Throughout the history of cinema, countless films have explored the LGBTQ+ experience, showcasing the beauty, resilience, and diversity of the community. These stories have played a significant role in breaking stereotypes, promoting understanding, and fostering acceptance.
In this article, we present the 11 best gay movies of all time (that not everyone knows), celebrating the richness and depth of LGBTQ+ characters and narratives. Additionally, we highlight the unique opportunity to relive some of these films in person with Quiiky Tour Operator.
Our selection of the best gay movies
His secret life (2001)
“His Secret Life” (2001), also known as “Le Fate Ignoranti” in Italian, is a drama film directed by Ferzan Özpetek, set in the enchanting city of Rome. The film tells the story of Antonia (Margherita Buy), a woman who discovers her recently deceased husband, Massimo, had a secret life involving a long-term relationship with a man.
Following Massimo’s unexpected death in a car accident, Antonia accidentally comes across a love letter written to him by a man named Michele (Stefano Accorsi). Intrigued and confused, she decides to track down Michele to learn more about her husband’s secret life, which takes her on a journey through the historic streets and neighborhoods of Rome.
As Antonia delves deeper into her husband’s hidden world, she discovers that Michele was indeed her husband’s lover for several years, and they shared a close-knit group of friends, most of whom belong to the LGBTQ+ community. The vibrant and diverse community is set against the backdrop of Rome’s stunning architecture and timeless beauty, adding to the film’s emotional depth.
Throughout the film, Antonia not only confronts her feelings of betrayal and confusion but also forms strong bonds with Michele and his friends, experiencing the warmth and openness of the Roman LGBTQ+ community. The film explores themes of love, loss, friendship, and self-discovery as Antonia navigates her way through grief and comes to terms with her husband’s hidden life.
“His Secret Life” is a heartfelt, emotional drama that delves into the complexities of human relationships, acceptance, and the transformative power of friendship. Rome’s captivating setting serves as a beautiful backdrop to the story, enhancing the film’s exploration of love, betrayal, and personal growth.
“God’s Own Country” (2017) is a British romantic drama film written and directed by Francis Lee. The film tells the story of a young farmer named Johnny Saxby (Josh O’Connor) and his relationship with a Romanian migrant worker, Gheorghe Ionescu (Alec Secareanu), against the backdrop of the rural English countryside.
Johnny lives and works on his family’s failing farm in Yorkshire, alongside his father, Martin (Ian Hart), and grandmother, Deirdre (Gemma Jones). Johnny’s life is filled with heavy drinking and casual sex to numb the pain of his loneliness and the overwhelming responsibility of managing the farm, as his father’s health is declining.
When lambing season approaches, the farm hires Gheorghe, a Romanian migrant worker, to help with the workload. Initially, Johnny is hostile towards Gheorghe, but as they spend more time together working on the isolated farm, their relationship evolves into a passionate and tender romance.
As Johnny and Gheorghe’s love grows, Johnny begins to confront his own feelings, desires, and the harsh realities of his life on the farm. The film explores themes of love, self-acceptance, and the transformative power of human connection, as Johnny learns to embrace his true self and the possibilities of a more fulfilling life with Gheorghe.
“God’s Own Country” is a poignant and heartfelt portrayal of a gay relationship, set against the stark and stunning landscapes of the Yorkshire countryside. The film received critical acclaim for its sensitive storytelling, naturalistic performances by O’Connor and Secareanu, and its authentic depiction of rural life and queer love.
“Moonlight” (2016) is a critically acclaimed coming-of-age drama directed by Barry Jenkins, which follows the life of Chiron, a young African-American man growing up in a rough Miami neighborhood. The film explores Chiron’s struggles with his identity, sexuality, and relationships throughout different stages of his life: childhood, adolescence, and adulthood.
As a child, Chiron, nicknamed “Little,” is quiet, introverted, and often bullied by his classmates. He finds solace and guidance in Juan, a local drug dealer, and his girlfriend Teresa, who become surrogate parental figures in his life. Chiron’s relationship with his mother, Paula, is strained due to her addiction issues.
