The 100 Best Lesbian Movies Of All Time

Top 100 Best Lesbian Movies white text against a purple background with heads of famous lesbian film characters in black and white surrounding the text

Here at Autostraddle we want every lesbian, every queer woman, and every nonbinary person to know that movies should include us and do include us. We want you all to see our lives on screen, through the best lesbian movies, with the variety and quality we deserve.

It’s about more than representation. We believe that the best lesbian movies rank among the very best movies, period. Our stories matter and have too long been ignored. This list, created based on ballots submitted by over 75 current and former Autostraddle writers, other critics and programmers, other queer writers, queer filmmakers, and queer performers, aims to create a canon of the very best lesbian movies of all time. Past lists, we’ve made rules about what constitutes a lesbian film — but with this wide swath of voices, we let the numbers decide. From serious art films to gross-out comedies, this list has it all.

There is a world of cinema and a world of queer cinema. There are films from the last hundred years waiting to be discovered and new films yet to be made. So grab some popcorn and join us. And if you’re looking for even more lesbian movies to watch, check out the individual ballots to be released later this week, as well as the Autostraddle Encyclopedia of Lesbian Cinema.


100. The Queen of My Dreams

dir. Fawzia Mirza, 2023
Our Review // Unreleased

Best Lesbian Movies #100: a close up of Amrit Kaur sitting on a plane

Fawzia Mirza’s long-awaited directorial debut feature hasn’t even been released in the U.S. And yet, it’s a testament to the film’s power that it still made this list thanks to festivals and Canadian viewers. Combining a queer coming-of-age movie with a tribute to Bollywood and mothers, this is a film as fun as it is poignant. There is certainly not a lack of queer cinema about mommy issues, but few films have approached this key relationship with such a complicated tenderness. With its fractured narrative structure and bold stylistic swings, Mirza’s film is the work of a confident queer artist stepping fully into their voice.


99. Hooters: The Making of Older, Wiser Lesbian Cinema

dir. Anna Margarita Albelo
Unavailable

Close up of Anna Margarita Albelo holding a fake owl next to text that says Lesbians Over Forty

More than a making-of featurette for Cheryl Dunye’s The Owls, Anna Margarita Albelo’s behind-the-scenes documentary is a snapshot of queer cinema at a turning point. A decade post-New Queer Cinema, but before the influx of recent film and television, Dunye and her team were rightly questioning where queer cinema — and specifically lesbian cinema — should go next. It’s rare to see discussions from queer artists that are this blunt and possibly even rarer to witness the kinds of generational conflicts on display. For fans of lesbian cinema, this documentary is essential.


98. Bodies Bodies Bodies

dir. Halina Reijn, 2022
Our Review // Watch It

The cast of Bodies Bodies Bodies huddled together dripping wet with makeup running

With sharp direction, a perfect cast, and a script from phenomenal playwright Sarah DeLappe, this turned out to be a whodunnit as smart as it is funny. This film is a masterclass in prioritizing character and entertainment and ending up with a clear political message as a result. It may seem like the satire is aimed at Gen Z NYU students — and they do receive some hilarious jabs — but it’s more pointedly a critique of true crime media and the audiences who love it. Oh and it starts with a close up of a queer makeout involving nonbinary movie star Amandla Stenberg.


97. Thelma and Louise

dir. Ridley Scott, 1991
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Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon sit on the edge of a convertible.

The best part of putting this list together via individual top ten lists rather than a team vote was the opportunity to redefine what constitutes a lesbian film. There is great value in queer filmmakers telling explicitly queer stories — there is also value in subtext. Ridley Scott’s feminist masterpiece has long been labeled an ode to female friendship. But is there any surprise that many read more than friendship onto Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis’s titular characters? Yes, they kiss on the lips before the famous final moments, and, even more than that, their chemistry together has a depth of intimacy that easily blurs with the erotic. (It helps when both actresses are stunning and look gradually gayer as the film goes along.) In a world against women, these two had each other. What’s more lesbian than that?


96. All About My Mother

dir. Pedro Almodóvar, 1999
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A cis woman tends to an injured trans woman in a colorful living room.

Often considered Pedro Almodóvar’s crowning achievement, All About My Mother is a tribute to women — to actresses, to mothers, to trans women, to sex workers, to lesbians. With his trademark style of bright colors, raunchy humor, and gorgeous melodrama, Almodóvar’s film is a reminder of the communities we form. The boundaries between family and friendship and lovers are as fluid as the boundaries of sex and gender. Cecilia Roth, Marisa Paredes, Penélope Cruz, and Antonia San Juan lead a cast of women that feel real even as they play in Almodóvar’s heightened imagination. This is not usually considered a lesbian film, but probably only because several of its queer women relationships involve trans women. Since its release the film has held a place in the canon of world cinema — it’s time it takes its rightful place in the canon of best lesbian movies as well.


95. Monster

dir. Patty Jenkins, 2003
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Best lesbian movies #95: Charlize Theron lights Christina Ricci's cigarette in Monster

Bleak and devastating, Patty Jenkins’ portrayal of Aileen Wuornos does right by Wuornos’ life of trauma. Charlize Theron went beyond the prosthetic makeup in her truly remarkable — and Oscar-winning — performance as Wuornos. Her chemistry with Christina Ricci provides a much needed levity — until it makes what happens even more painful. The film doesn’t judge Wuornos or romanticize her, but simply portrays the life-altering effects of abuse.


94. Benedetta

dir. Paul Verhoeven, 2021
Our Review // Watch It

Virginie Efirie looks up while tied to a wooden stake being burned while a crowd gathers behind her.

Admittedly, I did not give Paul Verhoeven’s latest a positive review for this very website. But the outpouring of love for this naughty nun picture from voices I trust and respect has me eager to give the film a second look. Virginie Effira is one of our most consistently great actors and the power — and fury — of her titular performance is undeniable. Maybe I went into the film wanting to be shocked at its taboo, when instead I should have been appreciating what it was doing beyond its Virgin Mary statue dildo. Even upon my first viewing, I admired its games of manipulation, its bursts of violence, its social commentary once it moves beyond the walls of the abby. People have never agreed on Paul Verhoeven’s work — and, hey, maybe that’s exactly what makes him such an important filmmaker.


93. Fried Green Tomatoes

dir. Jon Avnet, 1991
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Mary-Louise Parker and Mary Stuart-Masterson stand next to each other in wide hats.

While less explicitly gay than the book upon which its based, there’s no denying the romance between Ruth and Idgie. They flirt, they gaze, they start a business, they raise a child, they have food fights, and they build a life together. What is left unsaid due to 1991 Hollywood — or, generously, due to the hetero narrator — is usurped by the chemistry between Mary Stuart-Masterson and Mary-Louise Parker, the sensuality of their connection over food, and the very gay outfits worn throughout by Idgie. Maybe some straight people could watch this movie and see a tribute to good friendship, but queer audiences in 1991 and queer audiences today could and can see that these gals are more than just pals.


92. Passing

dir. Rebecca Hall, 2021
Our Review // Watch It

A black and white image of Tessa Thompson looking at Ruth Negga in period dress.

There’s a distance and a hyper-stylization to this adaptation of Nella Larsen’s masterpiece. Every choice Rebecca Hall makes as a director and writer is deliberate, some — such as the casting — to make the story feel current, others — such as the dialogue, 4:3 aspect ratio, and black-and-white photography — to pull the story back to the past. This is a film of contradictions, somehow both cold and sensual. It emphasizes the queer subtext of the novella without making it more explicit. It is a film of obstruction, of withholding, of glances. It’s the performances of Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga that ground this puzzle — it’s in how they look at each other. It’s a mix of love and hatred, lust and repulsion, envy and superiority. Glances destined for tragedy.


91. Certain Women

dir. Kelly Reichardt, 2016
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A close up of Lily Gladstone driving a truck.

Renowned lesbian auteur Kelly Reichardt brings her famous touch of melancholy from her usual setting of Oregon to the plains of Montana. This triptych of stories about lonely women includes Reichardt’s most explicit work about queer women. Lily Gladstone is remarkable as a rancher who falls hard for a law professor played by Kristen Stewart. The infatuation is fairly one-sided, but it’s powerful to watch Gladstone’s shy character follow her heart and yearn for more. Like most of Reichardt’s films, this is a quiet and meditative piece, but its nuance will haunt you long after it ends.


90. Orlando

dir. Sally Potter, 1992
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Best lesbian movies #90: Tilda Swinton as Orlando looks at the countess in the snow

Considering Virginia Woolf wrote her gender-bending classic as a tribute to her lover Vita Sackville-West, it’s no wonder Sally Potter’s film adaptation holds a special place in the heart of many lesbians. Led by a career-best performance from Tilda Swinton and gorgeously crafted by Potter and her team, this is the rare literary adaptation that captures all the magic of its source material while elevating it for the cinematic form. Arguably lauded more as a feminist film by some and a trans film by others, it nevertheless deserves its spot here as a lesbian film — turns out lots of feminists and trans people also happen to be dykes.


89. Knife + Heart

dir. Yann Gonzalez, 2018
Our Review // Watch It

A blonde woman with a bob and teary eyes reaches toward a movie screen.

