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Top 10 Coming-of-age Films

Looking for something new to watch?

I love a good film, and sometimes there’s nothing better than tapping into the ‘angsty teen’ part of your brain and watching a ‘coming of age’ drama.

Whether they make you laugh, cry, or feel as if you’ve absorbed the personality of the main character as the credits roll, these films can be enjoyed alone (preferably with a pint of Ben & Jerry’s) or at your next film night.

In no particular order, here are my top ten coming-of-age films…

Reality Bites (1994)

Tags: Romance, Drama, 90s, LGBT+, Music, Graduation, Friendship

Winona Ryder stars, alongside 90s heartthrob Ethan Hawke, as Lelaina, who is filming a documentary about the lives of herself and her friends after graduating from high school.

They attempt to navigate friendships, relationships, careers, all with a camera stuck in their face - sometimes, at the most inconvenient of times…

What really brings this film to life is the incredible cast, all in the prime of their careers: Winona Ryder, Ethan Hawke, Ben Stiller, Steve Zahn (you know, the guy that played Greg’s dad in Diary of a Wimpy Kid?).

The film sits at just over an hour and a half run time. Ironic, really, as this time of your life seems to go by just as quickly.

With a diverse range of characters and plot lines, every viewer can see a part of themselves reflected in this incredible drama.

Billy Elliot (2000)

Tags: Northern England, Ballet, Austerity, Self-discovery, LGBT+, Family, Friendship, Arts

Billy Elliot is one of my most favourite films of all time. This 2000 classic starring Jamie Bell, who you may know as Rocketman’s Bernie Taupin, tells the story of Billy, who grows up in Durham during the miners strikes.

Billy’s dad signs him up for boxing lessons, much to his disinterest. He, unfortunately, is ‘rubbish’ at boxing, and has to hang around after lessons to practise, told that he has to give the key to the ballet class’ teacher to lock up when he’s done.

Hovering around the ballet class, Mrs Wilkinson (Julie Walters) tells him to get involved, and there finds an unprecedented raw talent within Billy.

Growing up in Northern England, Billy keeps his ballet lessons a secret from his father, until he is caught mid-pirouette after his boxing teacher asks his dad where he had been, implying that his father was struggling to pay.

Billy’s father initially rejects the idea - he couldn’t afford the boxing lessons as it was, and fears his son will be ostracised for his ‘effeminate’ interests.

When Mrs Wilkinson proposes that Billy audition for the Royal Ballet School, both Billy and his father have to do some serious soul-searching to decide what is truly more important to them.

For us Cumbrians, Billy Elliot tells a story all too familiar.

Before Sunrise (1995)

Tags: Romance, Drama, French, Comedy, Casual-viewing, Whirlwind, Right-person-wrong-time

Okay, maybe it’s not necessarily ‘coming of age’, definitely more romance. Starring Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, Before Sunrise tells the story of Jesse and Céline, who meet on a train going back from Budapest.

Striking up conversation, Jesse persuades Céline to disembark the train at Vienna, saying that she may regret not taking the chance for the rest of her life.

Without the money for a hotel, the pair wander the streets of Vienna, passing historical landmarks and perusing record stores. They talk, and they talk, and they talk. While this film may not be packed full of drama or action, this is the perfect film to chat over.

You genuinely feel as if you are invited to be a part of this conversation in Vienna - with a few friends, or a date, you might discover something about yourselves in the process.

If you happen to enjoy Before Sunrise, you’ll be happy to find out that there are two sequels!

Dead Poets Society (1989)

Tags: Dark academia, Poetry, Coming-of-age, Drama, 50s, Self-discovery, Angst

Dead Poets Society is the kind of film that sticks with you for months, even years, after the credits roll.

Todd Anderson begins at Welton, living much in the shadow of his older brother. Welton Academy is a preparatory school for the next generation of CEOs, lawyers, doctors, Harvard Professors - so you can imagine the amount of pressure these boys are under!

You can also assume that English Literature is not afforded much importance. That is, until Mr. John Keating comes along.

Neil Perry, digging through old school yearbooks, encourages his group of friends to revive Mr. Keating’s ‘Dead Poets Society’, and in doing so ignite a passion for poetry, and life, not understood by the adults around them.

Follow as each Poet embarks on their own, unique journey into themselves.  

Trigger Warnings: Suicide, Parental Abuse

Lady Bird (2017)

Tags: Debut, High school, Drama, Angst, Friendship, Romance, Mother/Daughter

Because the list wouldn’t be complete without it.

