It has been more than a century since two men were shown dancing together for the first time on-screen in 1895's The Dickson Experimental Sound Film, a 17-second film in which British inventor William Dickson plays the violin while two men merrily waltz, arms around one another, to the music. Perhaps that was the beginning of queer cinema.

Others point to the German film Different from the Others, a 1919 silent film that is widely considered the first feature film to feature a gay love story, or to 1930's Morocco, in which Marlene Dietrich became the first leading lady to kiss another woman in a movie. The New Queer Cinema movement of the 1990s introduced defiant, provocative independent films by and for those in the margins, which would later lead to LGBTQ+-themed mainstream and studio movies of the 21st century. In 2017, Moonlight became the first queer movie to win the Oscar for Best Picture. Which is all to say, on-screen representation for the LGBTQ+ community has a long, complicated and still-progressing history.

Thankfully, over the past 100 years — and especially in the last few decades — films that explore every facet of being queer and represent all of the identities under the LGBTQ+ umbrella have been made and released, telling stories of heartbreak and resilience, love and loss, and of coming out and living out loud.

In celebration of Pride Month, A.frame teamed up with the Academy's LGBTQ+ Coalition and created this guide to some of the must-see films of queer cinema.

The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994)

A classic amongst classics, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert follows drag queens Mitzi Del Bra (Hugo Weaving) and Felicia Jollygoodfellow (Guy Pearce), along with their recently-widowed trans friend Bernadette Bassinger (Terence Stamp), as they take their show on the road in Aussie writer-director Stephan Elliott's hilarious, surprisingly sensitive road movie. The Aussie outback was never the same after Priscilla.

The film won Best Costume Design at the 67th Oscars, awarded to Lizzy Gardiner and Tim Chappel.

All About My Mother (1999)

Filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar's poignant melodrama about what it means to be a family remains one of his most beloved movies. When her son dies in a freak accident, Manuela (Cecilia Roth) sets out to Barcelona to reconnect with the father he never knew — a trans woman named Lola. Along the way, Manuela finds new meaning to the ways she can mother.

Chosen as the official Oscar submission for Spain, Todo sobre mi madre won Best Foreign Language Film (now, Best International Feature Film) at the 72nd Oscars.

The Birdcage (1996)

A remake of the 1970s French farce La Cage aux Folles, director Mike Nichols and writer Elaine May's boundary-breaking comedy is a flamboyant celebration of the joy of being gay in a world that could think otherwise. Robin Williams and Nathan Lane star as a Miami club owner and his drag queen partner, who agree to play straight to meet their son's conservative in-laws (Gene Hackman and Dianne Wiest).

The Birdcage was Oscar-nominated for Bo Welch and Cheryl Carasik's production design.


Bound (1996)

Three years before the Wachowskis released The Matrix upon the world — a film that itself has been reevaluated as a trans allegory — sisters Lana and Lilly made their film debut with Bound. The neo-noir caper stars Jennifer Tilly as Violet, the girlfriend of a mafioso, as she strikes up an affair with an ex-con, Corky (Gina Gershon), and together they hatch a scheme to steal millions from the mob. The film's most memorable sex scene arrived with help from the feminist writer and sex educator Susie Bright, who choreographed the sequence years before intimacy coordinators would help redefine sex on screen.

But I'm a Cheerleader (1999)

There's a reason director Jamie Babbit's rom-com satire has been revisited and reevaluated in the decades since it was released, becoming a bona fide cult classic. Natasha Lyonne plays an all-American teenager who is sent away to a conversion therapy camp run by Cathy Moriarty and RuPaul Charles. Clea DuVall co-stars as Lyonne's rebellious love interest, with a cast that includes Melanie Lynskey, Eddie Cibrian, and Michelle Williams.

Cabaret (1972)

One of film history's most famous love triangles. Set in Berlin in the lead-up to World War II, director Bob Fosse's musical stars Liza Minnelli as Sally Bowles, a cabaret singer at the Kit Kat Klub who becomes romantically entangled in a '30s-era throuple with openly-gay professor Brian Roberts (Michael York) and their shared lover, playboy Maximilian von Heune (Helmut Griem).

Cabaret earned 10 nominations at the 45th Oscars, including Best Picture, and won eight awards: Best Actress (Minnelli), Best Supporting Actor (Joel Grey), and Best Director, as well as for cinematography, editing, production design, original score and sound.

