The 200 Best Lesbian, Bisexual & Queer Movies Of All Time

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150. Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn

dir. Cathy Yan, 2020
Our Review // Watch It

Finally after so much subtext, a big budget superhero movie that explicitly includes queer women — in fact, it’s starring one. Cathy Yan’s explosive, misandrist, comic book treat may be light on gay sex and romance, but with a mention of an ex-girlfriend Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn is an on-screen canon bisexual. Add Rosie Perez’s lesbian Renee Montoya and her ex-girlfriend played by Ali Wong and a nice amount of the usual subtext that accompanies a female-led action movie and you’re left with a movie that’s gay by any standard and very gay by a Hollywood standard. Montoya also sets a lovely example for lesbian cops across media by doing the right thing — quitting.

149. Drifting Flowers

dir. Chou Zero, 2008
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Lesbian filmmaker Chou Zero’s trio of intersecting queer tales are about love, friendship, and identity. As much about gender as it is about sexuality, the film is at its best when focusing on the character Diego played by Chao Yi-lan. In the present Diego is a masc heartthrob, but in the past we see her struggle to define her identity beyond the expectations of woman. It’s a moving film that saves its best section for last.

148. AWOL

dir. Deb Shoval, 2016
Our Review // Watch It // Also Available on Hulu

Lola Kirke and Breeda Wool give beautiful performances in this melancholy tale of first love in rural America. As the two women try to find a future together, they’re faced with the limitations of their circumstance. It’s an at times heartbreaking, at times sexy, and always lived in debut from director Deb Shoval.

147. Therese and Isabelle

dir. Radley Metzger, 1968
Unavailable

A landmark of lesbian cinema caught between Violette Leduc’s poetic truth and director Radley Metzger’s male gaze, this is an imperfect yet worthy work. This boarding school tale of young love avoids most of the tropes associated with similar stories, trading in plot for extended sex scenes, lush narration, and a visual representation of haunting memory. The second half of the film is especially stunning, for its time, yes, but for our time as well.

146. Jennifer’s Body

dir. Karyn Kusama, 2009
Our Review // Watch It // Also Available on Starz

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 even 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!”

145. Replay

dir. Catherine Corsini, 2001
Unavailable

Catherine Corsini would go on to make the far more romantic Summertime, but first she made this twisted tale of obsessive love. Nathalie and Louise are childhood friends unwilling to admit their feelings for each other. Louise is especially taken and over the course of decades alternates between full commitment and spiteful abandonment. This is a painful movie about jealousy and the cost of internalized shame.

144. The Kids Are All Right

dir. Lisa Cholodenko, 2010
Our Review // Watch It

Not the most beloved by the lesbian community, this Oscar-nominated movie from lesbian filmmaker Lisa Cholodenko might be 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.

143. Unpregnant

dir. Rachel Goldenberg, 2020
Available on HBO Max

A pro-choice friendship comedy, Rachel Goldenberg’s road trip romp is juggling a lot of tones. But its combination of silly and serious works, because of the two stellar performances at its center. Haley Lu Richardson and Barbie Ferreira create characters that are easy to root for and a chemistry that’s a joy to watch. Ferreira is queer IRL and she just feels so queer in every moment here. It’s exciting that we’re at a place where so many teen movies have at least one queer character — even more exciting that so much of young Hollywood is queer and can openly play those parts. The central love story of the film is the platonic one between the friends but fret not Ferreira still gets a crush and a kiss — with a monster truck driver played by Betty Who!

142. The Fish Child

dir. Lucia Puenzo, 2009
Our Review // Watch It

Based on her own novel, Lucia Puenzo’s film is a painful love story about two young queer women separated by race and class. Lala is from a wealthy family and has been having an affair with Ailin, her family’s maid. Their desire to escape pushes them to crime and Lala must face the naïveté of her fantasies while Ailin tries simply to survive. Inés Efron and Mariela Vitale are fantastic and fantastic together and make the film work even when the plot takes some difficult to believe turns.

141. The Feels

dir. Jenée LaMarque, 2017
Our Review // Watch It // Also Available on Netflix

Constance Wu playing a lesbian is probably enough of a pitch to get you to watch this breezy Netflix comedy — and it should be! She’s great as always and she has a nice chemistry with co-star Angela Trimbur. The movie is sweet and affirming as it acknowledges how different our bodies function and the necessity for communication during sex. Ever Mainard gives a standout comic performance and provides some much needed butch energy to this gay bachelorette party comedy.

140. Jules of Light and Dark

dir. Daniel Laabs, 2018
Our Review // Watch It

Winner of the Grand Jury prize for Outstanding American Feature at Outfest 2019, Daniel Laabs’ debut feature is about two lost individuals forming an unlikely connection. Tallie Medel is phenomenal as Maya, a heartsick lesbian struggling in the aftermath of a car accident. She befriends Freddy, a lonely gay man with an estranged daughter, played by Robert Longstreet and the film cuts back and forth between their two storylines. While a bit underwritten and at times as lost as its characters, the film ultimately works because of its central performances and Laabs’ impressive visual style.

