Gay vintage movies

Gay vintage movies DEFAULT

The 50 best gay movies – the most essential LGBTQ+ films ever made

50 best LGBTQ+ films

With the help of leading directors, actors, writers and activists, we count down the best LGBTQ+ films of all time

Written by Cath ClarkeWritten by Tom Huddleston

 LGBTQ+ films no longer live in the shadows. Over the past decade, there has been a steady increase in quality queer cinema, something that’s genuinely exciting to see. Whereas before many films focused on the lives of gay men, today nearly every corner of the LGBTQ+ community is portrayed on screen, offering brilliant, urgent and essential representation of all the different facets of the queer experience.

These films aren’t just low budget indie flicks, either: Love, Simon became the first teen romantic comedy produced by a major studio to feature a gay lead character, and in 2022 comedian Billy Eichner will become the first openly gay man to write and star in a romatnic comedy for a major Hollywood studio with his film Bros. LGBTQ+ films have also received critical and commercial success, with movies like Moonlight, Call Me By Your Name, Fantastic Woman and the Melissa McCarthy-starring Can You Ever Forgive Me? either being nominated or winning Academy Awards.

Of course, there is still a long way to go before queer cinema is entirely mainstream, and as documentaries such as Netflix’s Disclosure demonstrate, there is a lot of work that needs to be done, especially in terms of trans representation on screen. Nevertheless, it’s worth acknowledging how far things have come since the release of 2005’s Brokeback Mountain. To celebrate, we asked some LGBTQ+ cultural pioneers and Time Out writers to help us put together the most essential LGBTQ+ films ever made. Here are the best 50 gay movies.

Written by Cath Clarke, Dave Calhoun, Tom Huddleston, Alim Kheraj, Guy Lodge & Ben Walters

Recommended: Find the latest film releases, reviews and interviews at Time Out Film

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The best LGBT movies: 50-41

The Children's Hour (1961)

50. The Children's Hour (1961)

Director: William Wyler

Cast: Audrey Hepburn, Shirley MacLaine

Old-fashioned and melodramatic it may be, but playwright Lillian Hellman’s tale of decent lives destroyed by idle gossip still hits hard. MacLaine and Hepburn play the proprietors of a prestigious all-girls school who are forced to close when an especially psychotic little brat claims she saw them kissing. Hepburn was sold as the movie's star – she's the dainty, glamorous one with the macho boyfriend (James Garner). But it's MacLaine who stands out, as the determined bachelorette forced to face a few things she's been hiding from herself. The supporting performances are stunning, especially Miriam Hopkins as MacLaine's voracious aunt, and it's lovely (and, even in 2015, unusual) to see a movie so dominated by women, with Garner the only guy who gets more than a line or two. TH

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Bad Education (2004)

49. Bad Education (2004)

Director: Pedro Almodóvar

Cast: Gael García Bernal, Fele Martínez

Pedro Almodóvar is one of the great directors of our time and ‘Bad Education’ is perhaps his most personal film. In 1980s Madrid, young filmmaker Enrique Goded (Fele Martínez) is looking for a story for his next film. One day a man walks into his office, claiming to be Enrique’s old school friend and first love, Ignacio (Gael García Bernal). He brings with him a script, a revenge fantasy loosely based on their abuse by a priest at school. The story that follows is almost impossible to summarise, as Almodóvar takes us on a virtuoso spin from camp to noir. CC

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Show Me Love (1998)

48. Show Me Love (1998)

Director: Lukas Moodysson

Cast: Alexandra Dahlström, Rebecka Liljeberg, Erica Carlson

This is a heart-melting romantic classic from Swedish director Lukas Moodysson. It’s the age-old story of an anxious suburban girl, awkward Agnes (Rebecka Liljeberg), who falls for a confident firebrand, in the process learning how to love life and stand on her own two feet. The difference here is that the rebel in question, Elin (Alexandra Dahlström), is a girl in Agnes's high school who might not share her romantic feelings. A film that feels less like a two-dimensional experience and more like living someone else's life for 89 minutes, 'Show Me Love' is one of the all-time great teen dramas, exploding with life, insight and warmth. TH

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Pariah (2011)

47. Pariah (2011)

Director: Dee Rees

Cast: Adepero Oduye, Kim Wayans, Aasha Davis

Dee Rees's Brooklyn-set 2011 feature is the story of butch African-American lesbian teenager Alike (Adepero Oduye) as she tries to deal with feelings that increasingly put her at odds with her family (check out her mother's aghast response to things like Alike's preference for boys' underwear). The influence of religion in the family's life is also crucial – though that nice new girl at church doesn't exactly turn out to be the straight-and-narrow influence Mom had in mind. Expanded from a short film with the help of executive producer Spike Lee. BW

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Disclosure: Trans Lives on Screen (2020)

46. Disclosure: Trans Lives on Screen (2020)

Director: Sam Fender

Cast: Documentary

Trans representation in Hollywood has a chequered, complicated and problematic past. What director Sam Fender does brilliantly with this eye-opening documentary, which was executive produced by Laverne Cox, is to demonstrate the sometimes violent and traumatising real-life repercussions that poor representation has on the lives of trans people. One particularly pertinent moment comes when actor Jen Richards brilliantly explains the causal link between cisgender actors playing trans characters and the epidemic of violence against trans women. You can also see how trans representation has been warped over the decades in Hollywood, becoming more damaging as time has progressed. Yet there is a thread of cautious optimism here; a sense of urgency and a demand for change as much from Hollywood as from those watching at home.

Stranger Inside (2001)

45. Stranger Inside (2001)

Director: Cheryl Dunye

Cast: Yolonda Ross, Davenia McFadden, Rain Phoenix

Prison has been a perennial setting for lesbian drama of one stripe or another, from 1960s exploitation pictures to ‘Orange Is the New Black’. ‘Stranger Inside’ – directed for HBO in 2001 by Cheryl Dunye, but released to cinemas in the UK – stands out both for its consultation of actual prisoners, and for its rich evocation of aspects of African American identity seldom seen on screen. Treasure (Yolonda Lee) is a juvenile inmate who engineers a transfer to adult jail hoping to find her birth mother. Instead she finds herself navigating a daunting world of aggression, intimacy, religion, politics and an unforgiving pecking order. BW

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Paris Is Burning (1990)

44. Paris Is Burning (1990)

Director: Jennie Livingston

Cast: André Christian, Dorian Corey, Paris Duprée

Jennie Livingston's 1990 portrait of New York’s drag ball culture might be the most seminal LGBT documentary ever made. Initially a student project, it surveys with acuteness and sensitivity the underground scene that facilitated community and expression for many who were disenfranchised by their sexuality, gender identity, ethnicity and poverty. It also gave the world vogueing, as demonstrated by the legendary likes of Pepper LaBeija, Willi Ninja and Angie Xtravaganza, who are among the revelatory interviews. In many ways a response to mainstream pop culture, the ball scene in turn influenced it – from Madonna's ‘Vogue’ to ‘RuPaul's Drag Race’. BW

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Midnight Cowboy (1969)

43. Midnight Cowboy (1969)

Director: John Schlesinger

Cast: Dustin Hoffman, Jon Voight

The first X-rated film ever to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards, John Schlesinger’s sad, soulful portrait of a male prostitute trying to get by on the unforgiving streets of New York City may not raise that many eyebrows today – but its view of masculine insecurity and male companionship hasn’t dated at all. Tall, lunkish Texan Joe Buck (Jon Voight, in his best ever role) comes to the city with dreams of becoming a gigolo to society ladies, but gets more attention in the lonelier corners of the gay community. The film never puts a pin on Joe’s own sexuality, but the gay undertow is clear in his gradually tender friendship with scuzzy street hustler Ratso Rizzo — immortally played by Dustin Hoffman. GL

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42. A Fantastic Woman (2018)

Director: Sebastián Lelio

Cast: Daniela Vega Francisco Reye,s

Sebastián Lelio's Chilean drama packs a powerful and universal message about the isolating nature of prejudice. Staggering newcomer Daniela Vega brings quiet determination and no little fury as a grieving transgender woman who is stripped of everything but her dignity by her dead lover's bigoted family. A worthy winner of Best Foreign Language Film at the 2018 Oscars, it also features one of the greatest dream-logic dance sequences you'll ever clap eyes on.

