Everyone gets to go through the experience of growing up. Even though most people’s adolescence is unique to them, there are certain themes that ring true. There’s an entire genre about this transitional period called coming-of-age.
Coming-of-age films such as The Breakfast Club, Superbad, and Dazed and Confused all are from the perspective of young people striving for long-lasting personal growth. This can be brought on through romantic relationships, a big life change, or loss of innocence. It’s hard not to have some nostalgia triggered when watching any of the following movies.
Matthew McConaughey got his start in this classic coming-of-age film.
Mean Girls Broke the Mold of Classic Teen Movies
Tina Fey hit it out of the park when she wrote Mean Girls. The film was based on a novel by Rosalind Waters that centered around a new girl in school who just wanted to fit in. It stars Lindsay Lohan at the pinnacle of her career who decides to join the queen bees of her high school, The Plastics.
Her struggle to keep up with social norms and the true wrath of Regina George (Rachel McAdams) combined with classic one-liners from the cast make it a coming-of-age film to watch over again.
Why John Hughes Needed to Make The Breakfast Club
Writer and director John Hughes defined an entire decade of coming-of-age films during the 1980s. When cast members read his scripts they were flabbergasted at how much Hughes understood the mind of a young person. Even though he created several box office hits, his most iconic movie is The Breakfast Club.
It starred an ensemble cast of Molly Ringwald, Anthony Michael Hall, Emilio Estevez, Ally Sheedy, and Judd Nelson as high school misfits who were all given detention. As the day goes on they come to know each other for who they are as people, rather than their class stereotype.
Juno Fit Right in with the Times
During the 2000s teen pregnancy was starting to become more popular in mainstream media with shows such as MTV’s Teen Mom and 16 and Pregnant. With that taken into consideration, Juno was made to bring both the reality and heart into the story of a teenage pregnancy.
Ellen Page lit up the screen as Juno MacGuff and she had effortless chemistry with the entire cast including Michael Cera, Jennifer Garner, Allison Janney, and Jason Bateman. Diablo Cody’s screenplay is simple and witty and doesn’t portray the protagonist as helpless as she must learn to grow up at a young age.
Watch Him Grow in Boyhood
There hasn’t been anything like Boyhood over the course of cinematic history. The movie took 12 years to make because it followed the protagonist from early childhood all the way up until he arrived at college. The audience is able to watch the same actors grow up before their very eyes all within the span of two hours and 45 minutes.
Director Richard Linklater would shoot about 10 to 15 minute short films each year and eventually combined them into one. It was nominated for many Oscars and Patricia Arquette ended up winning Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role as the mother.
How a simple teen’s story grew into a five-time Oscar nominated movie.
Honest Performances Shine Through in Lady Bird
Write and director Greta Gerwig made her mark on the coming-of-age genre with 2017’s Lady Bird. It focused on a high school senior’s (Saoirse Ronan) experience in her last year of high school during 2002 and 2003 in Sacramento, California. Throughout the film Lady Bird must figure out the inner workings of her relationships whether they be in romance, friendship, or family.
Some stand-out performances include Laurie Metcalf as her tough, but grounded mother and Beanie Feldstein as her caring best friend. The movie earned five Oscar nominations, including Best Picture.
Eighth Grade Brings Those Awkward Teen Years Back Up to the Surface
Comedian Bo Burnham stepped away from stand-up to craft one of 2018’s best coming-of-age movies, Eighth Grade. The story follows an eighth grade girl named Kayla (Elsie Fisher) during her last week of middle school. All of the authentic awkwardness, angst, self-loathing, and reinvention that many seem to experience at some point in their adolescence is perfectly portrayed on screen.
There are countless moments in the film where the audience is able to have a physical reaction to her uncomfortable experiences. It’s also refreshing to hear dialogue of teenagers talking like actual teenagers as opposed to what adults think they sound like.
