The 25 Best Coming-of-Age Movies of All Time

8. Kes (1969)


A unique classic of British cinema, the film focuses on 15 year old Billy Casper, who is a loner bullied both at school and home. Billy is emotionally neglected and his mother calls him a hopeless case. The young man has no positive interests until he begins training a kestrel which he took from a nest located at a nearby farm. This ignites an interest in falconry, causing him to steal a book to learn that skill.

As the relationship between Billy and Kes the kestrel draws closer, Billy’s outlook on life and the future become brighter. Unfortunately, his half-brother Jud is not finished with Billy.

The film explores the themes of growth and the power of friendship. Even one friend can make the difference in someone’s life, as illustrated by the relationship of Kes and Billy. The film was selected by the British Film Institute as one of the 50 films to watch before turning 14.


7. Rebel Without a Cause (1955)

rebel without a cause

This prominent 1955 film features James Dean, in his first role after his starring debut in East of Eden and was released right after the actor’s sudden death. Directed by Nicholas Ray and written by Stewart Stern, the film tackles numerous social issues including the moral decay of American youth due to inadequate parental guidance and generational differences.

Jim Stark (Dean) is a new kid in school and is having struggles with his parents at home. He feels betrayed by his constantly bickering and uncomprehending parents. Judy (Natalie Wood) dresses up in racy clothes to get her father’s attention since he still seems to think of her as a little girl. Plato (Sal Mineo) comes from a broken family, with a totally absent father and a frequently absent mother, leaving him in the care of a housekeeper.

The three form a friendship as they rebel against goons from their high school, troubled family relationships, and the tenants of society.

The film is widely considered a classic and largely defined James Dean’s persona and legacy. The film’s depiction of social issues and generational divide inside 1950s America was a revelation for Hollywood. Rebel influenced many other films across a variety of genres.


6. Sixteen Candles (1984)

Sixteen Candles (1984)

Sixteen Candles, a film by the late youth film specialist John Hughes, revolves around Sam (Molly Ringwald). The film opens on the day of Sam’s 16th birthday which has been forgotten since her sister is getting married the next day.

This fact sets in motion a number of problems for Sam, since both sets of grandparents come and take over the house, with one set bringing along a foreign exchange student. Sam is also head over heels for Jake Ryan, an attractive senior. At the same time, a geeky freshman (Michael C. Hall) is trying to show his love for Sam.

The film is engaging and funny and one of Mr. Hughes’ most notable films.


5. Dazed and Confused (1993)


“All right, all right, all right”. This famous saying which is a trademark of actor Matthew McConaughey, was originally heard from the pot-head character he portrayed from this 1993 film, which was written and directed by Richard Linklater.

Dazed and Confused follows several groups of students on the last day of school in the summer of 1976. The film depicts rituals which supposedly occurred at high schools all over the country. The incoming freshman boys and girls are all haze along with assorted partying, weed smoking, and making out.

The large ensemble cast features a number of names which would find later prominence, including Ben Affleck, Parker Posey, Milla Jovovich and McConaughey.

The film was not a big success at the time but has gained a large cult following and has been lauded as a prime high school comedy.


4. The 400 Blows (1959)

The 400 Blows

A staple of the French New Wave film movement, The 400 Blows displays many of the characteristics of the movement, and was the debut of the acclaimed director Francois Truffaut, .

The film centers on Parisian adolescent Antoine Doinel, a misunderstood young man whose parents and teachers consider him to be a troublemaker. Antoine frequently runs away from school and home. He quits school and ends up in jail for a night charged with theft. Antoine is then put in a correctional facility, where he explains his problems to a psychologist, in a beautiful, haunting, yet fragmented monologue. Antoine finally escapes and runs away to the ocean, which he has always wanted to see.

The film is a favorite of Akira Kurosawa, Luis Buñuel, Satyajit Ray, Jean Cocteau, Carl Theodor Dreyer, among others. It frequently ranks among the best films of all time and is a great introduction to both French New Wave cinema and Truffaut’s work.


3. Boyhood (2014)

Boyhood (2014)

This film concentrating on the twelve year epic journey of a boy’s life was director/writer Richard Linklater’s passion project. The film depicts the adolescence of Mason (Ellar Coltrane), who is growing up in a home which is coming apart due to his parent’s splintering relationship. Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette play Mason’s divorced parents. Linklater’s daughter Lorelei plays Mason’s sister, Samantha.

Boyhood was filmed from 2002 to 2013 with the cast and crew meeting yearly to shoot for a few weeks at a time. The story chronicles the everyday lives of the Evans family. School, relationships, divorce, and growing pains are just some of the elements in the lives of the family.

The film was released to a sizeable amount of acclaim. It appeared on many best of lists for the year of 2014. Boyhood is an emotional powerhouse, presenting an understated, yet extremely personal perspective on life. The film trades in universal experiences and life moments.


2. Breakfast Club (1985)

The Breakfast Club (1985)

Another noted Hughes effort, Breakfast Club is widely considered to be among the best of teen/high school related films.

Five teenagers from different stratus of high school society are sentenced to spend a Saturday detention together. There they learn about each other and themselves, breaking away from stereotypes, and they deem their new group The Breakfast Club.

The film was a seminal one for its day and time and is still often held as an example of how youth films can and should be made. Among other qualities the film features an evocative and commercially successful soundtrack.


1. Stand By Me (1986)

Stand By Me

A quintessential coming of age movie directed by Rob Reiner, Stand By Me is a perfect piece of nostalgia. The well cast actors (Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman and Jerry O’Connell) give memorable performances while bringing Stephen King’s story to life.

Stand By Me follows four boys as they try to track down a supposed dead body in small town Oregon, but actually discover their own selves. As cliche as this may sound, the story is actually very warm and told in such a way that the message does not become preachy or overly sentimental.

The title, which comes from the Ben E. King song of the same name, describes the story in a more accurate manner than the title of the King short novel, The Body. The title tune and other well known songs of the ear imbue the film with a nostalgic glow.