The Top 20 Coming-of-Age Movies of All-Time

Coming-of-age films are a genre that appeals to a diverse range of people. Teens can relate to these films as they are often sharing the same experiences as the characters and they recognize the different situations and the turmoil felt by those in the film. Adults also enjoy these films as they are relevant to their past experiences and the life stage through which they have already passed. There are many different types of coming-of-age films, from dramas to comedies and everything in between. Therefore, they appeal to the masses as each one is different. This type of film has also launched the careers of many young actors who have gone on to have extremely successful careers within the film industry. Here are 20 of the best coming-of-age films of all-time.

20. The Karate Kid

Released in 1984, this coming-of-age martial arts drama film was one of the biggest hits of the 1980s. ‘The Karate Kid’ was written by Robert Mark Kamen and directed by John G. Avildsen. It is an underdog story that was inspired by the 1976 film ‘Rocky’. Ralph Macchio stars in this movie as a young boy who is training in karate under the supervision of an elderly man called Mr. Miyagi, who is played by Pat Morita. The boy is bullied at school by a group of boys who are training at one of the top martial arts centers in the area. He learns to defend himself and enters the championships against his enemies. He is considered the underdog but goes on to win. Other who starred in this movie include Elisabeth Shue, Martin Kove, Randee Heller, and William Zabka. The movie was a commercial success, grossing $90.8 million from an $8 million budget. It also spawned three sequels and a 2010 remake.

19. The Dead Poets Society

‘The Dead Poets Society’ was released in 1989. This coming-of-age drama film was written by Tom Schulman and directed y Peter Weir. It is about an English teacher, played by Robin Williams, who works at a fictional elite conservative boarding school called the Welton Academy in 1959. He is an inspiration to his students through his teaching of poetry. This movie was nominated for multiple awards and won a BAFTA Award for Best Film and won both a David di Donatello Award and a Cesar Award for the Best Foreign Film. Furthermore, Tom Schulman was the recipient of the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay in recognition of his work. The movie was both a commercial and critical success as it received excellent reviews from critics and grossed $235.9 million from a budget of $16.4 million.

18. Fast Times at Ridgemont High

Cameron Crowe wrote the screenplay for this film as an adaptation of his book ‘Fast Times at Ridgemont High: A True Story’. He had written the book after going undercover at Clairemont School in San Diego and then writing about his experiences. This coming-of-age comedy film was released in 1982 and directed by Amy Heckerling, her directorial debut. The movie starred Sean Penn, Judge Reinhold, Nicolas Cage, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Phoebe Cates, Brian Backer, Ray Walston, Eric Stoltz, Forest Whitaker, Anthony Edwards, and Robert Romanus. This film was the first step into a successful career in the film industry for many of those who appeared. This was a low-budget film made with $4.5 million and it grossed $27.1 domestically in the United States. In 2005, the Library of Congress selected this film for preservation in the United States National Film Registry due to its significance historically, culturally, and aesthetically.

17. American Graffiti

‘American Graffiti’ is a coming-of-age comedy film that was released in 1973. It was directed by George Lucas who also co-wrote the film with Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck. Francis Ford Coppola was the producer. It starred Richard Dreyfuss, Paul Le Mat, Ron Howard, Candy Clark, Charles Martin Smith, Wolfman Jack, Mackenzie Philips, Bob Hopkins, and Cindy Williams. The film is based on Lucas’ experiences in 1960s Modesto and the story revolves around the cruising and rock and roll cultures of the post-World War II baby boom generation. It is about a single night in the lives of a group of teenagers and is told in a series of vignettes. This movie had a tiny budget of just $777,000 but grossed $140 million at the worldwide box office. Including home video sales, it is estimated that this movie had a total return of over $200 million. It was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry in 1995. The film won two Golden Globes.

16. The Sandlot

‘The Sandlot’ is a coming of age baseball film that was released in 1993. This movie was directed by David Mickey Evans who also co-wrote the film with Chris Zarpas. The storyline of this film revolves around a group of young baseball players during the summer of 1962. It was filmed in various locations in the United States, including Glendale, Ogden, Salt Lake City, and Midvale. The movie starred Tom Guiry, Karen Allen, Mike Vitar, James Earl Jones, and Denis Leary. Although this film only grossed $33 million at the worldwide box office, it received positive reviews and has since become a cult film. The relative success of the movie spawned two direct-to-video sequels; ‘The Sandlot 2’ and ‘The Sandlot Heading Home’. The first was released in 2005 and the second in 2007.

