It’s certainly gotten better over the last decade or so, but in the past, the representation of queer people on screen was a bit hard to come by. Luckily, there’s a clear trend in Hollywood towards telling LGBTQ+ stories, and in some cases, letting the LGBTQ+ community tell it themselves. Previously, queer movies were generally of the indie or underground variety, with movies like But I’m A Cheerleader, Jennifer’s Body, and Desert Hearts becoming cult classics years after release. In recent years, LGBTQ+ stories have become more welcome in the mainstream, with some major successes being Love, Simon, Call Me By Your Name, and Moonlight.
In order to celebrate the queer community and make LGBTQ+ entertainment more accessible, we thought it might be helpful to provide a little guide to the best LGBTQ+ movie offerings on Netflix. There’s simple romance, comedies, horror, and lots of documentaries. So if you are looking for a good queer movie to watch, we’ve got you covered.
Co-directed by Mag Hsu and Hsu Chih-yen, Dear Ex is a Taiwanese Netflix Original film about a young man named Song Cheng-xi, played by Joseph Huang, whose life is thrown for a loop after the death of his father Song Zheng-yuan (Spark Chen). As Cheng-xi and his mother, Liu San-lian (Hsieh Ying-xuan), start going through the normal activities done in the aftermath of losing a family member, they have to contend with the surprise discovery of Zheng-yuan’s lover, Jay (Roy Chiu), who also happens to be the beneficiary of his insurance. A comedy-drama, Dear Ex is an earnest story of the interconnected relationship between the three people left behind after Zheng-yuan’s death, and how they find surprising knowledge and comfort in each other. The movie is a great film that focuses on the strange yet meaningful relationships in life.
Ride or Die
A Japanese psychological thriller, Ride or Die is another Netflix Original starring Kiko Mizuhara and Honami Sato. The story follows Mizuhara’s character Rei, a woman in her late 20s who commits a violent crime to help a former classmate who she’s been in love with for years. The other woman, Nanae (Sato), is the victim of horrific domestic violence, and so to save her, Rei kills Nanae’s husband. After the murder, Nanae feels conflicting emotions towards Rei, but she leans into Rei’s love for her as they go on the run together. While Rei’s decision to kill the husband is made as an effort to give Nanae and her freedom, the two travel down a path together that gets darker and more tumultuous as reality finally sets in. The movie is written by Nami Sakkawa and directed by Ryuichi Hiroki, based on the manga series Gunjō written and illustrated by Ching Nakamura. If you are looking for a tightly-packed thriller with a passionate and emotional central relationship, this is an excellent movie to watch.
If you love subtle and unique character studies, Hong Khaou’s Monsoon is a fantastic film to check out. The 2019 drama stars Henry Golding, who many will recognize as the suave Nick Young from Crazy Rich Asians, playing a young British Vietnamese man named Kit who returns to his home country after three decades. When he was six years old, he fled Vietnam with his family, starting a new life in the West. With little understanding of Vietnamese and few memories of his birth city of Saigon, also known as Ho Chi Minh City, Kit embarks on a journey to his parents’ birth city of Hanoi, where he hopes to spread their ashes. While traveling, Kit meets a man named Lewis, played by Parker Sawyers, another Westerner who understands Kit’s meandering perspective. Slowly revealing parts of himself to Lewis, the two develop a soft romance. A truly underappreciated indie drama, Monsoon presents a down-to-earth story of the emigrant experience.
Alex Strangelove is a modern rom-com about a teenage boy’s journey to understanding his sexuality. Alex Truelove, played by Daniel Doheny, is a regular, awkward teenager who has been best friends with Claire (Madeline Weinstein) for years. After comforting her at a party leads to a kiss, the two begin to date. All seems to be going well, or as well as a high school relationship can go, until Alex meets Elliot (Antonio Marziale), an openly gay teenage boy, at a party and sparks fly. Through hilarious scenarios and friendship struggles, Alex starts to question whether he might be bisexual or gay, all while juggling his relationship with Claire and a blossoming connection with Elliot. Another underappreciated movie on this list, Alex Strangelove is definitely a hidden gem of a rom-com on Netflix, commonly overshadowed by more well-known movies like To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and The Kissing Booth.
Circus of Books
The first documentary on the list (though definitely not the last), Circus of Books is about a gay pornography shop and bookstore of the same name in Los Angeles. Through the movie’s exploration of this shop, audiences see a story unfold about a caring Jewish couple who kept the secret of what their business really was from their family for decades, while continuing to serve as a safe haven for the gay community at a time when the world was very much against them. Directed by the couple’s daughter, Rachel Mason, the film does a fantastic job exploring porn, religion, AIDS, politics, and more as it covers the Masons’s takeover of the store in 1976, along with everything that decision led to. It’s extremely fascinating and touching, and it’s also a true homage to the queer culture of Los Angeles and its history over the past 50 or so years.
