21 Lesbian and Bisexual Movies Based on a True Story, 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: Lesbian Films Based on True Stories! 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 sliver of some of the films in this genre!

21. Lizzie (2018) (5)

Fonseca’s Review for Autostraddle (2018): “Lizzie is brutal, historically attuned, and committed to exploring effeminate trauma and retaliation.”
Kayla: “Despite its stellar cast and murdery premise, this retelling of Lizzie Borden’s story is…dull.” (5)

20. The Girl King (2015) (5)

Heather’s Autostraddle Review (2015): “The problem with this movie is that it doesn’t know if it wants to be high camp or a serious period piece, so it splits the difference to varying degrees of success.”

Valerie: “I don’t remember hating this movie but I don’t really remember much about it overall; I think it was one of those movies I wished was more about the relationship between the two women and less about…literally anything else.”(5)
Riese: “I … feel like this was bad.” (5)

19. Reaching For The Moon (2014) (5.5)

Hansen’s Autostraddle Review (2014): “Reaching for the Moon illustrates how creativity and power and passion shape the world through two character’s imagination and strength.”

Riese: “As I recall, I found this to be pretty dull, but I sensed that I was not correct to feel that way.” (5)
Heather: “Elizabeth Bishop would have hated to see herself portrayed so dramatically, which nudges this very loose biopic from a five to a six in my esteem.” (6)

18. Farewell My Queen (2009) (6)

Riese: “I definitely saw this movie but I also don’t really remember it, I think ’cause I couldn’t really follow what was going on?” (5)
Heather: “Benoît Jacquot’s 2012 circus-colored period piece about Marie Antoinette’s purported queerness and demise is a fine appetizer for The Favourite.” (7)

17. The Danish Girl (2015) (6.3)

Drew: “This is certainly a polished film, a competent film primed for Oscars. But oh how I loathe it. Eddie Redmayne’s performance is horrendous and its portrayal of dysphoria, transitioning, and specifically transitioning within a relationship all feels deeply false. It’s not a good sign when your movie about the first “sex change” ever leaves me, a trans person, wishing it had focused exclusively on Lili Elbe’s cis partner.” (3)
Heather: “If they’d actually cast a trans woman in this role, it’d be one of the best movies on this list.” (7)
Kayla: “It really is a great film, and it’s a shame they didn’t cast it right.” (7)
Riese: “Gorgeous, fascinating period film featuring lesbian love between a cis and trans woman — if only they’d cast a trans actress to play the lead!” (8)

16. Freeheld (2015) (6.5)

Riese’s Autostraddle Review (2015): “A really solid film with a lesbian couple smack dab at the center of a small story with national implications… not without lightness, either, or humor in fists, humor at the moments when you most need it (because you were just crying). It’s a real rollercoaster, y’all.”

Drew: “Ellen Page and Julianne Moore are sweet together and you will probably cry. But this movie made my skin crawl. It is filled with pro-cop propaganda and shows policework around drugs with the complexity of an episode of Law and Order. It spends a lot of its runtime making a hero out of straight “ally” Michael Shannon, letting Steve Carell (straight, Catholic) be a “funny” Jewish gay man, and clarifying that Josh Charles was a good guy on the legislature the whole time. The movie really made me think about which queer lives we care about in politics and on screen, and which we do not.” (3)
Heather: “I don’t like to cry this much, like in a year’s time, and certainly not in one afternoon, especially in a movie that kind of felt like it was made for straight people.” (6)
Kayla: “I think I cried during just…the entirety of this movie?” (9)

15. Collette (2018) (7.7)

Heather’s Autostraddle Review (2018): “On the whole, though, Colette is a lush, brilliantly scored, perfectly acted, beautifully directed biopic.”
Drew: “All I want is a super queer Keira Knightley period piece. And this certainly has its delicious moments. But it’s politically and artistically damaging to cast a cis actor in a trans role and Denise Gough does an especially heinous job at it. This could have been a really fun, if unremarkable, movie, but instead it left a sour taste in my mouth.” (5)
Kayla: “I found this to be a really gorgeous, understated biopic that went pretty underrated!” (8)
Heather: “Keira Knightly brilliantly captures the spirit of prolific bisexual French author and actress Colette. The main problem with this movie is its too sympathetic to her dirtbag husband.” (10)

