We've all seen movies that encapsulate the drama, the tension, the embarrassment of being a teenager and growing into an adult. Our first crush, our first kiss, our life transitions as we leave high school and enter the real world of adulthood.
All of that teenage angst builds up and makes way for a fresh new life that may involve college, marriage, careers, and more. The road getting there is far from smooth, and often allows for plenty of funny, heartwarming, and sometimes terrifying movies.
Here are the best young adulthood movies that involve teens coming of age, embracing maturity, and just plain growing up.
15. 13 Going on 30 (2004)
Directed by Gary Winick
Starring Jennifer Garner, Mark Ruffalo, Judy Greer
Comedy, Fantasy, Romance (1h 38m)
13 Going on 30 is a bright fantasy romantic comedy directed by Gary Winick and starring Jennifer Garner as Jenna Rink, a 13-year-old girl who wishes to be "thirty, flirty, and thriving."
And her dreams are made real overnight as she wakes up in her New York apartment, now 30 years old with no recollection of the past 17 years. Be careful what you wish for, kids!
13 Going on 30 is a girls-night-in classic of surprising substance. It's earnest, ironic, and relatable, tuning into those childhood yearnings for adulthood (and subsequent regrets after taking youth for granted).
14. The Florida Project (2017)
Directed by Sean Baker
Starring Brooklynn Prince, Bria Vinaite, Willem Dafoe
Drama (1h 51m)
Moonee is the youngest character on this list, but due to her life situation, she's forced to come of age prematurely.
Although the Magic Castle Inn is a sunny haven for Moonee and her kid neighbors, it's actually a depressing budget motel where parents live off food donations and prostitution.
At six years old—and magnificently played by Brooklynn Kimberly Prince—Moonee doesn't know any better. She runs around causing mischief and it isn't long before her childish dream is shattered.
Sean Baker films The Florida Project with low-angle shots that put us in the shoes of our little protagonist. A24 has a knack for making coming-of-age films, and this is one of their best!
13. Little Women (2019)
Directed by Greta Gerwig
Starring Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh
Drama, Romance (2h 15m)
We wept at the book, we wept at the film, and we wept at the remake. Is there even a more widely-loved coming-of-age story than this?
Originally written by Louisa May Alcott in 1868, Little Women follows four young sisters on the threshold of womanhood in post-Civil War America. Although the 1994 adaptation was brilliant, we're picking Greta Gerwig's award-winning 2019 remake for this list.
Little Women is intrinsic not only to adolescence, but the female experience in particular. Greta Gerwig honors the cozy literary classic while breathing new life into it.
The ensemble cast of Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Eliza Scanlen, Laura Dern, and Timothée Chalamet also weight the film with knockout performances.
12. Honey Boy (2019)
Directed by Alma Har'el
Starring Shia LaBeouf, Lucas Hedges, Noah Jupe
Drama (1h 34m)
Shia LaBeouf doesn't just star in Honey Boy—he wrote it, based on his own difficult experiences coming of age. The passion project was taken up by Amazon, though it feels more akin to an artsy A24 drama.
LaBeouf appears as an uptight, balding father/manager to a bright-eyed young actor named Otis (played by Noah Jupe). Not only is LaBeouf's performance astounding as the aggressive, troubled man on the brink of relapse, it's deepened by the fact it's based on his own father.
LaBeouf's dad was a rodeo clown back in his day, and the actor's complicated relationship with him creatively haunts Honey Boy.
11. Almost Famous (2000)
Directed by Cameron Crowe
Starring Billy Crudup, Patrick Fugit, Kate Hudson
Adventure, Comedy, Drama (2h 2m)
Step into the world of hippies, rock gods, and life on the road with Cameron Crowe's poignant coming-of-age tale.
At the heart of Almost Famous is wannabe writer William Miller who's hired by Rolling Stone magazine at just 15 years old.
Under the wing of the beautiful young groupie Penny Lane, Miller embarks on a wild journey to live out his dreams of rock journalism.