This explicitly queer take on Giallo is as bold and stylish as the genre demands. The heartsick lesbian at its center is flawed in ways that some may find interesting and others simply cruel — either way Vanessa Paradiso’s performance is compelling to watch. It’s a messy movie in plot and theme, but it’s certainly not boring. And it has a dildo knife used as a murder weapon so that’s something.


88. The Duke of Burgundy

dir. Peter Strickland, 2014
Our Review // Watch It

A woman sits in a chair with her legs crossed as another woman crawls on the floor.

This is one of the very few non-porn films about queer women BDSM and that alone makes it noteworthy. But it’s also a gorgeous and strange film with alluring performances from Sidse Babett Knudsen and Chiara D’Anna. While it’s at times formally unmotivated and certainly not devoid of male gaze, it’s still a fascinating film showing an underrepresented aspect of many lesbian lives.


87. Blue Jean

dir. Georgia Oakley, 2022
Our Review // Watch It

A close up of a blonde woman with short hair sits at a bar with a cigarette dangling from her mouth.

Queer people can exist in every shadow; not in every spotlight. Set in 1988 England, Georgia Oakley’s debut feature follows a familiar story of a closeted teacher torn between her job and her life. Elevated by sharp writing and acting, the film also distinguishes itself with a willingness to hold conflicting truths, to push for moral courage while acknowledging its limitations. It may be a period piece, but with the latest anti-trans moral panic leading to book bans and teacher firings, this film is, unfortunately, all too relevant to today.


86. House of Hummingbird

dir. Kim Bora, 2018
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A young girl lies her head on a table with her arm outstretched and looks toward the camera.

The only thing gayer than karaoke first dates, shitty families, and friend breakups are loving teachers. Well, Kim Bora’s remarkable 1994-set coming-of-age debut has all four. Ji-hu Park plays the lonely and sensitive Eun-hee who is stumbling through her adolescence in an abusive home. This is a difficult film that’s filled with tragedy and hardship, but it’s far from bleak. In fact, an optimism and hopeful spirit runs deep throughout even its toughest moments. Adolescence is challenging — queer adolescence especially — but one person can make such a difference in showing us a way forward. This is a movie for all the queers who ate lunch in a teacher’s room, this is a movie for all the queers who wondered if a future was possible and then, one day, stopped wondering and started to believe.


85. Good Manners

dir. Juliana Rojas, Marco Dutra, 2017
Our Review // Watch It

Best lesbian movies #85: A white woman with long hair leans forward and licks the mouth of a Black woman with short hair who leans away.

The best werewolf fairy tale horror lesbian movie musical ever made. Yes, this movie is all of those things and it’s a commentary on race and class differences in Brazil and a story about the nuances of queer motherhood. There’s a lot going on but somehow it all just works. It’s a gorgeous, at times terrifying, at times sexy, movie that is unforgettable to say the least. This isn’t the first movie to find horror in pregnancy and motherhood, but there’s something explicitly queer about this portrayal — and with that a fresh perspective. It deserves as prominent a spot in the canon of horror cinema as it does the canon of lesbian cinema.


84. Mars One

dir. Gabriel Martins, 2022
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Two Black women cuddle on a picnic blanket in a park.

This is an ensemble film about a lower-middle class Black family in Brazil right after Bolsonaro’s election. There’s Tércia, who after a traumatic event believes she’s cursed, her husband, Wellington, four years sober and soccer-obsessed, and their son, Deivenho, who is fulfilling his dad’s soccer ambitions while secretly dreaming of astrophysics. And then there is their daughter, Eunice, a college student ready to leave home and even more ready to explore her sexuality. Because it’s such a thorough portrait of the family, Mars One manages to do something with its queer story that’s rarely seen. While movies have often centered straight people’s reaction to their queer family member, this film lets us know the straight family intimately and then centers the queer person’s experience of herself. There’s a specificity to Eunice’s interaction with her family that shows the stakes of their support — there’s an equal specificity to the love story with her girlfriend Jo. Mars One accomplishes the rare feat of acknowledging the realities of heteronormativity without slipping into painful cliches. This is just one tender achievement in a film full of them. It’s a film about family, a film about dreams, and a film about the societies that fail both.


83. Alice Júnior

dir. Gil Baroni, 2019
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A trans teenager looks in the mirror with a hand toward her lip.

In some ways Alice Júnior hits all the regular beats of the teen movie genre — new student, bullies, quirky friends, mean teachers, nice teachers, a desire for a first kiss. And yet the film is a totally fresh take on the queer girl coming-of-age story. Not only is Alice trans — a detail that is all too rare — but her journey towards queerness is more of a pleasant surprise than an inevitability. In order to survive in the world as a young trans girl, Alice has built up a wall of total self-awareness, total self-confidence, and a delightful stubborn streak. These qualities make her such a fun character to watch. But even the most self-aware teen doesn’t know everything. And while she’s busy crushing on Bruno, Bruno’s girlfriend Taísa is busy crushing on her. The joy and specificity director Gil Baroni and writer Luiz Bertazzo bring to the film makes this a wholly unique work of trans cinema — but its fluidity regarding sexuality make it a unique work of queer women cinema as well.


82. I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing

dir. Patricia Rozema, 1987
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A woman with short red hair looks at her refracted reflection in a tiled mirror wall.

Bursting with creativity and experimentation, Patricia Rozema’s debut is a remarkable film about finding one’s artistic voice. Sheila McCarthy’s Polly is a strange protagonist — uncertain and passive — but Rozema places us excellently inside her point of view. The movie’s queerness is handled casually as if the film is not about queerness per say, but rather the delayed maturity that many queers experience. The movie is so funny and charming that its emotional core sneaks up on you. The whole journey makes for a unique work of queer cinema.


81. Fire

dir. Deepa Mehta, 1996
Unavailable

A woman rests her head on another woman's shoulder with an orange background.

Deepa Mehta’s gorgeous film is about two women who refuse to simply be the wives of terrible men. Radha and Sita find love and desire in each other and remain true to that desire in the face of hardship. Their love feels real and their sexuality consuming due to Mehta’s artful gaze and the performances of Shabana Azmi and Nandita Das.


80. Wild Nights with Emily

dir. Madeleine Olnek, 2018
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Best lesbian movies #80: two women lie in bed in period dress and make eye contact

Shaking off almost two centuries of misrepresentation, Madeleine Olnek reclaims Emily Dickinson clarifying that gay does not equal old maid and homebody does not equal self-serious. Molly Shannon plays Dickinson and along with Olnek’s very funny script adds humor and sex appeal where it’s long been hidden. The fun of the movie is the entire point. It’s a fitting tribute to Dickinson’s life and work and a statement about the historical erasure of queer women.


79. Personal Best

dir. Robert Towne, 1982
Our Review // Watch It
A woman holds her leg while sitting on the ground while a man crouches on one side and a woman on the other side.

With realistic and intricately captured scenes of athleticism, this queer woman classic is one of the best sports movies period. It’s imperfect, with some racist jokes, and it may disappoint anyone in it for the love story, but it’s a noteworthy film about two fiercely competitive women who bond over their ambitions. Come for the sweat on perfectly toned muscles, stay for the specificity of a Cap4Cap romance.


78. Bessie

dir. Dee Rees, 2015
Our Review // Watch It

Queen Latifah as Bessie Smith leans against a wall.

Dee Rees is one of the very best filmmakers around and she elevates her biopic about Bessie Smith beyond the usual HBO movie. The costumes and all the period detail are stunning, but Rees’ film is ultimately a tribute to a queer Black woman artist who refused to compromise — refused to cater to white people or any men — made by a queer Black woman artist at the beginning of her career determined to do the same. Rees is aided by what is truly one of Queen Latifah’s best performances. It’s a perfect combination of material, filmmaker, and star.


77. Shakedown

dir. Leilah Weinraub
Our Review // Watch It

Studs and femmes dance at a club as a dollar bill floats in the air.

The only movie to have streaming premieres on PornHub and The Criterion Channel, Shakedown is a documentary both erotic and important. A portrait of the Black lesbian strip club of the same name, Shakedown chronicles the club from 2002 to 2004 when it was shut down by the police. It’s a celebration of Black lesbian sexuality and a condemnation of our racist and homophobic police state that always has and always will attempt to restrict freedoms. There is so much joy in the club itself and so much melancholy in its demise. It’s a snapshot of this specific queer space and a rallying cry to build and protect spaces like this today.


76. Simone Barbès or Virtue

dir. Marie-Claude Treilhou, 1980
Unavailable

A female bartender looks at another woman sitting at the bar with her head down.

Marie-Claude Treilhou’s debut film is split into three sections. The first introduces the titular lead, played by Ingrid Bourgoin, at her job as an usher at a porn theatre. She barbs and commiserates with her coworker as they rip tickets for an eccentric collection of (mostly) men. When her shift is over at midnight, she goes to meet her girlfriend at the lesbian bar where she works. This isn’t your average lesbian bar. There’s live music and live sword fights and, yes, plenty of astrology talk and dyke drama to go around. And, finally, at the end of the night she has an unexpected car ride with another lonely stranger. This nocturnal journey through the hidden corners of Paris is alternately casual and heightened, an odyssey with no destination but plenty to see along the way. The middle section provides a unique snapshot lost in most 20th century cinema and Simone is a heroine we still rarely see on screen.


