137 Best LGBTQ+ Stories to Watch (Page 8)

Staff & contributors

This section includes movies where at least one of the main characters doesn’t identify as heterosexual or cisgender. Our goal is to showcase movies on popular streaming services that portray the lives and experiences of LGBTQ+ communities across the world. These experiences are an integral part of human history but only recently are starting to be told in mainstream film.

In Swan Song, acclaimed actor Udo Kier stars as the real-life Pat Pitsenbarger, a local queer legend in the small town of Sandusky. He used to live a private but joyful life, beautifying socialities by day and performing in drag at night. But now the aging icon is resigned to live out his days in a bleak retirement home, where he takes part in feeble acts of rebellion to keep himself amused. This is bound to change when Pat returns to town on an oddly specific request. There, he makes peace with old friends and grabs at the chance to revive his inner beauty queen once more. 

It’s a simple story with a simple premise, but Swan Song is elevated by Krier’s powerful presence and director Todd Stephens’ obvious love for his hometown. Every diss Krier drops as the sassy Pat is to be savored, and every tribute Stephens makes to town life is to be admired. Filled, too, with colorful and euphoric moments that celebrate gay pride, Swan Song makes for quite the lovable film. 

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Annie Kitral, Brandon Lim, Bryant Carroll, Dave Sorboro, Eric Eisenbrey, Ira Hawkins, Jennifer Coolidge, Jonah Blechman, Justin Lonesome, Linda Evans, Michael Urie, Richard Strauss, Shanessa Sweeney, Stephanie McVay, Tim Murray, Tom Bloom, Udo Kier

Director: Todd Stephens

Rating: R

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Palmer may not be treading new ground, but it does tackle relevant themes with impressive sensitivity. With Palmer (Justin Timberlake), it reveals the stigma that haunts ex-convicts well after they’ve redeemed themselves. And with Sam (a charming Ryder Allen), it brings to light the heartbreaking and often dangerous bigotry queer children face. These are heavy issues, but Palmer takes them on with the utmost care and compassion. Though it reads cheesy at times, the sweetness is a welcome note considering the more tragic turns narratives like this tend to take. Empathetic and hopeful, Palmer is a pleasant enough film about second chances and found families.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Alisha Wainwright, Carson Minniear, Charmin Lee, Craig Sheffer, Dane Rhodes, Dean Winters, Hero Hunter, J.D. Evermore, Jake Brennan, Jesse C. Boyd, June Squibb, Juno Temple, Justin Timberlake, Lance E. Nichols, Nicholas X. Parsons, Ray Gaspard, Ryder Allen, Stacie Davis, Stephen Louis Grush, Theodus Crane, Wynn Everett

Director: Fisher Stevens

Rating: R

As southern movies go, Fried Green Tomatoes is inoffensively sweet and realistic—it’s not afraid to touch on the genuine issues that plagued America in the 1930s while also cushioning some blows, as feel-good movies are wont to do. But the film seems less interested in presenting a clear picture of the past than it is in telling a specific tale: that of outsiders forming bonds and making it together in an unforgiving society. 

The main narrator is Ninny, an 83-year-old woman seemingly forgotten by everyone except Evelyn, an unhappy housewife who is “too young to be old and too old to be young.” Ninny recalls the stories of Sipsey and Big George, Black laborers who dared to succeed in their deeply racist community; of Smokey, the town outcast, who still helped people even if he was denied it himself; of Ruth, the domestic abuse victim; and of Idgie, the tomboy who spat on the face of all decorum. Then, of course, there’s the unspoken relationship between Ruth and Idgie, which hint at something quite radical for its time. 

These are all the people conventionally denied happy endings, and in period films, you’d expect to be abandoned in tragedy. But here they sing; they win and lose in equal measure, and even though it might seem like light and familiar fare to some, it still goes down heartily and unforgettably—funnily enough, like a plate of fried green tomatoes.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Afton Smith, Bob Hannah, Carol Mitchell-Leon, Chris O'Donnell, Chris O'Donnell, Cicely Tyson, Constance Shulman, Danny Nelson, David Dwyer, Evan Lockwood, Fannie Flagg, Gailard Sartain, Gary Basaraba, Grace Zabriskie, Grayson Fricke, Haynes Brooke, Jessica Tandy, Jo Harvey Allen, Kathy Bates, Kathy Larson, LaTanya Richardson Jackson, Lois Smith, Macon McCalman, Mary Stuart Masterson, Mary-Louise Parker, Nancy Moore Atchison, Nick Searcy, Raynor Scheine, Reid Binion, Richard Riehle, Stan Shaw, Suzi Bass, Ted Manson, Tim Scott, Timothy Scott, Tom Even, Wallace Merck

