There are a ton of different ways to celebrate and educate yourself on LGBTQ+ history, but one of the easiest and most enjoyable is to plop down on your couch and lose yourself in a good movie. From true depictions of queer pioneers to fictional stories that get to the heart of different facets of LGBTQ+ experiences, there are plenty of LGBTQ+ documentaries and movies that you should really consider adding to your watchlist. So, the next time you’re spending the night in, pop some popcorn, grab a drink, and dive into one of these important flicks.
Whether you’re looking for a time-tested classic or a light and fun new release, queer cinema runs the gamut in terms of both tone and genre. Iconic documentaries like Paris Is Burning are essential viewing for members of LGBTQ+ communities, as are camp classics like But I’m a Cheerleader and even dramatic recent hits like Moonlight. Whether they’re explicitly depicting benchmark events in gay liberation like the Stonewall uprising or making an important point about the abusive torture of conversion therapy, these movies combine valuable information with tons of entertainment value.
Basically, no matter what kind of mood you’re in, there’s a movie that hits on important LGBTQ+ themes that’ll make for perfect viewing. The next time you’re in need of something to watch, try picking a title from the list below.
1. To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything! Julie Newmar (1995)
A beloved classic that celebrates drag culture, To Wong Foo follows the cross-country escapades of three drag queens driving from New York to Los Angeles for a pageant. On their road trip, Vida, Noxeema, and Chi-Chi encounter prejudice and violence in middle America, but their generosity of spirit and flair for fabulosity help open the eyes of a troubled small town. To Wong Foo is available to rent on Amazon Prime Video.
2. The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson (2017)
Every June, the LGBTQ+ community observes Pride Month as a celebration of the 1969 Stonewall uprising, remembering the activists who stood up to discriminatory police raids of New York City gay bars. The most prominent name associated with those groundbreaking demonstrations is Marsha P. Johnson, a drag queen who helped lead the fight for LGBTQ+ rights. This 2017 documentary about her life chronicles Johnson’s lifelong activism and investigates her suspicious death in 1992. It’s available to stream on Netflix.
3. The Miseducation of Cameron Post (2018)
One of the most dangerous and abusive practices levied at young LGBTQ+ people over the past several years is conversion therapy. In The Miseducation of Cameron Post, a teenage lesbian is forced to endure the trauma of a religious conversion therapy center, witnessing how the operation causes extreme emotional and, ultimately, physical harm. But even in the most dire setting, Cameron is able to bond with a found family. It’s available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.
4. Disclosure: Trans Lives on Screen (2020)
Hollywood has had a very complicated, very messy history with depictions of trans characters and actors for decades, and the 2020 doc Disclosure dives into some of the most prominent examples of misrepresentation and stereotyping. Featuring the foremost trans thought leaders of our time, the film draws direct lines between trans representation in media and the treatment of trans people in the real world. Disclosure is available to stream on Netflix.
5. Rent (2005)
Rent was a Broadway phenomenon in the ‘90s and it only became more popular when the musical was adapted into a movie in 2005. The story of a diverse group of friends struggling to make it in New York City is widely celebrated for its vibrant queer characters and empathetic spotlight on the HIV/AIDS epidemic of the ‘80s. Rent is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.
6. Paris Is Burning (1990)
One of the most defining documentaries about LGBTQ+ communities is undoubtedly Paris Is Burning. The groundbreaking doc brought the underground ballroom culture of 1980s New York City to light for viewers across the country, educating the nation about Black and Latinx LGBTQ+ culture and terms like “shade” that have since been watered down and co-opted by the mainstream. Paris Is Burning is available to stream on The Criterion Channel.
7. Moonlight (2016)
An emotional, in-depth exploration of a gay man’s life throughout three integral periods in time, Moonlight set the standard for excellence in modern romantic dramas when it won the Oscar for Best Picture in 2017. The film chronicles Chiron’s life as a child, as a teenager developing a crush on his friend Kevin, and as an adult who reconnects with Kevin after years apart. Moonlight is available to stream on Showtime.
8. The Celluloid Closet (1995)
Similar to Disclosure’s exploration of trans issues in media, The Celluloid Closet examines how the film industry has negatively portrayed and treated gay characters and actors throughout the years. The movie presents countless examples of LGBTQ+ representation and stereotyping in movies and TV shows dating back decades, and offers thoughtful analysis of how the approach has changed and still needs to change. The Celluloid Closet is available to rent on Amazon Prime Video.
9. Tangerine (2015)
What makes Tangerine such a surprising comedy and meaningfully representational drama is that it never shies away from the messy, exuberant chaos of the sisterhood among trans sex workers. The film, which was filmed entirely on iPhones, follows Sin-Dee as she sets out to track down her cheating boyfriend after a stint in prison. Tangerine is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.
10. The Boys in the Band (2020)
A trailblazing play when it debuted on Broadway in the ‘60s, The Boys in the Band was recently adapted into a Netflix movie by Ryan Murphy, broadening its audience to a whole new generation. At a tense birthday party, a group of gay friends wind up delving into their issues as things turn unexpectedly dark. The Boys in the Band is available to stream on Netflix.
11. The Queen (1968)
A pioneering documentary about drag culture, The Queen centers on a prominent beauty contest in 1967, depicting various contestants discussing trans identities, sexual identities, and life as drag queens. Most iconically, the film ends with a hugely quotable rant by pageant runner-up Crystal LaBeija, in which she reads the pageant’s host and winner within an inch of their lives. The Queen is available to stream on Netflix.
12. Carol (2015)
If you’re looking for a longing lesbian romance, you can’t do much better than Carol. The ‘50s-set period film centers on a shopgirl named Therese who finds herself falling for a charismatic, glamorous stranger named Carol. As the two women grow closer, they are forced to continually evade the unaccepting society of the time, as Carol’s husband sets out to expose the illicit affair. Carol is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.
13. But I’m a Cheerleader (1999)
Like The Miseducation of Cameron Post, the camp classic But I’m a Cheerleader tells the story of a young lesbian woman forced to enter a conversion therapy program, but the tone of the two movies couldn’t be more different. The ‘90s comedy is packed with satirical jokes about the hypocrisy of the program, and underneath all the humor is a touching love story. But I’m a Cheerleader is available to rent on Amazon Prime Video.