Five Beloved Yet Deeply Disturbing Coming-of-Age Films

Stand By Me's twenty-fifth anniversary has us reminiscing about some unsettling classics.

By EJ Dickson

1. Stand By Me

Rob Reiner's coming-of-age classic Stand By Me celebrates its twenty-fifth anniversary next Monday. It's much loved for its depiction of the innocence of childhood, the bittersweet pangs of adolescence, and the enduring bonds of friendship. But it's undeniably much darker than your average coming-of-age movie: as the four go their separate ways, torn apart by the divisive forces of the middle-school caste system, Richard Dreyfuss's narration reveals their tragic fates, leaving the cockles of your heart feeling less warmed than ripped out, torn up, and shit upon. As in many other similarly themed films, the message of Stand By Me seems to be that growing up sucks, but what happens afterwards sucks even harder, which is kind of a grim message for a childhood classic. Here are four other coming-of-age films with remarkably bleak subtexts.  

2. Sixteen Candles

IMDB synopsis: A young girl's (Molly Ringwald) "sweet sixteen" becomes anything but sweet as she suffers from every embarrassment possible.

What it should say: A young girl's (Molly Ringwald) "sweet sixteen" becomes anything but sweet as she falls prey to a kindly date rapist.

Why it's disturbing: Although the lasting popularity of John Hughes' breakthrough film owes a lot to its adorable leading lady, part of its reputation can be attributed to the eternal nice-guy appeal of love interest Jake Ryan (Michael Schoeffling). With his '80s gay-porn-star physique and innocuous, golden-retriever grin, Ryan exemplifies Reagan-era masculinity, to the point that the Washington Post ran an editorial on the twentieth anniversary of the film entitled "Real Men Can't Hold a Candle to Jake Ryan." With all due respect to the Post, that's probably for the best, because by the end of the movie, Jake Ryan turns out to be an unbelievable asshole. After confiding in a geeky underclassman (Anthony Michael Hall) that he's attracted to Sam (Ringwald), Jake allows the freshman to drive his inebriated, barely conscious girlfriend home and have his way with her. Jake then uses his girlfriend's "infidelity," for which she was unable to supply consent, as an excuse to break up with her and hook up with Sam..

Ostensible message: Growing up is tough, but you'll always remember your first love.

Actual message: Growing up is tough, but if you're lucky, you might end up being deflowered by a panty-sniffing rape conspirator with perfect bone structure.


3. Big

IMDB synopsis: When Josh Baskin (Tom Hanks) wishes to be big at a magic wish machine, he wakes up the next morning and finds himself in an adult body.

What it should say: When Josh Baskin (Tom Hanks) wishes to be big at a magic wish machine, he wakes up the next morning and finds himself in an adult body, resulting in his statutory rape by a much older woman.

Why it's disturbing: While the presumed psychological duress of aging twenty years overnight might qualify the film as fucked-up, the narrative gets even stranger when Josh has sex with Susan (Elizabeth Perkins), a woman more than twice his age. If this scenario doesn't strike you as perverse, imagine an alternate universe in which Big had been made with a twelve-year-old girl instead of a twelve-year-old boy. (Okay, imagine 13 Going On 30 doesn't exist. That shouldn't be too hard.) To make matters worse, Josh ends up brusquely informing Susan that she's just violated an adolescent boy. Following this revelation, he abandons her without so much as offering to pay for her therapy.

Ostensible Message: Growing up is tough — enjoy youth while it lasts.

Actual Message: Growing up is tough, and sex is terrifying and predatory.

Commentarium (43 Comments)

Aug 22 11 - 12:46am

The song "My Girl" by the Temptations will always haunt me because of the movie My Girl, but really, it is a great movie.

This reminds me, I saw An Education recently, a coming of age film that was a bit unsettling at times, but it was also very good.

Aug 22 11 - 4:14pm

This list is kinda retarded. Other than Stand By Me and My Girl, I wouldn't say any of those movies are disturbing. And of all the John Hughes movies to pick from, the author chooses Sixteen Candles and Ferris Bueller's Day Off as his most disturbing? Of J.H.'s high school films, those two are chosen over The Breakfast Club, where everything from attempted suicide with a flare gun and child abuse are covered? And I suppose there's nothing disturbing about Home Alone, a little kid who has to defend his parent's house against robbers who want to kill him?

