LGBT representation in cinema has come a long way over the past decade. Our stories making it into mainstream cinema has helped massively to normalize and comfort those struggling with their sexuality or gender. What’s more, the proliferation of streaming services has ensured that access to the LGBT canon remains open to wider audiences — many of whom aren’t yet aware of just how many fantastic films are mere clicks away.
With that in mind, the Film Daze team is here to highlight a wonderful collection of LGBT films that are currently available across a host of US streaming services — curated from Amazon Prime, Netflix, Shudder, Hulu, The Criterion Channel, and Kanopy. While there are some popular choices below, be sure to pay special attention to lesser-known films, as you just may introduce yourself to some beloved, hidden gems!
The Handmaiden (2016) — Amazon Prime
The Handmaiden was the first Park Chan-wook film I ever saw, and I was not disappointed when — having picked it up after hearing it was a romance between two women — it turned out to be one of the most compelling and complex stories between two women that I’d ever seen. Adapted from Sarah Waters’ novel Fingersmith, the film begins with Sook-Hee (Kim Tae-ri) agreeing to con a Japanese heiress, Lady Hideko (Kim Min-hee), into marrying Count Fujiwara (Ha Jung-woo) so that they can take all of her money and commit her to a madhouse. As the film follows Sook-Hee’s perspective of the events that unfold, the viewer is put through a hypersexual and shocking three-act narrative. Having now revisited it for a second time, it was just as rewarding — and I look forward to watching it in the coming years to see if anything can match Chan-wook’s masterful eye. – Emily Jacobson
Disobedience (2017) — Amazon Prime
Ronit Krushka (Rachel Weisz) has returned to her familial home in North London to mourn the death of her father, an orthodox rabbi. But her homecoming is marred when she’s reminded of a history of sexual repression, emotional abandonment, and the love that she still has for the only woman she’s ever really wanted to be with — Esti (Rachel McAdams). Childhood best-friends-turned-lovers who became separated and estranged when Ronit moved to New York, their story is full of yearning and rediscovered desire. Directed by Chilean filmmaker Sebastián Lelio, Disobedience is a gorgeous film and perfect exploration of the ways in which religion can interact with sexuality and love. – Jenna Kalishman
What Keeps You Alive (2018) — Amazon Prime (with Showtime Trial)
There’s nothing scarier than looking at your significant other and realizing that you don’t know what they’re capable of. Jackie (Hannah Emily Anderson) and Jules (Brittany Allen) head up to a secluded backwoods cabin, owned by Jackie’s family, to celebrate their one-year wedding anniversary. But Jackie’s demeanor changes when events from her childhood start to resurface, and Jules is forced to get dirty and bloody as she fights for her survival. What Keeps You Alive is a gritty thriller with beautiful cinematography and a tight script that builds up to a shocking revelation. – Toni Stanger
Carol (2015) — Netflix
Based upon the lesbian novel The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith, Todd Haynes’ Carol has been a constant in my life since I watched it immediately upon release. (Seriously, I’ve watched it an absurdly large number of times). Cate Blanchett is Carol Aird — a wealthy mother and socialite enduring a crumbling marriage — while Rooney Mara plays the nervous and doe-eyed department store clerk, Therese Belivet. Their instant attraction is fuelled when Carol provides Therese with her address, under the pretense of delivering the train set that she ordered and having “accidentally” left her gloves on the counter.
I am not so sure that I could ever properly describe the love that I possess for this film, or the specific heart-filling emotions that run through my body and leave me on the verge of tears whenever I think seriously about it all. It’s intoxicating, astonishing and tremendous. – Jenna Kalishman.
Elisa & Marcela (2019) — Netflix
Elisa & Marcela tells the story of Marcela Gracias Ibeas (Greta Fernandez) and Elisa Sanchez Loriga (Natalia de Molina), two lesbian women whose marriage in 1901 was the first gay marriage recorded in Spain. Elisa took on the identity of “Mario Sanchez” so that a Catholic priest would marry her to Marcela, and their lengthy and love-filled marriage was never annulled — despite the knowledge of their sexuality and true relationship being outed not long afterward.
