25 LGBTQ+ movies that don’t end morbidly

Written by:
March 21, 2022
Foxx 2000 Pictures

25 LGBTQ+ movies that don’t end morbidly

Thanks to the ubiquitousness of the Bury Your Gays trope—in which queer characters are killed off at much higher rates than cisgender heterosexual ones—there has historically been a dearth of film and television with queer characters getting a happy ending. Or, at the very least, an ending they survive to see. In fact, it is difficult to think of stories in which substantial queer characters don’t end up dead or heartbroken to the point of collapse. Popular films and TV shows that have invoked this trope include “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Brokeback Mountain,” “Pretty Little Liars” (twice), “Black Swan,” “The Walking Dead,” “Teen Wolf,” and many, many more.

The stakes for giving queer characters equal odds at survival are higher than merely wanting more happy endings; the continued usage of the trope can be interpreted as punishing queerness, or as a cautionary tale for what happens when one deviates from heterosexuality. This is why, when a rare television show or film subverts the proverbial queer death sentence, it is worth noting and celebrating.

To this end, Stacker dug through queer film history to spotlight 25 films that, without giving too much away, don’t end morbidly for the LGBTQ+ characters. To qualify, the film had to have a Metascore, at least 2,500 user votes on IMDb, and at least a 6.5 IMDb user rating.

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1 / 25
French Quarter Film

And Then We Danced (2019)

- Director: Levan Akin
- IMDb user rating: 7.7
- Metascore: 68
- Runtime: 113 minutes

“And Then We Danced” is a Georgian film that follows dancer Merab (Levan Gelbakhiani), as he falls in love with fellow dancer Irakli (Bachi Valishvili). The film centers on a passion for art, and love and support persisting despite societal pressures and homophobia. Screenings of the film sparked anti-LGBTQ+ protests in Georgia, where homosexuality is legal but seen as highly taboo.

2 / 25
Fidélité Films

Being 17 (2016)

- Director: André Téchiné
- IMDb user rating: 7.2
- Metascore: 83
- Runtime: 116 minutes

This French coming-of-age drama was co-written by André Téchiné and Céline Sciamma (“Portrait of a Lady on Fire”) and follows two 17-year-old boys as they navigate a hostile, then romantic, relationship. Family dynamics and loss are also explored. “Being 17” mines the complexities of youth, desire, privilege, and what “manhood” really means, all against the backdrop of the French Pyrenees.

3 / 25
United Artists

The Birdcage (1996)

- Director: Mike Nichols
- IMDb user rating: 7.2
- Metascore: 72
- Runtime: 117 minutes

Starring Robin Williams and Nathan Lane as a gay couple who own a drag club called The Birdcage. This comedy explores the hilarity and prejudice that can ensue when two disparate worlds are brought together in the name of love. Though the film came out in the mid ’90s, its radically satirical message still lands today, interrogating the ever-present quandaries of masculinity, homophobia, and a society at war with itself.

4 / 25
Dino De Laurentiis Company

Bound (1996)

- Directors: Lana Wachowski, Lilly Wachowski
- IMDb user rating: 7.3
- Metascore: 61
- Runtime: 109 minutes

The debut film by the sisters and trans activist duo Lana and Lilly Wachowski (of “The Matrix” fame), this lesbian crime thriller centers on a woman who wants to escape a relationship with her mafioso boyfriend. She schemes with her new girlfriend, an ex-con, to steal millions of dollars from the mafia. Queer sex educator and feminist writer Susie Bright was consulted to choreograph the sex scenes. Both steamy and extremely violent, “Bound” is a groundbreaking film across multiple genres.

5 / 25
Cheerleader LLC

But I’m a Cheerleader (1999)

- Director: Jamie Babbit
- IMDb user rating: 6.7
- Metascore: 39
- Runtime: 85 minutes

This satirical cult classic stars a young Natasha Lyonne as a cheerleader who is unexpectedly sent to a conversion therapy camp after her family and friends decide she’s displaying homosexual tendencies. Campy, smart, and over the top, “But I’m a Cheerleader” explores coming of age, coming out, falling in love, and chosen family, while lambasting many LGBTQ+ tropes commonplace in the late ’90s.

