Our Favorite Coming-of-Age Films

The Breakfast ClubUniversal Pictures via Everett Collection

Is there anything as relatable and resonant as the coming-of-age film? Throughout our lives, select few of us will ever save the world, fall in love with a computer, or beat back an ape rebellion in blockbuster fashion. But almost everyone knows what it feels like to grow up. The joys, pain, wonders, and hard truths coupled with growing older are universally felt. The best films in the genre can make us feel like they have a direct line to our souls, and the experience of watching our own truths play out on screen is something special. In celebration of Boyhood, Richard Linklater’s childhood epic 12 years in the making, our staff members share their favorite coming of age films, and why they mean so much to them. 

The Breakfast Club, Julia Emmanuele
I wasn’t yet a teenager the first time I watched The Breakfast Club, but I still remember thinking that for the first time in my life, it felt like someone really understood what growing up was like. Whether it was the terror of growing up or their struggles to be who they wanted to be, rather than what their parents expected, or the facades they put up to fit in or keep other people out, I saw some of myself in every one of these characters; I still do, despite all the years that have passed since. And even though it never alleviated my fears about becoming an adult, it did give me five people who felt the same, and that’s been enough.   

Thirteen, Cory Mahoney
Thirteen is probably the scariest movie of 2003. Co-written by 15-year-old Nikki Reed, the film opens with two 13-year-old girls high from huffing and hitting each other. Dealing with topics from teens cutting, partying, and sexual experimentation to parents with addictions and unconventional families (to say the least), the film was at once terrifying and relatable. The memorable lines (“No bra, no panties” or “The Itsy Bitsy Spider dropped acid in the park”), like this film, will always remain in my teen memories, whether I want them to or not.  

Stand By Me, Jordan Smith
The saddest part in Stand by Me is that after that epic summer day filled with leech attacks, random deer, evil Keifer Sutherland, and boyhood intimacy, Richard Dreyfuss’ voiceover explains how the four main characters couldn’t stay friends forever. How life pulled them in different directions. It’s a brutal lesson to punctuate the film with, but a vital one. Life changes. It always does. It has to. But when you’re young, everything feels like forever. All those little moments and tiny tragedies felt so sacrosanct. I swore I’d know my childhood friends forever. Who knew years later, I’d be fumbling for their names.

City of God, Shannon Houston
With the incredible non-linear storytelling, the stunning cinematography, and all of the gangsta stuff going down, it’s easy to forget that City of God is really a coming-of-age story. I connected on so many levels with Rocket when I was 17 years old and first saw the movie in theatres. Cleveland isn’t the City of God, but I was a budding artist hoping for a way out. Watching him defy the odds, risk his life, and use his talents as a photographer to tell an incredible story that mainstream journalism couldn’t tell was both empowering and inspiring. 

The Goonies, Cyndi Cappello
I’ll always remember the first time I watched The Goonies. Not only did I have a massive crush on Mikey, but everything about the storyline pulled me in. The older I got and more times I watched it, the more it spoke to me. I kept to myself when I was younger, and seeing the amount of trust the characters had in each other made me want to find relationships like that more than anything. Seeing the bond develop between the variously aged characters from the beginning to end of the film made me realize that you can find friendships in anyone. Thanks to The Goonies, I realized that friends can truly become part of your family. 

Breaking Away, Michael Arbeiter
Appropriately enough for the theme, Breaking Away is probably the only film recommendation that my mother ever gave to me. Her suggestion of the flick was inspired by my preteen proclivity to speak exclusively in Spanish and Italian phrases around our non-Spanish/Italian-speaking household, but more substantially by the “aimless, big dreaming loser” motif that she knew I’d be able to empathize with. In its paradoxical erratic lull, Breaking Away is one of the best illustrations of the graduation from childhood that we’ve seen on the big screen… a sweet, sad, answer-less picture that appreciates what it means to have no idea what’s next.