The 10 Greatest Coming of Age Films

It’s a tough job, growing up. Thankfully these cinematic masterpieces are around to give us some insight into it all.
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It’s a tough job, growing up. Thankfully these cinematic masterpieces are around to give us some insight into it all.

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Growing up is perhaps the hardest thing we ever have to do. There's all sorts going on: hormones, romance, murder, gangs, magic, dead bodies, drugs and Rober De Niro looking angry. Thankfully, these films can help you through all that.

Stand by Me (1986)

Based on Stephen King’s The Body, Stand by Me is 88 minutes of pure 80’s cinema. Playing out like Indiana Jones meets The Goonies (and featuring actors from both films) it’s a tale of four young teenagers (Gordie, Chris, Teddy and Vern) who set out across Oregon in search of the body of a missing boy. While this isn’t the most cheerful of premises, the journey turns into the type of adventure that every child wishes they had been a part of. As Richard Dreyfus’ voice over explains, ‘In all our lives there is a fall from innocence. A time after which we are never the same.’ For Gordie, Chris, Teddy and Vern, the quest to find the dead youth is symbolic of an emotional and physical ascent into the realities of adulthood in small-town America; a reality their troubled upbringings have made them increasingly familiar with, and a reality which we eventually learn has gone on to define the rest of their lives.

Kids (1995)

Long before the success of Spring Breakers, Harmony Korine cut his teeth writing Larry Clark’s first full length feature, Kids. The film follows a group of New York City youths through a single day in their lives, detailing everything they get up to from skateboarding and playing video games, to alcohol, drugs and sex (especially sex). Famously, Clark cast the film after hanging out with local kids in Central Park and asking them if they wanted to appear in the movie. The film was successful in launching several high-profile actors and actresses, including Chloë Sevigny, Leo Fitzpatrick and Rosario Dawson. As well as putting a few names on the cultural map (and being referenced in the Eminem song ‘Guilty Conscience’) Kids was also notable for its exploration of HIV and the ease with which it can spread, especially amongst loose and free street kids. As far as coming of age celebrations go, finding out you are HIV positive is not exactly a bar mitzvah. Despite this, Kids is a fantastic insight into the lives of teenagers at a certain time and in a certain place and is highly recommended.

Y Tu Mamá También (2001)

Alfonso Cuarón’s 2001 film is another coming-of-age road-trip film, this time exploring friendship and sexuality as two friends and a foxy older woman travel across Mexico. Initially, the friends Tenoch and Julio (Diego Luna and Gael García Bernal) dream up the trip as a way of sleeping with family friend Luisa (Maribel Verdú). Promising Luisa they know the location of a perfect beach, the trio set off across rural Mexico. While the search for this mythical beach can be seen as a sort of Buddhist quest for enlightenment, the film mainly focuses on sexual awakenings and exploration, with Tenoch and Julio putty in the hands of the experienced Luisa. A great film, but perhaps not one to watch with your best friend, or parents.

Submarine (2010)

Richard Ayoade’s directorial debut is a masterpiece of indie filmmaking. Adapted from Joe Dunthorne’s novel of the same name, the film explores the hopeless love life of 15 year-old Oliver Tate (a remarkable Craig Roberts) as he does his best to woo aloof, but really-actually-lovely, Jordanna (Yasmin Paige). The whole cast turn in terrific performances but Paddy Considine’s role as mystic Graham Purvis is one to watch out for (‘How important is light? Let’s think about that for a minute. It seems very basic and banal, but it’s not. It’s loaded. It’s a bloody nail bomb.’). Arctic Monkey Alex Turner also did a wonderful job on the soundtrack, with the songs featuring on a mix tape made by Oliver’s father. (One side for the beginning of a relationship, one side for the inevitable end). It’s a film that will remind you of that awkward first romance when you absolutely knew you were in love, but had no idea what to do next.

Dazed and Confused (1993)

A film so great Tarantino included it on his list of the 10 Greatest Movies of All Time, Dazed and Confused is about coming of age in the midst of the 70s. The film details the last day of high school in suburban Austin, Texas and the seniors are preparing to throw a party to end all parties, a huge blow out to celebrate their new found freedom before the slavery of adulthood and the 9-5 grind begins. Forget American Pie, Project X and Superbad, Dazed and Confused was there first, and did everything better. Interestingly, the film was set to feature the Led Zepplin song of the same name, until that miserable old git Robert Plant turned them down. Still, the film did well enough without Led Zep and made stars of Ben Affleck, Milla Jovovich and Matthew McConaughey.

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Boyz N the Hood (1991)

A fantastic film exploring the realities of being a black youth in South Central L.A, Boyz N the Hood details the formative years of Tre Styles (Cuba Gooding Jr.) as he tries to avoid falling into the criminal behaviour which has defined his neighbour hood, as well as the life of childhood friend Doughboy (Ice Cube). Much, much more than just another L.A. gangland film, Boyz N the Hood is a film with something to say and is still as relevant today as it was 22 years ago.

Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)

A film about maintaining the desire for adventure throughout our lives instead of resigning ourselves to a life spent working in a hat shop as soon as we turn 18. Howl’s Moving Castle (based on Diana Wynne Jones’ novel) follows the exploits of Sophie, a young woman who is cursed by a witch and turned into an old woman. In order to fight the curse she teams up with the mysterious wizard Howl, a strange yet infamous chap who inhabits the titular moving castle. If you’re reading this and thinking about how much you don’t like manga, stop. Howl’s Moving Castle is not some thoughtless cartoon made to pander to children; it’s an incredibly considered and visually beautiful movie which should appeal to all ages. If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend checking it out.

A Bronx Tale (1993)

Robert De Niro’s first directorial effort stays close to Bobby’s heart as it explores the struggles of an Italian American boy, Calogero, growing up in New York’s Bronx. De Niro plays the boy’s honest, bus driving father, while Chazz Palminteri is a local mobster who tempts Calogero into a life of crime. Fascinated by the mobster’s celebrity status, Calogero begins to be drawn into the seedy underworld, bringing his father into conflict with the powerful gangsters. A film about being young and wanting to impress and make a name for yourself, A Bronx Tale remains a highlight of De Niro’s career.

The Karate Kid (1984)

An under-dog tale in which the protagonist kicks a bully’s arse with karate while learning a bit about himself along the way. What could be better? Nothing, that’s what.

This Is England (2006)

Famously based on director Shane Meadow’s own teenage years, This Is England is an equally grim and light-hearted exploration of racism and the skinhead culture that developed amongst the working classes of 1980s Britain. As with other films on this list, This Is England explores how easy it is to be drawn into certain ways of thinking through peer pressure and ignorance. In this case, 12 year-old Shaun finds himself torn between racist Combo’s (Stephen Graham) gang of nationalist thugs, and fun loving Woody’s (Joe Gilgun) gang of teenagers just trying to make the best of their situation. A fantastic, beautiful film about friendship and what it really means to be British.

Read Tom's post-apocalyptic coming of age novel here and follow him on Twitter here.