10 Most Influential LGBTQIA Movies

Harvey Milk led a one-man revolution, inspiring a group of young people to become gay rights activists.


June is LGBTQIA Pride Month! To celebrate and make sure readers know we are united with them, I decided it would be meaningful to come up with a list of most influential LGBTQIA movies, music, and television. As a part of the community, I felt as if I owed this piece of work to the LGBTQIA community. Here is my piece of work from all of us with love!

Out of all the categories, movies were most difficult for me. I did not include documentaries, as I could do a whole story based strictly on those. As you can imagine, picking 10 was difficult. If you asked me for my top five favorites, some may not be on list, but I am thinking on influence on the community and the world as a whole. I encourage you to check out all of the entertainment categories and the selections I have chosen. I have left links to trailers, videos, etc., to introduce you to the selections.

The Most Influential LGBTQIA Movies

10. Desert Hearts (tie) | This movie was the first lesbian movie I ever watched. It is known as a classic among many, the first film that actually showed a happy ending for the two involved. It is often identified as the first, most significantly impactful portrayal of a lesbian relationship. For a movie made in 1985, it certainly pushed boundaries. Desert Hearts trailer

10. Tangerine (tie) | Shot completely with three iPhone 5s smartphones, this movie follows the lives of transgender sex workers. The movie and the actors in it created a great deal of buzz around awards season. While the Oscars did not pick it up, the cast and crew won many other awards, and rightfully so, as the movie took a real look at transgender women. Mya Taylor stole the show in this one. Tangerine trailer

9. Making Love | Here is a movie that you may not have heard of in 2016, but it was way ahead of its time in 1982. Starring Kate Jackson and Harry Hamlin, Making Love is the story of a married couple, but the husband was struggling with his sexuality. It is often credited as the first mainstream LGBTQIA movie, and had the theme of struggling with identity, along with the impact this could have on marriage. Making Love trailer

8. My Own Private Idaho | This 1991 independent film starring River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves was another coming-of-age film that was ahead of its time. The pair played street hustlers who often “tricked” for money, as needed. It takes a look at the pair’s adventure and even the struggle to figure out their identities. My Own Private Idaho trailer

7. But I’m a Cheerleader | This is absolutely one of my favorite LGBTQIA movies of all time. Starring a young Clea Duvall and Natasha Lyonne, the story takes Lyonne’s character to a “conversion therapy” camp, as her family and friends stage an intervention about her “lesbian characteristics.” While the movie is fun and campy at time, you know these things actually exist around the world, and you feel sadness in parts. But I’m a Cheerleader trailer

6. Torch Song Trilogy | This is a collection of three plays by Harvey Fierstein. The story centers around Arnold, a torch song–singing Jewish drag queen who lives in New York City. We see each phase of his life throughout the movie. The theatrical production of this play occurred in 1978, and then was adapted into a movie in 1988. The play and its adaptation are considered groundbreaking; Fierstein’s search for love and acceptance is beautiful. Torch Song Trilogy trailer

5. Carol | Many may be upset I did not rank this movie higher. While it deserves extremely high praise, I felt the four in front of it deserved to be where they were as far as being influential movies. Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara are completely perfect in this film, both as individuals and together as a couple. We see a story that probably happened too much in the 1950s, the time period for this movie. The film received accolades from many sources, but escaped the Oscar nods, which caused yet another big stir regarding the lack of diversity. Carol trailer

4. Brokeback Mountain | This movie won an Oscar in 2005 which was well deserved as it was a true gay romance story told so beautifully on the big screen. Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal’s performances in this movie are ones of Hollywood legends. It was such intimate look into the love, the pain, and the desire of these two characters. The conclusion of the movie is such a gut wrench of epic proportions. It was truly a one of kind movie. Brokeback Mountain trailer

3. Philadelphia | Tom Hanks has never been one to back away from difficult roles, and this was no exception. The movie stars two legendary Hollywood leading men in Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington; we are also introduced to a fairly new actor, Antonio Banderas, who played Hanks’ partner. Philadelphia was the first movie to really tackle homophobia and the AIDS epidemic. Hanks won an Oscar for his portrayal of Andrew Beckett, a “whiz kid” attorney who loses his job when his firm finds out his HIV status and sexual orientation. This movie won many accolades throughout awards season, and also had a powerful soundtrack led by Bruce Springsteen—who won the Oscar for Best Original Song, “Streets of Philadelphia.” Philadelphia trailer

2. Boys Don’t Cry | Hillary Swank played the role of Brandon Teena, a transgender male, and a brought this true story to the big screen. (If you are not familiar with Teena’s story, I encourage each one of you to find out a little more.) The story deals with Brandon’s life, the ups and downs he faced on a daily basis, and the tragic way his life ended. This brought a lot of attention to the danger many transgender people face on a daily basis. The film was critically acclaimed by critics, and Swank topped off the performance by winning the Best Actress Oscar. Boys Don’t Cry trailer

1. Milk | This 2008 film is a biographical piece on the larger-than-life gay rights activist Harvey Milk, played by Sean Penn, who brings the man to life. We see the transition of Milk from his early days, to his beginnings and subsequent growth as an activist for the gay community. (For more about Milk’s life, here is a good place to start.) Milk led a one-man revolution, inspiring a group of young people to become gay rights activists. After running for public office several times, he finally succeeded in winning a seat on the San Francisco Board of Advisors, becoming the first openly gay person to be elected to office in the State of California in 1977. Sadly, Milk and the Mayor of San Francisco, George Moscone, were assassinated by a disgruntled board member. The movie won many awards, including the Best Actor Oscar for Penn. Milk trailer

Thanks for taking the time to read! I want to hear from you about ones we may have omitted. What are the most influential to you? Please let us hear in the Comments section. Have a Happy Pride, everyone! | Tracy Fort

See also:
10 Most Influential LGBTQIA Musicians
10 Most Influential LGBTQIA Television Shows

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