Image courtesy of

Curat­ed by Amelia Abra­ham: 13 queer films to watch

Get queered up on queer film classics using the author’s definitive guide – it’s good for the soul.

For straight teens to res­onate with TV or film when grow­ing up, they need look no fur­ther than the kiss­ing-in-the-rain scenes that play out in the buck­et­load – from teen films like 10 Things I Hate About You and The Note­book, to TV shows like Hol­lyoaks and Skins. But for queer teens, media vis­i­bil­i­ty isn’t quite as preva­lent. Atti­tudes may be shift­ing, but we’re not even close. With so many young, queer peo­ple grow­ing up hav­ing not seen a same-sex rela­tion­ship (non-tokenis­tic, that is) in a main­stream film, or a trans woman play­ing the lead role in a Hol­ly­wood block­buster, is there any won­der kids are grow­ing up con­fused and scared?

The bleak real­i­ty for so many queer kids is, unfor­tu­nate­ly, a lack of a role mod­el and a lack of con­nec­tion to any­thing they can place them­selves in with­in the main­stream. Some­one who knows this sto­ry all too well is Amelia Abra­ham, jour­nal­ist and author of the recent­ly released Queer Inten­tions: A (Per­son­al) Jour­ney Through LGBTQ+ Cul­ture. Draw­ing on her expe­ri­ences as a les­bian woman while chal­leng­ing the notions of what being queer means in a world that’s ever-so-slow­ly embrac­ing same-sex mar­riage and improved media vis­i­bil­i­ty, she asks the big ques­tions; who is being left behind, and what is the cost of accep­tance for the LGBTQ+ com­mu­ni­ty? While cor­po­ra­tions are jump­ing ship (Pride-brand­ed Lis­ter­ine mouth­wash, any­one?), there’s still a long way to go, as evi­dent in the recent hor­rif­ic homo­pho­bic attacks on a Lon­don night bus.

With Pride Month well and tru­ly under­way, Abra­ham has curat­ed a list of 13 queer films to cel­e­brate the tal­ent, cre­ativ­i­ty and vision of a world so often appro­pri­at­ed and under­rep­re­sent­ed. Fea­tur­ing the likes of John Waters, Sean Bak­er and Gregg Ara­ki, this is your defin­i­tive guide to the best of queer film through­out his­to­ry. For the queer kids hav­ing not yet seen them­selves in a film, this one’s for you.


I’ll start with the best film I’ve seen in the last year. When I first watched this in the cin­e­ma, I had been out for about three days and was feel­ing very hol­low; it brought me back to life, then swift­ly turned me into an emo­tion­al wreck. It is a fic­tion­alised look at AIDS organ­i­sa­tion ACT UP Paris in the 90s and seems to per­fect­ly cap­ture what being a mem­ber offered: a tight com­mu­ni­ty, a rea­son to stay alive, a polit­i­cal out­let for intense anger. It’s also a real­ly inter­est­ing look at risky sex and how the virus made peo­ple act like tonight was their last night on earth – because it could have been. You come away from watch­ing 120BPM real­ly feel­ing this sense of urgency.”


I think this is the per­fect queer com­ing of age film. Water Lilies is set over a lazy sum­mer in sub­ur­ban France and tells the sto­ry of Marie, a young girl who joins a syn­chro­nised swim­ming team and gets a crush on Flo­ri­ane, an old­er girl there. French film­mak­er Celine Sci­amma is so good at observ­ing the com­pli­cat­ed sto­ries of young LGBTQ+ peo­ple in a sen­si­tive and non-sen­sa­tion­al­ist or over­ly-sex­u­alised way. This is her first film, but it’s a lot like her sec­ond, Tomboy – they both look beau­ti­ful­ly crisp, clean, min­i­mal and ele­gant – true French style!”


There are many pow­er­ful and heart­break­ing doc­u­men­taries that exist on the break­out of the AIDS cri­sis and the sub­se­quent polit­i­cal move­ments that formed, par­tic­u­lar­ly in New York, like Unit­ed In Anger and Surviv­ing a Plague. The film Vito is less­er known but absolute­ly amaz­ing. It fol­lows the life of the unstop­pable gay rights cam­paign­er Vito Rus­so, who was also an expert in LGBTQ+ cin­e­ma and wrote the canon­i­cal book The Cel­lu­loid Clos­et, an ear­ly dive into the impor­tance of pos­i­tive on-screen rep­re­sen­ta­tion. Vito co-found­ed the Gay and Les­bian Alliance Against Defama­tion (GLAAD) and became a cru­cial mem­ber of ACT UP before he died from AIDS-relat­ed ill­ness in 1990. Jef­frey Schwartz’ film is such a beau­ti­ful homage to his life.”


It’s annoy­ing when straight actors play gay peo­ple let alone gay heroes but Sean Penn is so good in this biopic of Har­vey Milk, who was the first open­ly gay per­son elect­ed to pub­lic office in the US. The film is real­ly absorb­ing and watch­ing it gives you a good glimpse into what 1970s San Fran­cis­co might have been like, plus the con­ver­sa­tions that were hap­pen­ing at the time with­in the gay rights move­ment. The script is so good it won Dustin Lance Black an Oscar.”


A strange, slow, Argen­tine film by Lucía Puen­zo about a 15-year-old girl called Alex who was born with both male and female sex­u­al organs as she begins to explore her sex­u­al­i­ty when fam­i­ly friends come to vis­it, form­ing a rela­tion­ship with 16-year-old Alvaro. Set on the Uruguayan shore, the colour palette is real­ly pared down and cold, a bit like the dia­logue, but it some­how sucks you total­ly into Alex’s psy­che. There aren’t loads of films about peo­ple who are inter­sex, so XXY was and still is fill­ing a void, and it does a real­ly good job of it.”


