The picture in its first three weeks in theatrical release in Paris, France sold more than 100,000 tickets. According to "Genet: A Biography" (1993) by Edmund White, this was the first time that a film with such a strong gay theme had achieved this kind of box-office success.
The film was selected to screen in competition at the Venice Film Festival in 1982. That year, the Golden Lion for Best Film went to Wim Wenders'The State of Things (1982). This was much to the disapproval of French director Marcel Carné who withdrew as President of the Jury after releasing the following statement: "I would love to make a personal statement. While being President of the Jury, I would love to express my disappointment in not having been able to convince my colleagues to place R.W. Fassbinder's 'Querelle' among the winners. As a matter of fact, I've found myself alone in defending the movie. Nevertheless, I keep on thinking that, although controversial, R.W. Fassbinder's final movie, want it or not, love it or hate it, will one day find its place in the history of cinema". The statement appears as an introductory prologue at the beginning of the film on DVDs and video-cassettes in Italy.
The picture was first released posthumously after the its director Rainer Werner Fassbinder had passed away. The picture premiered at the end of August 1982 which was just about six weeks after Fassbinder's passing in mid-June of that year.
Initial costume tests of Brad Davis and two other actors in their snug fitting sailor britches were determined to be too revealing for mainstream audiences and so they all wore tight underwear on film afterwards to avoid unsightly bulges. At least one photo from these costumes tests survives as evidence.
The title of this movie's source novel "Querelle de Brest" (1935) was changed for this film version dropping the last two words ("de Brest') making the movie's title simply just a shortened form of the book's name, Querelle (1982), a film with a one word title.