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

Here at Autostraddle we want every lesbian, every queer woman, and every non-binary 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.

A collage of the 200 best lesbian movies of all time, arranged in rainbow colors.

That’s why five years after releasing our original “100 Best Bisexual, Queer and Lesbian Movies” list we decided to double it. The past half a decade has brought new films worthy of excitable gay celebration — and older works that have been rediscovered.

The goal with this list was to create a canon of lesbian+ movies that honor all the different types of work worthy of viewing. There are films that are simply fun for a casual night in, there are deeply thought-provoking films, and there are films that are mostly just here to turn you on.

This list was created through a rigorous multi-step process that involved a lot of lesbian movie watching, a lot of voting, and a lot of weighing factors often ignored on mainstream film lists. It was important to us that we not take into account any metric voted on by institutions composed mostly of cis straight white men. While it’s impressive when a film about queer women or nonbinary people manages to get Oscar nominations or a high Rotten Tomatoes score, the films that get those recognitions are not often made by us or specifically for us.

Here are some of the metrics we considered when voting and ranking:

  • The prominence of the queer character or storyline
  • Whether or not the work was made by queer people and/or women/nonbinary people
  • Awards given by queer and women specific film festivals and critics circles
  • And, most importantly, artistic quality

This list does not include films about trans men (e.g. Boys Don’t Cry, By Hook or By Crook), films about trans women exclusively interested in men (e.g. Tangerine, A Fantastic Woman), films based on queer books that had their explicit queerness removed (e.g. The Color Purple, Fried Green Tomatoes), or films where the queerness is just subtext (e.g. A League of Their Own, Rebecca). This list also doesn’t include short films, documentaries, or porn — with a handful of exceptions where length/genre lines were blurred.

The headline says “Lesbian, Bisexual, and Queer,” but for us that means any woman or non-binary person interested romantically or sexually in another woman or non-binary person.

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.

There is a world of cinema and a world of queer cinema and there are films from the last hundred years waiting to be discovered. But hey, we’ll keep searching for lost lesbian classics, the industry will keep making more films that include us, and in the meantime why not start with this little ol’ list of TWO HUNDRED movies? By the time you watch them all, we promise there will be more.

Author’s Note (1/26/21): Every year new lesbian films are made and old films are rediscovered and every year we’ll be updating this list of the best lesbian movies with the goal of making it less white, less cis, less US/Eurocentric, and, most of all, higher quality. 2021’s update brings with it a 25 movie change. Of those 25 films, 13 have leads of color, 3 have trans leads, and 8 are not from the US or Europe vs. the 25 that are leaving this list — which were predominantly white, cis, American/European, and, well, worse.

We’re really excited about what the past year in queer cinema has brought and we look forward to continued updates in the future!

[Jump to Movies: 200 | 150 | 100 | 50 | 25 | 10 Best Lesbian Movies | All 200 Lesbian Movies ]


200. Better Than Chocolate

dir. Anne Wheeler, 1999
Watch It // Also Available on Vudu

Famous or infamous depending on who you ask, this memorable ensemble comedy about a group of lesbian friends is noteworthy for its silly sex scenes, Ani DiFranco filled soundtrack, and inclusion of a trans woman character. Feminist bookstore, nudity-centric performance art, and sexy body painting are just some of the very lesbian things in this very lesbian movie. It’s not great, but it is ours.

199. Take Me for a Ride

dir. Micaela Rueda, 2016
Watch It

A simple coming-of-age movie about queer teen love in Ecuador, Take Me For a Ride works because of the precise cinematography and the chemistry between lead actors Samanta Caicedo and Maria Juliana Rangel. The drama remains low-key and the film feels like a personal snapshot.

198. Someone Great

dir. Jennifer Kaytin Robinson, 2019
Available on Netflix

While largely focusing on the hetero romance/breakup of Gina Rodriguez and LaKeith Stanfield, this anti-romcom also focuses on Rodriguez’s relationship with her two best friends. And one of them is gay! She’s Gotta Have It’s DeWanda Wise plays Erin, a real estate agent struggling to commit and admit her feelings for her girlfriend. It’s a slick movie with a poppy soundtrack readymade for a Netflix night in.

