Coming-of-Age Films for Back to School

There’s something compelling about coming-of-age movies that I still somehow can’t put my finger on. Perhaps it’s because I’m at the age where adults expect me to, well, “adult”. Being in college is weird when you think about the fact that you’re thrown into a world that you’re supposed to figure out on your own. Growing up is hard to do. 

So what I do to make myself feel a little more safe and secure away from home is to watch movies. Specifically coming-of-age movies. A lot of the following films are my guilty pleasures. The best thing about coming-of-age films is that you can watch them and get a better understanding of yourself. There’s more to growing up that the awkwardness of talking to a crush or dealing with acne. Growing up is constantly reevaluating the people and environment around you and figuring out what is best for you, and what’s not. We never stop growing up. 

Take a look at the following childhood and high school films and figure out your next movie night! 

1) Stand By Me (1986), dir. Rob ReinerIMG Source

Four best friends head into the woods, away from adults and their problems, to find a supposed dead body. Starring one of my favorite actors, River Phoenix, Stand By Me portrays an authentic reality of childhood and a heartwarming, yet bittersweet, rendition of childhood. It can also be seen as a becoming-a-kid again movie, reminding you of the world as you once saw it. 

2) The Florida Project (2017), dir. Sean Baker

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Six-year-old Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) lives with her mother, Halley (Bria Vinaite), in a rather run-down motel outside of Disney World. While the movie focuses on Moonee’s adventures with her new friend, Halley struggles to make ends meet. By the end of the film, Moonee is basically forced to grow up.

3) Lady Bird (2017), dir. Greta Grewig

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Before Ladybird (Saoirse Ronan) can leave all her troubles, including her mother, behind, she has to get through her final year of high school. She looks for reinvention of herself and changes her identity from her given name, Christine, to Lady Bird. This film combines all the best things about coming-of-age movies - relationships, friendships, awkward phases, and mothers - and makes them feel more real.

4) The Breakfast Club (1985), dir. John Hughes

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Eighth grade me fell in love with John Hughes films through The Breakfast Club. I learned so much from these five seemingly different teenagers. I’ve laughed and cried countless times because of it. The Breakfast Club really gets to the core of high-school cliches and expands on them and shows that we’re all more similar than we think.

5) Juno (2007), dir. Jason Reitman

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Even if this 2007 film feels somewhat dated, there’s something underneath Juno’s (Ellen Page) hard exterior and the slangy way that she talks that keeps me coming back to this film. It’s a heartwarming story about a teenage girl struggling to join the ranks of responsible adults with one drawback - she’s pregnant. 

6) Eighth Grade (2018), dir. Bo Burnha

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This movie is just way too real in terms of relating to middle school me. Kayla (Elsie Fisher) is at the end of eighth grade. Discomfort defines her everyday life and even some scenes of this movie, but it’s too great of a film to criticize. Eighth Grade has razor-sharp accuracy in terms of depicting social anxiety and middle schoolers. 

7) Moonlight (2016), dir. Barry Jenkins

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“At some point, you got to decide for yourself who you’re gonna be – can’t let nobody make that decision for you,” Juan (Mahershala Ali) tells Chiron, nicknamed Little (Alex Hibbert), a boy bullied by other children and his own mother. This beautiful rendition on growing up follows a young Chiron at three different ages, so you can see how the places he finds empathy and kindness as a kid shape him as an adult. 

8) Almost Famous (2000), dir. Cameron Crowe

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From Scott Pilgrim vs. the World to Sing Street, it’s pretty clear that one of the ways to successfully come of age is to be in a band - or rather cover a band, as shown in Almost Famous. William Miller (Patrick Fugit) gets a chance to profile and up and coming band for Rolling Stone magazine and crosses the country with them. During his journey, he learns about reporting, but more importantly about love, truth, and friendship.

9) Booksmart (2019), dir. Olivia Wilde

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In Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut, two high school prodigies realize that their hard work and academia means nothing if they didn’t have fun while doing it. They set out to cram four years of fun and partying into one night before graduation. The film is completely honest in its depictions of teenage girlhood and high school. 

10) The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012), dir. Stephen Chbosky

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Another one of my middle school guily pleasures. I’ve read the book at least five times by now. The story follows Charlie (Logan Lerman) as he encounters drugs, sexuality, and friendship in his freshman year of high school. Perks of Being a Wallflower is realistic in its ways of showing Charlie’s growth and in how it shows lessons behind naivety and self-awareness. Like Charlie would say, we are infinite.