Queer cinema has grown exponentially over the past decade. Now, we regularly see films with LGBTQ+ characters and focuses being awarded at the Oscars and receiving increased global recognition. Many of these recently have been stories that depict fictional characters; however, many interesting stories already exist through real-life LGBTQ+ figures.
Stories that depict the lives of real-life people can be more moving and add an element of realism that cannot be achieved elsewhere. With respect to LGBTQ+ history, biopics and movies that center real-life queer people honor those who paved the way, broke boundaries, and achieved great things at a time when homophobia pervaded social attitudes. There are, of course, still plenty of figures that deserve the recognition that others have achieved. Nonetheless, here are the best LGBTQ+ movies based on real-life historical figures, ranked.
8 Saint Laurent
Saint Laurent was released in 2014 and tells the story of renowned fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent during the peak of his career. The film was co-written and directed by Bertrand Bonello and stars the late Gaspard Ulliel in the leading role. The film focuses on the designer from the period between 1967 and 1976, and depicts the life of a monumental figure in history.
Gia was released in 1998 and marks the feature film debut of Angelina Jolie. The film tells the true life story of Gia Carangi, who moves to New York to begin a career in modeling. She is a free-spirited, queer person who made a significant impact in the fashion industry and unfortunately met a tragic end. Jolie’s performance is excellent and captures Gia’s essence perfectly.
6 Aimée & Jaguar
Aimée & Jaguar was released in 1999 and tells the true story of Lilly Wust and Felice Schragenheim, who meet during the height of World War II. Lily is a Nazi officer’s wife and Felice is a lesbian Jew. They engage in star-crossed love affair in a shocking true story, per The Guardian, that is tragically beautiful.
Milk is a biopic starring Sean Penn as Harvey milk, a political activist and the first openly gay man to ever be elected to public office in the U.S.. Milk was elected to the Board of Supervisors and meets a tragic end. Penn would win an Oscar for his performance and the film, and it serves as a testament to Harvey Milk’s life.
Rocketman is a 2019 biopic that features Taron Egerton as music icon Elton John. The film tells the story of his rise to fame and some of the setbacks that he faced throughout his career. The film also showcases his relationship with his manager, John Reid. It’s an enjoyable homage to a cultural icon in LGBTQ+ history.
3 Bohemian Rhapsody
Rami Malek took on the role of Freddie Mercury, the lead singer of Queen, in Bohemian Rhapsody. The performance turned out to be Oscar-winning, depicting the music icon during his time as the frontman of Queen. We see their rise to success, his solo career, and his reunion with the band for the famous Live Aid concert, which is widely regarded as one of the best musical performances in history.
Freeheld stars Julianne Moore as a New Jersey police lieutenant Laurel, who is closeted while working her job, and her Elliot Page (Stacie) who plays her partner. After Laurel is diagnosed with terminal cancer, she and Stacie fight to secure her pension before she dies. The story is based on true events and is an emotional fight for justice.
1 The Imitation Game
The Imitation Game tells the story of one of the most influential figures in queer history, Alan Turing. Benedict Cumberbatch leads the cast, telling the story of the cryptanalyst who was a key figure in decrypting messages from German intelligence, which proved to be crucial to Britain’s involvement in World War II. He hides the fact that he is gay until it is exposed and consequently sends him to prison. It’s an amazing story that everyone should know.