75. Signature Move

dir. Jennifer Reeder, 2017
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Best lesbian movies #75: Sari Sanchez and Fawzia Mirza laugh at a bar.

A late in life coming-of-age movie, this captures a very common queer experience — through the very specific lens of a Pakistani-American woman obsessed with Lucha-style Mexican wrestling. Fawzia Mirza stars and co-wrote the script and her natural likeability, impeccable comic timing, and chemistry with Sari Sanchez make this movie endlessly endearing. It’s part romcom, part family dramedy, and both threads feel nuanced and real. Also, lesbian wrestling!!


74. Chutney Popcorn

dir. Nisha Ganatra, 1999
Our Review // Watch It

Nisha Ganatra and Jill Hennessy stand next to each other.

Before Nisha Ganatra was directing several of your television faves, she co-wrote, directed, and starred in this film about queerness and family. The film shows the intimacy and conflict within biological and chosen family structures, searching for new ideas around parenthood. It’s funny and sweet and always living in the reality of its well-drawn characters.


73. Suicide Kale

dir. Carly Usdin, 2016
Our Review // Watch It

Lindsay Hicks, Brittani Nichols, and Jasika Nicole stand around laughing.

This dramedy farce is anchored by four stellar performances, a natural real-life queerness, and an if-mumblecore-was-well-shot aesthetic. Brittani Nichols’ script is astute in its portrayal of queer relationships and sharp in its humor. There’s a casual DIY quality to this movie that makes it seem effortless, but if you’ve watched a lot of low-budget indie films you’ll know that’s not the case. It takes a level of talent, vision, and specificity to make a movie this good and it should be sought out and celebrated as much as any big budget fare.


72. MURDER and murder

dir. Yvonne Rainer, 1996
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Two older women with short hair sit next to each other on the subway.

If you’re looking for a lesbian movie that begins with a 60-something lesbian saying to her straight friend, “I love eating pussy,” then look no further. A celebration of the ups and downs of a partnership, Yvonne Rainer’s last feature follows Doris and Mildred as they navigate their relationship — through the mundane and through Doris being diagnosed with breast cancer. They are accompanied by a Greek chorus of Doris’ mother, Mildred’s younger self, and Yvonne Rainer the filmmaker. It’s a complex, experimental, and ever so sweet film. The movie more or less takes the stance that all women can be and should be lesbians, and while that may not be true, Rainer is certainly convincing. Also Congressperson Pete Hoekstra used it as an excuse to cut funding from the NEA which is unfortunately always a good sign.


71. Bend It Like Beckham

dir. Gurinder Chadha
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Keira Knightley and Parminder Nagra stand next to each other in soccer jerseys.

The 90’s and early 00’s were filled with movies that should have been gay. Often, the romance between the female leads was projected onto a male love interest so audiences could be reassured that the obvious subtext wasn’t so obvious. That’s exactly what happens in this movie about a British Punjabi girl who wants to play soccer despite the wishes of her family. She befriends her teammate and then they both fall for their (male) coach. There are lots of jokes and misunderstandings where people think the girls are lesbians and there is an explicitly gay male character, but otherwise this movie appears to be straight. But maybe a lesbian movie isn’t just what’s on-screen — maybe it’s also what’s in the hearts of the viewers. And in 2002, when options for mainstream lesbian films were limited — especially lesbian films with non-white leads — it’s not difficult to understand why so many people still consider this part of the lesbian cinema canon.


70. Everything Everywhere All at Once

dir. Daniel Kwan, Daniel Scheinert, 2022
Our Review // Watch It

Best lesbian movies #70: Stephanie Hsu dressed in white with a pink wig walks through glitter.

For some, the Daniels’ audacious, genre-defying crowd-pleaser is about a woman played by Michelle Yeoh, who runs a laundromat and is filled with regret. For others, it’s about her husband, a man of optimism who wishes the world would be a kinder place. But for most of the people reading this, it is about their daughter Joy, a queer woman acutely aware of the gap between tolerance and embrace, a queer woman with a simmering hurt that could tear apart the multiverse. The film doesn’t align with any of its main characters, instead giving each of them a moment, a voice, and then accepting balance. The result is a one-of-a-kind action movie with originality and practical effects that’s also a stellar family drama. As Joy and as Joy’s multiverse alterego Jobu Tupaki, Stephanie Hsu is alternately relatable and larger than life, often at the same time. True to its title, this is a film that encompasses so much — the everything includes big gay feelings.


69. Mommy is Coming

dir. Cheryl Dunye, 2012
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A woman with short hair points a condom covered gun at her masc lover's head in the back of a cab.

Cheryl Dunye’s most recent feature is a sex-filled romp through Berlin. Papi Coxx plays Claudia/Claude, a hotel clerk trying to rediscover the spark with her girlfriend Dylan played by Lil Harlow. They end up on separate sexual odysseys with Claudia genderbending while Dylan has a threesome with her best friend. The silliness and sexiness escalates when Dylan’s mother comes to town and some unexpected twists arise. Dunye’s film doesn’t take itself seriously, but its refusal to bend to respectability politics gives it an air of importance. It’s a reminder from Dunye that queer cinema can still be queer and a reminder that she’s an icon for a reason.


68. TÁR

dir. Todd Field, 2022
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A low shot of Lydia Tàr conducting

Beloved by some, despised by others, Todd Field’s portrait of an domineering lesbian conductor Lydia Tár has certainly stirred conversation. Is it a sharp indictment of an abusive egotist? Or a shallow critique of “cancel culture” in defense of singular brilliance? Perhaps, it’s something in between. What everyone can agree on is Cate Blanchett. While Field may be better equipped to write his protagonist as a conductor than as a lesbian or a human being, Blanchett grounds the character and makes her come alive. It’s the kind of performance that’s only possible when an actor is both uniquely talented and has had decades honing her craft. The movie starts with a recreation of a New Yorker Festival talk on conducting and, with Blanchett at its center, it’s as riveting as an action movie.


67. Aftersun

dir. Charlotte Wells, 2022
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Frankie Corio rests in Paul Mescal's arm that has a cast.

Exactly what Charlotte Wells is doing in her feature debut remains elusive for most of the film’s runtime. The mix of camcorder footage and patient 35mm cinematography. The hazy combination of past and present and an imagined third space somewhere in between. So much of the movie feels casual — a father and his twelve year old daughter on vacation, a slice of life in Turkey — its bold strokes seem incidental. Until they don’t. This is the rare coming-of-age movie about a queer kid who doesn’t yet understand that queerness. Her self-discovery we witness is not first love — it’s deeper knowledge of her parent and therefore half of her herself. This results in a story of queer youth unlike anything we’ve ever seen.


66. All About Eve

dir. Joseph L. Mankiewicz
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Bette Davis and Anne Baxter face off as the rest of the cast looks on.

Considering Joseph L Mankiewicz’s classic won Best Picture at the competitive 1950 academy awards, its placement in the canon has long been agreed upon. However, its placement in the queer canon continues to be debated. Most agree that George Sanders’ prickly theatre critic is coded as gay. But what about Eve herself? Is her obsession with stage icon Margo Channing merely professional? Or does she desire Margo’s body as well as her career? There are explicit hints such as some of Eve’s wardrobe and a moment when Eve walks upstairs with her “roommate.” And yet I think a more compelling case for its queerness can be found in the unquantifiable: the way Anne Baxter looks at Bette Davis, the inherent lust of envy.


65. Blockers

dir. Kay Cannon, 2018
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Best lesbian movies #65: Ramona Young and Gideon Adlon talk to each other in prom attire

The rare big budget Hollywood comedy that’s thoughtful, progressive, emotional, and beyond fucking hilarious. Kay Cannon’s first film feels effortless in its perfection — filled with great comic performances from its trio of adults and its trio of teens. Virginity pacts are a staple of teen comedies, but never has one been treated with such intelligence and sex positivity. Gideon Adlon plays Sam’s awkward queerness with a funny and sweet authenticity and the movie’s inclusion of her is refreshingly casual. She hasn’t come to terms with her queerness at the film’s beginning but she’s given the space to go on a journey of self-exploration — aided by her friends, family, and a massive crush. It may only be a third queer, but that third is great enough to place it among the best lesbian movies. It’s certainly one of the funniest.


64. Rebecca

dir. Alfred Hitchcock, 1940
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Mrs. Danvers displays Rebecca's clothes to the second Mrs. DeWinter.

Alfred Hitchcock is responsible for some of the most interesting queer characters in Old Hollywood — of course, they were all villains. And yet the complexity granted to these damaged — often murderous — individuals made them transcend the one-note villains that dominated classic cinema. Nowhere is that clearer than in Mrs. Danvers as played by closeted queer actress Judith Anderson. While the film may be about the passive second Mrs. DeWinter, it’s Danvers who runs the household. In her attacks on the second Mrs. DeWinter, we feel her love for her former mistress Rebecca. To her, this new woman cannot measure up, because no one can measure up to the object of a lesbian’s affections. There’s a perspective on this story where Danvers is a sympathetic, grief-stricken widow of sorts. That’s not the primary story being told, but it has simmered beneath the surface for queer audiences for over eighty years.


