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25 Best Coming-of-Age Movies of All Time, Ranked

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25 Best Coming-of-Age Movies of All Time, Ranked


Coming-of-age movies have always been – and will always be – relatable and popular. If viewers watch movies that deal with the trials and tribulations of growing up when they are in the process of growing up, they’re likely to strike a chord. If they are a little older or have already come of age, then these films can evoke feelings of nostalgia and longing, bringing back memories of times long gone but no less impactful.


That’s the clearest way to describe coming-of-age movies: they’re about the trials and tribulations of growing up and usually center on characters who are children, teenagers, or sometimes even young adults. These can be funny, heartwarming, crushingly sad, or all of the above, and the genre itself is destined to never grow out of style. What follows are some of the greatest coming-of-age movies of all time, ranked from great to greatest.


25 ‘Dead Poets Society’ (1989)

Director: Peter Weir

Robin Williams as Mr. Keating reading to his students in Dead Poet's Society
Image via Buena Vista Pictures

Robin Williams is the star of Dead Poets Society, a funny movie that’s not quite a comedy but a coming-of-age story that focuses on a group of boarding school students. Williams plays Mr. Keating, an English teacher who inspires them to think outside the box, which clashes with the old-fashioned attitudes of their school and its headmaster.

Dead Poets Society is sentimental but earnest and ultimately powerful, and its final scenes are likely to move even those viewers with the most hardened of hearts. It’s also notable nowadays for featuring one of Ethan Hawke‘s earliest performances. At just 18, Hawke played Todd Anderson, one of the students and the film’s de-facto protagonist.

dead-poets-society-blu-ray-cover

Dead Poets Society

Release Date
June 2, 1989

Rating
PG

Runtime
128

Rent on Amazon

24 ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ (2012)

Director: Stephen Chbosky

Emma Watson and Logan Lerman as Sam and Charlie sitting on some stairs holding red cups in The Perks of Being a Wallflower.
Image via Summit Entertainment

Though Stephen Chbosky’s 2021 film Dear Evan Hansen certainly doesn’t rank as one of the great coming-of-age movies, his 2012 film The Perks of Being a Wallflower certainly does. Interestingly, he wrote the novel on which it was based, adapted it into a screenplay, and then directed the film.

It’s set in the early 1990s and focuses on a shy high schooler named Charlie, the titular wallflower, who becomes more confident after befriending an older student and her stepbrother. The Perks of Being a Wallflower hits all the right notes and feels impeccably bittersweet, featuring a fantastic soundtrack to boot and some of the most memorable quotes in modern teen cinema.

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23 ‘Boyz n the Hood’ (1991)

Director: John Singleton

Ice Cube, Cuba Gooding Jr., and Morris Chestnut as Doughboy, Tre, and Ricky posing for a photo in Boyz n' the Hood.
Image via Columbia Pictures

A compelling crime/drama that also doubles as a powerful coming-of-age movie, Boyz n the Hood follows a group of teenagers living in South Central Los Angeles. It’s ultimately about the struggles of growing up in an area where drug dealing and violence can sometimes seem like everyday occurrences, even for those who don’t want to be directly involved in such a lifestyle.

It’s one of the bleaker and more intense coming-of-age movies out there, but it has to be to accurately convey such a lifestyle and not sugarcoat it. Boyz n’ the Hood has stood the test of time and helped influence an entire sub-genrethe so-called Hood Movies. However, it still stands as arguably the best of the lot, a truly groundbreaking film that only gets better with age.

Boyz n the Hood

Release Date
July 12, 1991

Cast
Hudhail Al-Amir , Lloyd Avery II , Angela Bassett , Mia Bell , Lexie Bigham , Kenneth A. Brown

Rating
R

Runtime
102

Watch on Netflix

22 ‘Persepolis’ (2007)

Directors: Marjane Satrapi, Vincent Paronnaud

Persepolis wearing her Punk Is Not Ded jacket and being reprehended by two women in the film Persepolis.
Image Via Diaphana Distribution

Persepolis is another animated film that shows animation is more a medium rather than a genre itself. Here, it’s used to tell an emotionally resonant and intensely personal coming-of-age story. This is a French-language film about a young girl named Marjane growing up in Iran during a turbulent time in history, with things beginning around the time of the 1979 Iranian revolution.

