17 Essential LGBTQ Movies You Should Watch Right Now

Keanu Reeves and River Phoenix star in Gus Van Sant's My Own Private Idaho (1991).
Keanu Reeves and River Phoenix star in Gus Van Sant's My Own Private Idaho (1991).
The Criterion Collection

It’s one very weird Pride Month we’re living through in 2020. While marching in a muscle tank is out, as with many things during the coronavirus pandemic, there are slivers of opportunity. To that end, what better way to celebrate all that is queer than with a headfirst dive into the incredibly rich history of LGBTQ movies from the comfort of your couch?

Queer cinema—or as it was endearingly branded in the ‘90s, New Queer Cinema (the ‘90s were extremely gay for independent film)—has afforded directors of all sexual identities and orientations all over the world an opportunity to showcase distinctive, nuanced, personal stories of what it means to be a member of the LGBTQ community. Fortunately, in recent years, we’ve also seen more of this work from Black American filmmakers like Dee Rees (Bessie, Mudbound) coming to public view.

These movies aren’t necessarily the definitive queer movies, nor are they the most popular. But they represent an idiosyncratic, undeniably off-kilter, sometimes fabulous, and always fully realized vision of what it means to feel slightly apart from the straights. (Though the straights are most definitely welcome to the party.)

1. Far from Heaven (2002)

This whole list could easily be dedicated solely to Todd Haynes—the towering director behind queer movies from the ‘90s on. But with all apologies to the great Carol (2015) and Safe (1995), we need to keep things concise. Haynes's best film, Far from Heaven, may not appear queer at first, but the slick update of mid-century melodramas then known as "women’s pictures" masterfully queers up its source material. Cathy (Julianne Moore) is a love-deprived housewife flirting with her Black gardener (Dennis Haysbert), while her husband Frank (Dennis Quaid) is a suit with a closeted affection for men. But everyone here is painfully inching their way to a full expression of their sexual and romantic selves—something any LGBTQ person knows well.

Watch it: Amazon, iTunes, Starz, YouTube

2. Nowhere (1997)

Director Gregg Araki (Mysterious Skin) has sadly never received the mainstream attention he deserves, but Nowhere remains a singular insight into his so-called Teenage Apocalypse Trilogy (which also includes 1993's Totally F***ed Up and 1995's The Doom Generation). The film, which follows an assorted mix of adrift LA youth of different colors and orientations who are connected by their disaffection, is by turns funny, surreal, and tragic—often in the same scene.

Watch it: DVD

3. Laurence Anyways (2012)

In more recent years, we’ve gotten fresh cinematic portraits of trans life. Laurence Anyways from French-Canadian indie darling Xavier Dolan is on the florid side, as with all of Dolan's films, but it’s oh so pretty. He films the blossoming of a trans woman in a difficult relationship like a glossy music video simmering with heartbreak.

Watch it: Amazon Prime

4. Happy Together (1997)

If you haven’t dabbled in Chinese cinema, here’s a gorgeous place to start. Hong Kong director Wong Kar-wai—who won a BAFTA for 2000's In the Mood for Love—trains his eye on two men feeling the heady push and pull of mutual lust and dissatisfaction. The photography alone, from noisy urban Hong Kong streets to the swirling waterfalls of Buenos Aires, is swoon-worthy.

Watch it: The Criterion Channel

5. Bad Education (2004)

After a three-year break from directing, Oscar-winning Spanish auteur Pedro Almodóvar came back into the spotlight in 2019 with his semi-autobiographical Pain and Glory. But his criminally underrated Bad Education touches on gay youth and abuse in fascinating, brutally straightforward fashion. It might be the best performance of Gael García Bernal’s career.

