If you grew up gay in an era before Netflix, you probably remember watching your first low-budget, straight-to-DVD (or straight-to-VHS!) LGBT romance movie. These movies had none of the critical fanfare of your Brokebacks or even the cult following that propelled the likes of But I’m a Cheerleader and Bound to the forefront of our queer entertainment-starved collective consciousness. You only stumbled on them because they were the only single-copy rental resting on the new release wall at your local Blockbuster Video. And if you were anything like me, you would devour them discreetly while the rest of the family was asleep.
Many of these movies flew under the cineplex radar because of their subject matter, but more than anything else, their typically questionable quality never made them must-sees for anyone but young gay teens with no other options. Most of them aped the same tortured themes that mainstream movies were interested in exploring with gay characters. Namely: Coming out, the inner turmoil that comes from coming out, coming out and getting AIDS, or getting brutalized just after you’ve come out. But thankfully, a few more lighthearted films made it through without dwelling too seriously on any of these subjects. Movies like The Broken Hearts Club, Trick, and Mambo Italiano—while not good, exactly—stick out in my mind as romcoms that felt honest and gay and, most importantly, fun.
With the advent of crowdfunding and the increased accessibility of filmmaking technology, the barrier to entry to producing a movie has been lowered considerably. And thanks to streaming services like Netflix, seeing these movies outside of your local arthouse or LGBT film festival is finally a possibility. This is a doubled-edged sword for queer folk today. Accessibility is almost always a good thing, but without even the most basic obstacles to making a movie—like, a budget—what was once a pretty sparse playing field is now riddled with unwatchable softcore indie disasters.
Surveying the selection of 58 movies categorized as LGBT Romances currently available to stream on Netflix, the options can seem overwhelming. You’ve probably already been burnt by one (or more) of these movies before and don’t feel like sifting through the muck to find a gem. That’s where I come in. Masochist that I am, I decided to watch all 58 movies and rank them below. My method is hardly scientific—wildly, I picked the movies I liked best. I’m not a critic, but if there’s one thing I know, it’s a good romance.
While you'll find many of these rankings to be maddeningly arbitrary, the one concrete criterion in my little grading rubric is that the movie must depict something resembling a romance. If it doesn’t, that’s a little like forgetting to put your name on your test and automatically failing—although it's admittedly Netflix's fault for falling asleep at the genre categorization wheel.
So let’s begin:
58. Ambrosia (2012)
Netflix Synopsis: A beautiful fashion designer’s excitement in landing a dream job is complicated when her lesbian boss takes more than a professional interest in her.
There are a handful of movies on this list that I’ve ranked low purely because they seem grossly miscategorized as romances. That’s true of Ambrosia, but it’s also just a truly bad movie. What begins as a prototypical “wife in bad marriage finds comfort in a local lesbian” story instead turns into a limp, poorly written, acted and shot “wife is continually harassed in a bathroom by a predatory lesbian” story. The whole thing reads more like a faith-based film rather than anything resembling a compelling lesbian romance.
57. All Yours (2014)
A tattooed Argentine cad. A pudgy baker. Their flirty cashier co-worker. As love triangles go, this one is a bit odd.
This description doesn’t come right out and say this is a romcom, but leading with genre keywords like “love triangle,” “flirty,” and “pudgy” definitely oversells both the rom and com aspects of this movie. It’s a finely crafted piece of filmmaking, but takes such a bleak view of what it means to be gay (any man-on-man affection in this movie made me feel so desperately sad about being gay in general that I had to remind myself my life isn’t a dour European indie) that it’s hard to recommend All Yours for anything beyond the hard Argentinian dick on full display in the cold open.
56. The Country Teacher (2008)
After breaking off a relationship with another man, a teacher takes a job in a small Czech village, where he develops a close friendship with a widow.
Another curiously categorized “romance.” This movie does feature two graphic cow-birthing scenes and one instance of child rape, but there really isn’t much romance to be found. Listen, I know this is a highbrow movie I’m supposed to admire, and I fully admit I’m probably not enough of a cinephile to appreciate its technical prowess, but if you’re just looking to watch two dudes fall in love in the Czech countryside, this isn’t the film for you.
55. Wasp (2015)
OIiver and James take a romantic getaway to the south of France. But alluring Caroline upsets their tenuous bliss when she sets her sights on Oliver.
God bless gay men and our propensity for getaways, a framing device for our movies that will live on forever. This one, though, is a dull little chamber piece that seems to think it has more interesting things to say about the nature of sexuality than it actually does. The actors do a serviceable job and the location is pretty enough to look at, but I’m a bit bored with movies whose premises could be completely unraveled by the presence of one character who accepts and understands the existence of bisexuality.
