50 Essential Coming of Age Movies

65 mins read

10 Pages

Updated September 2020

Coming of age stories are integral to modern filmmaking and storytelling. Consequently offering us a window into the complexity, joy, frustration, and urgency of the teenage experience. At the same time, reflecting back to us the intense feelings and powerful emotions of the journey into adult life. As a genre, ‘coming of age’ has housed some of the most emotive and compelling films of the past 40 years. While also adapting over time to reflect the changing experiences of childhood and adolescence. Changes that have seen the gap between the child and the adult increase as education has filled the void left by a quick transition to working life. We often forget that the ‘teenager’ is a relatively new label for the transition from child to adult. With films not only a significant instigator and exponent of its creation. But also a mirror to its continuing evolution.

So join us as we explore the rich diversity of the coming of age genre, and celebrate some of its finest examples of art and storytelling.

Stand By Me (1986)

Director: Rob Reiner

Based on the Stephen King novella ‘The Body’ Rob Reiner’s Stand by Me is one of the greatest ‘coming of age’ films ever produced. A love letter to simpler times, childhood freedom and the role of friendship in early adolescence. Stand by Me dovetails 1950’s nostalgia with a layered exploration of family, friendship, bereavement and belonging that still feels timeless and fresh.

Stand by Me is a celebration of childhood in all its boundless imagination and wonder while also mourning of the transition to a darker adult world. Reiner’s direction alongside a stunning young cast is delicate, energetic, touching, and melancholy. Reminding us all of the conflicts between dreams and reality as we take our first tentative steps into adult experiences. The excitement of adult ideas interfacing with a need for comfort, understanding and protection as the child and teenager collide.

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I Killed My Mother (2009)

‘J’ai Tue Ma Mere’

Director: Xavier Dolan

In 2009 Xavier Dolan burst into the public consciousness as one of the most exciting young writers and directors of a generation with I Killed My Mother. Providing us with a film the echoes with the anger, frustration and hurt of teenager life. While equally providing a dance of conflict, unspoken love and pettiness.

Dolan wrote his screenplay at the tender age 16, with the intensity and dynamism of the teenage mind embodied in his script. Themes of family breakdown and sexuality dovetailing with the need to escape the maternal bonds of fractured parental relationship. All wrapped up in a film that understands the complexities of the teenage/parent relationship and anger of youth.

The Last Picture Show (1971)

Director: Peter Bogdanovich

There are several films held within this essential collection that reflect the end of one era and the start of another. From American Graffiti to Dazed and Confused, these movies encapsulate the final days of school life against the backdrop of a changing social structure. However, The Last Picture Show more than many, encapsulates the claustrophobia of small-town life for young people screaming to be free. While at the same time reflecting a community struggling to embrace the social change surrounding it.

The rare choice of black and white film in early 70s cinema is a masterstroke, and evidence of Bogdanovich’s genius. The result not only creating a timeless aesthetic but reflecting the light and shadow of a town in decline. Alongside the fear, apprehension and vitality of the young people who both feel secure yet equally despondent on its streets. The honest, raw and sublime picture that follows at times reflecting a John Ford western. While at the same time delivering a personal, complex and engaging reflection of the confusion, joy and anger of caged youth.

Days of the Bagnold Summer (2019)

Director: Simon Bird

While sitting firmly within the coming of age genre, Simon Bird’s ‘Bagnold Summer’ transcends many of the familiar teenage stereotypes. With a film that centres on themes of adult and adolescent loneliness. Both mother and son lost in their own worlds of self-isolation, while remaining unable to share this with each other in finding solutions. With Daniel taking his anger and frustration out on his mum, while his mum desperately searches for a new way to connect with her son. 

If all this sounds serious and slightly ‘Ken Loach’ in construct, fear not. As this is a film that shines with beautifully timed, laugh out loud comedy, wrapping the audience in a truly delightful two-person play. While embracing a deadpan realism that is rare in coming of age comedy/drama. Bird’s direction allowing Cave and Dolan’s sincere and unsentimental performances to take centre stage. In a film that gently allows the audience into the lives of a mother and son who reflect the real experience of so many families. 

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Eighth Grade (2019)

Director: Bo Burnham

Eighth Grade never seeks to over dramatise the formative years of early adolescence. Providing a beautifully realised snapshot of the journey into adulthood, encapsulating the intensity, emotion and humour of teenage life, in a way few other films of the genre achieve. Making it into our essential list of coming of age films, alongside such classics as Stand By Me and The Breakfast Club.

Set during the final year of middle school. Eighth Grade follows Kayla (Elsie Fisher), who’s confident video blogging alter ego, hides the insecurities of her own inner thoughts and place in school. Unlike her confident online presence. Kayla struggles to find belonging in the social structures of middle school. Longing for friendship and visibility in peer groups based on popularity and confidence. During a year of transition for every young person in her class. 

Eighth Grade understands the turmoil and fear of belonging and acceptance experienced by young people during their formative school years. Daring its audience to delve into their buried memories of early adolescence.

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