Watch it: Amazon, iTunes, YouTube

6. In a Year with 13 Moons (1978)

Lilo Pempeit in In a Year with 13 Moons (1978).Fantoma

Watch this movie only if you’re up for a profoundly disturbing (but beautifully rendered!) experience. German filmmaking legend Rainer Werner Fassbinder is at his most stark here, unraveling the tale of a trans woman taking account of lost love and her current identity. Hard as it is to watch, it’s a vital window into the still all-too-real problems and violence the trans community faces.

Watch it: Amazon Prime, The Criterion Channel

7. My Own Private Idaho (1991)

Gus Van Sant is in some ways the most accessible LGBTQ filmmaker. But long before the overlong and overrated Harvey Milk biopic Milk, he delivered a rollicking punch in My Own Private Idaho. Though the film is structurally fractured and utilizes pretty much every filmic tool in the toolbox—including a bonkers Shakespearean interlude, documentary-style interviews, and yes, Flea—it somehow all hangs together thanks to the poignant performances of River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves as hustlers who are desperate to find something like home.

Watch it: The Criterion Channel

8. Trash (1970)

Did you know Andy Warhol made movies? Shaggy and frequently ridiculous, they’re also sometimes stunning. Case in point: This very low-budget, all-the-way-in-your-face take (directed by Paul Morrissey) on a heroin addict and his trans girlfriend (a hilariously shrieking Holly Woodlawn) who will do anything to get by in a rough, anything-goes New York City.

Watch it: DVD

9. Blue Is the Warmest Color (2013)

It’s perhaps less than an authentic portrayal of first lesbian love, but Cannes winner Blue Is the Warmest Color works so well because the beats of a fluttering romance turned hurtful are universal.

Watch it: Netflix

10. Paris Is Burning (1990)

At the time it came out, Paris Is Burning was a surprising commercial success and a curiosity. Director Jennie Livingston spent careful time observing the world of Harlem-based voguing balls (which inspired Madonna’s hit “Vogue”) and the wildly talented, frequently catty, fabulous but downtrodden dancers who inhabited them. That many of those performers have died from HIV/AIDS complications makes it that much more essential a document.

Watch it: DVD or Blu-ray

11. Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001)

It’s no surprise that Hedwig and the Angry Inch has become a Broadway hit. What began as an Obie Award-winning Off-Broadway musical in 1998 spawned this indie phenom movie—directed by John Cameron Mitchell, who also stars—then made its way back to the stage via Broadway, where it won four Tony Awards, including Best Revival of a Musical. In all its incarnations, Hedwig has a killer soundtrack surrounding the unapologetically messy trans woman at its center (and yes, she has an angry inch). She tears down borders like a broken Berlin Wall.

Watch it: HBO Max

12. Bound (1996)

The Matrix-famous Wachowskis were way ahead of their time with this tight, noirish crime thriller in which Jennifer Tilly and Gina Gershon can’t resist each other in a mob-filled Art Deco apartment building. This cannot be overstated: It’s very hot.

Watch it: HBO Max

13. Moonlight (2016)

Barry Jenkins's Moonlight, which won the 2017 Oscar for Best Picture, doesn’t need more of the standard praise, so I’ll say this: I grew up in a more affluent Miami neighborhood, but the depiction of two Black boys in the city’s impoverished Liberty City fumbling their way to understanding their sexuality as they’re marginalized by the outside world felt so real when I first watched it in theaters. The beach scene is magical. When the two reconnect as men over a homemade Cuban meal—my hometown’s sign of love—I was flooded with tears. More importantly, those tears were earned.

Watch it: Netflix

14. Pariah (2011)

By the very title, you know that the protagonist of Dee Rees’s (Mudbound) delicately told portrait focuses on an outsider. Alike (Adepero Oduye) is a teenage girl struggling with her lesbian desires and the expectations and conflict in her family, yet she is no standard coming-of-age heroine. Oduye is so self-possessed in her portrayal, it’s impossible to look away.

