Boyhood, Moonlight and beyond: the best coming-of-age movies

As Edge of Seventeen adds another film to the coming-to-age canon we look back at the best there has ever been, from Carrie and Clueless to Mud and Moonlight

Kelly Fremon Craigs Edge of Seventeen premieres this week, a fresh entry in an enduring genre: the coming-of-age film. In movies as in real life, these stories are awkward, tender, tragic, triumphant, surreal, nightmarish, funny sometimes all at once. Their magic lies in the insight they can offer, how universal and unifying they are no matter the details of the narratives, their time and place. Here are the essentials.

American Pie

Everyones favorite movie about an awkward young man doing unspeakable things to an apple pie to a soundtrack almost entirely dedicated to Blink-182.


As if Clueless. Photograph: Allstar/Paramount

Makeovers give fashion-obsessed Cher Horowitz (Alicia Silverstone) a sense of control in a world full of chaos in Amy Heckerlings film inspired by Jane Austens Emma. Chers epiphany takes place when her best friend, Dionne, accidentally gets on the freeway while shes learning to drive, and Cher realizes its her soul that needs a makeover. In the words of Charles Dickens and Cher: Tis a far, far better thing doing stuff for other people.

Wonder Boys

A drama revolving around an eccentric editor, a blind pitbull, Marilyn Monroes sweater and a washed-up writing professor whose wife just left him, and the living embodiment of a bummer. Curtis Hansons adaptation of Michael Chabons novel examines the paths we take, what to do when we get stuck there, who guides us, and whether our 2,000-page novel really needs all those details, like dental records and genealogies on everyones horses.

Pans Labyrinth

Guillermo del Toros masterpiece blends a war story with fairytale and horror. The film is set in civil war-era Spain, where Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) lives with her pregnant mother and cruel new stepfather, who is a captain in Spains notorious Guardia Civil. She meets a faun who tells her shes the lost princess of the underworld and gives her three tasks to prove she hasnt become mortal. During her journey to complete these tasks, Ofelia learns to make her own choices and break the rules in a world without freedom of choice.

The Breakfast Club

John Hughes engineered the modern coming-of-age comedy and The Breakfast Club is the genres apotheosis, a study in 80s teen angst revolving around five high-school archetypes in Saturday detention. It articulated one of our greatest childhood fears: when you grow up, your heart dies.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) is a 13-year-old labeled a real bad egg by the foster system who becomes an outlaw as he journeys through the New Zealand bush with reluctant foster parent Hector. Taika Waititis movie has it all: a dog named Tupac, Sam Neill giving a pig a piggyback ride, haikus, and a crazed Rhys Darby wearing a shrub disguise.


Christian Slater and Winona Ryder in Heathers. Photograph: Snap Stills/Rex Shutterstock

Michael Lehmanns Heathers is Cluelesss dark predecessor, a meaner film than Mean Girls, an indictment of bullying and mob mentality and a culture that champions mediocrity and the status quo. Never forget to be a Veronica in a world of Heathers.

The Graduate

Mike Nichols 1967 adaptation of Charles Webbs satire is a product of its time that still speaks to us, though in retrospect Mrs Robinson (Anne Bancroft) seems more complex and compelling than the films disillusioned hero Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman). Like Holden Caulfields reviled phonies, Benjamin is disappointed by plastics. The film is best summed up by its last scene: the look between Benjamin and Mrs Robinsons daughter (Katharine Ross) at the back of a bus, conveying the uncertainty of their future, Braddock realizing he has no idea who she is, or who he is.

The 400 Blows

The 1959 French New Wave classic features Franois Truffauts cinematic alter ego, Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Laud). Truffaut illustrates the ups and downs of childhood with two of the films most famous scenes: a frozen Antoines haunted look in the final frame and an ecstatic Antoine spinning in a carnival ride.

Rebel Without a Cause

Released a month after James Deans death, Nicholas Rays seminal film cemented his legacy as an American icon and eternal symbol of disaffected youth.


Brian De Palmas 1976 adaptation of Stephen Kings novel has all the hallmarks of a classic coming-of-age movie: an oppressive mother, loneliness, school bullies, a bucket of pigs blood, and a protagonist with the power to kill with her mind. All coming-of-age tales are horror stories at heart.


Jason Schwartzman stars as Max Fischer in Rushmore. Photograph: PR Image

Melancholic steel magnate Herman Blume (Bill Murray) befriends Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman), an enthusiastic, precocious 10th grader at Rushmore Academy. Max deals with his mothers death and being the son of a barber at a prep school for rich kids by overachieving and joining about 19 different clubs. The essence of Wes Anderson whimsy, Herman is a self-made millionaire with a tiny moustache and a case of ennui. They find common ground when they both vie for the affection of first-grade teacher Miss Cross.