15. My Girl

This coming-of-age film is one of the greatest tear-jerkers of all-time. ‘My Girl’ is a 1991 comedy-drama film that was written by Laurice Elehwany and directed by Howard Zieff. It is about a young boy and girl, their friendship, and the highs and lows they are experiencing in their life. The saddest moment in the film is when the young girl dies from anaphylaxis after being stung by bees. The film starred Macauley Culkin, Anna Chlumsky, Dan Aykroyd, Griffin Dunne, and Jamie Lee Curtis. In 1994, the sequel ‘My Girl 2’ was released. From a budget of $17 million, this movie grossed $59.5 million. The soundtrack to this movie predominantly consisted of songs from the 1960s and 1970s and the theme song was The Temptations’ ‘My Girl’.

14. The Squid and the Whale

Written by Wes Anderson and directed by Noah Baumbach, ‘The Squid and the Whale’ is a 2005 independent arthouse comedy-drama film. The story revolves around two boys from Brooklyn who are coping with the divorce of their parents in 1986. The movie won two awards at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival and went on to receive multiple nominations for other awards. It starred Jeff Daniels, Jesse Eisenberg, Laura Linney, William Baldwin, Owen Kline, and Anna Paquin. It grossed $11.2 million from a budget of $1.5 million. The film had an interesting soundtrack with one of the most significant songs being ‘Love on a Real Train’ performed by Tangerine Dream. This was used for the scenes of Frank’s sexual awakenings.

13. Sixteen Candles

In this coming-of-age comedy film, a teenage girl is struggling to understand her whole family forgetting her 16th birthday because her older sister is getting married the following day. This 1984 film was written and directed by John Hughes. The film starred Molly Ringwald, Paul Dooley, Justin Henry, and Anthony Michael Hall. The film was a reasonable commercial success, grossing $23.7 million from a budget of $6.5 million. It was met with predominantly positive reviews from critics. Both Molly Ringwald and Anthony Michael Hall won awards for their performances in this film. They became the only young actors to win both the Best Young Actress and Best Young Actor in a Motion Picture at the Young Artists Awards for the same film.

12. The Spectacular Now

‘The Spectacular Now’ is a 2013 coming-of-age romantic comedy that is about an eighteen-year-old boy and his struggles in his relationships. He wants to party his way through life but the women in his life are looking for something more. The movie was directed by James Ponswoldt and written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber. The lead role of Sutter Keely is played by Miles Teller. Others who star in this movie include Shailene Woodley, Brie Larson, Bob Odenkirk, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Kyle Chandler. The film premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. Although it received critical acclaim, it was not such a hit at the box office. It was made on a budget of $2.5 million and grossed $6.9 million at the worldwide box office.

11. Big

This 1988 fantasy comedy film is the age-old story of a young teenager who wishes they were older. Josh Baskin makes a wish at a fairground and becomes an adult overnight. The movie was directed by Penny Marshall and co-written by Gary Ross and Anne Spielberg. Tom Hanks plays the role of Baskin and the movie also stars Elizabeth Perkins, David Moscow, John Heard, and Robert Loggia. Made on a budget of $18 million, this film was a huge success as it grossed $151.7 million at the worldwide box office. This movie was adapted into a Broadway musical in 1996 and Fox made a television film adaptation of the movie in 2014.

10. The Graduate

Many people consider ‘The Graduate’ as one of the classic coming-of-age films. This romantic comedy-drama was released in 1967. It was directed by Mike Nichols and co-written by Calder Willingham and Buck Henry. The film follows the story of Benjamin Braddock’s transition from college graduate to adulthood. The film is famous for its scenes where Braddock is seduced by Mrs. Robinson who is an older woman. He later falls in love with his lover’s daughter. The film starred Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft, and Katharine Ross. The film grossed $104.9 million and when this is adjusted for inflation, it is the equivalent to $770 million. This movie was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry in 1996. Nichols won an Academy Award for Best Director for this film.

9. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

John Hughes wrote and directed ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’. This teen comedy film was released in 1986. Ferris Bueller is played by Matthew Broderick and others who star in the film include Alan Ruck and Mia Sara. The film is about how Ferris Bueller bunks off school for a day with his friends and tells the story of what they did that day. The film breaks into a narrative of Ferris’ thoughts and feelings at several points throughout the film. It is interesting that John Hughes only took one week to write the screenplay for this movie and production was complete in two months. It also had a budget of just $5.8 million. Despite the low-budget and the speed at which the film was made, it was a huge success. It grossed $70.1 million at the worldwide box office making it one of the highest grossing films of 1986. It was also well received by both critics and moviegoers and was selected by the Library of Congress in 2014 for preservation in the National Film Registry.

8. Dazed and Confused

Written and directed by Richard Linklater, ‘Dazed and Confused is a 1993 coming-of-age comedy film that is about a group of teenagers and their last day at school in Texas in 1976. The film starred an ensemble cast including Jason London, Milla Jovovich, Ben Affleck, Parker Posey, Cole Hauser, Adam Goldberg, Matthew McConaughey, Joey Lauren Adams, Nicky Katt, and Rory Cochrane. The name of the song is the same as the Led Zeppelin song, although this doesn’t actually feature in the film. Not all the songs from the movie were included on the soundtrack album that was released. These included songs by Bob Dylan, Ted Nugent, and Aerosmith. The soundtrack album consists of 14 rock tracks from the film.