139. Miao Miao

dir. Cheng Hsiao-Tse, 2008
Unavailable

If you watch this movie hoping for the teen girls at its center to be together you’ll be disappointed. But if you watch this movie to witness the kind of adolescent yearning queer teens know intimately then you’ll be pleased. It’s a classic tale of lesbian girl meets probably bi girl meets probably gay boy who is probably in love with his ex-bandmate. No one really knows what they’re doing or how to express their feelings, but with its poppy soundtrack and jarring editing Cheng Hsiao-Tse seems to embrace the messy adolescent perspective of his characters. The characters feel what they want so deeply, but feeling what you want and articulating what you want are far from the same thing. Adolescence is hard no matter what, but queer adolescence is another level of confusion.

138. Unveiled

dir. Angelina Maccarone, 2005
Unavailable

Jasmin Tabatabai gives a phenomenal performance in this story of an Iranian lesbian pretending to be a man and seeking asylum in Germany. It’s a difficult and heartbreaking film, but writer/director Angelina Maccarone resists easy dramatic choices in favor of a melancholy complexity.

137. My Summer of Love

dir. Pawel Pawlikowski, 2004
Watch It

What begins is a quiet and tender queer coming-of-age love story takes a darker turn, as characters get increasingly untrustworthy and violent. It’s beautifully shot and has moving performances from Natalie Press and Emily Blunt, in her breakout role. It may not be the happiest queer film, but it’s not without hope, and the journey is worth it.

136. Forgotten Roads

dir. Nicol Ruiz Benavides, 2020
Unavailable

This movie has EVERYTHING. A 70-something lesbian rediscovering her sexuality. Another 70-something lesbian who is married to a man but moonlights as a queer lounge singer. Gays, against all odds, learning how to drive. UFOs. Yes. UFOs. Nicol Ruiz Benavides’ debut film is emotionally accessible and artistically esoteric and that combination makes for an incredible viewing experience. It’s rare to get movies about older queer women — it’s even rarer to get a film about older queer women that takes risks like this film. Lucky for us the risks pay off for a unique and meaningful viewing experience.

135. If These Walls Could Talk 2

dir. Jane Anderson, Martha Coolidge, Anne Heche, 2000
Unavailable

The three stories that make up this iconic HBO film certainly vary in quality. Jane Anderson’s 1961-set tale of a lesbian in mourning is simple and heartbreaking, while Anne Heche’s present day portrayal of Ellen Degeneres and Sharon Stone having a baby is cringeworthy at best. But it’s the middle section set in 1972 that makes the film what it is. Martha Coolidge’s love story between Michelle Williams and a very butch Chloë Sevigny is fun and sexy and explores questions of class and gender identity within lesbian circles. It also has an incredible supporting cast that includes Natasha Lyonne and Nia Long. The whole film can be watched by completists, but it’s this section that deserves true praise.

134. The Duke of Burgundy

dir. Peter Strickland, 2014
Our Review // Watch It // Also Available on Hulu

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.

133. First Girl I Loved

dir. Kerem Sanga, 2016
Our Review // Watch It // Also Available on Hulu

This coming-of-age drama is as much about consent as it is about queer discovery. Dylan Gelula plays Anne who begins to explore her first lesbian relationship in the aftermath of assault. The film opens itself up to the messiness of the interactions it displays and highlights how our culture’s broken ideas around sex, gender, power, and identity lead to so much pain. It’s a heartfelt, heartbreaking film that still finds time for sweetness. (And it has a great cameo from Cameron Esposito at the end.)

132. Spider Lilies

dir. Chou Zero, 2007
Unavailable

Winner of Best First Feature at the 2007 Berlin Film Festival, lesbian filmmaker Chou Zero’s romantic drama is a striking film. Years after a sudden tragedy, a cam girl and a tattoo artist — and former childhood sweethearts — navigate their conflicting boundaries and familial obligations as they try to reconnect. Chou’s style is poetic and dreamlike always turning back to her heroines’ interior lives.

131. The Runaways

dir. Floria Sigismondi, 2010
Watch It // Also Available on Netflix

Elevated by stellar performances from Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning and artful direction from Floria Sigismondi, this conventional music biopic tells the rise and fall of all-girl rock band The Runaways. It may fall into some of the genre’s silly tropes (watching Michael Shannon come up with “Cherry Bomb” on the spot is… an experience), but overall it’s a sexually fluid celebration of rock music and a cautionary tale of music industry misogyny.

130. Blue is the Warmest Color

dir. Abdellatif Kechiche, 2013
Our Review // Watch It // Also Available on Netflix

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.

129. Walk on the Wild Side

dir. Edward Dmytryk, 1962
Our Review // Unavailable

Barbara Stanwyck has a hot gay energy in most of her work, but only in this film did she actually play a lesbian. Unfortunately, the character is cruel and controlling in a sad way, not a sexy way. But this film that often feels like Tennessee Williams-lite isn’t lacking in pleasures. Jane Fonda’s scrappy sex worker Kitty Twist more than makes up for the story’s more maudlin elements. And even if she isn’t given the opportunity to embrace her sex appeal, Stanwyck humanizes the trope with the deep pain of an unhappy woman dissatisfied with her life’s circumstances.

128. Caramel

dir. Nadine Labaki, 2007
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Nadine Labaki’s debut directorial work is a romantic comedy about a group of women working in a waxing salon in Beirut. All of the women have different struggles with love — including Rima who is very shy and very gay. It’s a beautiful, funny movie that casually values female emotion in a way we rarely see.