197. Vita and Virginia

dir. Chanya Button, 2018
Watch It // Also Available on Hulu

While not quite the masterpiece these two icons deserve, there’s still a lot to love about this bold retelling of one of queer history’s greatest love stories. With a discordant score from Isobel Waller-Bridge, Chanya Button’s film refuses to stay in the past, ensuring its tale of women writers, polyamory, and unsustainable connection feels alive and current. Elizabeth Debicki and Gemma Arterton are a pleasure to watch and ultimately the film is as much about these individuals as writers as it is about them as lovers.

196. Pimp

dir. Christine Crooks, 2018
Watch It

While certainly dabbling in stereotypes — probably due to its white writer/director — Pimp still portrays a lesbian character and lesbian love story rarely shown on screen. Keke Palmer plays Wednesday, a pimp living in the Bronx desperate to prove herself, help her mom who just got out of prison, and be with girl-next-door Niki. The plot takes some wild turns and the performances, while committed, don’t exactly feel real, resulting in a lesbian movie that’s epic in drama if not the gritty tale it seems to be attempting.

195. Salmonberries

dir. Percy Adlon, 1991
Unavailable

All you really need to know about this movie is it stars kd lang. Yes, that kd lang. She plays an Inuit woman who has taken on a male identity to work as a miner in Alaska. She falls in love with an East German widower librarian much older than her and the two form an unlikely friendship/eventual romance. It’s a slow and odd film about identity and the past that doesn’t totally work but is endlessly fascinating.

194. The Owls

dir. Cheryl Dunye, 2010
Watch It

After a six-year hiatus, icon Cheryl Dunye returned with this flawed but interesting work of lesbian cinema. At only a little over an hour, it acts as a comeback for Dunye, a postmortem on 90s queer cinema, an exploration of generation gaps in the queer community, and an examination of the differences between transmasculine people and butch lesbians. It may not work as well as Dunye’s other films appearing further down this list, but it’s still fascinating.

193. Love My Life

dir. Koji Kawano, 2006
Unavailable

If you don’t read the plot description for this otherwise low-key lesbian coming-of-age romance, the coming out scene will be one of the most surprising ever filmed. It’s a twist that adds a fascinating layer to the story and the movie is at its best when exploring this complexity and Ichiko’s relationship to her family. Her chemistry with Eri is really sweet and actors Rei Yoshii and Asami Imajuku are fun to watch in the roles. The plot is a bit convoluted with conflict that feels manufactured, but it’s still very enjoyable.

192. Puccini for Beginners

dir. Maria Maggenti, 2005
Unavailable

Maria Maggenti’s very New York City romcom about a complicated love triangle is filled with charm due to some witty dialogue and great performances from Elizabeth Reaser and Gretchen Mol. Reaser’s Allegra is a self-identified lesbian afraid of commitment who suddenly falls for a man… and his ex-girlfriend. Chaos, of course, ensues. It’s not deep, but it is delightful.

191. Nina’s Heavenly Delights

dir. Pratibha Parmar, 2006
Watch it

This sweet Indian-Scottish romcom is silly and sentimental, but it’s also a pleasure to watch. It has solid performances from Shelley Conn and Laura Fraser, a fun and breezy script, and a few great dance numbers. Beautiful lesbians and food porn are indeed heavenly delights and this movie has plenty of both.

190. The Firefly

dir. Ana Maria Hermida, 2013
Watch It

A film as much about grief as it is about queer love, Ana Maria Hermida’s debut is about a woman who develops a relationship with her brother’s fiancée in the wake of his death. The two women bond over their shared mourning and shared love and eventually find a way forward together. With magic realist touches and a heavy script, the movie is rich in drama, but it mostly earns its earnest ambitions.

