My Top 10 Favorite Lesbian Films: Heather Hogan, the Tender Butch Who Wants a Happy Ending

In My Top 10 Favorite Lesbian Movies, various members of Autostraddle’s TV Team tell you about the movies nearest and dearest to our hearts and invite you to like all the same things we like. Today, TV Team Editor/Senior Writer Heather Hogan shares feelings about her favorite films of all time.


10. Portrait of a Lady on Fire

free on Hulu

When I was watching Portrait of a Lady on Fire, I was mesmerized, but when it ended, I wouldn’t have immediately put it in my top ten because — spoiler alert! — the ending isn’t exactly happy and I just really, really love happy endings for queer people. I crave them. I need them! But this film permeated my consciousness and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I still can’t stop thinking about it. It imprinted itself on me!

9. Imagine Me & You

rent for $3.99

For a very long time, this was the only queer love story with a happy ending that was readily available to queer people. It was a mainstream queer rom-com! I can quote this movie by heart, and I would sit down and watch it any time of day, any day of the week, any week of the year.

8. Battle of the Sexes

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Billie Jean King has been a hero of mine for as long as I can remember. There are so few lesbian sports movies, and certainly there aren’t any others with this caliber of talent released so widely. And it’s not just about her feminism and athletic triumphs! It’s about falling in love with another woman! All of it resonates.

7. Desert Hearts

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Desert Hearts holds up! It’s romantic and empowering and funny, and it features one of the best lesbian sex scenes ever put on film.

6. Hearts Beat Loud

free on Hulu

There are so many things to love about this movie, but my favorite is when Rose teaches Sam how to ride a bike, and then they pedal up the sidewalk by the river together. It’s heavy symbolism, especially set against Sam’s dad (the typical teacher of daughters riding bikes) playing his guitar alone to music she created, learning to let her go. It’s melancholy and hopeful and tiumphant, and that’s a rare combination.

5. D.E.B.S.

rent for $3.99

D.E.B.S. also holds up! It’s as campy and ridiculous and hilarious now as the first time I watched it! There’s hardly anything I want more than an Angela Robinson-helmed D.E.B.S. TV series.

4. Saving Face

free on Amazon Prime

Saving Face was the first lesbian movie I ever watched. I thought, “Wow, lesbian movies are AWESOME.” It was 2005. I was in for a big surprise. Alice Wu made a perfect film, and one that had never been made before and hasn’t been made since. Multi-generational coming of age, coming out, centering Chinese-American experiences across generations. It’s sweet and it’s laugh-out-loud hilarious.

3. Wild Nights With Emily

free on Hulu

Writer/director Madeleine Olnek 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.

2. The Half of It

free on Netflix

🍍🦉🐛

1. Carol

rent for $3.99

It’s not just that it’s a transcendent lesbian love story; it’s that Todd Haynes made the bold decision to allow Carol‘s audience to laugh at men. Not with men. No, Haynes invited viewers to see the men in his movie — these husbands and boyfriends and duplicitous know-it-all notions sellers — through the eyes of queer women and to laugh openly at their silliness, unearned confidence, and expendability. In 1952!


Movies that almost made the list: The Miseducation of Cameron Post, Water Lilies, Rafiki, Princess Cyd, Kissing Jessica Stein, Appropriate Behavior, Booksmart, Grandma.

Heather Hogan is an Autostraddle senior writer who lives in New York City with her partner, Stacy, and their cackle of rescued pets. She's a member of the Television Critics Association, the Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer critic. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Heather has written 1004 articles for us.

35 Comments

  1. one time this person i had just started seeing brought me to see hearts beat loud. i had no clue what it would be about, specifically that it would be both a) an incredibly sweet gay love story about someone in a very similar time of life that i was in at the time and b) about a somewhat gruff-by-default Nick Offerman showing tenderness and love for his daughter. I absolutely sobbed. I think that was a little disorienting for a second date.

  2. Ok but actual question, why did you like Kissing Jessica Stein? Its been a few years since I watched but I couldn’t stand what felt like the celebration of bisexuality as a ‘phase’ and just how damn flaky she was.

    • Kissing Jessica Stein is one of my all time favorite queer lady films! It really resonated with me as someone who had a really hard time figuring out *how* I was queer and how that affected the various ways I was trying to relate to the people around me. I don’t see it as saying bisexuality is a phase, but rather that our relationships with others don’t always fit into neat boxes and people come into our lives and teach us things about ourselves that we really needed to learn.
      Also, as someone who thought they were bi for a few years, it meant a lot to me to see someone else trying to parse through how complicated it can be to figure out what kind of love/attraction you are experiencing. For some, the lines between romantic/platonic/sexual/sensual attraction can get really messy, which I think is portrayed quite well in this movie.