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6 / 25
The Weinstein Company

Carol (2015)

- Director: Todd Haynes
- IMDb user rating: 7.2
- Metascore: 94
- Runtime: 118 minutes

Starring Cate Blanchett as the glamorous and mysterious Carol, and Rooney Mara as aspiring photographer and shopgirl Therese, “Carol” is based on Patricia Highsmith’s 1952 novel, “The Price of Salt.” It took decades for the film to get made, as financing for a mainstream lesbian drama was difficult to procure. Many critics lamented that it was not nominated for Best Picture at the 2016 Oscars, with one arguing that it was its lack of a conventional tragic ending for its queer characters that led to its being snubbed: “Ultimately, ‘Carol’s most transgressive quality is its refusal to engage in such shenanigans; this is a film about full-blooded gay lives, not tragic gay deaths.”

7 / 25
Desert Hearts Productions

Desert Hearts (1985)

- Director: Donna Deitch
- IMDb user rating: 7.0
- Metascore: 67
- Runtime: 91 minutes

Seen as a landmark in queer cinema, “Desert Hearts” was of the first mainstream films to center a lesbian love story in 1985, paving the way for films like “Carol” decades later. Donna Deitch’s film focuses on an East Coast professor filing for divorce in Reno. When she meets the younger Cay, a relationship begins to develop, complicating both their current situations as well as their futures. Deitch raised nearly all the funding for the film herself over the course of four years.

8 / 25
Braven Films

Disobedience (2017)

- Director: Sebastián Lelio
- IMDb user rating: 6.6
- Metascore: 74
- Runtime: 114 minutes

Starring Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams, “Disobedience” centers around Weisz’s character, Ronit, who returns to the London ultra-Orthodox Jewish community for her father’s funeral—but she was ostracized from the community beforehand. After reencountering her childhood friend Esti (McAdams), their romance rekindles, leaving both women and the community to confront their beliefs. While the film garnered mostly positive reviews for its representation of both Orthodoxy and queerness, some critics remarked on the casting of non-Jewish McAdams and the role of straight, cisgender, non-Jewish director Sebastián Lelio in telling this particular story.

9 / 25
Rook Films

The Duke of Burgundy (2014)

- Director: Peter Strickland
- IMDb user rating: 6.5
- Metascore: 87
- Runtime: 104 minutes

“The Duke of Burgundy” tells the story of a moth and butterfly scholar—Cynthia, and her younger partner, Evelyn—as they navigate a BDSM relationship in which only one of them is truly invested. Teasing apart themes of love, pleasure, fear of abandonment, aging, and inadequacy, the film was ranked by The A.V. Club as one of the best of 2015 for its deep emotional core layered under “surface-level kinkiness.”

10 / 25
British Film Institute (BFI)

God’s Own Country (2017)

- Director: Francis Lee
- IMDb user rating: 7.7
- Metascore: 85
- Runtime: 104 minutes

Described by some critics as the “British ‘Brokeback Mountain’”—but without the morbid ending—“God’s Own Country” follows a Yorkshire sheep farmer who meets a Romanian migrant worker when he comes to work on the farm. As initial animosity gives way to a passionate and intimate relationship, they must choose how to live among hardship, loss, family obligation, and personal shortcomings.

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11 / 25
CJ Entertainment

The Handmaiden (2016)

- Director: Park Chan-wook
- IMDb user rating: 8.1
- Metascore: 84
- Runtime: 145 minutes

This South Korean psycho-erotic thriller is set during the Japanese occupation of Korea and is an adaptation of Sara Waters’ novel “Fingersmith.” “The Handmaiden” follows a woman involved in a scheme to steal the fortune of an heiress by becoming her handmaiden, but things become increasingly complicated and sinister as feelings develop and the co-conspirators’ motives are revealed.

