What movies with lesbian, bisexual, queer, and trans women in them can a person find streaming on HBO Max? This is a question you might have, and good news, we are here to answer it.
Historically, HBO has been pretty good to the LGBTQ community, producing a lot of inclusive original content, but I also found its slate of non-HBO queer films to be surprisingly robust. That said, a handful of films on HBO when I started writing this post forty thousand years ago (October 2020) I was excited to see, like Personal Best and The Kids Are All Right, have since left. But listen: Desert Hearts!!!!!!!
This post was published in November 2020. Most recent update: 5/31/2022
Bessie (2015, HBO Original)
#37 on our Best Lesbian Movies Of All Time List
This immediate classic and multiple-Emmy-winner co-written and directed by Dee Rees (Pariah, When We Rise, Mudbound) stars Queen Latifah as bisexual American blues singer Bessie Smith and features Mo-Nique as Ma Rainey. Gabby described this “badass bisexual biopic,” declaring, “this movie is well-done, like so well-done. The vaudeville stage moments and all of the singing in clubs and giant tent revivals are lively and beautiful. 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.”
Best in Show (2000)
Christopher Guest’s mockumentary about showdogs presents Jane Lynch as trainer Christy Cummings, a competitive handler working for poodle-owning couple Sherri Ann and Leslie Ward Cabot. But there’s more going on between Sherri and Christy than meets the eye, if you know what I mean and I think you do!
Billie Jean King: Portrait of a Pioneer (2006, HBO Original)
Just a lil one-hour spot chronicling the life of the tennis legend who changed the American sports landscape in the 1970s, including “an intimate look at her private life, including her bisexuality.”
Birds of Prey: The Fantabulous Emancipation of Harley Quinn (2020)
“There’s the gay that you know because the movie says it with their words,” Carmen wrote of the film she described as “the chaotic sparkly queer misandrist comic book movie of my dreams,” “and there’s the gay you know because you can see it with your eyes. Birds of Prey, with its neon pink and blue hues, glitter bomb grenades, pet hyenas in rhinestone collars, and car chases on roller skates, gives us both.”
The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (1972)
#85 on Best Lesbian Movies of All Time
Drew writes that this “cruel movie about cruel women” is worth it for its “camerawork, costume design, and incredible performances from Margit Carstensen, Hanna Schygulla, and Irm Hermann.”
The Case Against 8 (2014)
This documentary follows the unlikely team that took the first federal marriage equality lawsuit to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Color Purple (1985)
Alice Walker’s epistolary novel was de-gayed for this wildly successful Steven Spielberg adaptation starring Danny Glover, Oprah Winfrey, Rae Dawn Chong and Whoopi Goldberg. Goldberg plays Celie, a teenager in rural Georgia with an abusive family who falls for showgirl Shug Avery, her husband’s mistress who Celie nurses back into health.
Death on the Nile (2022)
This adaptation of Agatha Christie’s classic novel finds Hercule Poirot aboard a Karnak traversing the river Nile, attempting to solve some murders! Unlike the original novel, this version features Mrs. Bowers and Marie Van Schuyler as members of a secret lesbian relationship with each other.
Desert Hearts (1986)
#4 on Best Lesbian Movies of All Time
“Donna Deitch’s lesbian love story is set in the ’50s and was filmed in the ’80s, and is still, in 2020, a radical piece of filmmaking,” wrote Heather in her review of this classic based on Jane Rule’s novel. “It basically has an all-women cast, and — much like Carol, which is what critics tend to compare it to for all the wrong reasons — it does not center the pleasures or preferences of men, ever.”
The Fallout (2021)
During a school shooting, bisexual high school student Vada (Jenna Ortega) ends up hiding in the bathroom with her schoolmates, dancer Mia (Maddie Ziegler), and Quinton (Niles Fitch), whose brother os killed in the shooting. As Vada’s trauma makes her feel increasingly isolated from those closest to her and school itself, she begins spending all her time with Mia. “The two girls have nothing in common,” writes Analyssa in her review, “except for literally the most important thing to ever happen to them.” Their relationship gets increasingly intense.
Salma Hayek got an Oscar nomination for her portrayal of surrealist Mexica artist Frida Kahlo in this biopic mainly focused on her relationship with husband Diego Rivera. Bisexual Kahlo has many affairs with women including Josephine Baker (Karine Plantadit-Bageot) and Tina Modotti (Ashley Judd), who also had an affair with Diego!