63. Kajillionaire

dir. Miranda July, 2020
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Gina Rodriguez stands next to Evan Rachel Wood in glasses and long straight hair.

Queer multi-hyphenate Miranda July has made a career out of entertaining, challenging work that adds depth to what some might dismiss as quirky. Of her three films, none is as challenging — nor possibly accomplished — as her tale of Old Dolio, the sheltered adult daughter of two scammers. Played by Evan Rachel Wood, Old Dolio is a difficult protagonist who hides in baggy clothes and long straight hair and speaks in deep mumble. But as July’s story unfolds — and Old Dolio falls for a woman played by Gina Rodriguez — it reveals itself to be a relatable and painful story of a queer person leaving behind her controlling family. It’s not a film for everybody but if you’re patient and get on its wavelength, it just might steal your heart.


62. Crush

dir. Sammi Cohen, 2022
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Rowan Blanchard and Auli'i Cravalho talk at a party in turquoise light

A mere ten years ago it may have seemed impossible, but this coming-of-age romcom lets its queerness be an afterthought. That’s not to say its gay romance isn’t uniquely gay — sorry but falling for your crush’s sister, being a teenage artist, and track are all canon gay — it just exists in a world that’s homoneutral if not homonormative. With a young queer cast led by Rowan Blanchard and Auli’i Cravalho and queer people behind the camera, this is a low-key work of wish-fulfillment. It may not be the most radical work of queer expression, but in many ways it feels like the streaming boom at its best: accessible queer stories ready to be discovered by gays of all ages.


61. Thelma

dir. Joachim Trier, 2017
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Two young women kiss against a black background.

This beautiful coming-of-age thriller actualizes queer shame and repression. As Thelma navigates adjusting to college — and gay feelings — apart from her religious upbringing, she begins to have seizures and visions and potentially telekinetic powers. As the tension builds, the scope of the film widens with more imagery and plot twists. But at its core is simply a girl navigating her identity and trying to find herself separate from her family.


60. Ammonite

dir. Francis Lee, 2020
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Best lesbian movies #60: Saoirse Ronan and Kate Winslet look at one another

While dismissed by some upon its release — including yours truly — due to it seeming like a middling entry in the lesbian period piece romance subgenre, its defenders have wisely emphasized that its strengths lie beyond its love story. This isn’t a tale of grand passion, but of two lonely people finding unlikely connection. The coldness of Kate Winslet’s archaeologist, her lack of obvious chemistry with costar Saoirse Ronan, are not flaws but virtues. The central character is a lonely woman, stuck between her desire to focus on her career and her desire to have more than what career women were granted at this time. This younger woman is not her soulmate or even a hot affair — she’s a life raft, a chance to stop drowning in her misery.


59. Persona

dir. Ingmar Bergman, 1966
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Bibi Andersson with a blood nose confronts Liv Ullmann

Maybe about two women, maybe about one woman, maybe beyond narrative analysis, Ingmar Bergman’s avant-garde masterpiece is sexy, unsettling, and thought-provoking. Bibi Andersson plays Alma, a nurse assigned to the care of Liv Ullmann’s Elisabet Vogler, an actress who has suddenly stopped speaking. They seclude themselves at a beach house and their interactions increase in eroticism, violence, and unreality. This is definitely one of the hornier arthouse classics even if the women never consummate their attraction.


58. Professor Marston and the Wonder Women

dir. Angela Robinson, 2017
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A woman embraces another woman dressed in Wonder Woman garb with a glowing gold light behind them.

Angela Robinson’s career has been defined by injecting revolutionary queerness into film and TV with a casual touch. This is a biopic about the creator of Wonder Woman — as polished and neat as one might expect from the genre. But this is also a story about polyamory, about BDSM, about three individuals fighting to define their own lives and loves. There is power in completely disavowing mainstream forms and there is a different kind of power in mastering them and subverting them from within. Luke Evans and Bella Heathcoate are great as William Marston and the Marstons’ new partner, but Rebecca Hall as Elizabeth Marston truly astounds. The movie doesn’t ignore the complications of their relationship — the external and the internal — but instead allows the relationship and these characters an understanding they were never granted. There’s a reason Wonder Woman is such a popular character: these lives aren’t so rare after all — only on our screens.


57. Dirty Computer

dir. Janelle Monáe & others, 2018
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Janelle Monáe and Tessa Thompson gaze at each other dressed in pink in the desert.

Janelle Monáe has called this unique work of art an “emotion picture” and it’s easy to see why. Yes, it’s on a movie list, but it doesn’t easily fit within the box of feature film or any box really — just like its creator. Monáe and her team created a masterpiece that is at once a sci-fi epic, a visual album, a public coming out, a celebration of queerness/Blackness/femaleness, and an ode to everybody different. It’s also so sexy?? We may never know the details of Monáe’s relationship with Tessa Thompson, but whatever connection they shared is captured on-screen — the love, the sex, the finding yourself through another. Most of us didn’t have to come out under public scrutiny, but we can all use a reminder to be a “free-ass motherfucker.”


56. Desperate Living

dir. John Waters, 1977
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Jean Hill and Susan Lowe look at Mink Stole

With his film most squarely focused on lesbians, John Waters also finds some of his most audacious cinema. Mink Stole is great in all of her many Waters collaborations, but here she’s at the center. Whether playing a bourgeoisie housewife or a violent rebel, Stole is remarkable throughout the film’s winding journey. This is an uncomfortable film featuring rape and transphobia and lots of grotesque imagery — it’s also a hilarious good time. It’s the peak of Waters’ boundary-pushing before he moved onto a more refined (for him) approach. There was nowhere else for him to go. Almost fifty years later, there’s still nothing like it.


55. Foxfire

dir. Annette Haywood-Carter, 1996
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Best lesbian movies #55: Angelina Jolie stands in the girl's bathroom while the other girls argue behind her.

Based on Joyce Carol Oates’ novel, Annette Haywood-Carter’s coming-of-age tale about a feminist girl gang is great for a lot of reasons, but short-hair leather jacket wearing knife wielding Angelina Jolie is definitely at the top of the list. She’s so good and so gay and can do so much with a look. It’s no wonder the other girls follow her lead. It’s incredibly satisfying to watch them wreak havoc on all the awful men in their lives, even as things start to cross a line. There’s a real intimacy between the girls when it’s platonic and when it’s romantic.


54. Working Girls

dir. Lizzie Borden, 1986
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A group of women chat in a kitchen with one wearing a towel.

One of two Lizzie Borden masterpieces on this list is the rare film to show sex work as, well, work. Focusing on a day in the life of lesbian Molly, Working Girls reveals the boredom and mundane difficulties of working at a Manhattan brothel. The film doesn’t romanticize sex work or sensationalize it — instead it just lets it be like any crappy job. The dynamics between Molly and her boss, her co-workers, and her clients are all compelling as they reveal more about her, the job, and society’s relationship to sex work. This is a landmark work of cinema that’s finally getting its due and a landmark work of lesbian cinema as well. All of the sex we see may be with men, but Molly’s identity isn’t tied to her job. Like so many queer people, Molly is doing what she has to do to pay the bills, so she can get home to her girlfriend, so she can someday spend her time on something other than work — any work.


53. I Can’t Think Straight

dir. Shamim Sarif, 2007
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A woman embraces another woman from behind.

While certainly hitting all the expected tropes, lesbian filmmaker Shamim Sarif’s semi-autobiographical romcom stands out for its cultural specificity, truly stunning leads, and endless charm. Sometimes you just want to watch beautiful women defy their families in the name of love and have gorgeous sex montages.


52. Olivia

dir. Jacqueline Audry, 1951
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A woman hovers over a young girl sitting on her bed.

Long ignored, this recently restored classic of lesbian cinema deserves all its newfound praise and more. It’s one of many films on our best lesbian movies list that involve student/teacher relationships, but it’s the only one to treat that dynamic with the level of nuance it deserves. Audry encourages us to enter Olivia’s point of view, falling just as hard for her teacher crush, only to emphasize how painful the experience is for the young girl. Sometimes fantasies are meant to remain fantasies.


51. Kamikaze Hearts

dir. Juliet Bashore, 1986
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In a screenshot from Kamikaze Hearts, two women with mullets (one blonde, one brunette) are pressed up together against a wall. The blonde mullet has her arms grazing the shoulder and face of the brunette. It's the 1980s, with 1980s style bright make up included.

Recently restored, this hybrid documentary has already received newfound acclaim. The film is about real-life lesbian couple Sharon “Mitch” Mitchell and Tigr, Mitch a seasoned porn performer and Tigr more of a novice. And yet the film being made that this film documents is not real. This film is not real. But what is real? What does that mean? What’s not real about a group of people playing themselves, acting out their dynamics for a camera? How is that less real than the self-awareness subjects bring to a more straight-forward documentary? This is a unique film that provides a window into queer lives, and asks questions about reality in sex, in porn, in love, in life. It’s not a film that provides answers. But thirty-six years later, its questions still demand to be asked.


50. Shiva Baby

dir. Emma Seligman, 2020
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Best lesbian movies #50: Rachel Sennott and Molly Gordon walk on a suburban street.

