Queerist champions people who are too often ignored by the world at large, and that extends to LGBTQ+ filmmakers, characters and stories. We’re highlighting the films that fell under the culture radar, the underrated films that didn’t quite get the attention they deserved despite being a quintessential part of any list of LGBTQ+ films to stream for Pride.
In developing this list, I tried to make sure that actual Queer storytellers (writers, directors, and/or actors) were involved. No shade to Call Me By Your Name, which I love, but I tend to think Queer films often feel more authentic when Queer people are involved in crafting them. In addition, I wanted to make sure this list is one that may be full of actual new recommendations, so I avoided films that received major awards nominations.
Alex Strangelove (2018)
As far as high school class president Alex (Daniel Doheny) has ever really thought about it, he’s straight. That is until he and his long-term girlfriend Claire (Madeline Weinstein) decide to sleep together… just after he meets the charismatic Elliot (Antonio Marziale), a guy who radiates Queer energy that upends Alex’s life. Suddenly Alex is doubting everything he thought he knew about his own sexuality and what he wants from his future.
Why I Recommend It: Released a scant three months after Love, Simon, Alex Strangelove flew under the radar in the summer of 2018. However, both films mark an interesting evolution in the coming-out genre: while both lead characters know full well they’ll have support systems that will accept them, both films recognize that despite society’s “progress,” coming out of the closet is still really fucking hard. Both Simon and Alex hurt other people in the process of figuring out how to tell the world who they are, and Alex Strangelove recognizes that this is an all-too-common side effect of spending your adolescence hiding yourself from others. And in the meantime, while Alex navigates what this all means for his future, his burgeoning relationship with Elliot contains small moments of genuine queer joy: the scene in the film where the two sneak off to the city for an intimate, neon-drenched MUNA concert is downright euphoric.
Stream This LGBTQ+ Film On: Netflix
Scream, Queen!: My Nightmare on Elm Street (2019)
In 1985, young gay actor Mark Patton starred in one of the most-mocked slasher sequels of all time: A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge. At the time, his performance was derided as too gay for a slasher movie, and Patton crumbled under the pressure of the national spotlight while simultaneously dealing with an HIV diagnosis and the death of a partner. Scream, Queen! documents Patton’s present-day effort to confront the writer and director of the film, wanting to learn whether he was set up to take the blame for the film’s reception or whether none of them realized how the film was coming across as they made it.
Why I Recommend It: I love reassessing old, overlooked films and finding them full of fascinating Queer content. A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge is a delight. It’s about the emergence in adolescence of difficult-to-repress desires that you don’t understand and which threaten to (literally) tear you apart, and there’s even a scene where Jesse (Patton) visits a leather bar. Scream, Queen! sees an actor whose career was destroyed by a role reassessing his legacy, and it’s genuinely heartwarming to watch as Patton comes to realize just what a mark he left on thousands of gay horror fans.
Stream This LGBTQ+ Film On: Shudder, AMC+
Were the World Mine (2008)
Timothy (Tanner Cohen) doesn’t fit in at his all-boys’ school. He has two best friends who love him (Zelda Williams and Ricky Goldman), but otherwise, he feels like an outcast because he’s gay. However, when the school’s eccentric drama teacher (Wendy Robie) announces that they will be putting on a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the puckish Timothy is startled to find himself in possession of a magical flower that turns the whole town gay… allowing him to finally have a chance with his crush, the hunky Jonathon (Nathaniel David Becker).
Why I Recommend It: Tanner Cohen’s sensitive portrayal of the adorable Timothy got me through a particularly isolating summer in college, the character at once an object of my affection and a model for the kind of empathetic, lonely gay boy breaking out of his shell that I imagined myself to someday be. The music is great: the film’s soundtrack introduced me to queer popstar MIKA, and the original music numbers are brimming with a certain queer eroticism of longing. The boys are glittery and shirtless, and Robin Williams’ daughter Zelda sings a punk song about Pyramus and Thisbe. It’s a delight from start to finish.