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41. Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2020)

Director: Céline Sciamma

Cast: Noémie Merlant, Adèle Haenel

It might be set in the 1770s, but this glorious, sea salt-flecked romance feels totally contemporary and relevant in its energy and in what it says about art and who’s making it, and how that affects how we view the world and each other. It’s also an intensely moving evocation of female love and friendship between an artist (Noémie Merlant) and the seemingly aloof subject she’s been commissioned to paint (Adèle Haenel). It’s bold and proud, without ever being coy or unnecessarily erotic. It exists in a world dominated by men but refreshingly, director Céline Sciamma strips them out of the film almost entirely, apart from during its bookends. It’s deeply romantic and also deeply thoughtful – an electric combination. DC 

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The best LGBT movies: 40-31

The Wizard of Oz (1939)

40. The Wizard of Oz (1939)

Director: Victor Fleming

Cast: Judy Garland, Frank Morgan, Ray Bolger

The story, on the surface, doesn't hold any obvious LGBT significance: it's the simple fantasy of a country girl, Dorothy (Judy Garland), who encounters a magical land after she receives a bump on the head during a storm. So why has ‘The Wizard of Oz’ become an LGBT classic, even giving us the term 'friends of Dorothy'? Cultural theorists have spent many hours debating the answer to that question, with some suggesting that it's simply a matter of camp and others digging deeper and equating the black-and-white conservatism of the film's Kansas scenes to repression and even homophobia, and the colour and energy of Oz to being out and proud. Whatever the reason, somehow it just makes sense. DC

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Parting Glances (1986)

39. Parting Glances (1986)

Director: Bill Sherwood

Cast: John Bolger, Richard Ganoung, Steve Buscemi

Shot in 1984, Bill Sherwood's feature – the only film he completed before his death from an Aids-related illness aged just 37 – was one of the first films to deal directly with the disease. Set over just 24 hours, it's pegged to the relationship between Robert (John Bolger) and Michael (Richard Ganoung), though the latter's ailing ex Nick (an early lead role for Steve Buscemi) is also central. Although it burns with injustice, ‘Parting Glances’ is far from po-faced, giving a vivid sense of the humour and partying vital to the spirit of defiance that marked the New York downtown scene of the day. BW

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By Hook or By Crook (2001)

38. By Hook or By Crook (2001)

Director: Harry Dodge, Silas Howard

Cast: Silas Howard, Harry Dodge, Stanya Kahn

Harry Dodge and Silas Howard's 2001 debut feature caused quite a splash at the Sundance Film Festival, offering a window into kinds of experience that arguably remain marginalised even within queer life. Howard plays trans man Shy while Dodge is butch dyke Valentine. These ‘two freaky grifters’, both getting to grips with unresolved issues around their parentage, team up to launch a petty crime spree that offers each a lesson in the potential of collaboration. The result is a heady and distinctive mix of working-class truthfulness and magic realism, created with the help of early digital video technology. BW

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Longtime Companion (1989)

37. Longtime Companion (1989)

Director: Norman René

Cast: Stephen Caffrey, Patrick Cassidy, Brian Cousins

By the end of the 1980s, mainstream Hollywood was just about ready to confront the Aids crisis, and leading the way was Norman René's 1989 ‘Longtime Companion’. Taking its name from the New York Times obituary page’s euphemism for the partners of the dead, it covers the whole decade, structured around well-heeled couple Sean (Mark Lamos) and David (Bruce Davison) and their friends and family (played by the likes of Campbell Scott, Dermot Mulroney and Mary-Louise Parker). For many without experience of the crisis, it opened a window onto the realities of Aids-related illness. BW

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120 Beats Per Minute (2017)

36. 120 Beats Per Minute (2017)

Director: Robin Campillo

Cast: Nahuel Pérez Biscayart, Arnaud Valois, Adèle Haenel

An essential and moving film centred on the Paris faction of ACT UP, the international action and advocacy group formed at the height of the HIV/AIDs epidemic, in the early 1990s. The group publicly protested against the French government and the pharmaceutical companies for their slow responses to the pandemic.

To begin, we’re introduced to ACT UP via the thrillingly handsome newbie Nathan (Valois), who gradually becomes more politically involved with the group. In this febrile setting, an increasingly tender romance blossoms with sparky activist Sean (Pérez Biscayart). Campillo, himself an ACT UP militant in the early ‘90s, deftly makes the transition from political agency to personal urgency, painting an intimate, sometime erotic and often devastating picture of the group’s members as they celebrate, make love and mourn in the face of tragedy and societal inaction. AK

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Pink Narcissus (1971)

35. Pink Narcissus (1971)

Director: James Bidgood

Cast: Don Brooks, Bobby Kendall, Charles Ludlam

Goings-on behind closed doors have always been part of the LGBT experience – including LGBT filmmaking. Throughout the 1960s, James Bidgood shot a series of no-budget luxurious fantasias on 8mm film in his New York apartment, featuring hot young thing Bobby Kendall in such guises as a sexy matador, a sexy belly dancer and a sexy slave boy. Strung together as the erotic imaginings of an idling gigolo, these gorgeously imaginative scenes were released anonymously in 1971 as ‘Pink Narcissus’. Their ability to quicken the pulse while retaining a kind of kitsch innocence made them an influence on French artists Pierre et Gilles, among others. BW

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34. Moonlight (2016)

Director: Barry Jenkins

Cast: Trevante Rhodes, Ashton Sanders, Janelle Monáe, Naomie Harris, Mahershala Ali

The lingering sense of lives left unfulfilled permeates ‘Moonlight’, even if the film, directed by Barry Jenkins, does end on a somewhat positive note. Set in a barely recognisable yet unsettlingly realistic Miami, the film’s portrayal of the three stages of main character Chiron’s life, from boyhood to adulthood, thrums with pain, tenderness and understanding. The complexities of his situation and his internal and external crisis of masculinity are sharply matched and cut down by moments of kindness, Mahershala Ali and Janelle Monáe both deliver heartfelt performances. The burgeoning – and conflicted – relationship between Chiron and Kevin is the sort of romance that, while filled with strife, is also overrun with possibility. There’s plenty of tough stuff in it, but you can’t help but walk away from this one feeling a bit warm and fuzzy. AK

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Fellini-Satyricon (1969)

33. Fellini-Satyricon (1969)

Director: Federico Fellini

Cast: Martin Potter, Hiram Keller, Max Born

‘I am examining ancient Rome as if this were a documentary about the customs and habits of the Martians.’ So said Federico Fellini of his decadent, surreal dream of a movie. It's loosely based on surviving fragments of the first-century satirical work of fiction by Petronius (who was employed by emperor Nero as his unofficial ‘elegantiae arbiter’ or ‘judge of elegance’).  Set in imperial Rome, Fellini’s film is fragmentary like its source, playing out in a delirium. It opens as two friends, students Encolpio (Martin Potter) and Ascilto (Hiram Keller), quarrel over a beautiful young boy (Max Born). In the pursuit of pleasure, decadence piles upon decadence – never has the term Felliniesque been so appropriate. CC

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Edward II (1991)

32. Edward II (1991)

Director: Derek Jarman

Cast: Steven Waddington, Andrew Tiernan, Tilda Swinton

Derek Jarman's typically eccentric spin on Christopher Marlowe's 1593 play about the doomed fourteenth-century king (played by Steven Waddington) catapults the present into the past – not least by having protesters from the pressure group Outrage playing characters in the drama. In exploring Edward II's sexual relationship with the unpopular Piers Gaveston (Andrew Tiernan) – a rare example of a gay romance in the literature of the time – Jarman lashes out at establishment forces then and now. Jarman's interest is more modern than historical, but he forcefully and playfully makes his point about homophobia through the ages. DC

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Pink Flamingos (1972)