Carol (2015)

This adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's 1952 novel The Price of Salt, itself seminal to the LGBTQ+ community, was more than 60 years in the making. Until director Todd Haynes finally brought the story of a shy Manhattan shopgirl (Rooney Mara) and the forbidden affair she strikes up with an older housewife (Cate Blanchett) to the screen in the sumptuous, elegant Carol.

Carol earned six nominations at the 88th Oscars, including Best Actress (Blanchett), Best Supporting Actor (Mara) and Best Adapted Screenplay for writer Phyllis Nagy.

The Color Purple (1985)

Director Steven Spielberg's film adaptation may have restrained the romance between Celie (Whoopi Goldberg, in her breakthrough role) and headstrong blues singer Shug Avery (Margaret Avery), but Shug remains essential to Celie's discovery of self. Their relationship is made far more clear-cut in Alice Walker's 1982 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name.

The Color Purple earned 11 nominations at the 58th Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Actress in for Goldberg. Avery and co-star Oprah Winfrey, meanwhile, were Best Supporting Actress nominees.

Desert Hearts (1985)

Desert Hearts was groundbreaking in telling a lesbian love story, aimed at lesbian audiences, and directed by a lesbian (filmmaker Donna Deitch). Based on Jane Rule's 1964 novel Desert of the Heart, the drama takes place in 1959 Reno and centers on the relationship between a strait-laced professor (Helen Shaver) looking to start a new life after her divorce and the carefree artist (Patricia Charbonneau) who awakens something in her. The chemistry between the two is palpable, and Desert Hearts has long been considered one of the most romantic films of all time.

Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022)

At the center of filmmakers Daniels' multiverse-hopping Everything Everywhere All at Once is a beautiful story about queer identity and acceptance and grief: Joy Wang (Stephanie Hsu) is queer and just wants her family to accept her girlfriend, and her mother, Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh), can't. Which, somehow, eventually leads to Yeoh and Jamie Lee Curtis falling in love in a universe where humans have evolved to have hot dog fingers.

Everything Everywhere All at Once won seven Oscars in total: Best Picture, Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert won Best Directing and Best Original Screenplay, Yeoh won Best Actress, Curtis won Best Supporting Actress, Ke Huy Quan won Best Supporting Actor, and Paul Rogers won Best Film Editing.

A Fantastic Woman (2017)

Actress Daniela Vega is a revelation in director Sebastián Lelio's stirring drama, in which she plays a waitress and aspiring singer, Marina, living in Santiago and very much in love with her older partner, Orlando. When Orlando dies suddenly, Marina becomes a target of suspicion and derision from his family and general discrimination for her being trans. Through it all, she must maintain her identity as a fantastic woman.

Chosen as the official Oscar submission for Chile, Una mujer fantástica won Best Foreign Language Film (now, Best International Feature Film) at the 90th Oscars.


Fire (1996)

Filmmaker Deepa Mehta's intimate drama is both ahead-of-its-time and timeless, marking the first time a mainstream Bollywood film centered a lesbian relationship. Radha (legendary Indian actress Shabana Azmi) and Sita (Nandita Das) are both stuck in loveless marriages to two cruel and zealous brothers. In bonding over their shared pain, the women discover something more and embark on a passionate affair that neither could have predicted.

Fire Island (2022)

It only took 200 years to finally get the gay Pride and Prejudice of our dreams. Spa Night director Andrew Ahn helms this loose adaptation of the classic comedy of manners, starring Joel Kim Booster and Bowen Yang as best friends at the center of a very modern, very queer and very Jane Austen-y rom-com. Fire Island features more drag queens and shirtless dance parties than Miss Austen could have ever imagined, but the Mr. Darcy character — played by Conrad Ricamora — is just as dreamy.

MORE: Director Andrew Ahn Talks Finding Queer Joy on 'Fire Island' (Exclusive)

Funeral Parade of Roses (1969)

Japanese filmmaker and mixed-media artist Toshio Matsumoto directed only four feature films across his nearly 35-year career, the most celebrated of which was his first: Funeral Parade of Roses. Inspired by Oedipus Rex, Matsumoto's arthouse masterpiece is set in the underground gay bar scene of 1960s Tokyo, following the trials and tribulations of a trans hostess, Eddie (the androgynous icon Pîtâ), and her fellow queens. A product of the Japanese New Wave, the film pushes the boundaries of classic filmmaking, merging documentary elements and experimental techniques to create something audaciously singular.