Stream This LGBTQ+ Film On: Hulu
Tangerine follows Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) and Alexandra (Mya Taylor), two Black trans sex workers in Hollywood, over the course of one eventful Christmas Eve. Sin-Dee has learned that her boyfriend is cheating on her and goes on a quest across Hollywood to confront the other woman, whereas Alexandra is trying to drum up an audience for a bar performance later that evening; as their nights spiral out of control, the women learn to lean on each other for support.
Why I Recommend It: Probably the most well-known film on this list, Tangerine led to the first-ever Academy Awards campaigns for out trans actresses. Unfortunately, neither Kitana Kiki Rodriguez or Mya Taylor were ultimately nominated for their work, but these incendiary performances deserve to be revisited again and again. Director Sean Baker’s iPhone photography keeps the whole thing feeling intimate and yet no less cinematic for it, as the women assert their right to exist in a Hollywood (and a “Hollywood”) that too often overlooks people like them.
Stream This LGBTQ+ Film On: Hoopla and Kanopy, if you have a library card. (Get a library card!)
The Pass (2016)
The Pass tells the story of the relationship between footballers Jason (Russell Tovey) and Ade (Arinzé Kene) in three hotel rooms at three distinct points in their lives. First, they are two childhood best friends-turned-teammates, crackling with testosterone, sharing a room the night before a big game. And then… before we or they know it… they kiss. Second, five years later, Jason is a star player — and he’s married with kids — whereas Ade, once the better player, has been left behind. Their reunion is fraught and upsetting. Finally, ten years after the first night, Jason engineers a meetup in an attempt to absolve himself, leading to an explosive confrontation.
Why I Recommend It: The Pass is a hard film to watch, but a thought-provoking one nonetheless. It’s a film about the pressures and erotics of the closet, a film about how some people are so hollowed out by toxic masculinity that they become craven shells of themselves. Crucially, it’s also a film about a closeted white gay man and his relationship with a Black teammate, and it refuses to let the former off the hook for how his actions are indicative of larger oppressions than he himself faces.
Stream This LGBTQ+ Film On: Tubi
Ex-con Corky (Gina Gershon) meets the couple in the apartment next door — a mobster named Caesar (Joe Pantoliano) and his bombshell girlfriend, Violet (Jennifer Tilly). Corky and Violet are immediately attracted to one another, and to get their relationship out from under the thumb of the mob, they hatch a scheme to steal two million dollars.
Why I Recommend It: Bound was the first feature from the Wachowski sisters, years before they directed The Matrix. A lot of things that would later become their trademark in things like Cloud Atlas and Sense8 are on full display here: a careful, yet gleefully-raunchy depiction of queer sexuality; a wonderful humanism despite characters behaving badly; even copious use of a certain shade of green. In choreographing the sex scenes between Corky and Violet, the Wachowskis hired sex-positive queer writer Susie Bright to make sure they got it right. Bound is funny and sensual and extraordinarily violent, and looking back at it now with the knowledge that the Wachowskis are queer makes the whole thing crackle with irresistible energy.
Stream This LGBTQ+ Film On: PlutoTV
Kit (Henry Golding) was born in Vietnam, but his family fled the country when he was young. Now that his parents have died, Kit returns to his country to find the right place to scatter their ashes. However, he barely remembers what it was like to live there, doesn’t speak the language anymore, and feels lost and adrift. Thankfully, he meets Lewis (Parker Sawyers), a Black American man whose father fought in the Vietnam War. What starts as an app hookup softens over time into something more sensual, a lifeline of human connection in a country that no longer feels like home.