As a beautiful and meandering love letter between the two women, Elisa & Marcela does a lovely job of telling such an important and forgotten piece of lesbian history. This film was massively freeing and significant to me, especially in accepting my internalized anxieties about my own lesbianism. Knowing that these two brave and admirable women existed was so important for me to discover. – Jenna Kalishman
God’s Own Country (2017) — Netflix
God’s Own Country follows the daily life and frustrations of Yorkshire sheep farmer Johnny Saxby (Josh O’Connor). Attempting to hide behind his bitter attitude and cold heart as an approach to surviving in a small, quiet corner of the world, Johnny numbs himself with casual sex and binge-drinking — as he appears beyond disconnected with his world. With the introduction of Gheorghe (Alex Secareanu), a Romanian migrant who assists Johnny on the farm, God’s Own Country opens up new possibilities for the character that did not seem possible beforehand.
Despite the hard exterior of its character, God’s Own Country eventually transitions into that rare LGBT film with a happy ending and true signs of hope. If you are able to look past some harsh Yorkshire dialect, you’ll be rewarded with a film that shows you the responsibilities of growing up, learning and loving as ignorance gets cast aside. Importantly, the film also lends a platform to members of the LGBT community from rural areas, and those who have struggled to conform to familial expectations. – Ben Webster
Knife + Heart (2018) — Shudder
In the summer of 1979, gay porn producer Anne (Vanessa Paradis) sets out to win back Loïs (Kate Moran), her editor and lover, by making her most ambitious film yet. However, Anna’s life is turned upside down when her actors are picked off, one-by-one, by a mysterious killer. Yann Gonzalez’s Knife + Heart is a modern giallo that pays homage to some of the genre’s classics, particularly Argento. The gay porn setting is perfect for allowing the giallo tropes to thrive, especially the fact that the killer’s identity is hidden behind a jet-black bondage mask, and their weapon of choice is a black dildo that turns into a switchblade. This love letter to giallo has gorgeous cinematography, creative kills, and a synth-pop soundtrack. Not to mention, it’s gay as hell! – Toni Stanger
Stranger by the Lake (2013) – Shudder, The Criterion Channel
It’s all too often that films with a gay protagonist are labeled as “just another gay film.” To separate such films into an isolated genre secludes them from reaching wider audiences and inspiring further discussion. To leave Stranger by the Lake to such a fate would be to ignore the masterful way it creates tension. An idyllic gay cruising location in France would hardly be anyone’s first guess as to the setting of a brilliant modern thriller. But when the lakeside leisure spot becomes a crime scene, main character Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps) must navigate his bizarre emotional cocktail of lust and suspicion. Although characters’ motivations remain vague, there is nothing unassured about the taut atmosphere sustained throughout.
Aside from being a brilliantly crafted thriller, Stranger by the Lake is also politically conscious; the cruising spot is a microcosm that reflects aspects of the gay community’s inner complexities and struggles. This is far from the heartbreaking coming-of-age stories that we frequently celebrate, but Stranger by the Lake is certainly worth seeking out. Any fan of Hitchcock would be a fool not to. – Rahul Patel
Weekend (2011) — The Criterion Channel
Weekend is one of the first films I remember watching when I was starting to explore and understand my own sexuality through on-screen representations. It’s a film that is true to its name — following Russell (Tom Cullen) and Glen (Chris New) from Friday night to Sunday. Whilst complete opposites, the pair start to develop an intimate relationship and understanding of each other, and their chance encounter seems like it is meant to last and be something special. As always, though, life can have many obstacles that we have to overcome, a reality which Weekend doesn’t shy away from confronting.
What is wonderful about Weekend is how authentic it feels in its diversity of reality and how the characters freely talk and complement one another. It has a real documentary feel to it, which is further enhanced by the social and political commentary that comes with being a gay male and a member of the LGBT community. As Weekend carefully pans out, you gaze at somebody understanding and reflecting on their sexuality and, as a result, it offers you the chance to do the same. – Ben Webster
Desert Hearts (1985) — The Criterion Channel
Donna Deitch’s Desert Hearts is a warm and compassionate look into Vivian (Helen Shaver), a woman on the brink of divorce who navigates newfound romantic feelings during her six-week residency in Reno, Nevada. Vivian’s objective is to obtain a ‘quickie’ divorce and head home to her professional work at Columbia, but she immediately finds her intentions derailed by Cay (Patricia Charbonneau) — a genuine free-spirit whose approach to life is wholly different than her own, in the most intriguing way.