This is officially a comedy, but with its horror movie score, claustrophobic cinematography, and premise of running into your sugar daddy and your ex-girlfriend at a shiva, it’s safe to say this is one of the scariest movies on this list. Rachel Sennott stars as Danielle, a 20-something on the precipice of college graduation who has no idea what to do with her life — career-wise or otherwise. Writer/director Emma Seligman excellently captures a specific type of Jewish culture and the simmering anxiety it induces. The cast — that includes Dianna Agron! — is excellent, especially Sennott who excels equally in moments where she’s living a nightmare and in moments where she is the nightmare. This is bisexual Jewish chaos at its absolute best.


49. The Joy of Life

dir. Jenni Olson, 2005
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The Golden Gate Bridge framed by two buildings.

Like most of Jenni Olson’s singular work, The Joy of Life is a cinematic poem filled with horny longing and a deep engagement with the world at large. This is a film about San Francisco and about suicide and also about having crushes on girls. Narrated by Harry Dodge, it’s an affecting portrait of navigating lesbianism and lesbian community outside the binary. It’s a film you sink into, a film full of patience and wisdom and pain. And yet its title is not ironic — there is joy in life amidst the pain. The beauty of this film is proof enough of that.


48. Dyketactics

dir. Barbara Hammer, 1974
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A black and white close-up of intertwined bodies

Dozens of films from experimental lesbian cinema icon Barbara Hammer would be deserving of a spot on this list. But I’m still happy her most famous — and, yes, one of her best — made the cut. At just four minutes, this film holds so much of what made Hammer’s work so special. The beautiful abstraction of bodies, the unapologetic portrayal of lesbian sex, the emphasis on the natural world. Much of her later work is more overtly political, but even in this film there is a firm stance. With art, with beauty, lesbianism is shown to be the most natural thing in the world. Watch this film, then watch the rest of her extensive body of work.


47. Showgirls

dir. Paul Verhoeven, 1995
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Elizabeth Berkeley holds her nails up to Gina Gershon

Dismissed and maligned at the time of its release, time has been kind to what many consider to be Paul Verhoeven’s masterpiece. Queer people can recognize the camp — and the feeling beneath the camp — in this Las Vegas riff on All About Eve. Elizabeth Berkley and Gina Gershon are fantastic, boldly performing at the heightened frequency of the film’s tone. Is this movie really so bad it’s good? Or is it just, well, good? For queer people, those lines can often be blurred. But, one thing is certain, Showgirls is more than a punchline. It’s a portrait of sex and ambition and excess filmed with sex and ambition and excess. It’s a true work of queer art still underestimated by even some of its fans.


46. Daughters of Darkness

dir. Harry Kümel, 1971
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Delphine Seyrig with blonde hair holds the back of a man's hair as he kisses a woman

If this movie only had Delphine Seyrig as its glamorous villain, that would be enough to make it stand out in the canon of lesbian vampire movies. She’s beautiful and sexy and frightening — bringing her talent as one of the best actors ever to this genre that is often dismissed. But the movie around her is worthy of this talent. It takes the conventions of a heterosexual couple usurped by a queer vampiric force and complicates it with a tone as dark as the visuals are vibrant. Many films in this subgenre are frenetic — this one lulls in its viewers with the same seductive force as its countess.


45. The Kids Are All Right

dir. Lisa Cholodenko, 2010
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Best lesbian movies #45: Annette Benning and Julianne Moore sit next to each other on a couch and laugh.

Dismissed by much of the lesbian community, this Oscar-nominated movie from lesbian filmmaker Lisa Cholodenko is due for reevaluation. While some were put off by one of the film’s married lesbians having an affair with a man, the messiness of the affair and the family dynamic all contributes to the film’s themes about marriage and queer families. It’s a funny movie with great performances from Julianne Moore, Annette Benning, Mark Ruffalo, Mia Wasikowska, and Josh Hutcherson. It might not be the most groundbreaking film, but ten years later its missteps feel a lot less worrisome.


44. The Hunger

dir. Tony Scott, 1983
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Catherine Deneuve gives Susan Sarandon a drink cloaked in shadow.

Frenetic editing, heavy symbolism, and vague plotting make for a dreamy whirlwind of bisexual vampirism. Catherine Deneuve, David Bowie, and Susan Sarandon are all at their hottest as they fuck and bite their way to immortality. The sex scene between Deneuve and Sarandon is especially iconic — there’s a reason this is what Cameron Post and Coley Taylor watched before having sex.


43. Princess Cyd

dir. Stephen Cone, 2017
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A femme with long hair leans in to kiss a nonbinary person with a mohawk and shaved head.

As sensual as its protagonist and as thoughtful as her aunt, Stephen Cone’s understated masterpiece finds the balance between pleasures of the flesh and mind. Cyd Loughlin is a teenager freely exploring her pansexual desires who spends a summer with her novelist aunt Miranda who is more preoccupied with intellectual discussion, friendship, and food. As Cyd and Miranda challenge each other’s beliefs — and Cyd falls for a hot barista — the film becomes a celebration of the many ways to find enjoyment and connection in life. There’s little plot and minimal drama — just sink into this pleasant world and you’ll find whatever you needed most.


42. Multiple Maniacs

dir. John Waters, 1970
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Mink Stole puts a rosary in Divine's ass in church.

John Waters lives up to his title Pope of Trash with this raucous celebration of counter-culture deviancy. The movie opens with a group of cishet normals making their way through a free exhibit titled The Cavalcade of Perversions — and then Divine robs them at gunpoint. Waters starts his filmography with a statement and never lets up. This is the only movie on this list where a drag queen is fucked with a rosary in a church. It’s a remarkable sex scene with a level of queerness rarely seen on screen. And, hey, if straight actresses can appear on a list of best lesbian movies then so can drag queens!


41. BloodSisters: Leather, Dykes, and Sadomasochism

dir. Michelle Handelman, 1995
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A dyke holds another dyke's head as a third dyke puts needles in their face.

First screened at festivals in 1995, this documentary about leatherdykes and BDSM communities was buried for decades after it became a point of contention in congressional hearings about the National Endowment for the Arts. Finally restored and released in recent years, it’s found a new audience of queers cherishing this snapshot of our history and showing BDSM with a complexity and celebration still largely absent from our screens. It’s essential viewing for queer people in contemporary versions of these communities and queers who are not. This film is hot and interesting — it’s also quite sweet. One interviewee sums it up: “She stuck her fist in my cunt and I knew I was home.”


40. Black Swan

dir. Darren Aronofsky, 2010
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Best lesbian movies #40: A close-up of Natalie Portman with bloodshot eyes as she looks at a feather.

Perfectionism, mommy issues, and lesbianism haunt Natalie Portman in Darren Aronofsky’s Oscar-winning ballet horror movie. It’s frightening and beautiful and, yes, has a sex scene between Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis. Bordering on camp with its heightened style and emotion, this is the rare Hollywood movie about queer women that’s allowed to be properly unhinged. The line between beauty and body horror disappears and every second is a thrill.


39. The Color Purple

dir. Steven Spielberg, 1985
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Celie smiles as she makes eye contact with Shug

Like Fried Green Tomatoes, the removal of explicit lesbianism from this adaptation did not prevent it from finding a place within the canon of lesbian cinema. Whether queer audiences brought the context of the book or simply filled in the gaps from what is shown, the love between Celie (Whoopi Goldberg) and Shug (Margaret Avery) remained palpable. Even in 2024, it’s still rare for lesbian cinema to feature romance between two Black women. Maybe that’s why nearly forty years later, this imperfect yet deeply moving film is still beloved. The Hollywood of the 80s wasn’t able to give us the version of Alice Walker’s novel people deserved — in fact, the Hollywood of today is still struggling — but the performers and the source material rise above these limitations. There is still a kiss and another kiss and a smile and another kiss. And then there’s a longer kiss as the camera pans away. Many lifetimes of Black queer identity and Black queer affection held in the twinkling of a wind chime.


38. The Miseducation of Cameron Post

dir. Desiree Akhavan, 2018
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Forrest Goodluck, Sasha Lane, and Chloe Grace-Moretz smile in the back of a truck.

The best adaptations capture the essence of their source material with a new set of tools. That’s exactly what Desiree Akhavan’s movie of Emily M. Danforth’s contemporary classic accomplishes. Akhavan focuses on the second half of the book, changes the ending, and alters lots of details, but at their core both works are about the ways queer people are brainwashed to doubt their identities. Chloë Grace Moretz is perfect as Cameron. She’s dykey and angsty and headstrong with that depth of vulnerability always peaking through. This is a quiet movie, Akhavan trusting Ashley Connor’s cinematography, Julian Wass’ score, and her actors’ faces to tell the story. Akhavan never lets the seriousness of the subject matter overwhelm the moments of humor and joy — the suggestion that our best hope for holding onto ourselves is to find community.


37. Disobedience

dir. Sebastian Lelio, 2017
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Rachel Weisz spits in Rachel McAdams' mouth.

There are a lot of other things to celebrate about this quiet drama about two Jewish women navigating their love within an Orthodox community. But let’s be honest. This is the movie where one very famous Rachel spits in another very famous Rachel’s mouth. Specifically Rachel Weisz spits into Rachel McAdams’ mouth and it’s just one part of a very hot sex scene. It’s made even hotter by their characters’ history, their forbidden desire, their connection, and their need for one another. This is a movie about faith, about the past, about the desire for community, and the desire to escape. The plotting is messy, but so is life.