31. Pink Flamingos (1972)

Director: John Waters

Cast: Divine, David Lochary, Mary Vivian Pearce

A lot of LGBT films ask mainstream audiences for sympathy, understanding, even pity. That ain't John Waters's style. In his delirious realm of bad taste, it's the straights who deserve pity for their intolerably timid stifling conformity while the freaks live it up on their own grotesque terms. The apex of this sensibility is of course 1972's midnight movie par excellence, ‘Pink Flamingos’, in which outsized drag legend Divine defends her title of Filthiest Person Alive by any means necessary. Cue sex, drugs, murder, cannibalism, fame and – how could we forget – the shit-eating grin to end them all. BW

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The best LGBT movies: 30-21

The Terence Davies Trilogy (1983)

30. The Terence Davies Trilogy (1983)

Director: Terence Davies

Cast: Terry O'Sullivan, Wilfrid Brambell

As the title suggests, this isn't a single film but a trio of interlinked shorts, three portraits of the artist as a young, middle-aged and old man. Davies has never been afraid to draw on his own experiences in his work – both his first two feature films are about his own childhood – and the ‘Trilogy’ is no different, tracking Davies’s alter ego Robert Tucker from his school days in 1976's 'Children', though struggles with religion and sexuality in 1980's 'Madonna and Child' to his bitter end in 1983's heartbreaking 'Death and Transfiguration'. The result is self-reflective, for sure, but far from self-indulgent. Davies is offering audiences a glimpse into his life in the hope that it'll offer some note of comfort, companionship or clarity as they wrestle their own demons. TH

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The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (1972)

29. The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (1972)

Director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

Cast: Margit Carstensen, Hanna Schygulla, Katrin Schaake

For two hours, German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder locks us inside the flat of Petra von Kant (Margit Carstensen) a world-famous fashion designer – though it’s her silent drudge of an assistant (Irm Hermann) who does all the work while Petra spends her time lounging in bed. This S&M relationship works for both of them until Petra becomes obsessed with a young model, Karin. The master becomes a slave and when Karin breaks it off, Petra sinks into self-pity. Watch it for the knockout all-woman cast and the barbed-wire dialogue: ‘My heart is sore as if it had been stabbed.’ CC

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28. God's Own Country (2017)

Director: Francis Lee

Cast: Josh O’Connor, Alec Secareanu

To label Francis Lee’s feature directorial debut as Yorkshire’s answer to ‘Brokeback Mountain’ does the film and its actors a disservice. While both films feature the farming of sheep and two men who, while camping in the hinterland, share an intense sexual and romantic bond, the similarities end there. ‘God’s Own Country’ is more of a quiet love story that avoids melodrama for internal struggles with isolation, loneliness and the stark circumstances of hard rural lives. The inability of protagonist Johnny Saxby to open up is delivered with piercing melancholy and palpable physical frustration by Josh O’Connor. This is contrasted with Alec Secareanu’s portrayal of the thoughtful Gheorghe, who exudes a gentle sensitivity. Their unlikely love affair will melt even the most jaded of hearts. AK

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Death in Venice (1971)

27. Death in Venice (1971)

Director: Luchino Visconti

Cast: Dirk Bogarde, Romolo Valli, Mark Burns

Italian filmmaker Luchino Visconti adapted Thomas Mann's 1912 novella in 1971, keeping the pre-World War I Venice Lido setting but centring on a composer rather than a writer. He is troubled, unwell Gustav (Dirk Bogarde), an ageing man increasingly obsessed with a young blonde male hotel guest. Mann's more philosophical enquiries are watered down to offer a good-looking and atmospheric study in one man's late-life longing for unreachable beauty and youth. There's something undeniably shallow about Visconti's film (although the Mahler on the soundtrack eases the feeling of repetition), but there's no mistaking the sadness and lost opportunities at its core. DC

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Bound (1996)

26. Bound (1996)

Directors: Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski

Cast: Jennifer Tilly, Gina Gershon, Joe Pantoliano

On release, ‘Bound’ was taken to task by some sectors of the LGBT community. Here was a film centred on a lesbian relationship but directed by two male movie nerds, a product of the post-Tarantino irony boom in which a gay relationship was used as a shock tactic to make an otherwise traditional crime flick stand out from the crowd. But in the wake of Larry Wachowski’s gender transition to Lana, the film’s gender politics have been reassessed. Now ‘Bound’ can be appreciated for what it is: a heartfelt, quietly subversive, wonderfully entertaining thriller having a whale of a time flipping genre conventions on their backs and watching them kick. TH

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But I'm a Cheerleader (1999)

25. But I'm a Cheerleader (1999)

Director: Jamie Babbit

Cast: Natasha Lyonne, Clea DuVall, Michelle Williams

Imagine John Waters directing a teen take on ‘Cool Hand Luke’ and you’ve got a rough idea of this genius pray-the-gay-away satire, in which Natasha Lyonne’s pom-pom princess is sent away to re-education camp when her parents and friends suspect she’s a little that way inclined. The cast is flawless – Michelle Williams, Melanie Lynskey, Julie Delpy and RuPaul butching it up as a camp counsellor in a ‘straight is great’ t-shirt – and the use of colour is eye-frazzling. If you’ve not seen it, look forward to a night of pleasure. TH

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Transamerica (2005)

24. Transamerica (2005)

Director: Duncan Tucker

Cast: Felicity Huffman, Kevin Zegers

One of the earliest mainstream studio pictures to engage with trans experience, director Duncan Tucker's 2005 film stars Felicity Huffman (‘Desperate Housewives’) as Brie, a trans woman on a journey with a teenage tearaway who doesn't know he's her son. Turns out he isn't the only one with a few things to learn. The road-movie/voyage-of-discovery formula proved to be an appealing vehicle for encouraging mainstream acceptability of an unfamiliar subject – though the flip side was a flurry of accusations that the filmmakers were selling the subject short by not casting a trans actor in the lead. BW

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Scorpio Rising (1964)

23. Scorpio Rising (1964)

Director: Kenneth Anger

Cast: Ernie Allo, Bruce Byron, Frank Carifi

Kenneth Anger's half-hour 1963 joyride can lay claim to a whole bunch of firsts: it was the first movie to mash up 1950s biker culture with the story of Jesus, as well as pioneering the use of pre-existing pop songs to score a picture (including the likes of Blue Velvet and Wipe Out). By fetishising auto accidents, it anticipated David Cronenberg's ‘Crash’ to boot. A wittily observed and edited scrapbook of perverted dreams, it clocked up another first when the California Supreme Court ruled that, racy content notwithstanding, it didn't count as obscene because of its ‘redeeming social merit’. BW

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Maurice (1987)

22. Maurice (1987)

Director: James Ivory

Cast: James Wilby, Rupert Graves, Hugh Grant

This 1987 Merchant-Ivory film is based on an EM Forster novel published in 1971, a year after the author's death, but written over five decades earlier and assumed unpublishable by the writer. Forster wrote the first version of 'Maurice' in 1913, roughly the time events are set, and it tells of a love affair between two Cambridge students, Maurice (James Wilby) and Clive (Hugh Grant), which becomes more complicated once each of them leaves university. While Clive marries and seeks political office, an increasingly troubled Maurice refuses to discard his feelings, leading to a dangerous (considering the legal and social binds of the time) affair with a gamekeeper (Rupert Graves). The story is heartbreaking but also radical for offering an ending which suggests happiness – however isolated – in a same-sex relationship that crosses the class divide. DC

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The Kids Are All Right (2010)

21. The Kids Are All Right (2010)

Director: Lisa Cholodenko

Cast: Mia Wasikowska, Julianne Moore, Annette Bening, Mark Ruffalo

On the surface, Lisa Cholodenko’s sunny, heartwarming comic drama about family life doesn’t seem very unusual. There’s something familiar, even conventional, about its take on parent-teen tensions and infidelity. In a sense, however, it’s the film’s sticking to convention that makes it sweetly subversive: its portrait of a lesbian two-mum household in Californian suburbia demonstrates how any variety of family can fracture and unite along much the same lines. Also, who wouldn’t want Annette Bening and Julianne Moore as their mums? It’s a ‘love is love’ film made before the catchphrase took off, and a lot less mushy than that makes it sound. GL

