The 25 Best Coming-of-Age Movies of The 1980s

18. Stand By Me (1986)

Stand By Me

Based on Stephen King’s novel – we follow four boys in the fifties, setting out to find an elusive dead body. They pack up and go, braving trains, forests, and even a tough rival gang.

As you might have guest – the body is the least compelling part (despite being the real title for the short story the film is based on). Rob Reiner guides these young actors, most memorably River Pheonix who stood for a darker but still lovable kind of teen idol, into giving us performances that tug at heart strings.

Each kid has a problem back home and each one fears the future. Will they still be friends? What will they amount to? Of course there are no real answers – just a string of conversations that show us these boys at the very least have each other and that their support and adventures will get them through the day no matter what. It’s as powerful as it is entertaining.


19. Dirty Dancing (1987)

Dirty Dancing (1987)

The eighties were seemingly about comparing the high class with the low – pitting different worlds together to teach a lesson. This was the plot for about seventy movies that came out that decade. None stand up quite as well as Dirty Dancing though – a sexy musically charged love affair.

Baby (played by feisty Jennifer Grey) goes on vacation with her family to the Catskills where she falls in love with a mysterious dance instructor – the immortal Patrick Swayze. See takes interest in him – funding his dance partner’s abortion and ultimately filling in as her replacement. This does not make the family happy.

Cheesy at times, it’s achieved cult classic status because of its treatment of forbidden young love, rebellion against strict parents, and a sensual loss of innocence like no other. At times it does in fact feel ahead of its time, possibly due to the abortion and a few dance moves were treated to. All in all, it’s a fun little lesson on growing up and learning from people in different social classes.


20. Heathers (1988)

1980s teen angst movies

Sadistic as can be, Winona Ryder stepped onto the scene with her off color performance doing what many wished they could do – murder all the pretty popular people in High School. Egged on by a Jack Nicholson influenced Christian Slater, Ryder accidently poisons one of the main prissy popular girls (who are all named Heather).

Once she discovers that the school is a much better place with her gone – she sets out to kill the remaining clique. Okay – so it’s more of an extreme satire than anything else but it still acts on a little angry spot in our brain. Popularity is a tough pill to swallow in school – often causing many students unnecessary pain.

This film is dark, dirty, and might just possibly get your anger and frustrations out. It might just also teach you a thing or two if you yourself are disgustingly popular. Whatever the case – Heathers is a fun movie, over the top in a hilariously uncomfortable way.


21. Cinema Paradiso (1988)


A beautiful Italian ode to filmmaking itself, we follow a young boy welcomed by an ornery projectionist who teaches him the ropes on running a movie house. Over the years it inspires the boy, instilling a love of cinema that he just can’t fight.

Though he has cared and respected this man, his own family, and his surroundings, he is urged to follow his dreams and leave the tiny town. The film is a reflection of their support and the result of passion for any given subject.

Beautifully shot, wonderfully capturing the sweet small town square the theater is located – it’s enough to get anyone off their chair and into a tech store for a camera.

On top of a beautiful story and an unforgettable montage about censorship, we are all urged to get out and chase our dreams. It makes a strong argument and is a must see for every film enthusiast who either went for it or hesitated due to lack of support.


22. Big (1988)

big 1988 movie

Young Josh Baskin is tired of being a kid – he gets no respect, no attention from the opposite sex, and has nothing but silly rules to comply with. So he wishes on a Zoltar wishing machine that he’ll become big.

Next morning he’s a thirty year old man – wonderfully played by Tom Hanks. Next, he has to try and fit in while he fixes the problem. Along the way he gets a job and falls in love – simultaneously seeing the trials and tribulations of the adult world while unintentionally sparking the inner child of his co workers.

Big is nothing but sweet the whole way through. Every scene from the piano dance to the hilarious co-ed “sleepover” seems iconic. And Hanks radiates child with every dumbfounded frightened expression he makes.

Lucky for us Robert De Niro or even Gary Busey, the front runners, didn’t get the role. Instead he ignites our own inner child to remember what it was like to play and simply have fun.


23. She’s Having a Baby (1988)

She’s Having A Baby (1988)

John Hughes’ most under-watched and underappreciated films, he gave up teen films and decided to take a look at a person’s twenties. That person was himself – using his advertising jobs, fear of marriage, and fertility struggles as the basis. Here, we are introduced to a newlywed couple struggling to make it all work.

Kevin Bacon fails to impress his in-laws while trying to find more meaning in the new suburban life he’s in. His wife Elizabeth McGovern doubts the marriage and worries about her pregnancy – but Hughes suggests all of this is normal. Subtle at times and outrageous in parody in others, the film is very different from any other Hughes film.

A nervous narration to guide us through – it’s essentially a reassurance that your twenties are hard and you still have a lot to learn. Sadly, the film flopped and frightened Hughes away from more artistic ventures.


24. Say Anything (1989)


Evidently teetering of the switch to west coast grunge, Cameron Crowe makes his directorial debut with a very smart look at teenage romances. A high energy John Cusack wants nothing more than to kick box and date Diane Court.

Surprisingly, he gets her number and invites her to a party, despite the fact she’s pretty, smart, and way out of his league. Her Father see’s this and feels he’s going to ruin her chance at a successful life.

As the relationship progresses – so does a strain on Diane and her Father’s relationship. While it could have been a fun wild and crazy time – the movie holds back and instead offers a realistic group of friends and a very realistic Father character who fears and cares for her daughter.

We instead get the familiar question of “what now after grad” but get a glimpse of honest friendship and love during the infamous summer before college.


25. Dead Poets Society (1989)

Dead Poets Society movie

Bringing up Robin Williams movies now seem to sadly bring up pain and grief. We lost a wonderful actor who had an impeccable talent of switching between manic comedies and powerful dramas.

This was his first kick at the cat – playing an English teacher who tears up books, stands on his desk, and tries to get every one of his students to seize the day. They do, joining a secret poetry club and deciding to follow their dreams. This of course doesn’t sit well with other students or even parents providing pressure to buckle down and study.

The teaching methods are unorthodox but necessary – something all students dream of. And while a more subdued Williams is always fondly remembered for this role, it’s the boys who really carry the heart and lessons with them. They grow and stand up for what they believe in, becoming individuals and not just another class of privileged students.