30 Best LGBTQ+ Stories in Film

Updated March 1, 2024 • Staff

In this list, we count down the best films where the main story revolves around a character who doesn’t identify as heterosexual or cisgender. There are documentaries (such as Best of Enemies), coming-of-age stories (like Dating Amber) and so much more - a little bit of the diverse ways in which LGBTQ+ stories make it into film.  

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30.

Disclosure (2020)

Disclosure is a patient and articulate study of the ways movies have physically conditioned us to respond to certain expressions of queerness with fear, disgust, or laughter. But it also serves as a reminder that trans bodies have been represented on screen for as long as movies have existed—making it all the more unacceptable that we still often only see reductive and harmful stereotypes of trans people over 100 years since the birth of cinema. However, Disclosure is far from a "takedown" designed to make viewers feel bad. At the end of it all this remains a celebration film's power to dignify perspectives we rarely get to see through, and it's one of the nerdiest and most passionate trips through film history you could hope to have.

Our staff rating: 8.3/10
Genre: Documentary
Actor: Ajita Wilson, Alexandra Billings, Alexandra Grey, Angelica Ross, Anne Heywood, Arsenio Hall, Barbra Streisand, Blanche Sweet, Brian Michael Smith, Caitlyn Jenner, Candis Cayne, Candy Darling, Carmen Carrera, Cathy Moriarty, Chaz Bono, Chloe Sevigny, Chris Sarandon, Christine Jorgensen, Crystal LaBeija, Dana Wynter, Daniela Sea, Daniela Vega, David E. Harrison, Divine, Dorian Corey, Dustin Hoffman, Eddie Redmayne, Elliot Fletcher, Eric Gurry, Esme Percy, Ethel Lloyd, Flip Wilson, Gary Collins, Georges Du Fresne, Glenn Close, Hailie Sahar, Harry Langdon, Henry B. Walthall, Hilary Swank, Holly Woodlawn, Jackie Curtis, James Garner, Jamie Clayton, Janet McTeer, Jared Leto, Jaye Davidson, Jazzmun, Jean Harlow, Jeffrey Tambor, Jen Richards, Jim Carrey, Joan Rivers, John Gavin, John Lazar, John Lithgow, John Lone, Julie Andrews, Junior LaBeija, Katie Couric, Kim Kardashian, Lady Chablis, Laverne Cox, Leo Sheng, Lesley Ann Warren, Lilly Wachowski, Mandy Patinkin, Marquise Vilson, Mary Badham, Matthew McConaughey, Mercedes Ruehl, Michael Blodgett, Michael D. Cohen, Michaela Jaé Rodriguez, Milton Berle, Mya Taylor, Nick Adams, Octavia St. Laurent, Oprah Winfrey, Paris Dupree, Pepper LaBeija, Peter Scolari, Phil Donahue, Raúl Juliá, Ray Charles, Robert Preston, Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle, Roscoe Arbuckle, Sandra Caldwell, Sean Young, Ser Anzoategui, Stephen Rea, Susan Stryker, Sylvia Rivera, T.C. Jones, Tom Hanks, Trace Lysette, Veronica Redd, Vivian Vance, Wendy Williams, William Hurt, Yance Ford, Zackary Drucker
Director: Sam Feder
Rating: R
29.

Wojnarowicz (2021)

Even a straightforward documentary on the New York East Village visual artist David Wonjarowicz (pronounced VOY-nuh-ROH-vitch) would be thrilling, given the energy and the irreverence of his artworks especially during the AIDS epidemic from the 1980s to the 1990s. But director Chris McKim goes above and beyond, essentially imagining how Wojnarowicz would have directed his own film. McKim treats the movie like a collage in itself, expertly blending footage and sound together not just to capture the artist's fury, but to remember how deeply he loved, transcending space and sickness. As an account of the underground New York art scene at the time, a profile on a supposed enfant terrible, and a tribute to all those who lost their lives to a disease accelerated by discrimination, Wojnarowicz is a beautiful, complex tapestry.

Our staff rating: 8.3/10
Genre: Documentary
Actor: David Wojnarowicz, Fran Lebowitz, Nan Goldin
Director: Chris McKim
28.

Tangerine (2015)

What’s great about this highly inventive film is that it doesn’t look like it was shot through three iPhone 5s. Instead of using shaky cameras and static shots, Tangerine glides us through saturated, orange-toned scenes that evoke the Los Angeles sunset. Launching director Sean Baker into prominence, Tangerine is an innovative film that, at heart, is a nuanced comedy about the trans sex worker community. Newcomers Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor run the show, and their performances create a vivid, electric drive that powers the whole movie. But it’s the quieter moments, the moments after betrayal, the moments of recovery, that make this movie truly special.

