The 25 Best Coming-of-Age Films

The 25 Best Coming-of-Age Films

Almost everyone can relate to coming-of-age stories, which examine the transition we’ve all undergone from child to adult. While countless books have told these tales, movies — whether humorous or serious or a mix of both — that depict the transition are particularly memorable. (These are the best movies you’ll remember if you grew up in the ‘60s.)

To identify the 25 best coming-of-age films, 24/7 Tempo constructed an index using average ratings on IMDb, an online movie database owned by Amazon, and a combination of audience scores and Tomatometer scores on Rotten Tomatoes, an online movie and TV review aggregator. We considered all the coming-of-age movies in our database, using various IMDb lists focused on the category. Movies were ranked using the combined index score. (Information on cast and directors also comes from IMDb.)

Many of the films on this list were culturally and historically significant, and are still celebrated by cinephiles to this day — among them “The Breakfast Club” (1985), “Stand By Me” (1986), and “Almost Famous” (2000). 

“The Breakfast Club,” about the unlikely friendships that evolve among an eclectic group of high-schoolers during a Saturday morning detention session, is one of several films on this list selected for the U.S. National FIlm Registry by the Library of Congress. 

In “Stand By Me,” based on a Stephen King novella, four youngsters embark on a quest to find the body of a missing boy, meeting numerous challenges along the way. While it was nominated for an Academy Award and two Golden Globes, among other honors, it didn’t take home any major awards — but today it is considered one of the key youth films of its era and has even inspired an annual Stand By Me Day in Brownsville, Oregon, featured in the film.

“Almost Famous” tells the story of a teenager touring with a rock band as he pursues a music journalism career with Rolling Stone. Among many other awards, it won an Oscar and two Golden Globes — plus a Grammy for Best Compilation Soundtrack Album for a Motion Picture. 

Other coming-of-age movies on this list include thrillers, screwball comedies, adventure stories, Disney films, and more. (These are the best comedy movies available to stream right now.)

Source: Courtesy of Buena Vista Pictures Distribution

25. Dead Poets Society (1989)
> Starring: Robin Williams, Robert Sean Leonard, Ethan Hawke, Josh Charles
> Director: Peter Weir

In this teen drama, Williams plays a dedicated English teacher at an upper-class boarding school in Vermont who uses poetry to inspire his students to express themselves. The film won an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.

Source: Courtesy of Universal Pictures

24. The Breakfast Club (1985)
> Starring: Emilio Estevez, Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald, Ally Sheedy
> Director: John Hughes

This classic film centers around an eclectic group of five high school students in detention who end up getting along better than they anticipated. In 2016, it was selected to be part of the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress due to its cultural significance.

Source: Courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

23. A Patch of Blue (1964)
> Starring: Sidney Poitier, Shelley Winters, Elizabeth Hartman, Wallace Ford
> Director: Guy Green

This drama centers around an interracial, interabled friendship between a well-educated black man and a blind, illiterate 18-year-old white woman. The man tries to help her escape a toxic living environment as they also navigate the harsh effects that racism has on their friendship. Shelley Winters won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role as the woman’s racist mother.

Source: Courtesy of Universal Pictures

22. Scent of a Woman (1992)
> Starring: Al Pacino, Chris O’Donnell, James Rebhorn, Gabrielle Anwar
> Director: Martin Brest

An English remake of a 1974 Italian film, this drama portrays the surprising relationship between a blind, irritable, retired army lieutenant and his student assistant. Though nominated numerous times for other roles, Pacino won his only Academy Award, for Best Actor, for his portrayal of the lieutenant.

Source: Courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

21. Captains Courageous (1937)
> Starring: Spencer Tracy, Freddie Bartholomew, Lionel Barrymore, Melvyn Douglas
> Director: Victor Fleming

Based on an 1897 Rudyard Kipling novel, this is the story of a spoiled young man who falls overboard from his steamship and is rescued by a New England fishing boat, where he’s forced to work alongside the crew. Tracy won an Academy Award for Best Actor, and the film scored three other Oscar nominations.

Source: Courtesy of United Artists

20. The Night of the Hunter (1955)
> Starring: Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters, Lillian Gish, James Gleason
> Director: Charles Laughton

In this thriller focuses, a self-styled preacher turned serial killer attempts to scam an innocent widow into falling in love so he can steal her late husband’s fortune — a treasure whose whereabouts is known only to the woman’s two children. Based on a novel of the same name, in turn inspired by a true story, this is the only film ever directed by famed actor Charles Laughton. Considered by many to be one of the greatest films of all time, it was selected for preservation by the U.S. Film Registry.