14. Battle of the Sexes (2017) (7.8)

Heather’s Autostraddle Review (2017): “It’s a comedy about a charming, washed-up, middle-aged gambling addict looking for a little notoriety and one more hustle. It’s a period drama about a group of women athletes trying to get equal pay and a little respect. It’s a sports movie, complete with breathless action sequences, overwrought crowd reactions, and a soaring score. It’s a biopic about a legend. And it’s one of the best lesbian films I’ve ever seen.”
Riese: “I didn’t NOT enjoy it, but there were so many moments where we laughed at things that were not supposed to be funny.” (5)
Drew: “The haircut scene! I know this isn’t a great movie, but I got fully wrapped up in its soft feminism and cute gay love story.” (7)
Kayla: “As a Tennis Dyke as well as a fan of sensual hairplay, this movie is very important to me.” (8)
Heather: “Emma Stone does such justice to the legacy of Billie Jean King in the hands down best lesbian sports movie ever made.” (10)

13. Frida (2002) (7.8)

Carmen: “What amazes most about Frida is how well it holds up over 15 years later. Salma Hayek absolutely did right by an icon.” (8)
Kayla: “The way this film’s depiction (and Salma Hayek’s performance) of Frida reads as instantly, deeply, effortlessly queer was really ahead of its time for 2002.” (8)
Natalie: “A movie that strives to be as creative, audacious and seductive as the artist it depicts…and succeeds most of the time.” (7)

12. The Runaways (2010) (8)

Julie and Brandy’s Autostraddle Review (2010): “This movie fucking rocked. A chick directed it and wrote it. It made you just wanna go out and go to a rock club and fucking do it. It’s a Girl Power Movie and every lesbian needs to go and see this.”
Heather: “It’s so weird to think anyone ever thought Kristen Stewart was straight.” (8)
Kayla: “This grimy, gay rock movie is fun and hot, if not that deep.” (8)
Valerie: “I saw this movie in college and it was the first movie I ever started back over from the beginning as soon as it was over. Then I watched the director’s commentary after that.” (8)

11. Pride (2014) (8)

Kaitlyn’s Autostraddle Review (2014): “It’s also just a sweet and hilarious movie with a diverse cast of characters (for the setting, at least) that feels comfortably familiar. The ending left me more emotional and triumphant than any movie in recent memory.”
Carmen: “I was genuinely surprised by how sweet and funny this movie ended up being! A true delight! I would it recommend to anyone. It has a lot of political poignancy, but also goes down easy.” (10)

10. I Shot Andy Warhol (1996) (8)

Drew: “This movie is really good when focusing on Valerie Solanas. And since she’s the protagonist that means most of the movie is really good! Unfortunately the subplot with Candy Darling is bad bad bad. And not just because a cis man plays her! I promise! They just fundamentally do not seem to understand who Candy was and it’s a really missed opportunity because she would’ve been an interesting foil to Solanas’ story.” (7)
Riese: “Another for my list of reasons why the 90s were the best era in indie film history. A gritty, unapologetic work of misandry with a stunning performance by Lili Taylor, who always turns up but really turned it out this time.” (9)

9. Gia (1998) (8)

Intern Emily’s Autostraddle Review (2009): “Besides starring Angelina Jolie in a lesbian sex scene, Gia is an incredible and interesting movie. In fact I have a notebook filled with my favourite quotes.”
Drew: “The first half of this movie is DELICIOUS. The second half is DEVASTATING. I think the movie is better when it’s being delicious? Either way Angelina Jolie is incredible and it’s worth the sadness.” (7)
Heather: “If you want to have an opinion about anything in queer pop culture history, it really is imperative that you watch Angelina Jolie of 1998 in this movie.” (8)
Kayla: “Angelina Jolie absolutely wrecks me with her performance here.” (8)
Natalie: “Amazing but gutting. One of the greatest performances of Angelina Jolie’s career.” (8)
Carmen: “Did I give this movie a perfect score because without it, a 13-year-old Carmen may not have discovered she was queer? Yes, yes I did. (Angelina, you’re still my dream girl! Call me!)” (10)
Riese: “We rented this movie from the local video store in high school and never returned it, and it was worth every fee. Sexy, tragic, understated, and impressively resonant for an HBO film.” (10)