Watch it: Amazon, iTunes, YouTube

15. Tangerine (2015)

This low-tech black comedy from Sean Baker (The Florida Project) doesn’t look like it was shot on an iPhone, but it was. Tangerine is a bleary, saturated fever dream that touches on corners of trans prostitution in L.A., but it also illuminates the deep abiding hope of people who just want to be recognized as the humans they are.

Watch it: Hulu

16. The Crying Game (1992)

If you lived through the ‘90s, you probably know the shot: the mid-film reveal. But while too many of us focused on the sexual dynamics of The Crying Game, Neil Jordan’s masterwork sensitively weaves a queer romance into a tapestry covering fascinating corners of Irish life.

Watch it: Netflix, Showtime

17. The Birdcage (1996)

I have to get personal: The Birdcage was the first LGBTQ movie I saw in theaters as a kid. I was floored. It’s hilarious. Robin Williams and Nathan Lane make an idiosyncratic but believable gay South Beach couple who also happen to own a drag club. And who have to convince a conservative couple that they are, in fact, a straight couple. The movie might seem dated now, but it was massively empowering in its time. When my dad took me and my brother out of the theater, he was clear: “That was funny, but there’s nothing funny about being gay. Gay people are just like everyone else.” The conversation reverberated as I came out years later.

Watch it: Showtime

10 LEGO Sets For Every Type of LEGO Builder 

Amazon
Amazon

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If you’re looking for a timeless gift to give this holiday season, look no further than a LEGO set. With kits that cater to a wide age range—from toddlers fine-tuning their motor skills to adults looking for a more engaged way to relax—there’s a LEGO set out there for everyone. We’ve rounded up some of our favorite sets on Amazon to help you find the LEGO box that will make your loved one smile this year. If you end up getting one for yourself too, don’t worry: we won’t tell.

1. Classic Large Creative Gift Box; $44

Amazon

You can never go wrong with a classic. This 790-piece box contains dozens of types of colored bricks so builders of any age can let their inner architect shine. With toy windows, doors, tires, and tire rims included in addition to traditional bricks, the building possibilities are truly endless. The bricks are compatible with all LEGO construction sets, so builders have the option of creating their own world or building a new addition onto an existing set.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Harry Potter Hogwarts Express; $64

Amazon

Experience the magic of Hogwarts with this buildable Hogwarts Express box. The Prisoner Of Azkaban-inspired kit not only features Hogwarts's signature mode of transportation, but also Platform 9 ¾, a railway bridge, and some of your favorite Harry Potter characters. Once the train is built, the sides and roof can be removed for play within the cars. There is a Dementor on board … but after a few spells cast by Harry and Lupin, the only ride he’ll take is a trip to the naughty list.

Buy it: Amazon

3. Star Wars Battle of Hoth; $160

Amazon

Star Wars fans can go into battle—and rewrite the course of history—by recreating a terrifying AT-AT Walker from the Battle of Hoth. Complete with 1267 pieces to make this a fun challenge for ages 10 and up, the Walker has elements like spring-loaded shooters, a cockpit, and foldout panels to reveal its deadly inner workings. But never fear: Even though the situation might look dire, Luke Skywalker and his thermal detonator are ready to save the day.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Super Mario Adventures Starter Course; $60

Amazon

Kids can play Super Mario in 3D with LEGO’s interactive set. After constructing one of the courses, young designers can turn on the electronic Mario figurine to get started. Mario’s built-in color sensors and LCD screens allow him to express more than 100 different reactions as he travels through the course. He’ll encounter obstacles, collect coins, and avoid Goomba and Bowser to the sound of the Mario soundtrack (played via an included speaker). This is a great gift for encouraging problem-solving and creativity in addition to gaming smarts.