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The best LGBT movies: 20-11

Pride (2014)

20. Pride (2014)

Director: Matthew Warchus

Cast: Bill Nighy, Dominic West, Andrew Scott

In 1984, when the miners went on strike people got together all around the UK to raise money for the miners and their families. One of the biggest fundraisers was a group of gay and lesbian campaigners in London – who saw the harassment of the miners by Margaret Thatcher’s government as mirroring their own persecution. Calling themselves LGSM (Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners), they set off from London in two minibuses and a clapped-out campervan to a village in South Wales carrying buckets of loose change raised in gay clubs. In 2014 that story was turned into the gorgeous, biggest-hearted Brit film ‘Pride’. CC

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The Boys in the Band (1970)

19. The Boys in the Band (1970)

Director: William Friedkin

Cast: Kenneth Nelson, Peter White, Leonard Frey

A decade before he sparked outrage with ‘Cruising’ (in which the leather scene supposedly nudges Al Pacino towards homicide), director William Friedkin presented this portrait of a group of New York friends on the cusp of liberation. Set around a birthday party, it's one of the first features dealing with gay life on its own terms, including copious boozing, relationship strains and lacerating self-recombination. It's noteworthy for some electrifying performances, transplanted from the stage – playwright Mart Crowley adapted his own hit play – and location footage shot at Julius, now the oldest surviving gay bar in Manhattan. BW

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Heavenly Creatures (1994)

18. Heavenly Creatures (1994)

Director: Peter Jackson

Cast: Kate Winslet, Melanie Lynskey

The idea of a relationship as a world entire, created and sustained by two people, was rarely more vividly expressed than in Peter Jackson’s story of adolescent infatuation in 1940s New Zealand. Loosely based on real events, ‘Heavenly Creatures’ follows two teenage girls, Juliet (Kate Winslet) and Pauline (Melanie Lynskey), as they meet, fall in friend-love, obsess over male movie stars, build up an increasingly ornate fantasy world and, ultimately, plan and execute a murder. TH

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17. The Hours (2002)

Director: Stephen Daldry

Cast: Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore

There is far more to Stephen Daldry’s adaptation of Michael Cunningham’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel than Nicole Kidman’s prosthetic nose. In fact, rarely has a Hollywood film depicted such complex and compelling female characters. Like Cunnigham’s book, the film tells the story of the lives of three women all linked in some way by Virginia Woolf’s timeless novel Mrs. Dalloway. Both Julianne Moore and Meryl Streep give excellent performances, the former playing a depressed 1950s housewife, while the latter plays a modern-day literary editor whose life is changed irrevocably by a tragic event. Kidman, meanwhile, plays Virgina Woolf herself in a role that, deservedly, won her an Oscar for Best Actress. Each woman’s story is told over the course of a single day, Daldry expertly weaving together the narrative threads to emphasise themes of mortality, unexplored desires and the confines of societal expectations.

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Fox and His Friends (1975)

16. Fox and His Friends (1975)

Director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

Cast: Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Peter Chatel, Karlheinz Böhm

‘Fox and His Friends’ might just be the unstoppable Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s most lacerating, mordant and righteous takedown of postwar bourgeois hypocrisy (and Lord knows there’s some competition). The enfant terrible of radical German cinema stars in his own 1975 feature as a working-class gay boy who wants love, craves acceptance and happens to have won the lottery — the cue for his merciless exploitation by more savvy acquaintances. As well as being a trenchant case for class consciousness, it's a bruising reminder that people can share your sexuality without giving a shit about your welfare. BW

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Un Chant d'Amour (1950)

15. Un Chant d'Amour (1950)

Director: Jean Genet

Cast: André Reybaz, Java, Coco Le Martiniquais

Outlaw poet Jean Genet left his mark on the work of various queer directors – see Fassbinder's ‘Querelle’ or Todd Haynes's ‘Poison’ – but 1950's ‘Un Chant d'Amour’ was the only film he made himself. Barely half an hour long, it unfolds without words in two of Genet's regular registers, incarcerated and bucolic, as it explores the love of two separated inmates and the jealousy of their guard. It features set-piece sequences of erotic dancing and masturbation, but neither is as hot as one captive blowing smoke through the wall into the other's cell. The US Supreme Court declared it obscene. BW

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Weekend (2011)

14. Weekend (2011)

Director: Andrew Haigh

Cast: Chris New, Tom Cullen

In director Andrew Haigh's' breakthrough film he paints an intimiate portrait of what it's like to be gay in modern Britain. We meet two men from Nottingham, Russell (Tom Cullen) and Glen (Chris New), meet, a casual hookup starts to take on new meaning. The film is perfectly observed, from the nuances of cruising the dancefloor at the end of the night to the painstaking deliberations over how to punctuate a post-hookup text. Across a 48-hour timeframe, and aided by performances by Cullen and New, these build up to create an unnerving but wholly effective naturalistic cinematic experience. The emotion quietly grows, as does your empathy for the characters, and you become aware of how a profound, possibly unrepeatable connection can be built from such average beginnings. AK

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The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert (1994)

13. The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert (1994)

Director: Stephan Elliott

Cast: Hugo Weaving, Terence Stamp and Guy Pearce

Now that the West End musical adaptation of this 1994 Aussie indie has become a jolly hen-night standard, it’s easy to forget how subversive Stephan Elliott’s loud, proud and in-your-face drag spectacular once seemed. Where transvestism had previously been played for absurdity in the cinema, this filthy-gorgeous comedy instead played up its lavish beauty. The sight of a drag queen atop a pink commuter bus, miles of glittering tinfoil fabric billowing into the desert behind her, was enough to make even the most obstinately tweedy dresser jealous of her boogie. (It’s hard to imagine we’d have ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ without it.) Full marks to the cast, including Guy Pearce, Hugo Weaving and Terence Stamp, but it’s the costume designers who walked off with one of the most deserved statuettes in Oscar history. GL

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Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001)

12. Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001)

Director: John Cameron Mitchell

Cast: John Cameron Mitchell, Miriam Shor, Stephen Trask

An underground cause célèbre before it was the toast of Broadway, ‘Hedwig and the Angry Inch’ was writer-director-star John Cameron Mitchell's stellar 2001 debut feature. Fuelled by his jet-propelled performance and sensational songs co-written with Stephen Trask, it's a bittersweet ode to the survival of the freakiest. Born in East Germany but marooned in the American heartland, Hedwig has been doubly shortchanged – first by a botched sex change, then by her ex achieving stardom with music they made together. Hilarious, poignant and often quite spiky, the film, like its subject, is a one-off. BW

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My Beautiful Laundrette (1985)

11. My Beautiful Laundrette (1985)

Director: Stephen Frears

Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Gordon Warnecke

Sexuality is only one element in a storm of conflicting values and behaviours in Hanif Kureishi's screenplay about Omar (Gordon Warnecke), a young British-Pakistani man caught between the entrepreneurial, Thatcherite dreams of his uncle (Saeed Jaffrey) and the more romantic, intellectual ambitions of his alcoholic father (Roshan Seth). Omar's unlikely attraction to Johnny (Daniel Day-Lewis), an old friend turned neo-fascist hooligan, results in a sex scene in the back of Omar's refurbished laundrette that makes literal the idea of everything coming out in the wash. DC

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The best LGBT movies: the top ten

Orlando (1992)

10. Orlando (1992)

Director: Sally Potter

Cast: Tilda Swinton, Billy Zane, Quentin Crisp

Sally Potter's 1992 adaptation of Virginia Woolf's novel is remarkable for its casting alone. Tilda Swinton as an immortal, gender-swapping aristo who looks equally good in doublet and hose or on a motorbike? Yes please. Octogenarian Quentin Crisp as Elizabeth I? Brilliant. Billy Zane as our hero's bit on the side? Yum. But ‘Orlando’ is so much more – ravishingly beautiful, elegantly unassuming in its magic realism, quietly critical of dead-end models of masculine power and revolutionary in its message about the power of queer will. Plus some special musical contributions from Jimmy Somerville. BW

