Some masterpieces don’t get the appreciation they deserve until long after their premiere. That’s a shame, of course, but that just means we have to be louder about the good movies — particularly good queer movies — that deserve more than the abysmal box office numbers and scathing early reviews they got back in the day.
And so, in place of a Carol or Call Me By Your Name rewatch, here are 8 of the best queer cult classics to watch this weekend. They may be lesser known and sometimes deeply unserious, but they are no less important or fun to watch.
Cast: Sara Foster, Jordana Brewster, Meagan Good, Devon Aoki, and Jill Ritchie
Angela Robinson’s 2004 action-comedy film D.E.B.S. features short skirts, gunfights, and a sweet romance between star-crossed lovers Lucy Diamond, a supervillain, and Amy Bradshaw, a paramilitary academy’s top recruit.
D.E.B.S. was a box office bomb and currently sports a 42% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but there’s something so irresistible about its combination of genre spoof and homo-normative queer romance. It’s Charlie’s Angels meets Clueless, with fun appearances from Holland Taylor and Michael Clarke Duncan.
And yes, it’s full of clichés and bad special effects, but it’s a movie that’s made an impact on millions of baby gays and remains one of my favorite silly little comfort films.
Jennifer’s Body (2009)
Cast: Megan Fox, Amanda Seyfried, and Adam Brody
Jennifer’s Body, Karyn Kusama’s film about a demonically possessed cheerleader who devours her male classmates, was ahead of its time.
Megan Fox, who played the said demonically possessed high school student, knows it too. “Jennifer’s Body is iconic, and I love that movie,” she said in a 2021 interview. “This movie is art, but when it came out, nobody was saying that.”
Nobody, of course, except queer women.
Over a decade later, more people have come to appreciate the revenge fantasy film and its complex subtext for the masterpiece that it is.
Desert Hearts (1985)
Cast: Helen Shaver, Patricia Charbonneau, and Audra Lindley
Donna Deitch’s Desert Hearts is a romantic drama that follows English professor Vivian, who travels to Reno, Nevada to get a quick divorce. But then she meets Cay, a free-spirited sculptor, with whom she starts a tender romance.
When it premiered, some critics wrote the film off as bland and unimaginative, but the lesbian love story struck a chord among sapphics of the ‘80s. It was, after all, one of the first movies where lesbians were depicted positively and, more importantly, where they get to have a happy ending.
But even for those of us watching all these years later in a time of Booksmart and Bottoms, the performances are still very much magical, and the film has aged beautifully.
Mysterious Skin (2004)
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Brady Corbet, and Michelle Trachtenberg
Gregg Araki’s lesser-known movie features some very familiar faces and isn’t one you’d typically think of as an LGBTQ+ film. Instead, Mysterious Skin is a coming-of-age drama that explores trauma, identity, and sexuality in a thoughtful and altogether powerful way.
The film centers on two young men who, after being molested by their childhood baseball coach, navigate trauma in startlingly different ways. It’s not for the squeamish or those looking for a light-hearted watch, but it is the kind of illuminating film that stays with you long after the credits roll.
After Mysterious Skin, it’s also worth diving into Araki’s more iconic films, including The Living End, which is kind of like a gay and HIV-positive Thelma and Louise.
Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same (2011)
Cast: Lisa Haas, Susan Ziegler, Jackie Monahan, and Cynthia Kaplan
Madeleine Olnek’s Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same is a black-and-white parody of lesbian culture and low-budget sci-fi films.
The central romance of the film is between Zoinx, a lesbian alien in search of love, and Jane, a greeting card store employee who is unaware that her romantic interest (who has a robotic voice and domed bald head) is… not of this world.
The film is hilarious as it pokes fun at lesbian tropes, but it’s also really sweet. After all, we’ve all felt like socially awkward aliens at some point in time, and don’t we all yearn for connection?
To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar (1995)
Cast: Wesley Snipes, Patrick Swayze, and John Leguizamo
Beeban Kidron’s 1995 comedy about three drag queens on a cross-country road trip to Hollywood’s Miss Drag Queen of America Pageant is a film that would’ve been contentious in 2023. The fact that it was warmly accepted at the box office is a sign of how far we’ve regressed in the years since.
To Wong Foo is the first major Hollywood studio movie to center drag queens. Despite small details that show how the film was definitely a product of its time, it’s still a surprisingly good watch all these years later, tackling some serious topics in a lighthearted, joyful way.
It helps that the three lead actors spent a lot of time in the local drag scene and with drag mentors to develop their characters. Queens like RuPaul, Joey Arias, Lady Bunny, and Miss Coco Peru were also given their moment under the spotlight.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
Cast: Tim Curry, Susan Sarandon, Barry Bostwick, and Richard O’Brien
The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Jim Sharman’s tribute to sci-fi and horror B movies, is more of a social phenomenon than a movie.
Well-loved for its bold, art-house style, the film follows Brad and Janet, a young couple whose car breaks down in the rain. They wander into a nearby castle, where an eclectic group of people — led by Dr. Frank N. Furter — are celebrating an annual convention. Things get very chaotic very quickly, and audiences are taken along for a ride.
Though initially ignored at theaters, the film rose to fame when audiences began taking a more active role in the movie-going experience: talking back to the screen, dressing up as the characters, and lip-synching lines. Today, it’s still being screened at cinemas in the United States, with live shadow casts keeping the tradition of audience participation alive.
But I’m a Cheerleader! (1999)
Cast: Natasha Lyonne, Clea DuVall, RuPaul Charles, and Cathy Moriarty
But I’m a Cheerleader! is Jamie Babbit’s debut feature, and despite its poor box office numbers and dismal reviews, the film is unquestionably a masterpiece.
In it, Megan’s world turns upside down when her loved ones stage an intervention about her homosexuality. This is news to her, because she’s never seen herself as different. She is, after all, a popular cheerleader with a hot boyfriend, who just happens to love Melissa Etheridge. But she gets sent to a gay “rehabilitation” camp anyway, and learns more than a few things about herself.
This WLW movie has everything: A hilariously straight RuPaul, a violently saturated color palette, and even a lesbian Julie Delpy. Also, Clea DuVall in her bubblegum conversion therapy outfit is a dream.