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8 classic coming of age movies your teen will love

Coming-of-age movies can help make teens feel more comfortable about growing up and the confusing emotions they may feel about it. Handling teenage mood swings may suffuse a large portion of their lives – and ours, as parents. Whether they are in middle school or preparing for their high school senior year, these movies can show them prime examples of how to approach difficult situations with grace, humor, and maturity. Most of all, these films show them that they’re not alone on this journey.

Boyhood, 2014


Truly unique, this movie follows actor Ellar Coltrane’s character Mason Evans, Jr. over 12 years. Literally. We witness Mason grow up over the years from an innocent 6-year-old to an adventurous college freshman. 

Throughout his boyhood, Mason faces various challenges like adjusting to his parents’ divorce, witnessing domestic abuse and alcoholism, experimenting with recreational drugs and alcohol, and facing fears about young adult life, among others. This movie is engaging, thoughtful, and magical not just because of its innovative format but through the universal themes woven into the script.

Clueless, 1995


Clueless is a classic rom-com about rich girl Cher Horowitz who prides herself in helping the less fortunate, whether financially or popularity-wise. It also addresses teen frustrations like passing (or not passing) the driver’s license test, teen relationship troubles, sexual exploration, and social status.

Spoiler alert: After playing match-maker, Cher falls in love with her ex-step brother, which shows you can’t always control how you feel.

Spirited Away, 2001

Spirited Away

This animated film takes place in the spirit world. The famous Studio Ghibli wrote this story about Chihiro, a 10-year-old girl who suddenly finds herself in the spirit world having to work, rebuild her identity, and save others. 

Spirited Away is great for pre-teens who might have qualms about moving to a new place or a new school. It teaches teens the value of hard work, kindness, and adaptability — and the film is beautiful to boot!

The Breakfast Club, 1985

The Breakfast Club

This is another iconic film starring five misfits who have to spend detention together one Saturday. It speaks to teens of any generation with  its five quirky characters: The princess, the athlete, the brain, the criminal, and the basket case. 

Although some of these monikers sound unfriendly, the film beautifully demonstrates that no matter your background, you probably share some of the same troubles as others who seem different from you. More importantly, other people might paint you as something you’re not, but ultimately you get to decide who you are.

Moonlight, 2016

moonlight film

This film is newer, but it’s already made a huge impact on many people. Moonlight follows Chiron, a confused black, gay boy through three stages of his life (played by three different actors) and the difficulties he faces.

It sheds light on some heavier coming-of-age themes like physical and verbal bullying, drug use and sale, and toxic masculinity. However, it’s a good movie for older teens and a good conversation starter about often taboo topics.

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, 1986 

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

One of the most iconic movies of the ‘80s and today, this is at the top of the list for many people. This movie is about Ferris Bueller, a high school senior who wants to have fun before graduation. He enlists his uptight best friend to take his father’s Ferrari out for a spin and consequently ends up totaling it. Ferris even sneaks into a parade all while the high school principal is gunning for him. 

Few films capture the angst of being constrained by laws that seem arbitrary, and sometimes even downright ridiculous to a teen. It acknowledges the importance of these rules and other regulations, but it encourages teens to not be afraid of challenging authority and embarking on their own life adventure.

The 400 Blows, 1959

The 400 Blows

Cinema buffs are no stranger to this heartbreaking French film about a neglected boy who gets into trouble because of his absent parents. Too absorbed in their own lives, his parents indirectly lead Antoine into skirmishes with authority figures. He ends up in a juvenile home and runs away, with the final scene depicting him on the seashore, endless possibilities before him.

This movie demonstrates that adults are quick to label kids as troublemakers, but often there are underlying personal issues that contribute to these misdeeds. This film can be a good way to revisit your discipline methods with your teen and get their feedback on what makes a good role model.

Napoleon Dynamite, 2004

Napoleon Dynamite

Finally, we have Napoleon Dynamite, a high school student who helps his best friend, Pedro Sanchez, run for class president. They beat impossible odds and somehow win the election. This offbeat, indie film portrays the importance of friendship, determination, and positivity through dry humor and charming characters.

The teen years can be daunting because suddenly you’re faced with more responsibility and choices, and coming-of-age films show that everyone goes through something similar. If anything, these films show your teen that even if they make one mistake after another, it’s OK — they can always get back up and try again. So get the popcorn and snacks ready for these cinematic gems on the next movie night with your teen!

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For the puzzle-solving geniuses
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Funny show/movie to watch
Abbott Elementary
If you have ever been a teacher, a sub, a parent volunteer in a classroom, or you have kids, you need to watch Abbott Elementary. At the heart is a story about a predominately Black school in Philadelphia and the lengths teachers and principals have to go to get supplies and funding for their students in a low-income, minority public school system.
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Strong Black female story
Hidden Figures
We love when there's a true story to research when watching a movie. Hidden Figures is based on the book about the Black women responsible for NASA's success in the 1960s during the Cold War. This would be a great one to watch and then look up the three main women and see how accurately their stories were told. Your teens could also read the book and see how it varied from the movie for a more in-depth discussion of which portrayed the truth more accurately.
A Ballerina's Tale
If you have teens that love dance, the story of the first Black principal dancer in the American Ballet Theatre will inspire them. A Ballerina's Tale follows Misty Copeland's rise to break the 78-year record of all-white principal dancers, and the Black ballerinas that paved the way for Misty. Even if your teenager doesn't love dance, the story is a great pick-me-up and lesson on not giving in or letting others put you in a specific box.
Serious movie to watch
A Time to Kill
Another movie based on a book loosely based on factual events, A Time to Kill tells the story of a Black man on trial for murdering the white men who violently attacked and then attempted to murder his daughter. Set in a mostly white town in Mississippi in the 1980s, the story fictionalizes the real events that author John Grisham read about in the newspaper at the time.
13th is for teens who appreciate documentaries. It explores the rate of incarceration of Black people over other races, the rise of incarceration versus the decline of overall crime, legalized segregation, and many other important topics that need to be discussed in the U.S. these days. It was directed and written by Ava DuVernay, who also directed Selma.
Political show/movie to watch
If your teen is near or is of voting age, you need to introduce Selma to them. The story follows Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on his journey to Selma, Alabama, in a march to fight for the right for Black voters to cast their ballots anywhere, even in a segregated system. Though director Ava DuVernay did her research for historical accuracy, this would be another great movie to compare to the textbooks.
When They See Us
Yes, another one by Ava DuVernay (seriously, everyone needs to watch her entire filmography). When They See Us explores the story of five Black and Latino men accused, tried, and convicted for crimes they didn't commit against a white woman. It's broken up into four parts, so you could spread it out and watch one a week.

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