Adapted from Jane Rules’ 1964 novel Desert of the Heart, this film was one of the first canonical depictions of lesbians on screen to get a wide-release, and it does not shy away from the social conventions of this time, noting the dissent that clouds Vivian and Cay’s relationship. That being said, Deitch does a wonderful job of balancing the discomfort with an exuberant warmth, making for a near-perfect viewing experience every time. – Saffron Maeve
Water Lilies (2007) — The Criterion Channel
Céline Sciamma’s directorial debut Water Lilies is a wonderful gift. This quiet film portrays the friendship between Marie (Pauline Acquart) and Anne (Louise Blachère), who both find themselves falling in love. The central relationship of the film is between Marie and Floriane (Adèle Haenel), who Marie becomes infatuated with after seeing her at a swim meet. Quiet and shy, Marie follows Floriane around, unable to say what she is truly feeling. The film portrays this infatuation in the most unique way I have ever seen. Seeing a young girl fall in love with another girl is something that is rarely shown. Sciamma truly has an eye for romance. After it was over, I was left with my heart in my throat and tears in my eyes. – Emily Jacobson
Blue Is the Warmest Colour (2013) — The Criterion Channel
I first saw Blue Is the Warmest Colour at the cinema by myself and I truly did not know what I was in for. The film follows the life of high school student Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos) as she begins to question her sexuality after having vivid fantasies about Emma (Léa Seydoux), a young blue-haired woman that she passed in the street. They meet up properly in a lesbian bar and soon enter into a passionate relationship. Emma opens Adèle up to the world, allowing her to discover who she is as the pair navigate love, heartbreak and the complexities of life. Blue Is the Warmest Colour is an intimate and realistic portrayal of young love that will tear you apart. – Toni Stanger
Thelma (2017) — Hulu
Norway’s submission to the Oscars as the Best Foreign Language Film in 2018, the most recent feature from Joachim Trier’s revolves around the quiet and eponymous Thelma (Eili Harboe), who is going to college. With newfound freedom from her religious parents, she befriends Anja (Kaya Wilkins), though as they grow closer, Thelma also begins to lose control of her supernatural powers.
Thelma is filled with complex characters, while the cinematography and editing are some of my favorite from any film of the last decade. What truly makes this film special, though, is the relationship between Thelma and Anja. Although the film is not solely focused on Thelma’s sexuality (itself a breath of fresh air), the two actresses have a chemistry that jumps off of the screen. I love to revisit this film every couple of months just to re-experience it, and I hope more people get to experience it for the first time because it is absolutely beautiful. – Emily Jacobson
Boys Don’t Cry (1999) — Hulu
Kimberley Pierce’s Boys Don’t Cry shines a rare spotlight on the experiences of a young transgender man, Brandon Teena (Hilary Swank), who is trying to navigate the complexities of life and love in rural Nebraska. While the film contains upsetting themes, it’s based on Brandon’s real-life story, and portrays violence against trans people that is unfortunately still prevalent today. Although Boys Don’t Cry has a divided legacy, Pierce delivers the heartbreaking story with talented filmmaking and a strong cast. – Toni Stanger
Imagine Me & You (2005) — Hulu
The endlessly warm and sweet Imagine Me & You is perhaps one of the most feel-good lesbian films of all time. I hold deeply affectionate feelings towards this film, as it was one of the first lesbian films that I watched when I was figuring out my sexuality. Although there are things I notice now that I don’t particularly like about the film, the nostalgia of being 15 — watching this twenty times and crying over Lena Headey again — somewhat cancels all of those negatives out. This is absolutely the soft, lesbian romance that we deserve. – Jenna Kalishman
Lost and Delirious (2001) — Hulu
