These days, queer movies come in all shapes and styles, from handsomely mounted biopics (“Milk”) to kid-friendly rom-coms (“Love, Simon“). That’s a good thing; you want queer art to enjoy variety and novelty, and appeal to all audiences in the LGBTQ community. But sometimes, you want something very specific from a queer film; you want it to be sexy as hell.
When queer movies started bubbling into the mainstream in the early ’90s via movies like “Philadelphia,” they tended to be slightly sanitized, lacking much in the way of physical depictions of intimacy. (In “Philadelphia,” Hanks’ lead character famously never kisses his partner.) That’s changed as the years have gone on. Thanks to films like “Brokeback Mountain,” there’s now a ton of modern examples of queer films that aren’t shy about their leads getting it on. But there’s a longer history of sexy queer cinema that goes back well before the ’90s, even if many of those movies were made from independent creators and were little seen.
Some of these movies even faced censorship due to their content, like the short film “Un Chant D’Amour,” which only featured gay scenes via symbolism. Other films, like Chantal Akerman’s “Je, Tu, Il, Elle,” or Pedro Almodóvar’s “Law of Desire,” broke boundaries in how explicitly they featured gay love. There’s always discourse bubbling about the “necessity” of sex scenes in cinema, but films like Akerman’s or Almodóvar’s prove why these intimate portrayls can be vital tools — conveying something about the characters, and about queer life, that you couldn’t if everyone kept their clothes on.
In celebration of Pride Month, IndieWire rounded up the 22 hottest, steamiest, and/or sexiest films in the queer canon. Titles range from cult hits and arthouse fare like “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” and “Querelle,” to more mainstream works like “Bound” and “Call Me By Your Name.” Some of the movies are balls-to-the-walls sexy, like John Cameron Mitchell’s unsimulated “Shortbus.” Others, like “Cruel Intentions,” don’t have explicit queer sex depicted in them, but get their erotic power through queer kisses and mounting sexual tension. Regardless of the films’ content, all share something in common; they’re so hot it’s hard to watch without blushing.
Entries are listed chronologically, from early queer classics like “Un Chant D’Amour” to modern favorites like “God’s Own Country.”
With editorial contributions by Alison Foreman.
“Un Chant D’Amour” (1950)
What it is: A very early example of an explictly gay film, Jean Genet’s 26-minute short was banned for years due to its boundary-pushing symbolism. Told without dialogue, the story follows two prisoners — one middle-aged and one in his twenties — seperated in adjourning cells. As a voyeuristic guard looks on, the two communicate their love and lust for each other through several indirect actions; most famously, by sharing cigarette smoke through a hole in the wall.
Why it’s sexy: Cigarettes are certainly bad for you, but it’s hard to deny the alluring effect they produce onscreen. “Un Chant D’Amour” features some nudity in a scene where the older man masturbates, but the scenes where he shares his smoke with his younger lover are the most sensual in the film, and definitive proof a movie doesn’t need nudity or sex to be incredibly sexy. —WC
“Je, Tu, Il, Elle” (1974)
What it is: Chantal Akerman, best known for the Sight & Sound poll topper “Jeanne Dielman,” directs and stars in “Je, Tu, Il, Elle.” As the name might suggest, the film follows its aimless protagonist’s relationships with a man and a woman: a male driver she gives a handjob to, and her female ex-lover she reconnects with in a 14-minute long sex scene.
Why it’s sexy: I’m sorry, did you not hear the words 14-minute long sex scene? “Je, Tu, Il, Elle,” is a slow-moving film (the entire first third is Julie packing to leave her apartment), and a heavy-minded one, concerned with ideas of how love, desire, and relationships affect one’s identity. But the 14-minute climax ends the movie with a bang, quite literally, and made history as one of the first explicit gay love scenes in a mainstream feature. —WC
“The Rocky Horror Picture Show” (1975)
What it is: If you don’t already know the tragi-campy tale of Dr. Frank-N-Furter (Tim Curry) by heart, then you at least know this midnight movie mainstay by its sparkling reputation. Directed by Jim Sharman, from a script co-written by Sharman and playwright Richard O’Brien (who first brought “RHPS” to London’s Royal Court Theater in 1973), this sci-fi cult classic tells the sordid story of a straight couple (Susan Sarandon, Barry Bostwick) caught in a rainstorm and thrust into the home of a mad scientist, his sexy Frankenstein-like creation Rocky (Peter Hinwood), and a slew of dutiful servants (O’Brien, Patricia Quinn, Little Nell, and Meat Loaf).
