Who doesn’t love a good coming of age film? There are a number of clearly identifiable characteristics that most, or even all, coming of age films share. Perhaps the most inherently relatable of all subgenres, coming of age films focus on young characters developing and growing across trying ordeals, or pivotal moments in their lives. Most coming of age films are dramedies at their core and the vast majority of them explore romance, or ‘first love,’ as one of their central themes or plot lines. Without further ado, let’s begin our countdown of the best coming of age films ever made.

Best coming of age movies

24. To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)

Gregory Peck reflects on Harper Lee

To Kill a Mockingbird is a timeless classic of both the printed page and the silver screen. The only reason this masterwork is so low on our list is because it doesn’t fit into the mold that most often comes to mind when you think of the “ideal coming of age film”; there’s very little humor and the common romance angle is not present, but the growth of a young character during a pivotal point in their life is here in spades.

80%
acting
95%
writing
75%
directing
20%
coming of age feels
67%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Timeless
  • Powerful Script
  • Peck and Duvall
  • Some weak child acting
  • Missing COA staples
  • N/A

Top coming of age movies

Conclusion

With how iconic and magnetic Gregory Peck is as Atticus Finch, it’s possible to forget that we view this story through the eyes of his young daughter Scout.

Great coming of age movies

23. Moonlight (2016)

Moonlight  •  Making of featurette from A24

Barry JenkinsMoonlight is an incredible piece of filmmaking. Due to the divided 3-act structure of the film, only part of Moonlight can truly be considered a part of the coming of age genre, and this is what stops it from placing higher.

The coming of age vibes are at their strongest in the middle section following Ashton Sanders, but by the time Trevante Rhodes steps in to play Chiron, the character has already ‘come of age’ so to speak, even though he certainly has more growth ahead of him.

90%
acting
80%
writing
90%
directing
35%
coming of age feels
74%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Performances
  • Directorial vision
  • Cinematography
  • Only partly a COA film
  • N/A
  • N/A

What is a coming of age movie?

Conclusion

It might not quite be a quintessential coming of age film, but Moonlight is an excellent film by any metrics.

If you loved Moonlight, you will definitely be interested in downloading a copy of the screenplay yourself and checking out our breakdown and analysis → 

Good coming of age movies

22. Rebel Without a Cause (1955)

Rebel Without a Cause Trailer

Rebel Without a Cause is a classic coming of age story and was perhaps considered THE de facto coming of age film for a time. As one of just three major film performances in the career of James Dean before his tragic early passing, Rebel Without a Cause stands as perhaps his most iconic role.

The film has remained a cultural touchstone for more than 60 years, a feat which few films can claim to match. 

70%
acting
60%
writing
50%
directing
70%
coming of age feels
62%
OVERALL SCORE
  • James Dean
  • Oldschool COA
  • Iconic moments
  • Dated
  • Some weak scenes
  • N/A

Best coming of age films

Conclusion

Rebel Without a Cause was a watershed film in the coming of age subgenre. A stellar film about youth culture when youth culture was just beginning to take hold.

Classic coming of age movies

21. Stand By Me (1986)

Rob Reiner discusses Stand By Me

Adapted from a novella titled "The Body" by Stephen King, Stand By Me is a group coming of age experience whereas most of the films on this list focus on the individual. It has a somewhat darker, more macabre tone, but is still packed with that classic coming of age heart. 

The film (and novella) is a great reminder that Stephen King's range goes well beyond thrillers. Stand by Me is just one example of many great Stephen King movies based on his work.

65%
acting
75%
writing
70%
directing
65%
coming of age feels
69%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Character bonding
  • Train scene
  • Classic feel
  • Could use levity
  • N/A
  • N/A

Must see coming of age movies

Conclusion

Stand By Me is a faithful adaptation of one of Stephen King’s most beloved stories.

Indie coming of age movies

20. Pariah (2011)

Pariah  •  Making-of featurette

Initially made as a short film before being expanded into a feature, Pariah sets up a compelling familial dynamic and grounds you in the perspective of a fully-formed lead character. Pariah earns major points for exploring the coming of age period of life from a point of view that is severely underrepresented.

