Gay Cinema: Lesbian Films, A to Z

Cinematic representations of lesbianism is a recurrent issue that has left much to be desired.

I am often asked by film students and readers of my website to single out the date of the first openly lesbian film.  My answer has always been vague and tentative.

There are some silent and early sound films made in Europe, such as Pandora’s Box or Madchen in Uniform

In early Hollywood films, lesbians were usually portrayed as victims, killers, neurotics, or prostitutes.

There’s of course lesbian subtext in some Hollywood movies of the past, as evident in Nicholas Ray’s Johnny Guitar (1954), the bond between Vienna (Joan Crawford) and Emma (Mercedes McCambridge), or in George Stevens Giant (1955) in the character of Rock Hudson’s butch sister (also played by McCambridge).

In the UK, 1967 was a milestone year because homosexuality was finally and officially decriminalized, even if there was no mention of lesbianism in the new legislation.

In the USA, the 1969 Stonewall riots were a turning point that led to the beginning of the modern gay and lesbian liberation movement.

From those moments on, lesbians have been slowly coming out on celluloid, albeit mostly seen from the gaze of male directors (straight and gay).

In tracking the key films of gay and lesbian cinema, we have not restricted our list to films available on DVD or for streaming.

Sooner or later, Mädchen in Uniform (1931), Club de femmes (1936), Personal Best (1982), Virgin Machine (1988), and great films by Ulrike Ottinger and Chantal Akerman, will become available.

Walter Benjamin had said that the lesbian is the heroine of modernism…

Gay Cinema: Lesbian-themed features (in alphabetical order)

10:30pm Summer, 1966

Aimee and Jaguar, 2000

All About Eve, 1950

Another Way, 1982

Bar Girls, 1995

Blue Is the Warmest Color, 2013

Bound, 1996

Break My Fall, 2012

By Design, 1980

Caged, 1950

Carol, 2013

Chasing Amy, 1997

Children’s Hour, 1961

Club de femmes, 1936

Desert Hearts, 1986

Diabolique, 1955

Diabolique, 1995

Disobedience, 2018

Do I Love You? 2002

Entre Nous, 1983

Farewell My Love, 1975

Favourite, The, 2018

Five Easy Pieces, 1970

Fox, The, 1968

Fried Green Tomatoes, 1991

From Russia With Love, 1963

Gay Sisters, 1942

Giant, 1955

Go Fish, 1994

Grandma

Group, The, 1966

Handmaiden, The, 2016

Heavenly Creatures, 1994

Henry and June, 1990

High Art, 1998

Hours, The, 2002

I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing, 1987

Jaqueline Suzanne Once Is Not Enough, 1975

Johnny Guitar, 1954

Julia, 1977

Kansas City Bomber, 1972

Kids Are All Right, The, 2010

Killing of Sister George, The, 1968

Kissing Jessica Stein, 2001

L Word, The (TV series)

Laurel Canyon, 2003

Lianna, 1983

Lonely Lady, The, 1983

Madchen in Uniform, 1931

Madchen in Uniform,

Manhattan, 1979

Monster, 2003

Mulholland Drive, 2001

Murder on the Orient Express, 1974

Murder on the Orient Express, 2017

My Brilliant Career, 1979

My Summer of Love, 2004

Night of the Iguana, The, 1964

No Exit, 1962

Olive, 1933

Orlando, 1992

Paris Was a Woman,

Personal best, 1982

Pit of Loneliness, 1954

Private Benjamin, 1980

Puzzle of Downfall Child, 1970

Rachel Rachel 1968

Rebecca, 1940

Rich and Famous, 1981

Richard’s Things, 1980

Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone, The, 1961

Secret Ceremony, 1968

Show Me Love, 1999

Sister My Sister 1995

Stranger Inside, 2001

Summertime, 2011

Sylvia, 1965

These Three, 1936

Thirteen, 2003

Tomboy,

Uninvited, The, 1944

Unmarried Woman, An, 1978

Virgin Machine (1988)

Waiting for the Moon, 1987

Walk on the Wild Side, 1961

Watermelon Woman, 1997

Windows, 1980

Young Man with Horn, 1950

X Y Z, 1972

 

Lesbian-themed films by Year

1930s

Madchen in Uniform

1940s

Rebecca

Uninvited, The

1950s

All About Eve

Diabolique

Giant

Johnny Guitar

Young Man with a Horn

 

1960s

Walk on the Wild Side

10:30 PM Summer

The Group

The Fox

The Killing of Sister George

 

1970s

 

1980s

Personal Best

 

1990s

Go Fish

Bound

Watermelon Woman