY Advocate.com Editors
June 23 2014 7:33 AM ET
101. Fame (1980): It simply couldn’t be an authoritative list of LGBT movies without Fame, a musical film that has gone on to spawn a veritable franchise that includes a popular stage musical, a television show, and a film remake in 2009. Inspired by the real-life New York High School of Performing Arts, Fame follows a group of creatively talented teenagers as they sing, dance, and audition their way through the drama of high school life. One of the main characters, Montgomery, wrestles with being gay and comes out to the school, an important plot that showcases the parallels between a gay man’s and an entertainer’s desire for acceptance. Moreover, songs from the film, like “Fame” and “The Body Electric,” remain radio favorites that have made an indelible impact on popular culture. —D.R.
102. The Rules of Attraction (2002): Based on the acclaimed novel by gay author Bret Easton Ellis, The Rules of Attraction showed a national audience one of the most acute pains of being gay — falling in love with a straight man that can’t reciprocate. As the character of Paul, played by the beautiful Ian Somerhalder, learns, a gay man must tread carefully when navigating these straits, as he experiences first physical abuse for approaching a closeted jock and then emotional torment when he falls for the clueless and straight Sean Bateman, portrayed by James Van Der Beek. For LGBTs, The Rules of Attraction remains a compelling drama for its depiction of the perils of unrequited love on an American college campus. —D.R.
103. Concussion (2013): Often called a lesbian Belle de Jour by critics, in reference to the French film about a young wife who leads a secret life as an escort, Concussion is a marvel of a movie that delves deep into modern-day feminism and the realities of a post–marriage equality world. Kate (Julie Fain Lawrence) and Abby Ableman (Robin Weigert) are married with children in the New Jersey suburbs, when Abby, after an unexpected knock to the head, starts to see the world differently. Under the auspices of renovating a Manhattan apartment, she begins to have sex with other women of a variety of ages for money and pleasure. The experience is one that opens her eyes while simultaneously threatening her long-term relationship with her partner. Beautifully written and directed by first-time filmmaker Stacie Passon and produced by Rose Troche of Go Fish fame, Concussion is a feeling that leaves one reeling. —D.R.
104. Stonewall (1995): This historical dramedy, an adaptation of Martin Duberman’s memoir, tells the story of a group of gay men in the days prior to the Stonewall Riots. Starring a young Fred Weller and a pre-Scandal Guillermo Diaz, Stonewall uses the riots both as subject and setting, primarily focusing on Weller’s Matty Dean and his back-and-forth between his lovers but also featuring details about how the riots came to be. Though the film ends just as the riots are gearing up, the way it builds the pre-Stonewall world is invaluable and makes it a definitive part of LGBT cinema. —K.O.
105. Happy Together (1997): The story of two passionate, on-again-off-again lovers won Best Director for Wong Kar-wai at Cannes. It follows Yiu-Fai and Po-Wing on a trip to Argentina that seems to leave the couple falling apart. On a list of the 50 most essential gay films from Out magazine, playwright Tony Kushner described Happy Together's leading men enthusiastically. "The actors are both brilliant, funny, and terrifically moving, irritating and endearing," he wrote. "They bicker, battle, and make love with complete abandon, and — well, why not say it? — they’re the sexiest gay couple ever filmed." —L.G.
106. We Were Here (2011): We Were Here tackles the epic tale of the early years of AIDS in San Francisco through intimate interviews with five people — four gay men and one straight woman — whose experiences with care giving, research, art, activism and personal loss poignantly illuminate an extraordinary time. The film received rave reviews upon its release and sparked a dialogue between survivors of that era and a younger generation of gay men who are often afraid to ask about the AIDS crisis. Director David Weissman described the making of the film to The Advocate, saying, "We cried pretty much every day in the editing room, but there was a point where we realized we weren’t crying at sadness, we were crying at beauty. Partly the beauty that was being expressed on-screen but partly a realization of what it might generate, the healing capacity of the film." —D.R.
107. Pariah (2011): Pariah, a coming-of-age tale about a 17-year-old black lesbian in Brooklyn, N.Y., is a breakthrough film that is marked by a strong performance from actress Adepero Oduye, who, as the protagonist Alike, explores and eventually embraces her sexuality within an environment where the stakes of such honesty are high. When Alike finally reveals her true self to her parents, the results are both heartbreaking and hopeful. Written and directed by Dee Rees and produced by Spike Lee, Pariah was lauded by critics, who praised how it imbued the familiar narrative of coming out with a freshness and vitality that resonated with audiences regardless of sexual orientation. —D.R.
