There’s a reason films about growing up have galvanized the cinema’s attention for so long, and there’s a reason we keep returning back to them. Everyone has gone through it: the first steps, the juvenile ecstasies, the aching disappointments, the dawning realization of oneself as both subject and object, the slow eroding of idealism in the face of a broader understanding of social systems and the world’s inequities. Of course, there are also biological changes; changes in appearance; in perception; in ideology. It is a process equal parts terrifying and utterly exhilarating, one that, when seen in retrospect, we come to understand as the nexus of our most important and formative experiences. Reliving it all, through the vicarious access of the screen, reminds us of just how unique, awkward, and altogether miraculous it was.
With Richard Linklater’s epic growing up tale Boyhood now in theaters and earning endless encomiums, I thought it would be an opportune time to take a look back at the cinema’s greatest tales of that most universal of experiences. These films come from all over the world, span nine decades, and deal in some major way with children or adolescents.
One final note: this is an extremely personal list, naturally. It does not pretend to represent all of the great films relevant to the topic. However, because it was so agonizing having to whittle it down to a measly ten, I’ve included alongside each entry other movies I feel are similar in theme, tone, or perspective.