20 Coming-of-Age Movies Everyone Should Watch at Least Once
From navigating teenagehood to mid-life crises, these coming-of-age movies prove that it's never too late to change your life.
Little Women (2019)
The OG coming-of-age series Little Women by Louisa May Alcott is brought to life by director Greta Gerwig in the 2019 adaptation starring an ensemble cast of Hollywood’s brightest talent. The film, set during the 1860s Civil War, follows four sisters Meg (Emma Watson), Jo (Saoirse Ronan), Beth (Eliza Scanlen) and Amy (Florence Pugh) as they journey from adolescence into adulthood. Straying from the standard chronological format, Little Women is told with frequent flashbacks that alternates between the warm past and the cool-coloured present. Each sister has her own challenges to overcome, and the audience can sit back and smile as these little women navigate love, friendship, and following their dreams.
About a Boy (2002)
About a Boy proves that even adults can have their “coming-of-age” moment. Will (Hugh Grant) is a charismatic playboy who wants short-term, commitment-free relationships. Luckily for Will, he finds that single mothers check all these boxes. His strategy is discovered by a young boy named Marcus, who promises to keep his lie under wraps if Will goes on a date with his mother, Fiona (Toni Collette). Soon, Will becomes a prominent figure in both Marcus and Fiona’s life. At the same time, Marcus helps Will shed his self-centered attitude and grow into a responsible adult. The heartfelt film, complete with a hilarious rendition of “Killing Me Softly” from Hugh Grant, is the perfect pick for family movie night.
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The Last Laugh (2019)
The Last Laugh follows Al (Chevy Chase), a talent manager who moves into a retirement home, per his granddaughter’s wishes. Nearly all the acts Al managed have died, leading him to question his purpose in life. At the retirement home, Al bumps into the very first act he managed, Buddy (Richard Dreyfuss), a comedian who has been out of the spotlight for nearly 50 years. Al convinces Buddy to embark on a comeback tour across America, leaving audiences with the lesson that you’re never too old to do what you love.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)
The Perks of Being a Wallflower spotlights the challenges of being a teenager and what it means to figure out your identity. The movie, written and directed by the novel’s original author Stephan Chbosky, follows Charlie (Logan Lerman), a high school freshman who’s struggling with unresolved trauma and the death of his best friend. An introverted writer at heart, he observes others from the sidelines and never truly participates in life himself. That is, until he meets seniors Sam (Emma Watson) and Patrick (Ezra Miller) who pull Charlie out of his shell and show him what it means to truly live. The film, set in the ’90s, oozes nostalgia with flannels and mixtapes, yet the plot is relevant to any decade.
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Into the Wild (2007)
Christopher McCandless (Emille Hersch) graduates at top of his class from university, and although his family is proud, he can’t help but feel empty inside. He’s unsatisfied with the material world and leaves his comfortable life behind, giving away all his money and possessions to live among nature. He treks across America towards the wilderness of Alaska. While surviving off the land, McCandless embarks on a journey of self-discovery and fulfillment. In a story based on true events, McCandless learns that although he’s found peace in this solitude, true happiness can only exist in the company of other people.
Matt (Kevin Hart) must raise his daughter Maddy alone after his wife suddenly dies the day after giving birth. In the movie, which is based on a true story, Matt is met with skepticism instead of support, with many family members doubting his parenting skills. Being a single father is difficult, and Maddy’s grandparents feel she would have a better life with them. However, Matt refuses to lose his daughter and won’t stop until he proves that having her dad by her side is the best choice for Maddy. With a mix of funny and endearing moments, like when Matt struggles to style Maddy’s hair before school and creates his own, uneven hairdo, Fatherhood promises to be an emotional watch from beginning to end.
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Tick Tick Boom (2021)
Directed by Hamilton creator Lin Manuel Miranda, this isn’t your average coming-of-age film, but rather a coming-of-age musical. The semi-autobiographical Tick Tick Boom—based on the stage musical of the same name—chronicles the week before Jonathan Larson’s (played by Andrew Garfield, who received an Oscar nomination for this role) 30th birthday. Jonathan, feeling as though his time is running out, works to complete his rock musical Superbia. But conflicts between him and his girlfriend, Susan (Alexandria Shipp), and his friends’ AIDS diagnoses causes him to re-evaluate his life. The only thing better than this movie is the soundtrack; you’re guaranteed to have the lively “30/90” playing in your head on repeat.
