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From 'Passages' to 'Bottoms,' the 10 best LGBTQ films of 2023

This year’s list of top queer-inclusive titles spans cinematic genres and includes the work of foreign auteurs, indie legends and first-time feature directors.
Photo Illustration: Rachel Sennott and Ayo Edebiri in "Bottoms," Franz Rogowski in "Passages," and Anne Hathaway and Thomasin McKenzie in "Eileen"
"Passages," "Bottoms" and "Eileen" were among 2023's best LGBTQ-inclusive films.Justine Goode / NBC News; Alamy

In a great year for queer creators and films that center LGBTQ themes, putting together a top 10 list means just scratching the surface of a standout body of queer films. But certain titles — like Ira Sachs’ erotic character study “Passages” and Emma Seligman’s teen sex comedy “Bottoms” — have a way of sticking around in the subconscious, making them easy picks even months after their release. 

In 2023, there were also a handful of debuts, like D. Smith’s compelling documentary “Kokomo City” and Georgia Oakley’s historically inspired drama “Blue Jean,” that really made a mark. But all of the year’s top titles brought a unique voice and approach to queer filmmaking, whether it was made by a foreign film auteur, like Japan’s Hirokazu Kore-eda with “Monster,” or in collaboration with a social media personality, like Sebastián Silva’s “Rotting in the Sun.”

Before getting to the complete top 10 list, it’s worth mentioning some of the titles on our honorable mentions list — including the trailblazing documentaries “Every Body” and “Orlando, My Political Biography,” the erotic and joyful “Will-o’-the-Wisp,” and the unexpectedly entertaining biopics “Maestro” and “Nyad” — which all helped solidify this year as an excellent one for queer cinema.

Without further ado, here is our ranked list of the 10 best queer films of 2023:

1. 'Passages'

In “Passages,” acclaimed indie filmmaker Ira Sachs crafts a cerebral and sensuous — and, at times, downright funny — meditation on desire. The film stars Franz Rogowski and Ben Whishaw as a fashionable married couple whose relationship is thrown into chaos by the arrival of a captivating young schoolteacher, played by Adèle Exarchopoulos of “Blue Is the Warmest Color” fame. As the director, printmaker and educator try to survive their dysfunctional love triangle, Sachs explores how even a temporary romance can leave a permanent mark in one of the most erotic and penetrating films in recent memory.

2. 'Kokomo City'

In “Kokomo City,” budding filmmaker D. Smith takes an unflinching look at the lives of four Black, transgender sex workers living in New York City and Atlanta. Pioneering her own style of documentary storytelling, the first-time feature director deftly intersperses shots of the four women performing everyday rituals with dreamy re-creations, scenes of city life, dance numbers and even illustration — all in dramatic black and white. But Smith’s narrative voice is most clear in the sequences that show her candid conversations with her subjects, who vacillate from defiant to vulnerable as they talk about the joys and struggles of life as a trans woman and the humors and terrors of sex work. 

3. 'Blue Jean'

In her debut feature, “Blue Jean,” filmmaker Georgia Oakley travels back in time to late 1980s Britain, when Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government passed what would come to be known as Section 28, an amendment preventing local authorities and schools from “promoting” homosexuality. The evocative film, starring Rosy McEwen, centers on a young, gay physical education teacher living in the North of England, whose personal life begins to crumble as her professional one becomes increasingly uncertain. As the pressure mounts, Jean (McEwen) makes moves to save herself, raising questions about who’s at fault when being backed into a corner brings out the worst in people.

4. 'Bottoms'

With the success of her first feature, “Shiva Baby,” and this year’s “Bottoms,” director Emma Seligman has established herself as a leading voice in irreverent cinema about young queer women in crisis. Co-written with star Rachel Sennott, who also led Seligman’s first feature, “Bottoms” follows two painfully awkward best friends who form a fight club for the girls at their high school, with the secret objective of seducing their popular crushes. While this is all written for laughs — and the punchlines land one after the other — the satiric teen world of Seligman’s bloody, gender-swapped “nerd gets the girl” film perhaps inadvertently highlights just how brutal the teenage experience can be.