189. Bumblefuck, USA

dir. Aaron Douglas Johnston, 2011
Watch It // Also Available on Tubi

Part mumblecore romance, part documentary, this film combines real interviews with the story of a Dutch woman who visits her gay American friend’s small town after he commits suicide. Blaming homophobia for his death, she sets out to learn what it’s like to be gay in this place, but ends up falling in love with a woman and learning firsthand. It’s a lowkey story with some painful turns, but it captures the confused messiness of newly coming out — or dating someone who’s newly coming out.

188. Life Partners

dir. Susanna Fogel, 2014
Watch It

A twist on the lesbian in love with her best friend trope, Leighton Meester’s Sasha never falls for Gillian Jacobs’ Paige — but she is jealous when Paige starts dating Tim played by Adam Brody. This is a sweet exploration of codependent friendships with casually resonant lead performances and a great supporting cast of Gabourey Sidibe, Abby Elliot, Beth Dover and Kate McKinnon.

187. The Pirate

dir. Jacques Doillon, 1984
Unavailable

This lesbian movie starts the drama at 100 and then turns it up. It’s as French as it is over-the-top as it is gay gay gay. Only the French would cast Jane Birkin in a love triangle with another woman and a man PLAYED BY HER BROTHER. It’s a brutal, unpleasant movie, but its magnetism is undeniable.

186. Goldfish Memory

dir. Elizabeth Gill, 2003
Buy on DVD

Like Love, Actually, but Irish, gay, and riddled with commitment issues this ensemble romantic comedy follows the lives and intersecting relationships of several delightfully messy people. Equally split between gay, lesbian, and straight romances, some storylines work better than others, but all of the actors are charming and the film is smarter about love than most of these kinds of romcoms.

185. Les Biches

dir. Claude Chabrol, 1968
Buy on DVD

Claude Chabrol’s interest in queer women seems to begin and end with how hot it is to watch us make out — but, to be fair, he’s not wrong. Male gaze abounds in this gender swapped Talented Mr. Ripley, but that doesn’t take away from all its pleasures. Chabrol knows how to make a compelling movie and this is certainly compelling — almost as compelling as actresses Stéphane Audran and Jacqueline Sassard. But be warned: the man takes over as the main love interest for both women.

184. Drool

dir. Nancy Kissam, 2009
Watch It

At times delightfully campy, at others rather off-putting, this low-budget comedy stars Girlfriends’ Jill Marie Jones and Mulholland Drive’s Laura Harring as lovers on the run. Kissam has cited John Waters as one of her key inspirations and that’s clear in the boldness of the work and its extremely dark sense of humor. But ultimately the film is rather wholesome as it creates a world where new family structures can arise from abuse.

183. To Faro

dir. Nana Neul, 2008
Unavailable

Melanie dreams of going to Portugal to live out all her queer dreams. But instead she’s stuck in a small German town at a job she hates. When she meets Jenny and is mistaken for a boy she decides to take on the alter ego of Miguel, a sweet Portuguese boy that quickly wins Jenny’s heart. This results in a tender — but at times harrowing — tale of sexual and gender discovery. The twist that Jenny is younger than she first says adds an unnecessary uncomfortable element to the whole movie, but it’s still an affecting coming of age drama.

182. The World Unseen

dir. Shamim Sarif, 2007
Watch It

Shamim Sarif’s period melodrama based on her own novel is a corny love story — in all the best ways. Set in apartheid era South Africa, Sarif places her lovers in the context of several relationships banned by the racist and homophobic state. Lisa Ray and Sheetal Sheth have so much chemistry and Sheth is especially great as she gallavants around in pants giving speeches about feminism. Its message of acceptance is not particularly deep or radical, but Sarif knows exactly the kind of film she’s trying to make and she does so excellently.

181. You & Me Forever

dir. Kaspar Munk, 2012
Watch It

Brutal and filled with heterosexual sex, nevertheless this film is noteworthy for its realistic portrayal of teenage confusion. The protagonist isn’t sure why she’s so taken with the bisexual new girl in school, but she’s quickly at her mercy. The film painfully portrays how susceptible closeted queer people can be to manipulation and the immense cruelty of teenage girls.