70%
acting
70%
writing
75%
directing
70%
coming of age feels
71%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Perspective
  • Interesting themes
  • N/A
  • Father drama better in short
  • Could go deeper thematically
  • N/A

Good coming of age movies

Conclusion

Pariah covers familiar territory on a plot level but approaches this territory from a fresh perspective.

What is a coming of age movie?

19. The Sandlot (1993)

Behind the scenes of The Sandlot

You don’t need to have any love or even familiarity with baseball in order to love the spirit of friendship and fun that inhabits The Sandlot. Few films manage to capture the spirit of ‘summer vacation’ so wonderfully.

This film does a great job of grounding you in a child’s mindset, allowing you to see the world through young eyes. The flashback narration, in this film and many others, is also the most natural and effective way to capture the nostalgia of youth. 

60%
acting
70%
writing
70%
directing
85%
coming of age feels
71%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Sense of summer
  • Sense of friendship
  • Memorable moments
  • Some weak acting
  • Baseball heavy
  • Not all jokes land

Coming of age movies list

Conclusion

The Sandlot is packed with memorable scenes and characters and packages them in the form of an idealized summer vacation.

Indie coming of age movies

18. The Fits (2015)

The Fits  •  Director and cast Q&A

The Fits takes an unorthodox and decidedly surreal approach to the coming-of-age genre. The less literal plot elements translate wonderfully to the awkward, uncomfortable, and confusing parts of puberty as girls transition into womanhood. Young Royalty Hightower is excellent in the lead role.

75%
acting
75%
writing
75%
directing
75%
coming of age feels
75%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Symbolism
  • Themes
  • Lead character
  • No memorable supporting cast
  • Feels small in scale and budget
  • N/A

Good coming of age movies

Conclusion

The Fits is a unique film amongst the coming of age genre. Check it out if you’re looking for something different.

Top coming of age movies

17. Badlands (1973)

Must see coming of age movies  •  Badlands

Terrence Malick arrived on the filmmaking scene with his first feature, the road trip-murder spree-coming of age tale Badlands. While his second feature Days of Heaven more thoroughly established his directorial style, Badlands makes for a monumentally impressive feature-film debut.

Badlands eschews most of the coming of age genre’s conventions, instead taking a blood-soaked look at the intersection of youth and violence. It’s a different sort of coming of age film with a different sort of style and tone and it makes for a great change of pace if you’re tired of the familiar.

80%
acting
70%
writing
85%
directing
40%
coming of age feels
69%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Startling violence
  • Lead characters
  • Setting
  • Wandering
  • Some repetition
  • N/A

Best coming of age films

Conclusion

Badlands took a lot of inspiration from Bonnie and Clyde and, in turn, contributed a great deal of inspiration to True Romance later down the road.

Great coming of age movies

16. mid90s (2018)

Interview with Jonah Hill and his young cast

Jonah Hill’s directorial debut is an impressive piece of filmmaking. The noteworthy aesthetic and stylistic flourishes all add greatly to the story being told. Also, the entire cast of young actors turn in standout performances, especially young Sunny Suljic in the lead role. The at-first familiar feeling story has some fascinating kinks thrown into it at a character level.

85%
acting
80%
writing
75%
directing
75%
coming of age feels
79%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Sunny Suljic
  • Skate culture
  • Ensemble cast
  • Abrupt ending
  • Mother is underdeveloped
  • N/A

Good coming of age movies

Conclusion

mid90s is an exciting debut feature-length directorial effort from Jonah Hill and shows a great grasp of character and crafting performances with young, first-time actors.

You are probably most familiar with Jonah Hill through his on-screen comedic performances. To see where his work compares to the classics, check out our list covering the best comedies of all time → 

Coming of age films

15. Lean on Pete (2017)

Andrew Haigh and Charlie Plummer discuss the film

Lean on Pete is a darker, less optimistic coming of age film than the majority of this list. A boy and a horse going on the run from the adults sounds like a recipe for fun, youthful adventure, but Lean on Pete has a decidedly somber tone and a dour, bleak outlook on life that makes for a heartbreaking journey of loss. Plus, the supporting cast adds stellar performances from the likes of Steve Buscemi and a never-better Steve Zahn.

