Whether you want to laugh or cry, you’ll find the perfect movie.
It’s hard to define just what an LGBTQ movie is because to limit LGBTQ stories to one category limits the experiences of the people who live them. Is an LGBTQ story about tragedy and triumph? Is it about loss and survival? Is it about love and recognition? Or is it just about trying to make your way in a world that doesn’t always see you? The movies on this list contain all these qualities while also pushing the boundaries of what we traditionally think of as “queer cinema.”
Here are some of the best options for LGBTQ viewers currently streaming on Netflix. (And if you’re here for But I’m a Cheerleader, bad news: It’s only available through the mail. (Maybe it’s time to renew that DVD subscription after all?)
The best LGBT movies on Netflix
Carol is a devastating love story, but it’s also hopeful. The film stars Cate Blanchett in the title role as a ‘50s housewife who’s starting to come into her sexuality, and Rooney Mara as Therese, a young woman who falls for her. They’re both terrific, and director Todd Haynes proves once again that he is not only a master of queer cinema but cinema in general. As the movie’s lush, gorgeous look washes over the characters, every glance, every gesture, every hint of longing becomes something profound. The story is familiar territory for Haynes, who also explored forbidden sexuality in “traditional” America with 2002’s Far from Heaven. Either one could rightly be called a melodrama, but while the former heightens emotions, the latter tempers them. If Far from Heaven was Todd Haynes using Douglas Sirk’s cinematic language to explore conformity and desire, Carol finds him taking a subtle, more delicate approach. Both films are haunting and beautiful, but Carol feels like the masterwork he’s been approaching his whole career. —Chris Osterndorf
Rent is a big, theater school hug, as zealous and earnest now as the day it premiered. Though the film adaptation gets rid of some of the more experimental elements of the show, it retains the essential spirit. Rent’s exploration of the AIDS crisis may feel dated today, but it’s important to consider how revelatory and essential the topic would’ve been when the musical first arrived in the mid-‘90s. This was a show that managed to be as fun as it was devastating, as likely to make you dance in the aisles as weap in your seat. If it seems clichéd today, it’s only because it influenced so many things that came after it. —C.O.
3) Dallas Buyers Club
As a movie about LGBTQ subject matter, Dallas Buyers Club leaves something to be desired. Not only does it omit elements of the real Ron Woodroof’s story, it fails to clearly define whether Rayon, the film’s second lead, is transgender, a cross-dresser, or identifies in some other non-binary way. Where Dallas Buyers Club does succeed is in its depiction of the AIDS crisis, stigmatization that came with an HIV-positive diagnosis, and the far-reaching effects it had in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Dallas Buyers Club stands as one of their few offerings that provides a raw snapshot of a watershed moment. Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto’s Oscar-winning performances as Woodroof and Rayon, respectively, are also among the best of their careers (particularly in Leto’s case), and the direction from Jean-Marc Vallée (Big Little Lies) is stunning. —C.O.
4) The Imitation Game
The Imitation Game isn’t that different than any Oscar candidate in any given year. It’s a true story about a British man who overcomes incredible difficult to triumph against all odds. Except in The Imitation Game, Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) doesn’t triumph in the end, not really. He cracks the Germans’ Enigma code, effectively ending WWII and winning the war for the allies. But as a homosexual man living in the first half of the 20th century, his own ending is far more tragic. Of course, the movie downplays Turing’s sexuality for most of its runtime. It’s a movie that falls peril to the “inspirational” Oscar clichés, undoubtedly. But by telling the most painful part of Turing’s story along with the more triumphant moments, it manages to give the man some of the justice and credit he so desperately deserves. —C.O.
Milk is a sad movie because it shows you how hard the gay rights movement had to fight for the most basic respect. It’s a sad movie because the rights that were being fought for are still too often unrecognized in this country today. It’s a sad movie because Harvey Milk gave his life for what he believed in, and anytime a good man dies fighting for something he believes in, those that would carry on their fight must naturally mourn first. But it’s not an entirely sad movie because Harvey Milk also lived a life worth celebrating. —C.O.
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Netflix’s The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson explores the tragic 1992 death of a legendary gay rights activist, officially ruled suicide but which many suspect to be a murder. Director David France uses the film to explore the larger scope of Johnson’s life and impact on both the landscape of LGBTQ rights and those closest to her. —David Wharton
It’s a little sad that Pariah is best known for a drunken shout out: When accepting the Golden Globe for The Iron Lady in 2012, Meryl Streep slurred the name of Adepero Oduye, the film’s lead. But inebriated or not, Meryl knows what’s up. Directed by Dee Rees, making her debut, Pariah offers a fresh take on the coming-out story. Giving a star-is-born performance, Oduye plays Alike, a black teenager experiencing her queer coming of age on the streets of Brooklyn, New York. As she soon discovers, figuring out who you are isn’t without difficulty: The girl she likes (Aasha Davis) views their relationship as nothing more than “youthful experimentation.” Meanwhile, her parents force her to choose between her sexuality and her family. For Rees, the little-seen film was the beginning of a promising career: She directed HBO’s Emmy-winning Bessie in 2015 and will be helming the network’s Stonewall drama, When We Rise. —N.L.