180. Entre Nous

dir. Diane Kurys, 1983
Available on Criterion

While the lesbianism remains implicit, this is still a beautiful movie about love and obligation. Miou-Miou and Isabelle Huppert are heartbreaking as two women whose deep connection pulls them away from the men in their lives. It’s slow and chaste — at least in its queerness — but this delicate film is a tribute to love between women.

179. Concussion

dir. Stacie Passon, 2013
Watch It

What begins as a gay twist on the classic story of sex-driven mid-life crise, becomes a deeper exploration of ennui and desire. Despite focusing largely on protagonist Abby’s foray into sex work, the film seems less concerned with representing that profession realistically and more concerned with how the sex (lots and lots and lots of sex!) impacts Abby as a character. Robin Weigert’s performance as Abby anchors the film despite its somewhat silly premise, and Maggie Siff gives a sexy supporting performance as one of Abby’s clients. There’s more to this movie than just the sex, but there is a lot of sex and it’s very well done!

178. Cocoon

dir. Leonie Krippendorff, 2020
Unavailable

How much you like Leoni Krippendorff’s lesbian coming-of-age tale about 14-year-old Berliner Nora will likely depend on how much you like lesbian coming-of-age tales in general — and your tolerance for butterfly metaphors. With an urgent, handheld style and dreamy yet realistic tone, Krippendorff’s film is just really beautiful and watchable even as it follows familiar beats. Lena Urzendowsky is excellent as the sad-eyed Nora and Jella Haase is devastating as her crush. This is a beautiful film filled with the kind of panicky intensity that defines early adolescence — and first love.

177. The Killing of Sister George

dir. Robert Aldrich, 1968
Buy on Blu-Ray

Robert Aldrich’s film is a landmark of lesbian cinema, but it’s brutal to watch. It perpetuates the trope of the bitter old lesbian with none of the pleasures of similar films. But as a movie it’s quite good with a devastating performance from Beryl Reid. It’s worth watching for her performance and for its historical importance even if it leaves a sour taste.

176. The Four-Faced Liar

dir. Jacob Chase, 2010
Watch It

Written by and co-starring The L Word: Generation Q showrunner Marja-Lewis Ryan, this is a lowkey dramedy about a group of early twenty-somethings stumbling their way through love. Ryan plays a lesbian who acts just like her straight male bestie and falls for a “straight” girl. As all of their relationships are challenged and reconfigured, the film questions what it is the characters really want and whether they’ll ever find it.

175. Blush

dir. Michal Vinik, 2015
Watch It / Also Available on Tubi

This Israeli coming-of-age film draws parallels between protagonist Naama’s burgeoning sexuality and her country’s troublesome politics. While she’s having the usual queer teen experiences of first love, first heartbreak, and first post-heartbreak head shave, she’s also forced to deal with her violent home life and racist father. It’s a tale of intolerance across identities that’s affecting even as it follows familiar beats.

174. Rent

dir. Chris Columbus, 2005
Watch It on amazon

Even fans of the musical would likely agree — or especially agree — that this adaptation doesn’t quite have the same magic as the show. But it does still have Idina Menzel as bisexual dreamboat/nightmare Maureen and isn’t that enough?? Rent means so much to so many queers and while the movie may have disappointed it still deserves recognition for capturing part of that legacy.

173. My Days of Mercy

dir. Tali Shalom-Ezer, 2017
Watch It

Capital punishment romance is a tough sell, but three stunning performances from Elliot Page, Kate Mara, and Amy Seimetz, and endless chemistry between Page and Mara, make this movie more watchable than its premise. It’s certainly emotional, but rarely maudlin, avoiding too much melodrama by focusing on the characters as people. There are moments of humor and even a few stellar sex scenes.

172. Stud Life

dir. Campbell X, 2012
Buy on DVD

This low-budget slice of queer London life centers on a black stud named JJ who vlogs about her experiences. Her best friend is a white gay man and the film focuses on that friendship and JJ’s new relationship with humor and sharp accuracy. There’s some casual transphobia and whorephobia, but it feels true to the messy characters trying to figure out how to navigate their community. Overall this is a really stellar film that feels grounded in a specificity we rarely see on screen.