8. Aimee & Jaguar (2000) (8)

Phoenix’s Autostraddle Review (2009): “Aimee and Jaguar is an exceptional narrative that reminds us that we’ve all been through something and that being right or being a hero is complicated.”
Drew: “Because it’s my goddmaned, mediocre little right to be free.” UGH. This movie kills me. I wish formally it was as queer as its subject matter but there is something satisfying about watching a Very Serious Holocaust Movie that focuses on a lesbian love story. Maria Schrader gives an all-time magnetic performance as Felice, a woman so brave she’d risk being killed by Nazis to escape lesbian bed death.” (8)

7. Heavenly Creatures (1994, New Zealand) (8.3)

Riese: “So good but so bleak.” (8)
Drew: “This was the first queer girl movie I fell in love with which probably explains why I’m so damaged/love Killing Eve so much. Heavenly Creatures is bursting with imagination and convincing in its suggestion that murder is just another part of teenage angst. By defending Woody Allen and marrying a guy named Ned Rocknroll, Kate Winslet hasn’t had the best few years, but as a teenager I also would’ve murdered for her, so this is hella relatable.” (8)

6. The Favourite (2018) (8.3)

Heather’s Autostraddle Review (2018): “The most stunning thing about The Favourite is how it slices open three queer women and lets their messy humanity bleed all over you, the way it adamantly refuses to allow you to love or hate any of them.”
Drew: “It’s kind of impressive that Yorgos Lanthimos managed to take that script and those actors and make it about himself. I adore Olivia Colman and Rachel Weisz and their work here is phenomenal, but Lanthimos undercuts them at every turn with unmotivated camera tricks and languidly-paced editing. A movie isn’t inherently deeper because it’s less fun.” (5)
Heather: “One of the weirdest, most brilliant, most lesbian movies ever made.” (10)
Kayla: “The twisted mind of Yorgos Lanthimos delivers a sharp, weirdo comedy that I could devour over and over.” (10)

5. Bessie (2015) (9)

Gabby’s Autostraddle Review (2015): “The black excellence in this film is something to behold and revel in. Everyone is gorgeous. The costumes, the wigs, the make-up, the dancing: all of it is authentic and just so much damn fun to watch.”
Drew: “Dee Rees is one of the best filmmakers around. Pariah and Mudbound are both absolute masterpieces. This is… a really good TV biopic. From anyone else I’d rave about it, but I know how good Rees can be, so I was left just slightly disappointed.” (7)
Natalie: “Dee Rees astounds again with the story of Bessie Smith. Anchored by an astounding performances by Queen Latifah and Mo’Nique.” (9)
Carmen: “Dee Rees directs a moving and wide reaching portrayal that happens to be one of the best performances in Queen Latifah’s career! The historic black femme representation I’ve always craved. The costumes and set design is equally top notch.” (10)
Heather: “Queen Latifah. Dee Rees. Bessie Smith. That’s all you need to know.” (10)

4. Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018) (9)

Heather’s Autostraddle Review (2018): “…director Marielle Heller has created one of the most tender, visceral depictions of loneliness I’ve ever experienced. Not witnessed. Experienced. I saw this movie two weeks ago and I still haven’t recovered.”
Heather: “Melissa McCarthy brings the comedy and tragedy of Lee Israel’s story to life with confidence and grace.” (9)
Kayla: “This movie is so different in how understated and low-stakes and yet truly engaging and clever it is, and Melissa McCarthy absolutely should have been showered with awards for it along with Marielle Heller!!” (10)

3. Monster (2003) (9.3)

Drew: “Charlize Theron is so much better here than most actors who “go ugly” for Oscars, because she always centers Aileen Wuornos’s humanity. This is a devastating movie about trauma and trying to survive and while it may be a tough watch, its rewards are worth it.” (8)
Riese: “A brutal, disturbing and violently raw vision of love and survival under the most desperate of social circumstances, the impact of childhood trauma and abuse, and the futility many women encounter when they try fighting back.” (10)
Kayla: “Charlize Theron’s career is marked with brilliant performances, but this is absolutely her finest.” (10)

