The 10 Best LGBT Films Every Straight Person Should See!

The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment
Critics Association ( has announced its membership’s picks
for their second “GALECA Ten Best” list: The 10 Best LBGTQA Films Every
Non-LGBTQA Person Should See.

Critics from the 120-member
organization submitted their personal choices for the list, selecting titles
from a list of guidelines. The picks had to be feature-length (70
minutes or longer) narrative films released theatrically in the US. TV
movies, documentaries and short films were not eligible.

Their primary goal was “to present films that
we thought not only best reflected LGBTQA life and history — but which were also
cinematically compelling and even groundbreaking. We weren’t looking for a
traditional list of feel-good, positive portrayals of our world. We looked for
love and stars. Laughs and scars. Bad boys, mean girls and veritable wars. We
looked at it all.”

The films on this list run the gamut, from realism
to sensationalism to eye-catching stops in between. They may not always be the
most perfect representations of our community, but they are facets. The sheer
diversity in this list showcases just how broad LGBTQ entertainment
journalists’ interests and influences reach — even via such a narrow category.

Here they are
in alphabetical order. Let us know your own picks in the comments.

The Adventures of Priscilla,
Queen of the Desert
Twenty-one years ago, Australia brought the world this tale of the outlandish
and endearing adventures of two drag queens and a transsexual, a trio who blaze
a trail across the Outback to a drag performance at the continent’s center. Mitzi
Del Bra (Hugo Weaving), Felicia Jollygoodfellow (Guy Pearce) and Bernadette
Bassenger (Terence Stamp) embarked on a clandestine journey fueled by an
infectious disco soundtrack (Gloria Gaynor! ABBA!) that would be at home in any good club.

More than portraying drag queens with a
sensational truth, director Stephen Elliot’s joyful film glimmered with vibrant
visuals and Oscar-winning costume design that remain influential today. Yet
amid the lip-syncing, frock-wearing and smack-talking irreverence is a simple
story of three men. One wants to be there for his son (Weaving). One wants to
escape the misery surrounding the departure of an accepting husband. One just
wants to explore life outside the cesspool of the big city without realizing
that finding safety so far from home isn’t as easy as it seems. A holiday parable, if you

(U.S. release date: August 10, 1994.
Running time: 104 minutes. Fox Home Entertainment.)

Boys Don’t Cry:
A provocative milestone in LGBTQA cinema, co-writer/director Kimberly Peirce’s
knockout feature debut relays the true-life
story of Brandon Teena (Oscar winner Hilary Swank). Born Teena Brandon, as a
young trans man Brandon assumed his male identity and went out looking for
love, peace and harmony in the politically repressed community of Falls City,
Nebraska. Living in the closet, Brandon found little peace and harmony, but he did
find love in the form of a woman, Lana Tisdel (Oscar-nominated Chloë Sevigny). His
love and his time here would be short-lived.

Upon release, Boys Don’t Cry opened up widespread dialogue about gender identity,
violence toward the LGBTQA community, female sexuality and a lot more that,
frankly, too many take for granted as par for the discourse in today’s
discussion about queer identity, theory and rights. Let your conversations

(U.S. release date: Oct. 8, 1999.
Running time: 116 minutes. Fox Searchlight Pictures.) 

Brokeback Mountain:
Modern audiences have become increasingly more accepting of gay relationships
on the big screen, with much of the credit going to the decades-spanning Brokeback Mountain. Painted with
humanity and genuine emotion by master filmmaker Ang Lee, the film followed two
ranch hands, Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal), as
they find love and fairly graphic passion on a bleak mountainside in 1963.
Returning to the “normal” world, over the years they find their hearts crushed
by the strictures of society. 

Ledger and Gyllenhaal, both nominated for Oscars, are superb crafting
scintillating portrayals of tortured gay men at a time that the general public
demeaned and isolated them. One the most famous and influential gay dramas ever
made, the Brokeback Mountain speaks
achingly to the power of love, regardless of gender, and to the unhealthy
mandates of a society that builds itself on prejudice and hate. And the ending
puts it in the ranks of classic tear-jerkers like Splendor in the Grass.

(Release date: December 9, 2005.
Running time: 134 minutes. Focus Features.)

Hedwig and the Angry Inch:
The film version of John Cameron Mitchell’s stage musical, about an East German
singer who attempts to come to terms with the botched sex-change operation that
left her with an “angry inch,” has rightly developed a cult
following. Taking musical conventions and turning them on their bejeweled ear,
the movie digs its painted nails into an infrequently celebrated subculture and
winds up more than enlightening.

Starring Mitchell in the title role, Hedwig angrily, but astutely, observes
the state of gender identity at the turn of the 21st Century, long before the
transgender rights movement went into full swing. It’s a rousing, intense experience—
powered by original, hard-pounding rock tunes — that demands at least one
viewing even if said intensity seems initially off-putting. Sorry Dr.
Frank-N-Furter, but this is one triumphant, and wicked, little musical. 

