Movies teach us how to view others—and how to view ourselves. This has been truly evident in how film has depicted queer characters from its earliest days as visual medium. We have seen the community reduced to stereotypes—sometimes based in truth, sometimes played by queer performers eager to find work and express their own identities in front of a camera, for better or for worse. Film has also depicted queer people as villains, victims, heroes, and outcasts.
So, here’s a consolidated list where we’ve ranked the 10 best feature films about queer people from Hollywood and Bollywood. These are films that took major risks and attempted to depict the queer experience in a variety of ways. This is a collection of movies that, at the very least, express to its viewers that—no matter what end of sexual or gender spectrum in which they feel most comfortable—they are not alone.
Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)
IMDB rating: 8
Bohemian Rhapsodywas a 2018 movie that gave lead Rami Malek his first Academy Award as Queen frontman, Freddie Mercury. Following his tumultuous life, the film gave audiences a glimpse into Mercury’s well-celebrated bisexual identity. However, some people also criticised the film for glossing over his sexual identity. Top that with the controversy of a straight guy playing an LGTBQ+ person, and this gave people enough reasons to flock to the theatres. Despite all this, Malek’s acting won over the audiences and the film has a pretty high IMDB rating. Decide for yourself, and let us know what are your views on the film!
Love, Simon (2018)
IMDB rating: 8.1
Many grew up watching and loving classic ’80s high school rom-coms such as Pretty in Pink, Sixteen Candles, and Say Anything. Since being released in the UK, audiences have fallen hard for this rom com, which seems to have taken a leaf out of those original classics. Love, Simonfollows a 17-year-old, who isn’t yet out as gay. When he starts emailing “Blue”, an anonymous gay teenager at school, they form a super strong bond. Without wanting to give anything away, it all ends – as all good rom coms should – on a ferris wheel. Based on the novel Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, the movie shows what it’s like to come out in high school. Featuring a queer actor as one of the main love interests, and a gay director, Love, Simonis a movie that will likely have you crying and clapping through scenes as you watch. If you haven’t already seen everyone on Twitter talking about it, there have been some pretty emotional reactions (including lots of people being inspired to come out to their friends and family). It’s definitely the rom com the world needs!
Call Me By Your Name (2017)
IMDB rating: 8.4
Set in the 1980s Italian summer, a 17-year-old boy Elio is staying in rural Italy with his family when he meets his father’s new intern, a strapping young doctor called Oliver (Armie Hammer) who’s 24. Based on a novel of the same name by André Aciman, it’s a thoroughly moving piece of cinema. The tentative romance at the heart of Call Me By Your Nameis one of the most convincing coming-of-age love stories Hollywood has produced in the last 10 years. The leads deliver timeless performances and the pair’s love story is as intoxicating as the heat of the woozy Italian summer the movie is set against. The romance takes place with an expressionistic quality worthy of ‘70s-era Bertolucci, and takes a classy approach to the subversive kick that such a taboo relationship entails. The movie never treats its characters’ desires as anything but an exciting rush of romantic possibilities — at least until the summer comes to a close, and young Elio learns the hard way that he’s been living in a fantasy propelled by passion. Timothée Chalamet’s star-making performance is a risky manoeuvre that sets the stage for a promising career, and the character’s warm-hearted father (Michael Stuhlberg) gives a closing monologue about the nature of love and yearning for the ages. This is an emotionally riveting coming-of-age story told with such remarkable honesty and lyricism that it exists out of time — it could have played to a rapt audience 40 years ago, and will almost certainly have the same effect 40 years hence.
IMDB rating: 7.2
Director’s Todd Haynes’ period drama won numerous awards and made it onto the coveted number one spot of British Film Institute’s top LGBT films of all-time list, so how could it possibly be missing from our list?! Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara both shine in this period drama, which sheds a light on attitudes towards same-sex relationships in 1950s New York. Therese (Rooney Mara), a department store clerk finds herself charmed by an alluring older wealthy woman named Carol (Cate Blanchett). The two set out on a road trip on which they consummate an unspoken passion for each other; a bond that is both incredibly moving and complicated. Adapted from the popular book, The Price of Saltby Patricia Highsmith, this film follows two women from very different backgrounds who get caught up in a romance of forbidden love neither of them expected.
