“Although I sometimes enjoy writing from an adult’s perspective, I feel dedicated to the coming of age story – that part of a young person’s life where he must make a decision that will change his life forever. I still remember what it’s like to be twelve years old.”—Kimberly Willis Holt.
“The teen movie is a celebration of teen-ness: the tribes, the slang, the annoying parents. The coming-of-ager is a more soulful phenomenon: yes, it looks at teen life, but something deeper about the human spirit is revealed, and just because it might happen on a prom dance floor doesn’t in any way diminish the epiphanical uplift.”—Hadley Freeman.
The “coming of age” is generally defined as the period of transition from childhood to adulthood. While the teen film is often a fun romp that culminates in a big party, the coming of age film tenderly explores this time, usually featuring an adolescent character’s journey of personal growth, illustrated either through a specific experience or a range of them. The genre stretches back and is here to stay due to its timeless subject matter. Here are 42 heart-wrenching facts about coming of age films.
42. End of an Era
Between 1984 and 1987, John Hughes either wrote or directed some of the most popular and well-loved coming-of-age films of all time. Some even say he “engineered the modern coming-of-age comedy.” Hughes was the man behind Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Weird Science, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Pretty in Pink, and Some Kind of Wonderful. These films were especially important because high-school films were Hollywood’s “most despised genre” at the time—a situation which is arguably the same now, with some exceptions, like Ladybird.
41. Boy’s Club
Hollywood as a whole gets some flack for the lack of representation women get in certain roles. Coming-of-age films are one area that some critics focus on since the genre heavily features a male protagonist’s struggle. Additionally, due to the theme of transitioning to adulthood, the female characters are heavily featured as objects the men are trying to get. Hughes’ ‘80s coming-of-age cycle of films generally turned this trope on its head by focusing on the perspectives of the female characters in films like Sixteen Candles and Pretty in Pink.
40. Bedtime Story
Guillermo Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth is actually considered a coming-of-age film by some publications. The film is a dark historical fantasy but has some common elements with coming-of-age films. The world’s fantastical setting is only a world that the young protagonist, Ofelia, retreats to in order to cope with her mom’s ill health and her foreboding stepfather.
39. The Big Day
Some coming-of-age films will inevitably deal with characters losing their virginity. When McLovin lost his V card, the actor was only 17 years old. Therefore, his mother had to be on set. Christopher Mintz-Passe says his mom being on set made watching the film less awkward, but he still admits he and his mom “don’t speak about that moment.”
Aside from the lack of coming-of-age films about women, the genre also draws some criticism for being heavily heterosexual in terms of its protagonists. Things are looking up for gay men with films like Moonlight and Love, Simon. However, films focused on young lesbian protagonists are still pretty rare. The Miseducation of Cameron Post looks to be the first (relatively) mainstream American movie focusing on a teen protagonist since Blue is the Warmest Colour.
37. The Trinity
Director Howard Deutch’s trinity of Pretty in Pink, Dirty Dancing, and Say Anything were monumental for focusing on a woman’s perspective. This was a break from previous coming-of-age films—and many since—focus on boys. Pretty in Pink in particular is about the female protagonist, Andie, coming to terms with her own self-worth.
36. Had the Time of My Life
Dirty Dancing might just be the film you were forced to watch with your parents when you were a kid, or it might be a film about feminism and abortion rights. Screenwriter Eleanor Bergstein said both issues were viewed as outdated when she wrote the screenplay, but she felt like the Roe v. Wade ruling was “precarious.” Bergstein also viewed anti-abortion activists as being “anti-sex and anti-pleasure for young women.” Hence, sexuality becomes part of the character’s emotional development and self-knowledge.
35. The King
Upon its release in 1995, Now and Then was critically panned, partly due to its similarities to Stand By Me. Both films focused on a group of friends investigating someone’s death, and both stories have an epilogue that explains how the group drifted apart. Although you might not remember the name, it featured an all-star cast of kids and adults, and some critics credit Now and Then for paving the way for female coming-of-age films like Lady Bird.
34. Blast from the Past
The Perks of Being a Wallflower has some connection to John Hughes, even though it came out after his death. Hughes was a fan of the novel and attempted to adapt it. Hughes’ adaptation didn’t happen but author Stephen Chbosky wrote the screenplay and took directing into his own hands.
33. Out of Touch
John Hughes’s coming-of-age films were known for their portrayal of adult/authority figures. His mentality is summed up with The Breakfast Club line, “When you grow up, your heart dies.” The principal in The Breakfast Club is on a power trip, the parents in Sixteen Candles don’t remember their daughter’s birthday, and Ferris Bueller’s parents are pretty oblivious to all the things their son gets up to.
John Hughes’ coming-of-age films were known for taking place in, or around Chicago. Hughes was a Northbrook native and a fictionalized version of the suburb was used for The Breakfast Club and Weird Science. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off also hits close to home, explicitly taking place in suburban Chicago.
