I'll admit that I was a little apprehensive about ranking moments of queer sexiness on the screen. Unlike the more mainstream film industry, queer cinema has a history of exploring an endless number of identities while navigating oppression. "Sexiness" is often experimental or abstract—there isn't one, neat formula for LGBTIA+ desire, and that inherent complication makes for diverse modes of storytelling that might seem shapeless or overly graphic. While mainstream rom-coms and dramedies often feature dreamy, fairy tale-esque boy-meets-girl narratives, even the sexiest LGBT movies out there tend to avoid that brand of romance or sexuality.
That being said, I'm a pansexual woman who loves the crud out of some hot sex scenes. I think a film's use of visible sex can be a feminist act that further develops the story in a powerful way, as the movies on this list show. I picked out the sexy movies on this list for a number of different reasons. Some of them changed wider cultural attitudes about sexuality, a few dissect race while dealing with sex, and one of them stars k.d. lang, who will forever make me warm and tingly. Consider this list of the sexiest LGBTQIA+ movies a good place to begin your search.
As an enormous fan of this movie, I have a hard time trying to sum up Bound. To put it very simply, this 1996 neo-noir thriller from the Wachowski sisters follows two queer women as they try to scam the mafia. The sexiest part of this film? To create sex scenes that were both scintillating and realistic, the Wachowskis brought in sex educators to consult stars Gina Gershon and Jennifer Tilly, according to Vulture, as they acted out the story's heady, sweaty moments.
2. The Watermelon Woman
Cheryl Dunye is one the most important creatives of the past 30 years, and her 1996 film The Watermelon Woman is the very first feature film directed by an out black lesbian. It's a piece of fiction inspired by Dunye's personal life, and it's a must-see for its incredible unearthing of a character's lesbian backstory and lost history.
3. Her Story
OK, OK. So this is a webseries, not a feature film. Nevertheless, co-writer and star Jen Richards carefully fits an entire saga's worth of storytelling into 60 gorgeous minutes. A rich depiction of relationships between transwomen, lesbians, and heterosexuality, Her Story offers a solid place to begin exploring trans identities in the media. Do yourself a favor and watch it.
4. The Hunger
David Bowie, vampires, and Catherine Deneuve. Just watch it, okay?
5. Happy Together
This film from Hong Kong explores issues of power imbalances in gay relationships. The sexiest part of this movie is when one of the characters learns how to stand up to his abuser and get the hell out of the toxic relationship.
6. Better Than Chocolate
Better Than Chocolate is a coming of age movie about leaving home and the closet at the same time. For many, it's a relatable depiction of the double life many queer folks lead as they go back and forth between their families and adult lives.
7. But I'm A Cheerleader
While it's typically hard to laugh at issues like conversion therapy, But I'm A Cheerleader offers comedic relief and the sexiness of forbidden, summer camp relationships.
8. Velvet Goldmine
Todd Haynes' gorgeous satire on the glam rock era imitates the careers of David Bowie, Iggy Pop, and Lou Reed while exploring queerness at the end of the millennium. Somewhere between a musical and a break-up letter, this is one of my all-time favorite movies and a great way to get acquainted with Haynes' style.
9. Edward II
I took a course on Renaissance drama as an undergrad, and I am pretty sure that my professor's queer reading of Christopher Marlowe's Edward II is the only reason I kept going to class. Filmmaker Derek Jarman does a similar reading of this violent piece and brings together Tilda Swinton, the Stonewall riots, and the AIDS crisis under one highly-stylized flag. There's also a super sexy, super sad cameo by Annie Lennox that will destroy your life.
10. Hedwig And The Angry Inch
This is my number-one, all-time, hands-down favorite movie. I am obsessed with Hedwig and the Angry Inch . Its sexiness lies in its depths, as writer, director, and star John Cameron Mitchell parses through the Cold War, sexuality, love, and identity, all to the tune of some stunning rock 'n roll. Also, those wigs are my everything.
Salma Hayek plays a vibrant, bisexual babezilla who is also the most introspective and prolific painters of the 20th century. Julie Taymor directs, and we all drool.
Author E.M. Forester wrote this story back in the early 1900s but avoided publishing it while his mother was alive. Instead, Maurice, a fictional tale representing Forester's own homosexuality, did not make it to a publisher until the '70s and came to the screen in the late '80s, with Hugh Grant as one of the main characters.
13. All About Eve
To mainstream audiences in the '50s, this movie isn't blatantly about lesbian obsession, but All About Eve is now an important part of queer cinema.
There are some major issues with k.d. lang's place in this film, but early-'90s lang's winter-butch look makes me swoon like whoa.
15. Brokeback Mountain
While it's prettier and whiter than many of the other glorious films on this list, Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain broke into the megaplexes and changed mainstream moviegoer's expectations. Sounds sexy to me.
16. My Beautiful Laundrette
A film that discusses xenophobia, discusses class issues, and features Daniel Day-Lewis a young punk? Gimme that.
17. High Art
When the Autostraddle team reviewed this film, they summed it up perfectly:
Syd, an assistant editor at a photography magazine, lives with her boring boyfriend James but quickly finds herself intrigued by the woman living upstairs; talented, enigmatic, elusive lesbian drug addict photographer Lucy who lives with her crazy German actress girlfriend, Greta. Though Syd’s initial attraction to Luce is more about career advancement than lesbian lust, Lucy is drawn to and changed by Syd’s youth & enthusiasm and the two quickly find themselves totally caught up in each other.
Tilda Swinton, everyone.
19. Mulholland Drive
I used to have mad problems with David Lynch's depictions of women — too retro, too dependent, too sexualized — and I think that his work still struggles with issues gender and race. But after spending hours and hours with his stunning, scary work, I think that many of his women characters are some of the most realized, sexy, and complicated. I can get on board with many of his narratives, especially when they include sultry scenes like those in Mulholland Drive.
20. Henry And June
Brazen and bisexual, the characters at the center of this film live out such scandalous lives that the film initially earned an NC-17 rating, which is a badge of honor as far as I'm concerned.
This film traces a forbidden relationship between two women in India while queering the symbol of the funeral pyre.
I was hesitant about putting this movie on my precious, sexy list, but I ultimately decided in its favor as Showgirls place in cult cinema shows the impact of queer audiences when they play with bad, heterosexual narratives.
23. Go Fish
A delicious black-and-white film about the grey areas of sexuality, Go Fish imagines the constant reinvention of queerness.
Oympia Dukakis plays an aging lesbian, and I'm completely unraveled.
What happens when you mix polyamory with summer camp? Hedwig's John Cameron Mitchell has a darn good answer with Shortbus.
26. Big Eden
Looking for a sweet piece about returning to your hometown as a full-fledged adult and getting with your high school crush? Big Eden has it goin' on.
Julie Andrews! Glitter! Drag! Confusing feelings!
28. Another Country
Rupert Everett, Colin Firth, and a bunch of wanton, British staring. Yes, please.
29. Desert Hearts
When badass lesbian novels from the '60s get screentime, it's almost always worth a watch.
This super sexy list shows just a few of queer cinema's multiple histories and futures. There is a vast range of LGBTQIA+ people out making movies and making audiences sweat, so be sure to keep on exploring.