Gia (1998, HBO Original)
#75 on Best Lesbian Movies of All Time
An underrated film I have personally discussed so much on this website that it may have at some point crossed the line from underrated to overrated, Angelina Jolie plays the tragically beautiful (and very bisexual) titular figure Gia Marie Carangi, known as “world’s first supermodel.”
In the Heights (2021)
This live-action adaptation of the Lin-Manuel Miranda musical added a queer twist with a lesbian relationship between Daniela (Daphne Rubin-Vega), the “pint-sized ruler of In the Heights’ Washington Heights block” and Carla (Stephanie Beatrix), who works alongside her in Daniela’s beauty salon. That said, their relationship isn’t necessarily observable to the layman viewer!
Je tu il Elle (1975)
#16 on the Best Lesbian Movies of all time
“Je Tu Il Elle obviously centers a woman with depression,” writes Drew of this seminal entry in the cannon of lesbian cinema. “It does it wonderfully and to deny that would do the work and [Chantal] Akerman a disservice. But can there not be pleasure within? Pleasure in painting your furniture, that small amount of control, pleasure in the first taste of sugar, before it makes you sick, pleasure in crafting a letter, before it feels impossible, pleasure in meeting a stranger, before he reveals his full self, pleasure in fucking your ex, before you have to leave.”
Bisexual writer/director/weirdo Miranda July’s third film is “a careful, long-game-playing meditation on how we can learn to parent ourselves when our own families refuse to do the job.” Starring Evan Rachel Wood, the film is both a “dreamy, golden-hour queer love story set amidst the friendly outlandishness of contemporary Los Angeles” and an “unsettling, fluorescent portrait of familial betrayal.”
The Laramie Project (2002, HBO Original)
Moises Kaufman’s 2000 play about the murder of Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyoming was a piece of “verbatim theater,” drawing on hundreds of interviews his theater company conducted with Laramie residents and published news reports. HBO adapted the play into a grounded, emotional GLAAD-award-winning film in 2002, starring Christina Ricci, Laura Linney, Camryn Manheim, Joshua Jackson and Clea Duvall, among others.
Life Partners (2014)
Leighton Meester is Sasha, a lesbian who’s entrenched in a deeply co-dependent best friendship with Paige, who is straight — a friendship that’s tested when Paige meets a man (Adam Brody) she actually likes and Sasha hates sharing. B Nichols called it “a film in which everything that could go usually wrong in a lesbian film inexplicably doesn’t!” Beth Dover and Gabourey Sidibe are delightful as Sasha’s queer friends.
Multiple Maniacs (1970)
#42 on Best Lesbian Movies of All Time
“John Waters lives up to his title Pope of Trash with this raucous celebration of counter-culture deviancy,” writes Drew of this film that opens with “a group of cishet normals making their way through a free exhibit titled The Cavalcade of Perversions” followed by Divine robbing them all at gunpoint. “Waters starts his filmography with a statement and never lets up.”
The Out List (2013, HBO Original)
A cornucopia of famous LGBTQ+ people including Janet Mock, Suze Orman, Cynthia Nixon, Wanda Sykes and Ellen DeGeneres discuss the struggles of being “out”
Adepero Oduye astounds as Alike, the 17-year-old who navigates her identity along a Brooklyn bus route,” writes Natalie about her favorite lesbian film of all time, “literally shifting from the conservative, feminine girl her mother loves to the masculine-of-center woman who loves other women, as she makes her way across town. Pariah is, at times, painful to watch — in the way that things that feel too true usually are — but optimism persists throughout.”
Ready Player One (2018)
Based on Ernest Cline’s sci-fi novel, Ready Player One is set in a dystopian 2045 where humans escape the real world through the virtual world of OASIS, where they can adopt characters of their choice and compete for elusive escape from their bleak reality. Lena Waithe plays lead character Wade’s best friend, lesbian gamer Aech/Helen Harris, who Heather describes as “[weaving] a magic spell around that audience, ping-ponging them between flashes of awe and fits of giggles.”
Bisexual performance artist / activist Maureen (Idina Menzel) and the complicated power dynamics with her lesbian lawyer girlfriend Joanne (Traci Thoms) singing “Take Me or Leave Me” is a highlight of this film adaptation of the Broadway musical about struggling artists during the height of the HIV/AIDS crisis.
Shiva Baby (2021)
Jewish twentysomething chaotic bisexual Danielle (Rachel Sennott) makes cringey privileged choices, has a Sugar Daddy and minimal prospects for her post-graduation life, a situation that all comes to an uncomfortable head when she heads out to the suburbs to sit shiva with her family and who shows up but aforementioned Sugar Daddy and his wife (Dianna Agron) and their baby. And then, of course: Danielle’s ex-girlfriend (Molly Gordon). It’s very funny!
