I've always had a soft spot for the coming-of-age film genre. Even now as I fast approach my thirties, there's still something so entertaining and relatable about being stuck in that awkward phase between kid and adult (do we even ever truly leave it?), as well as those life-changing moments and rite-of-passage experiences that define our formative years. From childhood summers spent with friends, high school crushes and conflict with parents, here are ten of my favourite movies about the trials and tribulations of growing up.
Pretty in Pink (1986)
Andie Walsh is somewhat of an outcast at her Chicago high school. Working at a record store, she regularly hangs out with her boss, Iona, and her best friend since childhood is Duckie, who is secretly in love with her. Andie develops a crush on the rich, popular boy in school, Blane, and when they soon begin dating, their two completely different worlds collide. Feeling pressure from his friend, Steff, Blane decides not to take Andie to the prom with him, but in a last minute act of courageousness, Andie still decides to go looking “pretty in pink” in a handmade dress. Telling her dad, “I just want to let them know they didn’t break me”, to me, it's one of the most inspiring lines ever spoken in a movie and is a defining moment for Andie as she begins accepting herself for who she really is. Nobody captured what it means to be a teen quite like John Hughes and I also highly recommend two of his other popular Brat Pack films of the '80s, The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
Stand By Me (1986)
In the summer of 1959 in Castle Rock, Oregon, four 12 year-old boys - Gordie, Chris, Teddy and Vern - set out to find the dead body of a missing boy close to their age and become local heroes. It's a race against time when Ace Merrill and his gang have the same idea, though it's their journey towards self-discovery and learning about the true meaning of friendship that define their adventure. Narrated from the point of view of an adult Gordie, Stand By Me is a moving portrayal of the male bond and the loss of innocence. Cementing River Phoenix's career, I also recommend three other coming-of-age films he stars in, A Night in the Life of Jimmy Reardon, Running on Empty and My Own Private Idaho.
Before there were Mean Girls, there were the Heathers. The Heathers are the popular clique of Westerburg High School, one of the four members being Veronica, played by Winona Ryder. Heather Chandler is the ringleader and sick and tired of the way she bullies the school, Veronica sets out to sabotage her when she meets the dark and mysterious, J.D., a rebellious new student. Things, however, get out of control when J.D. plans to kill all the school students, and the film will make Mean Girls look like sunshine and rainbows in comparison. A cult classic film of the '80s, the movie ends with Veronica befriending one of the unpopular girls, and with its twisted, satirical look at teen angst and high school politics, Heathers remains one of the most popular coming-of-age films nearly thirty years on.
After yet another breakup, Mrs Flax decides to relocate herself and her two daughters to the small town of Eastport, Massachusetts. Her eldest daughter, 15 year-old Charlotte, knows her mother's game by now and living near a convent, she has an unusual fascination with Catholicism and dreams of becoming a nun someday, despite her Jewish background. She soon falls for the local school bus driver and convent caretaker, Joe, and it's during this time that she learns about love, sex and the importance of family. Set in 1963 during the time of the Kennedy Assassination, it's a sweet and heartfelt story of an offbeat and unconventional mother-daughter relationship.
Now and Then (1995)
In 1991, four longtime friends - Teeny, Roberta, Samantha and Chrissy - reunite after going their own separate ways in life, and in their old treehouse, reminisce on the summer of 1970 as 12 year-old girls. A pivotal time in their lives, they attempt to solve the murder of a young boy together, while also experiencing the hardships of family drama, boys and general growing up. Through thick and thin, the four girls are always there for each other and as women, make a pact to never let go of what they once had. What I'd call the girl equivalent of Stand by Me, Now and Then is a sweet and sentimental story of female friendship and is one I can even relate back to in my own friendship groups.