Almost Famous unites the turbulence of reality with the romantic dream of rock and roll. It's biting yet warm, wrapping viewers up in the weed-scented nostalgia of the 1970s—the euphoria, the self-destruction, and all the rest of it.
10. Lady Bird (2017)
Directed by Greta Gerwig
Starring Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts
Comedy, Drama (1h 34m)
Greta Gerwig has a knack for translating the beautiful yet messy shift into adulthood for the big screen.
What's even more impressive is the fact that Lady Bird was her directorial debut! You'd never have guessed it from the sheer vision and control Gerwig holds as she imbues Lady Bird with passion and wit.
Gerwig's smart comedy-drama follows Saoirse Ronan as Christine McPherson (or "Lady Bird" as she dubs herself) on the last legs of high school in California. Trying to carve out an identity for herself, Lady Bird is hectic, wistful, and full of longing.
The authentic feel of Lady Bird comes from its semi-autobiographical nature, with Gerwig having grown up in Sacramento herself.
9. Boyhood (2014)
Directed by Richard Linklater
Starring Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke
Drama (2h 45m)
Filmed over the span of 12 years, Boyhood literally captures the evolution of one child into an adult. Viewers witness the characters grow older in real time, with the script coming together naturally from the actors' real experiences.
Richard Linklater began filming in 2001, when Mason Evans Jr. (played by Ellar Coltrane) was a six-year-old living with his divorced mother in Texas. Boyhood follows Mason through his teens, on his first dates, and the rest of his life punctuated by abusive parenting.
Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette also star in this epic-scale project that's like no other movie you've ever seen.
8. This Is England (2006)
Directed by Shane Meadows
Starring Thomas Turgoose, Stephen Graham, Jo Hartley
Crime, Drama (1h 41m)
In This Is England, the coming-of-age genre steps into 1980s Midlands, a region of England that's unlike the England you probably know.
Shaun is an uptight 12-year-old lad who lives with his mum in a council estate. His father passed away in the Falklands War, and the kids at school are bullying him for his trousers. What he needs is some friends—though preferably not the Nazi skinheads he falls in with.
Some skinheads are in it for the ska, the style, and the boozers; others are in it for the violent racism. While most of Shaun's new gang are lovely, one threatens to take him under his white supremacist wing.
This Is England manages to feel brutally depressing yet hilariously warm at the same time. That's mostly thanks to the characters we feel at home with, the poignant soundtrack, and a narrative that mirrors its political backdrop.
7. The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)
Directed by Stephen Chbosky
Starring Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, Ezra Miller
Drama (1h 43m)
There are so many quotes in Stephen Chbosky's literary classic that sum up the coming-of-age feeling:
"In that moment, I swear we were infinite."
"This moment will just be another story someday."
"I am both happy and sad, and I'm still trying to figure out how that could be."
So how does the movie manage to capture this feeling just as well as the book does? Because Stephen Chbosky directed the film adaptation! The author elegantly adapted his 1999 novel for the big screen, imbuing it with a dreamy and nostalgic atmosphere we adore.
Logan Lerman stars as Charlie, a shy bookworm with a mysteriously traumatic past as he enters freshman year of high school.
Luckily, he befriends a group of "misfit toys" and typewrites his life away while attending Rocky Horror Picture Shows. But what will he do when they swim off to college and leave him behind?
6. Boyz N the Hood (1991)
Directed by John Singleton
Starring Cuba Gooding Jr., Laurence Fishburne, Ice Cube
Crime, Drama (1h 52m)
John Singleton uses the coming-of-age teen movie genre to explore the effects of capitalism and gang culture on black America.
The film begins in 1984, where 10-year-old Tre Styles is sent to live with his father. Fast-forward seven years and Tre (played by Cuba Gooding Jr.) is drawn into the pressures of southern California gang life.
Boys N the Hood is a powerful, unflinching crime-drama that's far and away from the frills and laughs of the other suburban America movies highlighted in this article.
