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The Best Coming of Age Films to Watch Before the Next School Year


July 25, 2023

The "Coming Of Age" story is one we all have, and one we are all drawn to. The heart of both vintage and modern film is the metamorphosis of a child into a young adult, because the melancholy essence of such a prominent period successfully captures directors, actors, and audiences alike.

But before you head off into your next chapter, be sure to experience at least one of these films in its purest form: as an adolescent.

1. The Outsiders (1983)

"Nothing gold can stay."

Originating from the book of the same name, The Outsiders is a classic tale of the dichotomy of Socs and Greasers, two factions that vehemently despise one another. We follow a group of adolescent Greasers with essential characteristics: hatred for the world, companionship, and great hair. But after tragedy strikes, main character Ponyboy begins to realize that maybe Socs and Greasers aren’t so different after all.

This heart-wrenching film is guaranteed to pull at your tear ducts, so be prepared with tissues when you open Max to watch it.

2. A Rebel Without a Cause (1955)

"If I had one day when I didn't have to be all confused and I didn't have to feel that I was ashamed of everything. If I felt that I belonged someplace. You know?"

I am a firm believer that all Taylor Swift fans must watch A Rebel Without A Cause. The "James Dean daydream" look is incredible in this film. A flashback to the 50s, Dean plays a miscreant bad boy who moves to a new town, supposedly with a clean slate.

But we all know how that goes. You can take the troublemaker out of his town, but you can’t take the trouble out of him. The climax illustrates the battle of searching for a cause in a world riddled with dishonesty and terror.

A Rebel Without A Cause is an absolute gut punch, showcasing the power of filmmaking through the years. This film is available to watch on Max.

3. The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)

"We accept the love we think we deserve."

This film is another book-based story led by majorly talented performers. Additionally, full of great music, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower is a well-rounded film that dissects the holistic teenage experience.

Protagonist Charlie copes with the struggles of a lifetime and is rendered numb. As he begins high school for the first time, he finds that making friends is more difficult than he ever imagined. Through the course of the film, we spectate a complete transcendence. The commentary on love and growth is prominent and hard-hitting, a combination that proves to be worth all 5 stars.

The Perks Of Being A Wallflower is a renowned choice for a reason, and it's available for free on Netflix and Tubi.

4. The Breakfast Club (1985)

"We're all pretty bizarre. Some of us are just better at hiding it, that's all."

Another absolute classic, The Breakfast Club is the embodiment of fun. When five disparate students are stuck in detention together, they each have an epiphany: cliques are stupid, everyone deserves love, and we are all in this together. There is essentially a character for each of us, although most of us will relate in some part to every one of them: a jock, a prep, a goth, a troublemaker, and a nerd … all stuck in a library for hours on end. The childish dispositions of teenagers are always prevalent, but this movie analyzes and dissolves those judgemental inclinations.

In contrast to many of the other recommendations on this list, The Breakfast Club is an incredibly warm and hopeful film. This makes it perfect for anyone in a slump, or anyone doubtful of their potential.

The Breakfast Club is available on Hulu.

5. 10 Things I Hate About You (1999)

"Secondly, don't let anyone ever make you feel like you don't deserve what you want. Go for it."

An unconventional love story, 10 Things I Hate About You upholds an iconic standard in Coming Of Age films. Cameron is head over heels for Bianca, who cannot date unless her antisocial older sister, Kat, does, as well. A plan ensues, and Heath Ledger’s charm captivates viewers for the entire movie.

10 Things I Hate About You is surprisingly based on the Shakesphere play, The Taming Of The Shrew. Don’t fret, though— the portrayal of women is far superior. It’s available to watch on Disney Plus.

6. Spiderman: Into the Spider Verse (2018)

"That person who helps others simply because it should or must be done, and because it is the right thing to do, is indeed without a doubt, a real superhero."

What’s a Coming Of Age movie list without Spiderman? The tales of the red-and-blue suited hero are a staple of the genre, allowing for increased creativity for the directors and actors. Spiderman: Into The Spider Verse is by far the most experimental Spiderman film, and flawlessly demonstrates the tribulations of being a teenager.

Miles Morales is the “chosen one," taking on the role of Spiderman. He must face the cruel coldness of the world, fighting crime to save New York and the people he loves. Child-like wonder and naiveté are ruthlessly stripped from him, and he must venture into the world with an immense weight on his shoulders.

This film and its sequel are the epitome of the state of animation in 2023. Spiderman: Into The Spider Verse is available on Amazon Prime.

7. Boyz n the Hood (1991)

"I'll tell you why. For the same reason that there is a liquor store on almost every corner in the black community. Why? They want us to kill ourselves."

An incredible story wrapped within star-studded performances, Boyz N The Hood presents a trio and their battles with violence. We follow the lives of three African American men in South Central Los Angeles, experiencing a vivid portrayal of devastating poverty and the power of violence.

Tre, whose father tirelessly instills positive values in him, lives in poverty. His best friends, Chris and Doughboy, are slowly drawn to the gang violence and drug use prevalent in their neighborhood. Boyz n the Hood is a vivid portrayal of life, with intense commentary on systemic racism, capitalism, and perpetual cycles.

Boyz n the Hood is one of the best films of the 90s, and is available on Amazon Prime.

8. Lady Bird (2017)

"Money is not life's report card. Being successful doesn't mean anything in and of itself. It just means that you're successful. But that doesn't mean that you're happy."

The relationship between a mother and daughter has captivated filmmakers for decades. The parallels between women are extremely distressing, invoking sadness in many daughters. The intensity between a woman and her offspring is difficult to capture, but there are films that do it well.

Lady Bird is one of them. We follow Christine McPherson, who chooses to go by "Lady Bird," in her final year of high school. Her father has just died, and her mother works late shifts.

They exist as mirror images of one another, perhaps the reason why they don’t get along well. The push-and-pull relationship between these two women is bittersweet and all too realistic for some of us.

Lady Bird is an essential watch for all daughters, and it's available on Paramount Plus.

A Coming Of Age is a period of self-actualization. It can take place at any time, often heart-wrenchingly early. It is then that we come to terms with the harsh realities of the world around us.

The once impenetrable surface of society becomes a highly structured yet fragile environment, one in which we must find our place. Some of us do, some of us don’t, but all of us struggle.

Each film on this list features one of those qualities; the characters find self-worth through tragedy, praise, or arbitration. Their child-like carelessness is gone, hopefully not forever, but replaced with a sense of value for life.

Embalm your growing pains with one of these films, and as always, check content warnings before watching.

Ayla Miller
20k+ pageviews

Ayla is a current high schooler with an affinity for reading and writing. You can find her rewatching Top Gun, or reading The Hunger Games.