Those precious moments between girlhood and adulthood are often pivotal in shaping who women become as adults. Often, the feelings and experiences that occur during that time are too difficult to express. However, films sometimes are able to conceptualize that feeling perfectly. In celebration of women’s history month, here are 20 timeless coming of age movies about women and girls.
It’s no wonder that Saoirse Ronan was nominated for an Academy Award for her beautiful portrayal of Eilis who during the 1950’s immigrates alone from Ireland to NYC for a chance of a better life. Brooklyn is a gorgeously shot film about embarking on new adventures, self-discovery and first love. It’s also a film that reflects on what home really means.
2. Eve’s Bayou
Jurnee Smollett stars in Eve’s Bayou as the precocious Eve, the middle child of the Batiste family who is often overlooked in favor of her older sister and younger brother. In Kasi Lemmons‘ debut film, Eve reflects on the summer she “killed her father.” Samuel L. Jackson and Meagan Good also star in this film.
Dee Rees‘ sensational indie drama debut Pariah, follows Brooklyn teenager Alike, who is struggling to come to terms with her sexual identity. To be young, Black and lesbian is no easy feat, especially when you are tasked with hiding who you really are from your family. Pariah is a film about the importance of self-acceptance, and the freedom in perseverance.
4. My Girl
After all of these years, Anna Chlumsky as 11-year old Vada in My Girl is still one of the best coming of age stories around. Set in 1972, the film follows Vada who has an morbid fascination with death and her BFF Thomas (Macaulay Culkin) during one pivotal summer that shapes her childhood. Just make sure you have some tissues ready, because as sunny and lighthearted as this film is, it will hit your right in the chest.
One of Spike Lee’s most overlooked films, Crooklyn is based on the experiences of Lee’s sister Joie Lee. The film follows 9-year old Troy (Zelda Harris) growing up with her brothers in 1970’s Brooklyn. The dramedy takes a look at how Troy’s childhood is suddenly upended when her mother becomes ill. For the soundtrack and Troy’s antics with her bothers, the film is definitely worth the watch.
This stylized and fun indie comedy put screenwriter Diablo Cody in the spotlight. The film follows Ellen Page as Juno as she comes to grips with what to do when she becomes pregnant unexpectedly. The film is poignant because it shows that just because things happening unexpectedly, that doesn’t mean that your life, dreams and expectations should come to a screeching halt, Most importantly, it’s a comedy that shows the only thing that matters is what you think about yourself.
Based on the life of actress Nikki Reed during her formative years, Thirteen is a look at how easily we can be led astray because of our willingness to fit in. The film follows Tracy (Evan Rachel Wood), a straight A-student who befriends Reed’s Evie. Their friendship opens Tracy’s eyes to sex, drugs and self-destruction. It’s a film about the choices and decisions that come to young women in the 21st century, and how difficult it can be to turn away from temptation.
8. Girl, Interrupted
Based on Susanna Kaysen‘s 1993 memoir Girl, Interrupted and starring Angelina Jolie and Winona Ryder, the film reflects on the 18 months that Kaysen spent in a mental institution during the 1960’s. In the institution, she tries to grapple with the seductive nature of her treatment verses the “real world”. It’s a film about mental illness, health and healing.
9. Real Women Have Curves
America Ferrera made her film debut in Real Women Have Curves which was a hit at Sundance. In the film, Ferrera plays a first generation Mexican teen who desires above all things to attend college so that she can become a writer. Her mother on other hand, wants her to work in the sewing factory with her sister. It’s a film about dreams, goals and the will to press forward despite naysayers.
10. The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants
Based on the YA novel of the same title, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants follows a tight knit group of friends who all part ways during summer vacation. However, they remain tied together by a magic pair of jeans that fits all four of them. It’s a really heartwarming and fun movie about friendship and finding your way.
11. Mystic Pizza
In the film that helped launch the careers of Julia Roberts, Lili Taylor and Vincent D’Onofrio, Mystic Pizza is the coming of age story of two sisters and their friend, whose decisions during the summer after their final year of high school shape their lives.
12. An Education
In one of Carey Mulligan‘s best roles, she stars as Jenny Mellor a girl living in 1960’s London whose sole reason for breathing is getting into the prestigious Oxford University. Everything is going according to plan until Jenny begins a romantic relationship with a man twice her age. An Education is a film about how first loves can suck you in, but also open your eyes and make you stronger than you ever thought possible.
13. Blue Is the Warmest Color
Despite the controversy surrounding French director Abdellatif Kechiche’s Blue is the Warmest Color, the film is an emotional and stunning piece on sexuality and coming of age as well as the carnage that comes with first love. It’s also just unreal how fantastic Adéle Exarchopoulos is in the film.
14. Welcome to the Dollhouse
Honestly for us, junior high school was a complete and utter sh*t show, which is why writer/director Todd Solondz‘s Welcome to the Dollhouse is so amazing. The film follows nerdy middle-school student Dawn Weiner, who can’t seem to get a break at school or as the middle child at home.
15. The Virgin Suicides
Sofia Coppola‘s debut film is a memorizing adaptation of Jeffrey Eugenides’ novel The Virgin Suicides, and though his story is told from a male perspective, Coppola manages to make the female perspective just as important. It’s a film about the Lisbon sisters and the men who idolized them, but most importantly, it’s a story about longing, terror and the ever-present male gaze.
16. Ghost World
A true cult classic based on the acclaimed Daniel Clowes‘ graphic novel, Enid and Rebecca are two snarky and world-weary teens about to graduate high school, who navigate relationships and figure out what they really want with deadpan skepticism. If you’re a fan of Daria, you must see this film.
Girlhood is a 2014 coming-of-age French film that follows a young girl in Paris who joins an all-girl gang. The vibrant energy of the gang helps her open up and learn how to stand up for herself, despite the bad decisions she makes along the way.
18. Bend It Like Beckham
A favorite for those who love sports and female empowerment, Bend It Like Beckham is about an Indian girl whose parents won’t let her play organized soccer, but makes it onto a semi-pro team anyway. It’s a film about friendship, love, and doing what makes you happy.
19. Easy A
The 2010 Will Gluck movie Easy A is an hilarious comedy of errors. When clean teen and smartypants Olive (Emma Stone) tells a tiny lie about losing her virginity and it spreads across school, she has to deal with being popular for the wrong reasons. The film is a must-watch if you like Mean Girls.
20. Pan’s Labyrinth
Guillermo Del Toro‘s fantasy coming of age story about young Ofelia during the mid 1940s explores childhood through mystical creatures and magic. Ofelia befriends the faun Pan, who tells her that she is a legendary lost princess. The film is about escapism and the lengths that we turn to in childhood when real life becomes too much to bear.