Who knew this superhero classic was a coming-of-age story at heart? Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) is an intellectually gifted high schooler who’s ostracized for being the school nerd. He endures bullying from his classmates and internalizes his unrequited crush on popular girl Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst). His life changes when he is bit by a radioactive spider on a school trip and develops super strength, enhanced reflexes, and webs that shoot out of his wrists. Peter, equipped with these newfound abilities, navigates loss, battles super villains, and learns that the most heroic thing you can do is to help and protect your community.
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Photo: Rotten Tomatoes
The Fundamentals of Caring (2016)
Struggling author Ben (Paul Rudd) is in a rut, dealing with loss and avoiding his wife’s looming divorce papers. He sets out for a change and becomes a certified caregiver. He is hired to look after Trever (Craig Roberts), a teen with muscular dystrophy who uses a wheelchair. The two of them go on a road trip across America to cater to Trevor’s interest in unique roadside attractions (“…odd museums, bizarre landmarks and of course, anything giant…”). Along the way, they meet Dot (Selena Gomez), a hitchhiker who wants to start a new chapter in Denver, and Peaches (Megan Ferguson), a pregnant woman who needs a ride after her car breaks down. Together, this motley crew forms a close bond as they learn more about each other and ultimately, themselves.
How to Train your Dragon (2010)
This animated coming-of-age movie follows Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel), the son of a Viking clan leader (Gerard Butler). Hiccup fails to live up to the other Vikings’ accomplishments, and is seen as a disappointment by not only his father, but the whole village. He isn’t physically strong, he isn’t driven to fight, and he isn’t a fan of the whole “killing dragons” way of life. When a wounded dragon named Toothless crosses his path, Hiccup spares its life, befriending it instead. Soon, his outlook on life changes as he learns to embrace what makes him different.
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Photo: Rotten Tomatoes
When the last Kodachrome film lab closed in 2010, the events that followed inspired a movie of the same name. Matt’s (Jason Sudeikis) life is changed when he is told that his estranged father, Ben, (Ed Harris) is dying. Once a famous photographer, Ben’s final wish is to go to Kansas and develop his film rolls at the last remaining Kodachrome lab. Matt is reluctant at first since he never saw eye-to-eye with his dad but eventually agrees and joins Ben, and his nurse Zooey (Elizabeth Olsen) on the road trip. Along the way, Ben and Matt make amends for the past and start to see eye-to-eye. This tender story shows that unforgettable memories can come from fresh starts.
Larry Crowne (2011)
After serving as a Navy cook, Larry (played by Tom Hanks, who also wrote and directed the film) switches career paths. Now a department store employee, he finally feels fulfilled and successful. So when he is let go due to not having a post-secondary degree, he decides it’s time to go back to school. There he meets Mercedes (Julia Roberts), an emotionally burnt-out professor who’s longing for a new start. A memorable moment from the movie is when Larry gives an impromptu speech about interior decorating in front of the class. He’s not knowledgeable on the topic at all but manages to create a compelling story on the spot, and even get a few laughs out of his classmates. Mercedes watches as Larry brings new life into the class she once dreaded teaching. Although she is Larry’s teacher, Mercedes ends up learning from him.
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Moxie!, directed by SNL alum Amy Poehler, is about teenager Vivian (Hadley Robinson), who prefers to fly under the radar. When Lucy (Alycia Pascual-Pena), a new student, is harassed by popular boy Mitchell and subsequently dismissed when she reports the behaviour, Vivian decides something must be done. Taking inspiration from her mother’s (Amy Poehler) rebellious phase, Vivian anonymously starts women empowerment group, Moxie, to call out the unfair treatment the girls at school endure. Before long, the whole school is talking about Moxie and reading their zine. Complete with the perfect ’90’s punk soundtrack, this movie is a great watch for young girls to realize how powerful their voices can be, especially when they band together.