With an animation style as unique as the story it tells, Persepolis is an eye-opening historical document and a compelling, powerful coming-of-age journey. The intimate and personal nature of the film likely comes from the fact that Persepolis was based on an autobiographical graphic novel, too, by French-Iranian author/filmmaker Marjane Satrapi, who also co-directed this film adaptation.

Persepolis

Release Date
June 27, 2007

Cast
Chiara Mastroianni , Catherine Deneuve , Danielle Darrieux , Simon Abkarian , Gabrielle Lopes Benites , François Jerosme

Rating
PG-13

Runtime
95

Rent on Amazon

21 ‘Say Anything…’ (1989)

Director: Cameron Crowe

John Cusack and Ione Skye as Lloyd and Diane smiling and looking in the same direction in Say Anything
Image via 20th Century Fox

Filmmaker Cameron Crowe is no stranger to the coming-of-age genre, and neither was actor John Cusack, who started his career in the 1980s as a teenager/young adult. The two collaborated on 1989’s Say Anything…, which might be best known as that movie where Cusack holds a boombox over his head (it’s an admittedly easy image to reference).

Of course, the movie itself is much more than just 100 minutes of John Cusack holding a boombox, with the main plot involving a relationship blossoming between an average student (Cusack) and the year’s valedictorian (Ione Skye). With a 1989 release, it just sneaks into the 1980s, a decade well-renowned for the quantity and, for the most part, quality of coming-of-age movies released during it. Instantly iconic and deeply relatable, Say Anything… is clever, witty, and heartwarming, a defining piece of Gen X culture that remains impactful today.

say anything

Release Date
April 14, 1989

Rating
PG-13

Runtime
100

Rent on Amazon

20 ‘Pather Panchali’ (1955)

Director: Satyajit Ray

Subir Banerjee as Apu looking over the camera in 'Pather Panchali'.
Image via Aurora Film Corporation

When a filmmaker as great as Akira Kurosawa states a film is among his favorites, it’s probably worth seeking it out. Such is the case for Pather Panchali, a movie loved by Kurosawa and millions of others, and the first part of the acclaimed Apu trilogy made by legendary Indian filmmaker Satyajit Ray.

Apu is ultimately the main character of the trilogy, but as he’s only a young child in this first installment, the focus is probably more on his family’s lives, particularly his father and mother, who face hardships when it comes to providing for their children in a small Bengal village. Although watching the sequels is crucial to truly appreciating Apu’s story, Pather Panchali is a remarkable and rewarding film about humanity and universality, a modern classic and nothing short of a masterpiece.

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19 ‘Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.’ (2023)

Director: Kelly Fremon Craig

Barbara and Margaret looking ahead while at a department store in Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret
Image via Lionsgate Films

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. was an acclaimed novel released all the way back in 1970, and it surprisingly took more than half a century to get adapted into a feature film. The story centers on an 11-year-old named Margaret and follows her pre-adolescent journey after her family moves from New York City into the suburbs of New Jersey.

Thankfully, the 2023 adaptation did the novel justice. Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret already feels like an essential coming-of-age movie despite its relatively recent release. It captures the awkwardness and anxieties experienced by girls as they approach their teenage years, doing so in a way that’s honest yet accessible, balancing the hardships present in such a premise with heart and humor.

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18 ‘Harold and Maude’ (1971)

Director: Hal Ashby

Ruth Gordon as Maude and Bud Cort as Harold looking ahead in Harold and Maude
Image via Paramount Pictures

Hal Ashby was an acclaimed yet underrated filmmaker who had a fantastic run throughout the 1970s. His hot streak debatably began with 1971’s Harold and Maude and ended with 1979’s Peter Sellers-starring Being There. Ashby was impeccably good at crafting dramedies that were equal parts moving and funny, which Harold and Maude exemplifies particularly well.

Of the title characters, Harold is the one coming-of-age, as he’s a young adult, while Maude is 79 years old. The two have an unlikely friendship and later romance, which may sound alarming and uncomfortable to modern audiences. However, Harold and Maude handles the extreme premise with care and empathy, making for an odd yet endearing movie about the bond between two people. It might not necessarily be accessible, but Harold and Maude is insightful and wickedly biting, the kind of bold comedy audiences don’t see much of nowadays.