Buy it: Amazon

5. Gingerbread House; $212

Amazon

Gingerbread houses are a great way to enjoy the holidays … but this expert-level kit takes cookie construction to a whole new level. The outside of the LEGO house rotates around to show the interior of a sweet gingerbread family’s home. Although the living room is the standout with its brick light fireplace, the house also has a kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, and outdoor furniture. A LEGO Christmas tree and presents can be laid out as the holidays draw closer, making this a seasonal treat you can enjoy with your family every year.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Elsa and Olaf’s Tea Party; $18

Amazon

LEGO isn’t just for big kids. Toddlers and preschoolers can start their LEGO journey early by constructing an adorable tea party with their favorite Frozen characters. As they set up Elsa and Olaf’s ice seats, house, and tea fixings, they’ll work on fine-motor, visual-spatial, and emotional skills. Building the set from scratch will enable them to put their own creative spin on a favorite movie, and will prepare them for building more complicated sets as they get older.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Collectible Art Set Building Kits; $120

Amazon

Why buy art when you can build it yourself? LEGO’s Beatles and Warhol Marilyn Monroe sets contain four options for LEGO art that can be built and displayed inside your home. Each kit comes with a downloadable soundtrack you can listen to while you build, turning your art experience into a relaxing one. Once you’re finished building your creation it can be exhibited within a LEGO brick frame, with the option to hang it or dismantle it to start on a new piece. If the 1960s aren’t your thing, check out these Sith and Iron Man options.

Buy it: Amazon

8. NASA Apollo Saturn V; $120

Amazon

The sky (or just the contents of your LEGO box) is the limit with LEGO’s Saturn V expert-level kit. Designed for ages 14 and up, this to-scale rocket includes three removable rocket stages, along with a command and service module, Lunar Lander, and more. Once the rocket is complete, two small astronaut figurines can plant a tiny American flag to mark a successful launch. The rocket comes with three stands so it can be displayed after completion, as well as a booklet for learning more about the Apollo moon missions.

Buy it: Amazon

9. The White House; $100

Amazon

Reconstruct the First Family’s home (and one of America’s most famous landmarks) by erecting this display model of the White House. The model, which can be split into three distinct sections, features the Executive Residence, the West Wing, and the East Wing of the complex. Plant lovers can keep an eye out for the colorful rose garden and Jacqueline Kennedy Garden, which flank the Executive Residence. If you’re unable to visit the White House anytime soon, this model is the next best thing.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Volkswagen Camper Van; $120

Amazon

Road trip lovers and camping fanatics alike will love this vintage-inspired camper. Based on the iconic 1962 VW vehicle, LEGO’s camper gets every detail right, from the trademark safari windshield on the outside to the foldable furniture inside. Small details, like a “Make LEGO Models, Not War” LEGO T-shirt and a detailed engine add an authentic touch to the piece. Whether you’re into old car mechanics or simply want to take a trip back in time, this LEGO car will take you on a journey you won’t soon forget.

Buy it: Amazon

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How It's a Wonderful Life Went From Box Office Dud to Accidental Christmas Tradition

Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures

Director Frank Capra's 1946 classic It's a Wonderful Life is sacred in the holiday movie pantheon. It's not as quotable as A Christmas Story (1983) or as lyrical as 1966's How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, but the story of George Bailey has a universal message behind it that endures more than 70 years later. Though the movie is the quintessential Christmas tale today, when it was first released in 1946, audiences and critics were lukewarm toward the picture, resulting in a box office disappointment that killed Capra's nascent production company, Liberty Films. In a strange twist, decades after it was first released, an unlikely clerical screw-up managed to turn It's a Wonderful Life into the Christmastime staple we know today.

In the 1930s, Capra became a magnet for Academy Awards, directing movies like the screwball comedy It Happened One Night (1934) and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939). After Pearl Harbor, Capra knew he could contribute something to the war effort, so he took a post in Washington overseeing the development of U.S. propaganda films for the government—most notably the award-winning Why We Fight series of documentaries.

