30 Best LGBTQ+ Stories in Film

Updated November 25, 2023 • 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.  

Read also:
20.

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, Elias Westerberg, Linnea Leino, Mikko Kauppila, Oona Airola
Director: Alli Haapasalo
19.

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
18.

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
17.

Taylor Mac’s 24-Decade History of Popular Music (2023)

A 100-minute highlight reel of the audacious 24-hour performance staged by artist Taylor Mac in 2016, this concert film succeeds not only in capturing the show's eclectic mix of songs, drag costumes, and interactive audience segments, but in capturing the emotional atmosphere conjured up in that Brooklyn warehouse. The very premise of the performance is ripe for analysis: a history of America starting from 1776, progressing one decade every hour, represented by selections of popular music of the time—which Mac questions at every turn, reinterpreting and reclaiming them for a contemporary queer audience. It begins as a creatively educational exercise, but gradually becomes more and more personal, until the audience is fully involved in the performances themselves.

Even the 24-hour format transcends its gimmick. That the show becomes an endurance test is deliberate, with bonds forming in real time and the exhaustion of this ever-changing drag performance conveying the weight of all this history on the most vulnerable and misrepresented sectors—who've already endured continuous losses decade after decade. And still there is cause for celebration, and genuine warmth among the people slowly becoming more vulnerable with each other over 24 hours. It's a beautiful, intelligent, frequently funny, and ultimately moving experience in a class all its own.

Our staff rating: 8.5/10
Genre: Documentary, Music
Actor: Anastasia Durasova, Machine Dazzle Flower, Matt Ray, Niegel Smith, Taylor Mac
Director: Jeffrey Friedman, Rob Epstein
Rating: PG-13
16.

And Then We Danced (2020)

Georgian dance has cut-throat competition: the art form is dying even within Gerogia, and to make it, dancers compete to join the one duo that represents the country. The chance finally comes and the spot opens up, igniting the hopes of performers from around the country. Mervan is one of them, a young dancer from a poor background who takes food from his restaurant job to feed his family. His main competition is a newcomer, Irakli, who also comes from a difficult background and hopes to secure the spot to provide for his ill father.

When their lives hang on them competing against one another, Mervan and Irakli fall for each other.

And Then We Danced is full of incredible dance sequences that add to the beauty of the romance at its center; but it's also a heartbreaking exploration of unfulfilled ambition.

Our staff rating: 8.6/10
Genre: Drama, Romance
Actor: Aleko Begalishvili, Ana Javakishvili, Bachi Valishvili, Giorgi Tsereteli, Mate Khidasheli, Ninutsa Gabisonia, Tamar Bukhnikashvili
Director: Levan Akin
Rating: 12
15.

Sink or Swim (1990)

One of the most notable avant-garde filmmakers, Su Friedrich is both a tour-de-force of documentary filmmaking and queer cinema. In Sink or Swim, Friedrich explores the complicated dynamic between a distant, work-oriented father and young daughter longing for his attention, approval, and love.

At just barely 45 minutes, Sink or Swim is cinematic poetry. The movie slowly unfolds across six vulnerable vignettes, through which Friedrich invites the viewer to meditate on the past alongside her. Through photographs, archival footage, and loose narrative storytelling, Freidrich shows that storytelling is a way of both healing the past and learning to live with its ghostly figures.

Our staff rating: 8.6/10
Genre: Documentary, Drama
Director: Su Friedrich
14.

Shiva Baby (2021)

A young bisexual woman attends a shiva, caught between her parents and their expectations, her ex, and her sugar daddy. Rachel Sennott’s Danielle is yet to find her path in life and everyone is determined to remind her of that. Taking place almost entirely in real-time, the film’s sharp wit is contrasted with constant anxiety, complemented by Ariel Marx’s horror-like score, full of discordant pizzicato that sounds like every last bit of sanity snapping. 