54. Beginners (2011)
When his elderly, dying father tells him he’s gay, a shy artist grapples with the news… and his own love life.
A sort of joyless, capital-Q quirky film. Christopher Plummer does some fine work here as the titular beginner, but the movie never spends a whole lot of time exploring his inner life. That’s not to say this is a bad movie, but it sits where it does on this list because you came to this little corner of Netflix to see a gay romance—not to see Ewan McGregor fall in love with Melanie Laurent.
53. Sand Dollars (2014)
Against the backdrop of a beautiful seaside resort, their romance has flourished. But nothing lasts forever.
Of the handful of movies I had to kick to the bottom of this list because of my own arbitrary grading scale, this one was the most difficult. I really liked this movie—it’s beautifully written and acted. But it’s not a romance. It’s the story of a desperate, manipulative Dominican woman trying to maintain her years-long seduction of a much older French woman. And thinking about some innocent gay in a mood to see a romance and watching this sad little tale instead bummed me out too much. So as much as I liked you, Sand Dollars, here you are at #54. At least you didn’t have any child molestation.
52. Ragtag (2006)
When childhood friends reunite, their bond has become even stronger—although the paths they’ve taken with their lives present a challenge.
This isn’t completely without merit, but the Canadian public-access production values and some truly bonkers choices on the part of the director and writer make Ragtag tough to get through. There are definitely some glimmers of an interesting story here, but with all its handicaps, the success really rests in the hands of the two stars and their chemistry. They weren’t quite strong enough to carry this thing across the finish line.
51. Happy End (2014)
Two women embark on a wild adventure to deliver the ashes of their friend to her final resting place, against the wishes of the family.
I’m happy to report that, having completed this project, “lesbian road trip” is now one of my all-time favorite genres of films, but this isn’t a shining example. When I first started watching the many LGBT romance movies of international origin of Netflix, I wondered if I would be able to differentiate good and bad acting through a language barrier, which, in retrospect, was a devastatingly idiotic thing to think. As it turns out, acting is just acting, and the acting in this movie is bad! Acting aside, there is a scene that so grossly misunderstands how marijuana edibles are made that I almost turned Happy End off right then and there.
50. Is it Just Me? (2010)
Successful writer Blaine is intimidated by the overt sexuality of guys. But all that changes when he meets the man of his dreams online—or does it?
No, it really doesn’t. There isn’t really much of a change in any of these characters from start to finish, which is particularly upsetting for Blaine (Nicholas Downs), who inadvertently catfishes a hot guy he meets in a chatroom (in 2010, imagine!). Blaine is a deeply unlikable character. He’s so judgmental and sanctimonious about his standards of sexual purity that watching this movie is a bit like spending 90 minutes chatting with one of countless gay men who truly believe they are the only gay person who isn’t “really into the scene.” Even if you do not hook up, nothing about the stale acting or dull plotting of this movie will appeal to you.
49. Loving Annabelle (2006)
An esteemed young poetry teacher at a Catholic boarding school risks everything when she engages in a feverish affair with a female student.
At a brisk 75 minutes, this film has the distinction of making its relatively short running time feel like an interminable PBS miniseries. Trapped in the curious place between glossy lesbian softcore and Lifetime Movie of the Week, Loving Annabelle has a hard time figuring out exactly what it wants to be or what it wants to say. There are a few moments of fun Hogwarts vibes at the boarding school that will make you wish Annabelle would spend more time with her weird, wide-eyed, socially deficient, possum-keeping roommate and less time trying to awkwardly seduce her teacher.
48. The Seminarian (2006)
Closeted Ryan questions his faith as he struggles with his relationship with a male student and his theological thesis on “The Divine Gift of Love.”
I struggled with where to put this one on the list. On one hand, this movie suffers from the same acting, pacing, writing and visual issues that plague most of the worst entries on here. But on the other hand, the acting, pacing, writing and visuals are all so mesmerizingly bad that it’s almost fun to watch. Virtually none of the interactions in this movie play out like any human behavior I’ve ever seen (at one point the protagonist answers the door fully nude for no discernible reason), which gives the whole thing a The Room-like sheen to its badness.
47. Bloomington (2010)
Ex-child actor Jackie goes to college and falls for an engaging female professor who has a reputation for breaking the hearts of other women.
If you loved the mommy issues-tinged forbidden romance of Loving Annabelle but hated the statutory rape, Bloomington might be for you. This film is much more competently made, but still, the stars feel like they were ripped from The Face on the Milk Carton or some similar made-for-TV dreck. They can’t quite muster up the Sapphic chemistry necessary to make any of this believable.
