What is a coming of age film? This often heartfelt and nostalgic genre is much beloved, but pinning down exactly what defines a coming of age movie can be a bit of a challenge. In this post, we’ll be doing exactly that. We’ll start out by defining the coming of age genre, then we’ll examine some of the staples of the genre, and finally, we’ll close things out by looking at examples of both traditional and alternative coming of age films.
What is a Coming of Age Movie
Let’s define “coming of age film”
The coming of age genre is one of many film genres. You can learn about them all in our ultimate guide to movie genres.
COMING OF AGE FILM DEFINITION
What is a coming of age film?
A coming of age film is a movie centered around the themes of youth, growth, and maturation with a strong focus on a central character arc. Coming of age films follow a singular protagonist as they “come of age”, meaning they progress into the next stage of their life.
Coming of age film protagonists are typically young and facing the first major dilemma, ordeal, or awakening of their life. The genre often centers around major shifts or milestones in a character’s life as they grow up. The coming of age genre is often combined with other elements or genres.
The coming of age genre can also be found in literature such as Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird or Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women.
Coming of Age Characteristics:
- Focused on the arc of the protagonist
- Young characters
- Major life changes and milestones
What Does Coming of Age Movies Mean
Staples of the coming of age genre
Coming of age films always include dramatic elements and often inject elements such as comedy or music, and may even blend in other genres such as action or horror, though this is less common. Most coming of age films include a degree of comedy and/or romance— often the protagonist’s first romantic experience— though there are exceptions such as Lean on Pete, which contains no humor nor romance, yet is a coming of age film regardless.
Transitional periods in life are a common focal point for coming of age films. The awkwardness and uncertainty of youth are frequent areas of exploration for the genre as well. The common themes and pacing of coming of age films lend themselves well to slice-of-life narratives and to highly personal stories, which is why many coming of age films take on an autobiographical or semi-autobiographical nature and use the writer/director’s own life and experiences as the basis for the protagonist’s journey.
Whether a film contains all of the hallmarks of the genre or just a couple of them, there is one aim that all coming of age films strive to capture...
Coming of Age in Movies
The experience of growing up
The act of growing up and all of the trials and tribulations associated with it provide the stomping ground for all coming of age films. High school is likely the most focused-on period of life that coming of age films like to explore. Movies like Booksmart, Superbad, Juno, Rebel Without a Cause, Lady Bird and Edge of Seventeen all use high-school-age protagonists to tell distinct coming of age stories.
But, high school isn’t the only period in a protagonist’s life that coming of age films like to explore. Growing up can happen at different ages and in different stages throughout a lifetime. Characters can be younger, such as in The Fits, the Apu Trilogy, or Eighth Grade.
Or, the protagonist can be older, and the film can explore slightly different themes involving maturation, such as the transitional period between high school and college in Everybody Wants Some, the search for meaning and purpose post-college in The Graduate, or the awkward shift into adulthood in Frances Ha.
In the case of Boyhood, all transitional stages of the protagonist’s life are explored from the time when he was six years old all the way into the start of his freshman year of college. In a way, Boyhood might be the most “complete” coming of age story ever told, and the use of the real passage of time and the ageing of the cast all enable the story to be told with unfettered authenticity.
We’ve already looked at quite a few examples of coming of age films, but let’s close things out by looking at a few more examples and dividing them up into two distinct categories: traditional and alternative.
Define Coming of Age Movie
Traditional Coming of age examples
Traditional coming of age films are a sort of “you know it when you see it” breed of movie. They have a particular feel, mood, pacing, and general aesthetic. Young characters navigating major life changes, often with comedy and romance blended together with the drama. This includes films like Almost Famous, The Way Way Back, Submarine, 20th Century Women, and Sing Street amongst many others. Coming of age films frequently make use of great needle drops, and nowhere is that more evident than in the one-two punch of the musically centered Almost Famous and Sing Street.
For more coming of age examples, be sure to check out our rundown of the best coming of age films ever made. Next, let’s examine a few alternative coming of age films.
What is a Coming of Age Movie
Alternative Coming of age examples
Outside of the more traditional look and feel, we find a number of alternative coming of age films. These are movies that hit the core hallmarks of the genre while subverting others or combining elements of other genres like action or horror. Badlands injects neo-western and action elements into an alternative coming of age romance, while Let the Right One In, Raw, and Ginger Snaps all use the horror genre to tell coming of age journeys.
Some alternative coming of age films use the horror elements as clever allegories for matters inherent to the coming of age genre and the awkward process of growing up and maturing. Raw uses cannibalism to explore budding sexuality, while Ginger Snaps presents an intrinsic linkage between turning into a werewolf and the start of menstruation.
The Best Coming of Age Movies Ever
Now that you have a thorough understanding of what exactly a coming of age film is, it’s the perfect time to explore the best films that the genre has to offer. Learn more about some of the films mentioned in this post and discover a whole bevy of additional coming of age movies, up next.