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30 Films About HIV and AIDS Everyone Should Watch
An Early Frost (1985)
Dying from AIDS, a gay men seeks closure with his family.
Parting Glances (1986)
Parting Glances, considered a pioneering piece of gay cinema, is about the loyalties of friendship and romantic love's vicissitudes. The New York-set story centers on two lovers, Michael and Robert, and Michael's former flame, Nick (memorably performed by Steve Buscemi), who's dying of AIDS. Heroic, romantic, and surprisingly funny in parts, the story trades empty sentiment for authentic emotion. Director Bill Sherwood died of complications from AIDS in 1990 without ever completing another film.
Where to watch: Amazon Prime Video or Tubi
Tongues Untied (1989)
This documentary explores black gay culture in the '80s, including the loss of many to AIDS.
Longtime Companion (1989)
Longtime Companion was the first wide-release theatrical film to tackle HIV/AIDS. The title is taken from the words used by the New York Times's description of the partner of someone who had died from an AIDS-related illness.
The Living End (1992)
Two HIV-positive men run from the law in classic Thelma & Louise-style.
Zero Patience (1993)
This indie musical finds a 19th century English explorer meeting the first AIDS patient.
And the Band Played On (1993)
Directed by Roger Spottiswoode (The Best of Times, Turner & Hooch, and Tomorrow Never Dies) and based on the bestselling book by journalist Randy Shilts, this enlightening television film docudrama tells the discovery of the disease we now know as AIDS. One of the more memorable lines from the film that sums up the initial years of the epidemic is, "The gay press calls it gay pneumonia or gay cancer, and the straight press doesn't mention it all." While the ensemble cast, including Matthew Modine, Alan Alda, Ian McKellen, Lily Tomlin, Richard Gere, Steve Martin, and Anjelica Huston, are all remarkable, no one explicitly sticks out, with the focus staying on the AIDS crisis and not the A-list actors.
Where to watch: HBO Max
At the time of this film's release, there was a tremendous reluctance from major Hollywood studios to produce a film about the AIDS crisis. Philadelphia is the first major studio movie to tackle the epidemic head-on and this classic contribution to gay cinema stars Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington. For his role as Andrew Beckett (inspired in part by attorney Geoffrey Bowers), Hanks won the Academy Award for Best Actor in 1994.
Where to watch: Amazon Prime Video
The Cure (1995)
A boy finds out his best friend has AIDS and plans a trip to New Orleans to find the cure.
A young gay man in New York believes he'll be safe from contracting HIV/AIDS if he stays celibate. But things get complicated when he falls for an HIV-positive man.
Chloë Sevigny plays a teenage girl who wants to save other young woman from the boy who gave her HIV.
Boys On the Side (1995)
Mary-Louise Parker plays a woman with AIDS who embarks on a road trip with a recently single lesbian (Whoopi Goldberg) and a young woman escaping an abusive relationship (Drew Barrymore).
It's My Party (1996)
Eric Roberts plays a man dying from AIDS who throws a party before he plans to kill himself.
The Hours (2002)
The film connects three women of different generations through Virginia Woolf, one of which (Meryl Streep) is planning an award party for her best friend who has AIDS.
The Trip (2002)
This film follows the love story of a young conservative and a gay rights activist, concluding when one of them contracts HIV in the '80s and the other tries to get him home from Mexico.
It's one of the most iconic musicals of our time and a beautiful portrait of friendship and community, set against the AIDS-ridden East Village at the turn of the millenium.
Life Support (2007)
A touching, thought-provoking and underrated film, Life Support follows Queen Latifah's character, Ana Wallace, who was diagnosed with HIV more than a decade earlier. As she devotes her life to an HIV outreach group, she tries to rebuild her relationship with her teenage daughter, whom she lost custody of to her mother 11 years ago due to her drug addiction. Nelson George directed the film, basing Latifah's character on his sister. The cast is rounded out by Anna Deavere Smith, Wendell Pierce, Evan Ross, and Tracee Ellis Ross. Jamie Foxx adorns the movie as a co-producer.
Where to watch: HBO Max
The Witnesses (2007)
A doctor begins an affair with a young man who soon finds out he has AIDS.
A young woman with HIV strives for an education and a way out from her mother's abuse.
How to Survive a Plague (2012)
This critically-acclaimed documentary film tells the story of the early years of the AIDS epidemic and activist groups ACT UP and TAG's efforts during this time. In his directorial debut, journalist David France, who covered the epidemic from the beginning, uses more than 700 hours of archival footage, including news coverage, interviews, demonstrations, meetings, and conferences taken by ACT UP members. It also includes the ACT UP demonstration during a mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral in 1989, which inspired the notable protest scene in Ryan Murphy's FX drama series, Pose. This protest of more than 4,500 people remains one of the largest ever staged against the Catholic church. The film is dedicated to Doug Gould, France's partner, who died from AIDS-related pneumonia in 1992.