Director: Jon Avnet

Rating: PG-13

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Being made for free, fanfiction is free to play with controversial, less print-friendly concepts like gender-bending your favorite character. This freedom might go into strange territory, but most often than not, writers use fanfiction for escapism or for catharsis of their day-to-day lives. While the film doesn’t delve into fanfiction’s creative process, Polish drama Fanfic does recognize how the genre’s experimentation allows its writers to safely and freely explore different styles of expression, the same way teenage years hopefully do for its viewers. And as Tosiek goes through the trappings of coming-of-age self-discovery, it’s lovely and comforting and cathartic like the stories he writes.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Alin Szewczyk, Dobromir Dymecki, Helena Sujecka, Ignacy Liss, Jan Cięciara, Maja Szopa, Stanisław Cywka, Wiktoria Kruszczyńska

Director: Marta Karwowska

Rating: NC-17

Even with its haphazard construction and occasionally unnecessary and corny flourishes (what's with all the mellowed-out covers of pop songs?), there's a sense of intense, sincere pride and joy that shines through Every Body's many testimonials. Intersex people are barely represented whether in media or in legislation, and countless people still have very little understanding of what intersex is. But while this subject is usually viewed as uncomfortable—and this documentary definitely doesn't hold back in explaining the various ways intersex people are mutilated and mentally abused just to force them to conform to the gender binary—the film grounds everything by showing us how its main characters are as ordinary, creative, and full of good humor as the rest of us. So as Every Body skips through various aspects of the intersex experience, even its disorganization takes on the charm of a simple chat with friends. And either way, the discussions held here are the stuff of real courage—demanding our attention and earning our respect.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Alicia Roth Weigel, River Gallo, Sean Saifa Wall, Steven Crowder

Director: Julie Cohen

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Though Eternal Summer isn't able to fully engage with its queer characters—maybe due to its being released in the mid-2000s—it still makes for a more interesting character study than you'd expect. This romance between three school friends has more on its mind than simply pitting two romantic pairings against each other. Unrequited feelings, unspoken secrets, and identities that are constantly in flux make Eternal Summer compelling just for the way these people try to dance around one another's emotions. And since it's shot in the muted colors of early digital filmmaking, this is a love story that becomes all the more melancholic just in the way it looks.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Joseph Chang, Kate Yeung, Ray Chang

Director: Leste Chen

Rating: 0

This emotionally rich biopic spans Reinaldo Arena’s lifetime, from his childhood and early embrace of the Cuban Revolution to his deportation via the notorious 1980 Mariel boatlift, and subsequent death in the United States. The story of Arenas’ life is told through using his own words, over director Julian Schabel's beautifully crafted images. In his first-ever English-speaking role, Javier Bardem renders a strong dramatic performance for which he deservedly received wide acclaim. Before Night Falls is a finely crafted portrait of a creative yet self-destructive poet who has to face the clash between his identity and the political environment surrounding him.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Alfredo Villa, Andrea Di Stefano, Diahnne Abbott, Diego Luna, Francisco Gattorno, Héctor Babenco, Javier Bardem, Jerzy Skolimowski, John Ortiz, Johnny Depp, Marisol Padilla Sánchez, Maurice Compte, Michael Wincott, Najwa Nimri, Olatz Lopez Garmendia, Olivier Martinez, Pedro Armendáriz Jr., Rene Rivera, Santiago Magill, Sean Penn, Vincent Laresca

Director: Julian Schnabel

Funny, sweet, and tropey, Badhaai Do is a unique Hindi dramedy about a lavender marriage. Gay policeman Shardul (Rajkummar Rao) and lesbian teacher Sumi (Bhumi Pednekar) agree to wed in order to satisfy their family’s wishes without exposing their sexual orientations. Unfortunately, this doesn’t stop their family from other expectations, such as that of maintaining their marriage and having a child. After their immediate connection, Shardul and Sumi’s continuous bickering, through Rao and Pednekar’s chemistry, is hilarious, leading to elaborate lies about each other for their family. However, underneath their funny back-and-forth is an understanding between them that almost feels freeing. Their platonic partnership feels like a lifeline in an isolating closet. While India is portrayed here to have a thriving LGBTQ+ community, microaggressions, harassment, and legal discrimination are still present. Despite this, the film carves up moments where Shardul and Sumi actively seek connection, with each other and with other people, including their eventual lovers. The most touching of these moments come when they both allow themselves to be honest.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Bhumi Pednekar, Chum Darang, Gulshan Devaiah, Loveleen Mishra, Nitesh Pandey, Rajkummar Rao, Seema Pahwa, Shashi Bhushan, Sheeba Chaddha

Director: Harshavardhan Kulkarni

Rating: PG

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Sophia Castuera's first feature after two indie shorts seems like a low-key affair, but it fits neatly into a canon of post-mumblecore, or a Gen Z mumblecore. It features a fumbling protagonist named Cal and played by Ali Edwards (who also wrote the script), a wanna-be actress fresh out of college who finds herself stuck between two people. Not just any people, but her childhood best friend Jay and his long-term girlfriend Emily. August at Twenty Two queers the love triangle trope and makes the most of the characters' anxieties, their hopes, and awkward daily sacrifices to climb up into each other's good books. Appearances are key, of course, since everyone's delightfully immature. The good thing is that the film knows all this very well and even sneaks a post-ironic hint or two. That said, its self-assurance is also its Achilles heel: you cannot convince me that twenty two year olds would call each other often enough to have voicemail. 