Why it’s sexy: The fishnets and big orgy finale may speak for themselves, but as a matter of sexiness “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” is more than the sum of its sweat and sequins. This over-the-top musical uses scandalous choreography and monstrously funny innuendo to evoke a provactive playfulness that’s first and foremost fabulously queer. It’s a film that’s helped decades of audience members find their LGBTQ identity and chosen family with its explicit pleas to (sing it with me) “give yourself over to absolute pleeeeassssure.” —AF
What it is: Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s final howl of anguish from the soul was 1982’s “Querelle,” his last and possibly gayest movie. It’s an adaptation of a novel by French libertine Jean Genet, settling into a French port city where a madame played by Jeanne Moreau runs the world, and sailors engage in explicit sex acts that turn violent
Why it’s sexy: Ill-fated “Midnight Express” and “Chariots of Fire” actor Brad Davis cuts an alluring figure as the title character, a criminal in love who debases himself on the docks. Xaver Schwarzenberger’s cinematography conjures a moody atmosphere that charges every frame with sexual energy. —RL
“The Hunger” (1983)
What it is: There was a time when every lesbian would roll their eyes at the mention of this iconic bisexual vampire thriller, which stars David Bowie, Catherine Deneuve, and Susan Sarandon in a love triangle of immortal proportions. That’s only because the steamy sex scene played on repeat at every lesbian bar for years.
Why it’s sexy: Aside from containing the first nude lesbian sex scene in a major film, “The Hunger” is dripping with yearning, curiosity, playfulness, and intrigue from start to finish. Not to mention, Susan Sarandon in a wet t-shirt. —JD
“Desert Hearts” (1985)
What it is: Donna Deitch’s seminal queer classic marked the first time lesbians could go into a movie theater and see two women in love. The romantic drama told the story of a Columbia professor (Helen Shaver) who falls in love with a country tomboy (Patricia Charbonneau) while awaiting a divorce.
Why it’s sexy: Shot by Oscar winner Robert Elswit (Paul Thomas Anderson’s frequent DP), “Desert Hearts” has a sweeping romantic look and an intimate celluloid glow. The air is charged between the two actresses, who were highly aware of the history they were making and delivered the passion. —JD
“Working Girls” (1986)
What it is: Lizzie Borden’s ambitious vérité drama follows a day in the life of Manhattan sex workers working out of an Upper East Side apartment. In addition to their clients who come and go, the women must flatter a hilariously self-involved madam who overworks and underpays them.
Why it’s sexy: While the film showed the mundane reality of sex work in a radical way for the time, it also offered an unvarnished portrayal that’s free from the faux-titillation or stuffy moralizing that plagues contemporary movies about sex work. —JD
“Law of Desire” (1987)
What it is: Pedro Almodóvar’s NC-17 love triangle centers on gay filmmaker Pablo Quintero (Eusebio Poncela), his trans sister and the actress Tina (Carmen Maura), and Quintero’s obsessive fan Antonio (Antonio Banderas).
Why it’s sexy: Any Almodóvar joint featuring Banderas is inherently lusty, but “Law of Desire” shattered propriety with its graphic guy-on-guy sex even from the film’s opening scene and featuring its gorgeous lead, as creepy and possessive as Banderas’ Antonio turns out to be. Full-frontal nudity also abounds, setting the stage for Almodóvar’s many unflinching (and sexy!) depictions of gay eroticism to come. —RL
“Tongues Untied” (1989)
What it is: Marlon Riggs’ 1989 short documentary interrogates the prejudices against Black male identity in even America’s gayest corners; not only white and straight homophobia against Blacks but gay-loathing and racism within the community itself.
Why it’s sexy: While Riggs seeks to query the hypersexualization of Black men in history, the documentary is hardly an academic text. Its celebratory, artfully rendered representation of Black male bodies and Black male sexuality is a joyous one, finding the poetry in anatomy and forms that are typically commodified for titillation’s sake only. —RL
What it is: The Wachowskis made their feature debut with “Bound,” a 1996 crime thriller romance starring two lesbian women. Violet (Jennifer Tilly) is the abused girlfriend of mobster Caesar (Joe Pantoliano). When ex-con Corky (Gina Gershon) is hired to renovate the apartment next door to her and Caesar’s, the two fall in love and lust, and hatch a scheme to steal $2 million from the mob.
Why it’s sexy: The lesbian sex scene in “Bound” is only 20 seconds long or so, but it was groundbreaking at the time and still holds up as pretty hot today. And the film outside the one scene is hot as hell too, with Tilly and Gershon sharing a charged chemistry that makes all their scenes sizzle. Plus if you find the aesthetic of “The Matrix”with all that leather and ’90s punk looks arousing, this film — where both women look a lot like Trinity — was practically made for you. —WC
“High Art” (1998)
What it is: Writer/director Lisa Cholodenko conjures up exquisite neighbors-to-lovers tension in this 1998 indie romance, starring “Breakfast Club” icon Ally Sheedy as an ellusive, famous photographer and Radha Mitchell as the up-and-coming, twenty-something Syd who falls into her orbit.
