Queer Culture

The Best Lesbian Movies of All Time


Historically, portrayals of lesbians and same-sex relationships in American film were extremely limited due to the Hays Code. The Hays Code, enacted in response to the wild and roaring 20’s, was a set of moral standards dictating what was appropriate and inappropriate to show in movies. These rules censored everything from nudity and profanity to inferences of sexual “perversion” and portrayals of interracial relationships. Due to these strict guidelines, lesbianism in film was largely regulated to subtext. 

Germany’s Mädchen in Uniform (1931), known at the first lesbian feature film, managed to sneak through the code for a limited US release thanks to support from Eleanor Roosevelt. Enforcement of the code slackened by the 1960’s, and The Children’s Hour, starring Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine, became the first American film to explicitly reference same-sex attraction between two women. 

The 60s-80s saw a dearth of lesbian movies, and the next major release didn’t arrive until 1985 with the romantic drama film Desert Hearts. The 90s and early aughts were a golden era of lesbian movies, though many have been criticized for tragic portrayals and low-quality content. Currently, there are more movies featuring queer leads than ever before, but there is still a long way to go in terms of fair and accurate representation. 

How to use Netflix codes to search for queer content

Netflix has thousands of titles in its library with new content added and removed every month. Finding something to watch is overwhelming and can lead to hours of aimless browsing. Thankfully, Netflix uses secret codes to organize their movies and shows by genre. These codes range from broad to specific and known codes for LGBTQ content include:

5977 – LGBTQ Movies 

7120 – LGBTQ Comedies 

500 – LGBTQ Dramas

3329 -Romantic LGBTQ Movies 

8243 – Foreign LGBTQ Movies

4720 – LGBTQ Documentaries

65263 – LGBTQ TV Shows 

Using Netflix codes is simple. Copy and paste this link into your browser — https://www.netflix.com/browse/genre/[code]. Then, replace [code] with the corresponding numbers above. 

For example, https://www.netflix.com/browse/genre/5977 will direct you to LGBTQ movies while https://www.netflix.com/browse/genre/500 leads to LGBTQ dramas

As of now, you can only use Netflix codes on your web browser. These codes don’t work on your Netflix app or smart TV. Instead, you have to search for the specific genre or type LGBTQ and a list of genres will pop up. Click on the one you want and you’re good to go!

Recent Lesbian Films

The Favourite (2018)

Starring Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz, The Favourite is a twisty tale of two cousins competing to be the Queen’s well…favorite. The period dramedy is loosely based on Queen Anne, who reigned over Great Britain from 1702 to 1714. In the film, the Queen’s companion and confidante, Sarah Churchill (Weisz), takes care of the oft-ill Queen and runs the court in her absence. Sarah is effectively in charge of the country. When Sarah’s cousin Abigail (Stone) arrives and begins vying for the Queen’s affections, a darkly comedic love triangle and a power struggle ensues.

Hearts Beat Loud (2018)

A record store owner in Brooklyn (Nick Offerman) tries to convince his daughter Sam (Kiersey Clemons) to start a band with him. Sam refuses; she plans to move to the West Coast to study medicine leaving her father and girlfriend (Sasha Lane) behind. The feel-good film is both a sweet father-daughter story and a groundbreaking portrayal of young love between two queer women of color.  

The Miseducation of Cameron Post (2018)

Based on the Emily Danforth novel of the same name and directed by Desiree Akhavan, the movie centers Cameron Post (Chloë Grace Moretz), a teenager who’s sent to a gay conversion camp after being caught with another girl. Even though her circumstances are dire, Cameron finds friends and herself along the way in this poignant coming of age tale set in the early 90s.

Other titles to check out: Can You Ever Forgive Me, Duck Butter

Lesbian Romance Movies

Disobedience (2017)

Another novel adaptation, Disobedience is a story of forbidden love. After the death of her father, Ronit (Rachel Weisz) returns to the strict Orthodox community she fled in her youth. While there, Ronit reconnects with childhood friend, Esti (Rachel McAdams) and the two confront the same romantic feelings for each other that drove them apart years before. 

The Kids Are All Right (2010)

Though this is a divisive film in the queer community, it was one of the first mainstream releases to portray a same sex household and received an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture. Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore) are a married couple with two teenage kids. Their kids are curious about their sperm donor and track down Paul (Mark Ruffalo). Paul enthusiastically enters their lives, shaking up an already modern family. 

