The 5 Best Movies To Watch During Pride Month

Pride Month is here and we're spending stormy summer nights with our favorite movies that put a spotlight on queer characters.

Putting together lists of movies to watch during Pride Month has gotten easier in recent years because of the rising number of films featuring queer stories. But, there's still a long way to go in terms of diversifying the types of stories about queer people being told. Unlike television, which has seen a lot of forward momentum when it comes to representation, movie studios still remain inconsistent, per NBC News. In 2019, for instance, while there were 118 films released by major studios, GLAAD — the LGBTQ media advocacy organization — found only 22 movies included queer characters. This made 2019, NBC reports, the biggest year for queer characters since GLAAD started tracking representation.

Normalizing the idea that queer people exist and are deserving of having their stories told is still an issue in books and movies. One of the reasons representation is so important, Holly Mallet writes for Backstage, is because it shows other queer people how to be queer. Unlike heterosexual relationships, which are represented everywhere all the time, queer relationships are either hidden, talked about in code, or ignored completely. This can not only create a strong sense of shame, but can also be alienating — especially for kids and teens (via Psychology Today).

The movies we picked for Pride Month reflect a wide variety of stories that demonstrate how complex and diverse love can — and should — be.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

While surprisingly rare on Pride month movie recommendation lists, "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" reigns as queen of the queer cult classics. Alison Foreman writes for "The A.V. Club" that the movie, which she calls a "screamingly fun romp," stars Barry Bostwick, Susan Sarandon, and Tim Curry, and follows newly-engaged Brad Majors (Bostwick) and Janet Weiss (Sarandon) as they spend a night at the home of Dr. Frank-N-Furter, played by Curry.

"Rocky Horror," which came out only six years after the Stonewall Uprising, the unofficial kickoff of the gay rights movement, has been a cornerstone of queer community and culture. Whether you're gay, a theater kid, or both, chances are you've been — or at least been invited to — a midnight showing of "Rocky Horror Picture Show." June Thomas tells Slate that the audience participation started just five months into the movie's run. What was once just people talking back to the movie turned into people dressing up in full make-up and costume, and acting out the movie as the movie's being played behind them.

Thomas points out that for many, going to screenings of "Rocky Horror" was the equivalent of going to a gay bar, something that was a rare find when the movie first came out. The movie has and continues to provide a home and community for those who feel like they don't belong. You can watch "Rocky Horror Picture Show" on Disney+ or by renting it or buying it through AppleTV or Amazon Prime.

Maurice (1987)

If you follow the #darkacademia and "The Secret History” by Donna Tartt is one of your favorite books, you probably already know (and love) the movie "Maurice." Based on the book with the same title by E.M. Forster, the adaptation was done by Ismail Merchant and James Ivory, who were also responsible for writing the adaptations of Forster's "Room With a View" and "Howards End." Ivory is also responsible for adapting the smash-hit "Call Me By Your Name," a common find on both Pride Month reading and movie lists (via The Guardian).

Starring Hugh Grant and James Wilby, "Maurice" follows the relationship between Maurice Hall (Wilby) and Grant's Clive Durham, best friends who fall in love. But the stakes are too high for Clive, Vogue explains, who is worried about his social standing, and Maurice turns to Clive's groundskeeper, played by Rupert Graves, for love instead.

"Maurice" is one of those movies that was way ahead of its time that shares qualities with other queer historical dramas where it doesn't realy on sex scenes to add layers of sensuality to the story. Instead, "Maurice" focuses on the slow burning intimate, emotional relationship between Maurice and Clive and, as Guy Lodge writes for "The Guardian," the every struggles of being a gay man.

You can rent or purchase "Maurice" through Amazon Prime or AppleTV.

Carol (2015)

Starring Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchette, "Carol" is a Pride month movie recommendation staple. The book it's based on, "Salt" by Patricia Highsmith, is also on many Pride month reading recommendation lists but like with many book adaptations, "Carol" takes a different approach to this vintage love story than its source material.

Set in 1950s New York, Carol Aird (Blanchette) and Therese Belivet (Mara) meet at Christmas-time and, of course, fall in love (via Mashable). But Nylon warns this is anything but a love story, despite the book's (spoiler alert) famously happy ending. With a trope familiar in queer cinema — the young, inexperienced student having an affair with the older teacher-type — the story follows Carol, a bisexual woman who is in the middle of a nasty divorce and custody battle, as she has an affair with the young Therese, who works at the department store Carol happened to be shopping at.

At the time the book and movie take place, homosexuality was considered a mental illness. If Carol and Therese's relationship were to get out, Carol risks losing custody of her child. It's these touches of reality that Nylon says help cement "Carol" in the real world, making it more than just another holiday romance.

"Carol" is currently streaming on Netflix, and is available for rent or purchase through AppleTV and Amazon Prime.

Moonlight (2016)

No Pride month movie list would be complete without "Moonlight" on it. This Academy Award winning movie follows Chiron, a young, Black teen living in Miami as he struggles with bullying, parental neglect, and understanding and accepting his own sexuality (via Today).

"Moonlight" has had a lasting impact on black, queer cinema, writes André Wheeler for Them. In the wake of its best picture win, "Moonlight" ushered in a fresh take on the black coming-of-age experience, one that lets their main characters be complicated and unhardened by their lives. If hardening happens, the audience sees it played out on screen. As we watch Chiron grow in three distinct stages, played by different actors at each point, we see how his experiences — whether they're his being bullied or being mentored by Juan, played by Mahershala Ali — shape the man he eventually turns into (via The Guardian).

Steven W Thrasher points out in his review for "The Guardian" that so many queer stories are coded as being white. That "Moonlight" follows a queer black child, that tells his story in a way that endears him to the audiences, is groundbreaking, and just one of the many reasons "Moonlight" is such a phenomenal, heart-wrenching, beautiful movie.

You can watch "Moonlight" on HBO Max, Kanopy, or Showtime. It's available to rent or buy from AppleTV and Amazon Prime.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019)

If you haven't seen "Portrait of a Lady on Fire" yet, put it on your Pride Month watch list immediately. Written and directed by Céline Sciamma, a pro at capturing the queer experience on film — see: "Water Lillies" and "Tomboy" — this historical drama follows Marianna, a young artist hired to paint a woman, Heloïse, who is preparing to be married off to an Italian nobleman (via Vogue).

A sensual slow-burn, "Portrait of a Lady on Fire" has been described by Amanda Arnold from The Cut as erotic without becoming pornographic, a problem often found in movies with queer characters, lesbians especially. Instead, Sciamma engages all senses, silence, and even the lack of sexualized nudity to turn the volume up on yearning and really show the emotional intimacy between Marianna and Heloïse, rather than the sexual. Joshua Rivera points out for The Verge that you see exactly how each interaction between the two women shapes the next time they see each other.

You need to watch "Portrait of a Lady on Fire" for more reasons than just because it's a really well-written, beautifully shot love story. Arlene Reynolds points out for GLAAD that the movie is also a powerful example of queer representation on screen that doesn't put the straight male viewer as its target demographic.

You can stream "Portrait of a Lady on Fire" now on Hulu, or you can rent or purchase it through Amazon Prime or AppleTV.