Our staff rating: 8.3/10
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Actor: Ana Foxxx, Chris Bergoch, Clu Gulager, Graham Mackie, Ian Edwards, James Ransone, Jason Stuart, John Gulager, Josh Sussman, Karren Karagulian, Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, Luiza Nersisyan, Mickey O'Hagen, Mya Taylor, Scott Krinsky, Shih-Ching Tsou
Director: Sean Baker
Rating: R

Free Watching Options:

Watch Tangerine (2015) on Showtime for free
27.

Mutt (2023)

Just based off its title, Mutt is already a film that tackles a state of in-between, and perhaps what makes it already precious is how honest and personal it can get, while remaining a good fictional story. This striking debut took Chilean-Serbian filmmaker Vuk Lungulov-Klotz more than six years to make, at least from the initial stages of the script as he was working through his own transition, how that felt and how he dealt with it in life and art. That said, Mutt is a film that stands on its own feet, without the need for any such context: the script, the performances, the frantic pacing of it, they are all top-level stuff. A generous, open film that has its trans protagonist be who they are, whatever that may be, and gives as much insight as it allows for curiosity and empathy. If Mutt is educational in any way, it is through it's apt storytelling and truthfulness that bleeds through the screen; its significance for trans cinema cannot be overstated, but it is also once of the most accomplished debuts of 2023.

Our staff rating: 8.3/10
Genre: Drama
Actor: Alejandro Goic, Cole Doman, Jari Jones, Jasai Chase-Owens, Lio Mehiel, MiMi Ryder, Sarah Herrman
Director: Vuk Lungulov-Klotz
Rating: NR
26.

Laurence Anyways (2012)

This is a gorgeous French-Canadian movie with out-of-this-world sound work.

Laurence is deeply in love with his girlfriend, Fred. On his birthday, he announces to her that he wants to restart his life as a woman, having always hated his male body. Fred doesn't know how to take the news: “everything I love about you is everything you hate about yourself”.

Laurence Anyways is about how their romance continues after this revelation. There are so many reasons to watch this movie: the story, the acting, the cinematography; but trust me, the soundtrack alone is reason enough.

Our staff rating: 8.4/10
Genre: Drama, Romance
Actor: Alexandre Goyette, Anne Dorval, Anne-Élisabeth Bossé, Antoine-Olivier Pilon, Bronwen Mantel, Catherine Bégin, David Savard, Denise Filiatrault, Denys Paris, Emily Hampshire, Emmanuel Schwartz, Éric Bruneau, François Sasseville, Gilles Renaud, Jacob Tierney, Jacques Lavallée, Magalie Lepine Blondeau, Manuel Tadros, Melvil Poupaud, Monia Chokri, Monique Spaziani, Mylène Jampanoï, Nathalie Baye, Patrice Coquereau, Patricia Tulasne, Perrette Souplex, Pierre Chagnon, Sophie Faucher, Susan Almgren, Suzanne Clément, Vincent Davy, Violette Chauveau, Xavier Dolan, Yves Jacques
Director: Xavier Dolan
Rating: Not Rated
25.

1985 (2018)

1985, a movie from 2018, was made like it was filmed during the year it’s about: it’s shot on gorgeous black-and-white Super 16mm film.

Not that it would be needed, but this minimalist setting puts a spotlight on the ensemble cast of this well-acted drama based on an award-winning short film.

In particular, the central one by Cory Michael Smith (Gotham, Camp X-Ray). He plays Adrian, a man visiting his conservative family in Texas from New York, so gently at times and explosively at others, it’s a sight to behold.

Adrian, estranged from his family for three years, visits them to find a way to tell them that he has AIDS.

Our staff rating: 8.5/10
Genre: Drama
Actor: Aidan Langford, Bill Heck, Bryan Massey, Cory Michael Smith, Jamie Chung, Michael Chiklis, Ryan Piers Williams, Tina Parker, Virginia Madsen
Director: Yen Tan
Rating: Not Rated
24.

Flee (2021)

When Amin sits down for a tell-all interview about his troubling past, his memories come to life in vivid animation. Sometimes they are sweet and intimate, like when he recounts his time as a playful boy in a much freer Afghanistan. But often, they’re marred by the unbelievable horrors of refugee life. Now a successful academic and soon-to-be husband, Amin discovers the inescapability of his status and identity, the reality of which continues to threaten his safety to this day.

