The new Netflix series Heartstopper has people talking. The British coming-of-age romantic comedy about a same-sex relationship has become a huge hit, with a recent announcement that it’s been renewed for not one but two seasons.
With June being Pride Month, what better time to take a look at other iconic entries into the pantheon of LGBT media? Here are some of the most acclaimed movies and TV shows with LGBT themes, and where to stream them right now.
[Interested in more streaming lists? Sign up for the ExpressVPN blog newsletter.]
As always, spoilers ahead!
Best LGBT movies and shows to watch
- Blue Is the Warmest Color
- Call Me by Your Name
- Happy Together
- The Crying Game
- Brokeback Mountain
- Boys Don’t Cry
- The Birdcage
- Queer as Folk (UK)
- Queer as Folk (US)
- The L Word
- Grace and Frankie
- Orange Is the New Black
Blue Is the Warmest Color (2013)
Based on the acclaimed 2010 graphic novel Blue Angel, Blue Is the Warmest Color is a love story between two young women over the course of several years. Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos) is an introverted high school student who one day sees, and becomes entranced by, Emma (Léa Seydoux.) Unlike anybody else Adèle has encountered in her life, Emma is a blue-haired, charismatic, and care-free artist. After an encounter with a male classmate leaves her unfulfilled, Adèle begins to seek out Emma and explore her sexuality.
Blue Is the Warmest Color won the Palme d’Or prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 2013.
Call Me by Your Name (2017)
Available on: Amazon Prime Video
Based on the 2007 novel of the same name by André Aciman, Call Me by Your Name is a 2017 romantic coming-of-age film set in 1980s Italy. Elio (Timothée Chalamet) and his parents are spending the summer in northern Italy. His father, an archeology professor, invites American graduate student Oliver (Armie Hammer) to stay with the family to help with academic research. During the trip, Elio and Oliver grow closer together and find themselves in an undeniable attraction.
The film received standing ovations at both the Sundance Film Festival and New York Film festivals in 2017 and was eventually released to mainstream critical acclaim.
Moonlight is a coming-of-age drama that tells the story of Chiron, covering three stages of his life—played by Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes, respectively. Set against the backdrop of 1980s Miami, the film follows Chiron as he navigates living in a rough neighborhood, growing up in a broken home, the ever-present threat of harassment from bullies, and discovering his sexuality.
Moonlight won various awards including the Academy Award for Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor for Mahershala Ali. It also has the distinction of being the first LGBTQ film with an all-black cast to win an Oscar.
Happy Together (1997)
Available on: HBO Max
Directed by acclaimed auteur Wong Kar-wai, Happy Together tells the story of Ho Po-wing (Leslie Cheung) and Lai Yiu-Fai (Tony Leung Chiu-wai), a gay couple from Hong Kong with a volatile relationship. While on vacation in Argentina, Ho and Lai break up, leading each man on a different path. Lai begins to work in a tango bar to make ends meet, while Lai lives a carefree life of leisure. Like Wong’s other works, notably Chungking Express and In the Mood for Love, Happy Together is beautifully shot and directed, and will ultimately leave you wanting more.
The Crying Game (1992)
Available on: HBO Max, Showtime, DirecTV, for free on Tubi
Jody (Forest Whitaker), a British soldier, is kidnapped and held hostage by members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA). Over time, Jody becomes close to one of his captors, Fergus (Stephen Rea), and facing his inevitable demise at the hands of the IRA, implores Fergus to watch over his girlfriend, Dil (Jaye Davidson), once he is gone. Months later, Fergus encounters Dil and begins to fall in love with her before it is eventually revealed that Dil is biologically male. Despite his initial shock, Fergus continues to be drawn closer to Dil at the cost of his personal safety. Set against the backdrop of the Troubles, The Crying Game is a multi-layered film that artfully blends together elements of a political thriller and forbidden love story.
Brokeback Mountain (2005)
Available on: For free on Tubi
Based on the 1997 short story of the same name by Annie Proulx and directed by acclaimed Taiwanese director Ang Lee, the film stars Heath Ledger as Ennis and Jake Gyllenhaal as Jack, two shepherds who fall in love. Following a brief tryst in their youth, the film follows the two men over the course of several years as they eventually marry their respective girlfriends and have families, only for each marriage to slowly fall apart.
Released to universal acclaim, Brokeback Mountain appeared on many lists for best film of 2005 and scored an academy Award for Best Director for Ang Lee.
Boys Don’t Cry (1999)
Available on: The Roku Channel
Boys Don’t Cry is an unflinchingly brutal and heartbreaking film that tells the true story of Brandon Teena, a trans man from Nebraska. Born as Teena Renae Brandon, Brandon Teena (Hilary Swank) moves to Humboldt, Nebraska, to start a new life. There, he meets and befriends two ex-convicts, John (Peter Saarsgard) and Tom (Brendan Sexton III), and their friends Candace (Lecy Goranson) and Lana (Chloe Sevigny). Teena eventually falls in love with Lana Tisdale, who accepts him for who he is. Things begin to turn dark when Teena’s transexuality is discovered.
