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 our picks for the best teen movies that involve characters coming of age and embracing adulthood.
10. 13 Going on 30 (2004)
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).
9. Little Women (2019)
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. 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.
8. Almost Famous (2000)
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.
7. Lady Bird (2017)
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 Greta holds as she imbues Lady Bird with passion and wit.
Gerwig’s smart comedy-drama follows Saoirse Ronan as Christine McPherson (or “Ladybird” as she dubs herself) on the last legs of high school in California. Trying to carve out an identity for herself, Ladybird 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.
6. Boyhood (2014)
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. 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.
5. Boyz n the Hood (1991)
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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 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.
4. City of God (2002)
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 dreams of being a photographer, but drug lord José “Zé” Pequeno 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.
3. Stand By Me (1986)
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.
2. Moonlight (2016)
Barry Jenkins’ Oscar-winning drama tells the story of Chrion in three stages: a child, a teen, and an adult.
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)
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 has just graduated college and moves back in to live with his parents in California.
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. Benjamin Braddock feels captive in his slipping youth, reluctant to join the superficial lifestyle that the adults around him live by.