Just when it seemed as though LGBTQ-themed movies had moved away from the tried-and-true coming-out tale, the romantic teen comedy Love, Simon dropped in theaters this year and proved that coming out is a universal, unifying theme for queer viewers. While few of the films that came before it enjoyed the robust box office Love, Simon earned, there are several coming out at any age stories that helped shaped the narrative for at least a generation of LGBTQ people. In honor of National Coming Out day, from But I’m a Cheerleader to Beginners, here are 15 movies that captured the unique, awkward, emotional act of coming out.
Director Maria Maggenti’s (Puccini for Beginners) semi-autobiographical romantic comedy about first love stars The L Word’s Laurel Holloman as the adorable baby butch outcast Randy Dean, who begins a relationship with her school’s popular girl Evie (Nicole Ari Parker). A crowd-pleaser of a teen movie complete with judgy teenaged female friends who eventually come around, love notes surreptitiously passed in the school hallway, and sharing of Walt Whitman’s poetry, the film, while ultimately about falling in love, is also Evie’s coming-out story to her friends, classmates, and mother.
Two English teen boys fall in love and come out to the music of the Mamas and the Papas in a London suburb where they yearn to escape the reality of schoolyard bullies and one alcoholic dad in the British art-house favorite Beautiful Thing, from director Hettie Macdonald. Jamie (Glen Berry), who lives with his mom, Sandra (Linda Henry), and her new boyfriend, skips out of sporting activities where the other boys bully him. Meanwhile, Ste (Scott Neal) begins crashing at Jamie’s to avoid his troubled family life. Soon the boys realize their mutual attraction and fall in love. The final scene in which Jamie and Ste dance in the courtyard of their apartment complex to “Dream a Little Dream of Me” is a timeless tearjerker.
From the out director of Mudbound and Bessie, Dee Rees’s first feature film, about 17-year-old Alike (Adepero Oduye) coming to terms with being a lesbian in the face of her homophobic mother (Kim Wayans), is often gritty and tough to watch. But Alike finds solace in new crush Bina (South of Nowhere’s Aasha Davis) and in her poetry. While Alike eventually chooses to leave her Brooklyn home and move to Los Angeles, there’s redemption in her embracing her sexuality.
Transgender actors have always been capable of telling their own stories (even if Hollywood wouldn't allow it). As evidenced by trans actors in films like A Fantastic Woman and Assassination Nation, and on TV shows including Pose, Transparent, and The Fosters, there is simply no reason these days to cast a cisgender actor as trans. That said, there aren’t many trans coming out movies starring trans actors. For better or worse, Eddie Redmayne’s turn as Danish painter Lili Erbe offered representation to the community and earned an Oscar nomination, while Alicia Vikander, who played Lili’s wife, Gerda, won the award for Best Supporting Actress.
The film loosely told Lili’s story of being one of the first trans women to seek gender-confirmation surgery, circa the the turn of the 20th century. Amber Heard and Ben Whishaw costar.
Greg Berlanti — gay producer and director extraordinaire behind the CW’s super-queer slate of TV shows from Supergirl to Riverdale — delivered the mainstream coming-out movie LGBTQ audiences have been waiting for with Love, Simon, about a closeted gay teen who falls in love with an anonymous gay boy, “Blue,” via a series of emails. As Simon (Nick Robinson) searches for the identity of his online paramour, he comes to terms with being gay, coming out to his friends and his ultimately supportive family (Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel play his parents) in the romantic comedy that boasts a killer soundtrack.
The film, which costars Katherine Langford, Keiynan Lonsdale, Alexandra Shipp, and Miles Heizer, also manages to keep audiences truly guessing about who “Blue” is and whether or not Simon will ever find him.
This year served up two conversion therapy dramas — Boy Erased and The Miseducation of Cameron Post. But out director Jamie Babbit’s satirical But I’m a Cheerleader, in which Orange Is the New Black’s Natasha Lyonne plays Megan, a lesbian cheerleader sent to a conversion therapy camp run by the very campy Cathy Moriarty and RuPaul (of all people), has been the gold standard of "ex-gay" movies for 18 years. John Waters acolyte Mink Stole costars with Harold and Maude’s Bud Cort as Megan’s parents, who, troubled by her Melissa Etheridge poster and general disinterest in boys, send her off to True Directions, where the girls wear Pepto-Bismol pink and do a deep dive into domesticity while the powder-blue-clad boys learn to chop wood (as it were).
There, Megan falls for resident bad girl Graham (Clea DuVall in the role that squarely landed her on queer girls' radars). Megan and Graham vacillate about their security in their identities throughout the film, but love is a powerful force. And they eventually come out and as a couple in a very public — and adorable — way.
It can’t be stated enough that trans actors should be cast in trans roles. Still, Desperate Housewives star Felicity Huffman turned in an Academy Award-nominated performance as Bree Osbourne, a trans woman who discovers she has a 17-year-old son, Toby (Kevin Zegers).