36. Gia

dir. Michael Cristofer, 1998
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Angelina Jolie in glamour makeup with a bridge behind her.

Telling the story of model Gia Carangi’s troubled life, this Angelina Jolie vehicle alternates between delicious and devastating. Jolie is so sexy, but her performance proves she’s more than just a sex symbol. As Carangi’s life turns toward inescapable hardship, Jolie remains impossible not to watch. Special shoutout to her sex scene with Elizabeth Mitchell that is truly unforgettable.


35. Water Lilies

dir. Céline Sciamma, 2007
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Best lesbian movies #35: Two teen girls lie in bed next to each other.

Céline Sciamma is one of the best filmmakers working today — lesbian or otherwise — and her talents were already clear in this first film. With a color palette of blues and greys and a moving camera that knows just where to land, Sciamma and cinematographer Crystel Fournier create a visual language that’s poetic and pointed. This is a film about teenage friendship as much as it is about teenage love — a lesbian film at its core. Synchronized swimming has never looked so beautiful and brutal. Being a teenager has never looked so beautiful and brutal. Sciamma is a brilliant lesbian artist and every film from her is a gift.


34. Mädchen in Uniform

dir. Leontine Sagan, 1931
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A black and white image of woman kissing a girl on the mouth.

The lesbian movie that started it all. With its boarding school setting, central age difference, and near-suicide ending this first known work of explicit lesbian cinema can be credited with shaping the entire lesbian film canon. But it’s more than just a work of history. While its age difference might be too much for some, the film places us squarely in the perspective of new student Manuela. Her love for teacher Fraulein von Bernburg becomes our own adolescent crush as we understand her confused place in gay life. At the dawn of the Holocaust the Nazis tried to burn every copy of this film — they failed. It’s a testament to the scope of queer history, a glorious time capsule, and, simply, a stunning work of art.


33. All Over Me

dir. Alex Sichel, 1997
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Leisha Hailey with pink hair stands in front of a microphone on stage

A film doesn’t have to be campy to be formally queer. Alex Sichel was given a grant to make a movie about the riot grrrl music scene and instead she made a riot grrrl movie. Even the cinematography and sound design feel dykey. The soundtrack does not disappoint, of course, and this movie has both a painful “in love with my straight(?) friend” storyline and a “first love with a dyke in a band” storyline. And the dyke in the band is played by Leisha Hailey with pink hair! Alex Sichel never got to make another feature, and this film is currently very hard to find, but this was made for dykes and if it’s going to finally get the recognition it deserves that has to start with us ranking it among the best lesbian movies of all time.


32. Blue is the Warmest Color

dir. Abdellatif Kechiche, 2013
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Lea Seydoux and Adele Exarchopoulos look at art.

This Palme d’or winner is certainly one of the more divisive lesbian movies. Some despise its extended sex scenes drenched with male gaze while others admire its genuine sensuality and emotion. Reports of on-set abuse only make matters more complicated. Still, it’s impossible to ignore the beautiful performances from Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux, and easy to appreciate its portrayal of first love. For many, this is a movie that no longer belongs to its male writer/director, but to its lead actresses and to their own past selves who in 2013 saw something familiar.


31. Can You Ever Forgive Me?

dir. Marielle Heller, 2018
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Melissa McCarthy stands in a bookstore with a glass of whiskey.

Based on Lee Israel’s memoir about her time forging literary letters, Marielle Heller’s melancholy film is concerned with the mundane loneliness of queer lives in a way rarely seen. Lee’s homosexuality, and her friend and accomplice Jack’s homosexuality, are integral to the story but not the focus. Lee and Jack are given the freedom to be deeply flawed, yet still human, and it makes for an emotionally resonant story. Bonus points for properly capturing the importance of a queer woman’s cat.


30. The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant

dir. Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1972
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Best lesbian movies #30: a woman holds a baby doll by a phone while two other women are behind her and a mural behind them.

Gay german auteur Rainer Werner Fassbinder was known for his brutality on and off screen and this film is no different. Taking place entirely in the apartment of Petra von Kant, we watch as she treats her assistant Marlene cruelly and falls miserably for model Karin. It’s a cruel movie about cruel women, but the camerawork, costume design, and incredible performances from Margit Carstensen, Hanna Schygulla, and Irm Hermann make it worth it.


29. Je Tu Il Elle

dir. Chantal Akerman, 1974
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A black and white image of two women naked in bed together.

Chantal Akerman’s debut narrative feature is when she first established her cinematic language of depression. The first half hour of this movie finds a woman named Julie played by Akerman herself remaining entirely in her room. She moves around her furniture, she eats sugar out of a bag for sustenance, and she writes and rewrites a letter to a mysterious someone in her life. She finally leaves, but her time hitchhiking with a random man does not feel like an escape. She is still trapped in her own isolation even when around others. The only moments of release are when she finally arrives at her ex’s apartment — her ex the potential recipient of her letter — and they have sex in an extended ten minute sequence. But they are still exes and these moments can’t last. Whether or not Akerman is focusing on queer women characters, there’s a present queerness in how she views homosexuality and heterosexuality. She really did make movies for the sad gays and what a rare gift in the canon of arthouse cinema.


28. Rafiki

dir. Wanuri Kahiu, 2018
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Two women kiss, one with pink braids.

Filmmaker Wanuri Kahiu has committed to a style she describes as Afrobubblegum, presenting a “fun, fierce, and fantastical representation” of Africa. This film — initially banned in its home country of Kenya before Kahiu sued — fulfills this promise. It’s a beautiful, colorful celebration of Black queer love. It’s honest about harsh realities, but overwhelms them with its moments of joy.


27. Circumstance

dir. Maryam Keshavarz, 2011
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Sarah Kazemy and Nikohl Boosheri lie next to each other looking up on a red bedspread.

This is a film of stark contrasts, of sensual close-ups and repulsive close-ups, of freedom and restriction, of great joy and tragic horror. Nikohl Boosheri and Sarah Kazemy are incredible as two young women pushing the boundaries of society in Iran. The moments of freedom between them are so joyful, on a beach, in a bed, in the living room singing “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” It makes the repression all the more painful. One moment this film is devastatingly sexy, the next it’s just devastating.


26. Mosquita y Mari

dir. Aurora Guerrero, 2012
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Two girls lie down with their heads resting against each other.

Quiet and big-hearted, Aurora Guerrero beautiful coming-of-age story focuses on straight A student Yolanda and new rebel girl in school Mari. As the two girls navigate their families’ expectations, they grow closer, crushes turning to friendship turning to something more. Like many of the best lesbian movies, this film never takes melodramatic turns, instead trusting the grounded truth of its characters. When we’re young the smallest moments mean so much — Guerrero gives these moments the weight her young protagonists deserve.


25. The Half of It

dir. Alice Wu, 2020
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Best lesbian films #25: Leah Lewis sits in a small body of water wearing a shirt and glasses.

A decade and a half after her landmark debut, writer/director Alice Wu returns with another gay romcom — but this time it’s not a love story. This lesbian take on Cyrano de Bergerac focuses on Ellie Chu (Leah Lewis) a shy, Chinese American 17-year-old who splits her days taking care of her grieving father and writing essays for her peers for extra money. When a sweet and goofy football player hires her to write love letters to his crush she develops feelings of her own — and all three form an unexpected bond. This movie goes beyond the expectations we place on teen comedies, romcoms, and queer movies. It understands the messiness of adolescence, of love, of queerness. It’s a perfectly imperfect movie and confirms Wu as one of the most confident voices in lesbian cinema. Hopefully, we won’t have to wait as long for her next cinematic treasure.


24. Go Fish

dir. Rose Troche, 1994
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Guinevere Turner kisses V.S. Brodie.

Low-budget and largely plotless like so many American indies of the era, Rose Troche’s debut film provided a first glimpse of representation for a generation of queer women. Guinevere Turner’s baby gay Max is adorable with her backwards hat and confused love life and the supporting cast feels so casually gay. This movie is certainly a time capsule, but it’s still funny and relatable decades later.


23. The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love

dir. Maria Maggenti, 1995
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Laurel Holloman with short hair kisses the top of Nicole Ari Parker's head.

Before she was Tina, Laurel Holloman played heartthrob soft butch Randy Dean in this iconic 90s comedy. Paired with Nicole Ari Parker as Evie Roy, Holloman is earnest and charming and bursting with teenage energy. Randy and Evie are adorable together as they fall in love and field hilarious — and painful — responses from their friends and family. All these years later this movie is still just as cute and fun — and it might even make you like Tina.


22. Appropriate Behavior

dir. Desiree Akhavan, 2014
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A close-up of Desiree Akhavan on the subway.

Shirin thought she met the only person in the world as sad and cynical as herself. She thought they were meant to be. Now in the wake of her break up she’s spiraling in a flurry of bisexual chaos. Writer/director/star Desiree Akhavan is a once-in-a-generation talent and her humor makes this an easy movie to watch even as Shirin is seeped in melancholy and crisis. Since The Slope, Akhavan has made work that feels deeply grounded in a casual queer perspective. There might be a lot of semi-autobiographical films about people trying to master adulthood, but there’s only one Desiree Akhavan and this film is as special as the filmmaker herself.