46. Stud Life (2012)
Wedding photographers by day, black butch lesbian JJ and her white gay best friend Seb navigate London’s queer street life, looking for love.
The description seems to provide an interesting premise to start with, and JJ (much more so than her “white gay best friend” Seb) is charismatic as hell. But nothing else about this movie seems to click. Stud Life has a lot to say about a scattershot collection of topics (race, butch/femme binaries, and sex work among them), but it never really gets around to completing a thought. To make matters even worse, a minor subplot involves JJ emerging as a budding YouTube personality, which may either horrify or delight you.
45. Elena Undone (2010)
One is gay, the other straight. These women aren’t supposed to love each other, but fate keeps bringing them together.
Pat, inoffensive lesbian schlock. This movie, at least, has a somewhat serviceable romance at its center, and isn’t afraid to give us some nice, glossy lesbian sex scenes in the meantime. The whole thing has the comforting look and feel of a Shania Twain music video, but underserves the intrinsic conflict of its premise (Elena seems a little too eager to get “undone”). Watching a pastor’s wife fall for a lesbian agoraphobic is not without its charms, though. A “love guru” character used as a framing device is the most embarrassing thing about Elena Undone, but also brings about one of its most affecting, romantic scenes, between a former nun and the woman she fell in love with.
44. A Perfect Ending (2012)
After confessing an unusual secret, a repressed wife—prompted by her friends—decides to explore her sexuality with a high-priced call girl.
Spoiler alert, guys—the unusual secret is she can’t cum. There we have it. Thankfully, in the nearly 120 minutes of this film (making this almost unbelievably long, by the standards of the genre), she cums plenty. This movie has a skeevy Cinemax undertone that makes you feel like you’re watching it late at night at an eighth-grade sleepover, yet it also reaches for a bizarre overwrought quality that’s frequently hilarious. Case in point: A scene in which Morgan Fairchild plays a madame who weeps over a bunch of Barbie dolls she keeps as representations of her various prostitutes. It’s so bananas that you almost don’t believe it’s happening in the middle of a sexual awakening/cancer (oh, did I mention the repressed wife also has cancer?) movie.
43. Eating Out: All You Can Eat (2009)
A hopeful romantic is tired of life’s little appetizers. With a gal pal’s help, he’s going after a hunky dessert.
The Eating Out series has become emblematic of the kind of softcore, campy gay films that often end up on Netflix, and it’s no wonder why. These movies contain many of the same qualities that make the later entries on this list fun to watch, and a whole lot of the qualities that make the preceding movies so hard to watch. In this, the third installment (all but the second of the five Eating Out movies are currently available to stream), the protagonist from the first two films has just perished tragically in a car crash while giving road head, and is promptly replaced by his sex-negative cousin Casey. The choice to reboot the series with a new cast in the same universe is a bizarre one, as I’m not sure your average Eating Out fan is clamoring for more coherent continuity, but God bless them regardless. With an overly convoluted plot involving (another) instance of catfishing, various inexplicable Roman Holiday references, and the series’ trademark sexual orientation comedy of errors, this one is by far the least watchable of the five.
42. Eating Out (2005)
Caleb pretends to be gay to attract Gwen, who relates better to gay men than to straight ones. But the plan soon backfires in this comedy of errors.
The first feature-length film from writer/director Q. Allan Brocka (who wrote and/or directed five of the movies on this list) feels slightly more ambitious and much more spirited than its eventual sequels. That said, Brocka’s attempt to inject quirky banter (which today would probably conjure up comparisons to Diablo Cody) into the script—characters say “I gotta Jetta” and “Bye… Sexual!” as though normal humans are always looking for more and more complicated ways to say goodbye—ends up feeling clumsy and bizarre. But what Brocka does get is sex, and that shows in one of the best threeway phone sex scenes ever committed to film.
41. Eating Out: The Open Weekend (2011)
His boyfriend’s craving a trip to the love buffet. A little eye candy is just the thing to inspire jealousy.
The final entry in the five-film series limps to a conclusion in a mostly competent way. Apparently unable to find a new twist on the “someone is lying about their sexual orientation” throughline of the previous movies, the boys from the rebooted cast end up at a Palm Springs resort and grapple with the idea of monogamy (or, more accurately, non-monogamy). The movie gestures at saying some compelling things about the nature of gay relationships, but ultimately, at this stage in the series, you’re so uninvested in most of the carryovers from the previous movies, it’s hard to really care.