During his teenage years, Chiron continues to face bullying and becomes increasingly aware of his homosexuality. His relationship with his best friend, Kevin, evolves into a romantic encounter, which becomes a turning point in Chiron’s life. However, this newfound intimacy is short-lived, as a violent incident at school forces Chiron to confront the harsh realities of his surroundings.
As a young adult, Chiron moves to Atlanta and adopts the nickname “Black,” following in Juan’s footsteps as a drug dealer in an attempt to escape his past and forge a new identity. However, a surprise phone call from Kevin leads Chiron to reevaluate his life and face the unresolved emotions and experiences from his past.
“Moonlight” is a poignant and powerful exploration of identity, sexuality, and the human experience, with outstanding performances and a unique narrative structure that make it a standout film in the world of LGBTQ+ cinema.
The Shiny Shrimps” (2019)
“The Shiny Shrimps” (2019), originally titled “Les Crevettes Pailletées” in French, is a comedy-drama film directed by Maxime Govare and Cédric Le Gallo. The film revolves around a gay water polo team and their quest to compete in the Gay Games, offering a light-hearted and uplifting exploration of LGBTQ+ themes.
The story begins when Matthias Le Goff (Nicolas Gob), a professional swimmer and Olympic champion, makes a homophobic remark during a live television interview. As a consequence, he is ordered to coach the Shiny Shrimps, an amateur, all-gay water polo team, as a form of community service and redemption.
The Shiny Shrimps have their sights set on participating in the Gay Games, a major international LGBTQ+ sporting event held in Croatia. Despite their lack of discipline and serious commitment to the sport, the team members share a strong bond and a love for having fun. Matthias, initially reluctant to work with the team, soon finds himself drawn to their camaraderie, energy, and positivity.
As Matthias coaches the team and they embark on a road trip to the Gay Games, he learns valuable lessons about acceptance, friendship, and what it means to be part of a community. The film showcases the diverse personalities and backgrounds of the team members, touching on themes of self-acceptance, personal growth, and the importance of standing up against prejudice.
“The Shiny Shrimps” is a feel-good, heartwarming film that combines comedy and drama to tell an uplifting story about an unconventional sports team and their journey of personal growth and self-discovery. The film’s focus on LGBTQ+ characters and themes, combined with its humorous and endearing storytelling, has made it a popular entry in the queer cinema landscape.
Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019)
“Portrait of a Lady on Fire” (2019) is a French historical drama film directed by Céline Sciamma. The film is set in the late 18th century and tells the story of a forbidden love affair between two women, making it a significant entry in the lesbian film canon.
The story follows Marianne (Noémie Merlant), a young artist commissioned to paint a wedding portrait of Héloïse (Adèle Haenel), a reluctant bride-to-be who has recently left a convent. Héloïse’s mother, the Countess, hires Marianne under the pretense of being a companion to Héloïse, as her daughter refuses to pose for the portrait. Marianne must observe Héloïse during the day and secretly paint her portrait at night, without her knowledge.
As the two women spend time together, they begin to form a deep bond, which gradually evolves into a passionate romance. They share intimate moments and intellectual conversations, exploring their desires and emotions in a time when same-sex relationships were strictly forbidden. Their love affair is fleeting, as the completion of the portrait signifies the impending end of their time together and Héloïse’s marriage to a man she does not love.
“Portrait of a Lady on Fire” is considered a lesbian film due to its exploration of the emotional and physical relationship between Marianne and Héloïse. The film delves into themes of love, desire, and the female gaze, while also examining the constraints placed on women’s lives and choices during the 18th century. The movie’s tender and passionate portrayal of a lesbian romance, combined with its striking cinematography and compelling performances, has made it a celebrated work in LGBTQ+ cinema.
“Brotherhood” (2009), originally titled “Broderskab” in Danish, is a Danish drama film directed by Nicolo Donato. The film explores themes of love, identity, and acceptance, set against the backdrop of a far-right extremist group.
The story follows Lars (Thure Lindhardt), a former Danish army officer who is forced to leave the military due to his homosexuality. Disillusioned and struggling to find his place, Lars is drawn to a neo-Nazi group led by the charismatic Michael (Nicolas Bro). The group preaches hate and intolerance towards minorities, including LGBTQ+ individuals.
