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Turbulent Times: 25 Coming Age Movies

29 mins read

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 complicated than a mere critique of the emerging American fear of juvenile delinquency. Ray’s movie 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 while also exploring themes of masculinity, sexuality and love. The result, bravely embracing 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. Ultimately delivering a film that has continued to provide the template for teenage filmmaking to this day.


Rating: 5 out of 5.

Carrie (1976)

Director: Brian De Palma

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

Carrie is astute film making, following its literary roots with reverence while providing a far more complex portrayal of teenage life than credited. 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 outcomes of her actions. 

Carrie laces the desire to control the situations and people that cause harm and fear with youth’s hormonal energy. While at the same time reflecting the true horror of child abuse and mental illness. Far more than just a horror film, Carrie is a coming of age story with a horrific conclusion.


Rating: 5 out of 5.

Mean Creek (2004)

Director: Jacob Aaron Estes

Films that aim to explore the dark side of adolescent development are often overlooked when exploring teenage movies. The challenging nature of their stories conflicts with a rose-tinted view of childhood. Their bravery in portraying the darkness at the heart of adolescent life uncomfortable and dangerous as they explore the inherent risks of the journey into adult life.

However, Mean Creek tackles the darkness of this journey head-on. By reflecting a socially complex and emotional turning point in the lives of a group of young people. As isolation, bullying and discrimination explode in a dangerous mix of revenge and hatred during a river expedition. Challenging our pre-defined views of childhood innocence while encouraging us to explore the results of an absence of adult guidance in youth development.


Rating: 4 out of 5.

Lean on Pete (2018)

Director: Andrew Haigh

Andrew Haigh’s Lean on Pete is a masterful exploration of a young man’s 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 possibilities presented by childhood poverty. Never sinking into melodrama as we follow Charley (Charlie Plummer) and the ageing racehorse ‘Pete’. Offering a journey of self-discovery against a backdrop of poverty and injustice.

Lean on Pete delicately explores the coming of age process from the perspective of a hurt and isolated young man. Who while losing 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.


Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Dreamers (2003)

Director: Bernardo Bertolucci

Bernardo Bertolucci, The Dreamers, takes the student protests and riots of 1960s Paris while mixing in the urgency of rebellion with emerging sexuality and identity. At all times, buzzing with hormonal energy, excitement and art. Bertolucci captures the intensity of youth in a way a few films have managed. Layering the heat 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.


Rating: 5 out of 5.

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