Harold and Maude Film Poster

Harold and Maude

Release Date
December 20, 1971

Cast
Ruth Gordon , Bud Cort , Vivian Pickles , Cyril Cusack , Charles Tyner , Ellen Geer

Rating
PG

Runtime
91 minutes

Watch on Pluto TV

17 ‘Lady Bird’ (2017)

Director: Greta Gerwig

Saoirse Ronan sitting and looking to the distance while frowning in 'Lady Bird'
Image via A24

Before directing the highly acclaimed Barbie movie and reinterpreting Little Women for a modern audience, Greta Gerwig‘s directing career first took off with 2017’s Lady Bird. It’s a dramedy with a simple premise, following a girl named Christine who wants to move from California to attend college in New York, which causes her to clash with her mother.

There are plenty of movies about the bonds between mothers and daughters, but few coming-of-age movies are as compelling, complex, or insightful as Lady Bird. Gerwig’s screenplay might be up there with the best in recent memory, as it’s both funny and heartbreakingly true-to-life, while Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf both shine in Oscar-nominated performances. An instant classic and a defining movie for the Z generation, Lady Bird is the rare dramedy that stays in the audience’s mind.

Lady Bird

Release Date
September 8, 2017

Rating
R

Runtime
93

Watch on Netflix

16 ‘The Last Picture Show’ (1971)

Director: Peter Bogdanovich

Cybil Shepherd as Jacy looks annoyed while Jeff Bridges as Duane smiles in The Last Picture Show
Image via Columbia Pictures

Capturing angst and realism in a way that many acclaimed American films of the late 1960s and 1970s did, The Last Picture Show is perhaps the greatest entry in Peter Bogdanovich‘s body of work. It takes place in a desolate Texas town, following a group of young people as they work out how they can break free from such a life while also trying to survive the boredom that permeates it.

Thankfully, it manages to capture a dull and tedious way of life that’s far from dull and tedious to actually watch. It’s beautifully shot in black and white and has great performances from the likes of Jeff Bridges, Cybill Shepherd, Ellen Burstyn, and Cloris Leachman, who won an Oscar for her work. Bleak and tragic yet thought-provoking, The Last Picture Show is a melancholic love letter to melancholy itself, an outstanding portrayal of confusion and despair that remains striking and piercing.

Rent on Amazon

15 ‘The Fabelmans’ (2022)

Director: Steven Spielberg

Gabriel LaBelle as Sammy Fabelman looking through a film camera in 'The Fabelmans'
Image via Universal Pictures

There are plenty of Steven Spielberg movies that have autobiographical elements, but it’s fair to say that with The Fabelmans, subtext turned to text. It may be about a family with the surname “Fabelman,” but this film is, essentially, “The Spielbergs.” The story centers on how Sammy – a teenage boy who’s a stand-in for Spielberg – takes steps towards becoming a filmmaker while also coming to terms with the breakdown of his parents’ marriage.

As such, The Fabelmans feels intensely personal, even by coming-of-age movie standards and was likely a therapeutic movie for Spielberg to make. For those who love his movies, The Fabelmans holds a great deal of value for showing, in effect, the origins of how he came to be such a great filmmaker.

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14 ‘Eighth Grade’ (2018)

Director: Bo Burnham

Kayla lying in bed and looking to her right in Eighth Grade
Image via A24

Before 2018’s Eighth Grade, Bo Burnham was best known for his groundbreaking comedy specials like What and Make Happy. Then again, since Eighth Grade, he’s also been best known for his groundbreaking comedy specials, with both Inside and The Inside Outtakes being insightful looks at post-COVID times. Therefore, Eighth Grade stands out as the only traditional feature film he’s directed so far.

Still, Eighth Grade is a great and refreshing film and perhaps one of the most uncompromising within the coming-of-age genre. It focuses on a 13-year-old girl struggling to fit in during the final week of middle school, showing all the ups and downs (mostly downs) of living life at that age. At times funny and uncomfortably honest at others, Eighth Grade excels because of its style, pace, and realism.

