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.
In the not so distant past – cheesy space movies and comics predicted we’d be living on the moon with robots obeying our every command by this decade. So they were a little off… but we still can’t deny how much things have changed in this world.
From the dawning of Facebook and Twitter to the rapid shift to online life, the 2000’s abruptly changed how teens and even adults lived. In the cinematic world, epic adventures got even bigger as the Superhero film ranked supreme. Then there was the Harry Potter craze, Twilight mania, and Lindsay Lohan… coming of age movies were bigger than ever before.
Here are the very best coming of age movies of the 2000’s:
1. Almost Famous (2000)
For Cameron Crowe fans, this is the quintessential movie. Based on his own life as a young rock journalist in the 1970’s, we meet teenager William Miller who lives and breathes the genre. When he gets the opportunity to tour with the up and coming band Stillwater, he jumps at the chance, defying his overbearing Mother and ditching school in the process.
If you love seventies rock, this will no doubt we your favorite film of all time. If you love cinema, the use of music such as Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” will blow your mind.
With little life moments between Miller and Kate Hudson in an absolutely perfect debut performance, this film is a tribute to the loss of innocence youngsters all go through and a tribute to the music genre that seemingly raised a generation.
2. Finding Forrester (2000)
Gus Van Sant delicately directs this sweet and awe inspiring drama. Taking inspiration from both motivational classics like Dead Poets Society and inner city stories such as Stand and Deliver, we get a mix of very different worlds. It gives us a unique new story told through the perspective of an odd friendship.
In one of his last great roles, Sean Connery plays a reclusive writer here who takes in a struggling black student under his wing. When he sees the kid’s creative potential, he stops at nothing to push him to compete and write and break through stereotypes and troubled home lives. For literature and poetry lovers, this one will have any struggling writer to buck up and type away!
3. Spirited Away (2001)
Hayao Miyazaki has been responsible for many children’s coming of age stories. His creative work has touched millions and inspired thousands to pursue a lifelong love of anime. From Princess Mononoke to Howl’s Moving Castle, the majority of his works feature young girls coming of age, growing up, and discovering who they are- through a magical circumstance of course.
In Spirited Away, Chihiro is moving to a new home with her family. En route, they discover a strange market where her parents are turned into pigs after gorging on found food.
This sets the stage for an Alice in Wonderland like adventure where she comes of age by working, realizing the role of his parents in her life, and finding meaning in her own. Awe inspiring creative wise, it’s a masterpiece simply to look at – the art is unmatched.
4. Y Tu Mama Tambièn (2001)
A glimpse into Mexican life, we follow two aimless college students who sporadically go on a road trip with a mysterious middle aged woman they just met. Seeking out a beautiful beach – the journey here is what lands the film on the list. Their conversations about sex from both male and female perspectives really open eyes here. It’s truly explicit in its sexuality but for a cause – a study on maturity and what’s important to males at this age.
Alfonso Cuaròn helms this beautiful love letter to the country while treading in territory few films have gone before. Usually we see foot loose and fancy free boys trying to lose their virginity – here they get a little dose of reality while learning how to really make a woman happy.
5. City of God (2002)
A completely different view when it comes to growing up, we see the slums of Rio and two boys sucked into a life of drugs and crime. One cannot resist the temptation of power and money – he becomes a drug lord and murderer who runs one of the most dangerous slums in the world.
The other, a friend, becomes a journalist who captures both the atrocities and beauty around him. A look at both sides of the tracks, there is little comfort here – only stark brutal reality of how others less fortunate come of age. There are problems much more severe that first loves and acne scene here but never does the film feel preachy.
Just grit as its deep rooted hand held camera reality gets into the thick of things and what it means to grow up in poverty; a thriller and thinker all at the same time.
6. About a Boy (2002)
Whether you love him or hate him – you can’t deny Hugh Grant’s charm in this movie. A duel coming of age story, we meet a young boy living without a Dad and with a suicidal Mother. Looking for an escape, he strangely makes friends with Will Freeman, a playboy living off of his Father’s Jingle writing residuals.
While at first the immature thirty something uses the child to pick up woman, he creates a bond that builds an unlikely friendship – lifting both boys out of a funk. Based on Nick Hornby’s bestselling novel – About a Boy makes you laugh, cry, and cheer for these sweet British boys who need each other to grow up.
7. Whale Rider (2002)
Set far away in New Zealand, we get a glimpse of the Whangara tribe whose leaders are dubbed direct decedents to their tribe’s founders. Every leader has and always will be male – that is until Pai, an eleven year old girl challenges what is known and celebrated in the tribe’s tradition. She believes she is the right fit for being leader, but her Grandfather, the tribe leader, thinks otherwise.
A great lesson on women’s rights, acceptance, changing values, and of course native history, the beautiful film is unlike anything you’ve ever seen. While the shots are beautiful and inspiring, so is Pai’s journey. She will stop at nothing to prove herself, even against all odds and at such a young age.
8. Finding Nemo (2003)
One of Pixar’s most cherished stories (so much so a sequel was finally released thirteen years later), we have a simple Father and Son story as big and colorful as the ocean floor. When Marlon loses his wife and children, he’s not going to let anything happen to the lone survivor Nemo – especially when he is kidnapped by a scuba diving dentist and put in an office aquarium.
Soon, little Nemo learns bravery and teamwork from his new fishy friends while his Father swims through endless ocean to find him.
A lesson to let go for parents and a lesson of independence for children, people of all ages can enjoy the humor, story, and impeccable voice talents of Ellen Degeneres and Albert Brooks.