Top 10 Movies with Adolescent Boy Heroes

July 24th, 2020 by | Print

Why are “coming of age” movies with adolescent boy heroes such a popular genre?

Let’s face it, most adult men have some degree of teenage boy still pulsing through their veins.  Looking back, middle school was one of the most intense times of our lives. We were drinking from the fire hose of life and we experienced a wide range of emotions and experiences that were difficult to process at the time. They were confusing and embarrassing in so many ways.

I would argue that middle school is the most formative time in a man’s entire life.

It’s during this time period that our concept of manhood and masculinity are forged deeply. But most of us simply “endured” this season of life, moved on as fast as we possibly could, and buried all of those awkward, confusing emotions.  

Watching these movies is cathartic and also provides great conversation starters with your own boys.  Enjoy!

  1. The Measure of a Man (2018) 

Set in the summer of 1976, an insecure, overweight 14-year-old boy finds a summer job on millionaire’s estate. A surprising mentor (a Wall Street exec) befriends him and teaches him valuable lessons. The shy boy finds courage and learns to step into challenging situations. A funny, poignant and wise movie starring Donald Sutherland and Luke Wilson. Rated PG-13.

  1. Karate Kid (2010) 

In this re-boot from the 80s original, a 12-year-old boy moves to China, encounters bullies and finds an unlikely Kung Fu master (a janitor) who teaches him self-defense and honor. The story is familiar, but Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan add a new twist to finding courage and stepping boldly into difficult circumstances.  Rated PG.

  1. Shazam! (2019)

Do we all have a superhero inside us? Action movie with a “BIG” twist as a 14-year-old boy discovers magical superpowers in a grown man’s body.  The protagonist tests the boundaries of his newfound abilities with the maturity level of a teenage boy but realizes that “to whom much is given, much is required.” Clear themes of friendship, courage, responsibility, redemption and unselfishness abound.  Rated PG-13.

  1. Mud (2013) 

This adventure kicks off when two 14-year-old boys, living in the Mississippi River Delta, befriend a fugitive (Matthew McConaughey) hiding out on an island and looking to escape his past. Akin to a modern-day Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, the boys are thrust into an adult world and learn lessons of friendship, love, commitment, and courage. Rated PG-13.

  1. Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)

A 13-year old juvenile delinquent and his grumpy foster father (Sam Neill) find themselves the target of a manhunt in the New Zealand bushland. While out on the lamb, the unlikely duo bond together to survive the elements and outwit the authorities with humorous results.  This heartwarming movie (based on a true story) reminds us that many life lessons are learned in nature … and with a willing mentor. Rated PG-13.

  1. A Monster Calls (2016) 

A 12- year-old boy calls on an imaginary friend to help him cope with his mother’s terminal illness, loneliness, fear, and school bullies. The seemingly implausible storyline comes to life with intense imagery and cinematic magic, as the boy learns lessons about finding power, strength and courage. All-star cast with Liam Neeson, Felicity Jones, and Sigourney Weaver.   Rated PG-13.

  1. Moonrise Kingdom (2012) 

A pair of hopelessly romantic 12-year-olds run away together on a remote New England island in 1965. The misfit lovebirds are tracked across the island by the authorities, parents and a troop of scouts during a devastating hurricane. Viewers can’t help but cheer for the couple as they overcome obstacles, tackle unforeseen responsibilities, and teach the adults a thing or two along the way. Great cast includes Bill Murray, Bruce Willis, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton and Edward Norton. Rated PG-13.

  1. Alpha (2018) 

Classic “boy-to-man” initiation movie set in prehistoric times. Keda goes on his first hunt with the Cro-Magnon tribesmen and is left for dead. He survives his wounds and begins a long journey home with the help of a wolf he befriends. Stunning cinematography underscores a triumphant message of courage, survival, hope and the human spirit. Rated PG-13.

  1. Boyhood (2014)

Shot over a twelve-year time period with the same cast! Viewers get a peek into the actual maturation process of the same boy from age 6 to 18. As he grows, the boy deals with a myriad of challenges and situations like divorce, bullies, drugs, alcohol, relocation, and love. Without a a traditional plotline, the film can be slow moving at times, but it’s a “one-of-a-kind” experience with a huge emotional payoff in the end. Perfect conversation starter that takes the viewer back in time and preps adolescent boys for the journey ahead. Rated R.

  1. JoJo Rabbit   (2019) 

A lonely 10-year-old Nazi youth discovers his mother is hiding a Jewish girl in their attic during WWII. JoJo comes face to face with his blind prejudices and nationalistic beliefs by interacting with his imaginary friend Adolph Hitler. This funny, warm-hearted movie delivers a poignant message. Exceptional performances by Scarlett Johansen and Sam Rockwell. Rated PG-13.


Men, I encourage you to check out my “Top Ten” list of recommended movies and watch them with an adolescent boy. Movies are a great way to spark discussions that never would happen otherwise. Teenage boys have a million and one questions about the journey to manhood that lie just below the surface, but they will rarely ask. Movies are a great catalyst for helping them process their experiences in real time.

Share your own memories and stories with them, then ask some open-ended questions.  Watching these movies together is a gift that will keep on giving — for both of you!

Okay, get some popcorn and let’s get started. With theaters closed for the pandemic, having a movie party at home will bring you closer to each other … and to authentic manhood.

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