127. Bit

dir. Brad Michael Elmore, 2019
Our Review // Watch It

The one and only movie about a trans lesbian joining a lesbian separatist vampire girl gang lives up to its premise. Nicole Maines is incredible as Laurel, charming in moments of awkward romance, and commanding in moments of action. Trans lesbians are still largely absent from the canon of lesbian cinema and this exception is delicious in how casually Laurel is included. Her transness is acknowledged and affects her character and the story, but it doesn’t define her. She also gets an adorable meetcute — that ends with teeth in her neck.

126. Monster

dir. Patty Jenkins, 2013
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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.

125. Margarita with a Straw

dir. Shonali Bose, 2014
Our Review // Watch It // Also Available on Hulu

Queer disabled representation is almost non-existent in media which makes this film’s triumphs all the more exciting, and its failures all the more frustrating. It allows its lead character the freedom to make mistakes, to explore her sexuality in all its messiness, and go beyond the narratives usually forced on disabled characters by abled filmmakers. Unfortunately the writers and directors are abled and even more unfortunately so are the lead actresses. One has to wonder if some of the film’s missteps, such as sexualizing a caretaking situation and having the blind character touch faces, as well as some of its more saccharine moments, would’ve been avoided if disabled people were actually involved in the making of the film. The movie is funny and sexy and sweet, but when it comes to disabled representation we still have so much further to go.

124. Holy Trinity

dir. Molly Hewitt, 2019
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Writer/director/producer/star Molly Hewitt’s debut feature about a dominatrix who huffs a magic aerosol can and begins communicating with the dead is a truly inventive work of queer queer queer cinema. With two non-binary leads (Hewitt and Work in Progress/The Politician heartthrob Theo Germaine), imaginative low budget production design and costumes, and the setting of Chicago’s queer scene, Hewitt has made a film with a spirit that recalls the best of the 90s queer cinema. It’s funny, it’s sexy, it’s weird, and, best of all, it’s filled with references and nuance cishet people could never understand.

123. Another Way

dir. Karoly Makk, Janos Xantus, 1982
Unavailable

Jadwiga Jankowska-Cieslak won the Best Actress award at Cannes for this remarkable film that’s hurt only by its maudlin insistence. Jankowska-Cieslak plays a political journalist in Hungary just after the revolution who begins a relationship with a less radical — and married — writer. They fight to live truthfully, love truthfully, and write truthfully, but the consequences of these transgressions are bleak. It’s a pointed, worthwhile film as long as you prepare yourself for the misery.

122. Annihilation

dir. Alex Garland, 2018
Our Review // Watch It

Beautiful and horrifying, depending on the moment, depending on your perspective, Alex Garland’s haunting sci-fi film is visceral and thought-provoking. A group of women venture into a mysterious zone called the Shimmer where the laws of science seem not to apply. Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Tessa Thompson are joined by Gina Rodriguez as a soft butch with an undercut, and every lesbian’s favorite cishet man Oscar Isaac. The film is light on lesbian content — the only romantic relationship focused on is between Portman and Isaac — but science fiction is a genre we’re almost always excluded from so this film is noteworthy not only for centering women, but explicitly including a gay woman in the narrative.

121. Shortbus

dir. John Cameron Mitchell, 2006
Unavailable

John Cameron Mitchell’s second film is most well-known for its unsimulated sex. But to say this movie is about sex is to say this movie is about all the things that come with sex — no pun intended. It’s about intimacy and emptiness and searching and, yes sure, orgasms. This is an ensemble film filled with lots of genders and sexuality, but at its center is Sook-Yin Lee’s Sofia, a couple’s counselor who has never experienced an orgasm. Her search takes her away from her husband and into a friendship with a melancholy dominatrix, a sex party where she’s coached by a room of lesbians, a makeout with real life icon Mx. Justin Vivian Bond, and eventually a threesome that might just be what she needed all along. American cinema is prude and a film like this was inevitably going to be consumed with its own controversy, but ultimately Mitchell’s film is a sweet tribute to the queer journey — when the journey itself is as important as the destination.

120. Laurel Canyon

dir. Lisa Cholodenko, 2002
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While light on queer content, Lisa Cholodenko’s film about a free-spirited record producer and her straight-laced son is an understated and effective drama. Frances McDormand and Christian Bale are great as mother and son and Kate Beckinsale is dreamy as the son’s fiancée who just might have more interest in his mom and her boyfriend than her husband to be.

119. The Rocky Horror Picture Show

dir. Jim Sharman, 1975
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This musical cult classic isn’t usually associated specifically with queer women — but it should be! It’s safe to say Tim Curry’s Dr. Frank-N-Furter, the sweet transvestite from Transsexual, Transylvania is, um, trans, and she’s very clearly bisexual. She has sex with Barry Bostwick’s Brad Majors and Susan Sarandon’s Janet. And damnit she also seems to have a sexual history with all of her henchmen and women. She may play into the predatory, less than consensual, murderous transfemme trope, but Rocky Horror is too campy to be taken so literally. Add in Columbia and Magenta all over each other during “Touch Me” and an orgy with all the characters at the end and it’s no wonder this one-of-a-kind musical has excited queer women and non-binary people for almost fifty years.

118. Fire

dir. Deepa Mehta, 1996
Unavailable

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.