2. Professor Marston & The Wonder Women (2017) (9.3)

Heather’s Autostraddle Review (2017): “She’s brought an ardent screenplay, a soaring score, and unapologetically gauzy sunlight to bear on the story of the man, his wife, and their lover who created the most iconic female superhero of all time in the hopes that she would prepare the world for matriarchal rule — and a healthy side of bondage.”
Carmen: “My favorite work by Angela Robinson to date, this movie is sexy but also incredibly touching. It changed everything I thought I knew about Wonder Woman.” (8)
Drew: “This movie is quietly revolutionary in how casually it treats its subjects. It’s more or less a standard biopic romance, but it’s so aggressively queer. Angela Robinson continues to make a career out of completely changing the landscape with little fanfare.” (8)
Riese: “So f*cking sexy! Smart, interesting, and hot as hell. I wasn’t expecting to love this one as much as I did.” (10)
Heather: “Angela Robinson does it again! A perfect ten! A heckin’ sexy biopic about Wonder Woman creator William Moulton Marston and the two women who inspired his Amazonian warrior that softens his edges and accurately captures the origins of his matriarchal worldview.” (10)
Kayla: “This movie is mostly HOT, but it’s also very well acted and directed, and Rebecca Hall is a powerhouse.” (10)
Valerie: “Nothing makes me happier than a movie that is a passionate, sexy, love story between two women that also teaches me actual facts from real history. Queer nerd heaven.” (10)

1. Wild Nights With Emily (2019) (9.5)

Heather’s review on Autostraddle (2019): “And to jolt our imaginations into action, she weaves together a hilarious, affectionate, piercing film — sourced directly from Dickinson’s own letters and poems, without the unnecessary interpretation of male historians or critics — that’s one part epic lesbian love story; one part poetic biopic; and one part relentless, satirical skewering of the patriarchal literary establishment that shaped our impression of Dickinson as a dour, virginal spinster.”
Heather: “A hilarious comedy biopic about Emily Dickinson that asks you only to take her at her (very lesbian) word.” (10)
Drew: “This movie manages to completely reframe one of the world’s most famous literary figures while being filled with fantastic jokes. There’s really no one else like Madeleine Olnek.” (9.5)

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  1. Yeeeessssssssssss the #1 choice perfectly aligns with my personal opinion therefore I declare this a perfect list!

    Thoughts on whether The Hours would qualify here? I’ve also spectacularly failed to watch the new Vita & Virginia film so would be interested to see if anyone’s watched to confirm if it’s as duff as the trailer looks.

    • i feel like no because some of the stories in it were not true, right? but if it had it would have been UP THERE because kayla and i LOVE THE HOURS

  2. Nice list. I feel like Aimee & Jaguar should be a bit higher but that’s just my opinion. Personally, I’d put Aimee & Jaguar, The Favourite and Professor Marston and the Wonder Women in my Top 5 along with Vita and Virginia. I know the reviews weren’t all that favorable for this movie but I really loved it, enough to go see it twice.

  3. I saw Ammie and Jaguar because it was on a list of recommended LGBTQ movies to watch. I didn’t know much about, but wow. Really hit me hard as a queer Jew.

    My only real complaint with Frida was they didn’t show her relationships with other women enough, but still an excellent performance by Selma in my book!

  4. Nice to see the Runaways so high! The only place it played near me when it was released was in a modern art museum for like one night but I absolutely went. I also love how everyone in this article commented on Gia lol. I recently watched a BBC film about Daphne du Maurier (called…Daphne) with Elizabeth McGovern (it’s unavailable like anywhere so I bought a dvd online) which I’d never heard of before, and it was…okay. I think I’d give it a 6.

  5. Professor Marston and the Wonder Woman instantly became one of my favorite movies after I first saw it. I’m reading The Secret History of Wonder Woman right now and it’s giving me even more insight!

    Also, love Gia and The Runaways. Two movies I own but have not seen in quite some time!

  6. The 90s movies on this list always stuck with me because I was not out and I watched these movies super nervous that anybody could tell I was gay just by how I was experiencing the movie. You know? Most of them end really badly for the gay person though. So happy to see there are more and more movies with lesbian and bisexual main characters. Some of them even funny! With relatively happy endings! Enough for a list!

    • Snapshots wasn’t on the list, just urging some to place it on their watch bucket too. It was an affair during early years wherein LGBT has not yet been recognized. Fears. Love. Struggle.

  7. Deductive reasoning I knew I couldn’t be alone in falling for “Heavenly Creatures” but still feels like an “aha, I have found you” moment.
    I watched it young enough that I got defensive about the teacher chastising Juliet for not writing about the Windsors, she didn’t define a royal family.

  8. The entire fact that “The Danish Girl” was effectively a drag role for Redmayne should’ve been an INSTANT disqualifier, IMO.

  9. Wow, I saw all but two of these, and most were pretty forgettable.

    Gia and Heavenly Creatures were really intense. Can You Ever Forgive Me and Wild Nights With Emily were even better than my high expectations.

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