Source: Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

19. Stand by Me (1986)
> Starring: Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, Jerry O’Connell
> Director: Rob Reiner

This is the story of four youngsters as they venture into the Oregon wilderness in hopes of finding the body of a missing boy while overcoming numerous challenges along the way. The film won critical acclaim, and was nominated for several Academy Awards and Golden Globe Awards.

Source: Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

18. The Last Picture Show (1971)
> Starring: Timothy Bottoms, Jeff Bridges, Cybill Shepherd, Ben Johnson
> Director: Peter Bogdanovich

Based on the semi-autobiographical Larry McMurtry novel of the same name, this film portrays a group of high school students as they grow up in a poor, dilapidated Texas town. The film was nominated for eight Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director, and it was selected for preservation by the Library of Congress due to its cultural significance.

Source: Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

17. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945)
> Starring: Dorothy McGuire, Joan Blondell, James Dunn, Lloyd Nolan
> Director: Elia Kazan

An impoverished but loving Irish-American family living in Brooklyn that encourages their bright daughter to follow her dreams. Dunn, who played her father in the film, won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role and Peggy Ann Garner, who played the girl, scored an honorary Academy Juvenile Award (a category later discontinued) The film was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

Source: Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

16. Pennies from Heaven (1936)
> Starring: Bing Crosby, Madge Evans, Edith Fellows, Louis Armstrong
> Director: Norman Z. McLeod

Based on a novel titled “The Peacock Feather,” this musical comedy is about a wrongly convicted singer who befriends a fellow inmate in prison and promises to help his family upon his release. Released during the Great Depression, its upbeat message made it a popular diversion.

Source: Courtesy of Buena Vista Distribution Company

15. The Moon-Spinners (1964)
> Starring: Hayley Mills, Eli Wallach, Pola Negri, Peter McEnery
> Director: James Neilson

This Disney mystery concerns a teenage girl and her aunt on a trip to the island of Crete. On the island, the girl searches for stolen jewels and encounters some romance and adventure along the way.

Source: Courtesy of Buena Vista Distribution Company

14. Summer Magic (1963)
> Starring: Hayley Mills, Dorothy McGuire, Burl Ives, Deborah Walley
> Director: James Neilson

A Disney musical romantic comedy, “Summer Magic” tells the story of a single mother and her children as they move from Boston to a small town in Maine in the early 1900s. This was one of a string of half a dozen Disney films starring Mills — who received a Golden Globe nomination for her role.

Source: Courtesy of Universal Pictures

13. Definitely, Maybe (2008)
> Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Rachel Weisz, Abigail Breslin, An Nguyen
> Director: Adam Brooks

In this romantic comedy, Reynolds plays a father as he figures out how to tell his 10-year-old daughter about his impending divorce from her mother. The filmwas well-received due to its unique storytelling style and its avoidance of the usual rom-com formula.

Source: Courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

12. Where the Day Takes You (1992)
> Starring: Dermot Mulroney, Robert Knepper, Laura San Giacomo, Sean Astin
> Director: Marc Rocco

This crime thriller follows a group of teen runaways as they attempt to survive L.A. surrounded by drugs, violence, and prostituion. The film screened at the Seattle International Film Festival, where it won the Golden Space Needle Award. Despite a lack of success in the box office, it was well-received overall by critics.

Source: Kevin Winter / Getty Images

11. White Oleander (2003)
> Starring: Michelle Pfeiffer, Renée Zellweger, Robin Wright, Alison Lohman
> Director: Peter Kosminsky

Based on the novel of the same name, this drama tells the story of a teenager’s journey through foster homes after her mother (played by Pfeiffer) is sentenced to prison for murdering her boyfriend. Pfeiffer received acclaim for her portrayal, with the New York Times calling it “irresistible and diabolical.”

Source: Courtesy of Buena Vista Pictures

10. Holes (2003)
> Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Sigourney Weaver, Jon Voight, Tim Blake Nelson
> Director: Andrew Davis

This comedy-drama tells the story of a wrongly convicted young boy who gets sent to a brutal desert detention center where inmates must dig holes for no good reason. Along the way, they form meaningful friendships. The film marked Shia LaBeouf’s cinematic debut.