108. Different for Girls (1996): Childhood best friends meet up again decades later in London after one of them has come out as a transgender woman in this delightful British comedy. Kim (played by Steven Mackintosh, a British TV star perhaps best know to U.S. audiences for his roles in the Underworld and Kick Ass series) now has a nice, tidy life and doesn’t want anything to change it, while handsome and charming Paul (Rupert Graves from Sherlock, who played gay in the 1987 classic Maurice) has a knack for troublemaking. After they reunite unexpectedly, the two are yin and yang, arguing and falling for each other in every other scene, with some hiccups and a major social faux pas along the way. —D.A.M.
109. Tick Tock Lullaby (2007): Lesbian filmmaker Lisa Gornick (who also stars) offered a brilliant look at a lesbian couple’s desire (or decision, really) to procreate, the waning of romanticism around the reality of conception, and the powerful emotions (jealousy, confusion, and more) that surround it. It has some themes that could make you roll your eyes (like the potential of a lesbian having sex with a man) if it weren’t for how skillfully and honestly the film tackles them. —D.A.M.
110. Monster (2003): This list can't just be all sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows. Monster is the gripping tale of serial killer Aileen Wuornos, a lesbian and highway prostitute based in Daytona Beach, Fla., who engages in a killing spree as a means of survival and, sort of, dignity. Monster dives deep into the psyche of one of the first known female serial killers in the United States, and how her dark past influenced her troubled life. The film centers around Wuornos's (Charlize Theron) relationship with a young woman named Shelby, played by Christina Ricci. Interestingly, the film flips the trope of prostitutes on its head by making the truck-driving johns the victims, instead of the women who put themselves in harm's way in often desperate situations. This movie will definitely leave you feeling disturbed. —M.G.
111. Law of Desire (1987): Out auteur Pedro Almodóvar’s primary-colored early masterpiece captures the energy of Spain’s La Movida with the kinky verve that is his raison d’être. The 1987 film tells the tale of a gay filmmaker (Eusebio Poncela) who meets and deflowers the beautiful young Antonio (an unreasonably gorgeous Antonio Banderas). As things often go in the Almodovar world, Antonio becomes obsessed with Pablo and he becomes bent on destroying Pablo’s long-term lover, which leads to disaster. One of Almodovar’s favorite leading ladies, Carmen Maura (Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown) plays Pablo’s transgender sister Tina, who has a whole host of issues of her own. Murder, incest, rape, suicide, and revenge — Law of Desire not only dismantles the horrific by-products of a patriarchal society but serves as a template of sorts for Almodóvar films to follow. And despite the ugliness of some of the plot points, he imbues the film with moments of true tenderness, humor, and beauty. —T.E.G.
112. Kissing Jessica Stein (2001): Dating in any city can make you feel hopeless when it's just not going well. After a string of awful dates, Jessica Stein (Jennifer Westfeldt) finds herself intrigued by a personal ad placed by art gallerist Helen Cooper (Heather Juergensen). At first, it's all fireworks, and their relationship advances rapidly. While her relationship with Helen wanes, Jessica's flailing, neurotic nature eventually falls away, and a more confident Jessica emerges, with a goal to find true happiness on her own terms. By no means is it a model lesbian movie — in fact, the film is a more honest look at bisexuality and sexual fluidity — but it is certainly a movie that encourages exploration and self-awareness. —M.G.
113. Stranger Inside (2001): Cheryl Dunye’s riveting small film was much better than its male-centric blockbuster counterparts. In it, Treasure (played by Yolonda Ross), who is in juvie, learns her bio mom is in prison, so she gets in trouble in order to reunite with her mother. Once there she meets her mom, a tough named Brownie (a fiercely perfect Davenia McFadden), with a prison family that includes Kit (Rain Phoenix) and a vibrant drug trade. A lot of scary prison shit happens, with some genuinely tragic turns and an ending you won't forget. —D.A.M.
114. Mambo Italiano (2003): Dubbed "My Big Fat Gay Wedding" by Roger Ebert, Mambo Italiano is a 2003 Canadian comedy that captures the delicate dance that can come with coming out to family — particularly for Italians. This is the challenge presented to Angelo (Luke Kirby), whose parents are Italian immigrants dead set on him marrying a woman. He surprises them in this regard but must also help his boyfriend, a closeted policeman, through his own coming out to his Sicilian mother. While the plot falls short of pitch-perfect, Mambo Italiano is a beloved comedy among LGBT sons and daughters of immigrants, who can relate to and find some laugh therapy in the struggles of these gay first-generation Italian men. —D.R.
