Coming-of-age stories are found in both movies and literature and typically will give us a young character who we get to watch grow from childhood to adulthood. It doesn’t always mean that we literally watch them grow like we do in Boyhood (2014) or the Harry Potter series, but we do get witness an event(s) that acts as a cusp from their child to adult journey, like in To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) and The Karate Kid (1984). At times their heroic, sometimes tragic, sometimes wistful, sometimes gloomy, but always meaningful.
It’s a popular genre of both film and lit, and maybe the reason is obvious. We all can relate. I love ones that have multiple young characters like Stand By Me (1986) since we get to think about which ones we identify with most, or what aspects in each we can identify with, etc.
Below I have two lists. One is the list of the most popular and respected coming-of-age movies in our culture today. Now, this list comes straight from me, though I did my research and I don’t think I’m too far off (What do you think?). The second is a list of little known gems that you may not have seen, but that I think many of you would.
TOP 20 GREATEST COMING-OF-AGE MOVIES OF ALL TIME
20. Dead Poets Society (1989)
19. Mean Girls (2004)
17. Remember the Titans (2000)
16. Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
15. The Outsiders (1983)
14. Dirty Dancing (1987)
13. The Goonies (1985)
12. The Graduate (1967)
11. A Christmas Story (1983)
10. Grease (1978)
8. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)
7. The Karate Kid (1984)
6. Almost Famous (2000)
5. Boyhood (2014)
4. The Breakfast Club (1985)
3. American Graffiti (1973)
2. To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
1. Stand By Me (1986)
GEMS YOU MAY HAVE MISSED:
Freedom Writers (2007) — A dedicated teacher makes a breakthrough with a racially divided LA class.
Empire of the Sun (1987) — A privileged English boy lives through a prison camp in China during a Japanese invasion
Sing Street (2016) — To me, this teenage romance movie rivals Grease, Say Anything and My Girl. And it happened this year. It’s not only great, it’s set in the 80’s. You gotta check this one out!
Into the Wild (2007) — True story of a young man living off the grid and in the wild, his goal being life in the Alaskan wilderness. Doesn’t sound compelling, but this movie will leave a huge impression on you. I promise.
Red Dawn (1984) — Ask any young man who was a teen in the 80’s and they’ll tell you you must see this one.
Memoirs of a Geisha (2005) — The journey of a young woman from pre-teen to adulthood in the early 20th century Japan. Honestly, one of the forgotten greats of the last 20 years.
Hugo (2011) — An orphaned boy lives in the walls of a train station but discovers great things about his past and others’.
Thirteen (2003) — An innocent pubescent girl heads down the wrong and toxic path with her school friend. Hard to watch, but so relevant and educational for anyone who has teenagers in their lives whom they love.
Billy Elliot (2000) — A young boy who finds meaning in dance. Very inspiring.
Better Off Dead (1985) — Hilarious. And it’s got Booger from Revenge of the Nerds!
Boyz n the Hood (1991) — Again, very relevant movie for today considering not only youth, but racial tension in our culture.
Congratulations The Reader. This is your week.
And the Oscar goes to…
Best Actress: This one was tough though. Both Cate and Kate were awesome this year. Kate won best Actress, so I think that puts her over the edge.
Best Actor: Sean Penn in Milk. Honourable mention to both Frank Langella and Michael Sheen in Frost/Nixon and to Emile Hirsch in Milk.
Best Quote: “All men are created equal. No matter how hard you try, you can never erase those words.” — Sean Penn as Harvey Milk in Milk.
Coming-of-Age Honourable Mentions:
Juno (2007), School of Rock (2003), The Lost Boys (1987), August Rush (2007), About A Boy (2002), Clueless (1995), Teen Wolf (1985), 13 Going on 30 (2004), The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008), Edward Scissorhands (1990), Spider-Man (2002), Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015).
Movie of the Week