It’s a sex-positive take on 20-something life, treating bisexuality as wholly unremarkable and passing no judgment on Danielle’s sugar daddy income. Its specificities about Jewish customs and traditions are non-exclusionary, while its social claustrophobia is achingly universal. It’s comforting in the way it portrays the social horrors we all face, the feeling that everyone but you has life figured out, and that – ultimately – those who matter will pull through, eventually. One of 2021’s best.

Our staff rating: 8.6/10
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Actor: Ariel Eliaz, Cilda Shaur, Danny Deferrari, Deborah Offner, Dianna Agron, Fred Melamed, Glynis Bell, Jackie Hoffman, Molly Gordon, Polly Draper, Rachel Sennott, Richard Brundage, Rita Gardner, Sondra James
Director: Emma Seligman
Rating: Unrated
13.

Bound (1996)

Three years before the Wachowskis released The Matrix, their debut, Bound, was already one of the most visually stunning crime thrillers of the 1990s. If you look at the film as a straightforward genre piece, it's as thrilling as the best of the genre: vulnerable heroines, suspenseful sequences taking place mostly in one enclosed location, and a plot driven by mind games and careful manipulation. Every scene is marked by one breathtaking image after another, from the atmospheric use of lighting and color to intelligently placed cuts linking the two protagonists together no matter how much they've been kept apart.

But Bound only takes on more meaning when you look at it through the queer and trans perspective that the Wachowskis undoubtedly placed over the film years and years before their own coming out. By focusing on how Violet and Corky (a captivating Jennifer Tilly, and a sensual Gina Gershon, respectively) use their femininity and their gender as tools to break free from these patriarchal gangster narratives, Bound becomes a timeless expression of queer yearning and freedom.

Our staff rating: 8.6/10
Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller
Actor: Barry Kivel, Christopher Meloni, Gene Borkan, Gina Gershon, Ivan Kane, Jennifer Tilly, Joe Pantoliano, John P. Ryan, Kevin Michael Richardson, Margaret Smith, Mary Mara, Peter Spellos, Richard C. Sarafian
Director: Lana Wachowski, Lilly Wachowski
12.

Huesera: The Bone Woman (2023)

Huesera: The Bone Woman might not be the scariest film horror fans would see, but it does strike at the heart of the scary experience of motherhood. Through eerie sounds of breaking bones and weirdly contorted hands at the edge of beds, the film depicts new mother Valeria being haunted by the titular spirit, despite her prayer to the Virgin Mary. Valeria pleads for her husband and family to listen, though each time she does becomes proof of her faults as a mother. The terror in newcomer Natalia Solián’s face makes it all feel believable, but it’s the folk-inspired imagery of first-time feature director Michelle Garza Cervera that turns this film into a feminist masterpiece.

Our staff rating: 8.6/10
Genre: Drama, Horror, Mystery
Actor: Aida López, Alfonso Dosal, Enoc Leaño, Mayra Batalla, Mercedes Hernández, Natalia Solián, Pablo Guisa Koestinger, Samantha Castillo, Sonia Couoh
Director: Michelle Garza Cervera
Rating: NR
11.

Piaffe (2023)

Visual artist Ann Oren's first foray into feature-length filmmaking is a sensual delight and a gift that keeps on giving. Oren approaches her film with sincere dedication to every single building block: Piaffe looks, sounds, and feels sensational while being a fairly modest production. A true indie film, Piaffe verges on experimentation as a young woman named Eva (Simone Bucio) takes over the job of a foley artist from her sister. Even though she's under-qualified, she tries her best t0 come up with the sounds for a horse-themed commercial to no avail. However, in the process, she notices a bump on her lower back that grows into a horse's tail. Piaffe is a tale of metamorphosis, not only of the flesh, but also of the heart, as the themes it explores are also directly related to sexuality, submission, and, of course, love as a manifestation of all those things.

Our staff rating: 8.6/10
Genre: Thriller
Actor: Bjørn Melhus, Josef Ostendorf, Lea Draeger, Nico Ehrenteit, Sebastian Rudolph, Simon(è) Jaikiriuma Paetau, Simone Bucio
Director: Ann Oren

Ready to cut the cord? Here are the 12 cheapest Live TV streaming services for cord-cutting.

More lists