Where to watch: Amazon Prime Video
In this heartbreaking true story, an Irish woman goes searching for her son whom she was forced to give up for adoption as a baby, only to find he's involved in the HIV/AIDS crisis.
Dallas Buyers Club (2013)
This intense drama based on the true story about the desperate search for treatment in the early days of AIDS stars Matthew McConaughey as Ron Woodroof. Upon diagnosis, Woodroof was initially given 30 days to live. In the mid-1980s, while HIV was remarkably misunderstood and extremely stigmatized, McConaughey's character smuggles unapproved pharmaceutical drugs into Texas. As he establishes the "Dallas Buyers Club" and distributes them to fellow AIDS patients, he faces resistance from the Food and Drug Administration. Both Jennifer Garner and Jared Leto play fictional composite roles that the writers created after conducting interviews with AIDS patients, activists, and doctors. Critics have praised McConaughey and Leto's performances, who received the Academy Award for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor, respectively, at the 86th Academy Awards. Ronald Woodroof died of an AIDS-related illness in September 1992, seven years after being diagnosed.
Where to watch: Amazon Prime Video or Peacock
The Normal Heart (2014)
Directed by Ryan Murphy (Glee, Pose, American Horror Story) and written by AIDS activist Larry Kramer, this film focuses on the early days of the AIDS crisis in New York City, between 1981 and 1984. Kramer's play of the same name debuted in the 1980s, but Murphy stated he made the film adaptation decades later due to concerns that people born after the early AIDS epidemic would not remember its lessons. The stellar cast includes Mark Ruffalo, Matt Bomer, Taylor Kitsch, Jim Parsons, Julia Roberts, and Jonathan Groff.
Where to watch: HBO Max
The Companion (2015)
A boxer in 1980s Cuba is assigned to be the a companion for an HIV-positive war veteran confined by the government to a sanatorium.
Holding the Man (2015)
This true love story follows a couple from when they first met in high school to when one dies from AIDS and the other struggles to write their story before losing his mind to the disease.
This drama centers on the AIDS activism of ACT UP in 1990s France. Director Robin Campillo and co-screenwriter Philippe Mangeot drew upon their personal experiences with ACT UP in telling this story. At the 2017 Cannes Film Festival, where it had its world premiere, the movie won critical acclaim and four awards, including the Grand Prix, the second most prestigious prize of the festival. This movie recounts beautifully and accurately an era in which people died in part because governments agreed that this virus was punishment for gays and their abhorrent behavior and thus refused to consider it a pandemic that deserved urgent attention. Critics of ACT UP deemed their tactics as extreme, and this movie showcases the humanity of these activists, whose backs were up against a wall. Even those who consider themselves well-versed in the history of AIDS should watch BPM as it acts as a cinematic buttress against complacency.
Where to watch: Hulu
Fire in the Blood (2012)
This documentary examines Africa's AIDS crisis and the intentional obstruction from pharmaceutical companies to make antiretroviral drugs more affordable. Academy Award-winning actor William Hurt narrated the film on a pro bono basis because he believed the story and subject matter was important to share. Director Dylan Mohan Gray dedicated the film to the 10 million+ people in Africa and across the developing world who died of AIDS because the low-cost life-saving medication desperately needed was denied to them.
Where to watch: Netflix
The Ryan White Story (1989)
Based on the real-life teenaged hemophilic Ryan White, who contracted HIV from a tainted blood treatment, this film follows his battle for his right to attend public school. While suffering from the disease, White and his family bravely fought against bigots who saw AIDS as some kind of heavenly punishment against gay men and intravenous drug users (two of the largest groups initially stricken with the disease). His story inspired President George H.W. Bush to sign a critical and bipartisan bill into law known as "The Ryan White CARE Act." This act provided more than $2 billion to help Americans battling HIV/AIDS.
Where to watch: Netflix
Paris 05:59 Theo & Hugo (2017)
Two young gay men meet at a sex club in the first 20 minutes of Paris 05:59, which is an extremely explicit French film about a one-night stand. One of the two is living with HIV and their encounter leads them both to go to the hospital to pick up post-exposure prophylaxis together.
United in Anger: A History of ACT UP (2012)
Though most people know David France’s How to Survive a Plague, 2012 saw several films about ACT UP come out and this one, directed by ACT UP members Sarah Schulman and Jim Hubbard, shows the mechanics behind orchestrating some of the group’s biggest demonstrations.