12 Thrillers and Action Films With Lesbian and Bisexual Characters, Ranked

Welcome to the Autostraddle Team Movie Watch, in which our entire TV Team (we don’t have a Film Team, so we’re multi-tasking here) weighs in on a thematic set of lesbian/bisexual films! This week’s edition: thrillers and action movies. Sidenote: these aren’t comprehensive lists — there are plenty of films in this category we didn’t rank here that we are sure are much better or much worse than the ones on our list. It’s just a little window into the genre!

12. Power Rangers (2017) (5.8)

Mey’s Autostraddle Review (2017): “This movie is funny, it’s not dark or grim or grimdark. It doesn’t take itself too seriously and it lets itself have a good time and be full of joy. It’s about friendship and family and teens being teens.”
Natalie: “Lacks the campiness of the old Power Rangers series and the action to compete with its modern counterparts (and, yes, I’ve seen a lot of Power Rangers in my day…I have nephews).” (4)
Heather: “Standard Power Rangers fare, confirming a thing we knew all along.” (6)
Kayla: “This movie didn’t quite live up to the hype for me, but I also am not as nostalgic about the Power Rangers as a lot of people are sorry!” (6)
Valerie: “I think part of the reason I loved this movie so much was that I saw it in a theater at midnight with a bunch of other people my age whose after-school babysitters WERE the original Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, so even though it was cheesy and goofy, it was just enough nostalgia, with an extra dose of new queerness, to make my heart feel happy.” (7)

11. Black Swan (2011) (6.7)

Phoenix’s Autostraddle Review: “But Black Swan is not a story about love lost. It is instead a story of inner conflict, a mondernized tale of ambition, lust, and pressure, pitting creative and destructive forces against each other in a disturbingly well-executed, mind-bending descent into madness.”
Heather: “Darren Aronofsky makes the inside of Tim Buton’s mind look like a trip to Disney World.” (4)
Natalie: “The haunting tale of insanity as the cost of perfection.” (5)
Valerie: “This movie was dark and twisty and stunning and scary and I am low-key obsessed with everything Mila Kunis does.” (7)
Drew: “Ballet + horror has fully become a trope and I don’t mind it one bit. The mix of body horror and elegance works so well here and bonus points for this coming out at the time in my life where I was at peak “I wish I was Natalie Portman.” I watched a lot of interviews with her on Youtube in 2010. A lot.” (8)
Carmen: “The movie that launched my decade-long crush on Mila Kunis; it’s also the femme psychological thriller of my dreams.” (9)
Kayla: “OKAY, I’m SORRY, but I will love this movie forever and ever most likely because it was one of the early lesbian sex scenes in my life and I nearly passed out in the movie theater when watching it.” (9)

10. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2011) (6.8)

Carolyn’s Autostraddle Review (2011): “With better production values, a more fluid plot, and several more believable characters, the American adaptation of “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” should be a definite improvement on the Swedish one. But it isn’t. With everything else aside, the main difference between the two is this: in the Swedish film, Lisbeth Salander is angry, purposeful, and smoldering. In the American film, she is fragile, alienated, and, at times, apologetic.”
Riese: “An incredible story but sorry to be that guy but the Swedish version is way better. And the rape scene was unforgivably gratuitous.”
Valerie: “Sometimes I hate myself for how often someone mentions a movie and I respond, “I liked the book better” but I am who I am and I feel how I feel.” (6)
Natalie: “The graphic violence is difficult to watch but if you can stomach it, you’ll be captivated by the performances of Noomi Rapace and Rooney Mara.” (7)
Drew: “I’m not a big fan of rape/revenge films but there’s just something about the character of Lisbeth Salander that I can’t resist.” (7)
Kayla: “Dark, immersive, and starring a Mara sister, this movie checks a lot of boxes for me.” (7)
Heather: “Both the Swedish and American versions of these films are so brutal disturbing they made me feel physically ill, but Noomi Rapace and Rooney Mara’s Lisbeth Salanders are kickass bisexual misandrist action hero hackers who do what they have to do to survive in a world that hates women, and that’s beautiful.” (9)

9. Deadpool 2 (2018) (7)

Valerie’s Autostraddle Review: “…while I could have done without the fridging, overall I enjoyed Deadpool 2. For its humor, for its action sequences, for its relentless breaking of the fourth wall, and for giving us real, undeniable queer ladies.”
Kayla: “It’s got jokes and great action sequences, and it’s a rare big-budget superhero movie to acknowledge that women who date women actually exist.” (7)
Valerie: “I love Deadpool’s irreverent humor more than makes sense to me and I love how nonchalant Negasonic Teenager Warhead having a girlfriend ended up being.” (7)
Natalie: “Whatever preconceived ideas you have about superhero flicks, throw them out of the window: Deadpool is a different breed…and it’s very queer.” (7)

8. Atomic Blonde (2017) (7)

Drew: “This movie isn’t great, but it sure is fun! All attempts to make this a serious John le Carré-esque spy drama fail and they really should have just leaned into Charlize Theron being hot and beating people up. Because all of that is a blast.” (6)
Kayla: “Atomic Blonde is a stunning, queer action thriller, which is something I feel like I have been waiting my whole life for!”” (6)
Riese: “The unrepentant bisexuality of the film’s heroine was literally jaw-dropping. But the plot was an empty and incomprehensible maze.” (7)
Valerie: “It is a classic action movie in the most classic way, and it was one of those movies (not unlike Mad Max) that made me think, “Oh, it’s not that I don’t like this genre of movies, it’s just that I didn’t like dude-heavy options at my disposal.” (8)
Heather: “Easily some of the best acting and slickest actions sequence you’re going to find for a movie on the Lesbian Thrillers list.” (8)

7. Annihilation (2018) (7.2)

Kayla’s Autostraddle Review: “Rodriguez does many things at once in her performance in Annihilation… she’s funny, delivering some of the movie’s rare but needed bursts of comedic relief. But she also encompasses the emotional complexity of what it really means to enter the shimmer.”
Natalie: “Still not sure what happened in this movie but it’s worth watching for the cinematography alone. Also? Tessa Thompson and Gina Rodriguez.” (6)
Carmen: “It’s been over a year, and I still don’t understand what I was watching? But it’s definitely worth it for Gina Rodriguez with that hot queer undercut hairstyle.” (6)
Valerie: “I thought the movie would help me understand things the book did not, but alas. That said: Gina Rodriguez.” (7)
Drew: “I want to love this movie more than I do, because the parts I love I LOVE. Alas flashbacks dealing with the protagonist’s marriage woes really distract from the film’s abstract, beautiful, and horrifying explorations of nature and identity. This movie has one of the scariest sequences and one of the most beautiful sequences I’ve ever seen ever though.” (7)
Kayla: “What starts as a fairly straightforward sci-fi horror hybrid gradually becomes something much weirder.” (10)

6. Mullholland Drive (2001) (7.3)

Kayla: “The surrealism of this movie is intoxicating and dizzying, and its sex scene is one of my favorites.” (6)
Heather: “The biggest tragedy of modern lesbian pop culture is more people know gay Naomi Watts from that dumb Netflix show than they do from David Lynch’s psychologically cracked masterpiece. ” (8)
Drew: “I don’t think of this as a queer woman movie despite it being all about a romance between two women. But David Lynch’s strength has never been showing women in love. He has always been great at showing women in trauma and he’s never done that better than in this film. It’s a pretty monumental work of art as far as I’m concerned. It’s rare for a film this abstract to also be so tight and dramatically perfect.” (9)

5. V for Vendetta (2005) (7.4)

Kayla: “The Wachowskis write pulsating, complex, goddamn captivating queer women across their body of work, and Natalie Portman’s Evey is a powerful example.” (7)
Natalie: “Maybe a little too on the nose for our current political moment?” (7)
Drew: “I prefer the Wachowskis a bit campier and more unhinged, but this is still an exciting and effective movie.” (7)
Heather: “Never not timely!” (8)