Warning, this film is difficult to watch, but it does a spectacular job of spotlighting issues of violence faced by the trans community.
The Birdcage (1996)
Available on: HBO Max, DirecTV
A remake of the 1978 French/Italian comedy La Cage aux Folles, The Birdcage stars Robin Williams as Armand, a drag club owner, and Nathan Lane as Albert, a drag queen and Armand’s partner. Unsurprisingly, hijinks ensue. Armand’s son Val (Dan Futterman) has recently begun seeing Barbara (Calista Flockhart), whom he intends to marry. Unfortunately, not only are Barbara’s parents—Senator Kevin Keeley (Gene Hackman) and his wife Louise (Dianne Wiest)—politically conservative, they’re also unaware that Val’s parents are gay.
A dinner is planned for both sets of parents to meet. To conceal the truth about Val’s parents, a scheme is hatched, with the aid of club employees, to disguise Armand’s home and lifestyle to something more “appropriate.” This includes Albert in drag, masquerading as Val’s “mother.”
The Birdcage is one of the few times you can say that a remake is on par with the original.
Available on: HBO Max, Hoopla, DirecTV
Rent is an adaptation of the smash-hit 1996 Broadway musical of the same name, which is itself a loose adaptation of the 1896 opera La Bohème. Set in New York between 1989 and 1990, the story follows a group of struggling Bohemians as they navigate life and love during the AIDS epidemic.
Wildly popular since the original musical’s debut in 1996, Rent has grown into a global phenomenon most notably due to its raw depiction of the struggles of LGBT issues of that era and its impact on mainstream media. Unusual for a film adaptation of a musical, the majority of the original Broadway cast come back to reprise their respective characters.
Queer as Folk UK (1999-2000)
Available on: Amazon Prime Video, for free on Tubi
Long before his work on reviving Doctor Who in 2005, Russell T. Davies created the groundbreaking series Queer as Folk. The series follows three gay men: Stuart (a pre-Game of Thrones Aidan Gillen), Vince (Craig Kelly), and Nathan (a pre-Sons of Anarchy Charlie Hunnam) as they navigate issues of life, love, and acceptance in Manchester’s gay village around Canal Street. While response upon its release was lukewarm, the series eventually gained enough traction to be recognized as a more realistic portrayal of gay life in mainstream media.
Queer as Folk lasted two seasons and eventually led to the production of the wildly successful North American remake.
Queer as Folk US (1999-2005)
Available on: Showtime, FuboTV
Based on the aforementioned British series of the same name, Queer as Folk is an extremely popular and culturally impactful series about a group of gay friends living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. While generally following the same formula as the original, the remake greatly expands both the number of characters and situations addressed.
During its tenure, Queer as Folk became the No. 1 show on the Showtime network and was recognized for its realistic portrayals of sex and drug use. The series lasted five seasons and is now being re-imagined for Peacock in 2022.
The L Word (2004-2009)
Available on: Showtime, Hulu, FuboTV
Set in Los Angeles, The L Word follows the lives of a group of lesbian and bisexual women along with their friends and families. It is notable for being the first mainstream television series to prominently feature lesbian cast members and characters. One notable aspect of the series is the recurrence of “The Chart,” a massive graph that charts all of the romantic relationships between this tight-knit lesbian community.
A reality-series spin-off, The Real L Word, ran for two seasons from 2010 to 2012; and a sequel series, The L Word: Generation Q, premiered on Showtime in 2019.
Grace and Frankie (2015-2022)
Available on: Netflix
With an all-star cast and the creators behind Friends, Grace and Frankie follows the exploits of Grace Hanson (Jane Fonda) and Frankie Bergstein (Lily Tomlin) as they navigate their twilight years as recent divorcées. The series begins when both women discover that their husbands, Robert Hanson (Martin Sheen) and Sol Bergstein (Sam Waterston), are more than just law firm partners, and in fact have been lovers for most of the past two decades. Opposites in personality and beliefs, Grace and Frankie reluctantly become friends and eventually grow to depend on each other. Along for the ride are their respective children and partners. The series has been acknowledged both for its portrayals of gay couples and the elderly.
Orange Is the New Black (2013-2019)
Available on: Netflix
One of the first original smash hits to come out of Netflix, Orange Is the New Black is a comedy that follows Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling), a woman in New York City who is sentenced to 15 months’ imprisonment for money laundering. Chapman must learn to adapt to life on the inside. As with many other forms of narrative involving incarceration, Orange Is the New Black tackles themes of homosexuality and transexuality.