Brokeback Mountain (2005)
IMDB rating: 7.7
Adapted from Annie Proulx’s short story, Brokeback Mountainwas kind of a big deal for mainstream cinema. Starring Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal, Brokeback Mountainproved a landmark moment in cinematic history when it came out in 2005 as one of the first major LGBTQ+ movies to prove a big success at the box office. While Heath Ledger’s untimely passing has made watching Ang Lee’s adaptation especially tragic, the movie is plenty sad on its own. Although it falls short on LGBTQ cast and crew, the movie pushed conservative boundaries and broke barriers, thus crowning it an influential moment in LGBTQ filmmaking. The story follows Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger), two cowboys who meet in the early 1960s and fall madly in love — and who would have been crucified by society if they’d made their love known. The shame these two characters feel for the love they share will break your heart over and over again. But the film is beautifully written, performed, made, and scored. Don’t miss out on this one!
Dallas Buyer’s Club (2013)
IMDB rating: 8
This Academy-award winning biographical film narrates the touching story of Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey) and the AIDS epidemic which hit Texas in the ’80s. Ron, an electrician, finds out he is HIV positive and eventually ends up helping several AIDS patients get proper medication. Despite a fine performance by Jared Leto, it came under fire for his poignant portrayal of the trans character, Rayon since many viewers were disappointed and heavily criticised the use of a cisgender man in a trans role. It’ll however not distract from his brilliant performance and we suggest you give it a go, because the movie is bound to get you emotional.
IMDB rating: 7.3
Deepa Mehta’s film, Firewhich came out in 1996, was by all means, way ahead of its time. Nandita Das and Shabana Azmi’s characters play Radha and Sita, sisters-in-law wed into a loveless home. Their husbands don’t pay attention and they spend their time taking care of their paralyzed mother-in-law. Over time, their bonding and friendship as they find solace in each other transforms into love. Together, they must make a choice to either live for each other or live by society’s norms. The film became controversial because several right-wing groups deemed its portrayal of lesbianism alien to Indian culture, with protests against it in several Indian cities. This ground-breaking film was one of the first films addressing lesbian desire in a patriarchal male-serving society in the country, and although it has been argued that lesbianism in this film was less to do with sexual orientation and more a consequence of loneliness and isolation of two women, it is definitely going to remain a cult classic for years to come.
Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga (2019)
IMDB rating: 5.5
Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Lagais the coming-out story of small-town Indian girl Sweety, played by Sonam Kapoor Ahuja. Her real-life father, veteran Bollywood actor Anil Kapoor, plays her father on screen, and Rajkummar Rao is her male suitor. Regina Cassandra plays Sweety’s female love interest. The movie touches on various facets of an Indian queer woman’s life – loneliness, internalisation of shame, the lack of courage to come out of the closet – and packages them as a quintessential Bollywood love story with songs and dance, tear-jerking moments, and melodrama. The film is considered likeable because within mainstream Bollywood, it portrays an Indian family that are accepting of the lesbian couple. The Indian LGBTQ community has struggled for positive media representation for years, and celebrated Bollywood’s first film featuring a lesbian romance with mega-stars in the lead roles. The storyline received criticism for not delving deeper into the relationship, but we suggest you watch it for the sweet foray into romance that the film makes.
My Brother… Nikhil (2005)
IMDB rating: 7.3
Based on the life of Dominic d’Souza, Onir’s film broke barriers for its time when it came to the conversation of HIV/AIDS and the LGBTQ community in India. Poignantly touching upon a very real phenomenon and its consequences in a close-minded society, My Brother Nikhil was made at a time when awareness of AIDS was at a real low point in the country, being brushed under the rug and behind closed doors. It deals with not just the stigma associated with the disease and homosexuality but the trauma that comes with it, not just in terms of dealing with it personally, but being pushed into isolation, especially for those individuals who are forced to deal with it in secret. Set in Goa, between 1986 and 1994, the film tells us the story of Nikhil (Sanjay Suri) who is a swimming champion but when he’s diagnosed with HIV, he’s kicked off his team and his parents abandon him. His boyfriend Nigel (Purab Kohli) and sister Anamika (Juhi Chawla) are the only people who stand by him, even when he’s arrested and isolated for having the disease. It’s a long journey for him to be accepted by his family and the world. The director Onir, is one of the few openly-gay directors in India and ensured that the screenplay and character portrayal were sensitive and touching. It’s a must-see on our list.
The Danish Girl (2015)
IMDB rating: 7.1
The Danish Girl tells the story of the first transgender experimental surgery, which was ultimately unsuccessful. It is a touching story very loosely based on actual events. Set in the early 20s of Copenhagen, artist Einer Wgenre shares a loving relationship with his artist wife. However, after posing in a dress for his wife (as a stand-in model), he soon finds the event has triggered a longing to become a woman. After psychology therapy and “curing” fails, Einer decides to undergo the first transsexual surgery in history. The film is highly stylized, a bit too highly for some tastes, and features a ravishingly beautiful art nouveau setting, achingly beautiful costume design, and Oscar-nominated performances by Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander.