Coming of Age – The Essential Collection

Updated December 2019

Coming of age stories are integral to modern filmmaking and storytelling. Consequently offering us a window into the complexity, joy, frustration and urgency of teenage experience. While 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 the most emotive and powerful 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 modern label for the transition from child to adult. With film not only a major instigator and exponent of its creation. But also a mirror to it continuing evolution.

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

Stand By Me (1986)

Director: Rob Reiner (Columbia Pictures)

Based on the Stephen King novella The Body. Rob Reiner’s Stand by Me is one of the finest 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, and bereavement. Creating a film that still feels timeless and fresh today.

Stand by Me is not only a celebration of childhood in all its imagination and wonder. But also a mourning of the transition to a darker adult world. Reminding us all of the conflict between dreams and reality as we take our first tentative steps into the adult world.

Beautifully reflecting the final summer of childhood innocence for boys on the verge of adolescence. While celebrating self-identity and discovery. Stand by Me captures the vibrance and darkness of a transition we all endure.

“I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was 12… Jesus does anyone?”

The Writer – Stand By Me

I Killed My Mother (2009)

‘J’ai Tue Ma Mere’

Director: Xavier Dolan (Network)

In 2009 Xavier Dolan burst into 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 the film aged 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.

Eighth Grade (2019)

Director: Bo Burnham (A24)

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.

A Swedish Love Story (1970)

Director: Roy Andersson (Curzon Artificial Eye)

Few films encapsulate the pure emotion and intensity of adolescence like Roy Andersson’s 1970 tale of young love. Tenderly exploring the first throws of love, while equally balancing the diversity of emotions with the social structures of peer group and family.

Combining elements of Ingmar Bergman’s style with a darkly comic, tender and nuanced coming of age tale. One that often pokes fun at the far more mainstream American offerings of the period. Ensuring realism is placed centre stage in the exploring the dynamics of young love. While equally placing the role of family under the microscope in a gentle yet equally devastating way.

Largely overlooked in the coming of age genre, A Swedish Love Story is undoubtedly one of the finest explorations of first love on screen. Glowing with sincerity and honesty from the first scene to the last.

American Graffiti (1973)

Director: George Lucas (Lucasfilm/Universal)

Four years before George Lucas became synonymous with the Star Wars trilogy. The young director brought us one of the defining coming of age films of the 20th Century.

Not only launching the film careers of Ron Howard, Harrison Ford, Richard Dreyfuss, Candy Clark and Kathleen Quinlan. But also creating a love letter to 50s and 60s youth culture. While focussing on the wistful ending of school and emerging realities of adult life.

Despite some booze, fist fights and fast cars American Graffiti looks tame when compared to many modern films of the same genre. However, its ability to reflect a changing American society is unparalleled. As a the youth sub culture it depicts was slowly replaced by a harder edged politics, protest and anger.

Au Revoir Les Enfants (1987)

Director: Louis Malle (Criterion)

Louis Malles 1987 masterpiece is a truly breathtaking exploration of the end of childhood during war. With natural and unforced performances that display the innocence of youth and its interface with conflict, destruction and hate.

Set in a Catholic boarding school in Nazi-occupied France 1944. 12-year-old Julien (Gaspard Manesse) meets a new boy Jean Bonnet (Raphaël Fejtö). A clever, yet shy young man who is mysteriously protected and checked on by the headmaster at every opportunity. Hence a close friendship develops between Julien and Jean. But one that also hides secrets that if uncovered could lead to disaster for Jean. Especially in a community where division and hate interface with selfless love and protection.

Direction and performances are beautiful and heart wrenching in equal measure. As Malle explores the complexity of an occupied country where liberty, rebellion and collaboration sit side by side. While harnessing the feelings and emotions of young people forced into the harsh reality of oppression and war. Ultimately creating a film that plays with the confusion, conflicted beliefs and emotion of young adolescence While also imbedding these into a social culture of fear, control, oppression and darkness.

Call Me By Your Name (2017)

Director: Luca Guadagnino (Sony Classics)

Adapted from the novel by Andre AcimanLuca Guadagnino’s creates a rich exploration portrait of young love, hidden desire, burning want and sexuality. In a film that not only furthers the mainstream portrayal of gay relationships on film. But also, offers one of the finest coming of age films in a generation.

Set in Northern Italy during the early 1980’s. Call Me By Your Name is unafraid to show the complexity of feelings, actions and emotions surrounding sexual desire and discovery. While reflecting the intensity of teenage sexuality and burning want, jealously and vulnerability of early sex and love.

Timothee Chalamet gives a performance of layered emotion and emerging self confidence. Bringing Elio to life while sharing his inner most feelings and thoughts through a single look, gesture or action. Call Me By Your Name is one of the finest portrayals of teenage love, identity and belonging in a generation.

“Please don’t avoid me. It kills me. I can’t stand thinking you hate me. Your silence is killing me. I’d sooner die than know you hate me. I am such a pussy”

Elio – Call Me By Your Name
Call Me By Your Name also appears in our Essential LGBTQ Films

Kes (1969)

Ken Loach‘s beautiful and haunting study of isolation and loneliness, has become a classic of British cinema. While providing us with a timeless portrayal of the journey from boy to teenager. While celebrating the healing power and companionship of mother nature.

Kes is a heartfelt portrayal of the journey into adolescence and the interface between hope and social reality. The Kestrel representing the urge for freedom and flight in a boy who does not fit the surroundings he inhabits.

With moments of humour, melancholy and sadness. Kes lays bare the realities of young lives haunted by poverty and isolation. In a community where adults encourage and dismiss in equal measure. While family members rewrite the ability of a young person to grow and succeed.

The Star Wars Saga (1977 – 2019)

Created by: George Lucas (1977 – 2019)

Star Wars – A New Hope and its subsequent films are in essence a coming of age stories. Bringing together key themes of isolation, rebellion and belonging with a multi-generational coming of age journey. Let us start by exploring the original trilogy. Where our youthful rebellion find belonging and voice in each other, discovering the roots of their identities in unison. The coming of age dynamic sitting with an orphaned and isolated teenager (Luke). Meanwhile, his long lost sister Leia fights for equality and freedom against a tyrannical empire.

As the Journey of Luke and Leia continues, family secrets are laid bare as they fight for a better universe. While for Luke the mentorship of Kenobi is replaced by a teacher in the guise of Yoda. A creature who not only knows the family history but also guides Luke from teenager to young adult. The whole trilogy playing out as a odyssey of family, identity and redemption.

However, the coming of age journey does not stop with Luke and Leia. As Han equally takes his own journey. Giving up his drifter lifestyle of low level crime, in favour of security and friendship.

The prequels not only continue the family saga of the first three films. But ultimately echo the established coming of age journey. However, unlike the positive coming of age themes represented in the first three films. Anakin’s journey is one of darkness and regret. Reversing the narrative of his son’s journey to freedom.

The Breakfast Club (1985)

Director: John Hughes (Universal Pictures)

A timeless exploration of identity and conformity in teenage life, from the master of 80’s teen filmmaking John Hughes. The Breakfast Club is a still a powerful, humorous and sharp observation of youth sub culture, difference and identity.

While dated in places that play to its 1980s audience, it still manages to be relevant to youth culture today. Exploring the fear, apprehension and joy of teenage life. Alongside the danger of social labelling and need to escape adult confines of expectation.

Breakfast Club dissects 80’s America with humour, heartfelt performances and energy in a way few other films of the decade managed.

Well, if you say you haven’t [had sex], you’re a prude. If you say you have, you’re a slut. It’s a trap. You want to but you can’t, and when you do you wish you didn’t, right

Alison – The Breakfast Club

The 400 Blows (1959)

‘Les quatre cents coups’ 

Director: François Truffaut (Artificial Eye/Curzon)

One of the finest depictions of young male adolescence in film, Francois Traffaunts 1959 picture is still a template for many others within the genre.

Traffaunts film is intensely powerful in its critique of isolation and escape with Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Lèaud) portraying the emotion, anger and hurt of adolescence with a simple gesture or look. This is a boy who is judged and isolated by his school, parents and community. Misunderstood and desperate for escape.

400 Blows examination of societies that label young people, forcing them to accept the labels they are given is powerful and visually stunning. Its final scenes being some of the most stark and creative in 20th Century cinema. 

Empire of the Sun (1987)

Director: Steven Spielburg (Warner Brothers)

One of the most overlooked of Spielberg’s films, Empire of the Sun adapted from J.G. Ballard’s novel is a beautifully crafted and performed exploration of childhood innocence during war. Following Jim (Christian Bale) through his transition from a wealthy English schoolboy in British controlled Shanghai, to a street wise young teenager in an occupied land.

Empire mixes childhood imagination and dreams with the brutality of war and adulthood in way few films manage. There are moments of childhood wonder and exploration set to a backdrop of violence and control that make this film truly unique.

We see Jim change before our eyes, accepting his need to survive at any cost and fend for himself. While still being a boy who has limited understanding of the events taking place in his surroundings

Mid90s (2019)

During a long hot summer in 90s Los Angeles, 13 year old Stevie (Sunny Suljic) finds belonging and acceptance within a group of older skaters. Escaping the trappings of his abusive yet conflicted older brother Ian (Lucas Hedges), and tender yet distant mother Dabney. However, as Stevie’s bond to the group grows, the reality of teenage life bears down on him. Amid changing family relationships and friendships.

Mid 90s isn’t afraid to show the positives and negatives associated with peer influence. Including the risks of troubled older young people acting as influencers to the young boys. However, it equally shows the importance of peer bonding in developing emotional support structures for teenagers. While encapsulating the fear, joy and naivety of early adult experiences.

Ladybird (2017)

Director: Greta Gerwig (A24)

One of the most heartfelt modern films exploring the transition from girlhood to womanhood. Ladybird embraces the complexity of emotion, love and parental conflict present in adolescence.

Feeling semi-autobiographical in construct Ladybird dovetails comedy with the drama of adolescence. While providing performances that feel natural while equally capturing the anxiety and energy of teenage life. This is a film where teenage relationships, friendships and sex are messy, difficult and ultimately disappointing. Where boys are complicated and nuanced. Their own sexuality and identity still forming through a haze of hormones. And young women strive for adventure, success and experience. Creating one the finest coming of age journey’s on the past decade, while placing the experience of young women centre stage.

Rebel Without a Cause (1955)

Director: Nicholas Ray (Warner Brothers)

Based on the 1944 book of the same name by Robert Lindner, Rebel Without a Cause is far more complex than a mere critique of the emerging American fear of juvenile delinquency.

This is a stunning and nuanced study of youth, family, identity and love, that still speaks to our modern society. Challenging the 1950’s American family construct, while also exploring themes of masculinity, sexuality and love. Making Rebel one of the finest examples of the coming of age genre every produced. While also embraces themes of male desire and unrequited love. Long before LGBTQ themes had entered mainstream cinema in America.

Catapulting James Dean to international stardom, while mirroring the eventual cause of his early death, Rebel has earned mythic status in the decades since its release. This is the film that provided a template for teenage filmmaking still in use today.

“It’s a zoo. He always wants to be my pal, you know? But how can I give him anything? If he’s — well, I mean, I love him and all that type of stuff, and I-I mean, I don’t want to hurt him. But then, I don’t, I don’t — well, I don’t know what to do any more, except maybe die… If he had guts to knock Mom cold once, then maybe she’d be happy and then she’d stop pickin’ on him, because they make mush out of him, just mush! I’ll tell you one thing. I don’t ever want to be like him. How can a guy grow up in a circus like that?… Boy, if, if I had one day when, when I didn’t have to be all confused, and didn’t have to feel that I was ashamed of everything… if I felt that I belonged someplace, you know?”

Jim – Rebel Without a Cause

Carrie (1976)

Director: Brian De Palma (United Artists)

Adapted from Stephen King’s book of the same name, Brian De Palma’s Carrie not only plays with the horror of coming of age, But also offers us a complex and fascinating journey into isolation, religious extremism and hate. 

Carrie is extremely clever film making, following its literary roots with reverence, while providing a far more complex portrayal of teenage life than its given credit for. Its horror laced with bodily change, sex, bullying and parental control. While also incorporating themes of parental control, child abuse and religion. Carrie never allows for simplistic good versus evil cliches in its narrative. Ensuring the audience build empathy and love for a character who ultimately causes destruction. While also never being solely to blame for the final outcomes of her actions. 

Carrie matches a journey into into the desire to control the situations and people who cause you harm, fear and rejection. With the true horror of child abuse and control at the hands of a parent who suffers with mental illness. While equally exploring the failings of a school system in showing care and understanding. Far more than just a horror film, Carrie is a coming of age story with horrific conclusion

Billy Elliot (2000)

Director Stephen Daldry (Universal Pictures)

It is now easy nearly twenty years on to dismiss the power of Billy Elliot on its release. But Stephen Daldry’s exploration of masculinity, sexuality and dance cannot be underestimated. Not only in its ability to break down stereotypes of boys in dance. But also in its exploration of a community of tradition embracing change.

Set against the backdrop of the 1980s miner’s strikes in County Durham. During a period of large scale social and industrial upheaval in Britain. Billy Elliot uses its time and place beautifully in exploring masculinity forged through history and place. As Billy struggles with the confines of his community, while also embracing its spirit and history. His conflicted feelings of loyalty mixing with a need for self expression as he steps towards teenage life.

Billy Elliot provides us with a portrait of a community in transition and forced change. Its younger residents holding the key to lead the social change necessary for community survival.

Almost Famous (2000)

Director: Cameron Crowe (Sony Pictures)

Almost Famous is not only a love letter to 1970’s music. But also a stunning exploration of self discovery and freedom as the reality of adult life dawns.

Following 15 year old aspiring music writer William Miler. Cameron Crowe weaves music and nostalgia with a social commentary on 70s masculinity and belonging. Dovetailing themes of hero worship and expectation born during childhood with the realities of a confused and imperfect adult world.

Wrapping social commentary on sexuality and unrequited love with a warm and comforting film. In a picture that touches your heart and soul through music, humour and the pure excitement of youth.

“That groupie? She was a Band-Aid! All she did was love your band. And you used her, all of you! You used her and threw her away! She almost died last night while you were with Bob Dylan. You guys, you’re always talking about the fans, the fans, the fans; she was your biggest fan, and you threw her away! And if you can’t see that, that’s your biggest problem. And I love her! I love her!”

William Miller (Almost Famous)

Mean Creek (2004)

Films that aim to explore the dark side of teenage development are often overlooked. In effect portraying the darkness at the heart of teenage life. Alongside the risks inherent in the journey we all take into adult life.

Mean Creek tackles the darkness of this journey head on. With a complex and emotional turning point in the lives of group of young people. As isolation, bullying and discrimination come to the fore on an expedition out in the wilderness of rural America. Challenging our pre-defined views of childhood innocence. While encouraging us to explore the results of a dangerous absence of adult guidance in youth development.

Lean on Pete (2018)

Director: Andrew Haigh (Film 4)

Andrew Haigh’s Lean on Pete is a masterful exploration of a young mans journey through emotional, social and personal turmoil. While adeptly exploring modern America and the relationship between family, community and opportunity.

Haigh not only captures the loneliness and isolation of teenage life. But also, the limited opportunities presented by childhood poverty. Never sinking into melodrama as we follow Charley (Charlie Plummer) and the ageing race horse ‘Pete’. Providing us with a journey of self discovery, against a backdrop of poverty and injustice.

Consequently exploring the coming of age process from the perspective of a hurt and isolated young man. Who while loosing trust in humans. Equally finds solace and comfort in an animal who listens without judgement. His journey back to the human world tied to the horse and his own inner strength.

Girl (2018)

Director: Lukas Dhont (Lumiere)

Providing us with a transgender coming of age story Lucas Dhonts debut is not without its controversy. Especially in casting a young cis male actor in the main role. However, this is a film that offers us a truly immersive journey. While taking an important step forward in the reflection of trans coming of age on screen.

Victor Polster’s performance is an exceptional and equally nuanced exploration of the a transitioning teen. Not only demonstrating the complexity of emotions and feelings, but also the urgency of a new life. Allowing us to walk with Lara as her transition nears the physical completion she desires. While the power of teenage emotion is dovetailed with the gruelling perfection of ballet. The struggles of body conformity, change and dance interwoven into a breathtaking and urgent piece of intimate filmmaking.

Wildlife (2018)

Director: Paul Dano (IFC Films)

Paul Dano’s directorial debut beautifully explores family breakdown through the eyes of teenage Joe. While capturing his painful realisation relationships can hold lies, pain and sadness. As he slowly accepts the true nature of the family home surrounding him.

Exploring the hidden depths of individual need and companionship alongside the simmering rage of family separation. Wildlife is visually & creatively beautiful throughout. Matched by outstanding performances that play to the pain and fear of a slowly unravelling family unit.

While, Wildlife’s exploration of repressed emotions, coming of age and social boundaries is multi layered and exquisite in delivery. Allowing the audience time to build understanding and emotional connection with its characters.

The Dreamers (2003)

Director: Bernardo Bertolucci (Fox Searchlight)

Bernardo Bertolucci The Dreamers takes the student protests and riots of 1960s Paris, While mixing the urgency of rebellion with emerging sexuality and identity.

Buzzing with hormonal energy, excitement and art. The Dreamers captures the intensity of youth in may a few films have managed. While layering this intensity with infatuation and sexual discovery. As American conservatism meets European liberalism in an explosion of hormonal power.

Embodying the power of film and art as escapism. The Dreamers eloquently plays with the boundaries of expressionism and escape in the still forming young adult. Never afraid to take the audience into the blurred realms between art and sexual awakening.

” Yes, I’m drunk. And you’re beautiful. And tomorrow morning, I’ll be sober but you’ll still be beautiful”

Matthew (The Dreamers)

The Virgin Suicides (1999)

Director: Sofia Coppola (Paramount Pictures)

In suburban 70’s America, five beautiful sisters are quarantined away from social interaction. While local boys obsess about the mysterious and reclusive sisters. All wondering how they subvert the strict parental controls the girl face. Meanwhile the fate of the girls is tied to the parental control and rules that stifle their emerging womanhood.

While elements of Sophia Coppola’s film play with an almost dream like state of teenage desire and mystery. This is a film that also has extremely dark undertones, playing with themes of control, repression and community isolation.

The Virgin Suicides is a still a powerful piece of cinematic art. With love and obsession turning to horror and loss. The boundless energy and sexuality of youth thwarted by parental control and restraint.

Y Tu Mama También (2001)

Director: Alfonso Cuarón (20th Century Fox/IFC)

Alfonso Cuarón’s Y Tu Mama También would appear at face value to be a classic teenage sex/comedy. After all, its premise of two hormonally driven teenagers deciding to go on a road trip. Persuading an older woman to join them, sets up the classic sex/comedy storyboard.

However, Cuarón’s film is so much more than it appears on the surface. This is a cutting exploration of teenage sexuality, love and friendship alongside themes of class divide and opportunity. With rampant sexuality and hormone induced decisions testing friendship through jealousy and a changing view of women.

Y Tu Mama También provides a road trip into the final carefree years of teenage life. The realities of an adult world snapping at the heals of the young men, while their roads slowly diverge. Their own love for each tested and explored through the older woman they befriend.

Once Upon a Time in America (1984)

Director: Sergio Leone (Warner Brothers)

Charting the journey of four friends over five decades. Sergio Leone’s masterpiece of cinema is rarely explored under the banner of coming of age. However, this is in essence a coming of age journey covering the journey from childhood to adult life. While wrapping its audience in a sweeping epic of friendship, betrayal and revenge.

Relentless it its gritty depiction of poverty and violence. Leone opens the film with four young friends growing up in 1930s New York. All of them street kids who understand the hidden rules of the New York backstreets. While thriving and surviving on a mix of low level crime and violence. Equally protecting each other from the dangers of the adults surrounding them. The result being, a group of young people who understand that power and success come through notoriety and position. But also have no real understanding of the social costs of their actions.

Despite the overarching darkness of the film, Leone’s picture transcends the normal gangster movie. Delivering a beautifully framed and performed examination of the choices made in youth and their eventual translation into adult life. Dovetailing an exploration of the perceived invincibility of young street kids. With the repercussions of a youth delving into the darkest corners of a community. The devastating conclusion of their journey. Consequently creating a film that challenges the very choices made on the road to adulthood.

Léolo (1992)

Director: Jean-Claude Lauzon (Alliance Films)

Leo submerses himself in the extremes of his own imagination. A world where fantasy mixes with sexual awakening and confusion. While those around him continue to treat him as child who has no understanding of life. Meanwhile, his family indulge in their own fantasies and escapism.

Often challenging in its portrayal of mental health and teen escapism. While equally complex in its exploration of dysfunctional family life, friendship and difference. Leolo never seeks to sway the audience on the key messages it houses. In effect allowing the viewers freedom build their own views on the coming of age journey at its heart. While equally creating a dream like structure. That not only demonstrates the inner thoughts of a child on the verge of teenage life. But also the fear and isolation of mental illness.

L.I.E (2001)

Director: Michael Cuesta (Belladonna Pictures)

Michael Cuesta’s 2001 film is a tour de force in its bravery and forthright narrative. Not to mention its stunning exploration of gender, sexuality and isolation in adolescence. In creating a film that packs a punch in its honest and powerful portrayal of vulnerability and desire in adolescence.

Controversial from the start to finish with its nuanced exploration of adult grooming, control and belonging. L.I.E is designed to stay with you long after the credits roll. Highlighting not just the vulnerability inherent in young people as they explore their sexual orientation. But also, the realities of the control mechanisms that exist when parental support and friendship are absent.

IT Chapter One (2017)

Stephen King published his 22nd novel ‘IT’ back in 1986 to a mixed reception from critics. The novels coming of age themes sitting alongside a supernatural presence who fed on fear, captivated some and bemused others. Its 1300+ pages demanded attention and commitment from the reader. While its core themes dug deep into childhood and adult fears, providing an uncomfortable experience for many readers.

With IT Chapter One the love of King’s source material shows on screen; Muschietti understanding the core themes of the book. Translating King’s material with reverence to the characters and places of the authors creation. The casting of IT Chapter One equally demonstrates an understanding and love of earlier King adaptations like Stand By MeMuschietti bringing together some of the finest young talent in Hollywood, in creating a Losers Club you could believe in. Bringing out the natural performances and talent of his young cast, while also allowing them to shine on screen. 

Each member of the losers club is haunted by their own unique fears, while being tormented by older teenagers and ignored by their families. Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Martell) reflects King’s earlier creation of Gordie Lachance (The Body/StandBy Me). A young man at the centre of family loss, his own grieving needs replaced by his parents mourning. While Mike (Chosen Jacobs) suffers flashbacks of his parents horrid death; Stanley (Wyatt Oleff) suffers the high demands of his religious parents; Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer) is controlled by his mother’s hypochondria and Richie (Finn Wolfhard) hides his real fears under humour. Each of them captivated by the confident yet damaged Beverly (Sophia Lillis), who’s strength in the group, hides her own abusive experiences. 

Welcome to the Dollhouse (1995)

Director: Todd Solondz (Sony Pictures)

Todd Solondz’ debut film takes the classic high school teen movie and blends it with a reality rarely seen in the genre. Not only facing head on the isolation of adolescence. But also unmasking the bullying and rejection many children face in school. Consequently delivering us the stark reality of young people’s ability to alienate and divide each other.

Dawn Wiener (Heather Matarazzo) is an outcast within her school environment. Both her looks and awkward personality making her invisible within a community of instant judgement and appraisal.

Todd Solondz expertly weaves the grim realities of school life with the strength of those who are alienated within it. Ensuring his film never falls into abject negativity but embraces satirical comedy/drama. In doing so he reminds us all of the realities our school days. While emphasising the awkwardness, volatility and strength inherent in young people who struggle to be accepted, alongside the bittersweet process of early adolescence.

Moonlight (2016)

Director: Barry Jenkins (Altitude)

Barry Jenkins OSCAR award winning film defies many of the classic labels attached to LGBTQ drama. Consequently providing us with a film that challenges stereotypical notions of sexual orientation, community and belonging. Thus creating a beautiful symphony of love and friendship, in a society of cultural restrictions and poverty.

With stunning cinematography and and performances. Moonlight is unafraid to challenge the preconceptions of its audience. While delivering a sublime three age study that redefines the relationship between sexual orientation, community and race in a way few other films could hope to achieve.

“I wasn’t never worth shit. Never did anything I actually wanted to do, was all I could do to do what other folks thought I should do. I wasn’t never myself”

Kevin (Moonlight)
Moonlight also appears in our Essential LGBTQ Films

Juno (2007)

Director: Jason Reitman (Fox Searchlight)

Following a first time sexual experience with Paulie (Michael Cera), Juno MacGuff (Ellen Page) finds herself pregnant. Her young life thrown into turmoil as she decides to keep the baby. While also searching for the perfect adoptive parents to take care of the newborn.

Set within a classic teenage comedy genre, Juno delivers far more than a standard comedy film. Offering a smart and tender exploration of a young women forced into an adult world. While also encapsulating the fear and apprehension of early sex for both boys and girls.

Boyhood (2014)

Richard Linklater takes us on a truly unique coming of age journey with Boyhood. While reflecting the journey to adulthood through the prism of real personal change. As we follow Mason (Ellar Coltrane) and his parents (Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke).

Filmed over 13 years, Boyhood is not only one of the most detailed and exquisite portrayals of the journey to adulthood ever seen of film. But also a glorious technical achievement in filmmaking. This is a film that wears its heart on its sleeve, showing the joy, fear and emotion of coming of age in a way few films before or after have managed to achieve.

The Apu Trilogy (1955 – 1959)

‘Pather Panchali’ 1955 / Aparajito 1956 / Apur Sansar 1959

Director: Satyajit Ray (Curzon/Artificial Eye)

Satyajit Rays film trilogy following Apu from childhood to adulthood in his rural Bengali village, changed Indian cinema. With the intention of shifting the focus from song and dance to realism and authenticity. In turn creating one of finest trilogies of film of the 20th Century.

Although made separately over the period 1955 – 1959, Ray’s trilogy works beautifully as a single film. Each film dovetailing into a truly stunning and unique journey. As we follow Apu (Pather Panchali) from childhood to adulthood. His hopes and dreams conflicting with the poverty of home in a sublime character study. One that understands the role of place and community in opportunity.

The themes of Ray’s trilogy are timeless. While also providing a unforgettable snap shot of Bengali culture in the early 20th Century.

Jojo Rabbit (2019)

Taika Waititi’s film never seeks to diminish the destruction and oppression of Nazism. Balancing the power of politically driven hate with its ability to engulf the minds of young and old alike. The films narrative understanding the trappings of self protection during times of war. Where people often hide under the wings of an ideology in fear of their own life ending. Even if they disagree with the political beliefs at its heart. 

Jojo Rabbits mix of cutting satire and heartfelt emotion, creates a film that takes you on a journey into the darkness and light of humanity. A journey that is both funny and heartbreaking in equal measure. Jojo’s eyes slowly opened to the reality of a set of beliefs forged through lies and manipulation. The darkness of hate giving way to to the lightness of freedom and hope. 

The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)

Director: Stephen Chbosky (EOne)

Based on the novel of the same name published back 1999. Chbosky’s adaptation of his book is full of honesty and sincerity in its portrayal friendship and self discovery during adolescence. Consequently shining with the intensity and need for belonging inherent in youth. While dovetailing this with the self discovery and realisation of personal development on the journey to adulthood.

Beautifully exploring the role of friendships and relationships in building identity. This is a film unafraid to show the joy of belonging and fear of isolation in equal measure. While also tackling issues of childhood trauma and abuse within a gentle, yet extremely powerful narrative.

The Graduate (1967)

Director: Mike Nichols (United Artists)

Mike Nichols’ 1967 masterpiece is as much a discussion piece on generational change as it is a youthful comedy/drama. Based on the novel by Charles Webb, Nichols brings together an unlikely cast. In a film that still feels as fresh and engaging now as it did on its release.

21-year-old Ben (Dustin Hoffman) returns from college to his stale family home to find little has changed. Despite the social upheaval of 60s America. However, Bens world is thrown upside down at meeting the eloquent but predatory figure of Mrs Robinson (Anne Bancroft). His need for adventure finally finding a voice in a world of secret sex and adult complication. As Ben’s real education becomes tied to an older woman.

In many ways, the Graduate plays to a classic fantasy of heterosexual college boys. However, in others this is a nuanced exploration of generational and sociatol change in 1960’s America. Eloquently exploring the interface between two generations seeking freedom from a restrictive family, community and society.

Coupled with beautiful performances and a score that dovetails the emotions, comedy and fumbling explorations of adulthood. The Graduate was and still is a fascinating journey into youthful rebellion in a changing world of sexual politics.

Capernaum (2018)

Director: Nadine Labaki (Sony Pictures Classics)

Nadine Lebaki leads us through the streets of Lebanon in a story that writhes with energy, emotion and sincerity. As we follow the journey of young Zain through a fog of abuse, separation and childhood longing. While Lebaki expertly uses the camera with documentary like precision in creating a powerful reflection of a damaged world. For this reason Capernaum sears itself into the memory of the viewing. Creating a film where you feel Zains emotion as a boy lost in a big and hectic world. His childhood needs conflicting with a forced adult existence.

To this end Zain Al Rafeea’s performance is one of pure authenticity and beauty. Creating a dynamic where the audience desperately long for him to find happiness. His expressions reflecting his world with no speech needed.

In many respects Capernaum echoes a Dickens novel in construct. While never providing us with the classic happy ending. In a razor sharp exploration of the no-mans land between childhood and adulthood in communities where poverty is rife.

The Ice Storm (1997)

Director: Ang Lee (Fox Searchlight)

Taking place during a harsh winter in thanksgiving Connecticut. Ang Lee combines the repression of adulthood with a dissection of family trust. While also shining a light on the complexity of adolescent belonging, desire and escapism.

Set in the early 1970’s America during a time of social revolution and change. Lee’s interpretation of Rick Moody’s novel, shines with the fragmentation and isolation of the parent/teenage relationship. As a result unwrapping the desire of parents to control the sexual awakening of their children. While also exploring their own honesty in trying to safeguard their offspring from harm.

With a truly stunning cast, including Kevin Klein, Sigourney Weaver, Joan Allen, Elijah Wood, Christina Ricci and Toby Maguire. The Ice Storm ultimately combines the a coming of age journey with a changing society. One where Vietnam and Watergate and sexual liberation would lead to a new social landscape.

Sixteen Candles (1984)

Director: John Hughes (Universal)

Sixteen Candles is a largely overlooked classic of the John Hughes cannon. Providing us with a beautifully timed and delivered comedy that has stood the test of time. To say nothing of the times-capsule it offers into 80s teenage life. This is a film that encapsulates the anger, joy and urgency of coming of age for girls and boys alike. Doing so with irreverent comedy and fun, while providing the building blocks for The Breakfast Club. And while it remains largely overshadowed by its sister film. Sixteen Candles is an incredibly funny and tender exploration of teenage life.

Murmur of the Heart (1971)

‘Le souffle au coeur’

Director: Louis Malle (Curzon Artificial Eye)

Taking place in Dijon, France, circa 1954, Louis Malle delivers a masterpiece of teenage experimentation, conflict and confusion. In a film that would never be made today due to its bravery in exploring the sexual and emotional confusion of mid-adolescence. Alongside a mother/son relationship teaming with unspoken sexual tension. However, more than this Murmur Of Heart is an exquisite exploration of family, belonging and the urgency of adulthood among teenagers that continues to mesmerise new audiences today.

Dazed and Confused (1993)

Celebrating the last day of school in the summer of 1976 in Austin, Texas. Richard Linklater perfectly encapsulates the changing teenage sub culture of 70s America. While combining coming of age themes film wider social rebirth.

Just as American Graffiti explored the transition from school to adult life. While also exploring the final years of 1950’s youth culture. Dazed and Confused captures mid 70’s youth culture before the transition to a 1980’s culture of wealth, power and possessions.

Demonstrating a youth culture absent of technology, and powered by alpha male initiations and bonding. Where the prerequisites of masculinity are defined by how cool you are in the eyes of others. And while many of these cultural tropes would endure into the 1980’s. The changing landscape of media and commercialism would equally move its leaders into those with financial status.

Superman the Movie (1979)

I wonder how many of you will be surprised to find Richard Donner’s comic book masterpiece in our essential collection. Well if you are surprised you really shouldn’t be. As the origin story of Superman provided the basis for nearly every other superhero ever created. While Donner provided the cinematic template for everything ‘super’ that came after.

With links to the biblical story of Moses running parallel to a pre second world war story aimed at bringing hope. Superman in many ways offers the ultimate coming of age journey. As it provides us with an orphan from a distant star, loved unconditionally by his unwitting adoptive parents. While also learning as he grows that he can bring safety and security to his adoptive planet.

The trials and tribulations of puberty exacerbated by his growing power and the choices he must take in using it for good. While his dual identity also cuts him off from ever really experiences the normality of life and joys of love. These core elements of the Superman story all make it to the screen in Donner’s stunning comic book epic. With the delicate and beautiful cinematography of the late, great Geoffrey Unsworth dovetailing with pure magic of John Williams score. In a film that soars with sincerity and love for the characters of Superman and Lois.

While the late Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder steal our hearts with performances that echo the wonder of a comic book world.

Monos (2019)

Alejandro Landes beautiful yet haunting tail of young people left to their own devices is a truly stunning depiction of youth. The teenagers lives controlled from a distance yet equally uncontrollable. While hormones, guns, livestock and captives mixing on a dew soaked mountain top.

One part Lord of the Flies and one part Apocalypse Now. Landes creates a dream like atmosphere, where the reason for the young people’s mission is never clear. For some viewers this will undoubtley cause frustration. But, ultimately Monos is a study of peer influence, tribal belonging and adult indifference. In a group where Doctura is the only real adult influence, her own life bound by captivity, fear and desire to escape. The teenagers only have themselves for guidance. Their group culture and practice at odds with the hidden cities they are no longer a part of. The actions of the group spiralling into tribal belonging as the distance between them and ‘The Organisation’ grows on their descent into the Jungle.

Honey Boy (2019)

Honey Boy opens in the midst of explosions and stunts on a 2005 film set. Otis (Lucas Hedges) is a young actor whose life is submerged in a bottle of any spirit he can find. His existence a whirlwind of anger, frustration and risk that eventually leads him to rehab. His internal hurt and trauma coming from a fractious and challenging relationship with his father. A relationship that takes us back to 1995 and young Otis (Noah Jupe) sitting on the brink of stardom. Living in motel rooms with his recovering alcoholic father (Shia LaBeouf); a failed rodeo clown who chaperones young Otis to studio sessions. The relationship between both father and son at times loving and at times deeply unsettling. 

Whats truly fascinating in the delivery of ‘Honey Boy’ are the questions raised about child actors taken into an adult working world. A topic that been discussed copiously over the years. As one child actor after the other has suffered through their early introduction to the Hollywood system. However, this is a film that also raises the important subject of parental support in the lives of young actors. Support that if unbalanced can lead to their isolation from the normal trappings and experiences of childhood. The child’s relationships bound to other adults rather than people of their own age. Their whole life slowly becoming a mere role as the gap between reality and fame narrows. The ability to experience any normality limited by their fame and parental pressure to earn more. The only escape door provided by a range of mind altering substances that only deepen the internal crisis.

Directors and Actors who also appear in other Cinerama articles include…

Cory Feldman also appears in The Goonies

River Phoenix also appears in River Phoenix – The Essential Collection

Sigourney Weaver also appears in Horror – The Essential Collection and Alien

George Lucas and Carrie Fisher also appear in Star Wars – A New Hope

Richard Dreyfuss also appears in Horror – The Essential Collection

Timothee Chalamet also appears in LGBTQ – The Essential Collection, The King and Beautiful Boy

Anthony Michael Hall also appears in Alone this Valentines Day

Thomasin McKenzie also appears in The King

Christian Bale also appears in Vice

Scarlett Johansson also appears in Avengers Endgame, Marriage Story and Alone the Valentines Day

Brian De Palma also appears in Horror – The Essential Collection

Billy Crudup also appears in The Morning Show

Andrew Haigh also appears in LGBTQ – The Essential Collection

Mark Hamill also appears in Child’s Play

Ed Oxenbould also appears in A Deliciously Dark Christmas – The Essential Collection

Jake Gyllenhaal also appears in Spider-Man: Far From Home, LGBTQ – The Essential Collection and The Sisters Brothers

Michael Pitt also appears in Horror – The Essential Collection

Danny DeVito also appears in A Deliciously Dark Christmas – The Essential Collection

Hayden Christensen also appears in Star Wars – Episode III Revenge of the Sith (coming soon)

Gael García Bernal also appears in LGBTQ – The Essential Collection

Robert De Niro also appears in The Irishman

Paul Dano also appears in LGBTQ – The Essential Collection

Jaeden Martell also appears in The Lodge and Knives Out

Finn Wolfhard also appears in The Goldfinch

Ethan Hawke also appears in River Phoenix – The Essential Collection

Elijah Wood also appears in The Good Son

Xavier Dolan also appears in Matthias and Maxime

Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder also appear in Comic Book Movies – The Essential Collection (coming soon) and Alone this Valentines Day

Explore more of our Essential Collection here…


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