Source: Courtesy of RKO Radio Pictures

9. The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer (1947)
> Starring: Cary Grant, Myrna Loy, Shirley Temple, Rudy Vallee
> Director: Irving Reis

Temple stars as a 17-year-old high school student who falls for an older man, a playboy artist. Well-received by critics and audiences alike, the film won an Academy Award for Best Screenplay for Sidney Sheldon — who later turned to writing romantic thrillers, becoming one of the best-selling fiction writers of all time.

Source: Courtesy of Buena Vista Distribution Company

8. The Journey of Natty Gann (1985)
> Starring: Meredith Salenger, John Cusack, Ray Wise, Lainie Kazan
> Director: Jeremy Kagan

This Disney adventure flick is about a tomboy in the 1930s who runs away from her guardian in hopes of joining her single father thousands of miles away. There are several twists along the way, including an innocent romantic encounter with a young traveler.

Source: Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

7. Little Manhattan (2005)
> Starring: Josh Hutcherson, Charlotte Ray Rosenberg, Bradley Whitford, Cynthia Nixon
> Director: Mark Levin

A love story about a couple of Manhattanites — a 10-year-old boy and an 11-year-old girl who meet when they’re paired in a self-defence class. The boy’s parents are on the verge of divorce, while the girl’s family is stable and well off. Despite their different circumstances, the youths grow to understand what love may look like.

Source: Courtesy of Miramax

6. Heavenly Creatures (1994)
> Starring: Melanie Lynskey, Kate Winslet, Sarah Peirse, Diana Kent
> Director: Peter Jackson

This biographical psychological crime story is based on the Parker-Hulme murder case that shook New Zealand in the 1950s, as a teenager — played by a young Winslet — murders her mother with the help of a close friend. The film won overwhelmingly positive reactions from critics, especially for its performances and directing.

Source: Courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

5. National Velvet (1944)
> Starring: Mickey Rooney, Elizabeth Taylor, Donald Crisp, Anne Revere
> Director: Clarence Brown

Based on Enid Bagnold’s novel of the same name, this is the story of a horse-crazy 12-year-old named Velvet Brown — played by Taylor, in her breakout performance — who wins a gelding in a raffle and decides to train him for an important race, the Grand National steeplechase. She rides the horse herself and wins, but is disqualified for falling off at the finish line. When it’s discovered that she’s a young girl, Velvet becomes a national sensation and even invited to Hollywood — but she chooses to remain at home, out of the public eye.

Source: Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

4. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)
> Starring: Matthew Broderick, Alan Ruck, Mia Sara, Jeffrey Jones
> Director: John Hughes

This classic teen comedy stars Broderick as a too-cool-for-school teenager who decides to ditch classes for a day. Antics predictably ensue. Broderick was praised by critics for his humorous performance. In 2014, the film was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.

Source: Courtesy of IFC Films

3. Boyhood (2014)
> Starring: Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Elijah Smith
> Director: Richard Linklater

This film follows one Mason Evans Jr. (Coltrane) from the ages of six to 18. Uniquely, it was actually shot over the course of a dozen years, from 2001 to 2013 — depicting the coming of age of the actor as well as his character. It received widespread acclaim, and was nominated for five Golden Globes, winning two, and for six Oscars — with Patricia Arquette winning for Best Supporting Actress.

Source: Courtesy of DreamWorks Distribution

2. Almost Famous (2000)
> Starring: Billy Crudup, Patrick Fugit, Kate Hudson, Frances McDormand
> Director: Cameron Crowe

This rock-n-roll comedy-drama film is about a high-schooler who dreams of becoming a music journalist for Rolling Stone in the 1970s. The story is semi-autobiographical, as writer Cameron Crowe spent his own teenage years writing for the famous magazine. In the film, the teenager joins a rock band for the ride of a lifetime, involving drugs, parties, and groupies like Penny Lane (Hudson). In addition to several other awards and nominations, the film won both an Oscar and a Golden Globe for Best Original Screenplay.

Source: Courtesy of Savoy Pictures

1. A Bronx Tale
> Starring: Robert De Niro, Chazz Palminteri, Lillo Brancato, Francis Capra
> Director: Robert De Niro

Adapted from actor Chazz Palminteri’s autobiographical 1989 play of the same name, this crime drama tells the story of an 11-year-old Italian-American boy living in New York City who becomes fascinated with the local mob boss despite warnings from his blue-collar father — played by Robert DeNiro, who also made his directorial debut with the film. It was named by the American Film Institute as on of the “Top 10 Gangster Films.”

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