31. The Moon
If the more emotional stuff isn’t for you, Ginger Snaps allows you to enjoy a werewolf movie and a coming-of-age film at the same time. The werewolf transformation is used as a metaphor for menstruation—e.g. dealing with violent mood swings and increased sexual desire.
The modern coming-of-age film has its roots in the 1950s, with films like Rebel Without a Cause and books like The Catcher in the Rye. Prior to these works, there was rarely a focus on youth as protagonists; The Wizard of Oz was a rare exception.
29. Nice Try
Some publications credit Boyhood with bringing real emotional gravity back to coming-of-age films. Boyhood is praised for its scope but also its realism and relatability. Boyhood also broke away from the tropes of focusing on love or having the story take place over one summer. Some films marketed as “coming-of-age” simply “took the tear-jerker [format] and simply grafted it onto teenagers.” Cited examples of the latter include The Fault in Our Stars.
Coming-of-age films are generally divided into four phases. The genre began in the 1950s with serious, dramatic films. This was followed by “beach-party” films of the ‘60s. Another wave of serious films followed in the ‘80s, then the ‘90s gave birth to more comedy and ended with American Pie.
The current cycle is one that includes a wave of more serious films, such as Moonlight and The Edge of Seventeen. Film professor Julian Cornell attributes this shift to a more stable society. He views the wave of dystopian teen films e.g. The Hunger Games, as a reflection of post 9/11 anxieties. As those concerns (arguably) dissipate, Cornell believes the serious films provide an opportunity to focus on issues people care about most e.g. identity, love.
A lot of coming-of-age films focus on some event that gives the character an awakening. It can be something that teaches them a harsh truth about the world or helps them be a better person. Or it can just be a “sexual and social awakening.” For example, the recent The Diary of a Teenage Girl (based on a book first published in 2002) tells the story of a fifteen-year-old who engages in an affair with her mother’s boyfriend.
Almost Famous tells the story of a Rolling Stone journalist assigned to travel with a band as they go on tour. The film is partially based off writer-director Cameron Crowe’s own experience as a teenaged rock journalist, working with artists such as Bob Dylan and Led Zeppelin.
25. On A Street, Far, Far Away
Before Star Wars, American Graffiti was George Lucas’s biggest success. Its structure, which follows a day in the life of its protagonists, influenced films such as Dazed and Confused and Can’t Hardly Wait. American Graffiti was also one of the first films to have a successful soundtrack composed entirely of pop music.
Like any successful film, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off stirred up some sequel talk. However, Matthew Broderick said the film didn’t need a sequel and didn’t need updating.
23. Warm Apple Pie
The script for American Pie was written and sold by Adam Herz within six weeks. Not bad for a first-timer. His submission probably stood out since the working title was, “Unfinished Teenage Sex Comedy Which Can Be Made for Under $10 Million That Studio Readers Will Likely Hate But I Think You Will Love.”
Love, Simon co-star Keiynan Lonsdale actually came out shortly after filming ended.
21. Break the Ice
Romance is often at the center of a coming-of-age film, so a director might start to worry if he feels like his co-stars won’t get along. For The Spectacular Now, James Ponsoldt began to worry when he saw Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley interact at a lunch he arranged. While Teller was talkative and lively, Woodley usually only spoke when spoken to. However, the two apparently spent two hours talking to one another once lunch was over, and then became good friends.
20. Alright, Alright Alright
Dazed and Confused is a classic in the genre, but also introduced Matthew McConaughey to the world. It wasn’t his first film but was definitely the one that helped thrust him into the spotlight. McConaughey credits the film with cementing his career as an actor since before that, he thought it might just end up being a hobby.
Moonlight shows three different phases of its main character’s life. Director Barry Jenkins didn’t allow the three actors for Chiron to meet on set, and it was the same for the three actors who played Kevin.
Jenkins didn’t want the actors’ perception of another actor to affect their own performance.
Stifler, one of the most popular coming-of-age characters (for ‘90s kids) only earned the actor playing him $8,000. However, Seann William Scott was paid $5 million for the sequel.
17. Name Change
Love, Simon is based on a novel titled, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda. I guess studio heads thought that title didn’t roll off the tongue as easily.
Blue is the Warmest Colour focuses on a lesbian relationship but has drawn criticism or its “male gaze.” The male gaze refers to sexualized representations of women that objectify them, and empower men. Of course, the term is up for debate when it comes to Blue is the Warmest Colour. Although the long and detailed intimate scenes feature only two women, the fact that the film was directed by a man made it a target of some criticism.
Mean Girls might just be a quotable movie, but the film also made a move to Broadway in 2017. The play is also written by Tina Fey.
14. Fact vs Fiction
Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg began writing Superbad when they were in high school. Fogell—better known as McLovin—is actually the name of their other best friend. The fake ID incident actually happened, according to Rogen, and all the names of students were taken from real life as well. Rogen won’t give too many details but says “a lot” of the stuff that happened in the movie happened in real life.
13. Time of Your Life
A line in Juno actually led to the title of a Green Day Song.
