Summer time is practically here. School’s letting out for kids across the country, and that means one thing: heading to the movies for this season’s batch of relatable films to keep the kids busy. One of these, The Kings of Summer, will be released next week. In honor of this great new coming of age film, let’s examine some of the best coming of age films of the past.

The Sandlot (1993)
The Sandlot Coming of Age

Much more often than not, the two most common elements of childhood are sports and friendship. The Sandlot is the film that best incorporates these two elements.

When you’re young, your problems seem huge, but as you get older, you realize how minute and insignificant they really are.  The Sandlot exemplifies this. Got a crush on the local lifeguard? Fake your own drowning so you can get the chance to kiss her. How to make friends in a new neighborhood when school is out? Join the local group of rambunctious boys on their cherished baseball field, and let them teach you the game. And when you have a huge problem like knocking your stepdad’s baseball autographed by Babe Ruth into the yard with a vicious dog in it…well, it will feel like the end of the world, but at least your friends will help you! And maybe years later you’ll be laughing about it.

Now and Then (1995)
Now and then

There are very few great coming-of-age films for girls and women.  Among that small group, Now and Then might just be the definitive one.  It’s special because it takes four different routes to show the ways of growing into womanhood.

Now and Then is about growing breasts and the subsequent awkwardness of that; going through your uncomfortable teen years without a mother or any type of female influence, discovering that boys aren’t quite so “icky” after all; deciding whether you want to be a traditional woman as Chrissy (Rita Wilson) turned out, sexually liberated like adolescent Teeny (Thora Birch) desired to be; an aggressive tomboy like a young Roberta (Christina Ricci), or the cool whimsical girl who refuses to be defined by any type of gender role or anti-gender role like Sam (Demi Moore) grew up to be. It’s the internal struggle that all women can relate to, and it’s very easy to see a little of yourself in each girl.

Stand By Me (1986)
This film centers around the desire for adventure; the desire to get away.  What is more fundamentally youthful than wanting adventure? In a lot of ways, that’s what coming of age is: the trek towards independence and new experiences.  Stand By Me is a film that captures the journey of four boys unhappy where they are, taking one giant step toward that independence by running off in search of a dead body.

The main thing that makes this a great coming of age classic is the lesson that comes at the end. The main character Gordie talks about how he lost touch with the guys over the years, but how special they are to him because he never had friends after that like the ones he had when he was young. He asks the question “does anybody?”  This is one of the toughest lessons there is: you think your friendships will last forever, but growing apart is common and natural. Memories from childhood friends are to be carried forever. Stand By Me is such a great movie because it teaches this important, necessary lesson.

Fast Times At Ridgemont High (1982)

This one belongs in a class of its own. It is the least preachy, and in a lot of ways Fast Times could be considered the anti-coming of age movie. Here is a teen film with no heroes, and no real protagonist. Almost every single one of the characters is wrong yet thinks they know more than they actually do (and, really, who didn’t think they knew everything when they were a teenager?)

This film shows the darker side of childhood and high school. It is probably one of the more realistic of films for young people. Each character has to find out the hard way that they don’t know what they think they know; there is no easy resolution. As a film that presents young people as folks with very real problems (instead of as young, beautiful, carefree and easy to dismiss), Fast Times At Ridgemont High is one of the most important coming of age films.   

If nothing else, this film gets credit for the very memorable Sean Penn performance as one of film’s most special teenagers, Jeff  Spicoli.

The Breakfast Club (1985)
The Breakfast Club
There is no more important film in terms of representing youth, speaking for a generation, and coming of age. Every element of the pain in one’s teen years, is covered in this film: fitting in versus not fitting in, challenging authority, finding out someone you know is being abused, dealing with peer pressure, and feeling ignored and invisible.

What makes The Breakfast Club so unique—what makes this movie one that speaks to generation after generation—is  that while this is a film about being young and finding your voice, it is not necessarily a “teen movie”. You don’t have to be a 16 year old girl to relate to Molly Ringwald’s . You don’t have to have ever played a sport to connect to Emilio Estevez’s  Andrew. Any one of us could be any of these characters at any time.

Judd Nelson’s John Bender is another one of those special teenage characters. It’s hard not to watch the film without thinking that in his own way, John Bender was the epitome of cool.

The Outsiders (1983)
If the kids of Shermer High in The Breakfast Club thought they had it bad—if Allison the “basket case” thought she was ignored by her parents—then they should have paid a visit to the Greasers. The Greasers (very young stars of the time like Rob Lowe, Matt Dillon, Ralph Macchio, and Tom Cruise) were boys who weren’t just ignored: they were either beaten, orphaned, or non-existent. The Outsiders is a coming of age tale about one of the Greasers and his friends; all young men who were left to fend for themselves to the point that they had no choice but to become men.

This is a film about belonging. The Greasers fought to be accepted, and to just be. The reason it’s a coming of age tale is because it focuses on the two youngest boys: Johnny Cade  and Ponyboy. Johnny and Pony were still fresh-faced and innocent; right on the precipice of becoming men. Any hope they had of remaining innocent (remaining young) gets taken away from them one night in a tragic incident, and the two of them are immediately forced to face the harsh reality of what life is like for people like them.