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

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10. Mädchen in Uniform

dir. Leontine Sagan, 1931
Our Review // Watch It

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.

9. Appropriate Behavior

dir. Desiree Akhavan, 2014
Our Review // Watch It // Also Available on Tubi

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.

8. All Over Me

dir. Alex Sichel, 1997
Unavailable

A film doesn’t have to be campy to be formally queer. Alex Sichel was given a grant by the Princess Grace Foundation 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.

7. Portrait of a Lady on Fire

dir. Céline Sciamma, 2019
Our Review // Watch It // Also Available on Hulu

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.

6. Bound

dir. Lana and Lilly Wachowski, 1996
Watch It

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 readymade to get wrapped 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 sex scenes choreographed by Susie Bright. Queer women are still largely absent from genre films, but this stands as one of the most prominent — and masterful — exceptions.

5. The Watermelon Woman

dir. Cheryl Dunye, 1996
Watch It

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 queer art is only evident with its final title card. This is a lesbian movie with jokes, with a videostore meetcute, with a hot sex scene, but it’s 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.

4. Desert Hearts

dir. Donna Deitch, 1985
Watch It

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 to believe in this lesbian movie — it’ll do that for you.

3. Pariah

dir. Dee Rees, 2011
Our Review // Watch It

Two girls laughing in a red-lit room in Pariah

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.

2. Saving Face

dir. Alice Wu, 2004
Watch It

still of two girls dancing from lesbian movie Saving Face

There are plenty of gay romcoms that 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 as funny and romantic as the best of the genre, but it’s also about family, about identity, about people. 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. It’s still all too rare to see films about Asian-Americans — especially queer films — making Wu’s film special as a representational milestone and simply as a work of art. Specificity makes for better storytelling and it doesn’t get much better than this enchanting film.

1. But I’m a Cheerleader

dir. Jamie Babbit, 1999
Watch It

Two lesbians watching a movie in pink outfits in "But I'm a Cheerleader"

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. It’s for us. And we already know all about queer trauma — what we need is queer joy. This is a biting satire that mocks homophobia and the people and institutions that uphold it — all the while grounding its gay characters in relatability and providing an authentic romance. Natasha Lyonne first earned her crown as honorary lesbian with her performance that’s simply hilarious 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.

It’s the best lesbian movie of all time.

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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 122 articles for us.

60 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.

  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.

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