The coming of age genre is a film festival favourite, simply because, angsty teens, first love and awkward encounters are universal — no matter the culture or language. Therefore, we decided to compile a list of the top ten coming of age films throughout film history.
Rebel Without a Cause (1955)
Rebel Without a Cause is a firm classic and James Dean’s most celebrated film (next to his Oscar-nominated performance in East of Eden). The film, directed and written by Nicholas Ray, is an adaptation of psychiatrist Robert M. Lindner’s 1944 book Rebel Without a Cause: The Hypnoanalysis of a Criminal Psychopath.
Jim Stark (Dean), a rebellious kid with a troubled past, moves to a new town, making both friends and enemies. Never before had a film managed to capture the confusion of teenagers, and consequently, James Dean became a cultural icon.
Fun fact: The jeans fabric, favoured first by those employed in physical labour or the military, became iconic after James Dean wore Levi’s 501s in Rebel Without a Cause. As a result, the film is credited with taking jeans mainstream.
The Breakfast Club (1985)
The Breakfast Club is a definite for this list. It is a comedy-drama directed, written and produced by John Hughes (the hero of the 80s teen films), starring Molly Ringwald, Emilio Estevez, Judd Nelson, Ally Sheedy, and Anthony Michael Hall.
Most of the film takes place in a library where five teenagers, a brain (Hall), a beauty (Ringwald), a jock (Estevez), a rebel (Nelson), and a recluse (Sheedy), meet during Saturday detention. As the day comes to an end, they come to realize that they have more in common than presumed.
Fun fact: The title of the film is the last spoken line.
Two words: “As if!”
Clueless boasts one of the most famous makeover scenes, which is obviously an incredibly important key bit of film history. The romantic comedy, directed and written by Amy Heckerling and starring Alicia Silverstone, Stacy Dash, Brittany Murphy and Paul Rudd, details the ups and downs of Cher (Silverstone) at a Beverly Hills high school. While attempting to reinvent the new student, Tai (Murphy), Cher must reckon with affairs of the heart.
Fun fact: There are 53 kinds of plaid in the film, seven of which are worn by Cher.
10 Things I Hate About You (1999)
This is my all-time favourite teen film of the 90s. 10 Things I Hate About You is a romantic comedy and adaptation of the 16th-century Shakespeare’s play The Taming of the Shrew, starring Heath Ledger, Julia Stiles, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Larisa Oleynik.
Bianca Stratford (Oleynik), the popular little sister of Katarina Stratford (Stiles), can’t date until her sister does. Unfortunately for Bianca, Kat won’t go along with that. That is until Patrick Verona (Ledger) comes along (due to a move orchestrated by Cameron James (Gordon-Levitt), the new kid with a crush on Bianca).
Fun fact: 10 Things I Hate About You was Heath Ledger’s first American film. He beat out Josh Hartnett and Ashton Kutcher for the role of Patrick.
Ghost World (2001)
Ghost World, a black comedy directed by Terry Swigoff, star Scarlett Johansson, Thora Birch and Steve Buscemi. Daniel Clowes based the screenplay, co-written with Swigoff, on his comic book. The script received an Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay.
The plot revolves around two outcast friends, Enid (Birch) and Becky (Johansson), during the summer following their high school graduation. Enid shows a sudden interest in finding the older man Seymore (Buscemi) a girlfriend, thus taking a toll on her and Becky’s friendship.
Fun fact: Ghost World was the opening night film of the 9th Raindance Film Festival in 2001.
Juno is a comedy-drama directed by Jason Reitman, starring Ellen Page, Michael Cera, Jennifer Garner, and Jason Bateman. With four Academy Award nominations (including Best Picture), Diablo Cody won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.
16-year old Juno (Page) becomes pregnant after an event in a chair with best friend, Bleeker (Cera), but makes an unexpected decision with her unborn child. The story follows the four seasons, beginning in autumn when Juno finds out she’s pregnant.
Fun fact: Juno’s budget was $6.5 million, but shattered all expectations when it grossed $231 million worldwide.
Blue is the Warmest Color (La Vie d’Adele) (2013)
Blue is the Warmest Color, a French LGBT romantic drama starring Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux, won the prestigious Palme d’Or at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival. This was the first time actors officially received the award alongside the director.
When Adèle (Exarchopoulos) meets young blue-haired Emma (Seydoux), her life changes: she loses and finds herself through love and loss.
Fun fact: Adèle Exarchopoulos said that she was cast for the part of Adèle because of the way she ate.
Boyhood, a drama directed and written by Richard Linklater, star Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, and Ethan Hawke. The film secured six Oscar nods, with Patricia Arquette ultimately winning the Oscar for Best Actress in a Supporting Role.
The story follows Mason’s (Coltrane) life from early childhood to college.
Fun fact: The cast shot the film over 12 years, and so, Mason LITERALLY grows up on screen.
Lady Bird (2017)
The comedy-drama Lady Bird directed and written by Greta Gerwig, star Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Lucas Hedges, Timothée Chalamet, and Beanie Feldstein. The film received five Oscar nominations this year, including Best Director for Greta Gerwig — hence, a huge deal. She is the fifth woman ever to receive an Oscar nomination in the history of this category.
Lady Bird McPherson (Ronan), an artistic high school senior, grows up on the wrong side of the tracks in Sacramento, California. The story sees her through first love, auditioning for the school play, and applying to college set against the financial struggle of her family. This film captures the mother-daughter relationship on the dot — you laugh and you cry — because it reminds you of you.
Fun fact: All Oscar nominees were female: Greta Gerwig (Best Director), Saoirse Ronan (Best Actress), Laurie Metcalf (Best Supporting Actress), and co-producer Evelyn O’Neill (Best Picture).
Extra reading: Kim Hudson breaks down why Lady Bird is not a hero story.
Call Me By Your Name (2017)
Call Me By Your Name, directed by Luca Guadagnino and starring Timothée Chalamet, is a drama adapted from 2007 novel of the same name by André Aciman. A hot Sundance 2017 alumni during awards season this year, James Ivory went home with the Oscar and Bafta for Best Adapted Screenplay.
In the summer of 1983 in northern Italy, 17-year old American-Italian Elio Perlman (Chalamet) spends his days transcribing music and flirting with French girl Marzia. When 24-year old Oliver (Hammer), a PhD student, arrives to assist Elio’s father with research for six weeks, a romance blossoms between the two.
The film seeks no labels: Elio falls in love with people, not genders. The story is an original but familiar portrayal of love and a personal favourite of mine this past awards season.
Fun fact: At the New York Film Festival, Call Me By Your Name received a 10-minute standing ovation, thus making it the longest standing ovation to date at the festival.