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Adrian Burke, Ali Edwards, Clay Singer, Jorge Felipe Guevara, Lilli Kay, Mia Rose Kavensky

Director: Sophia Castuera

As far as LGBTQIA+ stories go, 20,000 Species of Bees isn't the best at talking about its themes of identity and acceptance in a way that doesn't come off as clunky. But even with its on-the-nose dialogue and inconsequential subplots, director Estibaliz Urresola Solaguren gives everything the warmth and the softness it needs to feel sincere despite everything. And no matter what, the film is always drawn back to the lead performance by Sofía Otero, who provides such a vivid image of this young trans girl's interior life that the world around her character begins to feel either more suffocating or more beautiful to behold.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Ane Gabarain, Itziar Lazkano, Martxelo Rubio, Miguel Garcés, Patricia López Arnaiz, Sara Cózar, Sofía Otero

Director: Estibaliz Urresola Solaguren

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If there are parts to Rookie's story that seem too easily resolved—for the sake of making this more of a feel-good movie—these shortcuts still serve a genuinely romantic central relationship that develops in the most organic way possible. Besides the school's stifling conservatism, there's nothing that really stands in the way of Ace and Jana's blossoming connection. By immediately advancing its depiction of queer love beyond the self-acceptance stage (where so many other films get stuck), Rookie is allowed to show us two girls in love and supporting each other, as the normal and beautiful thing it should be. It doesn't hurt either that the movie is pretty entertaining as a sports film, with just enough flash in its editing and sound design to sell the frantic energy of a game wherein you want to impress the person you have a crush on.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Agot Isidro, Aya Fernandez, Che Ramos, Mikoy Morales, Pat Tingjuy, Simon Ibarra

Director: Samantha Lee

Fourteen-year-old Segundo dreams of being just like his father Noé, a revered tableau artist in their small Peruvian town. The teenage apprentice follows Noé's every move and instruction, that is until one day, he discovers a shocking truth about Noé's identity. Hurt, angered, and incredibly confused, Segundo starts detaching from his family, as well as from the life he thought he'd wanted to live. 

Retablo is a slow but vibrant film, set in Peruvian locales and spoken in the country's indigenous tongue, Quechua. Its limited dialogue smartly reflects the people's own silence when it comes to sex and gender ideas, although the movements themselves—from traditional parties to teenage fights—have a lot to say about masculinity, conservatism, and the dangers of their excess. Retablo might be a difficult watch for some, but it's just as necessary and enlightening.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Amiel Cayo, Claudia Solís, Coco Chiarella, Hermelinda Luján, Junior Béjar Roca, Magaly Solier, Mauro Chuchón

Director: Álvaro Delgado-Aparicio L., Alvaro Delgado-Aparicio

Rating: R

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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.

Genre: Thriller

Actor: Bjørn Melhus, Josef Ostendorf, Lea Draeger, Nico Ehrenteit, Sebastian Rudolph, Simon(è) Jaikiriuma Paetau, Simone Bucio, Tristan Bumm

Director: Ann Oren

If you’re looking for exotic locations, glamorous spies, and dramatic shoot-outs, Khufiya is not the espionage film you’re looking for. Like the original novel it’s based on, the film adaptation is a complex, intricate spy story where countries try to interfere with each other’s affairs, and agents handle the dry and dirty work to achieve this. With the true-story-based details of the source material, writer-director Vishal Bhardwaj keeps the story’s historical accuracy, but also adds a personal revenge subplot through the addition of a female main protagonist. The result of the changes complicates the film’s introduction, but if you have the patience, Khufiya still has what makes a spy drama compelling– the double-agent turns, the doubts and mistrust, and a satisfying resolution to the operation.

Genre: Crime, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Alexx O'Nell, Ali Fazal, Ashish Vidhyarthi, Atul Kulkarni, Azmeri Haque Badhon, Disney James, Lalit Parimoo, Navnindra Behl, Priyanka Setia, Purnendu Bhattacharya, Rahul Vohra, Shashi Bhushan, Shataf Figar, Tabu, Wamiqa Gabbi

Director: Vishal Bhardwaj

Rating: R

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