The last few years have been monumental for LGBTQ-themed films.
In 2013, Blue is the Warmest Color won the Palm d’Or at Cannes; in 2016, Carol earned six Oscar nominations; then in 2017, for the first time in history, an LGBT film took home Best Picture. That film was Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight, and in 2018, Call Me By Your Name also earned a Best Picture nomination. Earlier this year, Twentieth Century Fox released Love, Simon, the first mainstream teenage rom-com to focus on a gay character.
All of these movies stand on the shoulders of dozens of LGBT films that have come before. This list of the top ten films is based on Rotten Tomatoes‘ 150 Best LGBT Movies of All Time, which stretches back almost 90 years to the pioneering German film, Mädchen in Uniform, which was consequently outlawed by the Nazis, and crosses multiple continents, cultures, and genres. If you’d like to see the list in its entirety, click here.
Otherwise, scroll through the top 20 LGBT films in movie history.
20. Paris Is Burning (1991)
Jennie Livingston’s documentary offers a behind-the-scene glimpse at the golden age of New York “Drag Balls” where rival fashion houses come together to celebrate, vogue and compete for bragging rights. Shot between 1985 and 1989, the narrative inter-cuts between individual stories that chronicle the experiences of the African-American and Latino, gay and transgender subculture in a time when the city was consumed by the ideals of wealth and glamour.
19. Law of Desire (1987)
Popular film director Pablo Quintero (Eusebio Poncela) has found a new love in the form of handsome blue-collar Juan (Miguel Molina). Not altogether comfortable with his lifestyle, Juan decides to leave Pablo for a while to contemplate his future. Pablo insists that Juan keep in touch by sending him love letters. Ever the director, he plans to write the letters himself, and have Juan mail them back with his signature. If you think that settles things, you don’t know filmmaker Pedro Almodovar. Among the many plot complications in Law of Desire is Pablo’s subsequent romance with the possessive Antonio (Antonio Banderas, whose “gay kiss” in the film prompted front-page headlines in the Brazilian press), and Pablo’s efforts to film the life story of his sister (Carmen Maura), who started out life as his brother.
18. Longtime Companion (1990)
One of the first films to offer a thoughtful treatment of the AIDS epidemic and its effects on the gay community, Longtime Companion was directed by Norman Rene, who would die of AIDS himself in 1996. The ensemble drama is told through a series of vignettes that begins with the first New York Times report on the mysterious “cancer” that had resulted in the deaths of a growing number of homosexual men and ends eight years later, after the disease has thoroughly and devastatingly affected the movie’s close-knit core group of characters.
17. Mädchen in Uniform (1931)
Inspired by Christa Winsloe’s play Gestern und Heute, Mädchen in Uniform is one of the most memorable and moving of the pre-Hitler German talkies. Hertha Thiele plays a new student in an exclusive girls’ boarding school. Achingly lonely because she feels deserted by her family, Hertha keeps her distance from the rest of the girls. Persecuted for her solitary stance by principal Emilia Unda, Hertha is drawn to her sympathetic teacher Dorothea Wieck. What starts as a friendship blossoms into a romance. While public revelation of this relationship proves disastrous to both student and teacher, it is ultimately the unforgiving principal Unda who suffers most. Mädchen in Uniform was antiseptically remade in 1958, with some of the frankness but little of the honest eroticism of the original.
16. Love, Simon (2018)
Everyone deserves a great love story. But for seventeen-year old Simon Spier it’s a little more complicated: he’s yet to tell his family or friends he’s gay and he doesn’t actually know the identity of the anonymous classmate he’s fallen for online. Resolving both issues proves hilarious, terrifying and life-changing. Directed by Greg Berlanti (Riverdale, The Flash, Supergirl), written by Isaac Aptaker & Elizabeth Berger (This is Us), and based on Becky Albertalli’s acclaimed novel, LOVE, SIMON is a funny and heartfelt coming-of-age story about the thrilling ride of finding yourself and falling in love.
15. La Cage aux Folles (1979)
Renato (Ugo Tognazzi) and Albin (Michel Serrault) are happy that their son, Laurent (Rémi Laurent), is getting married. Unfortunately, the bride’s father (Michel Galabru) is a die-hard conservative — and Renato and Albin are rather conspicuously gay. To ensure that the marriage goes off without a hitch, Albin uses his skills as a drag performer to play mom for a meeting with the in-laws. But, before long, both men learn that playing it straight isn’t as easy as it seems.
14. The Boys in the Band (1970)
Michael (Kenneth Nelson) is hosting a birthday celebration for a pal when he gets an unexpected visit from old friend Alan (Peter White). The problem is, Alan is straight — and extremely straitlaced — and everyone else at the party is gay. Michael hopes to conceal his sexuality from Alan, but this charade doesn’t last. After being outed, Michael turns on Alan, accuses him of being a closeted gay and forces him to partake in a revealing party game that has devastating consequences.