7. The Perks of Being a Wallflower

‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ was originally a coming-of-age epistolary novel by Stephen Chbosky and he based it on his own memories of his teen years. The film adaptation based on this novel was released in 2012 and was written and directed by the author of the book. The film stars Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, and Ezra Miller. The film was only a moderate success commercially, grossing just $33.4 million from a budget of $13 million. However, it was critically well received and won several awards. The film’s score was written by Michael Brook.

6. American Pie

‘American Pie’ is the first film in the ‘American Pie’ theatrical series of films and it was released in 1999. This sex comedy coming-of-age film is about a group of teenagers who are desperate to lose their virginity by the time they leave high school. It was written by Adam Herz and directed by brothers Paul and Chris Weitz in their directorial debut. The theme tune for all the films in the series is ‘Laid’ by James. The movie starred Jason Biggs Chris Klein, Thomas Ian Nicholas, Mena Suvari, Tara Reid, Seann William Scott, Alyson Hannigan, and Eugene Levy. Despite being a low-bi8dget movie made with just $11 million, this film grossed almost $235.5 million at the box office. It spawned three direct sequels; ‘American Pie 2’, ‘American Wedding’, and ‘American Reunion’. There were also four direct-to-video sequels to this film.

5. Lady Bird

‘Lady Bird’ is the most recent coming-of-age film on this list. This comedy-drama was released in 2017 and was written and directed by Greta Gerwig. It was her solo directorial debut as she had previously co-directed films, including ‘Nights and Weekends’ with Joe Swanberg. Saoirse Ronan played the lead role of Christine ‘Lady Bird’ McPherson. It is about an artistic seventeen-year-old girl who is coming-of-age in Sacramento, California, and wants to study in the city. This is something that her family cannot afford and it causes tension between her and her mother. Others starring in the movie include Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Lucas Hedges, Timothee Chalamat, and Beanie Feldstein. It took $64.9 million at the box office and won two Golden Globes.

4. Boyhood

Richard Linklater wrote and directed this coming-of-age drama film which was released in 2014. Ellar Coltrane stars as Mason Evans Jr. and the film is about his life growing up with divorced parents from the age of six up to 18. His parents are played by Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke, while Linklater’s daughter Lorelei plays his sister, Samantha. Production of this movie began in 2002 and was not completed until 2013. This was because Linklater wanted to do a film about growing up using the same actors, so it was natural. The film achieved great critical acclaim and won an Academy Award, two Golden Globes, and two BAFTAs. The film was a moderate commercial success. It grossed $44.5 million from a $4 million budget.

3. Almost Famous

‘Almost Famous’ is a comedy-drama film that was released in 2000. It is about a teenage journalist who is writing about a fictional rock band for Rolling Stone and his attempts to get his story published on the cover of the magazine. The story is semi-autobiographical as Cameron Crowe, who wrote and directed this movie, also wrote for Rolling Stone as a teenager. The film starred Billy Crudup, Kate Hudson, and Patrick Fugit. The film achieved mixed levels of success as while it was a hit with the critics, it was a box office flop. Although it was made on a budget of $60 million, it took only $47.4 million at the box office.

2. Stand by Me

This 1986 coming-of-age comedy-drama was directed by Rob Reiner and co-written by Bruce A. Evans and Andrew Scheinman. The movie is based on the Stephen King novella ‘The Body’ and is about four boys from Oregon who set out to search for a missing child. The movie stars Wil Wheaton, Corey Feldman, Jerry O’Connell, and River Phoenix. This film was nominated for multiple awards and was well received critically. It was also a commercial success as it was made on a budget of $8 million and grossed $52.3 million at the worldwide box office. The title of the movie was inspired by a song of the same name that is played in the closing credits of the film.

1. The Breakfast Club

‘The Breakfast Club’ is widely considered the best coming-of-age film of all-time. This comedy-drama film was released in 1985 and was written and directed by John Hughes. It starred Emilio Estevez, Molly Ringwald, Paul Gleason, Anthony Michael Hall, Judd Nelson, and Ally Sheedy. All of these actors were part of a group that became known as the ‘Brat Pack’. The film is about a group of teenagers with very different personalities who are forced to spend a whole Saturday together at school in a detention. Although the film was made on a low budget of just one million dollars, it grossed $51.5 million at the worldwide box office and received critical acclaim. In 2016, this film was selected for preservation by the Library of Congress in the United States National Film Registry. For its 30th anniversary in 2015, the movie was digitally remastered and screened in 430 movie theaters across the United States.


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