Billy Joe Armstrong was originally going to call a song he had just written “March of the Dogs,” but after watching Juno, he changed it to “East Jesus Nowhere” after hearing the line: “You didn’t have to drive out to East Jesus nowhere.”
12. In Memoriam
Although Hughes’s films were not nominated for any Oscars, the Academy still gave him a seven-minute tribute after his death.
11. Palm Print
The coming-of-age plot usually centers around five types of events:
-Sexual awakening e.g. Porky’s, Superbad.
-Forming meaningful relationships e.g. Perks of Being a Wallflower, The Breakfast Club.
-Drifting along aimlessly e.g. The Graduate, Adventureland.
-Maturing after a trip or adventure e.g. Stand by Me, Y Tu Mama Tambien.
-Experiencing trials of real life e.g. Boyz in the Hood, The Outsiders.
While the coming-of-age film didn’t invent the use of themes of identity, awakening etc., some critics note that these themes have now been “cannibalized” by other media. Examples include many superhero and fantasy stories such as Harry Potter. However, one could argue the themes are just universal, which is part of what makes coming-of-age films so enduring.
Pretty in Pink takes its name from a Psychedelic Furs song that was featured in the film. The song became a hit after being featured and is one of many songs that was popularized by its use in a film. John Hughes films, in particular, were known for their use of pop music, such as the iconic scene featuring Simple Minds’ “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” in The Breakfast Club.
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off was inducted into the National Film Registry in 2014. The registry preserves films deemed culturally significant.
7. Close to Home
The Miseducation of Cameron Post touches on the issue of conversion therapy, where therapists attempt to “cure” people of being gay. In real life, 57,000 teens are expected to enter conversion therapy in the next five years.
6. On The Seventh Day
The script for Ferris Bueller’s Day Off was written in six days. Hughes had a tendency to use his first drafts for filming, which made him stand out in Hollywood.
5. Two Weeks Notice
Director Richard Linklater cast his daughter, Samantha, in Boyhood. Due to the intermittent 12-year shoot, Samantha lost interest and asked for her character to be killed off. Linklater refused and was eventually able to convince his daughter to continue.
Boyhood made headlines for taking the “coming-of-age” thing very seriously. Director Richard Linklater wanted to use the same actor for the protagonist’s early childhood years, his early teen years, and his late teen years. Ellar Coltrane was selected when he was six and stuck with the project for 12 years. Linklater would meet up with the cast every year for some shooting, capturing different parts of his characters’ lives.
Since the shoot took so long, actor Ellar Coltrane actually began to lose track of his real memories and his film memories—for example, a baseball game he remembers going to with his dad was actually one he filmed with Ethan Hawke.
3. Lost Boys and Girls
After John Hughes passed away, Molly Ringwald compared him to Peter Pan, saying that she and the other actors in his coming-of-age films were like the children of Neverland. Ringwald turned down roles in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Some Kind of Wonderful, which allegedly made Hughes feel betrayed. It was his friendship with Ringwald that led him to focus on a woman’s perspective for Pretty in Pink. Ringwald felt like if she left Neverland, Hughes wouldn’t let her come back.
2. For Love
Whether you’ve seen Say Anything or not, you definitely know about the boombox scene. John Cusack, decked out in clothes that were cool in the ‘80s, serenades his would-be-love with a boombox blasting “In Your Eyes” held over his head.
The scene nearly didn’t happen since singer Peter Gabriel originally refused to give the filmmakers rights to his song. He mixed up director Cameron Crowe with the director of Wired, a film featuring an overdose. Gabriel was reluctant to have his song used in an overdose film, but he agreed once the confusion got cleared up.
Second, Cusack didn’t like the idea of the scene. He viewed the gesture as “pathetic” and apparently disowns the scene today. When a MTV interviewer brought a cardboard boombox along, Cusack’s reaction was, “No, no, no, no, no, no. I don’t have anything to do with this, right?”
Additionally, the scene is not actually filmed outside a character’s house. The scene was shot on the last day of shooting, when Crowe noticed an empty park and convinced Cusack to finally film it.
1. The Darkest Timeline
Hughes originally intended The Breakfast Club to have a mammoth two-and-a-half hour run time. Unfortunately for Hughes-heads everywhere, most of the scenes were cut and the negatives totally destroyed, and John Hughes once said that he had the only uncut copy of the film. Even more unfortunately for Breakfast Club fans, some of the deleted scenes give further (and darker) insight into the beloved characters: in one, Carl the Janitor predicts that in the future, Bender will have committed suicide, Claire will have had multiple boob jobs and facelifts, Brian will die of a heart attack from his stressful job, Allison will be a great but unknown poet, and Andrew will marry an airline stewardess. In a reunion interview, Ally Sheedy confirmed that a director’s cut exists, but that Hughes’ widow would not disclose its whereabouts.
There was also supposed to be a sequel to The Breakfast Club. While Judd Nelson nailed the role of Bender, it came with a price. John Hughes and the actor had a feud, which ruined the plans to film a sequel. Hughes found Nelson so difficult to be around that Hughes said he would never work with him again.
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