Five Classic Movies About Gay Men That You Need To See

Keanu Reeves wears all black and poses for cameras during a photocall.
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Oct 24, 2022 12:37 PM ET

Our weekly lists are back, this time with a round-up of movies that feature gay characters. Representation is a tricky issue, and it feels like streaming services are flooded with questionable content. We have weeded out the boring, the pedestrian, and the uninspired, and we hope you'll give each one of the following suggestions some of your time. Scroll down to see what we love and why we think you'll love it too.

Before Night Falls

This film is based on the memoir of the same name by Cuban poet and activist, Reinaldo Arenas. He was born in Oriente province and joined Castro's rebels, but later served two years in prison for his writing and his homosexuality. The movie follows his escape from Cuba in the Mariel boatlift, his subsequent life in New York City, and his eventual battle with AIDS. The distinctive color tones in the film were praised by critics, and the director later noted that the effect was achieved by using chocolate-toned filters fitted to the camera lenses.

Javier Bardem, Johnny Depp, and Olatz Lopez Garmendia all give striking performances under Julian Schnabel's direction.

Where to watch: Filmbox, Prime Video Channels, or Rent on Prime Video


Gus Van Sant directs this biopic about Harvey Milk, who was California's first openly gay elected official. He was assassinated in 1978 but his struggles and activism inspired the film that traces his life from his 40th birthday to his death. It draws on archival footage and interviews for authenticity, which lends a documentary-style tone to the work. Sean Penn stars as Milk in a classic performance that earned critical praise.

Where to watch: Hulu

Prayers For Bobby

Sigourney Weaver stars as Mary Griffith, who became a gay rights activist after losing her son to suicide. Griffith was originally intolerant of LGBTQ+ people because of her rigid religious beliefs. She was also the only member of her immediate family that was unable to come to terms with her son's gayness. The film traces the loss of her son and the undoing of her relationship with her church, as she reaches out to the gay community and finds unexpected support. Ryan Kelley rounds out the cast and gives a solid performance as Bobby Griffith.

Where to watch: Prime Video

A Single Man

Directed by Tom Ford and starring Colin Firth and Julianne Moore, this drama is about grief, loss, and loneliness. Firth stars as a man mourning the sudden death of his partner of 16 years, as he copes with being barred from the funeral by his partner's intolerant family. Firth's character plans his suicide over the course of a day, one that is routinely interrupted by a host of supporting players that give him pause. His performance is understated but also intense, and the film provides a sensitive look at gay life in the 1960s.

Where to watch: Tubi

My Own Private Idaho

Another LGBTQ+ classic directed by Gus Van Sant, this film has long held a place in the hearts of movie buffs. The storyline follows two hustlers living on the streets of Portland, Oregon, who become best friends. Keanu Reeves and River Phoenix, who were known for their own off-screen friendship, star as the two leads. The movie is based on Shakespeare's Henry IV, Part 1, Henry IV, Part 2, and Henry V., but the story itself follows the two young men as they travel in search of Phoenix's birth mother. Both characters are bisexual with differing takes on what it means to be LGBTQ+ and engage in sex work. If you haven't seen this cult classic and like throwback films, give this raw and sometimes funny film a spot on your watch list.

Where to watch: Rent on Prime Video or Apple TV

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