The best movies with child or teenage main characters ever made

by smith-d-c | created - 01 Oct 2010 | updated - 01 Oct 2010 | Public

I'm not crazy about many teen movies today. Kids live in fantasy worlds in high school dreaming of the "big dance" or sit around brooding over vampires. These are some movies where kids sound, behave like, and think like kids.

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1. Stand by Me (1986)

R | 89 min | Adventure, Drama

75 Metascore

After the death of a friend, a writer recounts a boyhood journey to find the body of a missing boy.

Director: Rob Reiner | Stars: Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, Jerry O'Connell

Votes: 319,658 | Gross: $52.29M

A classic. 4 boys go on a journey to find a dead body. All 4 give great performances and have conversations that people at that age have.

2. The 400 Blows (1959)

Not Rated | 99 min | Crime, Drama

A young boy, left without attention, delves into a life of petty crime.

Director: François Truffaut | Stars: Jean-Pierre Léaud, Albert Rémy, Claire Maurier, Guy Decomble

Votes: 87,269

Francois Truffaut's great movie about the pain of growing up. The movie is terrific and the boy gives a first rate performance.

3. A Christmas Story (1983)

PG | 94 min | Comedy, Family

77 Metascore

In the 1940s, a young boy named Ralphie attempts to convince his parents, his teacher and Santa that a Red Ryder BB gun really is the perfect Christmas gift.

Director: Bob Clark | Stars: Peter Billingsley, Melinda Dillon, Darren McGavin, Scott Schwartz

Votes: 116,616 | Gross: $19.29M

Christmas through a child's perspective. Hilarious, heartfelt, and accurate to a boy's imagination.

4. Rebel Without a Cause (1955)

PG-13 | 111 min | Drama

87 Metascore

A rebellious young man with a troubled past comes to a new town, finding friends and enemies.

Director: Nicholas Ray | Stars: James Dean, Natalie Wood, Sal Mineo, Jim Backus

Votes: 72,929

James Dean became the king of cool for 1950's with this movie, but even today the acting by Dean, Natalie Wood, and Sal Mineo are fantastic. The movie is funny, sad, and tragic and contains scenes which look and sound authentic.

5. To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)

Not Rated | 129 min | Crime, Drama

87 Metascore

Atticus Finch, a lawyer in the Depression-era South, defends a black man against an undeserved rape charge, and his children against prejudice.

Director: Robert Mulligan | Stars: Gregory Peck, John Megna, Frank Overton, Rosemary Murphy

Votes: 258,587

Gregory Peck won the oscar but Mary Batham steals the movie from her perspective of racism in the South.

6. The Man in the Moon (1991)

PG-13 | 99 min | Drama, Romance

A coming of age story set in the South of USA when Elvis was King.

Director: Robert Mulligan | Stars: Sam Waterston, Tess Harper, Gail Strickland, Reese Witherspoon

Votes: 13,626 | Gross: $2.85M

Reese Witherspoon's debut, wow! A wonderful story of a girl's first love, directed by Robert Mulligan of "To Kill A Mockingbird"

7. The Breakfast Club (1985)

R | 97 min | Comedy, Drama

62 Metascore

Five high school students meet in Saturday detention and discover how they have a lot more in common than they thought.

Director: John Hughes | Stars: Emilio Estevez, Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald, Ally Sheedy

Votes: 300,541 | Gross: $45.88M

There are some cliches but John Hughes has an incredible ear for dialogue and how teenagers talk. All the actors are superb. Long live the Brat Pack!

8. Radio Days (1987)

PG | 88 min | Comedy

A nostalgic look at radio's golden age focusing on one ordinary family and the various performers in the medium.

Director: Woody Allen | Stars: Mia Farrow, Dianne Wiest, Mike Starr, Paul Herman

Votes: 27,684 | Gross: $14.79M

Seth Green is wonderful as the young Woody Allen in this hilarious, touching, and warm family comedy.

9. A Bronx Tale (1993)

R | 121 min | Crime, Drama

80 Metascore

A father becomes worried when a local gangster befriends his son in the Bronx in the 1960s.

Director: Robert De Niro | Stars: Robert De Niro, Chazz Palminteri, Lillo Brancato, Francis Capra

Votes: 111,625 | Gross: $17.27M

Robert De Niro's great overlooked movie from 1993 has a terrific performance from Francis Capra as the boy choosing between crime and the honest life.

10. East of Eden (1955)

PG | 118 min | Drama

A wilful young man contends against his brother for the attention of their religious father while reconnecting with his estranged mother and falling for his brother's girlfriend.

Director: Elia Kazan | Stars: James Dean, Raymond Massey, Julie Harris, Burl Ives

Votes: 34,853

James Dean's first lead role in a great adaptation of the Steinbeck novel. The movie is a powerful version of a teen's desperate approval of his father.

11. Breaking Away (1979)

PG | 101 min | Comedy, Drama, Romance

91 Metascore

A small-town boy obsessed with the Italian cycling team vies for the affections of a college girl.

