Top 25 Best Coming Of Age Movies Of The Past 25 Years

Last week, the fantastic adaptation of Me and Earl an the Dying Girl hit theaters in a limited run, and this week the lively Dope also arrives on the big screen. Both are spectacular coming of age tales from two very different sides of the spectrum, but they both have wonderful young characters, engaging relationships, and are special in their own ways.

And with these two magnificent coming of age movies hitting the big screen recently, we thought it was a good time to look back at some of the great films to come out of this subgenre. But since everyone has gushed over films like Stand by Me, The Breakfast Club and Say Anything for years, I decided to put a more modern focus on coming of age films by counting down my picks for the Top 25 Best Coming of Age Movies of the Past 25 Years. That means you won't find anything on here from before 1990. Do your favorite movies make the cut?

Check out my list of the Top 25 Best Coming of Age Films of the Past 25 Years after the jump!

Before we begin, just remember that this is all subjective. There are tons of coming-of-age movies, and I had a hard time putting together my list of films that are great and also have touched and stayed with me over the years. That's why this list will be drastically different from yours, and isn't meant to be an objective list at all. So keep that in mind as we get to the countdown...

#25. The Spectacular Now

The Spectacular Now

This film jumped on the screen back in 2013 with a much praised debut at the Sundance Film Festival that year, and director James Ponsoldt's adaptation of Tim Tharp's novel of the same name is poignant, honest and moving. Miles Teller puts in one of several breakthrough performances over the past couple years as Sutter, a life-of-the-party high schooler with a drinking problem, and his romance with Shailene Woodley (their best big screen pairing) is perfectly doomed because of it. We've seen plenty of teenage romances like this, but not with a character troubled like Sutter.

#24. Blue is the Warmest Color

Blue is the Warmest Color

A breakout hit of the Cannes Film Festival in 2013, this is one of the rare coming-of-age movies about a young girl discovering her sexuality. More specifically, it's about a teenage girl (Adèle Exarchopoulos) exploring her newfound lesbian tendencies and the fiery, erotic romance that unfolds with a fascinating, confident, hip young woman (Lea Seydoux). This is quite the steamy romance, with very graphic and extended sex scenes, but they're also beautifully shot, and act as real insight into the passion that exists between these two girls.

#23. School Ties

School Ties

Released in 1992, this story actually goes back to the 1950s. Brendan Fraser plays David, a young, middle class boy asked to play football at a prep school where most of the upper-class jocks end up being not too kind when one member of the team (Matt Damon) reveals that David is Jewish. It's wild to think that this was ever an issue just over 60 years ago, but people can be cruel. Keep an eye out for young Ben Affleck in this film written by Law & Order creator Dick Wolf.

#22. Mean Creek

Mean Creek

Macaulay Culkin may not be a prominent actor anymore, but his younger brothers turned in some fantastic work, especially in the coming-of-age department over the years. This time it's young Rory Culkin (Signs) as Sam, a bullied young man who sets out to teach a lesson to George, the kid doing the bullying (a chubby, young Josh Peck). With the help of his friends and brothers, the plan seems to be going all too well until the unthinkable happens and George dies. Haunting and stupendously acted, I believe this is the closest story we have to Stand by Me in the past 25 years.

#21. Garden State

Garden State

I know that there are many who think Garden State has aged well over the past decade, but this film holds a special place in my heart. Along with Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, this film served as my gateway into the world of independent film, and from this point on I've been hooked on indie films from the past and present. For a directorial debut by Zach Braff, this film is gorgeously shot, funny and has quite the impressive cast. As time has gone on, the film doesn't feel quite as genuine as it once did, but I still find it to be great.


#20. Submarine

The IT Crowd star Richard Ayoade proves that he has quite the talent behind the camera with his directorial debut. With flares of Woody Allen, albeit with a darker color palette, Submarine is a dryly funny story about a 15-year old kid named Oliver (Craig Roberts) who wants to lose his virginity, and also break up his mother and a resurfaced ex-boyfriend. Yasmin Paige shines as the object of his affection, a mysterious, strong young girl who deserves a movie all her own. It's subtle, quirky and worth seeking out.

#19. The Squid and the Whale

The Squid and the Whale

Before he became Mark Zuckerberg, Jesse Eisenberg made a splash with Noah Baumbach's spectacular indie about two boys coming to terms with their parents divorce in the 1980s. This dysfunctional family isn't very likeable, but that's what makes them so fascinating to watch as we see these two young boys led astray, learning what the world is like outside of the walls of their peculiar family unit.

#18. Superbad


Not only is this one of the best teenage comedies of the past 20 years, but it has a lot of heart in the two lead characters played by Michael Cera and Jonah Hill. As college approaches, in the span of one night, they learn a lot about each other that they weren't aware of before, something that all best friends go through at some point. Mixed in is also a night of wild shenanigans that make this an outrageous, hilarious movie that every high schooler should see before college.