One of my favourite films of all time, let alone one of John Waters’. Female Trou­ble is a chaot­ic and absurd faux-biopic one girl, played by the infa­mous drag queen Divine. That girl is Dawn Dav­en­port, who after she doesn’t receive her desired ChaCha Heels for Christ­mas, attacks her fam­i­ly, runs away from home, gets preg­nant, and enters a life of crime. Because crime is beau­ty! (Shout out to Jean Genet). Made on a shoe­string bud­get, it is – like almost all of John Water’s films, pure trash, fuck­ing insane, bril­liant­ly hilar­i­ous and a lit­tle bit sick. So genius.”


The artist Wu Tsang made this pro­found doc­u­men­tary about The Sil­ver Plat­ter, a Los Ange­les bar that most­ly catered to the Latin immi­grant com­mu­ni­ty, and what hap­pened when Wu and friends moved a new per­for­mance art night into the space. It’s a film about gen­tri­fi­ca­tion, era­sure, rel­a­tive priv­i­lege, assim­i­la­tion, dis­crim­i­na­tion, hedo­nism, safe spaces, activism com­mu­ni­ty, class and cul­tur­al pro­duc­tion, and how all of these things can both com­pli­ment one anoth­er and be in con­flict. When I first saw it, it blew me away; there’s a touch of mag­i­cal real­ism that real­ly ele­vates it to a very spir­i­tu­al and spe­cial place – for instance, the bar itself has a con­scious­ness, pro­vid­ed in voiceover from a Guatemalan trans actor. It’s real­ly unique.”


Long before les­bian epic Car­ol, Todd Haynes made some quite bizarre and bril­liant films, like this one, with my one true crush Julianne Moore, about a house­wife who comes down with a mys­te­ri­ous dis­ease and is exiled to a weird new age recov­ery cen­tre. A kind of take on Sartre’s Nau­sea, but set in mod­ern LA, it was also a com­ment on alien­ation and the AIDS cri­sis, and part of a wave of excel­lent indie films dubbed New Queer Cin­e­ma by the crit­ic B. Ruby Rich.”


I real­ly like the films Dal­las Buy­ers Club and Boys Don’t Cry, but as with gay pro­tag­o­nists, it’s frus­trat­ing for trans char­ac­ters to con­stant­ly be played by cis actors. Espe­cial­ly when films like Tan­ger­ine prove that trans actors can tell their own sto­ries and still make a film a crit­i­cal suc­cess. Sean Bak­er – of The Flori­da Project fame – direct­ed Tan­ger­ine, which is shot on an iPhone ciné­ma vérité style and fol­lows the sto­ry of two trans sex work­ers on a revenge mission.”


So sexy and intrigu­ing! But the first time I watched it I was stoned and it freaked me out so I didn’t go back to it for years, and actu­al­ly only watched it quite recent­ly to find myself annoyed I had been miss­ing out for so long on what is a very good film. What could pos­si­bly be bet­ter than a typ­i­cal­ly dark, eerie and con­vo­lut­ed David Lynch film with a cen­tral les­bian plot line? Nothing.”


Gregg Ara­ki is an incred­i­ble pulpy queer cult direc­tor (who just co-cre­at­ed a TV show called Now Apoc­a­lypse with Kar­ley Sciorti­no). I think Mys­te­ri­ous Skin is one of his best films but it’s quite styl­is­ti­cal­ly dif­fer­ent to a lot of the rest like Total­ly F*cked Up, Nowhere and The Liv­ing End – which all have quite a sim­i­lar vibe; punchy, pop­py and with a focus on rad­i­cal young queers. Those films were all made in the 90s, but Mys­te­ri­ous Skin was made in 2004. It’s about two young boys, played by Joseph Gor­don Levitt and Brady Cor­bett, one of whom grows up to be a hus­tler and the oth­er a UFO obses­sive, and how their lives con­verge around past trauma.”


A camp clas­sic! I watched this over and over when I was a kid. It’s just per­fect­ly sil­ly; the bawdy old school drag queen humour, the out­fits, that icon­ic scene where Guy Pierce as Feli­cia does a lip sync to a song from Madame But­ter­fly on the top of a giant high heeled shoe on the roof of the bus in the mid­dle of the Aus­tralian desert. If this is mak­ing no sense, just go and watch the film. It hasn’t aged that well, to be hon­est, par­tic­u­lar­ly giv­en how much drag has evolved, but it’s still super fun, and a tes­ta­ment to what drag once was.”


This film is so, so good! I guess I would describe it as a fucked up love sto­ry between an orphaned Kore­an pick­pock­et, a con­man and a young Japan­ese woman from a wealthy fam­i­ly. But that under­sells it and ignores the painstak­ing­ly beau­ti­ful detail of the cin­e­matog­ra­phy. It’s based on the Sarah Waters book The Fin­ger­smith, set in Vic­to­ri­an Britain, but Park Chan-Wook trans­pos­es the sto­ry into anoth­er place and time entire­ly: 1930s Colo­nial era Korea and Japan. Full of mind games, great les­bian sex scenes, and total­ly deviant char­ac­ters, it is a must watch.”

Amelia Abraham’s book Queer Inten­tions: A (Per­son­al) Jour­ney Through LGBTQ+ Cul­ture is avail­able to pur­chase here.

00:00 / 00:00