13. All About My Mother (1999)
A Greek saying states that only women who have washed their eyes with tears can see clearly. This saying does not hold true for Manuela. The night a car ran over her son Esteban, Manuela cried until her eyes ran completely dry. Far from seeing clearly, the present and the future become mixed up in darkness. She begins looking for his father who happens to be transgender.
12. The Handmaiden (2016)
With help from an orphaned pickpocket (Kim Tae-ri), a Korean con man (Ha Jung-woo) devises an elaborate plot to seduce and bilk a Japanese woman (Kim Min-hee) out of her inheritance.
11. Tangerine (2015)
After hearing that her boyfriend/pimp cheated on her while she was in jail, a hooker and her best friend set out to find him and teach him and his new lover a lesson.
10. The Crying Game (1992)
Irish Republican Army member Fergus (Stephen Rea) forms an unexpected bond with Jody (Forest Whitaker), a kidnapped British soldier in his custody, despite the warnings of fellow IRA members Jude (Miranda Richardson) and Maguire (Adrian Dunbar). Jody makes Fergus promise he’ll visit his girlfriend, Dil (Jaye Davidson), in London, and when Fergus flees to the city, he seeks her out. Hounded by his former IRA colleagues, he finds himself increasingly drawn to the enigmatic, and surprising, Dil.
9. Dallas Buyers Club (2013)
In mid-1980s Texas, electrician Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey) is stunned to learn that he has AIDS. Though told that he has just 30 days left to live, Woodroof refuses to give in to despair. He seeks out alternative therapies and smuggles unapproved drugs into the U.S. from wherever he can find them. Woodroof joins forces with a fellow AIDS patient (Jared Leto) and begins selling the treatments to the growing number of people who can’t wait for the medical establishment to save them.
8. Victim (1961)
In its time, this movie was considered as daring a film as had ever been made in England. Dirk Bogarde plays a lawyer who agrees to defend a friend on a theft charge. What set this film apart is that the lawyer had once been his client’s gay lover.
7. BPM (2017)
Nathan is a young man who joins an AIDS activist group in 1990s Paris. As he attends the weekly meetings, he learns that some members prefer a more radical approach to their protests.
6. Milk (2008)
In 1972, Harvey Milk (Sean Penn) and his then-lover Scott Smith leave New York for San Francisco, with Milk determined to accomplish something meaningful in his life. Settling in the Castro District, he opens a camera shop and helps transform the area into a mecca for gays and lesbians. In 1977 he becomes the nation’s first openly gay man elected to a notable public office when he wins a seat on the Board of Supervisors. The following year, Dan White (Josh Brolin) kills Milk in cold blood.
5. God’s Own Country (2017)
Johnny Saxby (Josh O’Connor) works long hours in brutal isolation on his family’s remote farm in the north of England. He numbs the daily frustration of his lonely existence with nightly binge-drinking at the local pub and casual sex. When a handsome Romanian migrant worker (Alec Secareanu) arrives to take up temporary work on the family farm, Johnny suddenly finds himself having to deal with emotions he has never felt before. An intense relationship forms between the two which could change Johnny’s life forever.
4. A Fantastic Woman (2018)
Marina and Orlando are in love and planning for the future. Marina is a young waitress and aspiring singer. Orlando is 20 years older than her, and owns a printing company. After celebrating Marina’s birthday one evening, Orlando falls seriously ill. Marina rushes him to the emergency room, but he passes away just after arriving at the hospital. Instead of being able to mourn her lover, suddenly Marina is treated with suspicion. The doctors and Orlando’s family don’t trust her. A woman detective investigates Marina to see if she was involved in his death. Orlando’s ex-wife forbids her from attending the funeral. And to make matters worse, Orlando’s son threatens to throw Marina out of the flat she shared with Orlando. Marina is a trans woman and for most of Orlando’s family, her sexual identity is an aberration, a perversion. So Marina struggles for the right to be herself. She battles the very same forces that she has spent a lifetime fighting just to become the woman she is now – a complex, strong, forthright and fantastic woman.
3. Carol (2015)
Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara) spots the beautiful, elegant Carol (Cate Blanchett) perusing the doll displays in a 1950s Manhattan department store. The two women develop a fast bond that becomes a love with complicated consequences.
2. Call Me By Your Name (2018)
It’s the summer of 1983, and precocious 17-year-old Elio Perlman is spending the days with his family at their 17th-century villa in Lombardy, Italy. He soon meets Oliver, a handsome doctoral student who’s working as an intern for Elio’s father. Amid the sun-drenched splendor of their surroundings, Elio and Oliver discover the heady beauty of awakening desire over the course of a summer that will alter their lives forever.
1. Moonlight (2017)
A look at three defining chapters in the life of Chiron, a young black man growing up in Miami. His epic journey to manhood is guided by the kindness, support and love of the community that helps raise him.