The Danish Girl
Based on the 2000 novel of the same name by David Ebershoff, The Danish Girl is a fictional portrayal of real-life painters Lili Elbe and Gerda Wegener. The two painters, a couple, lived during the 1920s in Copenhagen. The 2015 drama stars Eddie Redmayne as Elbe, one of the first known people to get sex reassignment surgery, while Alicia Vikander plays Wegener. In The Danish Girl, Elbe stands in for a female model who fails to show up for one of Wegener’s painting sessions, igniting the self-discovery of her gender identity. As Wegener’s paintings in which Elbe is the female subject become more popular, Elbe and Wegener navigate their changing relationship while Elbe faces depression despite being determined to be her true self. The movie was nominated for multiple Academy Awards, with Vikander winning for Best Supporting Actress. While a male actor portraying a transgender woman has become less welcome in the years since the movie’s release, The Danish Girl is still a complex, emotional portrayal of Elbe and Wegener.
Disclosure: Trans Lives on Screen
Another documentary, Disclosure: Trans Lives on Screen is about exactly what the title says. The movie focuses on the history of transgender representation on screen in Hollywood over the years, and how that has in turn affected the queer community and American society. Many prominent figures in both the entertainment industry and the world of activism and academia appear in the movie to speak on their personal experiences, including Laverne Cox, MJ Rodriguez, Angelica Ross, Yance Ford, Lilly Wachowski, Chaz Bono, and many more. The film showcases how historically Hollywood has inaccurately portrayed transgender individuals in a harmful way, with specific films referenced including Ace Ventura, Tootsie, and more. Disclosure is a very intelligent and interesting movie, and a good pick if you are looking for a documentary to watch.
Let It Snow
Let It Snow is a teen rom-com set around the holiday season that showcases a few intertwining romances within a small town. The movie is based on the young adult book of the same name by Maureen Johnson, John Green, and Lauren Myracle, and it has a stellar cast that includes Kiernan Shipka, Isabela Merced, Shamiek Moore, Liv Hewson, Anna Akana, and more. While most of the romances featured in the film are of the heterosexual variety, the love story of Dorrie (Hewson), a waitress at a local restaurant called Waffle Town, and Kerry (Akana), a cheerleader she’s been seeing, is one of the best parts of the movie. It’s a straightforward story, with Kerry being unafraid to come out to her cheerleader best friends, despite the fact that she truly believes they’d have no problem with it. But then she comes face to face with Dorrie, and must decide whether or not to save her relationship and finally reveal the truth about herself. The surrounding storylines are also sweet and funny, and Let It Snow is all-around an enjoyable, easy watch.
Your Name Engraved Herein
Your Name Engraved Herein was a huge success in Taiwan when it was released in 2020, and a release on Netflix soon after brought the film to an international audience. As an LGBTQ+ film, this was a major, yet welcome surprise. The movie is set in 1987, with martial law just ending in Taiwan. Two teenage boys at an all-boys Catholic school, Chang “A-han” Jia-han (Edward Chen) and Wang “Birdy” Po Te (Tseng Jing-hua), become close friends, with their friendship soon growing into something more. But the couple must battle the prejudices of the time, their Catholic faith, and the pressure to fall in line, deciding whether being together is worth all of the trouble. Your Name Engraved Herein is a heart-wrenching story of first love, and it’s one of Netflix’s best offerings.
The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin
In The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin, you take an up-close and personal look at the life of Armistead Maupin, the author of the bestselling, culturally impactful fiction series Tales of the City, which showcases the queer community of San Francisco. The documentary explores Maupin’s life and career through his own perspective, with commentary from friends like Sir Ian McKellen, Laura Linney, Neil Gaiman, and more. Growing up in the South, Maupin was a very conservative young man up until he came out as gay. The writer is very open about his life and how he found a new family in the community of LGBTQ+ people in San Francisco. The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin is a very uplifting film and definitely worth checking out, especially if you like LGBTQ+ history.
If you want a queer horror story, The Perfection is that and so much more. Fair warning, this film is filled with gore and a twisted story, but if you are willing to take all that on, it’s a very satisfying and modern horror movie. The Perfection stars Allison Williams as Charlotte Willmore, a young woman whose promising cellist career is brought to a halt by her mother’s terminal illness. When she is finally able to get back to music, she meets Lizzie Wells, played by Logan Browning, the woman who took her spot in the music program. The two have instant chemistry, hooking up one night, but then Charlotte takes Lizzie on a psychological horror trip that leads Lizzie to believe that Charlotte wants to sabotage her cellist career. Honestly, there’s no way to describe how crazy The Perfection gets, but if you are a hardcore horror fan, you should certainly check it out.
Holding the Man
Holding the Man is an emotional rollercoaster of a film about the 15-year love story between Timothy Conigrave and John Caleo, two Australians who met in high school in the 1970s and fell in love, staying together until both men died of AIDS in the ‘90s. The biopic is based on Conigrave’s memoir of the same name, which came out in 1995, shortly after his death. In the film, Ryan Corr plays Conigrave, while Craig Stott portrays Caleo. Also starring are Guy Pearce as Conigrave’s father, Anthony LaPaglia as Caleo’s father, and Sarah Snook as the couple’s close friend, Pepe Trevor. While the story of Holding the Man is certainly very sad, the movie presents the strong, lifelong love between Conigrave and Caleo with such care that it comes across beautifully, with great performances by the whole cast.