As Lars becomes more involved with the group, he meets Jimmy (David Dencik), another member who shares a secret: he is also gay. Despite the dangerous and hostile environment they find themselves in, Lars and Jimmy develop a strong connection, and their relationship evolves into a passionate and clandestine loveaffair.
The two men struggle to reconcile their feelings for each other with their involvement in the extremist group, which poses a significant threat to their lives and well-being. Their forbidden love is tested as they face the consequences of their actions and the prospect of being discovered by the group.
“Brotherhood” is a powerful and thought-provoking film that delves into the complexities of love, identity, and the challenges faced by LGBTQ+ individuals in a world of hate and prejudice. The film has been praised for its strong performances, particularly by Lindhardt and Dencik, and its compelling exploration of the human experience in the face of adversity.
Set in the early 1980s, the film follows the tender romance between Elio Perlman (Timothée Chalamet), a 17-year-old Italian-American, and Oliver (Armie Hammer), a 24-year-old American graduate student who comes to stay with Elio’s family for the summer.
As their relationship blossoms, the enchanting setting of Crema, a picturesque town in Lombardy, Italy, plays an essential role in their love story. The idyllic Italian countryside, characterized by its lush, rolling hills, quaint villages, and historic architecture, provides an evocative backdrop that perfectly complements the film’s themes of love, desire, and self-discovery.
The movie showcases various locations in and around Crema, inviting viewers to become immersed in the vibrant Italian culture and stunning landscapes. Some of the notable sites featured in the film include the Perlman family’s villa, which is an actual 17th-century mansion located in the town of Moscazzano, and the Piazza del Duomo in Crema, where Elio and Oliver enjoy leisurely bike rides and casual strolls.
Another prominent location is the serene Lake Garda, Italy’s largest lake, which serves as the backdrop for Elio and Oliver’s memorable day trip. The crystal-clear waters, picturesque shorelines, and breathtaking mountain views further amplify the film’s dreamy, romantic atmosphere.
Call Me by Your Name not only captures the essence of a passionate summer romance but also transports its audience to the beautiful landscapes of Crema and Lombardy, making viewers feel as though they, too, are part of Elio and Oliver’s unforgettable journey.
“J’ai tué ma mère” (2009), translated to “I Killed My Mother” in English, is a Canadian drama film written and directed by Xavier Dolan. The film is considered a gay-themed work due to its exploration of the protagonist’s sexuality and the challenges he faces as a young gay man.
The story follows Hubert Minel (Xavier Dolan), a 16-year-old gay teenager living in suburban Montreal with his mother, Chantale (Anne Dorval). Hubert’s relationship with Chantale is tumultuous, characterized by frequent arguments and an apparent lack of understanding between them. Their strained relationship is further complicated by Hubert’s emerging sexuality and his coming-of-age struggles.
As Hubert tries to navigate his complex feelings towards his mother, his relationship with his boyfriend, Antonin (François Arnaud), offers him solace and emotional support. Hubert’s journey of self-discovery is marked by the challenge of reconciling his sexual identity and his turbulent relationship with Chantale, ultimately leading to a greater understanding of his mother and himself.
“J’ai tué ma mère” is considered a gay film because of its portrayal of Hubert’s sexuality and the exploration of themes related to coming out, self-acceptance, and the challenges faced by LGBTQ+ youth. Xavier Dolan’s directorial debut offers a personal and intimate look at the complex dynamics between a young gay man and his mother, making it a notable addition to LGBTQ+ cinema.
“Bent” (1997) is a British-Japanese drama film directed by Sean Mathias, based on the 1979 play of the same name by Martin Sherman. The film is considered a gay-themed work due to its exploration of the experiences of homosexual men during the Holocaust and the challenges they faced under the Nazi regime.
The story follows Max (Clive Owen), a gay man living in 1930s Berlin during the rise of the Nazis. Max enjoys a hedonistic lifestyle, partying and engaging in casual relationships with men, including his boyfriend Rudy (Brian Webber). Their lives take a tragic turn when Max and Rudy are arrested by the Gestapo after a crackdown on homosexuals.
