Coming-of-Age Films

VHS video tape of The Graduate movie

Coming-of-age films focus on an event or chain of events that take a character into the next phase of life. In classic coming-of-age films, these events take the main character into young adulthood. In the more daring coming-of-age films, they lead the main character to a self that he had originally lost through traumatic circumstances. Either way, the goals of the main characters are to overcome fear of failure, lack of confidence, fear of the unknown and anything else that is stopping them from fulfilling their true, often remarkable, potential.

Examples of Coming-of-Age Films

There are hundreds, probably thousands of coming-of-age movies in both American and world cinema. The following ten films are all wonderful movies, but they are a small selection from one of the film world's most popular genres.

Hook (1991, Amblin Entertainment)

In this Christmas movie, businessman Peter Panning is far more interested in making money than making his family happy. At the beginning of the film, he arrives late for his daughter's performance and misses his son's baseball game. Even when they go on holiday to England, he can't help continuing his business deals via cell phone. It is not until his children mysteriously disappear one night that he realizes how far he has gone from his true self. Peter Panning is in fact Peter Pan, and to save his children, he must go back to Never Never Land, rediscover his inner child, win over the Lost Boys, and defeat his old enemy, Captain Hook.

Rushmore (1998, American Empirical Pictures)

In this multi-layered comedy, 15 year old Rushmore student Max Fischer falls in love with his teacher, the beautiful Miss Cross. Desperate to grab her attention, he enlists the help of his friend, the middle-aged industrialist Hermann Blume, to build an aquarium on school grounds. He is promptly expelled. At his new public school he quickly finds out Blume has been sleeping with Miss Cross behind his back. Furious, he gets back at him, first by breaking up his marriage and then by cutting the brake cables on his car. Finally, after a long period of introspection, Max finds a girlfriend, makes up with Blume and accepts his relationship with Miss Cross. Or does he? This film has an ambiguous ending.

Billy Elliot (2000, BBC Films)

Billy Elliot loves ballet, and his teacher thinks he has the potential to go all the way to the top. Unfortunately, his father, a working class miner, disagrees. In his opinion, the only sport boys should participate in is boxing. In the end, Billy's determination wins through. Against the backdrop of the 1980s miners' strikes in England, Billy manages to show his father just how much dancing means to him and to persuade him to let him go for auditions at the National Ballet School. The film ends with the father watching his son spring on to the stage in front of a huge audience in a London theater.

Clueless (1995, Paramount Pictures)

Cher, a hugely popular figure at school, likes nothing more than going to the mall with her friends and spending her daddy's money. That is until her ex-stepbrother Josh comes to visit. Showing Cher her superficial ways, he persuades her to befriend a school nerd and help her to find popularity and happiness. It works perfectly, until that girl starts to fall in love with Josh. Cher doesn't know why, but she can't allow that to happen. The film is loosely based on Jane Austen's Emma.

The Graduate (1967, Embassy Pictures)

Benjamin's parents want Benjamin to go to grad school. Benjamin just wants to relax, and the subsequent tension between them leads him into the arms of a middle-aged woman called Mrs. Robinson. Their relationship soon turns sour. However, Ben's parents and Mr. Robinson force him to go on a date with Elaine, Mr. and Mrs. Robinson's daughter. To his surprise, he falls in love with Elaine. Mrs. Robinson is furious and tells Elaine that Ben raped her, convincing her to marry someone else. What follows is one of the most memorable end sequences in American film history.

Boyz n the Hood (1991, Columbia Pictures)

When 10 year old Tre Styles gets into a fight at school, his mother sends him to live with his father in the notorious Crenshaw district in Los Angeles to learn some life lessons. After an eye-opening childhood with his friends Chris, Doughboy and Ricky, the film fast forwards seven years to 1991. Tre and his friend Ricky are waiting nervously for their college acceptance letters - their one chance to escape a life of crime. Unfortunately, soon after their respective colleges accept them, gang members shoot Ricky dead. Tre must decide whether to join his friends in a hunt for the killers or to walk away and change his destiny.

Ghost World (2001, United Artists)

Enid and Becky are two social outcasts looking forward to graduating from high school so they can move on with their lives. Despite getting jobs and meeting boys, their lives don't really change until they make friends with a middle-aged social outcast called Seymour. Soon, Enid is encouraging Seymour to begin a relationship with a woman named Dana. It goes well until, after an argument with Becky, Enid has a drunken one night stand with Seymour. Each must deal with their feelings and their futures in their own ways.

Stand By Me (1986, Columbia Pictures)

After reading that his childhood friend Chris has been killed, Gordie LaChance recounts a tale about how he, Chris and two other friends went searching for a missing boy's dead body on the outskirts of a town called Castle Rock. Along the way, they shared secrets, adventure and plenty of fun. It wasn't until they arrived at the body that their problems started. Confronted by the local town bullies, only Gordie's quick thinking saves them from injury and perhaps death.

The Year My Voice Broke (1987, Avenue Picture Productions)

Set in Australia in the 1960s, The Year My Voice Broke features Danny, who falls in love with his best friend Freya. Unfortunately, she is in love with Trevor who is the high school rugby star. What follows is not your typical coming-of-age film. After Freya tells Danny she is pregnant, Danny starts to uncover Freya's mysterious past, including the identity of her mother - a prostitute who died while giving birth to her. Danny struggles with telling Freya the truth until a tragedy makes his decision clear.

Good Will Hunting (1997, Miramax)

Will Hunting works as a laborer in South Boston while he hides the fact that he is a mathematical genius. Forced into therapy to avoid a sentence for assaulting an officer (who actually bullied him as a child), his life starts to unravel as he is forced to confront a past of losing his parents and suffering abuse at the hand of his foster father. In the end, through the help of his therapist (played by Robin Williams), Will comes to terms with his past.

The Enduring Popularity of Coming-of-Age Movies

Coming-of-age movies continue to enjoy huge popularity with a wide audience. They give older viewers the chance to look back fondly at the lessons learned from their younger years and show teens that they are not alone in their problems. If they're made well, coming-of-age movies have the ability to unite people from all age groups and from all walks of life.

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