Richard Linklaters magnum opus follows Mason (Ellar Coltrane) over the course of 12 years, from age six to 18. Mason is an observer, a hazy, passive character shaped by the people around him and his experiences that unfold in a series of vignettes, all the small moments that comprise a life. Mason discovers the truth in some advice hes given: were all just winging it.


Cline Sciammas moving film about the bond between girls and growing up in France. Lost at school and unhappy at home, Marieme (Karidja Tour) joins a gang, transformed by her new friendships. One of many mesmerizing highlights: Marieme and her girl gang lip-synching to Rihannas Diamond in a hotel room.


Jeff Nichols gorgeous southern-gothic film about a young boy named Ellis (Tye Sheridan), who lives on the river with his miserable parents. Ellis encounters a man called Mud (Matthew McConaughey) who inhabits a cabin cruiser stuck in a tree. Sweet on a girl named Juniper (Reese Witherspoon) since childhood, Mud killed a man who beat her now hes on the run from bounty hunters and looking for Juniper. Elliss friendship with Mud teaches him about the difference between myth and reality and the human flaws in our heroes.

Girl, Interrupted

Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie in Girl, Interrupted. Photograph: Columbia Pictures/Everett/Rex Features

In 1967, Susanna Kaysen was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and institutionalized after a suicide attempt. In 1994 she wrote a memoir about her time there, and James Mangolds adaptation premiered in 1999. Susanna (Winona Ryder) meets and befriends a nurse, a sociopath, an eternal child, an anorexic woman, a pathological liar, and a woman hiding rotisserie chickens beneath her bed. The film itself questions our perception of women, of mental illness, and who really qualifies as crazy.


Turkish-French director Deniz Gamze Ergvens film debut about five orphaned sisters living in Turkey is tragic, uplifting and beautiful. A neighbor reports the sisters to their grandmother for playing a game with boys at the beach, and theyre beaten, taken to the hospital for a virginity report and forced to wear shit-colored dresses. Their home becomes a wife factory, and then a prison, but the sisters wont give in without a fight.

Ghost World

Best friends Enid (Thora Birch) and Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson) have just graduated from high school and find themselves at a crossroads in Terry Zwigoffs adaptation of Daniel Clowes classic graphic novel. Rebecca is ready to grow up, but Enid takes a detour when she meets weird, lonely Seymour (Steve Buscemi), a record collector who is as genuine as she is ironic.


Crooklyn Zoo: Spike Lee. Photograph: Moviestore Collection/Rex

A semi-autobiographical Spike Lee joint co-written with his siblings Joie Susannah Lee and Cinqu Lee in 1994. Technically Crooklyn is set in the 1970s but it feels timeless, evoking summer break and cartoons and raucous family dinners and tragedy and road trips and RuPaul dancing in the aisles of the local liquor store.

The Virgin Suicides

Sofia Coppolas adaptation of Jeffrey Eugenides novel focuses on the disenchantment that comes with loss of innocence. The boys who knew the Lisbon sisters struggle to make sense of their mysterious suicides years later, but the Lisbon sisters remain unknowable, enigmatic creatures to them, and the memory still feels like a confounding dream.

Stand by Me

Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, and Jerry OConnell in Stand by Me. Photograph: Columbia/Everett/Rex Feature

In Rob Reiners adaptation of a Stephen King novella set in the summer of 1959, four boys bond during their quest to see a dead body. Its a study in parental rejection, bullying (perpetrated by Kiefer Sutherland as the sadistic Ace), and the bonds of youth and childhood.

Almost Famous

It doesnt matter if you were never a Rolling Stone writer in the 60s if you ever felt like you were on the outside looking in, real-life critic Lester Bangs (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman) line seared itself in your memory when you first saw Cameron Crowes semi-autobiographical film: The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when youre uncool.

Scott Pilgrim vs the World

Scott Pilgrim v the World. Photograph: Sportsphoto Ltd/Allstar/Universal Pictures

Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) must defeat the seven evil exes of love interest Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) in Edgar Wrights graphic novel adaptation. Scott battles a man who commands demon hipster chicks, a vegan, a ninja, twins, a sinister record executive, and Lucas Lee (Chris Evans), the star of Action Doctor, Thrilled to be Here, You Just Dont Exist, and Lets Hope Theres a Heaven (tagline: Kiss me Im dying). In the process Scott learns how to deal with the past, fight for himself, and earn the power of self-respect.

13 Going On 30

The guilty-pleasure essential, a romcom carried by the potent charm of Jennifer Garner and Mark Ruffalo. Jenna (Garner) is a 13-year-old yearning to be 30, flirty and fun who gets her wish, waking up with a nude man in an apartment and a body she doesnt recognize. What follows is light and goofy and joyous, with a more substantial message about maintaining emotional engagement and heart in a world that wants us to be cynical, mean and detached.


At some point, you got to decide for yourself who youre gonna be cant 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 is the story of a black gay man told in three chapters by three different actors, set in director Barry Jenkins home town of Miami. Its a luminous, human, wrenching exploration of identity.

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