4. D.E.B.S (2004) (8.6)

Crystal’s Autostraddle Review (2011): “Everything about this movie is totally f*cking ridiculous, but that’s apparently how I like it.”
Riese: “Delightfully campy and quite fun, D.E.B.S provides a queer twist on the satirical faux-spy-thriller with Angela Robinson’s snappy writing at the helm.” (7)
Carmen: “From black lesbian writer/director Angela Robinson comes this instant classic! Formative in the lesbian movie canon and a must watch for anyone who wants to learn more about our campy, “bad movie” roots.” (8)
Kayla: “I love camp, lesbians, and action movies, so in my book, this movie has it ALL.” (8)
Natalie: “Pure, pure fun.” (8)
Drew: “Angela Robinson makes film and television like what she’s doing is the most normal thing in the world. Of course there would be a fun action comedy with lesbians! No matter that it had never been done before (or, honestly, since). It’s so light and breezy and given the history of queer cinema the importance of light and breezy cannot be overstated.” (9)
Heather: “One of the best lesbian movies of all time: A formulaic rom-com wrapped lovingly in camp and placed gently inside an all-girls school for spies run by Holland Taylor!” (10)
Valerie: “This is easily in my top 3 favorite lesbian movies of all time, from the first time I secretly rented it all summer from Blockbuster until just a few months ago when I rewatched it with my friends at a Bad Lesbian Movie Brunch. It brings me so much JOY.” (10)

3. Bound (1996) (8.8)

Natalie: “On the one hand, a very dark and violent film, on the other, one of the best lesbian sex scenes ever in film.” (6)
Heather: “The origin story of kickass lesbians in tank tops.” (8)
Riese: “Every smoldering detail is finely honed AND they hired a lesbian sex consultant to choreograph the best parts.” (10)
Kayla: “A true classic in the “lesbians doing crimes” genre, and Gina Gershon’s queer sex appeal is…too powerful” (10)
Drew: “A classic film noir mixed with the Wachowskis’ unique visual style mixed with lesbians, lesbians, amazing sex scenes with lesbians. This is suspenseful and sexy, sweet and satisfying. I honestly think this might just be the perfect movie.” (10)

2. A Simple Favor (2018) (9)

Kayla’s Autostraddle Review: “Incest, revenge arson, frame jobs, affairs, and secret siblings all make appearances in this tableau of fuckery. It’s a Mommi murder mystery that knows exactly how ridiculous is, the whole cast in on the joke.”
Drew: “Blake Lively does literally nothing for me. And that remains true, even in a suit. But I do deeply understand being an awkward brunette who feels inadequate next to confident, manipulative cis blonde women! And this movie was legitimately great! You all weren’t just horny and I’m sorry for thinking that was the case.” (8)
Valerie: “I expected to barely tolerate this movie in exchange for getting to watch Blake Lively and Anna Kendrick interact but I spent the entire time pulling at my collar and leaping up from my couch and gasping and shouting and LOVING EVERY SECOND of this sexy, bonkers story.” (10)
Riese: “The best movie of all time.” (10)
Heather: “If you don’t understand the thing where lesbians beg to be run over/emotionally devastated by someone, it’s because you haven’t seen Blake Lively in this movie.” (10)

1. Set It Off (2006) (9.2)

Drew: “It’s hilarious to me that film circles are still losing their minds for Heat 25 years later when a significantly better heist movie came out one year later. But that’s racism, sexism, and homophobia for you! The characters are so well-written and well-performed, this totally just works as a great character drama alongside all the action.” (8)
Natalie: “The ultimate all-women’s heist movie (#SorryNotSorry, Oceans 8) with a healthy dose of gay.” (9)
Heather: “Queen Latifah as Cleo is absolutely essential queer cinema viewing.” (9)
Kayla: “Heist movies are always fun but ESPECIALLY when they are gay and women-centric.” (10)

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  1. shooketh at this THE HANDMAIDEN erasure but I guess that means I can look forward to its inclusion in the lesbian/ bi women horror list!

  2. Some excellent films here! I love Mulholland Dr and to me Black Swan feels so inspired by it: the queerness but also the structure, the mystery, the arc of the main character.

    Also Naomi Watts’ Oscar snub is unparalleled.

    I wonder whether there’ll be a place for Being John Malkovich in one of these lists.

  3. Annihilation was such a frustrating movie. So many compelling ideas hinted at without any resolution. I don’t need EVERYTHING explained in a film, but at least A FEW things would be nice.

    Why have I never even heard of Set It Off before now?!?

    • Agree! Intriguing but super frustrating. I liked Gina Rodriguez in it but she was kinda barely in it?

      Could not get the image of them cutting the guy’s abdomen up for weeks 😧

    • SECONDED re Set It Off! Why haven’t we heard of it before?

      Let’s see, a heist movie featuring a team of black women, one or more of whom are queer? Forget it, I don’t think I’m wondering any more. :-(

      Re Annihilation, why I would have liked a bit more about why the alien (and less of that mirroring scene when Natalie Portman finds the alien), I found it not really that confusing? I read a lot of sci-fi though.