80%
acting
80%
writing
80%
directing
65%
coming of age feels
76%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Somber tone
  • Buscemi and Zahn supporting
  • Charlie Plummer
  • No levity
  • N/A
  • N/A

Great coming of age movies

Conclusion

The bleakness of Lean on Pete is enough to make it feel fresh and stand out from films with similar plots.

Best coming of age movies of all time

14. Edge of Seventeen (2016)

A behind-the-scenes look at Edge of Seventeen

Edge of Seventeen nails that quintessential coming of age movie feeling, that sense of a warm vibe and tone as a story takes an honest look at an uncomfortable but lovable period of life. The film nails the perfect coming of age blend of humor, romance, and personal development.

Edge of Seventeen explores the female side of the coming of age story which goes sorely underrepresented in the vast sea of similar stories.

75%
acting
70%
writing
75%
directing
90%
coming of age feels
76%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Humor
  • Awkward romance
  • Steinfeld + Harrelson
  • Low stakes
  • Overly simple character
  • N/A

Good coming of age movies

Conclusion

Edge of Seventeen fits like a warm blanket for lovers of the coming of age subgenre.

Best coming of age films

13. The Way Way Back (2013)

On-set B-Roll of The Way Way Back

The ‘awkwardness’ is cranked all the way up in The Way Way Back. The waterpark/vacation town makes for a great setting. The plot doesn’t go anywhere that countless other coming of age haven’t gone before.

But The Way Way Back covers that familiar territory with a fantastic sense of humor and the perfect amount of heart.

80%
acting
75%
writing
75%
directing
90%
coming of age feels
80%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Sam Rockwell
  • Nails the key moments
  • Hilarious
  • Predictable
  • Overly familiar plot
  • N/A

Must see coming of age movies

Conclusion

If the rest of the movie was somehow awful, The Way Way Back would still be worth watching for Sam Rockwell’s performance alone.

Classic coming of age movies

12. The Apu Trilogy

International Coming of Age Films  •  The Apu Trilogy

The Apu trilogy stands out on this list because it isn’t a singular film; it’s a full trilogy consisting of Pather Panchali, Aparajito, and The World of Apu released between 1955 and 1959. The extended runtime is used to great effect in this Satyajit Ray series to tell a comprehensive coming of age story.

The films paint a vivid portrait of a specific time but has universal appeal owing to its exploration of the universal themes surrounding childhood and growing up. The full trilogy will take you just shy of six hours to watch, but it is absolutely worth the commitment.

70%
acting
85%
writing
95%
directing
80%
coming of age feels
82%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Grand scope
  • Intimate feel
  • Satyajit Ray’s direction
  • Extremely long
  • Slow moving
  • N/A

Best coming of age movies of all time

Conclusion

Start your journey through the Apu trilogy with the first film released in 1955: Pather Panchali.

Best coming of age movies of all time

11. The Florida Project (2017)

On first time actors working on The Florida Project

The Florida Project focuses on much younger characters than the majority of its contemporaries and manages to deliver impressively naturalistic performances from the entire cast. The Florida Project pulls off the impressive trick of being both remarkably grimy and incredibly beautiful both in picture and in message.

80%
acting
80%
writing
90%
directing
75%
coming of age feels
81%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Natural performances
  • Willem Dafoe
  • Child-like perspective
  • Muddled ending
  • N/A
  • N/A

Coming of age films

Conclusion

The Florida Project is a beautiful piece of work that covers the gamut of human emotion through, likely, the youngest and most innocent perspective possible.

Must see coming of age movies

10. Lady Bird (2017)

Go on set with Greta Gerwig

Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird is a wonderful love letter to the coming of age genre. It's an incisive look into complex subject matter including the mother-daughter dynamic and a surprisingly thoughtful exploration of depression through the supporting characters. 

And on top of all the excellent thematic work, Lady Bird is hilarious and bolstered by excellent performances from all involved.

85%
acting
95%
writing
85%
directing
95%
coming of age feels
90%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Cast
  • Themes
  • Humor
  • N/A
  • N/A
  • N/A

Best coming of age movies of all time

Conclusion

Lady Bird has every coming of age staple you could think of and packages them all in a heartfelt, hilarious tale of youth.

