Coming of age is a popular topic of discussion for filmmakers. But many of the movies chronicling the journey into adulthood seem cheesy and overwrought once you’ve made the jump to adult status yourself. Despite their tendency towards sappiness, there are a chosen few good ones that deserve their designation as classic. Let’s take a look at some coming-of-age films that only get better with even more age.
When you want to be a rock-and-roll journalist, it’s difficult to maintain your innocence—they don’t call it the rock star lifestyle for nothing. In Almost Famous, as he tours with a band, aspiring writer William Miller is subjected to a series of eye-opening experiences on the road that he can’t escape from unchanged. The film holds up over time and feels like more than just an adolescent fantasy because it is (loosely) based on writer/director Cameron Crowe’s days writing for Rolling Stone.
THE LAST PICTURE SHOW
When you grow up in a small town, there isn’t much to do, outside of indulging in alcohol and the pleasures of the flesh. Few movies explore this truth better than The Last Picture Show, which plays on the idea of social labels falling by the wayside as we realize that we all have similar needs. Despite the story centering on high schoolers, this is one lesson that remains applicable through adulthood.
It often doesn’t hit you that you’ve grown up until it’s too late to do anything about it. Zach Braff drew from his own experience to create this complex look at lost youth with his award-winning movie Garden State. The film will resonate with anyone, regardless of age, who has realized that “the house you grew up in isn’t really your home anymore.”
As we get older, we begin to realize that the world doesn’t revolve around us, as painful as that may be to learn. Sixteen Candles explores this concept through the eyes of protagonist Sam Baker—who’s birthday is all but forgotten by family and friends. It’s not groundbreaking stuff by any means, but the film remains poignant long after you’ve stopped worrying about trivial teenage matters, thanks to the strong performances from the main cast.
When a group of twentysomethings are reunited for a wedding, they begin to relive the glory days of their youth. Diner is a movie about taking a look in the mirror and realizing that you’ve grown old without noticing—which is a thought that only grows more poignant the older you get. Still, as the movie shows, you are never far from the roots of your younger days, no matter how much you age.
STAND BY ME
Nothing uncomfortably tosses you into adulthood faster than realizing your own mortality. While Stand By Me can’t shield you from this realization completely, its artful depiction of the concept does help soften the blow. As four boys go on a journey to find a dead body, it quickly goes from being a lighthearted trip in the woods to being a representation of their fleeting childhoods. It’s difficult to pinpoint the moment that we stop being children, but the journey to find a corpse is a pretty good place to start.
DAZED AND CONFUZED
In looking back on the 1970s, director Richard Linklater was able to touch on universal themes that teenagers have dealt with for generations with his hit Dazed and Confused. For many, there is a wave of anxiety that accompanies the end of high school and the transition into adult life. While high school may come to inevitable end, the stress of change is something that sticks with you forever. The movie also features several actors who would soon be household names, like Matthew McConaughey and Milla Jovovich—adding to its cred as a true classic.
REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE
Made even more iconic because of James Dean’s untimely death prior to the film’s release, Rebel Without a Cause became the voice of a generation in the 1950s. Protagonist Jim Stark is very much a product of his surroundings, specifically of his parents’ constant fighting. While troubled home lives may fade into memories of childhood, most people can still relate to the struggle of fighting against what they cannot control.
The aimlessness that comes with your twenties is made worse by the different paths that others often try to choose for you. Sometimes you have to aim for what you want, even if it goes against everything that is expected of you. In The Graduate, protagonist Benjamin Braddock may not have the approval of those around him, but his choices are fully his.
DEAD POETS SOCIETY
A good teacher can open your eyes to the world around you and show you the beauty in the seemingly ordinary, especially if that teacher is Robin Williams. Dead Poets Society is heartwarming without being overwhelmingly cheesy, as it showcases the transition that teenagers go through as they become aware of their own worth.
THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER
It was always going to be a challenge to bring this beloved coming-of-age book to the big screen. Based on the novel written by Stephen Chbosky, this is about 15-year-old Charlie (Logan Lerman), an endearing and naive outsider, coping with first love (Emma Watson), the suicide of his best friend, and his own mental illness while struggling to find a group of people with whom he belongs. The introvert freshman is taken under the wings of two seniors, Sam and Patrick, who welcome him to the real world. Really it’s a movie for anyone who has ever felt alone or unsure of themselves, and that’s all of us.
There are so many more.
What are your favorites?