10 great 90s coming-of-age movies (that aren’t Clueless)

Because as cool as Cher Horowitz is, change is always good.

by Douglas Greenwood
04 June 2021, 12:02pm

Universal/Searchlight Pictures/Paramount Pictures

The 90s are almost single-handedly shaped in our memories by mostly white, American, high school coming-of-age movies: Jawbreaker, Never Been Kissed and Clueless to name just a few. But they were also a decade in which filmmakers from other countries and backgrounds unpacked the coming-of-age experience from their own perspectives, giving stories seldom told the big screen treatment.

Be it the tale of two British lads on a council estate or stories of growing up as the lone girl in a Black family in Brooklyn, these 10 films convey the coming-of-age experience through singular lenses. Add them all to your watch list now!

1. A Room for Romeo Brass (1999)

Before he made one of British cinema’s most searing and memorable movies, This is England, director Shane Meadows’ third project, A Room for Romeo Brass, told the story of two 12-year-old best friends growing up on a council estate outside of Nottingham. Their kinship is thrown into disarray with the arrival of an older lad, Morell, who comes armed with an ulterior motive. Funny and moving, this is one of Shane Meadows’ lesser known films that, if you haven’t caught it yet, should be at the top of your 2021 to-watch list. A Room for Romeo Brass isn’t currently available on streaming services, but those hellbent on seeing it can pick up a DVD copy here.

2. In Praise of Older Women (1997)

In Praise of Older Women is a movie about just that: the role older women play in the life of a young man as he simultaneously courts and confides in them, while exploring Spain in the wake of the Civil War. The 1997 movie was loosely adapted from a famous 1965 novel of the same name, but we’d be damned if this movie’s title wasn’t also the name of every gay man’s autobiography.

3. Rushmore (1998)

Earning a spot for his offbeat humour, Wes Anderson’s quirky entry in this list is Rushmore, the Jason Schwartzman-starring high school movie with a twist. In it, Jason’s character Max is an ambitious student crushing hard on a first-grade teacher. But in an attempt to woo her, he realises his best mate is also trying to earn her attention too. Watch it on Disney+ now.

4. Yellow (1997)

One of American cinema’s most unsung coming-of-age movies is Yellow. A pioneering movie about the lives of young Asian men in America, it’s set on the night of a high school graduation. Together, a group of friends have to band together to find a large sum of money that belongs to one of their dads before the night is out. It’s also one of the earliest movies actor John Cho made an appearance in, and was a well-received festival hit that’s since been largely forgotten about.

5. The Virgin Suicides (1999)

Of course, Sofia Coppola remains a famed purveyor of the adolescent experience, but against a backdrop of far glossier films, she released her debut, The Virgin Suicides. The 1999 film, adapted from the book by Jeffrey Eugenides, follows five sisters as they spiral in and out of depressive episodes, having been isolated from the outside world by their parents. A critical hit upon release; a cult classic over two decades later.

6. Crooklyn (1994)

In the mid-90s, after bowing in the movie world with Do The Right Thing and Malcolm X, Spike Lee made a semi-autobiographical story set in Brooklyn. That movie, called Crooklyn, captured the life of a Black family living in the New York borough: a school teacher mother, jazz musician father, their four boys and one lone daughter. In the movie, their hectic lives unfold through the worldview of that daughter, named Troy, forming an innocent and yet smart vision of 70s New York.

7. Sonnenallee (1999)

The Sonnenallee is a real street in Berlin, one that, during the city’s divided days, existed at the intersection of East and West. In the 1999 film named after the street, also known as Sun Alley, we meet a group of young friends in East Berlin, rebelling like punks against Communist rule. A little more lighthearted than many movies that came out of the scene in the late 20th century (we’re looking at you, Christiane F.), it’s something of a cult classic in Germany, capturing the necessary ‘fuck you’ stage we all have growing up.

8. La Haine (1995)

Arguably one of the most famous French movies ever made, La Haine is seldom framed as a coming-of-age classic due to the connotations of that genre being sun-soaked and affectionate. But the realities of it, as we know, are far more complex. La Haine, an aggressive and powerful ode to young Paris and the ramifications of police brutality, is one of the most crystalline portrayals of coming-of-age you could find.

9. Beautiful Thing (1996)

A largely forgotten queer classic, 1996’s Beautiful Thing, directed by Hettie Macdonald (who co-directed Normal People), is one of Britain’s best examples of contemporary LGBTQ+ storytelling. Set on a council estate in South East London, it tells the story of teenagers Jamie and Ste, who fall in love at an age when they’re coming to terms with their sexuality, while processing how their relatives and friends will react to it. Hettie never made another movie after this, instead segueing into a successful television career, but we’d love to see what she could do with similar subject matters now.

10. House Party (1990)

One of the 90s’ most unexpected runaway hits was House Party. No, not that app we decided we loved for about 11 days over lockdown 1.0, but a movie about a teenager in high school deciding to host an impromptu house party when his parents leave town. Of course, when the party starts and the music plays, all hell breaks loose. Made on a relatively shoestring budget, House Party grossed over $25 million at the box office, and was a critical hit. Legendary critic Roger Ebert said in his review: “the musical is a canvas used by the director, Reginald Hudlin, to show us Black teenagers with a freshness and originality that's rare in modern movies''. Now if that isn’t a reason to go and seek this out, lord knows what is.

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coming of age