I Can’t Think Straight (2008)

Directed by lesbian novelist Shamim Sarif, I Can’t Think Straight is a British romantic comedy starring Lisa Ray and Sheetal Sheth in their second romantic film together (the first being Sarif’s 2007 period drama The World Unseen). In the film, two women from very different worlds collide: Tala, a Palestinian Christian engaged to be married and Leyla, a British Indian Muslim. Tala and Leyla meet through mutual friends and though they challenge each other’s political and religious belief systems, they soon fall in love. But, family expectations and Tala’s impending nuptials threaten to come between the star crossed lovers. 

Imagine Me & You (2005)

This lighthearted rom-com stars Piper Perabo and Lena Heady as Rachel and Luce. On Rachel’s wedding day, she locks eyes with her florist, Luce, across the room. Luce introduces herself to Rachel during the reception and the two share a meet-cute moment. Knowing nothing can come from their encounter since Rachel just got married, they go their separate ways. Weeks pass, but  Rachel can’t get Luce out of her head. She goes to Luce’s flower shop and invites her to dinner. Rachel and Luce begin spending time together as friends, but it becomes apparent there is something more between them.


Saving Face (2004)

Directed by Alice Wu and inspired by her personal experiences, Saving Face is a story about the difficulties of coming out in a Chinese American community. Successful surgeon Wil is closeted to her family. When she begins a relationship with Vivian, a dancer facing her own familial pressure, Wil considers coming out and introducing Vivian to her family. Will Wil and Vivian get their happy ending or are the confines of family, culture, and community too powerful to overcome?


If These Walls Could Talk 2 (2000)

The film portrays three lesbian relationships set in the same house over different time periods. In 1961, Edith and Abby are an elderly couple who have been together for 30 years. They live in a time when society doesn’t acknowledge their relationship The second story takes place in 1972. A group of lesbian feminists live in the house together. One of them, Linda (Michelle Williams) is courted by Amy (Chloe Sevigny), a butch woman, and Linda’s friends don’t approve. Then in  2000, Fran (Sharon Stone) and Kal (Ellen DeGeneres) want to have a baby together but struggle to conceive.


Desert Hearts (1986)

Desert Hearts was one of the earliest films to portray a lesbian relationship in a positive light. Vivian, a stiff English professor travelling to Reno to speed up her divorce, meets Cay, a carefree young artist, along the way. Vivian, first turned off by Cay’s brashness and candor about her sexuality, begins to loosen up. Vivian and Cay grow closer, eventually kissing, and must decide where to take their relationship next.


Other titles to check out: Below Her Mouth, Bound, Fried Green Tomatoes, Boys on the Side, Jenny’s Wedding, Cloudburst 

Lesbian Teen/Coming Out Stories

First Girl I Loved (2016)

A poignant and heartbreaking portrait of high school first love. Awkward Anne (Dylan Gelula) develops a crush on softball star, Sasha. They start hanging out and their friendship turns into something more after exchanging flirty texts with one another. When a real life encounter leads to a public kiss, Sasha pulls away leaving Anne hurt and confused. 


Pariah (2011)

Pariah is a semi-autobiographical coming of age story based on director Dee Rees’s own coming out experience. 17 year old Alike (Adepero Oduye) is grappling with her intersecting identities as a black, queer, masculine of center young woman. She feels most comfortable in men’s clothing, but her mother forces Alike to be more feminine. Alike has to hide the truest parts of herself and lead two separate lives: one where she’s immersed in the AG lesbian subculture and the other as a devoted daughter and straight A student. What happens when Alike’s conflicting lives begin to overlap?


But I’m a Cheerleader (1999)

This satirical comedy has a surprising amount of heart. Bubbly high school cheerleader Megan played by Natasha Lyonne is sent to gay conversion camp by her parents. The camp utilizes a five-step program promising to “cure” homosexuality. Megan is determined to ace all five steps and complete the program when she accidentally falls for fellow camper Graham (Clea DuVall). The movie also stars RuPaul as a flamboyant “ex-gay” counselor.  