5. 'Monster'

Japanese auteur Hirokazu Kore-eda (“Shoplifters”) once again mines the interior lives of everyday people struggling to find happiness in his newest feature, “Monster.” The multi-perspective drama centers on a mysterious conflict between two elementary school boys, which ignites an all-out, parent-teacher war in a small mountain town. The engrossing film subtly explores the difficulties of coming of age as a queer person, while unfolding like a crime thriller that keeps audiences guessing up until the very end.

6. 'Rotting in the Sun'

After a yearslong hiatus from feature filmmaking, Chilean artist Sebastián Silva (“Crystal Fairy & the Magical Cactus”) makes a bold return to the big screen with “Rotting in the Sun.” A film about filmmaking, contemporary fame and full-frontal nudity, it stars Silva as a depressed, strung-out director who suddenly disappears after returning to Mexico City from a short beach vacation, during which he has a run-in with comedian and social media personality Jordan Firstman. Things heat up in the queer-sex satire when an overly invested Firstman takes it upon himself to launch a search for Silva and name the director’s housekeeper as a prime suspect.

7. 'Of an Age'

Australian writer and director Goran Stolevski’s second feature, “Of an Age,” is an affecting ode to formative relationships. The film, which is divided into two chapters set in 1999 and 2010, stars Elias Anton as a 17-year-old, amateur ballroom enthusiast whose life is changed forever when he meets the brother of his dance partner and best friend, Ebony (Hattie Hook). During their 24-hour romance, the older and openly gay Adam (Thom Green) awakens Kol (Anton) to the possibilities of life outside suburban Melbourne and away from his conservative Serbian family. And when the three meet a decade later at Ebony’s wedding, the effects of that day, and the feelings it ignited, remain as strong as ever.  

8. 'Eileen'

“Lady Macbeth” director William Oldroyd applies his talent for portraying unpredictable literary women in his second feature, “Eileen.” Based on Ottessa Moshfegh’s acclaimed first novel, the sapphic thriller begins with the wintry arrival of a glamorous new counselor, Rebecca (Anne Hathaway), at the Massachusetts detention facility where the film’s titular protagonist is a secretary in the mid-1960s. When the free-spirited sophisticate takes an interest in a fawning Eileen (Thomasin McKenzie), the withdrawn younger woman mistakenly takes their intimacy as a holiday miracle, instead of the bad break that will intertwine their fates in a twisted fashion. 

9. 'The Five Devils'

Adèle Exarchopoulos starred in not one but two of the year’s top queer films, making an early splash with French filmmaker Léa Mysius’ “The Five Devils,” which is set against the dramatic backdrop of a remote Alpine town. In the surreal horror about the power of olfactory memory, a young girl (Sally Dramé) channels her supernatural sense of smell to figure out what’s going on between her mother (Exarchopoulos) and estranged aunt (Swala Emati), whose surprise visit disturbs the small family’s placid existence. As she digs deeper into the secrets of the adults around her — transported by a concoction of her aunt’s smells — she unintentionally unearths years’ worth of festering resentment and a smoldering pile of trauma that however briefly brings the women back into each other’s arms. 

10. 'Mutt'

Filmmaker Vuk Lungulov-Klotz’s subdued and deeply personal debut feature, “Mutt,” stars relative newcomer Lío Mehiel as an unconventional antihero who comes face-to-face with three figures from his past during one relentless day in New York. The young transgender man, Feña (Mehiel), crosses paths with his ex-boyfriend, younger sister and estranged father all for the first time since his transition — and all while navigating the streets, subways and daily challenges of life in the bustling city. Amid the chaos, and intimate moments, he’s forced to confront whether it’s other people’s prejudices or his own that are keeping him at a distance.