While ranking the ten best coming-of-age movies on Netflix, we need to discuss what this genre really is. Whether in literature, theatre, film, or games, this genre covers stories where a character’s growth is followed from a younger age to an older one. These media objects follow the effects of dialogues and internal monologues on the audience instead of focusing on action. They often acquire a nostalgic tone in cinema language. Netflix, as a streaming platform, offers a variety of films in this rather young genre ranging from the development of very young characters to pre-teens or young adults. Alongside, we often find a number of films here that offer us a mixed palate of coming of age and romance.
The birth of this genre was back in the 1950s when the first of its kind Rebel Without a Cause by David Weisbart, was released. The genre grew through the 1960s and is one of the day’s most relatable and popular ones. Three features that are relevant for a good coming of age film is character growth, wherein the protagonist dwells in the uncertainties of their future (a feeling that we all relate to), but their drive to grow leads them to embark on a journey from a doubtful youngling to a perception young adult. This can happen through facing difficult challenges while growing up or being confronted with difficult decisions to make, like in Anne Fletcher’s Dumplin’.
The other features include dialogue and active social commentary. As these movies explore the interior lives and feelings of the characters, thus dialogue is an important element to help communicate to the audience how they feel. Alongside, social commentary addresses contextually pertinent issues that young members of society often have to deal with. We have to remind ourselves that film as an art form is simply a creative reflection of people’s lives. Like we see how coming out has been brought up in the film Moonlight (2016) by Barry Jenkins, or how the struggles of teen pregnancy have been addressed in the film Juno (2007) by Jason Reitman.
Netflix has furnished us with an expansive mixture of films to select from on days we need a pick-me-up.
The best coming-of-age films on Netflix right now:
10. The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)
Directed by Stephen Chbosky, this film focuses on a socially awkward teen called Charlie (Logan Lerman), who, more often than not, navigates his life from the sidelines. Soon, he meets two students who become his mentor and guide him through the trials and tribulations of growing up.
With Emma Watson‘s Sam and her step-brother Patrick (Ezra Miller), Charlie discovers life in a different light. He finds friendship and love, he enjoys the gift of music, and becomes open to many experiences. However, as his new connections prepare to leave for college, Charlie’s life threatens to fall back into older patterns. This story is about Charlie’s internalised struggles with life and how they change or not over time.
9. Lady Bird (2017)
Greta Gerwig directed this film based on the life of a teenager played by Saoirse Ronan and her relationship with her mother, played by Laurie Metcalf and tries to closely capture their dynamic over a challenging and eventful final year of high school.
This is Lady Bird’s journey to deal with the curveballs that life throws at her whilst trying to get into a prestigious university and gain popularity amongst her peers.
8. To the Bones (2017)
A rather young American drama written and directed by Marti Noxon, the film navigates around the life of a young woman in her early twenties called Ellen, played by Lilly Collins, who battles anorexia.
This story follows her journey of discovering herself through funny encounters at a group home, which is run by an unusual doctor called Dr William Beckham, portrayed by Keanu Reeves.
7. Moonlight (2016)
As covered earlier, this masterpiece, directed by Barry Jenkins, focuses on the topic of coming out, which has gained subsequent attention in the contemporary world. The story revolves around the life of a young African-American boy called Chiron, played by Ashton Sanders, who confides in Juan, a drug dealer, portrayed by Mahershala Ali.
Juan teaches the young boy the journey to carve his own path and indeed leaves a long-lasting effect on him. This story follows Chiron’s epic journey to understand his manhood and explore his sexuality, and how he was guided by his own community whilst growing up in the bustling city of Miami.
6. Enola Holmes (2020)
Enola Holmes (Millie Bobby Brown) is a work of art directed by Hary Bradbeer and follows the story of a young girl who is fully invested in the search for her missing mother. With everything going on she uses her skills to outsmart her big brother, the legendary Sherlock and manages to help out a runaway lord.
5. Before I Fall (2017)
Russo-Young directed this time loop movie based on the life of Samantha Kingston (Zoey Deutch). The film begins by showing how the protagonist has a perfect life, she is popular, has a loving partner (Kian Lawley) and has a defined and decided future full of potential.
However, one day she meets with a gruesome car accident and ends up losing her life, but then mystically finds herself waking up and starting reliving the same day over and over again until she unravels the mysteries of the closest ones around her and the day that she dies and discovers how much difference a single day can make.
4. Wildlife (2018)
As Joe, played by Ed Oxenbould, deals with his mother, portrayed by Carey Mulligan, critical responses to him after his father, Jake Gyllenhaal, abandons them, this story closely follows his journey as a struggling child with a dysfunctional family.
It explores the dynamics of what psychology calls triangulation, wherein the child of a broken family often feels the pressure to step up and has to choose between their parents until their parents no longer need them. That’s when the child has been taken out of the triangle and has to fend for themselves.
3. Dumplin’ (2018)
Director Anne Fletcher shares the story of a plus-size teenager, Willowdean (Danielle Macdonald), who is the daughter of a former beauty pageant winner, Rosie Dickson (Jennifer Aniston).
Willowdean ends up signing for one of these pageants, Miss Teen Bluebonnet, organised with her mother. She does so to prove a point to her parent, and while doing so, struggles with self-image issues. This movie spotlights the troubled relationship between her and her former pageant queen mother and the double standards of beauty in our society.
2. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (2018)
Susan Johnson, the director, aims to face the challenge of teenage love head-on by sharing the story of a young teenage girl called Lara Jean (Lana Condor), whose secret love letters she wrote only for her personal eyes get sent to her five crushes.
This causes chaos and catastrophe in her life. Following this event, we, as the audience, get to see how Lara Jean lives through all her secret fantasies in reality.
1. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
With a hint of personal bias, definitely this film lands on the top of this list. After Miles Morales, a young teenager, gets bitten by a radioactive spider, he becomes the bearer of the torch, and saviour comes to be known as Spider-Man. Following the Marvel comics storyline, he meets several alternate versions of himself and, before he realises, gets sucked into this madness wherein he becomes responsible for saving the multiverse.
The most unique aspect of this film is that it blends 2D and 3D animation techniques to create the ultimate masterpiece. This type of animation blended a myriad of textures and materials based on the comic books whilst keeping realism intact.
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