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Beautiful Thing (1996)

9. Beautiful Thing (1996)

Director: Hettie MacDonald

Cast: Glen Berry, Scott Neal, Tameka Empson

This is the film of British writer Jonathan Harvey's 1993 play, a tender story of emerging sexuality and friendships between outsiders on a south London council estate. Sweetly it shows the tentative coming together of two white, working-class schoolboys, Jamie (Glen Berry) and Ste (Scott Neal), whose wide-eyed romance, when it happens, turns out to be less complicated than the lives of some of the characters around them. Those characters include their eccentric teenage neighbour Leah (Tameka Empson), who is obsessed with Mama Cass and plays her records loudly in the middle of the night. A soft-hearted urban fantasy. DC

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8. Call Me by Your Name (2017)

Director: Luca Guadagnino

Cast: Armie Hammer, Timothée Chalamet, Michael Stuhlbarg, Amira Casar

Based on the acclaimed novel by André Aciman and with an Oscar-winning screenplay written by James Ivory (yes, of Merchant Ivory heritage), ‘Call Me by Your Name’ is more than just a bittersweet meditation on the enduring impact of a summer romance.

Director Luca Guadagnino captures the confusion, simmering lust and crackling tension between precocious and thoughtful 17-year-old Elio (Chalamet) and the allure of the older, magnetic and dashingly handsome Oliver (Hammer). Elio’s obsessive nature and infantile arrogance, as well as his fraught desires, are captured so vividly that, regardless of whether or not you’ve ended up screwing a slightly older man in your parents’ summer house in northern Italy, it still feels oddly recognisable and nostalgic. The stirring monologue delivered by Elio’s father (Stuhlbarg) about the necessity of pain and heartbreak throbs with empathy, as does the film’s final scene of Elio sitting in front of the hearth weeping. It’s a gentle and devastating coming-of-age romance that’ll leave you aching and ready to book a holiday to Italy. AK

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Ma Vie en Rose (1997)

7. Ma Vie en Rose (1997)

Director: Alain Berliner

Cast: Georges Du Fresne, Michèle Laroque, Jean-Philippe Écoffey


17 classic LGBTQ movies that everyone should see in their lifetime

My Beautiful Laundrette
Mainline Pictures/Orion Classics
  • Increasing LGBTQ visibility in recent years means that more accessible queer films are being made.
  • However, it's important to acknowledge that LGBTQ movies have always existed (even in times of censorship) and are important parts of queer history.
  • Insider compiled some of the LGBTQ films that are from 1990 or earlier that everyone should watch.
  • Recommendations range from "Michael" to "Paris Is Burning."
  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

Thanks to increasing LGBTQ visibility, queer films are being made mainstream — often with queer writers, actors, and directors at their helms.

However, while many of these contemporary gay movies are essential and continue to capture more and more elements of queer life, it's also important to acknowledge that LGBTQ movies have always existed (even during periods of censorship) and are vital parts of the community's history.

Insider has compiled a list of several must-watch queer films from 1990 or earlier, from the silent film "Michael" to the breakout New York City-set documentary "Paris Is Burning."

Insider has many movie and TV show lists to keep you occupied. You can read them all here.

The 1924 silent drama "Michael" uses the relationship between an artist and his muse to explore gay desire onscreen.


Where to watch it: Available in virtual cinemas as part of "Pioneers of Queer Cinema"

What it's about: In the silent arthouse film "Michael," acclaimed painter Claude forms an intimate, charged partnership with his young assistant, Michael. Their relationship is soon upended when Michael falls in love with a countess whom Claude is commissioned to paint.

By leaning into Claude's use of art as a form of expression, "Michael" is able to compassionately explore its lead character's queer romantic longing and loneliness in a way that was unprecedented at the time.

The 1931 German romance "Mädchen in Uniform" centers on a boarding school student who falls in love with her teacher.

madchen in uniform
Janus Films

Where to watch it: Available in virtual cinemas as part of "Pioneers of Queer Cinema"

What it's about: "Mädchen in Uniform" follows Manuela, a student at a German all-girls boarding school who secretly falls in love with one of her teachers. It's credited as the first explicitly lesbian film, and while some viewers may be averse to the central pairing's age difference, the story itself is more interested in exploring the complicated realities of first love, particularly in a repressive society.

Because of its lesbian content and anti-authoritarian themes, Nazis tried to destroy every copy of "Mädchen in Uniform" at the beginning of the Holocaust. They failed, and it has endured as a vital part of queer cinema.

In the 1933 musical comedy "Victor and Victoria," a young woman performs in drag and raises important questions about gender performance.

Victor and Victoria

Where to watch it: Available in virtual cinemas as part of "Pioneers of Queer Cinema"

What it's about: The best-known iteration of this story is the Julie Andrews-fronted musical "Victor /Victoria," but the original German film is just as resonant and enjoyable.

The 1933 "Victor and Victoria" follows Susanne, an aspiring singer who takes over actor Viktor's cabaret job as a woman impersonator. Still, her relationships and career are tested when she's scouted by an agent, who thinks she really is a man.

Apart from being wildly entertaining, "Victor and Victoria's" prescient commentary on gender performance and identity holds up shockingly well to this day.

Alfred Hitchcock's 1948 crime thriller "Rope" is the most explicitly homoerotic of his many queer-coded films.

rope 1948
Warner Bros.

Where to watch it: Available to rent or buy on Amazon Prime Video, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, or YouTube

What it's about: In "Rope," two men attempt to prove they committed the perfect crime by hosting a dinner party after strangling their former classmate to death — and inviting his friends and family.

The film is widely regarded as the most explicitly homoerotic and queer-coded Alfred Hitchcock film, due to the heavily implied romantic relationship between its two leads.

The acclaimed director is said to have made many coded thrillers (including "Rebecca" and "Strangers on a Train") during the Hays Code era, in which positive depictions of LGBTQ characters were forbidden in Hollywood.

The acclaimed 1955 American drama "Rebel Without a Cause" features major gay subtext and stars one of the first openly gay actors in Hollywood.

rebel without a cause
Warner Bros.

Where to watch it: HBO Max

What it's about: The classic drama "Rebel Without a Cause" centers on troublemaking teenager Jim Stark, who moves to a new town and begins to rebel. Along the way, he bonds with his disturbed classmate, Plato.

Although explicit LGBTQ representation was still taboo in 1955, there is clear subtext of a gay relationship and gay tension between Jim and Plato. Sal Mineo, who plays Plato and was one of the first Hollywood actors to publicly come out as gay, even later said that he played the first onscreen gay teenager in a film.

Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine play teachers who a student claims are lovers in 1961's "The Children's Hour."

the children's hour
United Artists

Where to watch it: Rent or buy on Amazon Prime Video, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, or YouTube

What it's about: In "The Children's Hour," a rebellious student at an all-girls school accuses two teachers of being in a lesbian relationship.

The film is often criticized for its tragic ending, which can be traced back to Lillian Hellman's original play (which is a tragedy in the American theater tradition and thus lends itself to that kind of ending). At the time, the play and subsequent film's direct mentions of gay relationships and themes were extremely rare, as were nuanced and sympathetic LGBTQ characters.

Although "The Children's Hour" is bleak, it's worth reexamining its influence and message with a critical eye.

In the 1961 British noir film "Victim," several gay men are blackmailed in 1960s London.

victim 1961
The Rank Organisation

Where to watch it: Available to rent or buy on Amazon Prime Video or iTunes

What it's about: "Victim" takes place in 1960s London, where a young man's death leads to the discovery of a blackmail scheme against several gay men.

Featuring a striking performance from lead actor Dirk Bogarde, the film is one of the first movies to directly address and condemn homophobia — in this case, taking aim at England's former laws forbidding homosexuality.