Why it’s sexy: “High Art” is a gorgeous, if intermittently painful slow-burn story of fraught connection that makes a meal of its lead actors’ innate chemistry and lingers in dreamy scenes of comingled sex and melancholy. —AF
“Cruel Intentions” (1999)
What it is: Writer/director Roger Kumble puts a ludicrously lurid spin on “Dangerous Liasons” in this 1999 teen drama starring Ryan Phillippe and Sarah Michelle Gellar as overly close step-siblings who team up to ruin the reputations of two girls at their elite Manhattan private school.
Why it’s sexy: “Cruel Intentions” is nothing if not tawdry and taboo: the sort of silly, underbaked sex dramedy you can’t actually recomend with a straight face. (Seriously, its romantic climax only works if you have a super squishy soft spot for Counting Crows — and even then, it’s got a better chance at making you giggle than swoon.) But to deny the LGBTQ impact of the “Cruel Intentions” kiss is to reject a coming-out catalyst for a generation of queer women; not to mention, one of the best scenes in spit kink cinema.
Selma Blair plays the naive Cecile Caldwell opposite Gellar’s temptress antagonist Kathryn for a smooch in Central Park. It’s just “practice” for boys, of course: a transparent exercise heralded by Gellar’s nonchalant delivery on the line, “How else do you think girls learn?” Kathryn’s explicit kissing instructions (“Now, I want you to massage my tongue with yours…”) bumped up against Cecile’s excited curiosity (“That was cool…”) isn’t well tied to the rest of the film and certainly panders to the male gaze. But the earnestness of the scene’s setup and that one glistening strand of lip gloss connecting Kathryn and Cecile is nothing if not the movies’ greatest monument to sapphic picnics and lesbians locking lips. —AF
“Y tu mamá también” (2001)
What it is: Julio (Gael García Bernal) and Tenoch (Diego Luna) are two horny teen boys and best friends with girlfriends that they’re all too eager to cheat on. When the girls go away on vacation, the duo meet the gorgeous Louisa (Maribel Verdú) at a wedding, and wind up taking her on a somewhat pointless road trip through rural Mexico that unlocks some deep seated secrets between the two.
Why it’s sexy: It’s hard to think of three hotter people to lead a movie than Verdú and a young Bernal and Luna. But the film doesn’t rest on the beautiful faces of its leads; it’s stuffed to the brim with hot moments, from the opening sex scenes of Julio and Tenoch with their girlfriends to a succession of hook-ups Louisa has with the boys. The unbelievable chemistry of the leads reaches its apex with a sweaty three-way dance, and the way the film builds on the repressed desires the teen boys have for each other may just be the single hottest thing about it. —WC
What it is: John Cameron Mitchell films are always hilarious, provocative, and deeply felt, but in “Shortbus” he weaves multiple compelling narratives (not an easy feat) into a gorgeous revery of a bohemian New York that already slipping away at release. Set in the early aughts, the film has a timeless nostalgia about it, like a time capsule of some bygone era of sexual freedom that maybe everyone feels they just barely missed out on.
Why it’s sexy: Yes, “Shortbus” is unique because it features real, unsimulated sex — some of the most playful, acrobatic, and creative sex you’ll ever witness — but it’s also incredibly moving.
“‘Shortbus’ isn’t about sex,” Mitchell told IndieWire in 2022. “It uses sex as a medium, as a delivery system for ideas and characters and emotions, just like ‘Hedwig [and the Angry Itch]’ uses music. Sex is our music in ‘Shortbus.’ We really only did one sexual rehearsal. I just went with what they wanted to do.” —JD
Read IndieWire’s complete interview with John Cameron Mitchell.
“I Can’t Think Straight” (2007)
What it is: Adapted from her novel of the same name, writer/director Shamim Sarfi’s “I Can’t Think Straight” stars Lisa Ray and Sheetal Sheth as an engaged woman and the beautiful artist-type she falls for as her fiance (Daud Shah) readies for their much anticipated wedding day in the background.
Why it’s sexy: We’re still in dire need of a properly lovely lesbian rom-com, and “I Can’t Think Straight” doesn’t deliver in all of the ways you might hope. Its humor is fizzy and fun (“But some of my best friends are Lebanese!”) until falling flat at all the wrong times, and hitting pacing problems aplenty.
But the chemistry between Ray and Sheth is undeniable, building steadily across familiar genre scenes (three cheers for pictureseque garden flirting!) and culminating with a steamy first encounter that brilliantly, if somewhat unethically capitalizes on the innate thrill of a forbidden affair. —AF
What it is: Andrew Haigh’s what-might-have-been romance follows Nottingham gays Russell (Tom Cullen) and Glen (Chris New) on a weekend-long fling interrupted when Glen drops the bomb he’s moving to the U.S. a day later.