  3. I’ve gone back and forth on Kissing Jessica Stein. I wouldn’t put it on a top 10 but at it’s core it’s about love and acceptance. Jessica’s flakiness isn’t about her sexuality. She lacked confidence and self esteem. She was always doubting and second guessing herself. It took dating Helen to find out who she was and what she wanted. I think Jessica did the same for Helen. It just feels different because Helen leans more into her queerness towards the end. Upon rewatching, for me, it felt less like a depiction of bisexuality as a phase and more like an acknowledgement that attraction comes however it comes. And that, for some people, it comes despite gender (if they’re open to it). I, also, don’t think they explicitly say whether she’s gay, bi, or otherwise. Just my two cents. Sorry if I overstepped.

    • I agree! I have a real soft spot for KJS, and I think that’s possible for me in part because one out of two of them does go on to date a woman after their relationship ends.

      In a time when there weren’t a lot of movies about queer woman, it was a rare movie where everyone seemed really nice to each other, the love interests were on equal footing (I’m looking at you, Loving Annabelle), no falconers threw themselves off of buildings…like, it was gentle, and for me, a person who had only dated men when I watched it, Heather Juergensen’s character was a low-drama example of an evolution towards dating people who weren’t men, something which I (and the queer film landscape) really needed at the time.

      • There are several, obviously, but one, one I often think isn’t appreciated often enough, is the piano scene.
        They’re in Carol’s house, all alone, but they’re speaking in code and it’s crazy and so sexy.
        I mean, there’s quiet and shy Therese at the keys, they’re several feet apart and Carol is wrapping presents in another room and randomly she is like”So, you’ve been taking pictures of me.” and Therese says”Sure, I’ve been trying to be more interested in people.” and Carol laughs and says, in her flirty, smoky Carol way “So how’s that going for you?”. And there’s the strange girl flung from space,the mousy one,you know, the quiet one, and she starts playing “Easy Living” right at Carol!
        I mean, the text of “Easy Living” is literally, “I’m so in Love with you”.Holy Shit Therese!
        So Carol, gets the message, gets up, in one smooth movement no less, because she is a cat that one, and she walks over to Therese and puts her hands on her shoulders and it’s… you’re the viewer and you’re sitting in a theater full of a hundred people,or three hundred, on your couch in front of netflix with a tub of icecream, in front of your computer, but you feel it. Damn,you feel those hands burn on your shoulders, through that sweater.
        They’re fully clothed! There’s zero skin on skin contact! They don’t even face each other!
        And then Carol runs her finger along Therese’s shoulder lest there be any mistaking this for friendly.
        Like anyone would. Like Therese would!
        Damn.
        You know, we’re pretty much the same age, and at first there was a bit of subtext in the 90s and early aughts, and some women kissing for sweeps week and some subtext and Xena and Gabs and Willow and Tara, and Susan Ivanova, etc. There just wasn’t that much representation, and we were so hungry for kissing in TV and movies.It meant proof that we were right, that there WAS something between characters that we saw happening.That we really did exist.
        But then the L Word happened and from the first episode it was sexy sex times and male gazey sometimes and full on,and that was a bit of a new standard and dropped a lot of boundaries and that was also ok, and probably necessary.
        But we never, or maybe not never, but not nearly enough, got an exploration of female desire.
        Lust, yes. Gay culture, yes.
        But not desire.
        And that’s what I really like about Carol, it’s a movie that explores desire, want.
        Not horniness or thirst, but that certain something that’s somewhere where the need for breath is, that makes our heartbeats pick up.
        That something that’s close to life itself.

  4. Everytime Portrait of a lady on fire crosses my mind, a lone tear forms in my eye, and my throat gets a lump, and i cant contain the energy in my hands. This film imprinted on me in a major way. I feel in love with this film. The acting and chemistry is the most passionate i have seen in years. I weeped for days from the ending of this movie. But I did not find it sad, I found it heartbreaking in a very real poetic way. In a sense I found it joyful. The energy that twin flames have together is so vividly filmed in the last five min of the film. They cant be together, but they can feel eachothers soul, from across a theater. Ahh I dont know if you can tell, but this film is so much to me. Brilliant!!

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