117. Vampyros Lesbos

dir. Jesus Franco, 1971
Our Review // Watch It

The most well-known and most accomplished of 1970s lesbian vampire sexploitation, Franco’s appropriately named film is a bonkers explosion of guilty pleasure male gaze. The leftover-from-the-60s score and imagery that ranges from boats to scorpions makes for a silly and captivating viewing experience. Soledad Miranda is impossible to resist as a performer and a vampire.

116. The Secrets

dir. Avi Nesher, 2007
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This story of two young women discovering queerness at a Jewish seminary is complicated by their encounter with a mysterious older woman eager to atone for her sins. Naomi and Michelle are both headstrong and brilliant even if Naomi is studious and conservative and Michelle is a rule-breaking, reluctant student. They quickly go from enemies to friends to lovers to co-conspirators as they assist this French stranger in her atonement. It’s a complicated film about faith and love and commitment to principles all in the face of patriarchy.

115. Young & Wild

dir. Marialy Rivas, 2012
Watch It

This sexually explicit coming-of-age movie follows Daniela, a painfully horny teen living in an evangelical household in Chile. She writes about her escapades (and her family) on her popular blog, but her feelings are more complex than her blog might lead on. Her guilt increases as sex turns into bisexuality turns into infidelity. With a range of specific sex scenes and well-drawn relationships, the film is a painful and inspiring tale of desire.

114. Lost and Delirious

dir. Léa Pool, 2001
Our Review // Watch It

Loved by some, hated by others, Léa Pool’s boarding school dyke drama is as heightened as its angsty teens. Piper Perabo plays soft butch heartthrob Paulie Oster who is desperate to sonnet and fence her way into Jessica Paré’s heart. The dialogue is corny and the symbolism is heavy handed, but the story is told through the eyes of Mischa Barton’s younger new student and with that brings a level of naïveté to the whole approach. If you love falcons and feelings this movie might just be for you.

113. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

dir. David Fincher, 2011
Our Review // Watch It

Many questioned the necessity for another adaptation of the popular Swedish crime novel, but David Fincher delivered a film that was more polished, more narratively sound, and perfectly attuned to his attention to detail. And can we really have too much Lisbeth Salander? Rooney Mara’s take on the highly competent, ever vengeful, deeply dreamy bisexual hacker is far more vulnerable — possibly weaker, possibly just more human, depending on your affection for the original.

112. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

dir. Niels Arden Oplev, 2009
Watch It

If there’s one reason the Swedish adaptation remains the favorite among most queer women it’s Noomi Rapace. The movie itself may not be as formally accomplished as Fincher’s redo, but Rapace makes Lisbeth Salander instantly iconic. She’s gritty and fierce in a way so many badass Hollywood heroines are not. There’s nothing pretty about her take on Salander and that makes her all the more alluring.

111. Welcome to the USA

dir. Assel Aushakimova, 2019
Unavailable

This is the only Kazakh film on this list and it’s always such a treat to get a window into a new country’s lesbian culture and cinema — especially when the film is this good. The title alludes not to the film’s setting, but to the future destination of the protagonist Aliya, wonderfully portrayed by Saltanat Nauruz. She has won the green card lottery and is beginning to say goodbye to a home she resents. Saltanat Nauruz is wonderful as Aliya. This subtle film is largely effective because of her performance. The whole film feels culturally and personally specific even as it explores issues many queer people face such as obligation vs. desire. It isn’t plot-heavy, but what’s on screen lingers long after it ends.

110. Adam

dir. Rhys Ernst, 2019
Watch It // Also Available on Hulu

While it stirred controversy before it was even released, award-winning trans filmmaker Rhys Ernst’s debut feature is surprisingly low-key and deeply queer. Based on The L Word writer Ariel Schrag’s even more controversial book, this 2006-set coming-of-age tale takes an approach to queer storytelling that’s certainly original. Many films on this list focus on a queer protagonist navigating a cishet world, but this is the rare film with a cishet protagonist navigating a queer world. The film largely focuses on trans men — including a stand-out performance from Leo Sheng — but it is filled with queer women. It’s as much about bisexuality as it is about transness as several queer women question what it means to date transmasculine individuals as lesbian-identified people in a binary community. It’s a thought-provoking work of art that deserves to be seen before it’s judged. It’s also the only film on this list to feature a butch trans woman — played with a sexy bravado by newcomer Dana Levinson.

109. The Journey

dir. Ligy J. Pullappally, 2004
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This tale of two women who find friendship as children and forbidden love as adults follows some familiar lesbian movie beats. But Ligy J. Pullappally centers her characters’ unique personalities and their environment’s complex reaction, ultimately ending up with a film that’s authentic and moving and beautiful from beginning to end. Suhasini V. Nair and Shrruiti Menon give very different, equally accomplished performances and their decades long bond is believable in every moment.

108. Heavenly Creatures

dir. Peter Jackson, 1994
Our Review // Unavailable

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.

107. I Can’t Think Straight

dir. Shamim Sarif, 2007
Our Review // Watch It

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.

106. Battle of the Sexes

dir. Valerie Faris, Jonathan Dayton, 2017
Our Review // Watch It

The only thing gayer than tennis are haircuts, apparently! Emma Stone stars as Billie Jean King as she faces off against has-been chauvinist Bobby Riggs (Steve Carrell) in the tennis match deemed The Battle of the Sexes. Andrea Riseborough plays King’s hairdresser and eventual girlfriend, and, yes, there is a VERY sexy haircut scene! Haircuts aside, the movie is a sweet, soft feminist sports movie readymade for inspiration. Oh and Alan Cumming plays King’s queer mentor!