#17. The Perks of Being a Wallflower

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

It was always going to be a challenge to bring this beloved coming-of-age book to the big screen, but author Stephen Chbosky did it all himself, and the film adaptation starring Logan Lerman, Emma Watson and Ezra Miller is all the better for it. All three main characters put in standout performances, painting a picture of high school that will be more than familiar to those who were outcasts. Really it's a movie for anyone who has ever felt alone or unsure of themselves, and that's all of us.

#16. Juno


Nothing will force a teen to grow up faster than an unexpected pregnancy. Thankfully, Juno (Ellen Page) is no ordinary teen, and her maturity and confidence in this matter makes her quite the loveable character. But she's not beyond being a little naive and immature in some respects, and that's where her development comes into play. As she's unsure about her relationship with the Tic-Tac breathed Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera), she learns about the uncertainty of love from the flawed Jason Bateman and his misguided marriage with Jennifer Garner. It's a tough choice between this and Up in the Air for Jason Reitman's best film.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

#15. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Not only is Scott Pilgrm vs. the World one of the most unique presentations of break-up and romance, but it's also quite the perfect coming-of-age story. Using video game and comic book style to tell the story of the somewhat jerky-jerk romantic endeavors of Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera), there's so much wonderful visual storytelling done here by Edgar Wright. While the movie is very energetic and in your face with the concept, there's a lot of subtle things to appreciate as well in repeat viewings as far as how it represents relationships and break-ups.

#14. Wild


This movie is still fresh on everyone's mind, so you might find it difficult to measure up against some of the more iconic films in this list. However, Wild absolutely blew me away when I saw it last fall. It was not a film that I was expecting to love so dearly, but it pulled aggressively at my heartstrings. Reese Witherspoon was a little too old to play the part, but the character nonetheless goes through some harrowing growing up as she sets out on the Pacific Crest Trail to find herself after dealing with the death of her mother, drug addiction and her own crumbling marriage.

#13. The Virgin Suicides

The Virgin Suicides

Here's yet another adaptation of a beloved book making the countdown. This time it's Sofia Coppola behind the camera delivering what could arguably be her best film, depending on how much you love Lost in Translation. The film follows five mysterious sisters as they become the obsession of a group of young boys, mystified and fascinated by their sheltered life, ruled by super religious parents. As the title implies, this leads to their eventual demise, which is obviously sad, but also beautifully presented.

#12. The Sandlot

The Sandlot

Whether you like baseball or not, this movie is just mandatory viewing as a young kid. Told in an era when kids roamed neighborhoods freely, scraped their knees and actually played outside, The Sandlot depicts the kind of childhood that your parents (at least if you're a child of the 90s) have told you about on many occasions. Seeing how this group of kids comes to accept an outsider in their intimate game of America's favorite pasttime is just a delight, and hearing about what they all did as adults really hits home when you're grown up and think about where all the kids you once knew ended up.

#11. Mean Girls

Mean Girls

It's a shame that Lindsay Lohan ended up straying from her promising career, because Mean Girls really showed that she had promise as an actress. Written by Tina Fey (again, adapted from a book) and directed by Mark Waters, this was a surprisingly funny and insightful look at being a teenager in high school in 2004 (though much of the lessons here actually works for any generation). It's amazing that any of us actually make it out of high school alive.


#10. Clueless

Without this pure 90s teen sensation from Beverly Hills, we might not have seen Mean Girls. Bringing "whatever" and "as if" into the mainstream, this depiction of lavish, teenage life in Los Angeles somehow works as a quintessential teenage comedy. Maybe it's because Cher (Alicia Silverstone) learns tonot be so material and artificial with her personality, or maybe it's because Paul Rudd has always been charming as hell, but this is one of the best movies to come out of the 90s period, and it's a perfect time capsule for the teens of that decade.

#9. American Beauty

American Beauty

Not all coming of age stories deal with maturing from a young age. Sometimes adults need to grow up too. In the case of American Beauty, everyone needs to learn a thing or two about themselves, for better or worse. Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening, Thora Birch, Wes Bentley, Chris Cooper and Mena Suvari are all living suburban life as best they can, and all of them end up being broken by it somehow. Sadly, this slice of American life doesn't have a happy ending.

#8. Good Will Hunting

Good Will Hunting

Everyone has that friend who ends up stuck in their hometown, having the tools to make something great of themselves, but complacent for the life they've carved out in their safe zone. Good Will Hunting paints that picture powerfully with the gifted Will Hunting (Matt Damon), who could be brilliant, but seems satisfied with dead end jobs along with his blue collar childhood friends. An Oscar-winning turn by Robin Williams and some self-aware advice from Ben Affleck helps push Hunting to at least embark on a life using his potential, and it's the kind of support that we've all needed from our friends once in awhile.