115. Yossi & Jagger (2002): Perhaps one of the most praised films to deal with love and war is Yossi & Jagger, an Israeli romantic drama. The Hebrew-language movie follows Yossi (Ohad Knoller), a military commander who has a clandestine romance with one of his soldiers, Lior, nicknamed “Jagger” for his luscious lips and similarity in appearance to the American rock star. They are interrupted in their secret affair by the arrival of two female soldiers, who are unaware of their inclinations and begin a process of seduction that threatens to tear the lovers apart. And eventually, the consequences of war take their own pound of flesh. Directed by Eytan Fox, Yossi & Jagger was acclaimed in its native country and again in the United States, where Knoller was named Best Actor at Tribeca for his performance as the heartsick military leader who longed to hear the words that confirmed that his love reciprocated his affections. —D.R.
116. Poison (1991): Todd Haynes's trio of stories was loosely based on stories by Jean Genet, including Our Lady of the Flowers and The Miracle of the Rose. They look at a 7-year-old who kills his abusive father, then flies away; a scientist who isolates "the elixir of human sexuality" and takes it with dire results; and a prison love story between two men who knew each other as young boys. Haynes, who had previously directed The Karen Carpenter Story using a cast of Barbie dolls, always showed an original vision and was considered one of the founders of the New Queer film movement of the '90s. —C.H.
117. Rebecca (1940): The title character is dead before the story begins, but she haunts everyone in this film, Alfred Hitchcock's U.S. debut, adapted from a Daphne Du Maurier novel. Rebecca was the beautiful and brilliant first wife of British aristocrat Maxim de Winter (Laurence Olivier), and the second Mrs. De Winter (Joan Fontaine) fears she'll never quite measure up — especially since ice-queen housekeeper Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson) makes clear how much she resents the new wife's presence. It is also clear that "Danny" was in love with Rebecca, and Rebecca may have reciprocated. The film offers plenty of suspense and a shattering conclusion, with good performances from all, including George Sanders, more heterosexual than in All About Eve but still deliciously caddish as Rebecca's cousin and sometime lover. —T.R.
118. The Hunger (1983): Vogue vampires! Once in a while a film comes out that is so cool, and so drop dead chic that it changes everything. Catherine Deneuve was already a lesbian icon (Deneuve Magazine was founded in 1990 and now publishes under the name Curve). Deneuve and David Bowie play urban vampires who trawl downtown clubs at night for fresh blood victims. The problem is Bowie is starting to disintegrate, so Miriam seeks help from gerontologist, Dr. Sarah Roberts (Susan Sarandon). Her subtle power and the seduction scenes with Sarandon blew everybody's mind. —C.H.
119. The Ritz (1976): The Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night director Richard Lester brought writer Terrence McNally’s (Love! Valour! Compassion!) ultra-zany Broadway farce about a straight man hiding out from his mobster brother-in-law in a gay bathhouse to the big screen. Jack Weston stars as Gaetano, the man on the run from the homicidal Carmine Vespucci (a wonderfully rabid Jerry Stiller). While at the Ritz, Gaetano encounters a wacky cast of camp characters that includes a young F. Murray Abraham as his swim-trunk-clad de facto guide and Rita Moreno as the Broadway wannabe cabaret singer Googie Gomez (Moreno won the Tony for the role on Broadway). Treat Williams and Kaye Ballard round out the excellent cast. The Ritz’s embrace of camp stereotypes, straight men in drag, and gay “chubby chasers” could be deemed offensive by a modern audience, but in its day, that’s just what gave it a certain joyous freedom rarely depicted in film at the time. —T.E.G.
120. What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962): Joan Crawford and Bette Davis star in the greatest sister movie of all time. The 30 years of rivalry between the two that led up to this Oscar-winning film added fuel to both the performances and the pre-release gossip. Imitated and quoted by generations of gay men, the film spawned a sordid nest of gothic thrillers casting Golden Age stars in their golden years. Aside from the deep purple camp, it’s an excellent film. Heartbreaking and tragic, it also has a feminist edge regarding what Hollywood does to women. “But ya are, Blanche.” —C.H.
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