Max is sent to the Dachau concentration camp, where he pretends to be a Jew instead of a homosexual, believing it will improve his chances of survival. In the camp, he meets Horst (Lothaire Bluteau), a gay man forced to wear the pink triangle, which was used to identify homosexuals in Nazi concentration camps. Despite the horrific conditions and constant fear, Max and Horst develop a deep bond and find solace in each other’s company, even though they cannot express their love physically.
The film portrays the brutality and inhumanity that homosexuals faced during the Holocaust, as well as the courage, resilience, and strength of those who found ways to maintain their dignity and humanity in the face of unimaginable suffering.
“Bent” is considered a gay film because it sheds light on a lesser-known aspect of the Holocaust and the persecution of homosexuals under the Nazi regime. The film delves into themes of love, identity, and survival, while also highlighting the power of human connection in the most dire of circumstances. “Bent” has been praised for its powerful performances, poignant storytelling, and its important contribution to the representation of LGBTQ+ history in cinema.
My Own Private Idaho (1991)
“My Own Private Idaho” (1991) is an American independent drama film written and directed by Gus Van Sant. The film is considered a gay-themed work due to its exploration of the protagonists’ sexuality and the challenges they face as young men involved in the world of male prostitution.
The story follows Mike Waters (River Phoenix) and Scott Favor (Keanu Reeves), two friends who work as male prostitutes on the streets of Portland, Oregon. Mike, who is gay, suffers from narcolepsy, a condition that causes him to fall asleep suddenly, often during moments of emotional stress. Scott, on the other hand, is the rebellious son of a wealthy family and identifies as straight but engages in sex work as a means of defying his father.
As they navigate their lives on the fringes of society, the two embark on a journey that takes them across the American Pacific Northwest and eventually to Mike’s hometown in Idaho in search of his estranged mother. Along the way, they encounter a diverse array of characters and experiences, from the world of street hustling to a Shakespearean underworld of drifters and criminals.
Throughout the film, Mike develops deeper feelings for Scott, though their relationship remains complicated due to Scott’s sexual orientation and his ultimate goal to inherit his father’s wealth. “My Own Private Idaho” delves into themes of love, desire, friendship, and the search for identity, particularly in the context of the protagonists’ lives as young, marginalized men.
“My Own Private Idaho” has been praised for its innovative storytelling, strong performances by Phoenix and Reeves, and its unique and influential approach to queer cinema.
Brokeback Mountain (2005)
“Brokeback Mountain” (2005) is a groundbreaking romantic drama directed by Ang Lee, based on the short story by Annie Proulx. The film is set in the American West during the 1960s and follows the complex and emotional relationship between two cowboys, Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal).
The story begins in 1963 when Ennis and Jack are both hired to herd sheep on Brokeback Mountain in Wyoming. During their time together, isolated from the rest of the world, they form a deep bond, and one night, their friendship evolves into a passionate sexual encounter. Though both men initially deny their feelings for each other, they continue their secret love affair throughout the summer.
As the season comes to an end, Ennis and Jack part ways and attempt to lead “normal” lives. Ennis marries his fiancée, Alma (Michelle Williams), and starts a family, while Jack moves to Texas, marries a woman named Lureen (Anne Hathaway), and becomes a father. Despite their separate lives, the two men remainhauntedby their intense connection and continue to meet for secret trysts over the years.
The film explores the difficulties Ennis and Jack face in reconciling their love for each other with the expectations of their families, society, and themselves. As they navigate the complexities of their relationship, they struggle with internalized homophobia, societal prejudice, and the consequences of living a double life.
Relive Your Best Gay Movies with Quiiky Tour Operator
Now that you’ve revisited the 11 best gay movies of all time, why not carry on your love of LGBTQ+ cinema by experiencing in person some of these stories set in Italy, such as those of Call Me By Your Name in the beautiful landscapes of Lombardy or those of “His Secret Life” in beautiful and magnificent Rome?
Quiiky Tour Operator offers unique and customized travel experiences that allow you to visit iconic film locations, explore Italian LGBTQ+ history, and immerse yourself in local culture.
Are you ready to embark on a unique journey into the world of LGBTQ+ cinema? Visit Quiiky.com to book your personalized tour and immerse yourself in the unforgettable stories that have shaped our understanding of love, identity, and the human experience.