Steven Universe: The Movie (2019)
Steven Universe and its epilogue series, Steven Universe Future is probably the most beloved queer animated series of all time. Created and showrun by non-binary queer writer/artist/musician Rebecca Sugar, the show follow Steven and his family of Crystal Gems as they seek to save the planet and keep Steven safe as he grows up and learns what it means that he is the vessel for his mom’s gem. One of his Gem parents, Garnet, is actually a married lesbian fusion between Ruby and Sapphire! They even get married near the end of the series, becoming the first children’s series to ever feature a gay wedding! Steven Universe: The Movie is a musical that takes place two years after the series finale, “Change Your Mind,” but before Future. It’s everything you love about Steven Universe, as a full-on teenager!
This documentary focuses on Bindle & Keep, a Brooklyn-based custom-suit company who caters to queer, trans and gender-non-conforming humans, including a trans man preparing for his wedding and a law student struggling through job interviews.
Sunshine Cleaning (2009)
This comedy-drama follows 30-something single Mom Rose (Amy Adams) and her queer underachieving sister Norah (Emily Blunt) as they embark upon the industry of crime scene cleanup. Norah experiences a little subplot of her own involving the daughter of a woman who died in one of the houses she cleaned.
The Trans List (2016, HBO Original)
The same filmmaker who made “The Out List” made this little flick featuring interviews with high-profile trans Americans like Caitlyn Jenner, Buck Angel, Laverne Cox and Amos Mac.
Unpregnant (2020, HBO Original)
A charming little buddy comedy about a popular, successful high school girl who gets pregnant and must road trip from Missouri to New Mexico to get the abortion her boyfriend doesn’t want her to have. She recruits her former friend — weirdo lesbian Bailey (Barbie Ferreira) — to join her on this journey. Look out for a very charming Betty Who cameo!
Valentine Road (2013, HBO Original)
The tragic story of the murder of 15-year-old trans student Larry King by his classmate Brandon McInerny is the topic of this documentary, which loooks at the circumstances that led to the crime and its complicated and far-reaching aftermath.
V for Vendetta (2005)
V for Vendetta is a dystopian political action film from the Wachowskis starring Natalie Portman. In 2006, A*terE*len’s Sarah Warn called it “One of the most pro-gay films ever.”
Whoopi Goldberg Presents Moms Mabley (2013, HBO Original)
Iconic African-American standup comic Jackie “Moms” Mabley is honored in this documentary featuring performance footage as well as interviews with stars like Eddie Murphy, Joan Rivers, Sidney Poitier and Kathy Griffin. The film also gives space to Moms’ lesbianism — she was out to her friends and other entertainers during her career, but it was kept a secret from the public, who were drawn to her “frumpy mom in a housedress” persona.
kevin smith writes women so poorly that i wonder if he’s ever met one. i don’t care how “good” his movies are – i cannot get on board.
I would agree, especially Clerks(both of them). But, I did think he did a solid job on Dogma.
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I really loved Suited!!!!!
Thank you for this list!
You might want to swap out the problematic ethnic term used under Carmen y Lola for “Roma.”
changed it! i was using the terms used in the film’s own promotional materials but yah did feel …. weird
Thank you for the tip about Desert Hearts! I saw it when I first came out, but that was a while ago by now, and the rewatch was (unsurprisingly) a delight.
The movies you recommend seem good. Not sure if it’s on the rokkr app?
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Question – why are there stars *** on After Ellen?
BTW I absolutely LOVE Gia. Angelina Jolie in the 90s was the shit.
“This is life, not heaven. You don’t have to be perfect.”
Thanks for the updated list, Riese! A few things I’ve wanted to watch and didn’t realize we’re on HBO just got added to my list.
I didn’t know that they added lesbians to Death on the Nile. I love Agatha Christie but not sure if the new adaptation is fun bad or just bad, haha. I have only read negative reviews!
Heads up that the 1963 version of “The Haunting” just got added, and “My Days of Mercy” and “Irma Vep” (the film) are also available on HBO max as of right now!
Irma Vep’s lesbian character doesn’t have a romance or anything, just a failed flirtation. I wouldn’t call it a super queer movie, but my friend and I, who have both lived in countries that speak our second languages, thought that the portrayal of being dropped in an overwhelming environment very relatable. I’m curious about the Irma Vep series coming out!
FYI buck angel is a terf and has recently said many misogynistic comments against women and trans women.
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