171. Portrait of a Serial Monogamist

dir. Christina Zeidler, John Mitchell, 2015
Watch It

This anti-romcom follows the titular serial monogamist (and break-up expert) as she attempts to remain single, while longing for her ex and a barista crush. It’s light-hearted, Jewish, and Canadian. The film is as noteworthy for its relatable plotline as it is for its portrayal of the Toronto queer scene.

170. My Mother Likes Women

dir. Daniela Fejerman, Ines Paris, 2002
Buy on DVD

Finding a balance between pathos and farce, this movie about three sisters and their newly out mother is a messy delight. Leonor Watling is impossible not to love as the anxious Elvira and while the film is more centered on her than her mother’s queer relationship, it’s still a funny and moving film about figuring out one’s identity. It’s also pretty clear that Elvira herself is bisexual — no matter what her creepy male therapist says.

169. BFFs

dir. Andrew Putschoegl, 2014
Unavailable

With a warm and funny writing from leads Andrea Grano and Tara Karsian, this romcom about two straight best friends who go on a couples retreat only to discover they may have feelings for each other is an absolute delight. The premise lends itself to a lot of great comedy and the movie asks interesting questions about intimacy, sexuality, and friendship.

168. When Night is Falling

dir. Patricia Rozema, 1995
Watch It

Silly melodrama and lesbian movie tropes are simply a mask for a queer poetic vision in this love it or hate it drama from Patricia Rozema. Pascale Bussières’ uptight Christian college professor and Rachel Crawford’s sexually forward circus performer are magic together finding just the right chemistry for the movie’s specific tone. With endless creative flourishes, Rozema set out to make a film about queer desire and either you’ll want to mock it or live in it — or maybe both.

167. Yes or No?

dir. Sarasawadee Wongsompetch, 2010
Available on Netflix

With a cheesy score and endless adolescent feelings, this popular Thai film about a “normal” girl and her “tomboy” college roommate will make you feel 18 again. This movie may send a terrible message to baby butches in love with their lowkey homophobic seemingly straight girl roommates, but it’s simply too adorable to resist.

166. Antonia’s Line

dir. Marleen Gorris, 1995
Watch It // Also Available on Tubi

Light on lesbianism but big on feminism, this decades long tale of the fiercely independent Antonia finds room in its utopic female vision for queerness. Antonia’s daughter casually has a love affair with her daughter’s teacher and the teacher being a woman is never a concern. There’s even a short sex scene between the two of them. This Oscar winner for Best Foreign Language film is a tribute to women who chose to be more than expectations — more than simply the wives of men.

165. The Heiresses

dir. Marcelo Martinessi, 2018
Available on HBO Max

Slow and artful, the weight of emotions underneath this film settle in with melancholic surprise. Chela and Chiquita are two older upper-middle class lesbians whose 30 year partnership is interrupted when Chiquita goes to jail due to fraud. Broke and lonely, Chela begins offering rides to her older neighbors — and one younger woman with whom she develops a bond. Ana Brun is stellar as Chela — much of the film is just watching Chela in silence and Brun gives a performance worth watching. This is a sad film without resolutions, but its melancholy is equaled by its power.

164. Frida

dir. Julie Taymor, 2002
Watch It

While the script is paint-by-numbers Hollywood biopic, this telling of Frida Kahlo’s life is elevated by Julie Taymor’s visual inventiveness and Salma Hayek’s moving performance. The film largely focuses on Kahlo’s relationship with Diego Rivera, but it’s also explicit about her bisexuality with multiple moments of her lusting after or being with women. It doesn’t quite reflect Kahlo’s own unique creativity, but for this genre of movie it’s a success.