40. Eating Out: Drama Camp (2011)
Shirtless guys, secret love triangles and a steamy Shakespeare play. They’re in for one hot summer.
Of the four Eating Out movies, this one has the least to say about anything, and it’s all the better for it. Rather than attempting to explore the nature of sexuality, promiscuity, or monogamy, it embraces the intrinsic absurdity of its premise and sends a bunch of adult gay men to drama camp. Why a bunch of adults would want to go to a drama camp is a question that’s never answered, but the plot barrels full steam ahead without waiting for you to ask in the first place. It’s the most fun outing of the series, with Drew Droege elevating every scene he’s in. Drama Camp even has a trans storyline that is surprisingly well handled.
39. Room in Rome (2010)
Two women meet and experience sensual and emotional fulfillment during a steamy encounter in a hotel room where they share secrets as well as sex.
You know, it’s entirely possible that these two women are brilliant actors in their native tongues, but they were forced to speak English in this movie, and it’s a bit like watching a pornier version of Before Sunrise starring two Melania Trumps. If that sounds like your bag, then honestly God bless you and keep you.
38. Love and Other Catastrophes (1996)
Their love lives are falling to pieces. That doesn’t leave them much time to worry about graduating.
A queer, Australian spiritual cousin to Reality Bites, but with far less to say. The lesbian romance that supposedly makes it eligible for this section has a lot of promise, but is frequently pushed aside in favor of what feels like the A-plot for most of the movie—watching some lesbian try to gather the signatures required to switch her major, which is exactly as compelling to watch as it sounds.
37. Of Girls and Horses (2014)
Troubled teenager Alex is taken in by a gentle riding instructor and finds herself connecting with both the horses and an aristocratic new arrival.
If you ever wanted to watch a surly German teenager learn to take care of horses for 40 minutes, this movie is for you. While the movie is beautifully shot and well acted, the pacing is glacial and the coming-of-age romance between the two teens (thank God it’s between the teens) is a bit dull.
36. The Perfect Wedding (2012)
While spending Christmas with his parents, recovering alcoholic Paul falls for a handsome houseguest who’s pretending to be in love with Paul’s ex.
In premise alone, this is the first movie that really scratches that romcom itch. Unfortunately, The Perfect Wedding turns out to be a head-spinning mess. With so many elements—Christmas, a wedding, a dad with Alzheimer's, a pretend relationship, and alcoholism—all mixed into one movie, you’d need the charisma of a dozen Kate Hudsons and one or two Matthew McConaugheys for any of it to seem cogent. (And, to be clear, there are exactly zero Kate Hudsons and zero Matthew McConaugheys in this movie.)
35. Heterosexual Jill (2013)
Jill will do anything to prove that she’s no longer a lesbian, including forcing her ex-girlfriend to go on a date with her to show her disinterest.
While the script is almost impenetrably confusing—to the point that you’re constantly left with the impression that you must have missed a large chunk of the movie—the cast is so winning that they almost make up for it. While most of these movies star shiny, forgettable femmes, this movie’s greatest asset is its star, Michelle Ehlen, an authentically butch lesbian. Ehlen’s comedic timing and presence make me wish she had popped up in many more of these films.
34. Longhorns (2011)
Curious about the gay fantasies he’s been having, a Texas frat boy sets his sights on hooking up with an openly gay man on campus.
A clichéd and inoffensive coming-out tale set on a Texas college campus in the early '80s. A sort of porn-with-a-plot but without the porn. What it does have in spades is plenty of under-the-covers mutual masturbation scenes, several flaccid dick shots, and a sweet (if slightly flat) romance at its heart.
33. Tru Love (2013)
Unwilling to trust, Tru passes through a series of lesbian affairs. Yet her outlook shifts when she meets a friend’s mother, and sparks begin to fly.
Well, immediate points deducted for the title, that’s for sure. Not quite a love story, this movie nevertheless manages to take an interesting look at a woman who begins to come into her own late in life with the help of her daughter’s lesbian friend. The story itself has a few bizarre elements to keep you paying attention (you bet your ass Alice talks to the ghost of her dead husband), but the cast is either very bland or—in the case of Kate Trotter’s Alice—in another movie entirely.
32. Bear City (2010)
As he comes to grips with his attraction to big, hairy men, cute cub Tyler struggles to figure out his place within the tight-knit bear community.
It’s unfortunate that someone without a chiseled body couldn’t just casually appear in any movie aimed at gay men, but such is the world we’ve created for ourselves, I guess! Instead, they have to pop up in movies like this, which doesn’t just feature bears, but operates as a sort of primer for someone who’s never heard of such a thing. While I’m sure those (probably straight) people are out there, and maybe they’ll appreciate Bear City’s borderline educational tone, I would have preferred a movie that trusted its audience not be shocked at the sight of regular-looking dudes on their television screen. While the main romance here is a snoozefest, a promising side plot involving a long-term couple hitting a bumpy patch is probably what this movie should have been about in the first place.