#7. Dazed and Confused

Dazed and Confused

It's the last day of high school in 1976. Seniors are on their way out while freshman are on their way in, complete with all the hazing that used to come with entering high school. Richard Linklater depicts a wide range of characters all trying to get drunk, stoned and laid as they make their way into upper teenage years and adulthood. But within this ensemble there's a raw and honest depiction about the kind of people we encounter in high school and while many of us grow up, some of us will never change. All right, all right, all right.

#6. The Royal Tenenbaums

The Royal Tenenbaums

Not unlike American Beauty, everyone in the Tenenbaum family has a lot of growing up to do. While some of the subject matter is dark, it's nowhere near as depressing as the aforementioned depiction of suburbia. But Royal, Etheline, Chas, Margot and Richie all have plenty of growing up to do as adults, and even characters like Raleigh St. Clair and Eli Cash could do with some of that development too. This is by far my favorite Wes Anderson movie, and I know that many will say Rushmore should be on this list, but I just don't dig it quite as much as everyone else.

Y Tu Mama Tambien

#5. Y Tu Mama Tambien

Before Alfonso Cuaron went to Hogwarts in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and lost Sandra Bullock in space with Gravity, the director hit the road with Y Tu Mama Tambien. This Mexican tale takes Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal on a trip that has them learning plenty about life, love, sex and each other. And the lessons they learn actually end up involving all of those things at once when they meet the older Luisa (Maribel Verdú) at a family wedding. This is steamy, provocative and a fine foreign film.

#4. My Girl

My Girl

For some of the same reasons I love The Sandlot, I actually love My Girl even more. As a boy who grew up in the late 80s/early 90s, there's very little for me to identify with when it comes to Vada (Anna Chlumsky), a young girl growing up in 1972. I didn't want to be a writer as a kid, both my parents were alive and together, and I never lost a childhood friend growing up. But there's something about My Girl that has stuck with me ever since I saw this movie as a kid. It's so pure and innocent, much like all of our childhoods (for the most part), and the character of Vada is so honest and genuine.

#3. Boyhood


Some may think this placement on the list is a little high considering Richard Linklater's chronicle of male adolescence just came out last year, but this is absolutely one of the best coming-of-age films ever made. You can say that the gimmick of following the same actor over 12 years is shallow, but it really adds something to the proceedings. Rather than recreating the reality of a kid each year for 12 years through set design, wardrobe and whatnot, we have a natural representation of each of these years. And watching Mason (Ellar Coltrane) and even his sister Samantha (Lorelai Linklater) grow up over these years adds a layer of sentimentality, making us care about their future.

#2. Pan's Labyrinth

Pan's Labyrinth

What's so grand about Pan's Labyrinth, besides everything, is that this coming-of-age tale is told beautifully through the magic of a spooky fantasy world from Guillermo del Toro. In many ways, I think Pan's Labyrinth has a lot in common with something like Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, where a genre style is used to tell a familiar story in a much more interesting way than we've seen before. And because this is a del Toro film, all the creatures and sets look astounding. There are plenty of great coming of age movies on this list, but this one is undoubtedly the most intricate and breathtaking.

#1. Almost Famous

Almost Famous

While the rest of this list was hard to sort out, Almost Famous was always at the top for me. It's one of my favorite movies of all-time, and in it contains one of the coolest ways to start growing up. Patrick Fugit stars in the film, inspired by Cameron Crowe's adolescence, as a 15-year old prodigy ready to graduate high school. But he's obsessed with rock music, desperate to become a journalist, inspired by Lester Bangs (Philip Seymour Hoffman in one of his best roles ever), and gets his chance to tour with the rising Stillwater (also my favorite fictional band on film). You learn a lot in your teenage years, but you learn even more on the tour bus of an incendiary rock band that you love.

Honorable Mentions: Rushmore, City of God, Moonrise Kingdom, Kids, The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys, Orange County, Cemetery Junction, Rocket Science, Liberty Heights, 13 Going on 30, The Kings of Summer, A Bronx Tale, Searching for Bobby Fischer, Life of Pi, What's Eating Gilbert Grape, Ghost World, Persepolis, Adventureland, Mud, Real Women Have Curves, Boyz N the Hood, Harriet the Spy, Now and Then, Can't Hardly Wait, Easy A, The Wackness, Pleasantville, The Way Way Back, Igby Goes Down, Let Me In, Let the Right One In, The Craft, Precious, Super 8, Little Manhattan, Young Adult, An Education, Fish Tank

There are undoubtedly films I missed, likely films I haven't seen, so feel free to shout out even more great coming of age films in the comments below. This is one of my favorite subgenres in cinema, and I'm always a sucker for even the most cliche coming of age movies.

It's also worth noting that Me and Earl and the Dying Girl and Dope are both fantastic, and if they weren't so fresh in mind, would probably make this list in a couple years or so. But as of right now, I need them to sink in after I've seen them a few more times each.

What are your favorite coming of age movies? Which of my picks do you like the most?