Skip to content

The 25 Best Coming-of-Age Movies Ever Made

These films perfectly capture the agony and the ecstasy of growing up.

A great coming-of-age movie can take you on a journey. When the movie begins, the main character is a child, at least emotionally. But, when it comes time for the end credits to roll, they've become an adult—or taken a couple of steps closer to becoming one.

Stories about growing up are a natural fit for movies. It's a universal experience, yet each coming-of-age narrative is deeply personal and specific. It's a subgenre of movie that can be combined with any other number of movie genres: There are coming-of-age comedies, dramas, action romps, and even horror flicks. Animated characters can come of age, too, and their cartoon experiences can feel just as real as those of their live-action counterparts.

Read on to learn more about 25 of the best coming-of-age movies ever made.

RELATED: 12 Big Mistakes in Classic Movies That No One Noticed.

The 400 Blows (1959)

The oldest movie on this list is a true classic. Directed by François Truffaut, The 400 Blows is a semi-autobiographical story of a rebellious young boy named Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Léaud), who struggles in school and often finds himself in trouble. The film opened the Cannes Film Festival the year it was released and has since appeared on many lists of the greatest movies ever made.

Closely Watched Trains (1966)

Jiří Menzel's Closely Watched Trains from 1966 is a seminal Czech New Wave film. The comedy-drama follows a young man (Václav Neckář) who gets his first job as a train dispatcher in German-occupied Czechoslovakia near the end of World War II. However, young Miloš isn't all that concerned with the war or Nazis (or even doing his job, really). Instead, like the protagonist of so many coming-of-age movies in the years since, Miloš really just wants to lose his virginity.

The Breakfast Club (1985)

Over the course of a Saturday detention, five high schoolers from different social cliques (Emilio Estevez, Anthony Michael Hall, Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald, and Ally Sheedy) come to realize that they are much more than the teenage stereotypes assigned to each of them. John Hughes' 1985 adolescent dramedy remains a classic coming-of-age story, one that many movies since count as a foundational influence, though it has been criticized in the years since (including by a few of its stars) for some of its more dated, problematic elements.

Stand by Me (1986)

Though known more for his horror stories, Stephen King also wrote a novella called The Body, which features no supernatural forces or even murder. In 1986, the story about a group of friends who set off on a hike to see a dead body became a film directed by Rob Reiner, titled Stand by Me. It starred a group of budding young actors, including Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, and Jerry O'Connell, as the boys who find adventure and deepen their friendship. The framing device, featuring Richard Dreyfuss as a grown-up version of Wheaton's character, makes it all the more poignant in the way it reflects on the passing of time.

Cinema Paradiso (1988)

This 1988 Italian movie by Giuseppe Tornatore is a love letter to the movies, in addition to being a touching coming-of-age story. In Cinema Paradiso, a successful filmmaker looks back at his childhood in a small Sicilian town and his friendship with the local movie theater's projectionist, who inspired his love of cinema and shaped his upbringing. It'll be an especially special watch for anyone who considers themself a cinephile.

RELATED: The Saddest Movie Deaths of All Time.

Dead Poets Society (1989)

With his performance in Dead Poets Society, Robin Williams makes a case for John Keating being one of the greatest fictional teachers of all time. In this Peter Weir drama, Keating's arrival at a New England boarding school changes the lives of his English students forever. Robert Sean LeonardEthan Hawke, and Josh Charles are among the young actors playing the boys who learn to "carpe diem," love poetry, and break out of the rigid structures that bind them.

Boyz n the Hood (1991)

John Singleton was just 24 when his debut film Boyz n the Hood came out, making him the youngest person ever to be nominated for Best Director at the Academy Awards. The film stars Cuba Gooding Jr. and Ice Cube as two teenagers facing gang violence, drugs, and racism while trying to chart futures for themselves in South Central Los Angeles.