31. The Summer of Sangaile (2015)
Two teenage girls, one with a dream of becoming an aerobatic pilot, become infatuated with each other and begin a love affair.
Another beautifully shot, dour entry from Europe, this one starring two American Apparel models: one sad (with vertigo), the other quirky (with bows). While an altogether watchable film, The Summer of Sangaile suffers from a lack of structure and a fairly cavalier attitude towards self-harm. Feel like cutting yourself? Let your girlfriend cure you through the power of fashion!
30. Bare (2015)
A free-spirited female drifter leads melancholy Sarah away from small-town boredom toward an enticing world of drugs and danger.
A drab, lesbian Garden State. The plot mechanics really hinge on the believability of the chemistry between Dianna Agron and Paz de la Huerta, and as you may have already guessed, they were on pretty different pages throughout. Everything is pretty: The setting is pretty, the script is pretty, Agron is pretty, but that’s about it.
29. Boy Culture (2006)
A male prostitute maintains a stoic approach to sex and love until a regular customer tempts him to reconsider by sharing a meaningful story.
This movie feels very 2006, if that means anything to you at all. Q. Allan Brocka of the Eating Out series co-wrote this adaptation of the eponymous novel by Matthew Rettenmund, and working with an existing story seems to have given Brocka a helpful narrative structure that his Eating Out movies so sorely lacked. Derek Magyar as our central sanctimonious sex worker does his best Ian Somerhalder circa Rules of Attraction here, but the shtick wears pretty thin early on, and its ending is fairly contrived.
28. All About E (2015)
A successful DJ hits the road with some ill-gotten cash and ends up taking refuge with the girlfriend she thought she’d lost forever.
A perfectly serviceable road trip movie, if a slightly boring one. The chemistry between the two female leads is mercifully believable and their love scenes seem authentic without feeling gratuitously pornographic, which comes as an honest-to-God blessing when you’ve already seen 17 lesbian romances clearly intended to be enjoyed by 13-year-old boys.
27. I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing (1987)
In an upstate art gallery, Polly hangs a piece of art she mistakenly credits to her boss, Gabrielle, but it was actually created by Gabrielle’s lover.
The conflict as presented in this description doesn’t seem exactly like something you could build a movie around—and, in fact, it’s not. While you could argue that it certainly drives the plot (such as it is) of this film, the real reason to watch is Sheila McCarthy’s Polly, who is so left-of-center and fun to watch that she makes the shapelessness of the rest of the movie tolerable. You must stay all the way through the closing credits and treat yourself to a truly bonkers ending.
26. Reform School Girl (1994)
When juvenile delinquent Vince gets in trouble with the cops, loyal gal-pal Donna takes the fall and ends up in a training center for troubled ladies.
What looks and sounds like a pretty lurid Cinemax softcore situation turns out to be a fun, quirky softcore situation. At the training center, Donna finds her place on the track and field team (?) coached by a former Olympian. That setup certainly could have made for a fine inspirational Disney sports film, were it not for the brief lesbian sex scene and shots of hairless vaginas interspersed throughout. Reform School Girl is mostly enjoyable and features a hilarious “where are they now” credit sequence (this movie is 100% fiction, so go figure) that posits happy endings for nearly everyone, including many of the movie’s villains.
25. Anatomy of a Love Seen (2014)
They had chemistry on screen. They had chemistry off screen. But once it’s gone, it’s gone, wherever they are.
For a movie pretty explicitly about sex—specifically, the filming of a softcore lesbian sex scene—there’s a surprising amount of life to Anatomy of a Love Seen. The two leads here seem almost too good for the genre, creating a tangible sense of history between these two women. Unfortunately, what begins as a quiet little slice-of-life movie goes off the rails a bit at the end, undoing the steady build of the first half.
24. Another Gay Movie (2006)
Four gay high schoolers all want to lose their virginity—and they’ll paint the town lavender to do so in this gay parody of the teen comedy genres.
At first glance, this movie may have a lot of cosmetic similarities to the Eating Out series, which was also vaguely referencing the “teen comedy genre.” But Another Gay Movie has a much better handle on satire, a more developed point of view, a stronger cast, and higher production values than its spiritual cousin. If you want to watch a campy gross-out gay comedy, this is the one I would suggest.