163. Who’s Afraid of Vagina Woolf?

dir. Anna Margarita Albelo, 2013
Watch It

Anna Margarita Albelo’s unique comic sensibility is on full display in this funny, charming movie based on a fictionalized version of herself. Low-budget and a bit all over the place, Albelo’s film works due to her committed performance, an endless formal inventiveness, and its unashamedly lesbian world. Also Guinevere Turner and Janina Gavankar co-star and Albelo spends much of the movie dressed in a vagina costume. What else do you need to know?

162. The Truth About Jane

dir. Lee Rose, 2000
Watch It // Also Available on Tubi

Corny and wholesome — but still affecting — this coming-of-age movie follows Jane as she falls in love for the first time and comes out to her family and school. At its best when focusing on Jane’s relationships with queer mentors played by RuPaul and Kelly Rowan, it’s a simple but sweet tearjerker. Her tenuous relationship with her mother played by Stockard Channing is painfully relatable even as it alternates between realistic and heavy-handed.

161. Emilia

dir. César Sodero, 2020
Unavailable

Lesbian teachers being inappropriate with students is one of the oldest and most complicated tropes of queer women cinema. Some entries are salacious, some explore the realities of abuse, and some try to do both at once. This film does neither, opting instead for a colder, more observational approach. The titular character is lost in her twenty-something second adolescence ennui and while her emotions don’t justify her repeated bad behavior they do make it compelling to observe. This film works as well as it does because its star Sofia Palomino finds nuance and meaning in every moment. It’s a remarkable central performance you’ll want to watch no matter what Emilia is doing — no matter how sad or uncomfortable it makes you.

160. Stranger Inside

dir. Cheryl Dunye, 2001
Buy on DVD

While more conventional in form and structure than much of Cheryl Dunye’s work, there’s still a lot to admire about this straight forward drama. Yolonda Ross is great as Treasure, an 18-year-old who meets her mother for the first time in prison. Dunye spent four years researching women’s prisons before making this project and that work is clear in the world that she builds for her characters.

159. Knife + Heart

dir. Yann Gonzalez, 2018
Watch It

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.

158. Love and Other Catastrophes

dir. Emma-Kate Croghan, 1996
Buy on VHS

If Whit Stillman was an Australian lesbian this is the movie he’d have made. But he didn’t have to because Emma-Kate Croghan made it instead! Snappy dialogue and fun performances make for a fun movie that will either endear you or repulse you depending on your tolerance for film students discussing intellectual topics as they navigate their messy love lives. It helps when those film students aren’t all straight and aren’t all men that’s for sure!

157. Itty Bitty Titty Committee

dir. Jamie Babbit, 2007
Buy on DVD

It might be goofy, dated, and a bit all over the place, but there’s still a lot to enjoy in Jamie Babbit’s lesbian movie about a newcomer to a feminist action group. Melonie Diaz plays Anna, a goody two shoes who falls hard for cool girl Sadie and in the process gets radicalized. It’s a fun movie with a great ensemble cast and it’s truly just so gay.

156. Red Doors

dir. Georgia Lee, 2005
Buy on DVD

This dramedy about a dysfunctional Chinese-American family is an absolute delight. Elaine Kao plays Julie Wong, the family’s middle daughter, a gay medical student who falls for a famous actress. Their romance provides the film’s sweetest storyline. It’s a touching film about family and the constant struggle to live life from a place of truth.

155. Reaching for the Moon

dir. Bruno Barreto, 2013
Watch It

Elizabeth Bishop and Lota de Macedo Soares’ relationship was far from peaceful and this movie shows it in all its messy glory. Miranda Otto and Glória Pires play the headstrong women and they’re both magnetic to watch in their brief moments of joy and in their frequent states of conflict. It’s a film about depression, substance abuse, and the creative process — and how all three affect romantic relationships.

154. Carmen & Lola

dir. Arantxa Echevarria, 2018
Available on HBO Max

There’s an entire subgenre of lesbian movies where two women fall in love and one is overtly gay and the other could fake it through a heterosexual life. But like so many oft-told stories, the repetition of patterns does not inherently imply a lack of ingenuity. Rather, this structure can be used to explore the nuance and specificity of a specific culture and specific characters. Arantxa Echevarria’s Carmen & Lola is just such a film as it focuses on two young Romani women who are being pressured into marriage and struggle to be together instead. Zaira Romero and Rosy Rodríguez play the titular characters and their chemistry further elevates the film. There is an engagement party dance scene that will burn into your memory forever.

