Being in your 20s is a unique time in your life. You start off the decade in college and end it at a point where you potentially might be married with kids. You may legally become an adult at 18, but it’s your 20s that shape you into becoming a grownup. From moving back home to dealing with personal baggage, these films cover a variety of issues and experiences awaiting many of us in our 20s.
9. Tiny Furniture (2010)
It’s not always ideal, but a lot of twenty-somethings may find themselves moving back home after graduating college. Lena Dunham wrote, directed and starred in this film about a girl who moves back in with her family in their TriBeCa loft with no direction in her life. This film covers what it’s like for post-graduates who find themselves moving back in with their family and captures the emotions and frustrations of living with your parents again, dealing with siblings and trying to adjust to your new/old life.
8. Reality Bites (1994)
Directed by Ben Stiller (who also stars), Reality Bites centers on four friends (Winona Ryder, Ethan Hawke, Janeane Garofalo, Steve Zahn) who live in Houston and have just recently graduated college. This film covers a range of classic twenty-something dilemmas, including how we handle those dreams of achieving something big, coming out of the closet to your parents and dealing with STDs. Of course, there’s the whole “long-time friends who realize they might have feelings for each other” thing, as well, though I suppose that can happen in any decade.
7. Before Sunrise (1995)
Co-written and directed by Richard Linklater, Before Sunrise follows a young man (Ethan Hawke) and a young woman (Julie Delpy) who meet on a train in Europe and decide to spend the day together in Vienna. The film has the simplest of premises—two attractive young people walk around a city and talk about … most everything. All in all, it’s a very twenty-something scenario. What makes this film shine are the conversations themselves, which reveal a youthful idealism and refusal to compromise that would only be fully put in the context of their age in the two movies that followed.
6. Good Will Hunting (1997)
The 20s are often that time when one realizes that one’s dreams are sorta, well, one’s own responsibility to make come true. Co-written by and starring Matt Damon, the film focuses on a 20-year-old laborer in Boston who’s an unrecognized genius at mathematics. After assaulting a police officer, he’s forced to see a therapist (Robin Williams) while studying math under a professor’s (Stellan Skarsgard) tutorship. This is the film that poses questions and challenges to twenty-somethings everywhere, making us realize that, as old as we are, we’ve barely lived and haven’t experienced much of life yet. Robin Williams’ monologue on that topic still resonates with viewers.
5. St. Elmo’s Fire (1985)
Experiencing life after college can really knock you off your feet and make you long for simpler times, but it’s also the time some of us realize our friends are our family. St. Elmo’s Fire centers on six friends who’ve recently graduated from Georgetown and all go in different directions with their lives, but still keep in touch and spend their nights at their favorite college bar, St. Elmo’s Bar. Though no one will claim the film is the deepest cut on the subject, it does round up a selection of tropes and characters that are central to popular culture’s vision of the trials and tribulations of being twenty-something.
4. Swingers (1996)
Swingers focuses on a group of aspiring actors living in L.A. experiencing the nightlife. The main character (Jon Favreau) is trying to get over the break-up of his ex while his best friend (Vince Vaughn) tries to get him back in the dating game. And okay, this film may not be a touchstone for the experiences of the typical male twenty-something in terms of setting, but it’s got plenty of moments that guys everywhere recognize, especially when it comes to romance. And let’s face it, “You’re so money, and you don’t even know it” may be just what it takes to make it out of the decade alive.
3. Frances Ha (2013)
The twenties are often a great time for knowing exactly what you want to do yet while also having a hard time getting there. The film focuses on the title character (Greta Gerwig), 27 and living in New York struggling to make money with no apartment of her own. She has an apprenticeship at a dance company, but is not yet making a living as a dancer and finds herself floating around staying with different friends in the city. The film itself doesn’t have a very straightforward plot, but that’s in the end pretty typical of the life of the modern twenty-something.
2. Garden State (2004)
Being in your twenties is as good a time as any to be depressed, lost and lonely. Zach Braff portrays a depressed young man who goes back home for the funeral of his mother. There he sees his estranged father, reconnects with old friends and falls in love. It’s an indie film portraying what it’s like to go back home after being away for so long, seeing old friends, dealing with family and the idea of home itself changing. The film captures that sense of disorientation and dismay newly minted adults often experience when they realize life is big and engulfing and yet it’s something we’ve got to explore.
1. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)
Sometimes that beautiful girl of our dreams we want to date might have a past that still lingers with her. This is by far the strangest movie on this list. Its visuals are a comic book brought to life—appropriate since the film is based on a popular comic—about a young Canadian who falls in love with an American Amazon delivery girl and must defeat her seven evil exes (in arcade game-styled battles). The film captures the culture and nerdy essence of the current generation experiencing their twenties. The writing is witty and shows how fun the humor of the Millennial generation can be. As for the film’s themes—toting that personal baggage, facing your problems head-on, finding love and self-respect—ah, that’s the stuff twenty-something life is made of.