A journey through love: 25 noteworthy LGBTQ+ romance movies

Photo: YouTube screenshot

In recent years, LGBTQ+ romance movies have moved from niche indie showcases to major blockbuster releases. This shift is not just a win for diversity but also a testament to the universal appeal of these stories, proving that the themes of love, identity, and resilience resonate across all audiences.

This curated list of gay romance films admittedly contains mostly male same-sex couples, but the films still explore the depths and nuances of romantic love, offering entertaining but poignant looks into the complex dynamics of identity and social acceptance across different cultures and eras.

Beautiful Thing (1996)

Based on a 1993 stage play of the same name, Beautiful Thing follows Jamie, a sensitive bookish teen living with his barmaid mother in a South East London slum, and his romance with Ste, a football player at his high school who also has an abusive father and older brother. While the film explores tense and touching moments, as neither boy feels like they can be open about their blossoming affections, it also has many comedic touches thanks to their outspoken neighbor Leah and the soundtrack of upbeat anthems from The Mamas & the Papas.

And Then We Danced (2019)

Set in the conservative East European country of Georgia, Merab is an aspiring dancer having trouble finding his form and footing with his female partner, Mary. When Irakli, a mysterious stranger, arrives as an alternate in their dance company, Merab and Irakli form a rivalry that turns into a clandestine and forbidden romance that poses life-changing risks for both men.

The Handmaiden (2016)

This twisty and jaw-dropping film begins with a young woman masquerading as a handmaid in order to steal the fortune of a superstitious widow living in a haunted estate. But danger and double-crosses threaten the lives of both women as they slowly realize their feelings for each other and the brutality of their past lives — it’s an erotic thriller whose music, beautifully shot settings, and details heighten the emotional stakes.

All of Us Strangers (2023)

Just as Adam (played by gay actor Andrew Scott) strikes up an unexpected romance with his mysterious neighbor, Harry, he feels compelled to visit his childhood home. There, he discovers his parents living together, just as they did when he was young, even though they’ve been dead for decades. The resulting ghost story offers a moving double-portrait of romantic and familial love and an exploration of how each one shapes our future and past.

A Single Man (2009)

Based on Christopher Isherwood’s 1964 novel of the same name, A Single Man follows George, a British expatriate college professor in 1960s Los Angeles who is mourning the loss of his partner. An elegiac wistfulness follows George as he drinks with his galpal Charlotte and considers a romantic connection with a young blonde student.

Beginners (2010)

Beginners intertwine the tale of a father who comes out as gay at age 75 and his depressed son who, inspired by his father’s bravery, pursues his own romance while struggling against a deeper sadness. The film beautifully and tenderly illustrates how love can inspire change at any stage of life.

Big Eden (2000)

When Henry returns to his small hometown to care for his ailing grandfather, he finds himself revisiting old feelings for his high school crush — little does he realize that someone else is pining for him from a distance. Big Eden has remained popular for its warm-hearted story about community acceptance and the second chances at love that life sometimes offers.

Breaking Fast (2020)

Mo, a practicing Muslim living in West Hollywood who recently concluded a painful breakup, navigates his faith and sexuality as he embarks on a romantic journey with Kal, a white local man, during Ramadan. Breaking Fast is one of the few English-language fiction films to feature gay Muslims, and it beautifully portrays how traditions and modern relationships can coexist and enrich each other.

Brokeback Mountain (2005)

A faithful adaptation of Annie Proulx’s 2005 short story of the same name, this groundbreaking epic romance looks at the deferred and decades-long romance between two cowboys who grapple with their feelings for each other at a time and place where their love must be hidden. The film remains a celebrated classic and a standout for casting two of Hollywood’s most talented and sought-after leading men, Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal, in a romantic relationship that bristles with sexual and romantic tension.

Bros (2022)

The first gay rom-com released by a mainstream Hollywood studio, Bros follows a geeky gay history podcaster who falls for a hunky jock who has always felt like he had to lead a masculine life. The film follows their relationship as the two navigate other aspects of gay life, like career aspirations, Grindr hookups, and other messy and tender moments in modern New York City.

But I’m a Cheerleader (1999)

Megan’s life takes a surprising turn when her conservative family and friends hold an intervention to send her to a conversion therapy camp run by Mike, an ex-gay conversion therapist played RuPaul. While the film pokes fun at the absurdity of “ex-gay” programs that promise to change people’s sexual orientations by having them perform stereotypically gender-associated tasks, it also shows the camaraderie and care that forms between the adolescent campers as they conspire to break out.

Call Me By Your Name (2017)

Based on the 2007 novel of the same name and created by gay director Luca Guadagnino, this film covers a fleeting summer romance that blooms between young Elio and his father’s charismatic art historian assistant Oliver while in the sunny landscape of 1980s Italy. Their bisexual romance recaptures the intoxicating beauty, nostalgic explorations, and evocative heartbreak of first loves, and also contains realistic and sensual sex scenes.