Director: Peter Yates | Stars: Dennis Christopher, Dennis Quaid, Daniel Stern, Jackie Earle Haley

Votes: 19,292 | Gross: $16.42M

The story of bikers in Indiana may not sound interesting but every scene rings true and the acting, including Dennis Quaid and Daniel Stern, is terrific.

12. American Graffiti (1973)

PG | 110 min | Comedy, Drama

97 Metascore

A couple of high school grads spend one final night cruising the strip with their buddies before they go off to college.

Director: George Lucas | Stars: Richard Dreyfuss, Ron Howard, Paul Le Mat, Charles Martin Smith

Votes: 71,747 | Gross: $115.00M

George Lucas made a great movie with future stars, such as Richard Dreyfus and Harrison Ford. The movie is so entertaining and every scene feels like it came from Lucas's childhood.

13. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

PG | 115 min | Family, Sci-Fi

91 Metascore

A troubled child summons the courage to help a friendly alien escape Earth and return to his home world.

Director: Steven Spielberg | Stars: Henry Thomas, Drew Barrymore, Peter Coyote, Dee Wallace

Votes: 321,836 | Gross: $435.11M

Henry Thomas gave one of the best child performance's ever. I won't believe anyone if they said they didn't cry at the climax of the movie. Drew Barrymore also is terrific and poor Robert McNaughton doesn't get enough credit as Michael.

14. Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)

R | 90 min | Comedy, Drama

67 Metascore

A group of Southern California high school students are enjoying their most important subjects: sex, drugs, and rock n' roll.

Director: Amy Heckerling | Stars: Sean Penn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Judge Reinhold, Robert Romanus

Votes: 81,278 | Gross: $27.09M

It is possible to make a good movie about slackers. Sean Penn is very funny and Ray Walston makes a great foil. The movie also features realistic characters and performances from Jennifer Jason Leigh and Judge Reinhold.

15. Sixteen Candles (1984)

PG | 93 min | Comedy, Romance

61 Metascore

A girl's "sweet" sixteenth birthday becomes anything but special, as she suffers from every embarrassment possible.

Director: John Hughes | Stars: Molly Ringwald, Anthony Michael Hall, Justin Henry, Michael Schoeffling

Votes: 87,181 | Gross: $23.69M

What can be said about this movie? John Hughes first movie about teenagers captures the sounds, thoughts, and fears of every girl this age. The supporting cast is great and movie is hilarious and sweet.

16. American Pie (1999)

R | 95 min | Comedy

58 Metascore

Four teenage boys enter a pact to lose their virginity by prom night.

Directors: Paul Weitz, Chris Weitz | Stars: Jason Biggs, Chris Klein, Thomas Ian Nicholas, Alyson Hannigan

Votes: 342,567 | Gross: $102.56M

It is also possible to make a good teenage-sex comedy. The characters and the dialogue ring true and the movie is very funny.

17. River's Edge (1986)

R | 99 min | Crime, Drama

73 Metascore

A high school slacker commits a shocking act and proceeds to let his friends in on the secret. However, the friends' reaction is almost as ambiguous and perplexing as the crime itself.

Director: Tim Hunter | Stars: Crispin Glover, Keanu Reeves, Ione Skye, Daniel Roebuck

Votes: 13,550 | Gross: $4.60M

A great film about coping with the death of a classmate which features a good performance from Keanu Reeves and Crispin Glover.

18. Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)

PG | 105 min | Drama

77 Metascore

Ted Kramer's wife leaves her husband, allowing for a lost bond to be rediscovered between Ted and his son, Billy. But a heated custody battle ensues over the divorced couple's son, deepening the wounds left by the separation.

Director: Robert Benton | Stars: Dustin Hoffman, Meryl Streep, Jane Alexander, Justin Henry

Votes: 112,535 | Gross: $106.26M

Justin Henry is wonderful as the boy caught between Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep. I have yet to see a better film about divorce.

19. Ordinary People (1980)

R | 124 min | Drama

87 Metascore

The accidental death of the older son of an affluent family deeply strains the relationships among the bitter mother, the good-natured father, and the guilt-ridden younger son.

Director: Robert Redford | Stars: Donald Sutherland, Mary Tyler Moore, Judd Hirsch, Timothy Hutton

Votes: 40,197 | Gross: $54.80M

Timothy Hutton gives an outstanding performance in this story of a family coping with child loss. It won the oscar beating Raging Bull, but it's still a very good movie.

20. The Goodbye Girl (1977)

PG | 111 min | Comedy, Drama, Romance

After being dumped by her live-in boyfriend, an unemployed dancer and her 10-year-old daughter are reluctantly forced to live with a struggling off-Broadway actor.

Director: Herbert Ross | Stars: Richard Dreyfuss, Marsha Mason, Quinn Cummings, Paul Benedict

Votes: 10,689 | Gross: $102.00M

Quinn Cummings as Marsha Mason's daughter is terrific and gives a great child performance. The writing is funny and romantic, an overlooked gem.

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