      • Yeah, I’m unfortunately not surprised it wasn’t mainstream, but surprised to never have heard it mentioned in any of my queer circles.

        I read and watch a fair bit of sci-fi too, but I found this more unsatisfying rather than confusing. I wanted them to take some plot threads further (Why the alien? Why the moving tattoo? Why the amnesia? What was the mechanism of the DNA mutation/swapping/refraction? etc) rather than have it be just a collection of neat gimmicks with no cohesive context.

  4. I love how many straight people got conned into seeing A Simple Favor because it starred Blake Lively and was directed by Paul Feig. Surprised there was no shout-out for Knife Lesbian Linda Cardellini!

  5. I remember watching “Bound” when I was 16. We only had one computer at home at the time and it was standing in the room I shared with my younger brother. So I had to stop every 10 minutes as someone wanted to check something on the net or just to come into the room. I became so paranoic I would be caught watching such immoral stuff (my family is very religious) that I was at the edge of my seat all the time and the level of emotions was so high that even if it wasn’t considered a thriller, I would always remember this film as one.

    Unfortunately the same applies to “Fried Green Tomatoes”. I’m glad I don’t live with my parents anymore and can properly differentiate the genres.

    • My girlfriend in college got jealous and threw out my VHS copy of Bound, so I got it on DVD and had…. a strangely similar experience watching it after that
      Joe Pantoliano’s face will always upset me anyways.

  6. And now I’m at work listening to Llorando and crying a little bit for some dark and disturbing reason
    Mullholland Dr. is just the best

  7. I will accept Set It Off in the 1st place, but come on, there’s no way in hell that A Simple Favor can beat Bound.

    • Yeah, I don’t get it either. Ok, Blake Lively was magnificent in suits and scenery-chewing, but not so much action? Thriller? Or even queerness?

      I’d give it a hearty 7 for “entertaining movie”, but not on the criteria for this list.

  8. Bound in 3rd? A Simple Favor ahead of Bound? wow, I have no words. What is this, the electoral college?

  9. I will also argue that the Swedish version of Dragon Tattoo is the better film, in no small part due to the amazing muscled arms of Noomi Rapace.

    • This is very true. I’ve not seen the American version, but I really don’t understand how anything can beat Noomi Rapace’s sheer fire and energy. Also, she’s fucking hot and I’m gay.

      • When she takes her shirt off and her arms and shoulders get center stage 😍
        I could watch her flexing her back for hours

  10. I sincerely do not know how I a) managed to rent Bound from my local Blockbuster at the time and b)still convince myself that I was straight after.
    I love that movie so much because it is a good a lesbian movie! It’s a good thriller! The camera work is exceptional. Even watching it for the second time, knowing how it ends, you’re still on the edge of your seat.
    Also, after this movie, a whole generation of lesbionics were coolly leaning against random furniture in dingy bars, wearing a scowl and a tank top, and sometimes even a leather jacket.

    • I myself spent time in dingy clubs wearing exactly those things in the late 90’s! Lesbehonest, I may not have been that cool though.

        • I just about managed this.

          Me, awkwardly leaning on the wall of a bathroom, possibly trying to scowl:

          I did go see Meg Lee Chin immediately after this at The Shelter under St. Andrew’s in Detroit. She was very nice!

    • Mmm, I don’t think this movie was the origin of that look, but good on them for leaning into it so well. (I’m not denying that many people were *inspired* by that look, but it’d been around before that.)

  11. Ugh, the Hollywood version of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is just tragic compared to the original Swedish version. Noomi Rapace was the perfect Lisbeth.

    On the other hand I LOVED Atomic Blonde. It came out the summer I was visiting my folks and I saw it no less than 7 times in theaters. My mother only indulged me and saw it twice with me because she has some magic cinema card that allows her unlimited screenings for a fixed monthly fee and then when I wanted to back for a third screening she asked me why I was so obsessed with the movie. My response? In my most deadpan voice I told her it had Charlize Theron – Charlize Theron who beat up dudes and kissed a beautiful girl in the backdrop of gritty Berlin. What more can you want?

  12. Mulholland Drive is one of my absolute favorite movies and I’m well overdue to watch it. I gotta say though the main reason I watched the Naomi Watts in the Netflix series was because of Mulholland Drive.

    Also, I need to add A Simple Favor to my list!

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