(U.S. release
date: January 19, 2001. Running time: 91 minutes. New Line Cinema)

The Kids Are All Right:
In the end, all any of us can hope for is a little
piece of this world where we can build a family and live the life we’ve always
wanted. Co-writer/director Lisa Cholodenko’s The Kids Are All Right vividly paints the portrait of a suburban
family whose peaceful veneer is cracked by curiosity and doubt. Starring Oscar
nominees Annette Bening and Julianne Moore as a lesbian couple whose two
children (Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson) seek out and insert their
biological father (Oscar-nominated Mark Ruffalo) into their dynamic, the film
tackles common issues facing many modern families.

Equally strong performances from Ruffalo,
Wasikowska and Hutcherson make this a wonderful slice of modern-family life,
albeit a slightly idealized version. Anyone who champions a functional and
loving world will find Kids perfect
long-weekend company.

(U.S. release date: July 9, 2010.
Running time: 104 min. Focus Features.)

Longtime Companion: That title suggests coziness, but Companion’s subject matter — and effect — is profound.
Exploring the AIDS epidemic at a time when film was too afraid to even utter
the acronym, this drama, set in the early 1980s, features a group of gay
friends as they come to terms with the mysterious disease that is killing them
off. The panic and the outcry within the community contrasting, the prejudice
and willful ignorance on both sides . . . this is a true tragedy.

The film’s cinematic
importance cannot be understated. The film’s studio release, at a time when the
fear of AIDS was reaching a nadir, was something of a marvel. Another brick in
the wall of hate crumbled. Knowing this film is tantamount to feeling
enlightened and enriched.

(U.S. release
date:  May 11, 1990. Running time: 100
minutes. Samuel Goldwyn Company.)

Who doesn’t love a clandestine period romance compliments of Merchant-Ivory
productions? In 1909, Maurice (James Wilby) meets fellow Cambridge student Clive
Durham (Hugh Grant). At first each man is unsure if the other is, well, you
know . . . and it’s not like they can ask around to find out. As the two
negotiate their feelings, the pressures of society mount until one of them —
spoiler ahead — capitulates to the bourgeois society and enters into — oh, dear — a lovelorn marriage. The
remaining bachelor moves on, hoping to find the love that does not bare its

Director and cowriter James Ivory’s
adaptation of E.M. Forster’s novel exquisitely captures the love and longing of
young gay men in Edwardian England. From the sets to the scenery to the (Oscar-nominated)
costumes, the film is loaded with such style, one may wish it were once again
those grand ol’ repressive times. Viewers will relish, though, the
progressive-thinking capper. Sit down, swap out Downton Abbey, and pass the cognac.

(U.S. release date: Sept. 1, 1987.
Running time: 139 mins. Lorimar Home Video.)

Featuring a thoughtful, tour-de-force performance by Sean Penn (Oscar’s choice
for Best Actor), director Gus Van Sant’s biopic of civil rights icon Harvey
Milk  — the first openly gay person to be
elected to office in California (in 1978) and who was later assassinated by a
former colleague — stands as a supremely affecting biopic.

Politics, betrayal, love, lust,
jealousy, suicide — Milk’s story was all there in the halls of history, and
the screenplay by Lance Black (also an Oscar-winner) brought it to vivid life before
our eyes. James Franco charms as one of Milk’s lovers. And, yes, Josh Brolin
chillingly evinces the icon’s killer Dan White. But Milk’s message of courage lasts on and on, instilling an image of
its firebrand subject as fun, big-hearted, confident and persistent. He’s good

(U.S. release date: Nov. 26, 2008. Running time: 128 min. Focus

My Beautiful Laundrette:
Set against the backdrop of Thatcher’s tumultuous and reactionary England,
director Stephen Frears’ film tells the tale of two lovers, Omar (Gordon Warnecke),
a Pakastani, and his old friend, Johnny (Daniel Day-Lewis), a local gang
member. Thanks to Omar, the two begin to run a laundry matt together. But this
is lower-class England, where there is always trouble looming for immigrants
and young, gay men.

Featuring Hanif Kureishi’s
Oscar-nominated screenplay, My Beautiful
sets itself in a milieu where most films, let alone gay films,
fear to tread. Its characters are real working class people with real,
hard-to-fix problems. Laundrette also
put Day-Lewis, in just his fourth film, on Hollywood’s hot list. For good
reason! (U.S. release date: Sept. 7, 1985. Running time: 93 mins. Orion

One Friday night, Russell (Tom Cullen) and Glen (Chris New) meet at a gay club.
The two go back to Russell’s and have sex. From that night on, these two
strangers begin to develop an intimate and somewhat intellectual relationship,
delving into the nature of identity and love over the course of a weekend.
Russell and Glen’s encounter will leave an indelible impression on each other
— and viewers as well.

The youngest title on our list,
writer-director Andrew Haigh’s second narrative feature was also GALECA’s
Dorian Award winner for 2011’s Film of the Year and LGBT-Themed Film of the
Year. Obviously, we dig this film. What more do we need to say?

(U.S. release date: Sept. 23, 2011. Running
time: 96 min. IFC Films.)

by GALECA members John Esther and Wesley Lovell)

Daily Headlines
Daily Headlines covering Film, TV and more.

By subscribing, I agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

PMC Logo
IndieWire is a part of Penske Media Corporation. © 2023 IndieWire Media, LLC. All Rights Reserved.