Tre's coming-of-age story is a very different (and tragic) experience—one that desperately needs to be shared. Boyz N the Hood is made more astounding as it's Singleton's directorial debut.
5. City of God (2002)
Directed by Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund
Starring Alexandre Rodrigues, Leandro Firmino, Matheus Nachtergaele
Crime, Drama (2h 10m)
City of God is a hard watch, but a must watch. Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund's brutal movie—which is part crime-drama, part urgent social documentary—appears on every film buff's watch list.
City of God depicts the loss of innocence for kids living in a poverty-stricken Brazilian neighborhood during the 70s.
Rocket (played by Alexandre Rodrigues) dreams of being a photographer, but drug lord José "Zé" Pequeno (played by Leandro Firmino) exploits his talents to improve his own position in the turf war.
It was filmed in Cidade Alta (the actual "City of God") as it was in the middle of a drug war. However, many of the cast were real citizens of the favela itself, adding to its raw authenticity.
Children are made to come of age quickly in this violent city, and won't necessarily make it to the other side.
4. Stand By Me (1986)
Directed by Rob Reiner
Starring Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman
Adventure, Drama (1h 29m)
Stand By Me depicts the defining moment in four young boys' lives when they venture out to see the body of a man who's killed near their rural hometown.
Gordie Lachance, Vern Tessio, Chris Chambers, and Teddy Duchamp come to learn more about each other (and themselves) than they were expecting. It's an emotional journey as well as a physical one.
An ode to the nostalgia of youth and America on the brink of the Swinging Sixties, Stand By Me is a timeless teen movie. Directed by Rob Reiner, it's based on Stephen King's 1982 novella The Body.
3. Rebel Without a Cause (1955)
Directed by Nicholas Ray
Starring James Dean, Natalie Wood, Sal Mineo
Drama (1h 51m)
Rebel Without a Cause isn't just a coming-of-age of its characters, but of a whole generation. The 1950s marked the dawn of the teenager—before then, you were either a little kid playing skip rope or an adult darning your husband's socks.
With this new age bracket came a new audience—one that Hollywood heavily targeted and tried to tap into.
It was also a new age for America as a whole. The country, still in the wake of the Second World War, felt a strong desire for convenience and materialism. But what's left to do when everything's done for you? Maybe wave a gun around, like the kids do in this movie.
Even if you don't care about film history, Rebel Without a Cause is just a great watch. James Dean proved he's more than just a pretty face as the red-jacketed rebel, giving the performance of his all-too-brief career.
2. Moonlight (2016)
Directed by Barry Jenkins
Starring Mahershala Ali, Naomie Harris, Trevante Rhodes
Drama (1h 51m)
Barry Jenkins's Oscar-winning drama tells the story of Chiron in three stages: a child (played by Alex R. Hibbert), a teen (played by Ashton Sanders), and an adult (played by Trevante Rhodes).
Chiron begins the movie as a withdrawn child living with his crack-addicted mother. By the end, "Black" is a drug-dealer in Atlanta, briefly reunited with his first love Kevin.
It's based on Tarell Alvin McCraney's semi-autobiographical play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, which looks at issues of race and sexuality. Profoundly heartfelt and beautifully filmed, Moonlight is an intimate portrait of one man's coming-of-age in Miami, Florida.
1. The Graduate (1967)
Directed by Mike Nichols
Starring Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft, Katharine Ross
Comedy, Drama, Romance (1h 46m)
The Graduate is a landmark film in the history of cinema that helped to propel the new wave of filmmaking that came about in the 1960s. In this movie, Benjamin Braddock (played by Dustin Hoffman) just graduated college and moves back in to live with his parents in California.
It's a setup that most of us have experienced—the lack of freedom that comes with returning home, the niggling existential thoughts that we suffer as adulthood rears its head.
Lounging the pool and having an affair with an older woman isn't exactly what they had in mind for their son's glittering future, but Benjamin Braddock feels captive in his slipping youth, reluctant to join the superficial lifestyle that the adults around him live by.