Other titles to check out: Princess Cyd, Lost and Delirious, Loving Annabelle, Mosquita y Mari, My Summer of Love, The Incredibly True Adventures of Two Girls in Love

Historic Lesbian Films

Battle of the Sexes (2017)

Battle of the Sexes is a biographical film about Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and her riveting 1973 tennis match against rival Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell). The match, which was watched by an estimated 90 million viewers, was a significant part of the Women’s Liberation Movement became a symbol of female empowerment. Leading up to the match, King, who is married, has an affair with a woman and begins questioning her sexuality. 

Carol (2015)

Based on Patricia Highsmith’s seminal classic The Price of Salt, Cate Blanchett stars as the titular Carol, an intoxicating woman who catches the eye of department store clerk, Therese (Rooney Mara). The two women are at a crossroads: Carol is going through a divorce and custody battle; Therese is stuck in a dead-end relationship. They begin a slow burn courtship thwarted by societal conventions of the 1950s and Carol’s embittered ex-husband. During a road trip together, the engrossing will-they-or-won’t-they reaches a climax and the two women are forced to confront their feelings for one another. 

Other titles to check out: The Hours, The Runaways, The World Unseen, Gia, Aimee & Jaguar

Lesbian Comedy and Drama

Appropriate Behavior (2014)

In Desiree Akhavan’s sharp directorial debut, a bisexual woman (payed by Akhavan) deals with a difficult breakup and trying to come out to her Iranian American family. The breakup turns Shirin’s life upside down as Shirin, now homeless and jobless, must navigate the responsibilities of adulthood and Brooklyn’s dating scene as a single woman. 

D.E.B.S (2004)

Now a cult classic, D.E.B.S turns a well known action movie trope (hero falls in love with villain) on its head. This parody film features a Charlie’s Angel-esque group of spies tasked with capturing the elusive criminal mastermind, Lucy Diamond (Jordana Brewster). While the group is gathering intel, lead agent Amy has a literal run-in with Lucy. Amy is taken aback by Lucy’s charms and lets her escape. The encounter leaves both women fixated on each other resulting in an alluring game of cat and mouse. 


Other titles to check out: The Intervention, High Art

Foreign Lesbian Movies

The Handmaiden (2016)

Sarah Waters’ popular lesbian novel Fingersmith has inspired multiple adaptations including the critically acclaimed Korean film, The Handmaiden. The film swaps a Victorian-era London setting for Japanese occupied Korea. A con man wants to marry the heiress Lady Hideko, commit her to an asylum, and steal her fortune. He seeks help from a pickpocket named Sook-hee. Sook-hee agrees and poses as the heiress’ maid. But Sook-hee grows fond of Lady Hideko and she no longer wants to betray her. 

Blue is the Warmest Color (2013)

This highly buzzed-about French romance is well known for its explicit 6-minute love scene. Based on a 2010 graphic novel, the movie revolves around 15-year-old Adèle and follows her into adulthood. Adèle, who has been questioning her sexuality, is instantly drawn to a blue-haired art student she crosses paths with on the street. When they unexpectedly meet again, the two girls begin a passionate relationship together. 

Other titles to check out: Fucking Amal (Show Me Love), Water Lilies, Kyss Mig 

Lesbian Musicals

Rent (2005)

Adapted from the Tony Award winning Broadway production, Rent is the story of six bohemian New Yorkers struggling to pay rent at the height of the AIDS crisis. Among the ensemble are girlfriends Maureen (Idina Menzel) and Joanne (Tracie Thoms). Maureen is a provocative performance artist while Joanne is a straight laced Harvard grad. The couple’s differences cause friction in their relationship which comes to a head when Maureen gives Joanne an ultimatum: “take me for what I am, or leave me.” 

Other titles to check out: Girltrash: All Night Long

Lesbian Documentaries

Edie and Thea: A Very Long Engagement (2009)

This documentary is best known for what happened after its release. The film follows Edie and Thea, a lesbian couple who met in 1963 and had a relationship spanning over 40 years. In 2007, the couple married in Canada since same sex marriage was not legal New York where they lived. Thea died before the film’s release leaving Edie with a massive estate tax bill that she would be exempt from had their marriage been recognized in the US. Edith Windsor took her case all the way to the Supreme Court. Her landmark victory deemed the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional in 2013 and paved the way for marriage equality. 


Other titles to check out: Tig, Freeheld


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