21. Jennifer’s Body

dir. Karyn Kusama, 2009
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A demonic Megan Fox smiles.

Poorly marketed and unfairly maligned upon its release, Karyn Kusama and Diablo Cody’s already cult classic has finally started to get the praise it deserves. With Cody’s signature wit and Kusama’s sharp style, this horror-comedy/rape-revenge/queer-teen-girl-friendship movie is a deadly delicious treat. Megan Fox is excellent in a role that plays with her celebrity and the expectations placed upon her and Amanda Seyfried is perfect as her best friend literally named Needy Lesbian — okay, fine, Needy Lesnicki. The original film was supposed to be more explicitly gay but even with the studio-influenced version we still get one steamy make out and lines like: “Do you buy all your murder weapons at Home Depot? God you’re butch!”

20. Fucking Åmål (Show Me Love)

dir. Lukas Moodyson, 1998
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Best lesbian movies #20: two girls sit against a wall, one out of focus, one in focus.

Mean-spirited, angsty, and oh so sweet, Lukas Moodyson’s grainy coming-of-age romance captures all the complications of teenagehood. The characters can be cruel — like teenagers tend to be — but it comes from insecurity, awakenings, and romance. Beyond the sour feelings, this is really a triumphant take on love. The moments of joy feel all the more satisfying bursting out of Moodyson’s realism.


19. Heavenly Creatures

dir. Peter Jackson, 1994
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Kate Winslet and Melanie Lynskey sit on opposite sides of a bathtub.

Peter Jackson is probably responsible for the misguided romantic choices and various kinks of hundreds (thousands?) of queer women around the world. Who among us didn’t watch this movie about two teenage girls falling in love, inventing their own fantasy world, and deciding to murder one of their mothers and think… hmm maybe? Kate Winslet and Melanie Lynskey play the parts of instigator and instigated so well and it really is bursting with as much imagination as it is toxic queer angst.


18. High Art

dir. Lisa Cholodenko, 1998
Our Review // Unavailable

Radha Mitchell looks at Ally Sheedy in a car.

Mirroring the energy of the drug-addicted lesbian photographer at the film’s center, Lisa Cholodenko’s debut film is sensuous, measured, and simmering with a sense of danger. Ally Sheedy plays Lucy with a toxic allure that barely masks a depth of sadness. We understand why Radha Mitchell’s Syd is so drawn to her and like Syd we hope for the best while expecting the worst. This is a movie about lost innocence and the decades that follow.


17. Born in Flames

dir. Lizzie Borden, 1983
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A group of Black women sit behind a microphone.

Radical, revolutionary, and still all too relevant, Lizzie Borden’s speculative masterpiece deserves its underground reputation and newfound celebration. Taking place ten years after a socialist revolution in America, Borden’s film examines the ways in which even leftist political structures leave women, people of color, and queer people behind. This is a complicated film that engages in complicated discussions — never afraid to confront the true nature of the issues we face as we attempt to build a better society. Ultimately, the film shows the power of mutual aid and a suggestion that to create real change communities will have to take care of ourselves. This world contains a multitude of revolutions, but Black queer women are at the center of the ultimate revolution. In Borden’s world — our world — change is possible, but the work continues.


16. The Favourite

dir. Yorgos Lanthimos, 2018
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Emma Stone adjusts the collar of Olivia Colman.

This movie about Queen Anne of England is not your average period piece — it’s not even your average gay period piece. Yes, it takes place in 1704 and is based on a true story and features all sorts of royal intrigue. But here that royal intrigue revolves around two women trying to finger their way to power. Olivia Colman plays Anne with a hilarious desperation — totally unstable and totally captivating. Rachel Weisz is Anne’s second in command — and lover — Lady Sarah, the real source of power in the court. Enter Emma Stone’s Abigail, a down-on-her-luck newcomer who quickly realizes the key to Anne’s favor. Watching Abigail and Sarah fight over Anne is delicious even as the film — or especially as the film — gets more and more twisted. Yorgos Lanthimos can be counted on for his dark sensibility and that’s certainly the case here even with the plot revolving around a queer women love triangle. The movie that sparked a thousand lesbian tweets asking Rachel Weisz to run them over with a truck, you’ll at least want her to fire a blank into your heart.


15. Imagine Me & You

dir. Ol Parker, 2005
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Best lesbian movies #15: Piper Perabo smiles with her back to Lena Headey

Out of all the lesbian romcoms, this might be the one that most successfully takes your standard hetero romcom and queers it. Not the deepest, not the most interesting, but the truest to the genre with lots of jokes, lots of heart, and all the right story beats. Piper Perabo plays gay once again and once again steals our hearts, but it’s Lena Headey’s confident gay florist that really makes the movie. Be careful. It just might make you believe in love at first sight.


14. Set It Off

dir. F. Gary Gray, 1996
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Queen Latifah sits on a roof next to Kimberly Elise, Vivica A. Fox, and Jada Pinkett Smith

An absolute masterpiece of a heist movie. F. Gary Gray’s story of four women who decide to rob a bank is as excellent a drama as it is an action movie. We care so much about the women played by Jada Pinkett Smith, Queen Latifah, Vivica A. Fox, and Kimberly Elise and it makes the suspense all the more suspenseful. Queen Latifah is absolutely iconic as Cleo, the lesbian whose confidence is as dangerous as it is sexy.


13. Mulholland Drive

dir. David Lynch, 2001
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A fractured image of a brunette covering her face and a blonde looking on.

A cinematic masterpiece and one of David Lynch’s finest works. Naomi Watts gives an all time great performance as Betty, the wide-eyed actress who moves to Hollywood and falls for the mysterious amnesiac Rita (Laura Harring). Of course, there’s more to the story as this is a Lynch film, but more than any other work of his each thread of surreal oddity clicks together to tell this painful love story between two doomed women. Some accuse it of male gaze, but if you’re gonna pick a male’s gaze you could do worse than David Lynch.


12. Love Lies Bleeding

dir. Ross Glass, 2024
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Kristen Stewart looks at Katy O'Brian before throwing a burning bottle.

Kristen Stewart has been playing queer characters since before she came out. And yet Rose Glass’ sophomore feature about a gym employee and the bodybuilder who catches her eye still feels like the beginning of a new era for Stewart — and a new era for lesbian cinema. It’s not just that this film is gay — it’s the unapologetic eroticism and physicality and queer specificity allowed in a film centered around one of the world’s biggest movie stars. Stewart is wonderful, as is relative newcomer Katy O’Brian, and Glass doesn’t hold back in supporting their performances with bold formal choices. There’s nothing respectable about this film — not in queerness, not in form — and still it ends up being a crowd-pleaser. Queer filmmakers have been making bold cinema for decades, but, in terms of mainstream work with bigger budgets, we someday might look back at lesbian cinema as before Love Lies Bleeding and after Love Lies Bleeding.


11. D.E.B.S.

dir. Angela Robinson, 2004
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A group of girls in schoolgirl outfits hold up guns.

Some movies seem to arrive from an alternate dimension — a homonormative utopia where queer audiences get what we deserve. Angela Robinson’s debut is exactly that kind of movie. We can indulge in the subtext of silly action movies all day long, but Robinson makes it the actual story. Why shouldn’t a campy movie about a group of girl spies also be a lesbian romcom? There was no movie like this when it came out and there haven’t really been any since. There’s a casual gayness to the movie that’s responsible for turning countless women queer — aided, of course, by Jordana Brewster as supervillain Lucy Diamond.


10. Pariah

dir. Dee Rees, 2011
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Best lesbian movies #10: A close-up of Adepero Oduye wearing an askew hat.

Dee Rees’ debut feature is a stunning cinematic achievement. Her artful direction and poignant, specific writing melts into Bradford Young’s remarkable cinematography, the impeccable soundtrack, and a collection of phenomenal actors led by Adepero Oduye. Oduye gives the kind of performance that should be talked about until we stop talking about cinema — finding layers in the realism, lightness in the pain. This is an at times difficult film, but it’s far from maudlin. Rees gives us those first moments of love, those first moments of self-discovery and identification — even if they’re met with rejection and isolation and difficulties. This is a film explicitly about Black queerness — not a single white person appears on screen — and it’s a towering achievement from a Black lesbian filmmaker who’s already left her mark and is only just beginning.


9. Bottoms

dir. Emma Seligman, 2023
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Best lesbian movies #9: Ayo Edebiri and Rachel Sennott sit in the front seat of a car with Havana Rose Liu in the back. They all look surprised.

With most mainstream lesbian movies split between tragic and wholesome, Bottoms arrived like breath of deliciously sour air. It’s not just that Emma Seligman’s sophomore feature is funny — and it is — it’s that it finds its humor through irreverence. It has more in common with Anchorman than But I’m a Cheerleader. Respectability isn’t just subverted, it’s ignored altogether. Its lesbian leads aren’t predatory like the trope — they’re predatory like misguided horny teens of any sexuality and gender. With perfect performances — especially from Ayo Edebiri, Havana Rose Liu, and co-writer Rachel Sennott — and a story that feels at once fresh and familiar, it’s no wonder this movie has quickly become so beloved.