Upon returning from Washington in 1945, Capra—along with other wartime directors William Wyler and George Stevens—helped finance Liberty Films, an independent production company poised to give filmmakers the one thing they all dreamed of: freedom. The company's first film would be an adaption of a short story titled "The Greatest Gift," which would also appear in Good Housekeeping under the title "The Man Who Was Never Born," and would be adapted for the screen as It's a Wonderful Life. It's one of the few movies Capra also received a screenwriting credit for, and with a proposed budget of $2 million, it was a huge gamble for Liberty.

Something akin to a nightmare

In the book Five Came Back, writer Mark Harris describes It's a Wonderful Life's production process as something akin to a nightmare. Script rewrites, a bloated shooting schedule, and an ever-changing crew cost the studio nearly all of the original $2 million budget—well before filming was even wrapped. The spending became such a concern for Capra's partners at Liberty that George Stevens remarked, "Why the hell couldn't it be springtime?" when he saw how much it cost the production to produce fake snow for shots. Capra bet Liberty's future on audiences looking for some comforting nostalgia after the war, but he was about to see firsthand just how much the world had changed since he came back.

The original plan was to release It's a Wonderful Life in January 1947, after the Oscar deadlines, but when RKO—the film's distributor—needed a movie to release in time for Christmas, Capra's project was the easy solution. It opened just weeks after William Wyler's major studio film The Best Years of Our Lives, a hard-hitting drama about a U.S. soldier coming home after the war to pick up his life again. The two films couldn't be any more different, and the reviews reflected that.

Even at nearly three hours long, The Best Years of Our Lives was an absolute hit with critics and at the box office, recouping its budget multiple times over. It's a Wonderful Life, with its inflated budget and saccharine tale touting old-timey values, was met with a whimper, making only an estimated $3.3 million against a $3.7 million budget. Wyler beat Capra in every way: reviews, box office, and awards. The Best Years of Our Lives won seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, while It's a Wonderful Life received only a lone technical award—ironically for the fake snow Stevens loathed.

Liberty Films had borrowed more than $1.5 million to make the film, and with such a disappointing box office return, the production company was soon sold off to Paramount. Capra only directed five feature films afterwards, none of which ever reached the heights of his pre-war work. As unlikely as it seems today, It's a Wonderful Life was seen as a flat disappointment destined for anonymity—until a clerical error changed its fate.

A Wonderful free-for-all

In 1974, the movie entered the public domain after the film's copyright holder simply forgot to file for a renewal. This meant that TV stations everywhere could play It's a Wonderful Life all day and all night and not have to pay a cent for it. Networks aren't necessarily shy about exploiting free Christmas content, and the film's reemergence on television gave Capra's story new life. While a post-World War II crowd may have rejected the movie's sentiment, subsequent generations seem to revel in the opportunity to visit the nostalgic whimsy of it all.

“It’s the damnedest thing I’ve ever seen,” Capra once told The Wall Street Journal about the film's revival. “The film has a life of its own now and I can look at it like I had nothing to do with it. I’m like a parent whose kid grows up to be president. I’m proud ... but it’s the kid who did the work. I didn’t even think of it as a Christmas story when I first ran across it. I just liked the idea.”

Legalities rewrote the history of It's a Wonderful Life yet again in 1993. The Supreme Court's previous ruling in Stewart v. Abend established a precedent that allowed the film's original copyright owner—Republic Pictures—to regain its ownership of the movie. The ruling claimed that since Republic owned the copyright on the original short story which the movie was based on, and the score for the film, they, in essence, still owned the movie. So what was once a near barrage of networks airing It's a Wonderful Life has since been pared down to just one: NBC.

The network paid for exclusive rights to air the movie, which is why you'll only see It's a Wonderful Life on TV once or twice during the holidays. But the movie's modern appeal exists because of that scarcity. The film that killed a production company 70 years ago is now an annual television event and part of countless family traditions around the globe. It turns out Capra always knew what audiences wanted, he just needed to wait for the right clerical error to prove it.

This story has been updated for 2020.