The 1963 horror film "The Haunting" features a clairvoyant gay woman who falls for another woman in a haunted house.

the haunting

Where to watch it: Available to rent or buy on Amazon Prime Video, Google Play, iTunes, or Vudu

What it's about: Many viewers may be familiar with "The Haunting of Hill House," Netflix's loose adaptation of horror writer Shirley Jackson's iconic novel of the same name. However, years before the show's debut, the acclaimed 1963 film "The Haunting" did the story justice through stellar performances and efficient scares — and featured LGBTQ representation at a time when it was still hardly depicted onscreen.

Closely following the events of the novel, "The Haunting" takes place at Hill House, whose inhabitants have met strange, tragic ends for almost 90 years. As the film opens, Dr. John Markway assembles a team of people to determine whether the house really is haunted.

One of the characters, Theo, is a gay, clairvoyant woman, who later forms a subtle yet poignant relationship with Nell, another woman in the house.

The 1967 documentary "Portrait of Jason" features an interview with Jason Holliday, a Black gay sex worker and entertainer.

portrait of jason
Milestone Films

Where to watch it: Available to rent or buy on Amazon Prime Video

What it's about: "Portrait of Jason" centers on the life and work of Black gay sex worker and entertainer Jason Holliday, as told to experimental filmmaker and director Shirley Clarke.

The documentary is a rare onscreen exploration of 1960s Black queerness that's as charming and layered as its subject.

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50 Essential LGBTQ Movies

It’s grainy, faded, and, given the clip is now 125 years old, more than a little worse for wear. But this brief footage is not so ancient that you can’t clearly make out two men, waltzing together, as a third man plays a violin in the background. It was an experimental short made by William Dickson, designed to test syncing up moving pictures to prerecorded sound, a system that he and Thomas Edison were developing known as the Kinetophone. It’s known as “The Dickson Experimental Sound Film,” and dates back to 1895, the same year movies were born. While there’s nothing to outright suggest that these men were romantically involved or attracted to each other during the roughly 20-second length of their pas de deux, there is nothing that contradicts that notion either. It’s considered by many to be one of the first examples of gay imagery in film, and a reminder that homosexual representation has been with the medium from the very beginning.

That clip appears in The Celluloid Closet, Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman’s documentary based on Vito Russo’s study of homosexuality in the movies, along with countless examples of how gay characters showed up, per narrator Lily Tomlin, as “something to laugh at, or something to pity, or even something to fear.” The history of representation is long, and extremely storied, often shaping how the public viewed “the love that dare not speak its name” for better or worse. But since those two men first danced, there have also been scores of stories, characters, and filmmakers that have presented the varied, multitudinous aspects of LGBTQ experiences 24 frames per second that have gone past those stereotypes, or flipped them on their heads. Some have been documents of a moment or era of gay history, some have been used as correctives to decades of negative clichés, and others have simply celebrated the fact that the movies can be queer, they’re here, get used to it.

In honor of LGBTQ Pride Month, we’re singling out 50 essential LGBTQ films — from comedies to dramas, documentaries to cult classics, underground experimental work to studio blockbusters. It is nowhere near a comprehensive rundown of every great movie to feature out-and-proud heroes and villains, or a queer sensibility, or even just visible (and/or risible) examples of gay life in cinema; we could have easily made this list twice as long. Rather, consider this a primer that helps illustrate the relationship between queer culture and the silver screen.

Watch these films with a 30-day free trial to Amazon Prime or a free trial to Hulu here


Vintage movies gay

12 Vintage Gay Adult Films Everyone Should See

Gay films, vintage gay, old gay

At some point during the quarantine, a well-curated adult entertainment website approached me, offering access to peruse their voluminous catalog. Perhaps there are those who’d decline or scoff at the opportunity. I dove in.

I didn’t just watch porn all summer, of course, but I watched more porn than usual. I also worked from home, at seemingly all hours, and tried to keep up with the world’s deluge of conflict and disruption. I mourned a death in the family, along with the deaths of many I didn’t know. I masked and distanced, marched and protested, hiked through a forest and laid on a beach.

The journey down the virtual video aisles of streaming platform PinkLabelTV began with a message from Jenni Olson, filmmaker, film historian, and co-director of the Bressan Project. For several years, Olson and the Bressan Project have worked to restore the films of pioneering gay filmmaker Arthur J. Bressan, Jr., including his landmark 1978 documentary Gay USA, chronicling the LGBTQ rights movement, and the wrenching 1985 drama Buddies, the first feature film to tackle the AIDS crisis.

Colorful Fest: block party and fair. October 17, 2021; Union Market, Washington, DC.

Bressan himself succumbed to complications related to AIDS in 1987, following a prolific period in which the native New Yorker directed ten films in ten years. Two of them, Passing Strangers and Forbidden Letters, represent the plot-driven gay male erotica Bressan is better known for, and are the latest of his films to be restored by the Bressan Project. As of this August, both are available exclusively on PinkLabelTV, either streaming on-demand or with a PinkLabelTV PLUS subscription.

Founded in 2013 by queer feminist producer and director Shine Louise Houston, the PinkLabel platform is a treasure trove of indie adult entertainment, with diverse titles grouped into several appealing channels. Practically all genders and tastes are celebrated in a collection spanning decades, up to some brand-new releases. Lured, however, by the men, the mood, and the attitude of the sexually liberated ’70s and ’80s, I stuck with the PinkLabelTV Classics, billed as “vintage adult film from the silver and golden age of porn.” Bressan’s work was a highlight of my trip back in time, but Passing Strangers and Forbidden Letters were just the beginning.

Passing Strangers (1974)

Bressan has the audacity to open Passing Strangers, one of the few sexually explicit gay indies of the ’70s, with a grainy scene of straight sex — revealed to be playing onscreen at a porn theater. Portraying the projectionist that’s running the flick, Bressan proceeds to trash it for a good laugh, ragging on what passes for standard in the XXX industry. “Washed-out color, shitty prints, lousy soundtracks.” The rant provides a smooth setup for Strangers to exceed that standard, which it does as a piece of filmmaking and same-sex romance that just happens to feature plentiful nudity, anal, oral, and orgasms.

In brilliant black-and-white, the film follows tousle-haired 18-year old Robert (Robert Adams) and 28-year old Tom (Robert Carnagey) around the streets of San Francisco. Stepping slowly out of the proverbial closet, student Robert ducks inside an adult magazine shop outfitted with private, curtained movie booths. Alone in his parents’ house, he fantasizes being the center of a frolicking sex party, and getting off solo, surrounded by his admirers. Meanwhile, Tom cruises Polk Street in the Castro, bouncing between the bars and the baths, including the city’s iconic gay bar the Stud, in its original location. (During the current pandemic, the Stud actually closed, possibly for good.) Real locations, many of them gone but not forgotten, emphasize these vintage adult films’ value as multi-faceted records of queer lives, history, and culture.

Passing Strangers

After Robert responds to a Walt Whitman-quoting classified ad placed by Tom in the Berkeley Barb, the two court each other through letters (voiced by other actors — Edward Guthmann as Tom, and Bob Middleton as Robert). When they finally meet face-to-face, the film switches to gorgeously restored color, capturing their romance as it blossoms into outdoor sex on Angel Island overlooking the Bay. Although Adams and Carnagey are enthusiastic performers, Adams tends towards a pained expression when not in the midst of hardcore ecstasy. Their chemistry is more sweet than scintillating.

Still, the film lives up to the implied promise of the first scene’s catty critique, delivering lush color and strong composition. The dynamic soundtrack shifts from Moog synthesizer over sex scenes, to groovy guitar rock, to composer Jeff Olmstead’s keyboard score as the couple bikes through a sunny Sunday montage. And the voice actors, including Jerry Johnson as the projectionist Bressan plays onscreen, are at least as expressive as Adams and Carnagey.

To the movie’s credit, the leads fit the bill as two regular guys looking for love, as opposed to idealized porn stars. Theirs is a relatable romance, if overshadowed now by the light of early ’70s nostalgia. Indeed, the era’s history and expression come together beautifully near the film’s finale, as the lovebirds march in the actual Gay Freedom Day Parade of 1974. In the end, love and sex, and pride and celebration go hand in hand.