23. Rent (2005)
Based on Puccini’s opera “La Boheme,” this musical follows a group of scrappy bohemians who face true love, drug addiction and AIDS in New York City.
Honestly, if you’re interested in the “Lesbian and Gay” section of Netflix and have not yet watched this movie, that feels like a deliberate choice on your part and I’m not sure I can say anything here that would change your mind. Controversially, I like this movie for what it is—even though the musical itself doesn’t really have much to say to contemporary audiences, or at least not as much as I thought it would when I was still making “La Vie Bohème” lyrics my AIM away message.
22. Liz in September (2014)
One’s escaping a broken marriage. The other’s broken by illness. Theirs was an affair in paradise—and none too soon.
Please ignore the 100% nonsense last sentence of that Netflix synopsis and watch a well-made lesbian love story that gives off that twinkly, Nicholas Sparks, beach-read sort of vibe that many people look for in their romances.
21. The Skinny (2012)
A year after college graduation, a pact reunites four gay men and a lesbian friend in New York City for a fateful Gay Pride weekend.
By this point in our little countdown, you may have noticed just how oppressively white the casts of most of these movies seem. Trust me, it’s exhausting—which is why this movie is such a nice breath of fresh air. Unlike Bear City, this is not a movie explicitly about being black and gay. It’s just a movie that happens to feature an all-black cast, and lets these characters exist like real, human people of color are wont to do. But a pedestrian, at times preachy script bogs down an otherwise winning cast. While there are definitely weak links here, Jussie Smollett (Empire) and Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman (unREAL) are standouts.
20. Boy Meets Girl (2014)
Ricky, a transgender barista in rural Kentucky, finds unexpected love with sweet Francesca while Ricky’s best pal Robby may feel more than friendship.
Thankfully, unlike many stories told about trans people, this movie is not overly and exclusively concerned with Ricky’s turmoil over being trans. Although it depicts transphobia, the movie somehow manages to maintain a rather light, romantic energy. It sometimes comes off as clunkily pedantic—and the ending is rather saccharine—but as a whole, this movie is a sweet, likable romance.
19. Eisenstein in Guanajuato (2015)
In 1931, famed soviet director Sergei Eisenstein’s trip to make a film about Mexico’s history becomes a journey of personal and creative awakening.
Part documentary, part arthouse acid trip, this is definitely a movie that seems very impressed with itself. That’s not to say it’s not good. In between a few fascinating historical tidbits, there are plenty of moments that are as amusing as they are ultimately exhausting, the more Elmer Bäck stays on screen. The dude is pushing it with the quirk. Though its whizbang, directionless momentum may not appeal to everyone, I recommend at least one viewing, if for nothing else than the sight of a fully erect penis and one of the most graphic sex scenes of any movie I’ve ever seen.
18. The Blue Hour (2015)
A homosexual boy who’s being bullied at school and harried at home finds some solace in an affair with another local boy, but things take a dark turn.
The only horror/psychological thriller/romance hybrid of the bunch, this is one weird little movie. As happens with most movies trying to spin a lot of stylistic plates, one of those plates ends up crashing to the ground: In this case, that’s the romance, which feels undeveloped. What starts out as a sentimental coming-of-age flick makes good on its promise of a dark turn. You may want to give it a second watch to make sure you’ve put together all the pieces of this peculiar fever dream.
17. Gerontophilia (2013)
After a teenage boy realizes that he’s attracted to much older men, he begins working at a nursing home and finds romance with an elderly actor.
A surprisingly subdued entry from visionary pervert Bruce LaBruce. He never treats this titillating subject matter as a comedic premise, but isn’t exactly able to make the movie into anything bigger than “Hey, this kid is into old people.” Gerontophilia ends up a fairly traditional romance, which isn’t wholly a bad thing.
16. Reaching for the Moon (2013)
When American poet Elizabeth Bishop makes an inspiring visit to Rio, she finds herself blossoming under the attention of an old friend’s lover.
An Oscar bait-y tale based on the life of Elizabeth Bishop, Reaching for the Moon is a perfectly serviceable movie that is more interested in rendering the drama of the latter years of Bishop’s tumultuous relationship with architect Lota de Macedo Soares without spending any time laying a solid foundation for the romance between them. If nothing else, this movie will send you into an internet k-hole researching both of these insanely impressive women.
15. In the Grayscale (2015)
As an architect, he knows what he wants. But in love and desire he’s a man of two different worlds.