Coming Out (1989)

This East German film captures the tumultuous process of self-discovery as a sexually conflicted teacher confronts his sexuality amid a girlfriend, a long-lost romantic interest, and the perplexities of gay bar and cruising culture. The film provides a rare glimpse into the challenges and romantic explorations faced by gay individuals in communist East Germany just before the fall of the Berlin Wall.

4 Moons (2014)

4 Moons tells four different stories of gay men at varying life stages, each exploring a unique aspect of love and self-acceptance, from youthful discoveries to the rekindling of old flames. The film also explores the different ways that the characters navigate important relationships while coming to terms with shame and true longing.

Esteros (2016)

Matías and Jerónimo used to explore the world together as childhood best friends, but when the two are unexpectedly reunited as adults, one of them has apparently kept their friendship a secret. Confronted by their past, the two explore their past feelings amid the lush, nostalgic landscapes of the Argentine wetlands.

Summer of 85 (2020)

When David’s boat capsizes during a summer storm, Alex saves him, igniting a hot summer romance between the two young men. However, Alex has a passionate and adventurous spirit that may be too much for the mild-mannered David — what happens between them will forever mark their lives in heartbreaking and transformative ways.

Firebird (2021)

Set in the Soviet Air Force during the Cold War, Firebird follows a forbidden love between a young soldier and a fighter pilot, something that is criminalized by the communist military. By illustrating the risks and deep connections formed in the face of adversity, the film is a testament to the enduring spirit of love, even under the harshest conditions.

Fire Island (2022)

Loosely adapted from Jane Austen’s 1813 romantic novel Pride and Prejudice, Fire Island is a laugh-out-loud romantic comedy set in the judgy and sexually charged romantic atmosphere of the film’s titular gay summer hotspot. The all-Asian cast includes several comedic standouts — like Margaret Cho and Bowen Yang — but the film also skewers gay racism and classism with freshness and realism.

Get Real (1998)

Steven, a 16-year-old British high schooler, spends his time cruising old men in a local public toilet when he has a chance encounter with his school’s sports star, John. While the two are eager to explore a relationship, this heartfelt comedic drama shows how the boys navigate their feelings while constrained by the homophobia of their classmates.

God’s Own Country (2017)

During the days, Johnny joylessly assists his disabled father and grandmother by tending to the livestock on their ranch set in the harsh yet beautiful landscapes of rural England — at night, he gets drunk with other roughneck laborers. When a Romanian migrant worker arrives to offer a helping hand, Johnny finally experiences some warmth and tenderness (in scenes so intimate that they were apparently censored), but Johnny’s own self-destructive tendencies threaten to continue his hard and isolated life.

His (2020)

In one of the few gay romantic films showing love between Japanese men, Shun and Nagisa meet and fall for each other early into high school, but they become separated after Shun graduates from university. Years later, Shun lives a lonely existence as a rural store owner when Nagisa arrives with his six-year-old daughter, Sora, forcing Shun to decide whether to continue his solitude or to reexamine his feelings for the young man he couldn’t envision a future with.

The Way He Looks (2014)

This Brazilian film is a charming story about Leonardo, a blind teenager determined to gain independence, who discovers love with a new student named Gabriel. While Leonardo’s overprotective parents and gossiping friends worry that the fledgling romance may cause the blind teen trouble, both Leonardo and Gabriel must decide whether to find their own way.

Imagine Me & You (2005)

When a newlywed woman falls for her wedding florist, she must decide whether to stick with her handsome, devoted husband or pursue her overidealized crush. While the film takes a light-hearted yet earnest look at the unpredictable nature of love and the difficult choices it can force us to make, it also suggests that unexpected desires aren’t always world-ending, even when they occur at inconvenient times.

Blue Is the Warmest Color (2013)

Based on the 2010 graphic novel of the same name, this film follows the intense and passionate romance between two young women in France who are compelled by longing and sexual desire. While the film examines the navigation of bisexuality within social constraints, it has also been celebrated and criticized for its prolonged sex scenes (shot by a male heterosexual director) and its look at romance across different social classes.

Lilting (2014)

Gay actor Ben Whishaw plays a man who tries to connect with the grieving mother of his deceased closeted ex-boyfriend despite a language barrier. This poignant film delicately explores themes of love, loss, and the struggle to find common ground in the face of grief and family secrets.

Love is universal

Wrapping up our look at these 25 films, it’s pretty clear that gay romance movies are more than just about who loves who — they’re all about capturing those deep human emotions we can all feel.

These stories have not only brought representation to the forefront but also broken barriers, changing perceptions one film at a time. They show us that love, no matter what shape it comes in, is this amazing story that can reach across borders and bring us all together.

Through laughter, tears, and heartfelt moments, gay romance films offer more than just entertainment. As audiences, we walk away with a deeper understanding of not only the struggles faced by gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals but also the profound bonds of love they share.

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