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Growing Pains: The Best Coming-of-Age Movies and Scripts

By David Young · April 24, 2023

Growing Pains- The Best Coming of Age Movies and Scripts

One of the most universal experiences of humanity is that time when someone “comes of age.” Ancient rituals, social milestones, and stories from every culture focus on the change from childhood to adulthood. That change sometimes comes with other coming-of-age rites and revelations — be it the loss of innocence, accepting death and grieving for the first time, or finally moving past the things that held you in a certain mental state during your youth. It’s not possible to capture a moment when someone comes of age — instead, it’s a process that takes time, and many movies work to capture that process wherever they can. These movies deliver stories that can touch or empower audiences everywhere because we’ve all been through the experience, despite our different backgrounds. If you’re looking for some of the most powerful stories with universally impactful themes, coming-of-age movies like the following are a great place to start.

Scripts from this Article


One of the most critically acclaimed films of the last decade is the movie Moonlight, whose three chapters cover different phases of one Black American’s transformation from child to man over the years. Chiron’s phases address different parts of his life that challenge his identity: as a kid, it’s his home life and social life, and his adult life is plagued as a result of those two. While the realism and presentation of key elements of the Black experience are instrumental to the film’s success, other takeaways include the trauma and struggles that come from identity crises — such as Chiron’s struggle to fully understand and embrace his sexuality in particular.

Read More: First Ten Pages: Moonlight (2016)

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Little Women

Little Women is one of the most iconic coming-of-age novels to ever grace the literary zeitgeist — and perhaps that’s the reason that there are multiple movies made from this timeless story (officially seven, to be precise). As Jo reflects on her life with her sisters, they go through personal struggles that capture the adventure that is “growing up.” Whether that’s learning what “love” looks like in adulthood, being a self-advocate, or coming to terms with mortality, the film captures those struggles in a way that impacts the sisters as a group as adulthood creeps up on them. 

Read More: How NOT to Adapt a Novel

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Lady Bird

Yet another performance from powerhouse Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird explores the ups and downs of her character’s close mother-daughter relationship during the final year of high school — a prime time for someone to come to terms with adulthood. The story ventures into all the tricky social aspects of that transition from high school to college, including friendships, parental struggles, and even romance. As it continues through the titular character’s various strains of ritualistic transition into adulthood, each development has something to do with Lady Bird as a person, dealing with people. And isn’t that what “adulting” is mostly about, anyway?

Read More: First Ten Pages: Lady Bird (2017)

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The Breakfast Club

It may be that the ’80s were more fascinated with coming-of-age movies than any other decade. From some Stephen King books that were transformed into cinematic experiences to the John Hughes slate, there were plenty of films that captured that awkward, ugly, and sometimes violent transition into adulthood. For John Hughes, though, it was often most important to break down the mindset of adolescence: romantic expectations, violent urges, and even mischaracterization of others were all huge parts of that time in our lives. In The Breakfast Club, we see that problem full-scale, with some small and some enormous situations leading to a number of young adults stuck commiserating with each other in weekend detention. 

Read More: Once Upon a Generation: The Prolific John Hughes

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Stand by Me

One keen example of a 1980s flick that functioned as a snapshot of “growing up” was the story by Stephen King titled “The Body.” His characters and narrative within that became the basis for the film Stand by Me, which takes a deep, long look at a series of moments that shove some boys out of innocence and into the real world. A forceful transition out of childhood innocence is a theme captured by many coming-of-age movies — and in Stand by Me, it’s even more poignant for what is considered the boys’ last summer as boys, reliving memories where they’ve been shown the world’s unkind and complex ways.

Read More: The Hero’s Journey Breakdown: Stand By Me

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Spider-Man (2002)

As one movie that is decidedly about becoming a new person at the end of your adolescence, Peter Parker’s journey in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man is still one of the most impressive of the 2000s. It functions as a superhero movie, but it delivers so much more when Peter himself becomes aware of the ways his new life crowds out the old. From experiencing loss to giving up on love, the story of Spider-Man answers age-old questions about responsibility. With those answers, we find that Peter is forced into a new phase and a new way of life — all thanks to those bodily changes we all go through. Well, maybe we don’t get all the web-slinging and wall-climbing.

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Carrie (1976)

If you thought superpowers were a great metaphor for growing pains, you probably also loved Carrie. This horror flick based on another Stephen King book doesn’t play with subtlety when addressing the theme of growing up. Instead, it provides proof of Carrie’s transition wholesale, with blood acting as a bookend for the beginning and end of her horrific teenage ordeal. That said, the struggles are as real as it gets for adolescents, including the following: struggling to fit in, gaining independence, and emotional abuse at home and in school. These struggles are universal, whether or not you have telekinesis.

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As mundane as a comedy can be, Diablo Cody’s Juno tells the story of the titular character’s decision to let someone else adopt her teenage pregnancy baby. As she grapples with revelations about the prospective couple and readjusts to the new dynamics in her social life, Juno starts some of her “adulting” much sooner than she expected. Thanks to the loving support of her family and friends, she navigates this new situation with an outcome that allows her to come back to certain aspects of her previous life with a new lens and real appreciation.

Read More: Just Write: Diablo Cody’s Improbably and Unstoppable Rise

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In Encanto, identity is a big part of everyone’s story — especially Mirabel’s. An identity crisis ensues for each person she encounters on her search to undo the loss of her family’s “miracle,” the source of their magical gifts. Mirabel, without a magic gift of her own, struggles to see herself as part of the family and faces up to unrealistic expectations from grand matriarch Alma as part of her transition. For anyone whose self-image is plagued with the expectations you and others have for your life, Encanto can deliver a few key lessons.

Read More: Script Breakdown: The Enchanting Tale of Encanto

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Plenty of stories capture the joys and dangers of growing up, and that’s why we love them so much! If you want to write your own coming-of-age movies that move audiences of every culture, tell stories about what it means to “grow up.” Those stories never get old — pun intended.

Scripts from this Article