12 / 25
TriStar Pictures

Happiest Season (2020)

- Director: Clea DuVall
- IMDb user rating: 6.6
- Metascore: 69
- Runtime: 102 minutes

This queer holiday film features an all-star cast including Kristen Stewart, Aubrey Plaza, Dan Levy, and Alison Brie. When Abby (Stewart) and Harper (Mackenzie Davis) go to Harper’s conservative parents’ house for the holidays, they must keep their relationship a secret, as Harper is not out to her parents. As the visit progresses, it becomes more and more difficult to keep the truth from coming out, causing both shenanigans and conflict. “Happiest Season” was written and directed by Clea DuVall of “But I’m a Cheerleader” fame.

13 / 25
Killer Films

Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001)

- Director: John Cameron Mitchell
- IMDb user rating: 7.7
- Metascore: 85
- Runtime: 95 minutes

Based on the 1998 rock musical of the same name, “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” follows Hedwig’s journey from a singer in East Germany to the wife of a U.S. soldier in America, to performer and musician. While Hedwig has been embraced by some over the years as a trans icon, director and creator John Cameron Mitchell has said that he did not conceive “Hedwig” as a trans story, but rather as a drag story. Controversy arose after an Australian production of the show cast a cisgender man to play Hedwig, causing many in the LGBTQ+ community to petition the production to cast a trans actor instead.

14 / 25
BBC Films

Imagine Me & You (2005)

- Director: Ol Parker
- IMDb user rating: 6.7
- Metascore: 49
- Runtime: 90 minutes

A traditional rom-com in most ways apart from the central romance, “Imagine Me & You” tells the story of Rachel and Luce, whose meet-cute occurs at Rachel’s wedding (to a man). As the two realize their feelings for each other, they must navigate the potential fallout of their own lives and the lives of their family and friends.

15 / 25
Lyla Films

Laurence Anyways (2012)

- Director: Xavier Dolan
- IMDb user rating: 7.6
- Metascore: 73
- Runtime: 168 minutes

“Laurence Anyways” is a Quebecois film that follows Laurence (Melvil Poupaud), a trans woman, as she navigates her gender transition and her changing relationship with her girlfriend, Fred (Suzanne Clément). Told over the course of many years, the film mines the persistence and changeability of love, as well as the nature of growing apart and together again.

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16 / 25
Fox 2000 Pictures

Love, Simon (2018)

- Director: Greg Berlanti
- IMDb user rating: 7.6
- Metascore: 72
- Runtime: 110 minutes

This high school romantic comedy tells the story of Simon (Nick Robinson), a closeted gay high schooler, as he cultivates an online relationship with an anonymous classmate and attempts to keep his queerness a secret from his friends, family, and classmates. “Love, Simon” proved popular with mainstream audiences, and is one of the top 25 highest-grossing teen romances of all time.

17 / 25
Merchant Ivory Productions

Maurice (1987)

- Director: James Ivory
- IMDb user rating: 7.7
- Metascore: 75
- Runtime: 140 minutes

This Edwardian period drama, based on E.M. Forster’s novel of the same name, explores gay romance in a highly repressive, political, and social environment. Maurice (James Wilby) is a Cambridge student who finds himself developing feelings for his classmate, Clive (Hugh Grant). Navigating issues of class and homophobia, Maurice must choose whether to conform or follow his heart. The film’s release at the peak of the AIDS crisis, as well as its nonmorbid, explicit portrayal of queer love, made it groundbreaking for its time.

18 / 25
A24

Moonlight (2016)

- Director: Barry Jenkins
- IMDb user rating: 7.4
- Metascore: 99
- Runtime: 111 minutes

Critically acclaimed “Moonlight” follows Chiron, a young Black boy in Miami, as he grows up, grapples with his sexuality, the meaning of family and masculinity, and what intimacy can look like. The film is split into three parts, each featuring a different chapter of Chiron’s life as he becomes an adult. The film is groundbreaking for its predominantly Black cast and director-writer team, and because it was the first film with a queer main character to win an Oscar for Best Picture.

