10 Transgender Films That Paved the Way for The Danish Girl

Before Eddie Redmayne becomes Lili Elbe on November 27, queue this list of trailblazing features.

10 Transgender Films That Paved the Way for <i>The Danish Girl</i>

Photo: Courtesy of Focus Features

Eddie Redmayne is no stranger to transformation.

Last year, the British actor went through an intense physical metamorphosis to embody the infamous physicist Stephen Hawking at every stage of his decades-long battle with ALS in The Theory of Everything. It was a powerful role that earned Redmayne the Academy Award for Best Actor. And this year, he’s going full force again.

The Danish Girl, a period piece from Oscar winning director Tom Hooper, tells the true story of Einar Wegener, the 1930s Danish painter who becomes the first man to undergo a sex-change operation, and it’s a film that couldn’t have picked a better time to come out.

With the ESPYS saluting Caitlyn Jenner for her bravery, September’s Emmys awarding Amazon Original series Transparent a whopping five wins, and film festivals the world over welcoming countless indies exploring the issue, there’s no doubt the trans community is finally getting the public awareness it has long deserved.

So we put together a timeline of the evolution of the transgender film. Each provides its subjects with a platform to share their struggles and stories. Some are dramatic, some are funny, but all are trailblazing features that redefine “normal” and challenge the gender binary.


Women in Revolt (1971)

Paul Morrissey’s satire follows a trio of females who join a liberation group only to find themselves even more miserable than when they started. Though the film doesn’t necessarily delve into trans issues, it stars a clique of Andy Warhol’s trans superstars: Candy Darling, Holly Woodlawn, and Jackie Curtis.


The World According to Garp (1982)

World According to Garp

Photo: Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Decades before John Lithgow was receiving critical raves as one part of a gay couple in Love Is Strange, he was getting an Oscar nom for his role as Roberta Muldoon in The World According to Garp. As a transsexual woman who used to play in the NFL, Muldoon serves as a sanguine voice of reason in this comedy of idiosyncrasies.


Paris Is Burning (1990)

From director Jennie Livingston, this documentary focuses on New York City’s ‘80s drag scene. At once flamboyant and elegant, the doc’s subjects of various gender identities dish on the vitality of the era, competing in balls, and inventing the vogue dance craze, while candidly discussing more cumbersome topics like AIDS and homophobia.


The Crying Game (1992)

Photo: Courtesy of Miramax Films

Photo: Courtesy of Miramax Films

Heralded at the time for its controversial surprise ending and its anti-stereotypical tone, The Crying Game racked up awards, including an Oscar for best screenplay. A web of tangled plot twists, the story follows Fergus, an escaped hostage who flees to London and falls for a hairdresser with a secret.


Boys Don't Cry (1999)

Hillary Swank, a self-proclaimed girly girl, binds her bust to play Brandon Teena, a female who identifies as a male and moves to Nebraska to start anew, in director Kimberly Pierce’s indie drama Boys Don’t Cry. And it’s a move that scored Swank an Oscar.


Transamerica (2006)

Felicity Huffman

Photo: Courtesy of The Weinstein Company

A road-trip flick that’s less about the destination and more about the journey, Transamerica stars Felicity Huffman as Bree, a classy lady who’s on the verge of reconstructive surgery and solidifying her place in the world as a woman. But before she can go under the knife, she has a bit of a pickle to resolve: She’s just found out she’s fathered a son.


Dallas Buyers Club (2013)

Matthew McConaughey, who withered to 135 pounds to play Ron Woodroof, an HIV-infected Texan who takes on the FDA with the same vigor he has for doing strippers and lines of coke, plays the lead in the based-on-true-events drama. But it’s his sidekick, the transgendered Rayon, played by Jared Leto, who steals the show.


52 Tuesdays (2015)

52 Tuesdays

Photo: Courtesy of Closer Production

Billie’s mom wants to be a man, but what does that mean for 16-year-old Billie? In this coming-of-age drama, director Sophie Hyde uses a chapter structure and brilliant actors taking on multifaceted roles to provide a fresh perspective on the sexual reassignment experience for all involved.


Tangerine (2015)

We’re used to seeing non-trans actors star in transgender roles. But Sean Baker, the Starlet director whose M.O. is rooted in authenticity, doesn’t play that way. Tangerine, a daylong quest through the slums of Hollywood to find a cheating pimp, stars a pair of transgender leads playing transgender hookers.

Related Articles