A visual love letter to the city of Santiago, the capital of Chile, this is yet another “married gay not sure if he’s gay” story, which is a tired trope, and would constitute less of a conflict if bisexuality was acknowledged as a possibility in any of these movies. The gay relationship is sweet and convincing, but the beats here are familiar to anyone who’s ever seen a movie of this kind. All that aside, though, In the Grayscale does have the distinction of having one of the best, and to my eyes most realistic, gay sex scene of any movie on this list.
14. August (2011)
When Troy returns to Los Angeles after many years in Barcelona, he finds that his ex-boyfriend has begun dating a handsome South American immigrant.
A pleasant little vehicle for Murray Bartlett, who was one of the more interesting presences on HBO’s Looking. Bartlett, magnetic though he is, was given the least to do on that show (his main personality trait seemed to be “restaurant”), but is ably showcased here by writer/director Eldar Rapaport. While not exactly a thrill ride, this movie perfectly captures the very recognizable horrors of never getting over your ex, wanting someone who’s in a relationship, and your boyfriend’s ex coming to town all in one movie, along with tackling the very real and scary epidemic of gay men dating men who look just like them.
13. North Sea Texas (2011)
A teen boy living in a small town on the Belgian coast finds his ordinary life take an unexpected turn when a handsome traveler blows through town.
While I understand how difficult summing movies up in just a few sentences must be for whomever Netflix employs to write these synopses, that description makes very little sense, as there are few unexpected turns in this story. A gorgeous, shorter version of Boyhood (but gay), this movie’s romance, such as it is, is less of a two-sided affair and more a reflection of the desperate kind of love you feel for someone as you’re coming of age and first becoming aware of your feelings.
12. The Comedian (2012)
A struggling comedian has an affair with a handsome artist but soon realizes his new relationship threatens his friendship with his female flatmate.
Taking quite a few cues from Andrew Bujalski and Joe Swanberg, Israeli director Tom Shkolnik manages to create an engrossing little flick, which is (finally!) the only no-nonsense depiction of bisexuality on this list. If mumblecore is not your thing, this movie is not for you, but if you enjoy somewhat aimless kitchen sink realism as much as I do, you’ll find in The Comedian both the best meet cute on this list and a depiction of casual homophobia on a public bus that will stay with you for days.
11. Pit Stop (2013)
Two working-class gay men in a small Texas town experience love and loss as they search for meaning and romance in their sometimes isolated lives.
Pleasantly surprised to learn that “working class” in this case is not code for “closeted gay men tortured by their sexuality.” I mean, almost everyone in this movie is sad, to be sure, but they’re not sad because they’re gay, which is some real progress in this genre. The movie makes the curious choice of keeping its two protagonists separated for a lion's share of the movie (until they meet via a recognizably awkward, yet electric scene that perfectly captures what an internet hookup actually looks like), but somehow this understated, economical approach to storytelling makes the abrupt ending feel rich in possibility.
10. Mosquita y Mari (2012)
Neighbors but by no means friends, high schoolers Yolanda and Mari discover a bond and an attraction when they’re made study partners.
A very straightforward and beautiful coming-of-age tale. The isolation that both of these girls feel is as palpable as the sense of relief they feel when they’re together. This isn’t some lurid, Lolita-via-Thirteen bullshit, either. This is a textured, unromantic look at life as a a teenager today, with all the anxiety and excitement that comes with it. Though the attraction that these girls have for one another (both platonic and otherwise) is never fully explained, it’s as recognizable as their desperate race to opposite ends of the couch when Yolanda’s parents arrive home.
9. Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow (2013)
A married man has a gay reawakening, while his sexy sister— conflicted about her impending marriage—dumps her wimpy fiancé at a grocery store.
In an interesting flip from the traditional structure of these movies, the question here is not whether Weichung will come out, but will he come out again, as he’s already lived a pretty full gay life before he decided to settle down with a woman. Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow is scored like a lush Doris Day picture and the fantasies of the characters are delightfully rendered. It’s hard not to find this movie (and the endearing interactions between Wei Chung and his flight attendant suitor) anything but infectiously happy, even as it deftly handles the inherent drama in Weichung’s situation.
8. That’s Not Us (2015)
A late-summer weekend gathering at the beach turns into a relationship quasi-workshop for three couples whose unspoken tensions rise to the surface.
Another improvisational slice-of-life Swansbergian drama, this one exploring the tensions between three couples (one gay, one lesbian and the other straight, how quaint!). While the style is definitely not for everyone—it can feel entirely without stakes, especially when you’re forced to spend time with the insufferable hetero couple—That’s Not Us is grounded in a way that allows you to really engage with and relate to the emotional struggles faced by each of these couples.
7. Weekend (2011)
This frank drama centers on the relationship between two gay men who contemplate turning a passionate one-night stand into something more meaningful.