Forbidden Letters (1979)

Bressan’s long-unseen gay love story Forbidden Letters originally blazed a trail from arthouse cinemas to its international premiere at the 1980 Berlin Film Festival. More rawly sexual than Passing Strangers, the film is driven by a more suspenseful and involving premise. Dancing again between black-and-white and color cinematography, Bresson unfolds the tale of separated lovers Larry (Passing Strangers star Robert Adams) and Richard (Richard Locke), poised to reunite once mustachioed daddy Richard is released from prison. Until that day, Larry doesn’t wait idly for his man to come home, but rather calms his worries with a series of hookups, anonymous encounters, flashbacks, and fantasies.

Adams offers another blank-faced performance, although Bressan works around the actor’s limitations by handing most onscreen dialogue to costar Victoria Young, playing the couple’s friend, Iris, a tarot-reading happy hooker. Iris advises glum, young Larry to “get out, cruise, go to a movie, do something a little kinky. See a porno flick, get hot, take a Quaalude, sleaze around.” Like a Warhol superstar, but sober, Young injects humor and playfulness, counteracting the earnest folk-pop tunes laid over the man-on-man(-on-man) action. The movie depicts Larry and Richard’s idyllic life together, before prison, via an evocative sequence of still photos, also scored to earnest folk-pop. The one major musical diversion from the ersatz-John Denver sound comes with a trip to the crowded disco Cabaret on a glittering Halloween night.

Forbidden Letters

Yet, even with all the partying, lovemaking, hookups, solos, and threesomes, the prevailing atmosphere is purely romantic. Adams and Locke generate heat in fits and starts, but their sex scenes are stiff and awkward. Rather, the characters’ loving commitment to each other makes a stronger impression than the hardcore action. As Larry writes to his beloved in prison — in letters he’s afraid to send lest he out Richard as gay — he had been searching for the special touch of a man to fill a hole in his life. He found that special sense of belonging with Richard, a bliss of “love, laughter, crashing waves, and sunsets.” And not even prison could tear them apart.

Un Chant D’Amour (1950)

Prison brings two stray souls together in Jean Genet’s classic featurette, Un Chant D’Amour (Song of Love), a film banned in France upon its release and censored in the U.S. and elsewhere. Two prisoners in adjacent cells communicate by knocking on the wall between them. The barrier trembles at their yearning touch. Through a tiny hole in the wall, they use a straw to pass cigarette smoke from mouth to mouth. The sensuality is nearly palpable, amplified by the lack of sound or dialogue.

The only film ever directed by the famed French writer (a petty thief in his youth), Un Chant D’Amour simmers with sexual tension stirred by the caged would-be lovers and the prison guard who gets off on peeking in on them in various states of undress and arousal. While subtle enough to properly engage the imagination, Genet’s film is strikingly explicit for a 1950 release. The guard enjoys a peep show of dancing hard-ons, free in his fantasies to have his way with whomever he chooses, his obsession betraying a singular desire to control. Approaching one object of lust, he doesn’t bring cigarettes or flowers, but a pistol. Power and menace are all he has to offer, a damning portrait of authority in the face of the prisoners’ pursuit of liberty and companionship.

Boys in the Sand (1971)

From Genet’s seminal French prison noir, to the golden, ’70s-era beaches of Fire Island, it’s just a small step across oceans of time and space to reach Boys in the Sand, probably the second most influential gay erotic film ever made. Writer-director (and former professional dancer-choreographer) Wakefield Poole’s triptych of hardcore sexual romps, starring blond hunk Casey Donovan, makes excellent use of the natural and architectural beauty that distinguish the island as a few unpaved miles of gay paradise.

Casey Donovan

The visual harmony carries over to the camerawork and editing, abetted by layers of sound design transporting viewers to the hot strip of sand and pines, where everywhere Donovan turns, a different macho stranger is eager to man-handle him. A leading man squarely in the Robert Redford mold, Donovan first materializes out of the bay, a nameless, voiceless hero wearing naught but a stainless steel cock ring. The film’s universal lust object, he may not entice viewers so universally, but he undeniably exudes sex appeal. Some people just do, and Donovan brings an ineffable quality to the table that noticeably inspires his partners, and clearly helped inspire Poole to create this genuine milestone of queer cinema.

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Score (1974)

Casey Donovan’s varied career, which also included roles on Broadway, swerved into bisexual territory in Radley Metzger’s cult classic Score, where, once again, everybody wants a piece of him. Though, to be fair, everybody in Score just wants a piece.

A glam mix of camp, crazy camera angles, and swinging raunchiness, the film joins married couples Jack and Elvira (Gerald Grant and Claire Wilbur) and their dinner guests Eddie and Betsy (Donovan and Lynn Lowry) for a night of seduction. The movie itself seduces with the hook of a bet between Jack and Elvira, wagering which of them will bed Eddie or Betsy first. The tease is drawn out with tongue-in-cheek humor. “Watch it with someone you want to excite,” was more than just a tagline for Metzger’s elegant roundelay — the only film in this PinkLabel catalog that I first saw as its maker intended, on a big screen inside a crowded theater. (No, not in 1974.) It was a late showing at a revival house on a Friday night in summer. I went with friends, each of us single at the time. We all enjoyed the movie, felt a little giddy from it, then went our separate ways, inspired, no doubt. Every one of us scored that night, some more than once.

Bijou (1972)

The prospect of scoring often is pretty much all that’s driving Bijou, Wakefield Poole’s visually arresting followup to Boys in the Sand. Star Bill Harrison and his pornstache stalk a New York City sex club known as the Bijou. Though not an exact recreation of New York’s actual Bijou Cinema, the oldest (still existing) gay porn theater and sex den in the U.S., Poole’s Bijou is a mirrored, fantasy funhouse of wanton lust. As Harrison’s construction worker passes from darkened room to room at the club, Poole stages each successive scene like a movement of dramatically-lit modern dance. The men don’t actually leap and prance, but the action is precisely choreographed. Solos become pas de deux, which become threesomes, and so on, until Harrison finds himself the center of a group sex free-for-all. It’s a remarkably non-diverse group of supposed New Yorkers, even by the standards of ’70s gay porn, although the clothes and grooming make the cast look remarkably like they could have walked right out of the Bijou Cinema in 2020.

A Night at the Adonis (1975)

A major point of many of these films’ appeal is their use of real-life queer spaces as actual locations, or inspirations for production design. Jack Deveau’s loosely plotted light comedy, starring porn superstar Jack Wrangler, is hailed as “a fascinating historical document of the Adonis Theater and ’70s gay culture,” and certainly captures the tempo and churn of activity in this 1,400-seat playpen where just watching the movie isn’t any man’s plan. More importantly, Deveau presents a fascinating variety of characters floating through the joint — twinks, jocks, and leather men, white, Black and Latino. Nobody leaves empty-handed or underserved. And for good measure, the film even introduces the Adonis Theater’s actual ticket taker Eartha, who viewers with long memories might recognize. Deveau’s film easily demonstrates how much gay cruising culture has changed, and how much has stayed the same, despite the mobile app revolution. Though the Adonis is long gone, it endures on film, in a night that could play on forever.

Times Square Strip (1983)

The Adonis’ fellow male burlesque theater, the Gaiety, likewise posed for its film closeup in Deveau’s later go-go boy parade, Times Square Strip. As in A Night at the Adonis, Strip traces the trajectory of the club’s newest, young tight-bodied employee, Darryl (Buddy Preston), as he learns the ropes amidst rampant sex taking place in every nook and cranny of the building — a building that would be demolished in the mid-2000s. Not as nicely shot or cast as Adonis, this film nevertheless warrants attention for its glimpse into a vanished gay past, and for a charming tackiness that might make even John Waters proud.

