Great stories come from times of conflict, confusion and fits of emotion, so it’s no surprise that movies about young people finding their way through life are so timelessly endearing.
Youth is something we desperately want to leave behind while we’re young and ache to return to as we grow older. By the time we hit the sweet spot, the weight of a world of taxes and other harsh realities is already bearing down on us.
Cinema has offered time and time again, movies that take us back to the chaotic turbulence of youth – its highs, its lows, its last minutes and lost evenings. Coming of age films represent a beloved sub-genre, and one that continues to showcase the best of this art form.
Here are ten of the very best coming-of-age movies. Any we’ve missed? Let us know in the comments below.
‘Almost Famous’ (2000)
I’m a writer who loves coming-of-age movies and owns a vinyl collection that’s quickly growing out of control, so of course Cameron Crowe’s ‘Almost Famous’ is one of my all-time favourite films.
The beauty of Crowe’s film is in how it captures an era defined by rock and roll stereotypes – drugs, bickering bandmates and groupies – but never indulges the misconceptions, painting all involved as people of genuine thoughts and feelings.
We follow William Miller, an aspiring music journalist whose youth and naivety draws the best and worst out of those around him as tours with up-and-coming band Stillwater for a story.
The soundtrack is one for the ages, and utilised particularly well during the splendorous “Tiny Dancer” scene, a beautiful ode to the ability of good music to bring people together.
‘The Kings of Summer’ (2013)
A more recent entry on this list, Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ ‘The Kings of Summer’ is perhaps one of the finest debut films in recent memory. So it’s no surprise how quickly Hollywood snapped him up to direct ‘Kong: Skull Island’.
Confident, assured and funny, ‘The Kings of Summer’ follows a frustrated teenager as he runs away from home and his estranged, widowed father, to live in the woods unencumbered by life’s rules and expectations.
Making films about leads who aren’t always the most likable takes skill, and here Vogt-Roberts and writer Chris Galletta both depict and navigate the minefield of adolescence as the film’s young leads bicker, fight and rebel and ultimately grow as people.
‘The Breakfast Club’ (1985)
John Hughes did so much to define the 80s and its coming-of-age offerings, but nothing ever topped ‘The Breakfast Club’. It’s a definitive classic of 80s cinema that is still being touted as a direct influence on many modern blockbusters (see ‘Power Rangers’ and the upcoming ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’).
Set during an extended Saturday detention, ‘The Breakfast Club’ is about a disparate group of high school stereotypes: the jock, the popular girl, the nerd, the weird one and the rebellious criminal.
They naturally clash, poking and prodding at each other, learning what makes each other tick and what makes them messed up in their own way. A shared hurt, a little weed and a unifying hatred of that awful bastard Principal Vernon, eventually creates a bond, however brief it may last, between them.
‘Stand By Me’ (1986)
For many, Rob Reiner’s ‘Stand By Me’ is the definitive coming-of-age story. Adapted from Stephen King’s novella ‘The Body’, it’s the story of a group of young boys going on a journey to find the body of a missing boy they’ve heard was struck by a train.
It’s about boys becoming men, or at least taking one step closer to that, as they put more and more distance between themselves and home comforts.
The kicker, and what makes ‘Stand By Me’ a classic, is the epilogue revealing how the boys grew up. This context for the story before it, the innocence lost, the sadder lives they went on to lead and how the group drifts away lends an extra poignancy to the film’s events.
‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’ (1986)
We all bunked off school a few times growing up. It often involved trying to trick our parents into thinking we were sick, but rarely did it involve trashing a Ferrari or singing ‘Twist and Shout’ during an enormous parade.
‘Ferris Bueller’ is a light-hearted comedy with many memorable scenes and a title character (played by Matthew Broderick) who suffers no repercussions for his truancy, but that’s just part of his enduring charm.
The film is in fact about Alan Ruck’s Cameron more than it’s about Bueller, showing us how Ferris and Sloane bring this shy, worried teenager out of his shell and help boost his confidence.
This culminates with a famous scene in which said Ferrari, owned by Cameron’s dad, ends up totalled. Ferris offers to take the blame, but instead Cameron decides its time to face his fear, his father, head on.
It’s that scene more than any, and the emotion Ruck brings to it, that makes the film more than a simple (but very, very good) comedy.
A uniquely British coming-of-age film (we were very close to including last year’s fantastic ‘Sing Street’) ‘Submarine’ from director Richard Ayoade is a quirky joy about love young and old, and how fragile each can be.
The film is supported well by a cast including Paddy Considine, Sally Hawkins and Noah Taylor, but the real stars are young leads Craig Roberts and Yasmin Paige.
Arctic Monkeys front man Alex Turner is the other star, thanks to his beautiful soundtrack.
‘Dazed and Confused’ (1993)
Richard Linklater’s ‘Boyhood’ may have been a unique film in terms of how it was made, and it might be a more unique coming-of-age film because of it, but it isn’t as fun nor as engaging as Linklater’s earlier work.
Namely, I’m talking about ‘Dazed and Confused’, a glimpse into the lives of a diverse group of rowdy and not-so-rowdy teens on their last day of school before summer, and the stories that unfold which they’ll no doubt be retelling wistfully when they’re older and greyer.
‘Dazed and Confused’ is notable for its sense of time and place, its soundtrack and also for its stars. It was an early role of Ben Affleck’s, Milla Jovovich’s and also the very first big screen role of Matthew McConaughey’s.
As Wooderson, McConaughey’s presence hangs over the film and his immortal catchphrase, “Alright, alright, alright” will forever be associated with the star. He even said it during his Oscar-winning speech in 2014.
This year’s winner of the Best Picture Oscar is a masterpiece.
It may not have the laughs other films on this list provide, but has all the heart and soul, thanks to the loving touch of filmmakers including director and writer Barry Jenkins (working from Tarell Alvin McCraney’s famed play) and cinematographer James Laxton.
‘Moonlight’ is about a young black boy discovering and struggling with his homosexuality, who grows into a troubled teenager defined by two moments that reflect the outwardly tough man he later becomes, and the vulnerability behind that man’s eyes.
Set in impoverished Miami against a backdrop of drugs and crime, neither comes to define a story of delicate masculinity told with an artful appreciation of the battles everyone must face to find who they really are.
‘Good Will Hunting’ (1997)
Coming-of-age films are often a great platform for emerging talent, including on this list Jordan Vogt-Roberts, Kate Hudson, Matthew Broderick and Jonah Hill, but ‘Good Will Hunting’ put its two of its stars on another level of fame.
Matt Damon and Ben Affleck are huge Hollywood A-listers with a longevity that’s so-far trumped a great many of the other names mentioned on this list, and ‘Good Will Hunting’ is why.
The two friends raised in Massachusetts told a now-classic story about a young man realising and confronting his own potential. Potential he knows will one day take him away from the home and friends that he loves and depends on.
The film earned Damon and Affleck the 1998 Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, not to mention a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Robin Williams, cementing the pair a Hollywood legacy they’ve continued to build upon.
‘Superbad’ was sold as a raunchy teen comedy in a similar vein to ‘American Pie’ and ‘Porky’s’, but Greg Mottola’s film, thanks to the smart script of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg ends up being a lot smarter than it might first seem.
The stories heroes, named after and based on its writers, may well be out to get laid as they venture to the end-of-school party they somehow got invited to, but by the end of their wild night what they have instead is a stronger friendship with both each other and the girl’s they were pining for.
Funny, sweet and smart enough that it essentially killed off the “Teen Sex Comedy” sub-genre just as its time was rightfully coming to an end.
Also, it has McLovin.