Whisper of the Heart (1995)

This 1995 Studio Ghibli movie written by Hayao Miyazaki and directed by Yoshifumi Kondō is not, despite what the poster suggests, a fantasy epic featuring a sharply dressed talking cat. Instead, it's about a 14-year-old girl living in Tokyo who desperately wants to become a writer but first needs to learn to believe in herself. The song "Take Me Home, Country Roads" plays a major, surprisingly poignant part in this Japanese anime.

Rushmore (1998)

Wes Anderson's breakout film stars Jason Schwartzman as precocious teenager Max who befriends Herman Blume (Bill Murray), a rich parent who becomes Max's enemy when he develops feelings for the same teacher (Olivia Williams) the teen has a crush on. In addition to being an early example of what would become Anderson's increasingly honed signature style, Rushmore is also a touching tale about oddballs who (eventually) figure themselves out.

Ginger Snaps (2000)

The central metaphor in this 2000 Canadian horror movie is a genius one: Ginger Snaps likens the transformation into a werewolf under the light of a full moon to something else that happens once a month for half of the population, creating a savagely smart metaphor for puberty. Emily Perkins and Katharine Isabelle star as two teenage sisters who start to grow apart once one of them becomes a woman—and also a terrifying killer beast.

RELATED: 20 Cult Classic Movies With the Most Passionate Fans.

Persepolis (2007)

This 2007 film adaptation of Marjane Satrapi's autobiographical graphic novel tells of her coming of age age during the Iranian Revolution. In addition to all the other stresses of being a teenager, Marji must deal with the Shah's reign and Islamic fundamentalism, which conflicts in increasingly dangerous ways with the free-spirited, heavy metal-loving young woman.

Superbad (2007)

Jonah Hill and Michael Cera star in this 2007 teen comedy as two high school friends who are determined to go to a party and get laid before they graduate and head off to separate colleges. While the antics are hilarious and raunchy, the sentiment underlying the Judd Apatow-produced film is deeply earnest and relatable. The sex and partying are actually just masks for the friends' anxiety about moving on to the next phase of young adulthood, especially since they'll have to do it without each other for the first time.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)

Based on the 1999 YA novel of the same name, The Perks of Being a Wallflower stars Logan Lerman as a depressed teenager with unaddressed baggage attempting to make it through his freshman year of high school. Ezra Miller and Emma Watson (appearing in one of her first major role post-Harry Potter) co-star as his two supportive friends in this sincere, heartfelt drama.

Boyhood (2014)

Perhaps more than any other movie on this list, Boyhood truly is a coming-of-age film, as director Richard Linklater filmed it over more than a decade. Ellar Coltrane was only six years old when he was cast and 18 when production finished, and aspects of the story were informed by real-life changes that Linklater saw in Coltrane and co-stars Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke, who played his divorced parents.

Moonlight (2016)

Barry Jenkins' Moonlight, which rightly took home the Best Picture Oscar in an infamous upset, follows Chiron, a Black boy living in Miami, and checks in with him as a child (Alex R. Hibbert), teenager (Ashton Sanders), and adult (Trevante Rhodes) as he grapples with his sexuality, bullying, neglectful parents, and drug use. Mahershala Ali co-stars as a dealer who becomes a surrogate father for young Chiron and won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his efforts.

RELATED: 30 Travel Movies to Help Inspire Your Next Trip.

The Edge of Seventeen (2016)

Hailee Steinfeld stars as Nadine, a 17-year-old girl who feels betrayed when her one true friend (Haley Lu Richardson) starts dating her brother. She finds support from an unlikely source—Mr. Bruner, a weary high school teacher played by Woody Harrelson—in this witty and moving coming-of-age story.

Lady Bird (2017)

Greta Gerwig's 2017 film Lady Bird stars Saoirse Ronan as a strong-willed teenager with big ambitions to get the heck out of her hometown of Sacramento and a complicated relationship with her mother (Laurie Metcalf). As funny as it is heartfelt, the multiple-Oscar-nominee is a deft exploration of the conflicting feelings one faces while growing up, simultaneously trying to decide who you want to be and realizing how to be true to who you are. (And also realizing that Dave Matthews Band is good, actually.)