Left-Handed (1972)

Deveau’s first feature reflects not the buzz of the ’80s, but the groove of the waning hippie era in a sex-laced love story between tattooed, hairy, horny hustler Ray (Ray Frank), and straight pot dealer Bob (Robert Rikas). Ray’s eager sexual conquest of shyer Bob is diced into an adventurous mosaic of closeups and jump cuts, flashes of fantasy and daydreams. Like the free-form jazz that be-bops over the film’s orgy finale, Left-Handed zigs and zags until landing at a surprisingly touching conclusion, one of the few among these carnal classics to deliver a genuine emotional payoff.

Centurians of Rome (1980)

The darkest turn this vintage trip took was to the ancient sex-and-sandals spectacle of John Christopher’s Centurians of Rome. The misspelled title isn’t the only thing off about this expensive-for-the-time epic, starring ’70s gay porn icon George Payne and aptly named Scorpio as Greek peasants abducted into slavery by Roman soldiers. Leading off with a pretty sorry-looking Star Wars scrawl, the film puts its budget on the screen in the form of horses, handsome costumes, and a cast of dozens of tautly muscled men.

The horses appear only briefly, as do most of the costumes, as slaves Payne and Scorpio are held in sexual bondage for the pleasure of their imperious captors. To an unsavory degree, the film fetishizes the slaves’ exploitation, then tries to sell a story of one Roman commander (Eric Ryan) falling for the man he treats like property. Featuring fight scenes and daring escapes flooded with frantic orchestral score, and creepy synths layered over the bondage and domination, Centurians of Rome is hardly good or sexy, but it is weirdly compelling. And the filmmakers did have the good manners to punish the villain, climaxing the movie not with an act of sex or violence, but with a heartfelt declaration of love.

Kiss Today Goodbye (1976)

Payne also stars in Francis Ellie’s Kiss Today Goodbye, as a randy gay construction worker who becomes involved with a strait-laced, married businessman. The incongruous pair’s trysts start out as merely a powerful, physical attraction that develops into a passionate attachment. Again, that word “love” enters the fray. Like Deveau’s and Bressan’s films, Kiss Today Goodbye dangles the possibility of a whole, fulfilling mind-body connection between men, encompassing all the sex and nudity these flicks show, and the emotionally naked moments they only imply. Still, the vintage gay porn I watched rarely followed through on a happy ending. (Although, the film’s opening credits end on a happy note, listing the best porn name in the business: Peter Zass.)

Turned On (1982)

Payne eventually kissed gay porn goodbye, delving deeper into his BDSM side within the straight realm of adult cinema, before retiring from the industry entirely. Now 76, the performer managed to evade or survive a plague that ravaged the community and took so many of his former peers, including Colt Studios superstar Al Parker. The performer-turned-producer, who succumbed to AIDS-related complications at the age of 40, is featured on PinkLabel in the cruise and kinkfest Turned On, which he produced. Costarring Sky Dawson, the film by director Steve Scott combines an artfully abstract sensibility with raw sex and explosive cumshots. Following Parker from bar to bathhouse, the mostly dialogue-free boys-night-out escapade was shot on location at L.A. clubs the Sanctuary, the Hayloft, and Mac’s Baths, where Parker encounters dreamy music, steamy rooms, and scenes of auto-fellatio, auto-anal, and a host of more vanilla activities. Turned On reflects the industry’s home video-propelled hard shift from somewhat story-conscious indie gay erotica to the wall-to-wall banging, hotel hookups that predominantly pass for porn these days. Yet, the movie lacks neither intensity nor imagination.

Parker produced and directed through his Surge Studios, represented on PinkLabelTV by two additional ’80s titles, High Tech and Dangerous. Those and more than a dozen other vintage porn features are just the tip of the iceberg of PinkLabel’s vast catalog. Wallace Scott’s 1979 Le Beau Mec, starring rugged French producer-model Karl Forest, is a beautifully lit and shot (though dully transferred) portrait of a narcissistic hustler, and the L.A.-set hustler story Crooked Arrangement (1973) intrigues with its enigmatic depiction of the titular paid arrangment and marathon acrobatic sex sessions. And I haven’t even scratched the surface of the platform’s selections starring ’70s pinup and porn star Peter Berlin. We’d need another summer to catch up with all these new and vintage films — so we’ll just pace ourselves, and take each flick one lay at a time.

Watch all the reviewed films (and more) at

Read more:

25 Gay Films Everyone Should See

25 Gay Films Everyone Should See: The Sequel

25 Gay Films Everyone Should See: Part 3D

13 Camp Films Everyone Should See

20 Gay Shorts Everyone Should See

15 Black LGBTQ Films Everyone Should See

Las sombras de los helechos. Película gay

chronological list of LGBT-themed films, 1916-1989, with notes

Since quite a few people seem to use this list for reference, I'm revamping and upgrading it into two halves. It's got a long way to go so bear with me. I'm only listing films with a recognizable LGBT angle, not exploitative ones or those where it's a matter of interpretation (for instance, Hitchcock's "Rope" can only be interpreted as gay-themed if one knows the real-life case by which it was inspired - and in "Spartacus", you got to catch on to what oysters are supposed to mean). I'm gradually including more titles so feel free to come back every once in a while.

I couldn't add the following titles even though they're on IMDb: "Nights in black Leather" (1973) is narcissist Peter Berlin's most famous blue movie and very telling as to how ancient certain fetishes are. "Köçek" (1975) is a transgender love story in Istanbul (!) with a big Turkish star of the time, Müjde Ar. The order is by year of original release, so if something seems to be missing, it may be at a different spot. And I can't reply to messages here since I'm off Facebook since November 2016.

You will have noticed that more and more content on this site is either artificial or paid for, which makes me increasingly hesitant to contribute or modify content. I may therefore protest-delete my profile in the near future, so if you use this list for reference, you might want to save a back-up.



69 min| Drama

An adaptation of Herman Bang's 1902 novel "Mikaël." A sculptor befriends a young painter who becomes his model. Their friendship is thrown into turmoil when they both fall in love with the same woman.

Director: Mauritz Stiller| Stars: Nils Asther, Lili Beck, Egil Eide, Lars Hanson


There's a very good review here which sums up the many reasons why this can count as the first gay-themed film ever, but you'll be hard pressed to find the subtext from what remains. Dreyer's "Michael", based on the same source, is much more ambivalent.

Different from the Others

2.Different from the Others(1919)

Not Rated|50 min| Crime, Drama, History

Two male musicians fall in love, but blackmail and scandal makes the affair take a tragic turn.

Director: Richard Oswald| Stars: Conrad Veidt, Leo Connard, Ilse von Tasso-Lind, Alexandra Willegh


First ever gay-themed film starring Conrad Veidt (of 'Cabinet of Dr. Caligari' and 'Casablanca' fame). Conceived by sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld to push for legalization, it led to the reintroduction of film censorship in post-WWI Germany.



Not Rated|72 min| Biography, Drama, History

Salome, the daughter of Herodias, seduces her step-father/uncle Herod, governor of Judea, with a salacious dance. In return, he promises her the head of the prophet John the Baptist.

Directors: Charles Bryant, Alla Nazimova| Stars: Alla Nazimova, Nigel De Brulier, Mitchell Lewis, Rose Dione


Was infamously filmed with an all-gay cast, even though that is a matter of contention. Quite obviously very camp, with a number of performers in drag.



Not Rated|93 min| Drama, Romance

Triangle story: painter, his young male model, unscrupulous princess.

Director: Carl Theodor Dreyer| Stars: Walter Slezak, Benjamin Christensen, Nora Gregor, Alexander Murski


Carl Theodor Dreyer's adaptation of gay writer Herman Bang's novel could be regarded as the first gay-themed narrative film. Contributed to harsher censorship laws banning the subject for decades.


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The little one took off his cap and jacket, sprawled on the bed, not bothering about undressing and undressing, took a relaxed. Position in which cats love to lick their genitals and proudly pulled out from the bowels of their sweatpants something dark, shaggy and smelly: - Suck. Bolshoi repeated the procedure of whitening and de-jacking, and at the same time helped the lady to abruptly pull off the last bastion of innocence from Tanya, her.

Soft homemade panties, showing the world (or rather himself and his micro-friend) her wonderful pinkish-dark shaved pussy.

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