God's Own Country (2017)

Francis Lee is known for his quiet, moving queer love stories like this and Ammonite, films that are full of restrained, lingering grace until they finally erupt with passion. God's Own Country stars Josh O'Connor as Johnny, a repressed sheep farmer in Yorkshire, whose life is transformed with the arrival of Romanian migrant worker Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu). The film premiered during the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, where Lee took home the Directing Award.

Happy Together (1997)

One of the most important films of New Queer Cinema, eminent Hong Kong filmmaker Wong Kar-wai's Happy Together follows a couple on a trip to Argentina in search of a new beginning. Leslie Cheung and Tony Leung play the boyfriends at the center of the movie, who find themselves far from home and in a tumultuous cycle of breaking up and making up again and again. When the movie screened at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival, Wong won Best Director.


Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001)

The trailblazing Off-Broadway punk musical about the life and loves of the titular gender-queer, internationally ignored rock diva made its way to the big screen by way of writer, director, and star John Cameron Mitchell (who also originated the role of Hedwig onstage). A earworm-filled deconstruction of the binary and the transcendent power of a good power ballad that has since returned to Broadway with stagings starring Neil Patrick Harris, Andrew Rannells, Darren Criss and Taye Diggs.

MORE: Academy All Access: 20th Anniversary of Hedwig and the Angry Itch


High Art (1998)

Lisa Cholodenko's first feature cemented her as a key female filmmaker in the independent film era and one of the most influential queer voices in film, one which she remains to this day. High Art stars Radha Mitchell as Syd, a 20-something intern at a photography magazine, who becomes entangled in a sultry romance with Lucy (a revelatory Ally Sheedy), the renowned photographer who lives upstairs. Cholodenko followed High Art with 2002's Laurel Canyon (starring Frances McDormand as a free-spirited, bisexual record producer), and then later with the lesbian drama The Kids Are All Right, for which she would become an Oscar nominee.

The Kids Are All Right (2010)

Nic and Jules (Annette Bening and Julianne Moore) have been together forever and have each given birth to a child using the same sperm donor. When their teenage kids secretly contact their biological father (played by Mark Ruffalo), the dynamics between the adults quickly get messy in Lisa Cholodenko's awkwardly delightful look at modern family values.

The Kids Are All Right earned four nominations at the 83rd Oscars, for Best Picture, Best Actress (Bening), Best Supporting Actor (Ruffalo) and Best Original Screenplay (Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg).

Monica (2023)

Trace Lysette leads this intimate family drama from queer Italian filmmaker Andrea Pallaoro, who co-wrote the screenplay with Orlando Tirado. Lysette plays Monica, a trans woman who returns home when she learns that her mother (Oscar nominee Patricia Clarkson) is dying. Slowly, the two women find their way back to one another, toward acceptance and forgiveness. When the film premiered at the 79th Venice International Film Festival, Lysette made history as the first trans actress with a leading role in a film in competition.

MORE: Trace Lysette Takes the Lead: 'I Knew I Could Bring What Needed to Be Brought' (Exclusive)

Moonlight (2016)

Barry Jenkins' modern queer masterpiece unfolds as a triptych following a young Black boy's journey to manhood as he comes to terms with his sense of self and his sexuality. Alex R. Hibbert, Ashton Sanders and Trevante Rhodes play the lead at different stages of his life, with an ensemble that also includes Mahershala Ali, Naomie Harris and Janelle Monáe.

At the 89th Oscars, Moonlight won Best Picture, Ali won Best Supporting Actor and Jenkins and co-writer Tarell Alvin McCraney won Best Adapted Screenplay, with five additional nominations.


Nowhere (1997)

Cult auteur of '90s indie cinema and pioneer for the New Queer Cinema movement, Gregg Araki has always been ahead of his time. Perhaps never more so than with Nowhere, the final installment in his "The Teenage Apocalypse Trilogy," which has achieved cult status in the years since its release. Described by the director as "Beverly Hills 90210 on acid," the genre-defying film centers on a bisexual couple, Dark (James Duval) and Mel (Rachel True), as they navigate sex, drugs and their open relationship. Notably, the movie's ensemble cast included then up-and-comers like Ryan Phillippe, Mena Suvari and Denise Richards.

