My Top 10 Favorite Lesbian Movies: Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya

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, writer and critic Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya shares feelings about her favorite lesbian films of all time.

Hello, it’s me, the List Hater back again with another list. As with my list of favorite television shows, this list of my personal top queer movies is not static, because neither am I!

10. Tie: Bound/Black Swan

rent Black Swan for $3.99
rent Bound for $3.99 // free on HBO Max

Erotic thrillers! I love them! I wish there were more explicitly gay ones! Bound remains such a hot dyke-noir. As for Black Swan, the mix of ballet and horror is something I am extremely drawn to.

9. The Half Of It

free on Netflix

A complicated, evolving friendship between a closeted queer girl and a straight boy is not usually what I’m seeking out in my teen movies, and yet IT IS DONE SO WELL HERE. This movie really tells such a beautiful and intimate story about teens figuring themselves out, and yes both of Alice Wu’s feature films made it onto this list.

8. D.E.B.S.

rent for $3.99

I would like to make a formal complaint about the dearth of lesbian action films in Hollywood. It is absolutely a dream of mine to make one one day, and D.E.B.S. is a formative influence.

7. Carol

rent for $3.99

A story about lesbian lovers with an age gap that’s gorgeous and sad but also lil hopeful? That is all EXTREMELY my shit. Love the book, love the movie, love the differences between the two.

6. The Favourite

buy for $7.99 // free on Cinemax

A weirdo period thriller about obsession, power, control… yes, this is yet another movie that is extremely my shit. To be fair, I think I could watch Rachel Weisz and Olivia Coleman do just about anything for two hours.

5. Pariah

rent for $0.99

I love all of Dee Rees’ work. All of it is so visually stunning, and that’s especially true for Pariah. It’s such an intimate and complex work of art, and it falls in that perfect area of acknowledging queer struggle without sensationalizing it.

4. Appropriate Behavior

rent for $2.99 // free on Tubi and Vudu

I am a huge fan of Desiree Akhavan’s entire body of work, but Appropriate Behavior stands out for me. Its exploration of cultural expectations, heartbreak, family, and work is all very tight, funny, poignant.

3. The Handmaiden

free on Amazon Prime

Ah yes, another erotic thriller on the list. More! Lesbian! Heist! Movies! Please!!!!! I wish I could experience this movie for the first time all over again (ditto for the book). The distinctly queer erotics in the visuals of this movie… fuck me up!

2. The Watermelon Woman

free on Amazon Prime // free on Kanopy and Criterion

Film history! Really hot sex! A smart and incisive critique of racism in Hollywood! This movie has it ALL. For me, it’s one of those movies where I’m down to watch it pretty much anytime. Cheryl Dunye is so fucking good at her crafts.

1. Saving Face

free on Amazon Prime

This is!!!! A perfect movie!!!!!!!! Dance movies are one of my favorite subgenres of movies, and this is absolutely a dance movie and a GAY ONE AT THAT.

Movies that almost made the list: But I’m A Cheerleader, Booksmart, Disobedience, Circumstance, The Miseducation of Cameron Post, Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Want more movies? Check out Autostraddle’s 200 Best Lesbian Movies of All Time.

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Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya

Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya is the managing editor of Autostraddle and a lesbian writer of essays, short stories, and pop culture criticism living in Orlando. She is the assistant managing editor of TriQuarterly, and her short stories appear or are forthcoming in McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, Joyland, Catapult, The Offing, and more. Some of her pop culture writing can be found at The A.V. Club, Vulture, The Cut, and others. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram and learn more about her work on her website.

Kayla has written 842 articles for us.


  1. ok obsessed with Desiree Akhavan and watched Appropriate Behavior approx. 15 times because it came out the year I came out to myself. also did you know it’s based on her relationship with other lesbian filmmaker Ingrid Jungermann? I would actually love a brief history of lesbian filmmakers making movies with and/or about their exes (Portrait of a Lady on Fire comes to mind!!)

  2. PS can someone make me a female-gaze edited version of the handmaiden? like I can’t bring myself to see it, even the title makes my skin crawl, but I also wanna see the good parts !?!

  3. So many faves here! Recently watched Saving Face, after watching The Half Of It, and it was a revelation! Can’t wait to watch the ones on your list that I haven’t gotten to yet, I think I shall begin with Appropriate Behavior.

  4. Great list you got there, even the almost made it line-up! Sending good vives and hope you get to make movies that representation our communities. I write on the side & truly believe that our lady loving gals crave for more stories with the happy endings we deserve!

  5. Am I the only one out here who just does not care for The Handmaiden? Yes the cinematography is gorgeous, but the gross male gaze ruins the film for me. The sex scenes are ridiculous. Don’t get me started with the bells!!!

    • It’s not even so much the “male gaze”, but just the general creepiness of thing for me. I agree about the sex scenes (I’m kinky, but it’s not my kink).

      But then again, I’m one of the few queer women – it seems – that doesn’t like the source material either. Creepy book; creepy film. I don’t find the characters appealing, in either, which makes a big difference for me.

      At least they have a happy ending and the cinematography in the film is great. At least it’s not a Nicole Conn film. At least no-one dies or ends up married to a dude. And that’s about it.

  6. More queer erotic thrillers! Like I love a good psychological thriller, but make it sexy and with queer characters and it immediately jumps to the top of my watchlist. Great list, btw. I’m really excited to watch The Half of It soon!

  7. On board with all of these! Though I must say, Astrid Ovalles’s Camp Belvidere is definitely close to the top of my list. So stoked that she finally released a new film this year!

  8. It’s a great list. Both the films ‘The Favourite’ & ‘The Half Of It’ are great films to watch. But ‘Portrait of a Lady on Fire’ is the best of all for me.

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