Best coming of age movies

9. Rushmore (1998)

Making of Rushmore

One of Wes Anderson’s best and also one of his most personal. Jason Schwartzman and Bill Murray make for a dream pairing you never knew you needed. This was Schwartzman's first acting gig, which is stunning fact on its own, but when you see just how complex his character is, it's a 5-star performance. Few can go toe-to-toe with Bill Murray and survive but he did.

The story is original, heartfelt, and hilarious from beginning to end. The age difference between Max (Schwartzman) and Ms. Cross (Olivia Williams) has echoes of Harold and Maude, another great story about growing up. But, of course, Wes Anderson brings his unique blend of heart and quirk.

85%
acting
90%
writing
90%
directing
80%
coming of age feels
86%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Schwartzman + Murray
  • Hilarious
  • Wildly creative
  • The “Wes Anderson
    aesthetic” isn't perfect yet
  • N/A
  • N/A

Coming of age movies

Conclusion

Featuring what is arguably one of Bill Murray’s best performances, Rushmore is a must-watch for fans of his, fans of We Anderson, and fans of the coming of age subgenre.

Do you love Wes Anderson’s style? If so then you’re sure to enjoy our deep dive into the auteur’s directorial style. → 

Top coming of age films

8. Sing Street (2016)

A behind the scenes look at Sing Street

Sing Street tells a familiar coming of age story but tells it exceedingly well, nailing all of the key moments of this subgenre. Even on just a plot and character level, Sing Street is a good film, but when you add the music element into the mix, it transcends to the next level. 

Sing Street features a full soundtrack of original songs performed by the talented cast, and every last one of them is memorable and catchy.

80%
acting
80%
writing
85%
directing
90%
coming of age feels
84%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Soundtrack
  • Romance
  • Character and heart
  • Overly familiar plot
  • Underused parent characters
  • N/A

Best coming of age movies

Conclusion

Sing Street is destined to become a classic of the genre. It is a film that everyone can fall in love with.

Classic coming of age movies

7. The Graduate (1967)

The Graduate Ending Explained  •  Subscribe on YouTube

In some ways, The Graduate was the definitive coming of age film for an entire generation. It was an important film that kick-started the New Hollywood movement and explored the psyche of the youth of the time in a new and groundbreaking way.

Many of the hallmarks of the coming-of-age subgenre are absent from The Graduate, but the film thoughtfully explores many of the issues and troubles involved in progressing from youth into adulthood. The struggle to “come of age” is brilliantly depicted through Dustin Hoffman’s lead character.

95%
acting
80%
writing
90%
directing
80%
coming of age feels
86%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Performances
  • Themes
  • Soundtrack
  • Missing genre staples
  • N/A
  • N/A

Best coming of age movies

Conclusion

The Graduate is an all-time classic of not just coming-of-age films but of all of cinema.

Coming of age movies list

6. Submarine (2010)

Writer/director Richard Ayoade discusses the film

Richard Ayoade, though best known for his comedic acting, is an immensely talented filmmaker. He imbues this somewhat familiar tale with an incredibly strong directorial vision and countless stylistic flourishes in support of the protagonist’s point of view and outlook.

The situations throughout the plot will be familiar to fans of the coming of age films but both the presentation and the lead character are noteworthy departures from similar films and work marvelously to the film’s benefit.

85%
acting
90%
writing
100%
directing
85%
coming of age feels
90%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Directorial style
  • Intriguing character
  • Comedically stellar
  • Underwhelming love interest
  • N/A
  • N/A

Best coming of age movies of all time

Conclusion

If you missed out on Submarine the first time around, then give it a watch. You’ll be glad you did.

Best coming of age movies

5. Boyhood (2014)

12 years in the making

Richard Linklater’s Boyhood is a stunning cinematic experiment pulled off perfectly. Filmed in sections over the course of 12 years with the same cast, Boyhood is a one-of-a-kind experience that allows you to literally watch a child and his family grow and change right before your eyes.

Beyond the impressiveness of the cinematic experiment, Boyhood is a great film on a base level. The characters are all dimensional and performed to perfection. The story is full of a wide range of emotions and has a number of heartfelt moments that capture that sense of genuine experience that Richard Linklater does better than anyone else.

