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The Influence of Coming-of-age Movies

Time is fleeting as each year passes by. We face milestones like birthdays, graduations, first jobs, first loves, and first heartbreaks. While each person has their own timeline, we’re all navigating how these moments affect our past, present, and future.

Since there’s no guidebook on how to go through life, many of us turn to art that helps us understand how we feel and how to deal. Books, music, TV shows, and films are our mentors and let us know we’re not alone.

One piece of art that has stuck with me since my transformative years of teenagehood is the coming-of-age movie.

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What exactly is a coming-of-age movie?

The phrase “coming of age” is the transitional period when a person loses their innocence from childhood and enters adulthood. In a coming-of-age movie, the plot follows a protagonist who evolves into adulthood. This character will experience a significant conflict or make a decision that will determine their future.

Coming-of-age films focus on 1 or many monumental moments like experiencing romance, dealing with hardships, questioning identity, forming meaningful connections, or going to college.

The science behind coming-of-age movies

The coming-of-age film catches a protagonist in the fifth stage of psychosocial development. German-American psychologist Erik Erikson founded this theory, which splits a person’s development personally and socially into 8 stages starting from birth and ending at death.

In the fifth stage, categorized as “Identity vs. Role Confusion,” adolescents between the ages of 12 and 18 gain independence and learn about their sense of self. During this stage, young people can feel confused about where they belong in the world. They often take on different roles, exhibit new behaviors, or try new activities to find answers about themselves.

Through interactions with others their age, adolescents may grapple with establishing an image that is constant or finding what makes them unique or special. This stage can affect a person’s mental and physical health.

In the coming-of-age movie, filmmakers are honing in on the theme of identity vs. role confusion and the ever wanting need of finding your place.

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Coming of age movies and their impact  

Since the early 20th century, coming-of-age films have had a big place in Hollywood. From James Dean and Natalie Wood in Rebel Without a Cause, John Hughes and his Brat Pack in The Breakfast Club, and modern adaptations like Moonlight and Eighth Grade, these movies have audiences validating or reliving their formative years.

Coming-of-age films can make us feel like we’re not alone in our search for our purpose. At Hollywood.com, we asked friends, colleagues, and movie fans to tell us which coming-of-age films have been the most influential.

Best coming-of-age movies: Booksmart

What happens when 2 best friends cram 4 years of high school fun into 1 night? In Olivia Wilde’s Booksmart, academic overachievers Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein) go on a wild adventure on their last night of high school to get rid of their straight-laced image.

The film removes the stereotype of male coming-of-age content like Superbad and has 2 young women at the center. It’s filled with scenes like awkward hookups, bad drug trips, crazy parties, and a comical police chase. Abigail enjoys how the movie presents an “honest, updated female perspective on the classic high school party trope.”

Unlike some other female coming-of-age movies, Booksmart’s main goal doesn’t center around romance. The overall focus is on Amy and Molly’s friendship and how they work together to find out more about who they are. “They’re changing their stories in a way that’s not to get the interest of a romantic partner but their overall peers and ultimately themselves,” Anna says. “It tests and ultimately strengthens their friendship.”

The story also modernizes themes of past coming-of-age films by including pop culture references and diversifying the mainstream narrative with LGBTQ representation. Booksmart is a movie that has introduced new ways of defining “coming-of-age.”

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Best coming-of-age movies: The Goonies & Stand By Me

The Goonies and Stand By Me both encapsulate the essence of ‘80s coming-of-age films. The Goonies follows a group of misfits who discover an ancient map and go on a quest to find the lost treasure. This movie has everything, from supernatural moments, fast-paced action scenes, horror-like special effects, and heartfelt dialogue. There’s nothing better than seeing a group of friends battle evil together. Hollywood.com’s Heather calls The Goonies her “perfect mix of adventure, drama, and comedy.”

Stand By Me offers a similar plot with darker themes. A group of friends travel through their Oregon hometown to find the body of a stranger who has gone missing. The movie addresses youthful concepts like insecurity, sadness, and joy. “The themes of growing up and general life changes between people really hit me hard back then and still does,” Zach says.

When watching The Goonies and Stand By Me, audiences can think back to events that defined the rest of their lives. Whether they were happy or sad, they impacted us. These 2 classics bring a sense of comfort and rewarding nostalgia that we all pine for.

Best coming-of-age movies: The Perks of Being a Wallflower 

The Perks of Being a Wallflower accurately captures the feelings of teen loneliness. Adapted from Stephen Chbosky’s novel of the same name, the movie follows socially awkward high school freshman Charlie (Logan Lerman). He becomes friends with 2 free-willed seniors and stepsiblings, Sam (Emma Watson) and Patrick (Ezra Miller), who teach him about his own worth.

With brilliant performances by Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, and Ezra Miller, this group of ragtag best friends exudes friendliness and true love. It almost feels like you’re a part of their friend group when you watch the movie. While it’s set in the ‘90s, the plots’ themes apply to teenagers in every generation. It tackles the complexities of mental health, sexuality, and sexual abuse while showing the power of social connection. Madison loves that the film illustrates “how difficult and traumatizing losing your innocence can be and highlights the special moments of being a teenager.”

We can’t forget the amazing soundtrack filled with songs by David Bowie, Sonic Youth, and Dexys Midnight Runners. The film and its soundtrack catches audiences at a formative period of their lives. The Perks of Being a Wallflower teaches us that we are all capable of loving and being loved even through our darkest moments. Cue the film’s final line, “And in that moment, I swear we were infinite.”

Best coming-of-age movies: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off 

John Hughes brings our dreams of skipping school to life with Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Our protagonist, popular high school senior Ferris (Matthew Broderick), calls in sick and embarks on a journey through Chicago. When young people reach a certain age, this question of authority goes hand in hand with questioning identity. For some, it results in the form of rebellion, like Ferris skipping school.

The most relatable character of the movie is Ferris Bueller’s best friend, C