8. Saving Face

dir. Alice Wu, 2004
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Best lesbian movies #8: Michelle Krusiec and Lynn Chen dance

Plenty of gay romcoms attempt to fit queerness into the genre, but Saving Face goes beyond what any of its straight counterparts have ever accomplished. Alice Wu’s only film for sixteen years is funny and romantic — it’s also a moving tale of family and community. Michelle Krusiec plays Wil, a Chinese American lesbian surgeon forced to house her mysteriously pregnant mother just as she’s falling for her boss’ daughter played by Lynn Chen. Krusiec and Chen have a timeless chemistry. It’s so fun to watch them flirt and fall in love and navigate how their lives could possibly merge. Joan Chen also gives a really special performance as Wil’s mom. This movie isn’t content to just tell one love story — its ambitions are to show the unpredictable nature of the very concept. Specificity makes for better storytelling and it doesn’t get much better than this enchanting film.


7. The Handmaiden

dir. Park Chan-Wook, 2016
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Best lesbian movies #7: Kim Tae-ri holds an umbrella over Kim Min-hee in the rain.

A cinematic miracle pairing two seemingly discordant visions to create one dazzling masterpiece. Park Chan-Wook’s adaptation of Sarah Waters’ Fingersmith keeps the source material’s tight plotting and well drawn characters and combines them with Park’s always remarkable style. Kim Min-hee and Kim Tae-ri crackle with chemistry — no matter who is the cat and who is the mouse in any given moment. This is a thrilling, sexy, horrifying, ultimately romantic and hopeful movie and the whole thing is an absolute ride. It’s a masterful example of what’s possible when queer women are included in genre storytelling.


6. Desert Hearts

dir. Donna Deitch, 1985
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Best lesbian movies #6: Patricia Charbonneau leans back on a bed.

A period piece decades ahead of its time, Donna Deitch’s sweeping romance is a classic that earns that word in quality and burns past it with an ever-present spark. Helen Shaver plays Professor Vivian Bell who’s staying at a Nevadan ranch while she waits for her divorce to finalize. She has taken the first step towards independence, but isn’t sure what’s next. The answer? Cay Rivers. Patricia Charbonneau as Cay has so much easy tomboy femme charm, a sexy dedication to self, and wears pants and shorts unlike any other on-screen character. Their romance is fraught, but absent is the melodrama one might expect from a film made in the 80s about the 50s. It’s a quieter, more grounded affair — that still finds time for an iconic kiss in the rain. You don’t have to believe in love — let one of the best lesbian movies of all time do it for you.


5. Carol

dir. Todd Haynes, 2015
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Best lesbian movies #5: Cate Blanchett holds Rooney Mara naked in bed.

Todd Hayne’s gorgeous adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s The Price of Salt is a poignant coming-of-age movie masquerading as a grand period love story — or, possibly, vice-versa. Therese Belevit is working at a department store for the holidays, spending her time with a man she doesn’t care much for, and daydreaming about being a photographer. Carol Aird is ten to twenty years her senior, going through a divorce, and worried that as a lesbian she’ll lose her daughter. And yet despite all their differences Therese and Carol connect. Therese finds a spark for maturity; Carol finds comfort and an escape. Phyllis Nagy’s script, Carter Burwell’s score, Ed Lachman’s cinematography, and every other technical aspect of the film is just perfect. Rooney Mara as Therese, Cate Blanchett as Carol, and Sarah Paulson as Carol’s friend Abby are all alluring and heartbreaking in their own specific ways. You’ll never think about a Santa hat, leather gloves, or creamed spinach the same way again.


4. Portrait of a Lady on Fire

dir. Céline Sciamma, 2019
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Best lesbian movies #4:a woman in a green dress looks out at crashing ocean waves.

An immediate landmark of lesbian cinema, Céline Sciamma fulfills the promise of her first three features with a gorgeous work of lesbian art that pushes the boundaries of how our gaze appears on screen. This is a movie about love and a movie about creation – specifically about women, specifically about lesbians. Noémie Merlant and Adèle Haenel are exquisite, giving performances that challenge the very notion of audience watching actors. Claire Mathon’s cinematography is as beautiful as it is pointed — the stunning images always motivated. There is so much eroticism and love and also a push to view these concepts in a way separate from heteropatriarchal structures. Céline Sciamma wants our cinema to be our cinema and with this monumental work she succeeds.


3. But I’m a Cheerleader

dir. Jamie Babbit, 1999
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Natasha Lyonne and Clea DuVall in pink shirts look at each other while scrubbing the floor.

Jamie Babbit’s campy lesbian classic received bad reviews upon its initial release. The largely straight male critics just didn’t understand why someone would make a comedy about a subject matter this serious. But this film isn’t for them. This is a biting satire that mocks homophobia and the people and institutions that uphold it — all the while featuring relatable gay characters and joyful queer romance. Natasha Lyonne first earned her crown as honorary lesbian with her hilarious performance and Clea DuVall is a total heartthrob as her love interest. The rest of the cast includes Melanie Lynskey, Michelle Williams, Cathy Moriarty, Mink Stole, and RuPaul — each one of them falling into the movie’s specific tone with perfection. Camp is often associated with gay men, but this movie is explicitly lesbian camp. This is a queer movie made by queer people about queer experiences through a queer lens for queer audiences.


2. The Watermelon Woman

dir. Cheryl Dunye, 1996
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Best lesbian movies #2: Cheryl Dunye in sunglasses and tan shirt over a white tank looks up smiling.

Mockumentary, romcom, buddy comedy, alternate history, Cheryl Dunye’s debut feature is a work of Black lesbian cinema highly aware of its place within film history. Dunye is so funny and charming — and sexy with love interest Guinevere Turner — the depth of this singular work of lesbian art is only evident with its final title card. It has jokes, it has a video store meetcute, it has a hot sex scene, but it is also a declaration of an artist’s stubborn autonomy. Dunye isn’t content just to mock or pay tribute — she understands that being a filmmaker with several marginalized identities doesn’t allow her that casual dismissal or easy celebration. She understands the importance of history and that sometimes you have to create your own history. And she’s determined to have fun along the way.


1. Bound

dir. Lana and Lilly Wachowski, 1996
Our Review // Watch It

Best lesbian movies #1: Jennifer Tilly grabs Gina Gershon's shoulder as she kisses her neck.

The Wachowskis’ take a classic film noir story with classic film noir archetypes and queer it in form and content. Gina Gershon plays Corky, the soft butch everyman ready-made to get wrapped up in things that don’t concern her. This, of course, arrives in the form of Jennifer Tilly’s femme fatale Violet. There’s a deep understanding of the genre that allows them to subvert it — holding onto the excitement and sex appeal, but prioritizing lesbian love and delicious misandry. This is as stylish and exciting as any of the Wachowski’s bigger budget fare and it has some of the best sex scenes of all time choreographed by Susie Bright. This is a fitting recipient of the title best lesbian movie ever — a genre masterpiece by two queer trans women whose love of cinema is matched only by their love for lesbian culture.

The morning after hooking up with Violet, Corky says, “I can see again.” That’s how it feels every time I revisit this movie. I can see again. Lesbian cinema’s past, lesbian cinema’s future. Bound lets me see it all.

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Drew Burnett Gregory

Drew is a Brooklyn-based writer, filmmaker, and theatremaker. She is a Senior Editor at Autostraddle with a focus in film and television, sex and dating, and politics. Her writing can also be found at Bright Wall/Dark Room, Cosmopolitan UK, Refinery29, Into, them, and Knock LA. She was a 2022 Outfest Screenwriting Lab Notable Writer and a 2023 Lambda Literary Screenwriting Fellow. She is currently working on a million film and TV projects mostly about queer trans women. Find her on Twitter and Instagram.

Drew Burnett has written 566 articles for us.

14 Comments

  1. These lists are the best things ever!
    One thing- in the old list, the Rafiki description had a link to an Autostraddle interview with the actors. But when I clicked on the link, it didn’t work. I read the interview via the Wayback Machine, and it was really good. Esp nice to see international stuff on Autostraddle. Is it possible to put the link back up?

  2. Great choices – all my faves are here.

    But I’m wish EEAAO were ranked in the top 20 – sure, the movie centres around Evelyn, but Joy is central to the latter part of the film. Her relationship with her mother, her queerness and longing for familial aceeptance informs the *entire* plot.

    Also, I felt like I died and went to heaven on seeing Jamie Lee Curtis and Michelle Yeoh as lesbo lovers in the *hotdog fingers* universe. Hilarious and poignant.

  3. Love the list! I’m surprised Bottoms made it but Book Smart didn’t though. I think they’re comparable films and I do appreciate both to be sure. But Book Smart seems the stronger of the two to me. I don’t think you have to replace one with the other, but I’m just kind of shocked Book Smart didn’t make it, really. Thanks for the stellar list though. Great resource!

  4. As a relative newcomer (trans woman, felt like trespasser in lesbian culture before finding myself), this is a great list of movies I haven’t seen, for the most part 😅 Surprised how many are from the last century, and how many are from male directors. But I’ll happily enqueue the lighter fare, at least, and give it a watch. It’s been a long time (and a gender) since I watched a proper romcom. Maybe I’ll even clean out the popcorn machine and fire up the projector, make an evening of it with the other Mrs.

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