Why it’s sexy: Russell and Glen share all manner of steamy confidences and a few graphic sex scenes of their own involving explicitly shown bodily fluids. But perhaps hotter and heavier are the moments of intimacy they share knowing the clock is ticking on the time they have left. “Weekend” shows us what “Before Sunrise” didn’t over the course of a whirlwind affair that of course would’ve included a lot of sex. —RL
“Stranger By the Lake” (2013)
What it is: This taut French thriller takes place at a lakeside cruising ground for gay men, where a menacing presence is lurking in the woods. After witnessing a forced drowning, one man finds himself indelibly attracted to the dangerous stranger.
Why it’s sexy: More than subtle framing and lingering stares, filmmaker Alain Guiraudie delivers full-on French film in his laissez faire portrayal of gay sex, while weaving it seamlessly into his riveting (and twisted) narrative. —JD
“The Duke of Burgundy” (2014)
What it is: Evelyn (Chiara D’Anna) is a maid who lives and studies lepidopterology — butterflies and moths — under the older Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen): a domineering lecturer. Cynthia is cruel, strict, and mean-spirited, and frequently reprimands and chastizes the meaker Evelyn. At least, that’s how the movie presents it at first, before the actual, BDSM-fueled dynamics of their relationship become far apparent.
Why it’s sexy: For starters, the film just looks sexy. Inspired by ’70s sexploitation flicks, Peter Strickland made “The Duke of Burgundy” into a visual feast, with gorgeous costumes and soft sensual lighting that helps convey the intense sexual tension between the two women at the film’s center. And they have a ton of it; the film builds their tumultuous dynamic and their struggles to find mutual pleasure slowly, until the desire to see them rip each other’s clothes off becomes almost unbearable. —WC
“The Handmaiden” (2016)
What it is: Based on the Sarah Waters’ novel “Fingersmith,” Park Chan-wook’s gorgeous period drama follows the surreptitious romance between a pickpocket (Kim Tae-ri) and the heiress (Kim Min-hee) she is hired to con.
Why it’s sexy: In addition to some truly creative and titillating BDSM scenes, “The Handmaiden” mined the endless opportunities for erotic tension found in the power dynamics and mind games between queer women. —JD
“God’s Own Country” (2017)
What it is: Francis O’Connor’s quietly romantic debut feature stars Josh O’Connor in his breakout role as Johnny: a young sheep farmer forced to run his family’s farm in the wake of his dad’s stroke. Bitter and closed off, Johnny spends his free time engaging in meaningless hook-ups, but things change for him when Romanian migrant worker Gheorghe (Alec Secăreanu) gets hired to assist during lambing season.
Why it’s sexy: There’s a ton of sex in “God’s Own Country” from the start – with all of Johnny’s flings — and neither O’Connor or Secăreanu are particularly shy about baring their bodies on screen. But the sexiest thing about the movie is the way Gheorghe slowly breaks down Johnny’s barriers, and gets the icy man to become tender and loving; sometimes, emotional intimacy is what’s hottest. —WC
What it is: Sebastián Lelio’s burning-yet-elegant “Disobedience” is more than the familiar feminist rebellion you might think. In the exquisitely melancholic lesbian romance, Rachel Weisz plays Ronit, an excommunicated Jewish woman who unexpectedly returns home after the death of her father. She’s soon reunited with her old friend Dovid, a conflicted Alessandro Nivola, and Esti, David’s wife and Ronit’s secret childhood sweetheart — played by a shapeshifting Rachel McAdams.
Why it’s sexy: The trio’s impromptu exploration of freedom, intimacy, and the conflicts inherent therein offers not just a compelling LGBTQ love story, but a powerful reflection on the rules we choose to follow and those we fight to defy. It also spurs the pièce de résistance of spit kink cinema in a sex scene between Ronit and Esti that’s deeply authentic in its consideration of lesbian connection: a frantic flurry of empassionaed embraces and fingers sliding into mouths. The scene was something of A Moment in 2017, and remains a subject of playful debate among sapphic cinephiles. Whether you think it’s sexy or not, no one forgets their first time seeing the “Disobedience” spit. —AF
“Call Me By Your Name” (2017)
What it is: Luca Guadagnino’s Oscar-winning summer romance, written by James Ivory, finds Elio (Timothée Chalamet) and Oliver (Armie Hammer) falling in love over one hot summer in Italy.
Why it’s sexy: Guadagnino infamously pans to a tree during a moonlit-scene in which Elio and Oliver finally get around to fucking, but the movie is sexiest for all the tension simmering in the lead-up.
Also, Chalamet perhaps bravely bares quite a lot for a then-ingenue actor in one particularly juicy scene for the ages where he masturbates into a ripe peach. In the original André Aciman novel, Oliver eats said peach unlike in the film, a moment clearly too explicit for Guadagnino, but he and Ivory nevertheless let our imaginations do the work. —RL