ByPennie Varvarides, writer at
Freelance journalist and filmmaker. Follow Pennie on Twitter @superpennie or check out
Pennie Varvarides

I know what you’re thinking: ‘As if there are that many!’

And to be honest, maybe you’re right. I’ve passed the 250 movie mark for this year’s 500films challenge and I certainly haven’t seen more than 10 lesbian films that didn’t completely suck or leave me feeling empty inside. So this list is going to have to pull from a wider pool. Luckily, I watched a lot of films before just this year's challenge got started. Check out my picks for best lesbian movies below.

13. The Kids Are All Right (2010)

Image: Focus Features
Image: Focus Features

While most of the films on this list focus on nascent lesbian romance, The Kids Are All Right shows us an entirely different couple — one with kids and career problems chipping away at their love. Annette Bening and Julianne Moore star as Jules and Nic, a long-time couple whose children decide to connect with their sperm donor father (Mark Ruffalo). Having this figure in their lives ruptures Jules and Nics' family life in ways none of them could have anticipated, and pushes both women to the brink. The Kids Are All Right is a fantastic ensemble piece, whose real emotion pulls you in until the very last.

12. Mulholland Drive (2001)

Image: Universal Pictures
Image: Universal Pictures

Although lesbian romance might not be the central theme in David Lynch's twisty thriller, it's the lynchpin that stitches all of the hallucinatory fragments together. Naomi Watts and Laura Harring sizzle together on-screen — and the disintegration of their love makes for some of the most disturbing moments in this baffling but brilliant tale. I shan't say too much, but there's a masturbation scene whose close-up shots may well haunt you for days to come.

11. Carol (2015)

Image: StudioCanal
Image: StudioCanal

This recent film from acclaimed director Todd Haynes charts the affair of Rooney Mara's Therese, a young shop girl, and the eponymous Carol — played by Cate Blanchett, in one of the best performances of her career. Where the film could've pandered to its period setting and run with the usual storyline of 'love against the backdrop of historical homophobia', it instead gave a much more nuanced portrayal of the breakdown of a marriage and the blossoming of a new romance. The period details in the sets and costumes, stunning cinematography and a truly tender story blend together seamlessly — this is not one you don't want to miss!

10. Imagine Me & You (2005)

This was the first lesbian movie I came across to actually have a happy ending, which fills me with such joy. No suicides, murders or rapes; instead, we’re treated to a lovely rom-com starring the incredible Lena Heady and Piper Perabo. Based in London, a newlywed bride starts to question her sexuality when she finds herself falling for the woman who did the flowers at her wedding.

9. But I’m A Cheerleader (1999)

This satirical comedy will make you mad and laugh in equal measure. Megan (Natasha Lyonne) is a chirpy high school cheerleader. She doesn’t much like kissing her boyfriend and much prefers checking out the other cheerleaders. Combined with her vegetarianism and interest Melissa Etheridge (someone I assume was a lesbian icon of sorts in the '90s), her family decides she’s a lesbian and stages an intervention. They ship her off to camp to cure her, where she meets a group of other young homosexuals going through a reparative five-step programme. This film is great. It’s fun and witty while mocking ridiculous gender norms and the ex-gay movement.

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8. Bound (1996)

This film is sexy as hell and beautifully shot. Ex-con Corky (Gina Gershon) is hired as a plumber in the building where she meets Violet (Jennifer Tilly), girlfriend to a money-laundering mafioso. Hot lesbian sex punctuates plans to pull off a major heist. Bound is a retro thriller full of complex relationships and tightly scripted suspense.

7. Fucking Amal (Show Me Love) (1998)

This is a Swedish coming of age story about two teenage girls in a small town who fall in love. There are some pretty intense moments. Agnes (Rebecka Liljeberg) is lonely and depressed, while Elin (Alexandra Dahlström) is the outgoing popular kid. Elin is mean to Agnes at first, but then feels bad for her behavior and soon they fall in love, discovering each other and life. This film is touching and sad and happy all at the same time; and totally worth a watch.

6. Loving Annabelle (2006)

Annabelle (Erin Kelly) is a ‘bad girl’ with a history of getting in trouble at school. She moves to a Catholic girls’ boarding school and quickly sets her sights on her English teacher Simone (Diane Gaidry). The first half of the film is tense, filled with close encounters and unravels into a love story on different paths.

5. Elena Undone (2010)

Elena (Necar Zadegan) is married to a pastor; Peyton (Traci Dinwiddie) is a well-known lesbian writer around the same age. These two women cross paths (literally) at the beginning of the film and set off a series of events that soon lead to a secret lustful affair. There are tonnes of really awkward scenes that feel very realistic and a few ups and downs as soon as they realise that they seriously like each other.

4. Nina’s Heavenly Delights (2006)

This British rom-com focusses on a young Glaswegian cook, Nina Shah (Shelley Conn) and an old childhood friend, Lisa (Laura Fraser). The pair are running Nina’s late father’s Indian restaurant, which is struggling to survive. This is a happy-go-lucky flick about cooking, family and romance. It’s predictable and has some overly convenient ‘twists’, but that’s ok.

3. Gray Matters (2006)

This film isn’t really that great, but it’s not bad and it won’t leave you depressed and curled up in a corner. It isn’t very intense and nobody dies at the end, and it wins points for treating gayness as an everyday thing amongst everyday individuals (because it absolutely is).

2. Viola Di Mare (Purple Sea) (2009)

This is a brilliant Italian film set on a rural 19th century island and based on a true story. It’s actually really intense and will leave you rather emotionally exhausted. A film has never had so many ups and downs. Angela (Valeria Solarino) and Sara (Isabella Ragonese) are childhood friends who end up falling madly in love. Their affair is conducted secretly at first, but then openly to stop an arranged marriage to a boy on the island. They face a lot of resistance, particularly from Angela’s incredibly scary father. This film is really good. I don’t want to tell you too much, so just watch it.

1. Breaking The Girls (2013)

This film is pretty dark (sorry, there are limited good, happy lesbian flicks), but it’s pretty brilliant. I’m fantastic at calling movie plots, and this one had so many twists and turns, it took me by surprise the whole way through. I don’t want to give too much away, so just go watch it.


What is your favorite lesbian movie from this list?

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