8) Other People
Based on Saturday Night Live writer Chris Kelly’s real-life experiences, Other People tells the story of struggling comedy writer, David (Jesse Plemons), who moves back home to Sacramento to take care of his dying mother, Joanne (Molly Shannon). Complicating matters is his father, Norman (Bradley Whitford), who refuses to accept David’s sexuality, even 10 years after he came out. The lead performances are all great, and the film features strong supporting turns from familiar character actors and comedy mainstays, including June Squibb, Matt Walsh, Maude Apatow, and more. It’s a movie which alternates between moments designed to make you laugh and moments designed to make you cry, and it’s not short on either. —C.O.
In the Netflix original documentary Laert-se, comic strips depict the inner workings of a Brazilian cartoonist as she comes to terms with her gender identity. The device serves two purposes: informing the audience of artist Laerte Coutinho’s thoughts, and acting as a way to tell this searing, real story in a straightforward manner. Coutinho is initially hesitant to be intimately honest with documentarian Eliane Brum, but the more she opens up, the more the artwork exposes her thoughts and desires. The end result is a compelling, in-depth look at Coutinho’s transformation. —Dan Marcus
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Tangerine was a groundbreaking moment in LGBT cinema. Sean Baker’s micro-budgeted indie (which was filmed on his iPhone) was the first film to ever launch an Oscar campaign for a trans actor. Following the historic Emmy nomination for Laverne Cox (Orange Is the New Black), distributor Magnolia Pictures pushed Mya Taylor and Kitana “Kiki” Rodriguez for consideration at the 2016 Academy Awards. The campaign wasn’t successful (although Taylor earned an Indie Spirit award for her performance), but it showed just how far trans representation has come. Tangerine is both thrilling to watch and deeply humanizing in its portrait of a day in the life of two transgender sex workers in Los Angeles. If there’s any justice in the world, it will only be the start of many more great things to come from its talented pair of actresses. Hollywood desperately needs them.
See also: Eric Schaeffer’s Boy Meets Girl, starring breakout trans actress Michelle Hendley. —N.L.
2014 was a breakout year for Tig Notaro. During a performance at New York City’s Town Hall, the lesbian comic came out as a breast cancer survivor. In a career-making set, Notaro performed shirtless, baring her double mastectomy for the world to see. After the act generated massive buzz (and applause from those who lauded her fearlessness), she would do it again—this time on her HBO standup special, Boyish Girl Interrupted. The acclaimed Netflix documentary Tig examines the comedian’s life during her treatment and in recovery—as she and her partner attempt to have their first child. Kristina Goolsby and Ashley York’s film is both as candid and disarmingly intimate as you would expect a film about Notago to be. The documentary is a testament to human resilience—about finding the courage to go on after enormous hardship. —N.L.
The story of an aspiring drag performer and his disapproving father, Viva is basically the opposite of the flamboyant, colorful, RuPaul-inspired good time that comes to mind for most straight people when they think of drag. Heartbreaking, subtle, but still joyous, Viva is the kind of nuanced exploration of a subculture that we rarely get outside of documentaries. The fact that it’s a Spanish-language Irish film set in Cuba just adds to the specificity on display. —C.O.
13) Closet Monster
Closet Monster is not your average LGBT drama. Often surreal and disturbing, this coming of age story about a young man afraid to come out because of a hate crime he witnessed as a child got rave reviews during its limited release in 2016. Stephen Dunn also pulls a star-making performance from his young lead, Connor Jessup. —C.O.
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14) Blue Is the Warmest Color
Steeped in controversy upon its release (and for good reason), Blue Is the Warmest Color is nevertheless a nearly unparalleled achievement in 21st-century filmmaking. Discussions about male gaze and directorial ethics are sure to follow many people’s viewing, but we also don’t get many epic, three-hour lesbian love stories. There are elements of Blue Is the Warmest Color that still feel essential, if for no other reason than that we need more of what the film gets right, even while needing less of what it gets wrong. And of course, there are the performances from lead actresses Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos, who rightfully became the first actors ever to be awarded the Palme d’Or when the film premiered at Cannes. Playing the two halves of young couple Emma and Adèle, Blue Is the Warmest Color’s leading ladies are both so good, it’s not just that they have created an indelible cinematic love story—it’s as if they’ve reinvented the cinematic love story itself. —C.O.
15) Paris Is Burning
A landmark of queer cinema, Paris Is Burning continues to stir so many emotions that when a special screening was arranged in New York several years ago, it sparked a protest over questions of exploitation. Depicting Harlem’s drag ball scene with a specificity only documentaries can provide, the film remains a cult favorite among the LGBTQ community. It was made at the height of the AIDS crisis and is one of the only movies ever made to dive into intersectionality with such detail, exploring race, class, homophobia, and transphobia in a way that still feels starkly relevant today. —C.O.
We also have Netflix guides for the best war movies, documentaries, anime, indie flicks, and movies based on true stories streaming right now. There are also sad movies guaranteed to make you cry, weird movies to melt your brain, and comedy specials when you really need to laugh.
Editor’s note: This article is regularly updated for relevance.
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