A great coming of age story has the power to transform an audience’s perspective by giving them a window into a different worldview. The conflict and experiences that occur during a coming of age story make for great storytelling, as the vulnerable characters learn many lessons that translate into great scenes. While great coming of age films are often associated with John Hughes and the films of the 1980s, this decade has provided many future classics as well.
There’s no one way to tell a coming of age story, and the films of the last ten years are quite different; some are comedies and some are dramas, and while some are period pieces, others are set in a modern age. Either way, these films do a great job at telling a relatable story about growing up. Here are the top ten best coming of age films of the 2010s.
A great immigrant story, Brooklyn shows the lasting challenges that come from feeling at home in two different places. Ellis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan) was born in Ireland but yearns for a better life, but after a tumultuous journey, she finds herself right at the center of New York City in the 1950s. As she struggles to choose the place she feels most at home, Ellis faces another impossible decision as she must choose between her New York boyfriend Tony (Emory Cohen) and a promising young man from her hometown (Domhnall Gleeson).
While the story grows more dramatic as Ellis encounters heartbreak on both sides of the coast, the film also shows the beauty in both locations as Ellis encounters many different cultures. The gorgeous score by Michael Brook gives the film a wistful, playful quality that captures the epic scope of the era, yet still reflects the intimacy of the story. Ronan once again proves that she is one of the most charismatic and expressive actresses of her generation, and gives one of the strongest emotional performances of the decade.
9. Sing Street
There have been many films that celebrate the influence of the British New Wave and the MTV Generation, but Sing Street stands out by showing the impact that this shift in music had on a group of unlikely heroes. Cosmo Lawlor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) has gone through almost every possible embarrassment, as his parents are poor and getting divorced, he’s ridiculed at his new school, and he’s hopelessly unable to speak to the model Raphina (Lucy Boynton) who he’s fallen for. However, Cosmo’s fate begins to change when his stoner brother (Jack Reynor) introduces him to the popular music of the era, which inspires him to start his own band.
The joy of the film comes from seeing Cosmo and his friends channel their existential feelings into music that reflects their experiences. The process of seeing the band put together music, despite having no experience, is quite entertaining, and many of the original songs, including “Riddle of the Model” and “Drive It Like You Stole It” are turned into electrifying musical numbers. Even if the story is specific to Dublin in the 1980s, the themes of hope and inspiration are universal.
8. Everybody Wants Some
Richard Linklater created one of the greatest coming of age films of all time with his 1993 classic Dazed and Confused, and his spiritual sequel Everybody Wants Some is equally as hilarious and relaxing. The story follows college freshman Jake Bradford (Blake Jenner), a baseball prodigy who is inducted into a Texas university’s off campus group home over a wild week before classes start. Within a week, Jake is introduced to a group of eccentric characters who are able to make a competition out of almost anything.
Linklater is one of the masters of the hangout movie, and the meandering nature of Everybody Wants Some’s story allows the audience to feel a deep connection with all of the characters. Jake’s friends crash parties, fight often, and continuously prank and tease each other, and Linklater perfectly captures the ways in which these hyper masculine athletes would interact. With a great soundtrack and many memorable side performances, Everybody Wants Some isn’t just a great coming of age film, but one of the most entertaining films of the decade.
Richard Ayoade’s breakout film is a signature directorial debut that announced the voice of an idiosyncratic filmmaker. Finding both wisdom and wisecracks in the world of adolescence, Submarine follows Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts), a shy and awkward 16-year-old whose goals are as simple as wooing his crush and getting his parents to stay together. These seem like simple things for Oliver, but as his life falls apart and he’s faced with the complexity of human relationships, Oliver learns that being an adult isn’t as simple as crossing things off of a list.
Much of the film’s humor comes from Oliver’s narration and the framing devices it provides; Oliver thinks of everything as a list, and his peculiar way of defining and compartmentalizing every aspect of his life makes him an isolated, yet relatable protagonist. It also helps that Tate is phenomenal in capturing Oliver’s insecurities, and constantly looks like a deer caught in the headlights. Hilarious with a great deal of melancholy, Submarine is an underrated gem.
6. The Spectacular Now
Often times the best coming of age films are the ones that challenge stereotypes and ask the audience to dig deeper into the actual personalities of the characters. This is exactly what The Spectacular Now does, as it tracks the unconventional romance between the popular partygoer Sutter (Miles Teller) and the shy girl Aimee (Shailene Woodley). It’s clear that these characters are not what they initially may seem, and their shared sense of isolation helps to bond them in the weeks before they graduate high school.
Teller does some of his finest work here; the care free mentality that Sutter projects often hides his insecurities about the future, and behind this rough exterior is a genuinely empathetic person who has more heart than anyone realizes. Woodley is also phenomenal as Aimee, a character who has so much more to offer than anyone realizes, yet no one seems to notice. The film doesn’t shy away from the detrimental effects that society has on these characters, but it finds moments of inspiration within its realistic story.