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The 10 Best Lesbian and Queer Movies of All Time

WLW deserve to see their lives represented on screen.

Unless you're white, cis-gendered, and heterosexual, it can be hard to find films that reflect your lived experience.

If you're anything like me, you suffer through even the worst movies just because some Reddit user said there was one lesbian kiss somewhere in the second hour of the film. Womxn-loving-womxn relationships have long been fetishized, ignored, or poorly represented in movies, but thankfully there are a few hidden gems out there that get it right.


Since you can only watch The L Word so many times, here are the best movies for womxn who love womxn.

10. Bound (1996)

If you haven't seen Bound, you're missing out on a true WLW classic. Before the Wachowski siblings hit the big time with The Matrix, they made this unforgettably campy movie starring Jennifer Tilly and Gina Gershon.

The story follows the torrid love affair between a mobster's girlfriend and her lesbian-next-door neighbor. Violet and Corky are as electric as they are funny, and there are plenty of love scenes to make you drool. According to the British Film Institute, "Bound completed a 90s trilogy of (in critic B. Ruby Rich's phrase) 'Lethal Lesbians' films (beginning with Thelma & Louise, 1991, and Basic Instinct, 1992) – a cinematic expression of lesbian feminist desire."

9. The Handmaiden (2016)

Set in the 1930s (who doesn't love a good lesbian period drama?) The Handmaiden is a South Korean erotic psychological thriller directed by Park Chan-wook and starring Kim Min-hee, Kim Tae-ri, Ha Jung-woo and Cho Jin-woong. It takes place in Korea when the country was under Japanese rule, and follows the devious plot of "Count Fujiwara" to steal the inheritance of a rich but secluded heiress. He plans to seduce the heiress and then commit her to an asylum and steal her fortune for himself. He recruits a pickpocket, Sook-hee, to pose as her maid and convince her to marry him. Instead, the heiress and Sook-hee soon begin a sexually intimate relationship. This masterpiece of cinema is worth a watch no matter who you are, but it's definitely an added bonus that it features some of the hottest lesbian love scenes ever put on film.

8. Carol (2015)

Directed by Todd Haynes, this instant classic thrust Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara into the category of queer icons almost immediately. The film is based on Patricia Highsmith's excellent book The Price of Salt, and tells the story of two women, Therese Belevit and Carol Aird, who live very different lives in New York City in the early 1950s. While Therese is struggling to get by working at a department store, Carol is a wealthy, high-society lady in the midst of a messy divorce. Despite everything, the two women have an intense connection that leads them into a tumultuous love affair.

Every performance in this movie is top notch, and it's so beautifully shot and scored that afterwards you can actually feel good about watching a quality film (even if you just put it on for the hot motel scene).

7. Desert Hearts (1985)

This film about seeking independence and self-actualization through a queer romance was astoundingly ahead of it's time. Helen Shaver plays Professor Vivian Bell, who is taking some time for herself at a ranch in Nevada after finalizing her divorce from her husband. She soon meets Cay Rivers, played by Patricia Charbonneau, who lives and works at the ranch. As the two fall in love, the movie reveals itself to be a shockingly progressive meditation on the fluidity of sexuality.

6. Pariah (2011)

A smash hit at its world premiere at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, this stirring film cements the immensity of director/writer Dee Rees' talent. Many directors end up making a coming of age movie that reflects their own experiences, but few offer a perspective as badly needed as Rees' story about her own Black queerness. The film follows the life of a teenager named Alike (artfully played by Adepero Oduye) as she discovers her sexuality and gender identity despite backlash from her more conservative parents. While this movie is often heart-wrenching, it also makes plenty of time for the joy of first love and self-discovery.

5. The Favourite (2018)

Is there anything better than Rachel Weisz, Emma Stone, and Olivia Coleman embroiled in a torrid love triangle? No. The answer is no. Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, this darkly funny period piece about three women's struggle to feel powerful in a patriarchal world is as stirring as it is bizarre. As Weisz and Stone (as Sarah and Abigail) fight for the love of the queen through sexual favors, the audience is taken on a deliciously twisted ride full of desire and the corrupting force of power.

4. Tomboy (2007)

Between Tomboy and Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Céline Sciamma is becoming one of the most prominent figures in queer cinema. While Tomboy has fewer spine-tingling sex scenes than Sciamma's 2019 offering, it's definitely just as powerful of a meditation on what it means to be a queer woman or gender non-conforming individual. The film follows a 10-year-old named Laure who moves to a new town and decides to reinvent herself as the boy she's always wanted to be. As we watch Laure traverse that first summer with her new haircut and oversized T-shirts, it's impossible not to reflect on your own childhood, and all the ways you were shaped by the gender roles you may or may not have ascribed to.

3. The Watermelon Woman (1996)

As Autostraddle puts it, "Cheryl Dunye's debut feature is a work of Black lesbian cinema highly aware of its place within film history." Within this film, Dunye is not only claiming space for her Black lesbian identity; she's also asserting her right to build a world that works for her. Funny, quirky, hot, and occasionally uncomfortable, The Watermelon Woman is required watching.

2. But I'm a Cheerleader (1999)

If you haven't already seen this defining work of queer cinema, it's time to change that before your next Taimi date finds out how behind you are. Perhaps one of the best things about this movie is how thoroughly misunderstood it is by straight audiences and critics. It was first released to very poor reviews because the largely cis-het critics in charge of reviewing the film just could not understand how the traumatic subject matter could exist alongside a decidedly campy, spoofy aesthetic. But the queers get it, and we love it. The movie's satirical bent mocks the absurdity of homophobia while Natasha Lyonne and Clea Duvall give such grounded, relatable performances that you can't help but to feel their specific brand of young queer yearning right alongside them. The movie also includes performances from Melanie Lynskey, Michelle Williams, Cathy Moriarty, Mink Stole, and RuPaul.

1. Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019)

Directed by Céline Sciamma and starring Noémie Merlant and Adèle Haenel, Portrait of a Lady on Fire is one of the most beautiful subversions of the male gaze to ever be shown on a screen. The period piece takes place in France in 1760, and follows the story of portrait painter Marianne (Noémie Merlant), and Héloïse (Adèle Haenel), a rich noblewoman engaged to be married to a man she's never met. Marianne comes to stay with Héloïse in order to secretly paint a portrait of her to be sent to her husband-to-be. What ensues is a powerful battle of wills that ultimately transforms into a firey intimacy between the two women. As I've previously discussed, the most powerful thing about the film is Sciamma's ability to build a world that is almost completely free of toxic masculine energy or the male gaze.

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