80%
acting
80%
writing
95%
directing
100%
coming of age feels
89%
OVERALL SCORE
  • The experiment
  • Hawke + Arquette
  • Authenticity
  • Not as relatable to everyone
  • Slower than most
  • N/A

Best coming of age movies of all time

Conclusion

If the 12-years-in-the-making gimmick doesn’t interest you, Boyhood is still worth experiencing for the honest and heartfelt story on offer.

Boyhood was far from being the only great movie to come out in 2014. See the rest of the year’s highlights in our ranking of the best movies of 2014. → 

Good coming of age movies

4. 20th Century Women (2016)

Making of 20th Century Women

The latest feature film from writer/director Mike Mills, 20th Century Women is a beautiful work of style and honesty. Every single cast member is given a deep, compelling character to really sink their teeth into; Greta Gerwig, Annette Benning, and Billy Crudup turn in especially impressive performances.

The soundtrack makes excellent use of a memorable original score alongside a heaping helping of Talking Heads music which actually factors into the plot in a satisfying way.

Everything about 20th Century Women from the writing to the music to the editing is all perfectly geared toward the characters and the story being told. 

95%
acting
100%
writing
100%
directing
90%
coming of age feels
96%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Directorial style
  • Cast of characters
  • Visual flourishes
  • N/A
  • N/A
  • N/A

Best coming of age movies

Conclusion

20th Century Women stands out in this subgenre stylistically while still delivering everything you want from this type of film.

Coming of age movies list

3. Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

Raw B-roll from the set of Moonrise Kingdom

The second Wes Anderson film to make this list, Moonrise Kingdom is a total refinement of the auteur’s style. With a picturesque setting, a storybook presentation, a cavalcade of memorable supporting characters, and a grounded, honest pair of lovable protagonists, Moonrise Kingdom stands tall as one of the best coming of age films ever made.

85%
acting
100%
writing
100%
directing
100%
coming of age feels
96%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Directorial style
  • Young love
  • Cast
  • Not as funny as Rushmore
  • N/A
  • N/A

Good coming of age movies

Conclusion

The sense of both heart and cinematic style are as high as they could possibly get in Wes Anderson’s return to the coming of age subgenre.

See where Moonrise Kingdom rank amongst the rest of Wes Anderson’s filmography in our complete ranking of his entire filmography → 

Coming of age movies

2. Eighth Grade (2018)

How Eighth Grade was made

Bo Burnham’s first time around in the writer/director’s chair of a feature-film is infinitely impressive. He emerges as a fully-formed auteur and delivers not just one of the best coming of age films ever produced, but also the single best portrayal of social anxiety ever committed to film. Elsie Fisher’s performance is revelatory. There’s a long and impressive career ahead of her for sure.

95%
acting
100%
writing
95%
directing
100%
coming of age feels
98%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Elsie Fisher
  • Josh Hamilton
  • Anxiety on screen
  • Some kid performances
    are better than others
  • N/A
  • N/A

Top coming of age movies

Conclusion

Eighth Grade is a shockingly good first film from Bo Burnham and a perfect vehicle for Elsie Fisher’s immense talent.

Best coming of age movies of all time

1. Almost Famous (2000)

20th Anniversary Reunion Roundtable

Almost Famous feels like the perfect distillation of the best parts of every coming of age film to come before it and feels like the target that all coming of age films to follow were aiming for. This film more than earns its lengthy runtime, even the extended ‘bootleg’ cut.

Cameron Crowe made a film that feels so honest and so true on both a universal and a personal level. Almost Famous is hilarious, packed with great music, and positively bursting with heart.

95%
acting
100%
writing
100%
directing
100%
coming of age feels
99%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Characters
  • Heart
  • Stillwater!
  • N/A
  • N/A
  • N/A

The best coming of age movies

Conclusion

Almost Famous is endlessly rewatchable. Even if you’ve seen it more than once before, there’s never a bad time to go back in for more.

UP NEXT

The Best Romantic Movies Ever Made

A key ingredient in the majority of coming of age films is a good romance. Let’s keep the romantic mood going strong by counting down the best romantic movies ever made.

Up Next: Best Romantic Movies →
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