19 / 25
Channel Four Films

My Beautiful Laundrette (1985)

- Director: Stephen Frears
- IMDb user rating: 6.8
- Metascore: 75
- Runtime: 97 minutes

“My Beautiful Laundrette” is set in London during the Thatcher administration, and explores the complex relations between white Londoners and Pakistani communities during that time. The film explores the relationship between Omar, a young Pakistani man, and Johnny, a member of a far-right street gang, as they develop an unlikely romance and manage a laundromat together. Johnny is played by Daniel Day-Lewis in his breakthrough role.

20 / 25
Chicken And Egg Pictures

Pariah (2011)

- Director: Dee Rees
- IMDb user rating: 7.2
- Metascore: 79
- Runtime: 86 minutes

Seen by many as having paved the way for “Moonlight” and “Pose,” Dee Rees’ “Pariah” is the story of Alike, a Black teenager growing up in Brooklyn, as she grapples with her sexuality, her family’s religiosity, and fostering both romantic and platonic friendships where she is seen and accepted. Rees began writing “Pariah” as a graduate film student, and she has continued to make groundbreaking works in Black queer cinema. In an interview, she said, “I’m just interested in seeing myself on screen. I’m interested in seeing my community on screen. And sometimes that’s not just about their identity — let them be whole characters beyond their sexuality.”

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21 / 25
Destination Films

Saving Face (2004)

- Director: Alice Wu
- IMDb user rating: 7.4
- Metascore: 65
- Runtime: 91 minutes

“Saving Face” is a romantic comedy featuring Wil (Michelle Krusiec), a young Chinese-American surgeon who is keeping her sexuality a secret from her mother and family. When she meets and develops feelings for Vivian (Lynn Chen), a Chinese American dancer, she’s forced to weigh the consequences of keeping the truth from everyone. Wu faced several roadblocks in the development of the film, including studios asking her to make the characters white so that Reese Witherspoon or Scarlett Johansson could be cast. Wu refused to compromise, finally making the film her own way and casting Mandarin-speaking actors. Her follow-up to the film, “The Half of It,” came out on Netflix in 2020.

22 / 25
Motlys

Thelma (2017)

- Director: Joachim Trier
- IMDb user rating: 7.0
- Metascore: 74
- Runtime: 116 minutes

This Norwegian supernatural thriller follows Thelma (Eili Harboe), a young woman from a religious family who develops feelings for a female classmate in college and soon discovers she has “Carrie”-esque psychokinetic powers that she can’t control. Juggling horror, self-discovery, and the excitement of falling in love, “Thelma” interrogates how repression and lack of acceptance can push humans to their limits.

23 / 25
Universal Pictures

To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar (1995)

- Director: Beeban Kidron
- IMDb user rating: 6.6
- Metascore: 60
- Runtime: 109 minutes

“To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar'' is a tale of a group of drag queens on a cross-country road trip from New York City to Hollywood. The film blends “Thelma and Louise”-type shenanigans with some features of a makeover movie, and stars Wesley Snipes, Patrick Swayze, and John Leguizamo. Released during the AIDS epidemic by Steven Spielberg’s production company, “To Wong Foo” was the #1 film at the box office for two weeks after its release.

24 / 25
Dancing Girl

The Watermelon Woman (1996)

- Director: Cheryl Dunye
- IMDb user rating: 7.1
- Metascore: 74
- Runtime: 90 minutes

As the first narrative feature-length film to be released by an out Black lesbian filmmaker, “The Watermelon Woman” grapples with the racist trope of the “mammy” archetype in films from the 1930s. The main character, based on Cheryl Dunye herself, searches for the identity of an uncredited actress who portrayed a character referred to only as “The Watermelon Woman.” This auto-fictional work plays with filmmaking and documenting as ways of probing the past, as well as the present.

25 / 25
Glendale Picture Company

Weekend (2011)

- Director: Andrew Haigh
- IMDb user rating: 7.6
- Metascore: 81
- Runtime: 97 minutes

“Weekend” centers on a weekend-long romantic encounter between Russell and Glen after they meet at a gay club. Both men are in the habit of documenting their sexual exploits, and they end up forming a connection. They also discuss the different ways they interact with their sexualities and their public and private personas. Andrew Haigh also directed the 2015 film “45 Years.”

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