The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)
Based on a true story, Christopher Gardner (Will Smith) put all of his savings into selling bone density scanners, a device similar to an x-ray. Unfortunately, they prove harder than expected to sell, causing Christopher and his family to struggle financially. Soon after, he loses his apartment and his wife leaves him and their young son, Chris Jr (Jaden Smith). Sleeping on the streets, Christopher works as an unpaid intern for stock brokerage firm Dean Witter Reynolds in hopes of landing a paid position, all while trying to sell the remaining bone density machines. This film serves as a harsh reminder of how cruel the world can be but also shows how powerful love is and that hard work eventually pays off. As Christopher says to his son: “If you want something, go get it.”
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The Peanut Butter Falcon (2019)
Zak (Zack Gottsagen), a 22-year-old man with Down Syndrome, escapes his care facility to pursue his dream of becoming a professional wrestler. His inspiration, The Salt Water Redneck, has a wrestling school and Zak is determined to attend. Along his journey, he bumps into outlaw crab catcher Tyler (Shia LeBeuf), and hitches a ride on the back of his motorboat. Turns out, Tyler and Zak aren’t too different since both have lost their family and want to start a new life. The two of them form a friendship, and Tyler makes it his mission to get Zak to the school in North Carolina. Meanwhile Eleanor (Dakota Johnson), a worker at the care home, is tasked to bring Zak back. The Peanut Butter Falcon is a heartwarming story that shows how characters from all walks of life can learn from each other.
In Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut, Booksmart is a comedy following two best friends Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein) navigating the last moments of their senior year. They’ve always played by the rules, choosing to study over partying. When they find out that their slacker classmates also got into prestigious universities, Amy and Molly feel as if they wasted their high school years. To compensate, the friends plan an epic party hop on the eve of their graduation, ready to live it up for the first time.
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All Together Now (2020)
To the outside world, high school student Amber (Auli’i Cravalho) has the best life. She’s involved in countless school projects, volunteers at senior homes, and always has a smile on her face. But when the sun goes down, Amber and her mother, Becky, (Justina Machado) sleep in an unoccupied school bus in Portland. Just when Amber is offered the opportunity of a lifetime, an audition for Carnegie Mellon University’s musical theatre program, she’s met with more tragedy. With some help from her friends, Amber must dodge the curveballs life throws at her to make this distant dream a reality.
Like Father (2018)
Like Father is a comedy starring Kristen Bell as Rachel, who prioritizes her work over anything else. When left at the altar because she was reading emails during her vows, Rachel attends her honeymoon cruise with her estranged father, Harry (Casey Graham), who similarly put his career before his family. Hilarity ensues of course, with the two of them winning newlywed quizzes and karaoke competitions. Yet between the comedic scenes are heartfelt moments between the father-daughter duo, as both realize their careers can’t hold a candle to living in the moment.
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Life as We Know It (2010)
After a disastrous first date set up by their mutual friends, Holly (Katherine Heigl) and Eric (Josh Duhamel) vowed to never see each other again. When their close friends die in a tragic accident, their surviving infant daughter Sophie is left in the care of these enemies. Holly and Eric, forced to put aside their differences for the sake of Sophie, learn to tolerate, and maybe even care for each other. This movie is a rollercoaster of emotions, and you’ll enjoy every second of the ride.
Good Will Hunting (1997)
Good Will Hunting, written by Matt Damon during his Harvard University days, tells the story of Will (Matt Damon), a mathematical prodigy who works as a janitor for MIT. When a professor (Stellan Skarsgård) catches him solving complex math equations after hours, Will is convinced to seek help for the emotional turmoil he’s battling so he can realize his true potential. Although things start off rocky, therapist Sean (Robin Williams) manages to connect with Will by matching his brash and blunt attitude. Both characters heal in different ways: Sean realizes he never truly got over his wife’s death, while Will reflects on his defense mechanisms and tendency to self-sabotage. This cinema classic proves you are bigger than your demons and once you take control over your life, there’s nowhere to go but up.
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