Growing Up is Over-the-Top Funny in Superbad
Comedy writing team Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg planned to make a film about their high school experience and what came out was Superbad. Jonah Hill and Michael Cera star as a couple of high school seniors who’ve been best friends for years. Since college is fast approaching they will have to learn what it’s like to be without each other.
This is intensified when they decide to plan a wild party with their eccentric friend McLovin. Each of them must figure out first love and young adulthood throughout the period of one unforgettable night. Both Seth Rogen and Bill Hader’s roles as irresponsible cops help give the film a bit more hilarity.
Become Hooked on The Diary of a Teenage Girl
Over the past decade, more films centered on women coming of age have started to emerge. One example is 2015’s The Diary of a Teenage Girl. The movie takes place in 1970’s San Francisco and follows a teen artist coming into her sexuality after starting an affair with her mother’s boyfriend.
The filmmakers aren’t afraid to hold back because it’s definitely graphic, but it’s also honest, vibrant, and an awakening within the protagonist both physically and mentally. The ’70s-era decor, set, and costumes are aesthetically pleasing as well.
This next film puts a socially awkward teen up against the comedy styling of Woody Harrelson…
Root for the Underdog in The Edge of Seventeen
Life is unbearable for 17-year-old Nadine when she finds out her only friend is now dating her older brother in The Edge of Seventeen. She’s also still grieving the passing of her father, who was the only person she truly thought understood her. Something that made the film even more likable is that the Nadine was actually unlikable.
She was pessimistic and socially awkward, but still gave a raw performance that had audiences rooting for her to make it through the other side. Woody Harrelson as her teacher was perfect casting because he gave her crucial advice, but never needed to sugar-coat anything.
Dazed and Confused Leaves You Feeling Alright
Even though Dazed and Confused was released in 1993, it takes viewers back to 1976. The ensemble cast of middle school and high school students portray what it was like to be a teenager during the groovy age of the 1970s.
The plot strives to get all the details right including the cars, style, music, dialogue, and even the underage shenanigans. Each character has their own personal struggle, but by the end there seems to be a clear idea of where each of them are headed. It’s also the acting debut of Matthew MCConaughey and his famous line, “All right, all right, all right.”
Love is Worth Fighting For in Rushmore
One of Wes Anderson’s first films that established him as a writer and director is Rushmore. Jason Schwartzman stars as the film’s protagonist, Max Fischer, who is the king of all extracurricular activities at Rushmore Preparatory School. Throughout the film he gets put on academic probation and subsequently falls in love with a teacher at his school. This then becomes more complicated when his older friend (Bill Murray) falls in love with her as well.
Anderson is able to bring dry humor, smart writing, and unique music to tell this coming-of-age story. Although most of the characters have deeply flawed personalities, each of them are finely tuned and worth watching.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower Reminds Us All Why We Need a Good Friend
The Perks of Being a Wallflower was first a novel written by Stephen Chbosky, which he later adapted for the screen. Logan Lerman plays an introverted high school freshman named Charlie who has an unidentified ongoing mental struggle.
He’s quickly introduced to two outgoing step-siblings in the senior class who take him under their wing, allowing him to open up. Charlie and the people close to him have gone through a lot of horrible life changes, but they can all see the beauty in one another despite it all. Watch this film with open ears because it also has a phenomenal soundtrack.
Booksmart Defines Coming-of-Age in 2019
Actress Olivia Wilde made her feature-length directorial debut in 2019’s Booksmart. The coming-of-age film centered on two teenage girls who are about to graduate high school. They thought they should only focus on school to get into good colleges, but when they find out their peers still succeeded while partying they have a change of heart.
The girls attempt to have one wild night before their graduation, which leads them down a path of uncertainty. Many of the film’s characters were fresh and well-thought-out and the cast did a good job with the balance of improv and sticking to the script. Billie Lourd as Gigi was the definite stand-out performance of the film.