Directed by So Yong Kim and starring Jena Malone and Riley Keough, Lovesong is an indie character study of two women and their ever-shifting relationship with one another. Keough’s character Sarah is a stay-at-home mom whose husband is rarely there. At her breaking point, she calls her best friend Mindy (Malone), who she hasn’t seen in a long time, and they go on an impromptu road trip. Throughout the trip, Sarah and Mindy get closer mentally and physically, before they are thrust apart again. Years later, after very little contact, Sarah is the one coming to Mindy, hoping to reignite past feelings right before Mindy’s wedding. Lovesong is subtle and intimate, and you can’t help but connect with these two women and their struggles.
I Care A Lot
Stylish, hilarious, and all-around surprising, the Netflix Original I Care A Lot is an absolute adventure of a film. The A-list cast features Rosamund Pike in the lead role of Marla Grayson, a con artist who convinces courts to grant her guardianship of wealthy elderly people, leaving her with control of their assets which she uses to make herself rich. By her side is her love, Fran (Eiza González), who helps her run the business. Choosing to target a very wealthy widower named Jennifer Peterson (Dianne Wiest), Marla ends up in a crazy situation that threatens her business and her life, as Jennifer’s son happens to be a crime lord named Roman Lunyov (Peter Dinklage) who desperately wants his mother back. But Marla isn’t one to give up, and she intends to hold on until the very end. While the entire film is wild and entertaining, one of the best parts is definitely the relationship between Marla and Fran, a power couple if I’ve ever seen one.
Duck Butter tells the story of two women who randomly meet and hook up, then decide to do a relationship experiment by staying together for 24 hours nonstop, having sex each hour and opening up emotionally. While Alia Shawkat’s character Naima is initially against the idea, the more free-spirited Sergio, played by Laia Costa, helps change her mind, and together they attempt to skip forward through all the traditional steps in relationships to something more intimate and revealing. The film’s cast also includes Mae Whitman, Kumail Nanjiani, the Duplass Brothers, and more, and it’s a great queer indie film to watch during a night in.
The Half of It
Another teen rom-com, The Half of It presents a very nuanced story of a shy, Chinese-American teenager named Ellie Chu, played by Leah Lewis, who aims to make a little extra money by helping a jock named Paul (Daniel Diemer) from school write love letters to the most popular girl. The only problem is that the boy has a crush on Aster Flores (Alexxis Lemire), who Ellie also happens to have a crush on, which only gets more intense as she reads Aster’s responses to Ellie’s ghostwritten letters. On top of that, Paul and Ellie start to bond and become friends, which puts Ellie in an uncomfortable position, forcing her to decide between keeping her secret and helping Paul and Aster get together, or coming clean and taking the risk of losing both of them. The Half of It is a genuine hidden gem and a teen rom-com that everyone, no matter the age, should watch.
A Secret Love
This one is a heartwrencher, but it’s also a must-watch. Another documentary on the list (there are a lot), A Secret Love is about the relationship between Terry Donahue and Pat Henschel, the two great aunts of the director, Chris Bolan. Having met when they were young women, Terry and Pat fell in love. At the time, queer people faced extreme prejudice, and so the couple kept their love a secret for almost 70 years. They stayed together the whole time, while also running a successful interior decorating business. A Secret Love tells the story of these two women who were pioneers in many ways, finally getting to celebrate their love for one another, which they hid for so many years.
The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson
Many people likely know of this documentary, which focuses on icons and activists Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, who fought for gay and transgender rights in NYC from the ‘60s to the ‘90s. Although The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson spends a lot of time exploring this important history, it also features LGBT rights activist Victoria Cruz and her investigation into Johnson’s death. Initially, it was ruled a suicide, despite the circumstances surrounding the death being rather suspicious. The documentary is detailed and enlightening, and a fantastic addition to the existing group of queer documentaries.
The Boys in the Band
The Boys in the Band is a story that has a long history, originating as a 1968 play by Mart Crowley. The story is about seven gay friends who gather for a birthday party in NYC in 1968, whose happy time devolves into tension as buried feelings and secrets come to the surface. The play was made into a film for the first time in 1970, which starred the play’s original cast. Netflix hosts the new version of The Boys in the Band. The play had a revival in 2018, whose cast then went on to film this movie. With a cast of exclusively openly-gay actors, the 2020 film stars the likes of Matt Bomer, Jim Parsons, Zachary Quinto, Andrew Rannells, and more.
A Single Man
The directorial debut of fashion designer Tom Ford, “stylish” is certainly something you can call the film A Single Man, but it goes way beyond that. Set in 1962 and based on the novel of the same name, A Single Man stars Colin Firth as George Falconer, a British professor in Southern California who is mourning the death of his longtime love, Jim, played by Matthew Goode, who died in a car accident months earlier. The story takes place over the course of a day, as George’s plans to commit suicide are challenged by the people in his life, including his friend Charley (Julianne Moore), and a college student who he starts to form a romantic connection with named Kenny (Nicholas Hoult). While the story is simple and straightforward, the fantastic lead performance from Firth elevates A Single Man beyond its stylish outward appeal.