105. V for Vendetta

dir. James McTeigue, 2005
Watch It

Trust the Wachowskis to center queerness in a big budget action movie adaptation of an Alan Moore graphic novel. While Natalie Portman’s Evey and Hugo Weaving’s masked V aren’t queer — explicitly anyway — in extended flashback we watch how the film’s authoritarian government separated Valerie, played by Natasha Wightman, from her lover. It’s Valerie’s story that inspired V and inspires Evey, and ultimately inspires us, the audience. This lesbian love story is the emotional center of this film about revolution in the face of tyranny. It’s a fitting addition to a remarkable body of work from queer trans women sisters Lilly and Lana Wachowski — officially as screenwriters and rumored as co-directors.

104. The Fox

dir. Mark Rydell, 1967
Unavailable

One of the earliest portrayals of a queer women couple on-screen, Mark Rydell’s adaptation of the D.H. Lawrence novella of the same name surprises even as it dabbles in tropes. Sandy Dennis and Anne Heywood play Jill and Ellen, two women who live together and raise chickens in a relatively happy partnership. Ellen feels a certain ennui, but Jill’s only concern is the literal fox in their hen house. The metaphor manifests in the arrival of a man named Paul played by Keir Dullea who is terrifying in his determination to split them up. But this poetic, complicated film isn’t the expected 1960s story of a queer woman choosing a man — at least not so simply. The film is as much about gender as it is about sexuality and it deserves a greater reputation as a classic of lesbian cinema due to its performances, its craft, and its commitment to queer complexity in an era where that was so rarely allowed on screen.

103. Go Fish

dir. Rose Troche, 1994
Our Review // Watch It

Low-budget and 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.

102. The Prom

dir. Ryan Murphy, 2020
Our Review // Available on Netflix

The rare big budget musical to focus on lesbians, Ryan Murphy’s Broadway adaptation is star-studded, sentimental, and filled with the kind of simple optimism ready-made to melt the hearts of former closeted theatre kids everywhere. This is a movie with lots and lots of zaz, but underneath all that glitz and glamour is the story of two small town lesbians who just want to be together — who just want to be themselves. In a cast of big names — like literally Meryl Streep — it’s IRL queers and on-screen newcomers Jo Ellen Pellman and Ariana DeBose who make the movie sing. The movie’s message might be simple, but high school is simple. Messy and complicated and tragic and scarring and hopeful and simple. Open your unruly heart to these teen lesbians and you’ll be dancing and singing your way into a future of possibility.

101. Kissing Jessica Stein

dir. Charles Herman-Wurmfeld, 2001
Our Review // Watch It

Neurotic Jewish comedy but make it bicurious! This romcom written by and starring Jennifer Westfeldt and Heather Juergensen is a delight from beginning to, well, not quite the end. Yes, the ending is frustrating to most even all these years later, but it doesn’t take away from how funny and genuinely moving most of the film remains. The whole movie has a really joyous warmth to it and Tovah Feldshuh gives an especially tender performance as Jessica’s mom. The landscape of lesbian cinema has widened in the past two decades making this film’s final twist much less egregious — if still disappointing to many.

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Drew is an LA-based writer, filmmaker, and theatremaker. Her writing can be found at Bright Wall/Dark Room, Cosmopolitan UK, Thrillist, I Heart Female Directors, and, of course, Autostraddle. She is currently working on a million film and TV projects mostly about trans lesbians. Find her on Twitter and Instagram @draw_gregory.

Drew has written 154 articles for us.

90 Comments

  1. oh my god Drew, thank you for this extensive list!
    the sacrifice! of having to watch 200+ lesbian/bi/queer movies!

    I may not agree with the list 100%, but also there’s so many films I haven’t seen, so I’m gonna get on that right now!

  2. I’ve enjoyed reading this list as breaks throughout my workday. Thank you, Drew. Some of my absolute favorites are on it (Mulholland Drive, Professor Marston, Imagine Me and You) and I have plenty more to watch, just based on this list!

  3. This is an amazing list!

    I would like to throw in a small recommendation for a lesbian movie that I’ve never seen on any Autostraddle list, “What’s Cooking”. It’s a very sweet, Thanksgiving movie from 2000 that focuses on four family and one of the families is a lesbian couple played by Kyra Sedgwig and Julianna Margulies. It’s also directed by Gurinder Chadha who never gets her due as a female director who has made consistently great movies for the last 25 years. It’s not her absolute best movie (Bend It Like Beckham and Bride & Prejudice 4ever) but its a very pleasant way to spend a few hours and its in my own top 200 lesbian movies for sure!

  4. I’ve only (already?) seen 42 of these! I have some movies to watch. Thank you for all the work that went into this, I love a good list and for someone to tell me what to watch because I am nothing if not indecisive. (Too! Many! Choices!)

  5. This is an excellent list! Letterboxt says I’ve watched 25% of the list and that sounds about right. I was pretty excited to see Desert Hearts so high on the list; it’s one of my favorites. There something about it that is delightful and soars above all of the rest. The ending, in my mind, is full of possibilities. Nothing better than that.

    • I have to say I’m so disappointed that you have unequivocally decided Tomboy is a movie about a trans guy. This movie is the only one I’ve ever felt that represents my childhood as a masculine girl who liked to be taken for a boy. I actually think this is likely the experience of a lot of people who grew up to be butch women, and it feels pretty painful for that to be erased right here.

      I get that this kid could have grown up to be a trans guy. They could also grow up to be a butch woman or a non-binary lesbian. Idk why you are trying to put something that speaks to people like me in a box where there’s only one interpretation of it.

      Its your site, so do whatever. But this butch lesbian is pretty broken hearted.

      • Yeah, I am always a bit uneasy with that exclusion as well. A strict categorization for that movie isn’t fair at all. The trans experience is wide and gender and even just gender expression is an entire rainbow in itself and it’s sad to be excluding that movie.

        I am very curious as to how Autostraddle’s staff ultimately made this choice.

  6. THANK YOUUUUU This is such a valuable resource – thank you Drew & AS!!! The movie Yeu (2015) with Gil Le and Chi Pu is at leaaaast as good as some of the movies on this list :) The trailer makes it look not good but its sweet and the story line with one of the characters’ moms made me cry real bad in a good way. This clip compilation gives a better idea – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nK7gGPgIs0Y.

  7. I’ve only read p. 1 so far but want to thank you IMMENSELY for this amazing reference list. I’ve seen a few of the lesser known ones here, including The Firefly – dead brother brings two women together – as well as some of the bigger, English-language releases that weren’t quite as good as we’d hope (Birds of Prey, Lizzie, Vita and Virginia). And I remember Entre Nous from way back when!! Had a copy on VHS recorded off TV that I watched many times – very angsty, but deep emotions and great acting. I know I saw Salmonberries at a film festival but have no memory of any of its plot, though I recall kd lang being in it :).

  8. Thank you so much for this list, there’s some movies I need to watch!

    I have a few recommendations too, The Girl King (2015) a biography about Christina, Queen of Sweden. And Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga (2019) lesbian Bollywood, with dancing and all

  9. 40/200 and „Lost & delirious“ is not one of them 😁 We have a queer film festival in town, so once a year I watch a lot of movies but mostly documentaries. I will miss it so damn much this year!

    „Portrait of a lady on fire“ was a revelation last year there, and the year before I fell deeply in love with „My days of mercy“ or rather Kate Mara 😉

  10. Thanks for this list Drew, it must have taken so much work to put together. There are so many films I haven’t heard of. Also I appreciate the inclusion of Nina’s Heavenly Delights – not the best film but there’s not many Scottish lesbian films out there, so I love it for what it is.

    • There are some movies in the back half of this list that I love way more than I should (and some movies in the front half that I don’t understand the appeal…) and Nina’s Heavenly Delights is absolutely one that I adore. It knows what it wants to be! And it does that well!

  11. I love this list !!!! Thank you so much for taking the time and dedication to make such an incredible resource; your writing about film and tv continues to be my favorite on the internet… I can’t wait to watch.
    Just one note – the link to watch The Secrets actually led to a verrrrry different movie called The Secret

  12. I am a nerd for algorithms, etc – any chance you’d care to share more about how the process/procedure etc y’all used to combine that data into ranking. Did you all have votes that got combined in some way / an algorithm you used to guide criteria / was it sort of a gut choice based on the data you mentioned? etc. Just super curious! I love lists like this, but I love *making* (or knowing the behind-the-scenes of someone else’s list making system) almost as much as whatever list itself I am fancying ;)

    • It was a combination. We did a vote with the TV Team on all eligible titles that involved both a numerical rating and a list of favorites. These two forms of rating created two lists that were combined evenly into a single list. We then adjusted that list based on the decade vote that we did last year with the whole Autostraddle team as well as other internal judgements like reviews and lists.

      There was no way to be totally true to an algorithm, since everyone on the team has not seen every film (and, in fact, I’m the only one who has seen some), but we tried to stay true to that voting whenever possible. Then those other factors listed were taken into account.

      It’s fun, because even though I had the most influence on the eventual ranking there are still some films in the bottom 50 that I prefer to those in the top 50. Because taste varies! Hopefully the list reflects the queer community at large, but especially the Autostraddle community. Even though again I’m sure we all disagree with some things. haha

  13. Great list, however, I cannot believe Sarah Water’s Fingersmith wasn’t listed here. Although pretty low budget, the plot of the movie and Elaine Cassidy and Sally Hawkins acting was more than amazing. For me it can’t get any more real. The way they look at each other, you can feel their desire and suffering. I’m curious as to why was the movie not included in the list. Anyway, thanks.

  14. LOVE this list. Also wanted to show some love for “Jennifer’s Body”. Lesbian/bi horror film with two women leads directed and written by women. Explores the intimate relationship between two teenage best friends in a camp slasher film after one turns into a men-killing demon. Underneath the quirky humor is lots of painfully accurate subtext and VERY textual representation. Totally underrated queer cult classic.

  15. Kinda missed seeing “Blow Dry” on this list (I definitely liked it more than some of the movies which are on it). Yeah, it’s more about a blended family than a lesbian movie per se (and there is an implication of tragedy hanging over it: a terminal cancer diagnosis).

    But the ending finds at least brief happiness, the lesbian couple is together, and hey, some AMAZING hair-styling! Incredible cast w/ Bill Nighy, Rachel Griffiths, then (2001) up&coming It Kids Josh Hartnett and Rachel Leigh Cook, and [RIP to both] Miranda Richardson and Alan Rickman. [Richardson and Griffiths being the f/f couple]

    A particular delight for Anglophiles (I recommended it to my late mother on that count alone!] If you’ve never seen it, give it a…dry. ;-/

    [Really love finally being able to comment here, Auto. But why now, 5 (4) years into my “Supergirl” obsession, and w/ no new eps for at least a year?! }:-0]

  16. Great list! I watched a ton of these movies middle school through high school borrowed as DVDs from my public library, believe it or not! The public library was a wonderful resource to me as a young queer person and I checked out tons of young adult fiction about anything gay for years before diving into queer movies. Fucking Amal was one of these movies that I borrowed from the library and I see it listed as unavailable here. I want to encourage people to look IRL for some of these films!

    Most public library systems also have intralibrary loans so even if your local library doesn’t have what you’re looking for, they likely have a relationship with other libraries in their network to borrow within the county.

    This is also to encourage everyone to find alternatives to Amazon to watch these films. I know this is easier said than done in our era of streaming and instant shopping and with Amazon being so ubiquitous. They are such a terrible company from their mistreatment of workers and ties to government surveillance programs by providing information to Homeland Security and ICE, etc. etc.

    Thanks San Carlos Public Library and libraries everywhere for their work

    • YES! I love the library. That was also how I first watched a lot of films growing up.

      Unfortunately the average person simply doesn’t watch movies on DVD anymore, so it feels worth noting which films on this list are not available to stream. But I have a piece coming out soon that’s specifically about queer women media on home video. That’s absolutely something I think about and want to encourage others to embrace.

      And I’m with you on Amazon personally. When there’s literally any other option — even with streaming — I take it.

  17. Ooook. I have to be honest….

    So first I el give you and everyone else who took part in this long term project to dedicate it their time, their lives! It is not a small fit to undertake and therefore I am forever grateful to all of you! I cannot name any other lgbt online and offline gathering place which decided to take upon itself such an enormous endeavour you all did undertake!

    But I am hurt by the fact that you catapulted some of the best lesbian movies in the 100 – 200 positions while they were made by lesbian filmmakers, were very dedicated projects, were beloved by lgbt people around the world, were very sensibly made and were very genuine in overall portrayal, original, acting was amazing etcetcetc, in overall were magnificent projects and some of those movies are in overal among my fav ones, not because thwy r lgbt themed. So… I am really disappointed by placements of the best movies into the bad category…. While some of the very very awful and not at all enjoyable projects were rated and placed higher from all of you. This is very strange how lbt women rate art…. Very strange indeed…

  18. This is an amazing start to the list, but so many movies were left out. Some I can’t help but feel were slighted on purpose. The entire Nicole Conn and Sarah Waters collection of movies for starters. How can all 8 movies be absent?? Then there were great movies such as Tru Love, Poison Ivy, Raven’s Touch, Out at the Wedding, Finn’s Girl, Guest House, Running on Empty Dreams, Chole, Tell it to the Bees, Snapshots, Girls Like Magic, Alto,etc

    I would love to see a list created with every lesbian/queer movie ever made, without limiting it based people’s personal preferences of what they think a lesbian movie should or should not be. How about just list the movies and allow us to decide for ourselves, because each person is different, unique, and beautiful…just like each movie made. Let’s be more inclusive, not only in our cinema, but in our culture as a hole.

    Thank you for the amazing beginning though.

    • I actually went to a cinema screening of Tell It To The Bees last year (before, well… *gestures broadly*), and I’ve never seen so many queer women in one room before! It was a really cool evening.

      The author of the book was there to give a Q&A afterwards and she didn’t seem super keen on the way the film makers interpreted the book in some places, so I’d be interested to give it a read some day to see what it’s like.

  19. Thanks for this – v comprehensive!
    I would also recommend Almost Adults and Carmilla (and the prequel in the form of the web series). They have the same leads – both out queer women, so they do the stories justice.

  20. Wow what an amazingly crafted list. The time and effort is greatly appreciated. I’ve been working through it chronologically, some I’ve seen but there’s a sense of nostalgia watching them again. I had a few movies that weren’t on the list that I personally enjoyed if anyone is interested.

    An unexpected Love-It’s life time and a little cheesy but there are some tender moments plus there is a happy ending.

    A Luv Tale-a movie with a queer Black woman it’s old school but it’s a really food watch plus MC lytes in it.

    Nina- An intense movie with some great scenes and the chemistry between the characters is deafening.

    City of Trees-it made me smile, believable chemistry, I did nod off a few times but I chuck that up to the slow pace of the movie or at least it felt like it to me but once it moved I was wide awake.

    A lot of these movies are in Tubi and Amazon Prime.

  21. Drew — Thanks for this terrific list. Could have sworn I had posted a comment when this piece first ran but it doesn’t seem to be here anymore. Thanks so much for your incredible knowledge of queer film history (someday I hope you’ll see my films and consider them for this canon!)

  22. Long ago, I watched a film,(maybe from the 60s or ealy 70s) on tv about an aged lesbian that was an actress in a tvshow for children. Her trade mark is that she would ride in a scooter o little motorcycle.
    Does any body know something about this, film? Title?