Eighth Grade

An introverted teenage girl tries to survive the last week of her disastrous eighth grade year before leaving to start high school.

Release Date
August 3, 2018

Cast
Josh Hamilton , Elsie Fisher , Emily Robinson , Missy Yager , Greg Crowe , Deborah Unger

Rating
R

Runtime
93 minutes

Watch on Max

13 ‘Dazed and Confused’ (1993)

Director: Richard Linklater

Matthew McConaughey as David Wooderson standng on the street with his friends behind him in Dazed and Confused
Image via Gramercy Pictures

Few films define the term “hangout movie” quite as well as Dazed and Confused, one of Richard Linklater’s best-known directorial efforts. It takes place largely over one night, following a group of students at the beginning of their summer break, all trying to enjoy life while thinking about where their futures will take them.

Dazed and Confused expertly captures a crucial period, utilizing the setting as an excuse to have a great soundtrack. It’s funny, comforting, and heartfelt, all in equal measure, making the most of its straightforward premise and becoming a coming-of-age classic in the process. Dazed and Confused is a before-and-after for coming-of-age movies, marking an entire generation and heavily influencing cinema as a whole.

Dazed and Confused Film Poster

Dazed and Confused

Release Date
September 24, 1993

Rating
R

Runtime
103 minutes

Watch on Hulu

12 ‘Rushmore’ (1998)

Director: Wes Anderson

Jason Schwartzman as Max Fisher sitting on his go kart in Rushmore
Image via Touchstone Pictures

Wes Anderson‘s movies have become more stylized and perhaps less grounded as his career’s gone on. However, his earlier efforts did a great job of incorporating his trademark style with more heartfelt – and deeply human – stories. One of his earliest films, Rushmore, demonstrates this particularly well.

In depicting the life of an intelligent and unusual high school student, there’s plenty of quirky, deadpan humor and creative camerawork. There’s also a genuine and overt sense that the characters within the story do feel at least mostly like real people. This results in a uniquely humorous and relatable movie; Rushmore’s distinctive comedy, complemented by some more dramatic moments, makes a wholly satisfying and memorable film.

Rushmore poster

Rushmore

Release Date
December 11, 1998

Rating
R

Runtime
93

Rent on Amazon

11 ‘City of God’ (2002)

Directors: Fernando Meirelles, Kátia Lund

Alexandre Rodrigues as Rocket peers into his camera in City of God
Image via Globo Filmes & Miramax Films

One of 2002’s greatest movies, City of God also ranks among the greatest crime movies of the 21st century so far. It’s a Brazilian film that takes place in a Rio de Janeiro favela called the City of God and centers on a pair of young people – first as children, then as teenagers; one wants to escape the crime-heavy lifestyle around him, and the other thrives within it.

City of God is an ambitious movie with a very fast pace and plenty of side characters, but it’s the sort of chaotic narrative that’s very well controlled, making for an intense and captivating viewing experience. It transports a relatable story about growing up but places it in a specific – and often frightening – setting, making it equally great as both a coming-of-age story and a crime film.

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10 ‘Cinema Paradiso’ (1988)

Director: Giuseppe Tornatore

Salvatore Cascio as Salvatore looking at developed film roll in 'Cinema Paradiso'
Image via Titanus

Few Italian movies are quite as beloved and popular as Cinema Paradiso, a classic that serves as a coming-of-age movie, a romance film, and a love letter to cinema itself. It follows a young boy named Toto, who befriends a grumpy cinema projectionist before growing into a teenager who wants to make movies one day.

It’s framed by Toto as a middle-aged man looking back on his life, having found success yet always wondering what could’ve been had he chosen a different path in life. This all adds up to make Cinema Paradiso perhaps one of the most devastatingly bittersweet movies of all time, with such emotions also hitting hard thanks to the film containing an all-time great ending and one of the best scores ever composed by Ennio Morricone.