Saved! is a Darker Version of Mean Girls
During the mid-2000s teenage pregnancy was an almost taboo topic. And when that idea was set at a religious high school in Save! it gets taken up a notch. Mary (Jena Malone) becomes pregnant at the beginning of the movie and must keep it a secret from her judgmental peers.
When her friends find out she is shortly ostracized by them, but accepted by the only two people in the school who don’t care what anyone else thinks of them (Macaulay Culkin and Eva Amurri Martino). The film is both sharp and honest and explores America’s view on religion through a humorous lens.
This coming-of-age film is a lot darker than expected…
Welcome to the Dollhouse Examines the Horrors of Middle School
Welcome to the Dollhouse is one of the best independent coming-of-age movies of the 1990s. Heather Matarazzo was most likely the only person who could’ve played the part of Dawn Weiner, a seventh grade social outcast and black sheep of her family. Her life is forever changed when she starts to have feelings for an older guy in her brother’s band.
The main theme of the movie is cruelty. Dawn is treated horribly by everyone around her and when she gives in to the cruelty real problems begin to arise. The dialogue is brilliantly harsh and Dawn’s costumes match her character’s evolution perfectly.
Ghost World Breaks Away From Conformity
Daniel Clowes turned his famous comic book into the film Ghost World in 2001. It stars a young Scarlett Johansson and Thora Birch as two high school seniors who want to move in together after graduation. After Enid (Birch) responds to a newspaper ad of an older man looking for a date, she ends up complicating her own life and those close to her.
Even though this is a low-budget cult movie it ended up as a contender for a Best Screenplay Oscar. Enid’s struggle to break away from conformity and keep up with reality is relatable, humorous, and sharply poignant.
Now and Then Stands Apart as a Coming-Of-Age Film
Now and Then stands apart from other coming-of-age films because it takes the same characters and separates them into two decades. Most of the movie is the four girls during the summer of 1970 growing up in a small town, but there are moments where it flashes ahead to them as adults in the mid-1990s.
All of the young actresses had incredible chemistry and were able to tackle mature topics of love, loss, and growth. While the movie was filmed in the 90s, the classic 70s soundtrack brings viewers back to an idealistic summer during that time.
Growing Up is Hard to Do in My Girl
Audiences are drawn into the life of 11-year-old Vada Sultenfuss (Anna Chlumsky) almost immediately in 1991’s My Girl. She’s an intelligent hypochondriac living with her widower father who works as a mortician (Dan Aykroyd) in 1972. Her best friend is the sweet boy-next-door, Thomas J. (Macaulay Culkin), and her world becomes even more complicated after her dad falls in love with his receptionist (Jamie Lee Curtis).
Chlumsky is able to tackle heavy scenes that would be daunting even for a veteran actor. By the end of the movie her character is no longer scared and innocent, but now wise beyond her years.
Clueless is a Cult-Classic Decades Later
There are numerous iconic moments in 1995’s Clueless. The outfits stood out and set the protagonist apart from everyone else. Also, writer/director Amy Heckerling used a lot of unique and hilarious lingo such as, “As if.” and “Totally buggin’.” Clueless takes the classic Jane Austen novel, Emma, and turns it into a satire of what it was like growing up in Los Angeles during the 1990s.
After over two decades the film is still relevant, bringing in new generations of viewers each year. It’s hilarious, heart-felt, and most importantly the audience can view the main character looking within herself and changing for the better.
This 1967 classic is still one of the most watched movies of all time.
The Graduate Strives to Answer Life’s Biggest Questions
The Graduate captures what it’s like to be stuck. Ben Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) comes home from college where he is bombarded with family and friends pestering him about what he’s going to do now. During his transitional period he starts a budding affair with family friend Mrs. Robinson, and later falls in love with her daughter.
Simon and Garfunkel serve as a perfectly-matched soundtrack to Ben’s internal thoughts. The cinematography was also pleasing because there were unorthodox camera shots, such as putting a diving mask over the lens when Ben jumps in the pool. The themes of feeling lost and not knowing what to want out of life still apply over five decades later.