Of An Age (2023)

Goran Stolevski's feature directorial debut was 2022's You Won't Be Alone, a folk tale about a shapeshifting witch terrorizing a Macedonian village in the 1800s. The Australian filmmaker subverted all expectations with his follow-up, a romantic drama about an 18-year-old Serbian expat (Elias Anton) who falls for his best friend's older brother (Thom Green). Equal parts swoon-y and angst-y, the film begins on the day they first meet in 1999, and then picks up a decade later, when they cross paths again at a wedding.

Pariah (2011)

The feature debut of future Oscar nominee Dee Rees, Pariah follows 17-year-old Alike (Adepero Oduye) as she navigates conflicting identities, first loves and heartbreaks, and a disapproving family on her path to living as her true and authentic self. The queer canon is full of coming out stories, but Pariah stands out from the rest with its authenticity and specificity in depicting Alike's coming of age.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019)

Filmmaker Céline Sciamma gives new meaning to "slow burn" in this profoundly striking period piece about a young aristocrat and the woman commissioned to paint her wedding portrait as they fall for one another in 18th century France. Forced together at an isolated seaside estate, yearnings simmer between Héloïse (Adèle Haenel) and Marianne (Noémie Merlant) until their passion is too much for either to resist. Portrait of a Lady on Fire won the Queer Palm when it premiered at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival.

Rafiki (2018)

Rafiki tells a familiar story of teenage love as you've never seen it before. Kena (Samantha Mugatsia) and Ziki (Sheila Munyiva) are daughters of political rivals who fall for one another, despite the ever-watching eyes of their neighborhood and Kenya's utter lack of LGBTQ rights. Filmmaker Wanuri Kahiu puts her own original spin on Romeo and Juliet-esque story that is both heartbreaking and hopeful.

Tangerine (2015)

Before The Florida Project and Red Rocket, director Sean Baker applied his lo-fi, slice of life sensibilities to Tangerine. Shot entirely on an iPhone 5S, it (literally) follows a trans sex worker, Sin-Dee Rella, who learns her boyfriend/pimp has been cheating on her and sets out to teach him a lesson. Dee (the dynamic Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) and her ride or die, Alexandra (Mya Taylor), provide the beating heart of the movie, an electrifying testament to camaraderie and to friendship that refuses to let anything — or anyone — stand in the way.

Shiva Baby (2020)

As if being dragged along to a shiva with her judgmental parents weren't bad enough, aimless college student Danielle (Rachel Sennott) immediately bumps into both her successful ex-girlfriend (Molly Gordon) and her sugar daddy, his wife and their newborn baby. Writer-director Emma Seligman's debut is part biting comedy, part reluctant coming of age story, and part horror movie, with a cast that features Fred Melamed, Polly Draper, Danny Deferrari and Jackie Hoffman.

The Watermelon Woman (1996)

Watching The Watermelon Woman now, its effortless charm nearly belies its landmark place in history: It is the first feature film directed by an out Black lesbian. Cheryl Dunye, who wrote, produced, and directed The Watermelon Woman, stars in the film as Cheryl, a Black lesbian and aspiring director in '90s Philadelphia who works in a video rental store while making a documentary that's trying to uncover the identity of an obscure Black actress from the '30s who was credited for a role in a film as "The Watermelon Woman." Dunye's film is a unique blend of autofiction and romantic comedy. The film is also a serious examination of discrimination throughout the history of Hollywood — a "Dunyementary," as the director dubs it.

Weekend (2011)

Before making HBO's much-debated yet enduringly lovely Looking, filmmaker Andrew Haigh captured the unfettered realness of being gay in this day and age in Weekend. An (almost) love story about two men, Russell (Tom Cullen) and Glen (Chris New), who meet at a gay club and go home together, with their one-night stand becoming a weekend-long encounter that proves you never know when or how someone will come into your life and change it completely.

By John Boone

The LBGTQ+ Coalition is an affinity group for LGBTQ+ Academy Members. The coalition exists to foster inclusion and encourage education at the Academy while advocating for increase representation, recognition, and celebration of the LGBTQ+ community in the film industry at large.


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