153. Cracks

dir. Jordan Scott, 2009
Watch It

Taking its place in the lineage of lesbian films about boarding schools, Jordan Scott’s striking debut feature lands on the side of brutality over eroticism. While Eva Green is arresting as always as the initially charming, eventually horrifying Miss G., the reality of her abuse is allowed to play out. It’s a frightening and effective film with an incredibly talented young cast that includes Juno Temple, Imogen Poots, and María Valverde.

152. The Chinese Botanist’s Daughter

dir. Dai Sijie, 2006
Buy on DVD

Lush and tragic, this is male gaze lesbian melodrama at its finest. The men are abusive, the scenery is gorgeous, and the women are madly in love. Mylène Jampanoï and Xiaoran Li succeed at deepening their simply written character and provide a couple that’s easy to root for even as the plot maddens.

151. Violette

dir. Martin Provost, 2013
Watch It

An accomplished and thoughtful biopic led by a remarkable performance from Emmanuelle Devos, this retelling of the life of Violette Leduc is an excellent introduction to one of the great queer women writers in history. The film largely focuses on Leduc’s personal and professional relationship with Simone de Beauvoir as the two women rise in literary esteem. It’s a rather chaste film considering Leduc’s work but it’s still an interesting look at a troubled yet accomplished artist.

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drewgregory1224

Drew is an LA-based writer, filmmaker, and theatremaker. Her writing can be found at Bright Wall/Dark Room, Cosmopolitan UK, Refinery29, 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 206 articles for us.

101 Comments

    • Even if I’d have loved to have seen Alexandra Swarens’s (the millennial Kristy McNichol) City of Trees (2019) on it, I loved seeing Professor Marston & the Wonder Women, Saving Face and Portrait of a Lady on Fire so high up on it! Thanks for compiling this list❤️🏳️‍🌈

  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.

    • I’ve been following this list since it was first published and I just want to say–I love everyone that made this list, everyone making comments to the list w/ suggestions, everyone creating supplemental lists and so so many FILMS on this list. What a walk down memory lane! My girlfriend and I decided we’re going to challenge ourselves to watch as many of these as we can/ want to (no thanks to The Prom :p ) including some re-watches. Big ups to A Date for Mad Mary ! What a charming film if anyone reading hasn’t seen already. xox Emilie

  31. Amazing list!

    Not sure tho about the top pick tho.

    I do miss some movies, I really loved Elena undone and even loving Annabelle.

    And the amazing Sarah waters adaptions, affinity, tipping the velvet and my favourite fingersmith Def deserve a spot!!

  32. This was a really amazing list!
    I wanted to ask if you could do a review of ‘Sancharram’ (also known as ‘The Journey’-2004)? It’s on this list, but it’s really hard to find a good review

  33. No Way Desert Hearts is number 4!.That’s nuts!.It’s a beautiful love story without even addressing being gay.Rather it addresses the importance of growth these two women undergo once they meet.Vivian goes from rigid,uptight,and not trusting to warm,caring,and loving.Cay goes from wild,carefree,and one night stands to wanting to be with one person,grounded,and focused on that one person.It’s a wonderful movie.

  34. Hey its summertime and i miss room in rome on your list. If you say: male gaze. Ok. Maybee. But Julio Medem is special. This movie is rare, because its playfull, lighthearted. I newer saw Elena Anaya, a lesbian mother in real life, play a role in such a light-hearted way. She obviously enjoys to play that character. And thats very sweet to see. I think this movie is much more than it seems to be. Don‘t block on the soundtrack. Watch it again ;)

  35. Love this list! Not so sure about the “ranking,” but very informative. I’m kind of wondering where a few movies are, including “Loving Annabelle,” and The recent “Fear Street” Trilogy from Netflix, which was incredible in my opinion :)

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