Relevant and vital, Flee sheds some much-needed light on an often-overlooked phenomenon. More than just displaying factoids and numbers, it relays the specific unease and constant vigilance that comes with fleeing one’s home. But as Amin’s story, it is also richly detailed and wonderfully personal; for all its harsh exposés, the film leaves enough room for Amin’s stirring realizations about love, identity, and sexuality.

Our staff rating: 8.5/10
Genre: Animation, Documentary
Actor: Behrouz Bigdeli, Belal Faiz, Bo Asdal Andersen, Daniel Karimyar, Elaha Faiz, Fardin Mijdzadeh, Jean-Pierre Pernaut, Mikhail Belinson, Milad Eskandari, Rashid Aitouganov, Tormod Ringnes
Director: Jonas Poher Rasmussen
Rating: PG-13

Free Watching Options:

Watch Flee (2021) on Hulu for free
23.

Girl Picture (2022)

Understandably, Mimmi, Rönkkö, and Emma, the teenage girls who lead this Finnish coming-of-age drama, are bursting with emotional urgency. On the cusp of adulthood, they plunge into house parties and romantic affairs in the hope that exploring love, sex, and adventure leads them closer to being self-aware adults. 

Of course, that’s a lifelong process, but they don’t need to know that just yet. For now, they’re explosive and ecstatic and awkward and angry. They’re at a point in their lives where falling head over heels is still an endearingly fresh experience and not a frustratingly repeated mistake. 

The film is intense in this way, but it’s leavened by a beautiful naturalism that’s seen in the young cast’s performances, the setting’s soft lighting, and the camera’s boxy ratio and grainy finish, the latter of which recall a disposable camera capturing the indiscriminate moments shared between teens. Girl Picture is an intimate and authentic portrait of girlhood—see it if you can.

Our staff rating: 8.5/10
Genre: Drama, Romance
Actor: Aamu Milonoff, Amos Brotherus, Bruno Baer, Cécile Orblin, Elias Westerberg, Henrikki Haavisto, Linnea Leino, Mikko Kauppila, Oona Airola, Pietu Wikström
Director: Alli Haapasalo
22.

My Own Private Idaho (1991)

While the film adapts some of Shakespeare’s histories, you don’t need to know Shakespeare to appreciate My Own Private Idaho. In fact, instead of focusing on the Prince Hal character, Scott Favor (Keanu Reeves), the film centers on his narcoleptic friend Mike Waters (River Phoenix). Both of them are young street hustlers in Portland. However, unlike Favor, Waters has no reliable family, inheritance, or support system waiting for him to give up his job. Waters only has his body. Writer-director Gus Van Sant doesn’t really focus on the sex or the narcolepsy - these flash by us only as a state-of-mind experience, with time-lapses and freeze-frames to impart to us Waters’ detachment. Instead, Van Sant cares more about Waters’ seeking connection. It’s why the surreal shots speed by us so fast, and why the natural, lived-in scenes remain in our heads. It’s why Waters’ campfire confession, crackling under Phoenix’s earnest voice, feels so powerful. And it’s also why his later rejection feels so painful.

Our staff rating: 8.5/10
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Actor: Chiara Caselli, Flea, Grace Zabriskie, Gus Van Sant, James Russo, Jim Caviezel, Keanu Reeves, Mickey Cottrell, Pao Pei Andreoli, Pat Patterson, River Phoenix, Robert Egon, Rodney Harvey, Scott Patrick Green, Tom Troupe, Udo Kier, Vana O'Brien, William Richert
Director: Gus Van Sant
Rating: R
21.

The Stroll (2023)

At one point in the documentary, director Kristen Lovell says, “I wanted to archive the movement that was building between transwomen and sex workers,” and that’s exactly what she achieves with The Stroll, a well-researched, creatively edited, and deeply moving account of the trans-sex-work experience that defined New York for a good chunk of the 20th century. It’s both historical and personal, touching and rousing, as it recounts a history that’s often been forgotten even among the LGBTQ+ community. To do this, Lovell digs up archival footage, brings to life long-buried data, and strikes up heartfelt conversations with survivors of The Stroll, that street in New York where Lovell and her fellow homeless escorts used to pick customers up. Thanks to Lovell’s hard work in telling this extraordinary story of struggle and success, there isn’t a moment in this film where you’re not shocked, frustrated, or exhilarated along with them.

Our staff rating: 8.5/10
Genre: Documentary, Drama
Actor: RuPaul
Director: Kristen Parker Lovell, Zackary Drucker

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