The 25 Best Coming-of-Age Movies of The 1980s
Coming of age is a necessary and fascinating part of life. It’s awkward, messy, and almost never goes the way we planned. First loves, new friends, and the kick start to life ambitions – this time in a person’s life often shapes what they like and who they’ll become. Lucky for us – cinema has been there to capture every step to the way.
John Hughes both lampooned and sympathized high school stereotypes while Cameron Crowe sought out a more sentimental and honest mentality. Richard Linklater seems to try and accurately capture every stage of a young person’s life while Wes Anderson takes a more absurdist approach.
There are and have been so many filmmakers who have entered coming of age flicks into the lexicon, seeking to ignite conversation of the world around us or preserve times, places, and fads that speak to young people.
They comfort us during the troubled times of breakups and bad grades – they make us feel like we’re not alone. These days, films about growing up are standard – with many old and new shaping how people in fact come of age in their daily life. And while there seems to being monthly releases of movies with growing up themes – there are certainly some that ring true or stand out brighter than others.
If you’re a fan of these films, you’ll want to read 101 Most Influential Coming of Age Movies; a colorful index and analysis of the very best films of the genre. Exploring each decade in film and youth history, you can purchase your copy on Amazon.
What a vibrant and electric decade it was – especially if you were young. Parachute pants, neon leggings, big poofy hair, and a heavy layer of makeup were the styles. It certainly was reflected on screen; the film industry seemed to cater almost completely to teens.
The blockbuster was newly formed and now expected as cinemas and massive movie houses opened its doors. Classic big budget adventure comedy hits like Ghostbusters and Indiana Jones covered big screens.
Then of course there was one man of saw the angst and frustration of teens in the changing world. His name was John Hughes and his efforts with the “Brat Pack” and team of young actors changed youth oriented cinema forever in the era where the coming of age movie reined king.
Here are the very best coming of age movies of the 1980’s:
1. Ordinary People (1980)
The first Best Picture winner of the decade – Ordinary People was Robert Redford’s dark directorial debut. Following an upper class family dealing with the recent loss of their eldest son – The Father played by a never better Donald Sutherland struggles to understand the grieving process while his wife played by a bitter Mary Tyler Moore simply ignores the facts and tries to keep up the illusion that their family is fine.
No one is hit harder though than the younger brother of the family – guilted into thinking the death was his fault. Through an intense counseling session with Taxi’s Judd Hirsch and a relationship with a sweet high school friend – he begins the healing process. But soon it becomes apparent his family’s values might be to blame.
An eighties tearjerker that explores grief better than most films – Timothy Hutton deservedly won an Oscar for his portrayal of a hurting young man wanting to move on.
2. Little Darlings (1980)
Tatum O’Neal had grown up – still as the youngest Oscar Winner for her loveable performance alongside father Ryan O’Neal in Paper Moon (1973). Here, she proves that she is much older and wiser than last seen. She’s a young woman looking for love as is her long forgotten costar Kristy McNichol. We find the two at summer camp, competing to be the most sexually active.
Bordering towards a slap stick romp like Meatballs (1979), the film stays grounded with relatively risqué subject matter for that time. The frank discussions the girls have about sex – not to mention their openly flaming libidos make the film stand out because up until now those types of stories were told from the male prospective.
The film keeps itself out of the realm of bad taste because of believable heart and likeable charm radiating from the young leads.
3. Diner (1982)
A group of guys hang around a diner and talk about what’s happening in their life – that’s the wonderful plot of the movie. And each guy is more loveable than the last including and out of control prankster Kevin Bacon, uptight music loving Daniel Stern, and baseball obsessed Steve Guttenberg.
Of course no one outshines the mysterious dark and handsome Mickey Rourke who quickly became a sex symbol and acting force to be reckoned with in the eighties. Sweet and celebratory of the nineteen fifties – director Barry Levinson exploded onto the scene with his depiction of Baltimore life.
The film can be relatable to anyone in their twenties however. Girl problems, brotherly bonding, and fun times over greasy food seem to speak to young males. These guys seem like friends you already have or would want in your life.
4. Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)
With Amy Heckerling behind the wheel and Cameron Crowe as the plucky young writer who adapted the script from his own coveted high school novel – you know you’re in for a treat.
This ensemble glimpse at teen life explores sexuality, graduation, first jobs, and pot smoking. Judge Reinhold can’t catch a break looking for jobs and meeting woman while his sister can’t seem to meet a nice guy who appreciates her.
Well, that is if squeaky voiced Mark Ratner can step up to the plate to ask her out before his greasy scalper friend Damone steals her away. By far the king of the movie is Sean Penn playing the classic surfer stoner character Jeff Spicoli who utters almost nothing by quotable lines.
Originally lambasted by critics and dubbed “a scuzz pit of a movie”, a softer more nostalgic attitude was taken when many actors grew up into well respected thespians. This is a wonderful early memory of who they were and what teen life was like, including a righteous selection of tunes.
5. The Outsiders (1983)
How many eighties teen stars can you fit into one movie? The Outsiders provides us with an answer… every single one! Based on S.E. Hinton’s popular novel, a group of school students commissioned Francis Ford Coppola to direct a movie based on the book. He listened and began a nationwide search of the era’s best and brightest. He found a rebellious Matt Dillon, hammy Tom Cruise, baby faced Ralph Macchio, and a stunningly handsome Rob Lowe (and that’s just to name a few).
We follow Ponyboy Curtis, a young greaser who lives with his buds and brothers in a rundown house. He struggles to do well at school while dealing with hatred from their upper class enemies; the Soc’s.
Coppola captures the era perfectly while each boy brings something to the table. The acting talent is evident in everyone who still posse’s hints of relatable immaturity here. Filled with romance, conflict, and testosterone, this must read and watch story captures male angst like few films before it.
6. Rumble Fish (1983)
So if The Outsiders portrayed male angst and anger, Rumble Fish went a few steps further. This Avant-garde film was adapted from yet another S.E. Hinton book, and by the same people including Francis Ford Coppola and star Matt Dillon.
Here, we also get a rough and tumble Mickey Rourke leading each scene with his powerful dominance. Telling the story of a biker searching for a more peaceful life – his brother keeps him tied to the violent world thanks to his curiosity and own internal anger.
Though it flopped at the box office – audiences have welcomed it in later years because of its stunning style. With elements of the French New Wave, Film Noir, and elements of dark and bloody eighties action flicks – Rumble Fish is a film unto itself. Its dark dangerous glimpse of lower class life might have also been ahead of the film’s time.
7. Risky Business (1983)
“Freedom brings opportunity… opportunity makes your future.” A wise quote uttered by Joel Goodsen’s oddball best friend, goading him into throwing a party while his parents away.
Everyone knows that feeling just as much as they know the film’s iconic star Tom Cruise. What we get in this movie is a wild eighties romp about a teenager who hires a prostitute and can’t pay her. Then his Mother’s prized glass egg disappears and the car gets ruined – plus this girl’s pimp is out to get him.
The only way to fix everything is for Joel to turn his home into a brothel. Plus somewhere in there he must give an interview to an admissions adviser in order to get into Princeton.
Along the way, he has learned the art of business, manipulation, and dealing with consequence – making him a prime candidate for the program. A perfect flick for the yuppie “Greed is Good” eighties crowd – it undeniably makes Cruise a star while staying dark and sexy every frame.
8. A Christmas Story (1983)
All little Ralphie wants for Christmas is a Red Ryder BB Gun. The response is not good – all adults in his life claim he’ll shoot his eye out. Getting his way seems a little harder than first thought.
Told through the most nostalgic of narrations, we follow the young boy growing up in the wintery 1940’s. He fights bullies, argues with adults, and tries every trick in the book to get his way.
Little does he know the conquest will lead him closer to his family, mainly his stone cold Father known simply as “the old man.” The film feels like a Christmas card – warm and loving and filled with great relatable moments like ditching turkey for the infamous Chinese dinner.
Little Ralphie (Peter Billingsley) carries such youthful innocence and determination. It’s no surprise this is a must watch every Christmas – it’s a perfect family film that pokes fun at a time when light abuse and fear were acceptably common in the living room.