Eighth Grade (2018)

Bo Burnham, the comedian who would go on to make the pandemic-defining special Inside, made his feature directorial debut with 2018's Eighth Grade, a sweet and empathetic story about the trials of middle school and how the digital age has exacerbated them. Newcomer Elsie Fisher stars as Kayla, a young teenager whose confident vlogs and social media presence belie her anxiety in real life as she works to come out of her shell.

Booksmart (2019)

Olivia Wilde's directorial debut could reductively (but not entirely inaccurately) be described as "Superbad, but with girls." Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever star as two top-of-the-class high school friends who are determined to get up to some classic teen antics before they head off to Ivy League colleges. It's a charming, hilarious adventure, and by the end of it, both girls have certainly achieved their goals—and learned something about themselves, too.

CODA (2021)

CODA, the first movie from a streaming service to ever win Best Picture at the Oscars, stars Emilia Jones as Ruby, the only hearing person in her otherwise deaf family. Ruby wants to pursue a career as a singer, something her parents (Marlee Matlin and Troy Kotsur) have a hard time supporting, especially as they need her help with their fishing business. It's a touching, uplifting film about family and growing up.

RELATED: 24 Feel-Good Movies to Lift Your Spirits.

Licorice Pizza (2021)

Cooper Hoffman (Philip Seymour Hoffman's son) and Alana Haim (of the sister band Haim) star in Paul Thomas Anderson's charmingly shaggy 2021 movie about '70s LA. Hoffman plays an overly ambitious and slick 15-year-old wannabeactor who connects with Haim's slightly older, slightly adrift young woman. Bradley Cooper makes a brief but unforgettable appearance as real-life Hollywood producer Jon Peters.

Turning Red (2022)

This 2022 Pixar film which was sadly deprived of a theatrical release amid the pandemic finds a clever new metaphor for the challenges and joys of puberty. Mei, a 13-year-old Chinese-Canadian girl voiced by Rosalie Chiang, discovers that she turns into a giant red panda whenever she gets too emotional. She'll have to master (but not suppress!) her emotions, and she'll need to find common ground and understanding with her mother (Sandra Oh).

My Year of Dicks (2022)

The Best Animated Short category at the Oscars usually has at least one film with an amusing title, but 2022's My Year of Dicks may take the cake. The 24-minute film by Pamela Ribon is a quirky, genre-blending recreation of her past as a 15-year-old girl in Houston, Texas and her attempts to find the right boy to lose her virginity to.

The Fabelmans (2022)

In this semi-autobiographical film from Steven Spielberg, Gabriel LaBelle stars as Sammy Fabelman, a teenager who discovers a budding love for filmmaking even as his world gets rocked by parents' (Michelle Williams and Paul Dano), get divorced. Also a tribute to the inspiration provided by his mother, The Fabelmans is some of the most candid filmmaking of the great director's career.

Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret (2023)

In a just world, Rachel McAdams would have gotten a Best Supporting Actress nomination for her work as a loving, overwhelmed mom in this long-awaited adaptation of the 1970 Judy Blume classic. Abby Ryder Fortson stars as the titular character, an 11-year-old who moves with her parents from Manhattan to the suburbs of New Jersey and finds herself caught up in the heartache, excitement, and competition of middle school life. Blume has been historically leery about having her novels turned into films, but even her biggest fans would agree that this movie from Edge of Seventeen filmmaker Kelly Fremon Craig does her writing justice.

James Grebey
James has been an entertainment journalist for more than a decade, writing and editing for outlets like Vulture, Inverse, Polygon, TIME, The Daily Beast, SPIN Magazine, Fatherly, and more. Read more
Filed Under