Lost and Delirious will have audiences torn as it plays into some cliché LGBT tropes, but it’s one of the better ones. It follows the heartwarming friendship between three teenagers at an all-girls boarding school. New student Mary (Mischa Barton) dorms with Paulie (Piper Perabo) and Tori (Jessica Paré), observing the intimacy between them and the eventual heartache caused by hiding your true identity from those who don’t approve. It’s a fun, deep and melodramatic teen coming-of-age story for lesbians. Released in 2001, it captures the nostalgia of the early-2000s and emotion that will leave you feeling fuzzy, lost and delirious. – Toni Stanger
Professor Marston and the Wonder Women (2017) — Hulu
Angela Robinson’s Professor Marston and the Wonder Women is just as fiery and determined as Wonder Woman herself. This film features the real story of the superhero’s creation, exploring the life of her creator — William Marston (Luke Evans) –as it weaves into those of his lovers and partners Olive Byrne (Bella Heathcote) and Elizabeth Marston (Rebecca Hall). Having rewatched this one very recently, it felt just as genuine and romantic as it did during my first viewing. Seeing lesbian and bisexual women love each other so wholly in historical settings always feels extremely validating to me as a lesbian — it brings me such happiness to think upon the actual concrete history of women loving each other throughout time. – Jenna Kalishman
The Miseducation of Cameron Post (2018) — Kanopy, HBO
The Miseducation of Cameron Post is a film about resilience and found family that sort of knocks the wind out of you with just how personal, heartbreaking and poignant it is. Orphaned high schooler Cameron Post (Chloë Grace Moretz) is sent to a gay conversion therapy center by her Evangelical aunt after being caught kissing another girl on prom night. At the center, she meets Jane (Sasha Lane) and Adam (Forrest Goodluck) — both of whom have a certain air of mystery and “fuck the system” attitude about them. As they coax her through hikes in the forest and cellar getaways, Cameron discovers more of that “singing-wildly-on-kitchen-counters” attitude within herself. This film is so very special and very quietly one of the best films to come out of 2018. – Jenna Kalishman
The Watermelon Woman (1996) — Kanopy
Considered the first feature directed by a Black lesbian, Cheryl Dunye’s The Watermelon Woman is a charming ’90s indie romantic-comedy. But it’s also a meta-cinematic reflection on film history and those rendered invisible by the cinematic archive. What it aims to do, then, is fill in the gaps: Dunye portrays Cheryl, a young lesbian who works at a video store and pursues the history of the so-called Watermelon Woman — an actor who played numerous stereotypical “mammy” roles in the 1930s but went uncredited.
Cheryl eventually uncovers her true identity — Fae Richards — and discovers that she was a lesbian in a relationship with Martha Page, the white director of one of the plantation films. As Cheryl herself develops a relationship with a white woman that she meets at the video store, she reflects on the relationship between Fae and Martha and on racial privilege as she tries to piece together a history that doesn’t seem to exist. The Watermelon Woman is a monumental work, calling us to radically re-examine the cinematic representation of intersectional identities and imagine all of the stories that have been erased. – Katie Duggan
Boy Erased (2018) — Kanopy
Boy Erased is not a particularly unique or impressive LGBT story. While based on Garrard Conley’s memoir of the same name, Boy Erased is written and directed by Joel Edgerton, who is a straight man. The film follows Jared Eamons (Lucas Hedges) — son of local preacher Marshall (Russel Crowe) — who, upon being outed as gay, is put into conversion therapy center Love In Action. He undergoes a series of traumatic and destructive attempts at conversion, each to the growing dismay of his mother Nancy (Nicole Kidman). If this is all starting to sound a little familiar, it should — because Boy Erased is neither as progressive or timely as it thinks it is.
That’s not to say Boy Erased has no value, though. Whilst it probably won’t resonate heavily with LGBT viewers, it will with the heterosexual members of their families. The dual journeys of Marshall and Nancy learning to accept their son are the film’s quiet strength, being wonderfully told by Edgerton. If you want an entry point with your family — a place where they can begin learning how to be good allies — then look no further than Boy Erased. – Joshua Sorensen