A true spiritual successor to Linklater’s Before Sunrise series (this time, with no Melania pornbots in sight). While the intimacy of the movie apparently reads as boring to many a Netflix user, it’s that same invasive closeness that makes watching these two flawed men connect so sharp and captivating. While many straight reviewers very quickly fell over themselves to write that this movie was “more than just a gay romance,” this movie is very much intrinsically—impossibly—gay in ways that may not be recognizable to someone who hasn’t spent a weekend falling hopelessly in love with a person who views their sexuality wildly differently from how you view your own.
6. Big Eden (2000)
Henry Hart returns to Big Eden and winds up confronting his unrequited passion for his high school best friend and his feelings about being gay.
This movie, more than any other on this list, nails the feel of an old-school, turn-of-the-millennium romcom. At first glance, you’d think this movie about a successful New York artist returning to his small town would see him battling homophobia, but Big Eden depicts a kind of post-everything utopia that could only exist in the ‘90s. Nearly everyone in this rural town is not only accepting of the gay triangle brewing in their midst, but actively invested in it. As in any classic romcom, the outcome of this love triangle is clear from the start, but each relationship is as exquisitely detailed as it would be in a Nora Ephron film.
5. The Duke of Burgundy (2014)
A butterfly expert and her housekeeper are in an intimate master-and-slave relationship but their elaborate romance is about to take a turn.
Honestly, even if this movie were shit, it would hold a very special place in my heart for that description alone. Luckily, this movie was great—a fascinating look at the day-to-day life of a kinky couple with a finely tuned sense of humor (the phrase “human toilet” made me spit all over my computer), stunning visuals, and a romance with real depth. Writer/director Peter Strickland has such an amazing handle on repetition that several identical scenes feel fresh each time they return. Bonus: Not a single man appears in this movie, if you’re really looking for an escape from the patriarchy.
4. Angels of Sex (2012)
A surprising love triangle forms when Bruno sets his eyes on Rai—especially since Bruno thought he was already in love with his girlfriend, Carla.
A fairly traditional story of coming out and sexual awakening spins out into something decidedly less predictable. Every time I thought I knew which way this movie would go, it would sidestep the clichéd beats of the genre. Angels of Sex managed to say something interesting about sexuality and non-monogamy without feeling like a message movie. While the thinking and feeling among us may view some of the twists and turns in this film as wildly unbelievable, the three leads manage to create such a vivid sense of intimacy that you can’t help but think all three really are going to make it.
3. Boys (2014)
While training for an important sporting event, teen athletes Sieger and Marc strike up a friendship that soon develops into something more passionate.
Like its protagonist, Boys is sweet and quiet. And though it’s tackling familiar ground, it’s picturesque and poignant in its depiction of a first love. The movie evokes the intoxication you feel from those few hours you spend in isolation with another human, so perfectly in sync without ever having to say a word, and the look of contentment in your eyes after a perfect first kiss.
2. The Way He Looks (2014)
A new classmate transforms the daily life of a blind teenager who longs for independence and disrupts his relationship with his best friend.
With its clean YA plotting, keen observations, and measured pacing, this movie feels like a finely crafted John Green adaptation. Like much of Green’s best work, this movie perfectly captures what it’s like to be a high school student. I’m almost embarrassed to admit that I cried real, happy tears during this movie, and it’s one of the few on this list that I’m excited to watch again.
1. Cloudburst (2011)
A lesbian couple escapes from their nursing home and heads to Canada to get married. Along the way, they pick up a young male hitchhiker.
Is this a controversial choice for #1? I don’t think so. No other movie I watched in the many hours I spent watching gay romances was as finely crafted as this one—not to mention that it stars two amazing and criminally underused actresses (Brenda Fricker turns in a particularly brilliant performance) and features brilliant visuals. Not that I should have to sell you too hard on this movie—it’s fucking Olympia Dukakis and the pigeon lady from Home Alone 2 fleeing to Canada so they can marry and never be separated. If you’re looking for an honest-to-God romance in a sea of (mostly) shitty movies, this is the one you’ll want to land on first.
Joel Kim Booster is a Brooklyn-based comedian and writer who has appeared on LOGO, MTV and Comedy Central. His writing credits include BILLY ON THE STREET and the Comedy Central pilot PROBLEMATIC. Joel's writing has appeared in The Toast, Decider, Paper, among others. Brooklyn Magazine recently called him one of their "50 Funniest People in Brooklyn," saying "his unbridled honesty feels less like the set-up for a punchline and more like an act of selfless catharsis the rest of us are lucky to witness in real time."