The Virgin Suicides (1999)
In 1974 Michigan, five sisters - 17 year-old Therese, 16 year-old Mary, 15 year-old Bonnie, 14 year-old Lux, and 13 year-old Cecilia - are the fascination of a young group of boys. The Lisbon girls have a strict upbringing and after Cecilia commits suicide, their mother shelters them even further from the outside world, only to deepen the mystery and obsession the boys feel for them. A film adaptation of Jeffrey Eugenides' novel of the same name, Sofia Coppola's directorial debut deals with the dark subject matter of teen suicide and is a morose portrayal of American suburbia, yet the ethereal cinematography and superb score by Air make this film something hauntingly beautiful.
Mary is just about to enter her senior year of high school and leads the perfect example of a good Christian teenager. She has good Christian friends, goes to a good Christian school and with her perfect Christian boyfriend, Dean, Mary has her whole future ahead of her. When Dean, however, confides in Mary that he's gay, she'll do anything to save him, including having sex, and when she ends up falling pregnant, she begins to question her entire faith. Her best friend, Hilary Faye, shuns her out and Mary befriends the school misfits - Hilary Faye's wheelchair-bound brother, Roland, the principal's son, Patrick, and the only Jew to attend the school, the rebellious Cassandra - together attempting to survive their last year of high school. Saved! is satirical and even downright hilarious at times, while it also tackles the themes of religion, homophobia, teen pregnancy and disability in a heartfelt, touching manner.
Easy A (2010)
Olive Penderghast doesn't want to spend her birthday weekend camping with her best friend, Rhiannon and her hippie parents, so to get out of it, she tells a little white lie about going on a date with a guy in community college. The next Monday at school, Olive takes the lie even further by telling Rhiannon that she lost her virginity to him and when the uptight and religious, Marianne, overhears, the lie spreads like wildfire throughout the entire school and it's not long before everyone knows her name. Using her newfound popularity to her advantage, Olive decides to make money off the social outcasts of the school by faking that she's slept with them, but her web of lies soon spiral out of control and Olive must face telling the truth. Inspired by the novel The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Easy A is a witty and charming teen comedy, though it's its homage to classic '80s teen films such as Say Anything... and The Breakfast Club that make it a real treat.
The Diary of a Teenage Girl (2015)
Set in 1976 San Francisco, The Diary of a Teenage Girl follows 15 year-old Minnie's sexual awakening as she loses her virginity to Monroe, her mother's boyfriend. She details her encounters with him through an audio diary as well as with her best friend, Kimmie, and as an aspiring young artist, we see Minnie's drawings come to life in the world around her throughout the film. Based on the graphic novel by Phoebe Gloeckner, The Diary of a Teenage Girl is an honest, raw and refreshing depiction of female sexuality. It's very rare that we see portrayals of young women empowered by sex, let alone ones that don't condemn them and if you want to watch something similar, though equally as incredible, I also recommend the Australian film, Somersault.
The Edge of Seventeen (2016)
Nadine has spent her entire childhood living in the shadow of her better-looking and much more popular older brother, Darian. She's never had any friends until she one day meets Krista, but when Darian and Krista begin dating, she feels more alone than ever. She frequently seeks the advice of her history teacher, Mr Bruner, and also befriends the equally awkward, Erwin, who has a crush on her. Through the turbulent ups and downs of high school life, Nadine eventually overcomes it all and in this modern coming-of-age film, it's refreshing to not only see an Asian lead character, but also one who plays a love interest. The Edge of Seventeen is a realistic depiction of life as a 17 year-old girl, awkwardness and all.
I purposely stayed clear of more obvious choices such as Clueless, 10 Things I Hate About You and Mean Girls, but they're obviously favourites of mine too. If coming-of-age movies are also your thing, here are some honourable mentions: Fast Times at Ridgemont High, The Year My Voice Broke, My Girl, Dazed and Confused, Rushmore, Jawbreaker, Almost Famous, Looking For Alibrandi, Igby Goes Down, Running with Scissors, Charlie Bartlett, Rocket Science, An Education, The Black Balloon, Lymelife, Submarine, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, The Kings of Summer, Mustang.
What are your favourite coming-of-age films?