With The Way, Way Back hitting UK cinemas today, it’s an apt time to look back at the greatest coming of age movies.
From awkward romances to haunting horrors, Mark Butler picks out 14 of the very best.
Richard Ayoade’s inspired directorial debut is a sublime offbeat comedy that perfectly captures the confused weirdness of adolescent life: revolving around the varied obsessions and budding sexual excursions of endearing oddball Oliver.
There are inspired daydream sequences and plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, while the brilliant cast – including Paddy Considine as a sleazy new-age neighbour – turn in flawless performances.
Cinema Paradiso (1988)
A poignant, moving piece of filmmaking that does absolute justice to its subject matter – the beauty of cinema – this Italian masterpiece focuses on the post-war friendship between a curious child and the projectionist at his local picture house.
Directed with real passion by Giuseppe Tornatore, and boasting a wonderful Ennio Morricone soundtrack to complement its tale, the movie won an Oscar – and was fittingly credited with kickstarting a revival in Italian cinema.
City of God (2002)
Evoking both the beauty and brutality of the Brazilian favelas, Fernando Meirelles’ expansive tale of life, crime and friendship in the Rio slums is an evocative feast of colour, energy and emotions.
Featuring an impressive cast made up largely of non-professional locals, and an array of unforgettable characters, the central link in the intricate web of storylines is aspiring photographer Rocket – whose journey to adulthood is chronicled with real directorial flair and invention.
Gregory’s Girl (1981)
This classic tale of awkward teen romance stars John Gordon Sinclair as the titular Gregory – who falls for the new female addition to his school football team. But is he destined to end up with her, or one of her friends?
Charming, funny and cleverly-captured, the warm ultra-natural performances and excellent writing make this a real winner.
Jesse Eisenberg’s ambitious graduate is brought crashing down to earth when his parents refuse to find his grand plans – leaving him to find work at a local theme park.
Centering on the ‘will they, won’t they’ relationship that develops with Kristen Stewart’s conflicted co-worker, this bittersweet comedy-drama nonetheless makes a virtue of its strong supporting players, including Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig and Ryan Reynolds.
True Grit (2010)
Hailee Steinfeld’s magnificent performance is the beating heart of this superb Coen Brothers western – in which a precocious youngster enlists the services of a grizzled bounty hunter to bring her father’s killer to justice.
The interplay between Steinfeld and her mismatched companions (Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon) is great; and it is her character that ultimately turns out to have ‘True Grit’ on a journey that segues between sharp humour and shocking violence.
Let The Right One In (2008)
Tomas Alfredson’s chilling yet moving take on the vampire legend sees bullied loner Oskar befriend a physically-adolescent bloodsucker, on an ice-cold Stockholm estate thick with tension and dysfunction.
What unfolds is truly astonishing: a stark portrait of childhood that is the polar opposite of Spielberg sentimentality. It’s a strange but sensational blend of haunting and uplifting – and the two child actors are simply stunning in their roles.
This Is England (2006)
Filmed in Shane Meadows’ trademark fly-on-the-wall style, the impressive realism of this highly personal look at working class England in the early ’80s makes it even more hard-hitting to watch.
A 12-year-old boy is taken under the wing of a gang of fun-loving, kindly skinheads – but the return of their troubled, racist friend provides him with the worst kind of father figure. Thomas Turgoose is brilliant in his first-ever acting role, while Stephen Graham is both vulnerable and horrifying as the hulking Combo.
The 400 Blows (1959)
François Truffaut’s seminal piece of French new wave filmmaking follows unhappy tearaway Antoine – who wants nothing better than to flee from his miserable homelife and oppressive school.
Beautifully shot, highly personal and profoundly influential, it’s both a compelling portrait of adolescent angst and a withering comment on the harsh social attitudes of the time.
The Kite Runner (2007)
Based on the acclaimed novel of the same name, this equally-lauded adaptation revolves around the friendship between two Afghan boys as they indulge their passion for flying kites – before a horrifying act of cruelty tears them apart.
Set against the historical backdrop of events such as the Soviet invasion and Taliban dictatorship, it’s ultimately the story of one adult’s guilt for a terrible folly he committed when he was too young to understand. Mighty powerful it is too.
The Squid and the Whale (2005)
Noah Baumbach’s biting divorce drama – produced by Wes Anderson – is part hilarious comedy and part scathing, bitter tragedy: exploring the consequences for two kids when their parents decide to split up.
Packing an incredible amount into its surprisingly short running time, the movie contrasts laugh-out-loud farce with genuinely complex melodrama; resulting in something truly special.
Son Of Rambow (2007)
A feelgood triumph that will strike a chord with anyone who tried to recreate a violent action movie as a child, this funny and neatly-judged film sees two boys attempt to film their own ultra low-budget version of Rambo: First Blood.
Will Poulter and Bill Milner make an inspired pairing as the young, aspiring movie-makers, there are some terrific gags, and the feature has things to say about everything from schoolyard politics to ultra-strict religious upbringings.
This accomplished animated take on Neil Gaiman’s book is a heady contrast of surreal whimsy and pitch-black horror, as the plucky 11-year-old heroine of the title contends with aloof parents, eccentric neighbours and – upon entering an alternate realm – a saintly version of her mum who is literally too good to be true.
Offbeat, gripping and genuinely refreshing in its approach to the age-old ‘be careful what you wish for’ message, Coraline makes for a fantastic protagonist, while her terrifying ’Other Mother’ is the thing of cheese-fuelled nightmares.
Stand By Me (1986)
“I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was 12. Jesus, does anyone?”
Rob Reiner’s justly-loved adaptation of a Stephen King story is a perfect ode to the ups and downs of boyhood that is simultaneously sentimental and unflinching. As a group of likeable friends embark on a trip to find a dead body, you’ll laugh, you’ll cry – and you’ll find yourself genuinely gripped by the story that unfolds.
The late River Phoenix delivers a powerhouse performance as the outwardly tough and inwardly sensitive Chris, but all the central cast more than play their parts. A great movie.