When the teen calls, looking for his birth father to help spring him from jail, Bree shows up to help, all the while keeping her identity secret. The two embark on a cross-country journey during which they bond and she eventually comes out to him as trans and as his birth father.
The movie gets extra kudos for its theme song, "Travelin' Thru," which Dolly Parton wrote and performed.
Not to be confused with the Hailee Steinfeld starrer released in 2016, this ‘90s indie darling tossed it back to the mid-'80s with a story about an Ohio teen obsessed with New Wave culture — especially Annie Lennox and the Eurythmics. While working at an amusement park in the summer before college, Eric discovers he’s way more into his coworker Rod (Andersen Gabrych) than he is to his devoted girlfriend/best friend, Maggie (Tina Holmes). Luckily, his manager Angie (Lea DeLaria) is on hand to offer sage coming out advice.
In the late aughts, director Shamim Sarif helmed two lesbian-themed projects starring Sheetal Sheth and Lisa Ray: the period piece The World Unseen and the romantic comedy I Can’t Think Straight. In the latter, Ray (Deepa Mehta’s Water) plays Palestinian-born Tala, who’s deep in preparations to marry her fourth fiancé, Hani. She and Sheth’s Leyla (an English woman of Indian descent) meet and send sparks flying at Tala’s cousin’s wedding. From there the women play with their attraction until they finally act on it. Leyla comes out to her parents, while Tala must choose between devotion to Hani and her one true love.
On the heels of Love, Simon, Netflix released its coming-out movie Alex Strangelove from writer-director Craig Johnson this summer. Daniel Doheny plays Alex, a straight-A student with the perfect girlfriend (Madeline Weinstein), who discovers his gay identity when he meets and bonds with an out gay guy, Elliott (Antonio Marziale), at a party. Still, he's going to have to break his girlfriend's heart along the way to his true identity. Daniel Zolghadri and Nik Dodani play Alex’s quirky best friends who accept him no matter what.
Based on director Mike Mills’s (20th Century Women) experience when his father came out at age 75, this film stars the inimitable Christopher Plummer as Hal, a father who comes out to his son Oliver (Ewan McGregor) following the death of Oliver’s mother. The film chart’s Hal’s immersion into the LGBTQ community and finding love with a younger man played by Goran Višnjić, while Oliver opens himself up to love with an alluring French actress played by Mélanie Laurent.
Jawbreaker director Darren Stein’s G.B.F. is the teen coming-out comedy that is part Clueless/part Mean Girls. Faking It’s Michael J. Willett stars as Tanner Daniels, who becomes the object of the prom queen front-runners' attention when they discover that a gay best friend (G.B.F.) is the hottest new accessory. Pretty Little Liars' Sasha Pieterse plays Fawcett, the prom queen to beat. Awkward’s Molly Tarlov, Orange Is the New Black’s Natasha Lyonne, Megan Mullally, Paul Iacono, Jonathan Silverman, and Rebecca Gayheart costar.
A quintessential romantic comedy about queer women, Imagine Me & You is also a coming-out story for Piper Perabo’s Rachel, who meets Game of Thrones star Lena Headey’s out and proud lesbian florist Luce while planning her wedding to good guy Heck (Matthew Goode). The women become friends, but soon, Rachel can’t deny that Luce has aroused in her new feelings about her sexual identity. Rachel struggles to come to terms with her burgeoning queerness while also reckoning the passion she feels for Luce and not wanting to hurt her husband, for whom she doesn’t share the same kind of romantic love.
It may seem like a stretch to call Ismail Merchant and James Ivory’s Maurice, based on the E.M. Forster novel about a turn-of-the-century Englishman who pursues his desire for other men, a “coming-out” story, but that’s essentially the case, as Maurice (James Wilby) risks becoming a pariah in order to stay true to his identity. The film follows Maurice through his days at Cambridge, where he meets and falls deeply in love with Clive (Hugh Grant), who risks losing his upstanding social position if their love affair is exposed. Eventually, Clive marries a woman at the behest of his family, and Maurice seeks treatment for his homosexuality. But when Maurice falls for the working-class Scudder (Rupert Graves), who loves him deeply, Maurice risks it all to be with his love.
There’s a lot more going on in Brian Dannelly’s teen satire about the denizens of a Christian high school than a coming-out story, but it’s definitely the thread that drives the narrative. Jena Malone stars as the good girl Mary, whose boyfriend Dean (Chad Faust) comes out to her while they’re emerged in a swimming pool (a baptism of sorts). Things get really complicated when Mary becomes pregnant after offering Dean her virginity in return for saving him from a life of homosexuality. The fabulous cast includes Mandy Moore, Heather Matarazzo, Patrick Fugit, Macaulay Culkin, Mary-Louise Parker, Martin Donovan, and Eva Amurri.