13 Bittersweet '90s Coming-Of-Age Movies

There are few universals experiences in life, but growing up is one of them. Everyone ages, meets new people, and comes to understand themselves more fully. (That’s the idea, at least.) That shared adventure is reflected at the movies, where coming-of-age films are practically their own genre. For movie fans who grew up in that decade, the ‘90s produced dozens of features about growth and change to identify with. And several of those movies are tearjerkers, whether that’s because of an abundance of sorrow, nostalgia, or both. The 13 ‘90s coming-of-age movies below still make you cry when you watch them now, I bet.

The coming-of-age genre is so rich because these movies know no age limit. On this list, you’ll find characters from grade school age all the way to college graduates who endure that formative moment: the loss of a friend, the test of convictions, the first love. They’re tested at home or at school, or some place in between. And while some of them make it out the other end stronger, others aren’t quite that lucky. I said there’d be tears, didn’t I?

So get your tissues ready and prepare to experience the exquisite pain of growing up through the eyes of these immortal ‘90s movie characters.

1. Now & Then

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This drama zooms back and forth from a group of present-day female friends to the long summer days of their youth when their enduring bond was forged. You know that hometown pal you've lost touch with? Maybe it's a good day to call her.

2. The Sandlot

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The laughs outnumber the tears in this forever quotable baseball movie, though Scotty Smalls' displacement and broken family may hit close to home for some.

3. Stepmom

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This movie should carry some kind of warning, especially for anyone who's lost a mother figure. Stepmom starts out as a funny stand-off between a new wife and the ex, but morphs into a family tragedy where two children have to learn how to say goodbye forever for the very first time.

4. Eve's Bayou

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Underground star Jurnee Smollett Bell delivers a striking performance as a child caught up in the very adult affairs of her parents and their friends. The hazy, seductive beauty of the film's Louisiana backdrop may be enough to get the tears flowing.

5. But I'm A Cheerleader

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As truthful as it is cartoonish, But I'm A Cheerleader satirizes the psychological horrors of "conversion therapy" and champions the "girls next door" who, to some, are less "regular" than they might have thought.

6. What's Eating Gilbert Grape?

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A young Leonardo DiCaprio tried to wake his mama up and rightfully earned his first Oscar nomination for it.

7. Boyz In The Hood

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Boyz In The Hood paints a vivid picture of the South Central Los Angeles in the early '90s, and follows a group of young people who have their whole lives ahead of them but limited options for making it out.

8. School Ties

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Prejudice plagues a New England boarding school in the 1950s, and it might break your heart to see a young Ben Affleck and Matt Damon harass their Jewish classmate.

9. The Virgin Suicides

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Sofia Coppola's dreamy adaptation of a Jeffrey Eugenides novel is unambiguously tragic, hence the title. The Lisbon sisters represent youthful femininity that can only be restrained so much until it has to snuff itself out.

10. Good Will Hunting

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Will Hunting thinks he has his life all figured out until his secret genius becomes something of a local curiosity. He bonds with the only psychologist who can hold his attention and who reminds him in the movie's most cathartic scene that the abuse Will endured as a child was in no way his fault.

11. My Girl

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Thomas J. can't see without his glasses, and this moment makes me feel like I'll never feel sunshine on my face again.

12. The Wood

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In The Wood , the boys get their own flashback-driven friendship movie, and it'll remind you that there's no greater comfort in life than being with the people who really know you, all the way to core.

13. Circle Of Friends

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Benny's ache for something bigger than the life her small-town Irish Catholic upbringing has planned for her will make your reconsider giving up on any of your dreams. The romantic drama also gets real about breaking up with friends who don't have your best interest at heart, no matter how long you've known them.

Growing up isn't easy, but these movies have helped me and so many others feel less alone.

Images: Columbia Pictures; Giphy (11); mustlovemovies, amazingbrendanfraser/Tumblr