Why I Recommend It: Gay writer/director Hong Khaou’s film is a quiet, lyrical depiction of one man’s search for belonging. The film is gorgeous, consisting mostly of long shots of Kit wandering around a picturesque Vietnam, and thanks to Henry Golding’s magnetic performance we can practically read his inner monologue on his face even if he doesn’t say much. Golding himself is straight, but thanks to the care that clearly went into crafting the performance and the character, I don’t mind at all. The scenes between Kit and Lewis are captivating, and the script’s deft handling of the overlap between carnality and sensuality is something to behold. Monsoon played a handful of film festivals during the pandemic and was added to Netflix without much fanfare, where it will hopefully find its audience.
Stream This LGBTQ+ Film On: Netflix
Tab Hunter Confidential (2015)
In the 1950s, no actor summed up All-American, boy-next-door aw-shucks masculinity better than Tab Hunter. The blonde-haired, blue-eyed, muscular, so-called “Shy Guy” was a wholesome matinee idol in a number of military movies and romantic comedies, and when he released a number-one song (“Young Love”), Jack Warner created Warner Records specifically to keep him under the studio’s thumb. Tab Hunter was also gay and in the closet. When gossip rag Confidential Magazine published a story about Hunter being caught at a “limp-wristed pajama party,” his career never recovered. In Tab Hunter Confidential, the bashful actor considers his legacy.
Why I Recommend It: I had the pleasure of meeting Tab Hunter at a film festival screening of Tab Hunter Confidential a few months before he passed away. He was humble, gracious, and wonderfully open during the Q&A after the screening, and I’ll never forget it. Tab Hunter Confidential tells the story of a man who lived an extraordinary life, from his relationship with Psycho star Anthony Perkins, to his 1980s career revival as a camp icon (see: his performance of “Reproduction” in Grease 2), to his ultimate decision to go public with his sexuality. We see his journey from not understanding why his life as a gay man is important, to recognizing that he has something to contribute to queer history. It’s fascinating, often-funny film that deserves a place in the queer film canon.
Stream This LGBTQ+ Film On: Prime
A Moment in the Reeds (2017)
Leevi (Janne Puustinen) fled Finland for school in Paris the first chance he got, and now he’s back home for the first time in five years, helping his father fix up a lake house when he’s not doing research in Helsinki. His father also has a hired hand for the renovation — Syrian refugee Tareq (Boodi Kabbani). With his father out of town on a long weekend, Leevi and Tareq realize they are both fiercely attracted to one another, kicking off a relationship that may change their lives… or maybe will just burn bright for a weekend.
Why I Recommend It: One of the first films made in Finland to feature a gay love story, A Moment in the Reeds captures its central romance with a startling intimacy that many recent, more broadly successful gay films could only dream of. It’s all in the way they look at each other, an erotic dance of glances and furtive glimpses that gay audiences recognize well. It’s also in the way they speak: Tareq doesn’t know Finnish, but both boys know English, which Leevi’s father does not, allowing them to talk about and around the conservative older man. A Moment in the Reeds is unafraid to explore the racial dynamics of its interracial relationship, and it’s unafraid of depicting realistic gay sex when the men finally consummate their attraction. No panning away to the window here… looking at you, Call Me By Your Name.
Stream This LGBTQ+ Film On: Amazon Prime
A number of trans actors and storytellers come together to reconstruct the history of transgender representation on film, tracing depictions of trans and gender-nonconforming people through the hundred-plus years of Hollywood moviemaking. Trailblazers like Laverne Cox, Alexandra Billings, Candis Cayne, Mj Rodriguez, Angelica Ross, and more narrate the importance of their own career highlights and also the larger culture, placing recent successes in the important context of where we’ve been and how far we still have to go.
Why I Recommend It: Disclosure is more than just a documentary; it’s a radical act of scholarship, a queering of the film canon that surfaces and restores trans representations that have been both ignored and forgotten. What The Celluloid Closet once did for Queer film at large, Disclosure does for trans people, foregrounding their struggles and successes in ways most films prefer to ignore. A fascinating, moving assemblage of film clips and talking-head interviews, Disclosure runs the spectrum of emotion: there’s anger and sadness here, but also hope, happiness, and determination.
Stream This LGBTQ+ Film On: Netflix