Lady Bird tells the story of Christine McPherson (Saoirse Ronan), who christens herself ‘Lady Bird’.

She navigates her senior year of a Christian girls’ high school and her burning desire to escape her small town to go to college in New York, much to the disapproval of her mother (Laurie Metcalf).

She juggles her compulsion to be different and seek approval from others - including new boyfriend Kyle Scheible, your classic teen-movie-douche-boyfriend, and her relationship with her best friend, Julie (Beanie Feldstein).

If the cast alone (no pun intended) doesn’t convince you to watch this, I don’t know what will.

Trigger Warning: Sexual assault (implied)

Dem Horizont so nah (2019)

Tags: German, Romance, Right-person-no-time, Adventure, Based on the book, Based on real events

This German-language film stars Jannik Schumann (Charite: at War) and Luna Wedler (Biohackers) as Danny and Jessica.

Translated to English as ‘Close to the Horizon’, this is the type of film that can only be seen, not synopsised. In short, girl meets boy, boy has a secret: boy has around 3 months to live.

The pair fast track young adulthood in order to live life to the fullest while they still can, ending in a beautifully tragic tale for the ages.

Luna Wedler took home the award for Best Young Actress at the Bavarian Film Awards 2019 for her role as Jessica.

Although critics comment that the second act goes by too fast, I believe that this perfectly reflects the tone of the film - the horizon suddenly draws much closer, so quickly.

Trigger Warnings: Rape, substance abuse, abuse

The Basketball Diaries (1995)

Tags: Sport, Teen, Angst, Biographical, Based on the book, Based on true events, Mother/Son, Basketball

This 90s classic remains just as relevant as it was when it came out nearly 30 years ago.

It stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Jim Carroll, and Carroll himself in cameo, alongside Mark Wahlberg.

The Basketball Diaries tells the story of a young man, destined to become a basketball star, who finds himself tangled in drug addiction after the death of his best friend.

Suffering abuse from his basketball coach, and believing his mother is out to get him, Jim has nowhere to turn - he soon discovers that he is in way deeper sh- than he knows how to deal with.

Based on the trials and triumph of the real Jim Carroll, this hard-hitting watch is perfect for those of you that enjoyed Beautiful Boy (2018).

Trigger Warnings: substance abuse, sexual exploitation

Boyhood (2014)

Tags: Real-time, Autobiographical, Drama, Family, Raw

Filmed over a 12-year period, Boyhood follows Mason (Ellar Coltrane) as he navigates life.

IMDb describes Boyhood as ‘a groundbreaking story of growing up, as seen through the eyes of a child’. An unprecedented and ambitious project, the characters age before your eyes.

Part of the beauty of the acting is the fact that in the years between takes, these actors experience life for themselves, driving their characters and adding a sense of reality that cannot be faked.

Boyhood explores themes of divorce, and sees the changing relationship between Mason and his parents as he, and they, grow up.

While the lack of an obvious ‘arc’ may not be for everyone, the subtleties in these ageing characters tell a story like no other.

Boyhood is real, and each real person can find a piece of themselves within it.

My Own Private Idaho (1991)

Tags: LGBT, Family, Adventure, Drama, Personal Discovery, Long lost family, Debut, Indie

Mike, and his best friend Scott, two hustlers from Portland, Oregon, go on a journey across the US and Italy to find his family. Along the way, the pair’s friendship struggles, as they individually battle with their sense of selves.

When a fortune lands in Scott’s lap, he rejects the old life that had seen him by, and Mike finds himself suddenly very alone.

The film stars the late River Phoenix alongside the legendary Keanu Reeves. Both the greatest tragedy and greatest beauty of this film is that the ending is completely ambiguous.

On one hand, there is no closure. On the other, the ending means whatever you want it to.

Trigger warning: Substance abuse

Clueless (1995)

Tags: Comedy, Lighthearted, 90s, Friendship, Romance, High School, Drama

Ugh, as if we could forget this classic!

Maybe it’s not as angsty or dramatic as the other films on this list, but no teen movie collection is complete without a nod to the iconic Cher Horowitz, played by Alicia Silverstone, who stars alongside Paul Rudd and the late Brittany Murphy.

Fun Fact! Clueless is actually loosely based on the ‘Emma’ novel by Jane Austen.

What’s your favourite coming-of-age film, did it make the list?

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