Cinema Paradiso Poster

Cinema Paradiso

Release Date
February 23, 1990

Cast
Enzo Cannavale , Antonella Attili , Isa Danieli , Philippe Noiret

Rating
PG

Runtime
155 minutes

Rent on Amazon

9 ‘The Graduate’ (1967)

Director: Mike Nichols

Elaine (Katharine Ross) and Ben (Dustin Hoffman) on a date in The Graduate
Image via Embassy Pictures

Any young people living today who struggle with the early stages of adulthood may take some comfort in watching 1967’s The Graduate. They will surely realize that, back then, things weren’t necessarily easy for young people either – at least, that’s what the film seems keen to tell its audience.

It was a movie that made a star out of Dustin Hoffman and arguably remains the greatest entry within Mike Nichols impressive filmography. It’s about a restless and aimless college graduate whose life is further complicated when he gets mixed up in a bizarre love triangle with a young woman his age and her mother, the infamous Mrs. Robinson. Even all these years on from release, The Graduate still feels radical, funny, and uncomfortable, making it one of the greatest films about the trials and tribulations of being a young adult.

the-graduate-movie-poster

The Graduate

Release Date
December 21, 1967

Cast
Anne Bancroft , Dustin Hoffman , Katharine Ross , William Daniels , Murray Hamilton , Elizabeth Wilson

Rating
PG

Runtime
107

Watch on Tubi

8 ‘American Graffiti’ (1973)

Director: George Lucas

Harrison Ford as Bob standing by a car in American Graffiti
Image via Universal Pictures

Perhaps most well-known for being a Harrison Ford film directed by George Lucas before they became synonymous with the most famous sci-fi movie ever, American Graffiti also happens to be a coming-of-age classic. It remains a clear yet undeniable example of how Lucas is capable of more than just sci-fi.

Its premise is similar to Dazed and Confused; while that one was made in the 1990s and had a 1970s setting, American Graffiti was made in the 1970s and had an early 1960s setting. Nostalgia and the bittersweet, fleeting nature of youth are captured in stark and relatable detail here, making American Graffiti a quiet and unassuming film that nevertheless sticks in one’s head long after it’s over. Revered by critics and audiences alike, the film’s status as a classic is well-deserved.

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7 ‘Y Tu Mamá También’ (2001)

Director: Alfonso Cuarón

Gael García Bernal as Julio driving a car while Diego Luna as Tenoch sits in the backseat in Y Tu Mamá También.
Image via 20th Century Fox

Before he directed a Harry Potter movie and incredible works of science fiction like Children of Men and Gravity, Alfonso Cuarón also made one of the 21st century’s best coming-of-age movies. Y Tu Mamá También – “And Your Mother Too” in English – is a road movie that packs a surprising emotional punch, following two teenage boys and an older woman as they take a dramatic trip and ultimately learn a great deal about themselves.

Y Tu Mamá También is one of those road movies that has various personal journeys being undertaken while a lengthy physical one is underway. The film’s socio-political undertones are subtle and might go over some viewers’ heads, as Cuarón hides them within a classic story of desire, doubt, and sex at one of life’s many crossroads. Grounded performances, beautiful visuals, and an impactful climax ensure Y Tu Mamá También’s now-iconic reputation.

Watch on AMC+

6 ‘Almost Famous’ (2000)

Director: Cameron Crowe

Kate Hudson and Patrick Fugit as Penny Lane and William standing next to each other and looking in the same direction in Almost Famous
Image via DreamWorks Dsitribution

Almost Famous helped the 21st century get off to a great start, as it was one of the best movies released in 2000. Coming 11 years after Say Anything…, it showed once again how filmmaker Cameron Crowe knew his way around a powerful coming-of-age story. The plot focuses on a teenage boy who’s given a job at Rolling Stone Magazine as a journalist tasked with following a touring rock band, Stillwater, interviewing them and documenting the whole tumultuous journey.

Although far from a huge hit when released, Almost Famous has since gone on to be recognized as a definitive coming-of-age movie. It remains surprisingly relatable, a story about ambitions and doubts at a time when every teenager is supposed to be deciding what they want for the rest of their life. A love letter to the 70s and its music, Almost Famous is an immersive and passionate coming-of-age comedy and one of the genre’s most timeless entries.

Almost Famous Poster

Almost Famous

Release Date
September 22, 2000

Rating
R

Runtime
122

Watch on Paramount+



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