    • Fernando, the movie you’re looking for might be “The Killing of Sister George”. It’s about an aged lesbian actress who plays a nurse “Sister George” on a soap opera and her character rides a scooter on the show.

  23. I will never get over the fact that “Aimée & Jaguar” is not queer-universally considered a MUCH (like VERY. MUCH.) more inspiring story than some other ones which rank higher on the list (and not only on this list, so I’m not blaming anyone). Sure, the movie has its flaws, and sure, teenage coming of age stories (for example) are indeed important in some way for self-construction, but fierce lesbian love against Nazis? I wish I had seen THAT when I was a teenager. Maybe it’s because people cannot relate enough to that time period, or maybe it’s a more European story (I mean maybe more specific than some other European movies), I don’t know.

    • I totally agree. It’s a superb film. Very classy, very well acted, very important and sadly, very often under appreciated. I love lesbian films set in historical period, so I totally connect to this film like you do. You would also probably like Alexandra von Grote’s ‘Novembermond’ or ‘November Moon’ from 1984. Which is thematically the harrowing forerunner to Aimee & Jaguar, about a lesbian relationship between a Jewish woman and a French woman under the terror of the Nazis in occupied France.

  24. It’s all very well including Maedchen in Uniform (1931) as the first important lesbian movie. But there is another classic film that is equally as important as Maedchen. And is, if anything — even more groundbreaking for it’s truly unflinching exploration of a lesbian identity. Unfortunately, the film in question just flies under the radar — of all but THE MOST dedicated of lesbian film historians.
    I am of course referring to the incredible Swedish film: ‘Girl With Hyacinths’ from 1949. The reason for it’s undeserved obscurity is threefold: 1. It’s a film that wasn’t distributed much outside of Scandinavian countries 2. It’s fairly hard to find anyway in general (but there is a Swedish Dvd). 3. There are generally no English subtitles on most copies — so you have to go looking for them yourself to download.
    But the rewards are astounding if you can manage to track it down. What is most surprising is that the gay theme is so ‘out there’ and ‘in your face’ for a film of this era. It’s a classic of Swedish cinema, & beautifully photographed in black and white.
    Eva Henning’s tortured portrayal of a gay woman who cannot find acceptance in 1940’s Sweden — is a very important character in queer culture and one which deserves to be far more widely known for it’s place in the queer film history.
    There is simply NO film in 1940’s Hollywood — that has explicit lesbian themes, but in 1940’s Swedish cinema — there is, and ‘Girl With Hyacinths’ 1949, is that film.
    It definitely needs a place on the Autostraddle list, and I imagine the only reason it’s not on there — is because the list-makers have never heard of it…
    Trust me if you like Bergman’s ‘Persona’ — then this one is it’s spiritual sister.

    • In the list makers’ defense I would like to point out that they addressed the fact that “Girl With Hyacinths” was not included in the final not BEFORE the list started in the article.

      It was left off NOT because they had not heard of it or it was thought to be unimportant, but because no one on the team was able to access it. As you stated in your comment, it’s hard to get ahold of!

      See the final note from the article below:

      One last note: There are lesbian movies on this list not currently available to stream. Some of the greatest works of queer cinema are not being watched, because people not within our community get to decide which films deserve attention. Many titles on this list were included because I contacted production companies and producers, attended rare screenings, and hunted for DVDs at actual video stores. And still some films — most notably Girl with Hyacinths (1950) and Me siento extraña (1977) — were not included because no one on our team was able to access them.

  25. Apologies if this is explained somewhere else, but what’s the reasoning behind classifying ‘Tomboy’ as a film about a trans man? It resonated with me as a butch women very much and I’ve heard similarly from other butch lesbians. Seeing as the protagonist is a child in the movie is it beyond belief that they could grow up to be a masc woman or enby? It just feels a bit erasey tbh.

  26. Suggestions:

    Pandora’s Box (Germany, 1929)

    Afternoon Breezes (Japan, 1920)

    The Ice Palace (Norway, 1987)

    Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (England, 1989)

    The Evening Dress (France, 2009)

    And seconding the recommendation of Girl with Hyacinths above.

  27. Oh and how about:

    Rara (Chile, 2016)

    L’Auberge espagnole (pan-Western-European, 2002)

    La Leyenda negra (USA/El Salvador, 2020)

    Carmen & Lola (Spain, 2018)

    A Bread Factory (USA, 2018)

    Oslo 31. August (Norway, 2011) has a lesbian subplot.

    And I really like these short films:

    Came Out, It Rained, Went Back In Again (England, 1991)

    Hi Maya (Switzerland, 2004)

    Viernes Girl (USA/El Salvador, 2005)

  28. Is there a list of movies not on this list? For those of us who are completionists and can’t help but collect all 10848 crystals in video games… Also I hope people remember this ranking doesn’t need to be their ranking lol.

  29. wow, amazing list!! I’m finally giving “Desert hearts” a chance lol, hopefully I’ll be obsessed with it :)) I would also like to strongly recommend “The New Girlfriend” (2014). Just a heads up, there’s a trans woman character played by a cis actor, so yeah that’s not great, but other than that I loved it!

  30. Chutney Popcorn will always have a place in my heart, because it was one of the first queer movies I watched, and it has a happy ending.

    Also Nina’s Heavenly Delights inspired me to try making curry from scratch, instead of using curry sauce from a packet, and I make a fantastic vegetable curry now.

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