Aug 23 11 - 8:08am

"My Girl" disturbing? Absolutely. 20 years on and I am still traumatised by it. "Home Alone" disturbing? "defend his parent's house against robbers who want to kill him"? Oh, come on!

Aug 22 11 - 1:15am

My Girl is just so sad. My Girl 2...not so good.

Aug 25 11 - 2:59am

the hell? there's a second one?

Aug 22 11 - 7:53am

I kept looking for the tongue in the cheek of this author, but all I found were issues.

Aug 22 11 - 2:25pm

I agree.

Aug 22 11 - 8:15am

Way to horribly misuse the word "denoument". The word you were looking for is "climax".

Aug 22 11 - 11:38am

Way to misspell "denouement" in your comment about it. Just because you see a misused word doesn't mean you have to be a condescending jerk about it.

Aug 22 11 - 12:45pm

you know, it could not really be that wrong at all

Aug 22 11 - 1:18pm

Mmm, it is wrong. The denouement of "My Girl" comes after his funeral when Harry and Vada finally overcome their 'ish — that's the final resolution.

Aug 22 11 - 1:58pm

oh. nvm!

Aug 22 11 - 8:17am

Sociopathy? Is that what we call self assured, confident, anti-establishmentarianism (sorry, no isms), these days. While Principle Rooney and sister Jennie *aren't* angry, bitter, self obsessed, nuerotics? No, they're both paragons of mental health and keepers of the public good and definitely don't *deserve* the Rotweiler and absolutely not Charlie Sheen? I laughed when the ferrari went off the cliff, maybe then Camerons father can actually be a father then, rather then a collector with a sideline in producing children. Ferris's "passive companions" weren't that passive and they choose to come along for the ride and were better off for it. Live life to the fullest doesn't mean "anything goes" but it can mean poking fun at the pompous and upsetting the arrogant, obsessive absolute "rightness" of ego. No one in the film who didn't deserve it in one way or another bore the brunt of Ferris Bueller.

Aug 22 11 - 8:35am

Yeah, Ferris Bueller wasn't that disturbing, except when the deranged Principal broke into Ferris' house or when Jeannie drove like a maniac nearly killing others on the road in an attempt to prove Ferris had cut school. *gasp* Cutting school! Horrors!

Aug 22 11 - 10:46pm
gd anon

in the principal's defense, we consider him the bad guy because he's opposed to Ferris pulling his bullshit on everyone. In the 80s, his act of hacking to eliminate his absences would be nothing, but in the past decade, that would practically have the feds crawling over his house. Rooney would have gotten a medal for exposing Ferris and ::gasp:: doing his job as an educator to ensure that students attend school.

Aug 25 11 - 10:41pm
Red King

Until Rooney stepped into the Buhler home he would have been a good guy. Once he was in the home, he was the educator/robber/pedophile. They would have locked him up and thrown away the key.

Aug 22 11 - 8:19am

Lots of good lines but i especially like " Growing up is tough, and you are exactly as guilty as you think you are. "

Aug 22 11 - 10:06am
Abe Froman

I know for a fact that Ferris grew up to be an accountant.

Aug 22 11 - 4:54pm
Chez Quis Maitre D

Abe? Is that you? I have a reservation for the "Sausage King of Chicago" in the corner where you like it.

Aug 22 11 - 10:52am

You are wrong about Ferris Bueller. He planned the whole day for the purpose of HELPING his friend deal with an unloving father. Watch the movie again.

Aug 22 11 - 12:13pm

I wish people would stop using Tyler Durden to interpret other works of art. Fight Club isn't nearly as complex as people think it is.

Aug 22 11 - 6:29pm

Or maybe it's so complex that it completely went over your head?

Aug 22 11 - 11:10am

Re My Girl, I think he went to look for the ring himself. She didn't send him so not her fault

Aug 22 11 - 12:22pm

I always thought that Ferris Bueller was a dick, and he is definitely a rich kid from the suburbs shitting on people because of who is parents are. The insults he gives to the maitre d' were totally unnecessary. I would've poisoned his food.

Aug 22 11 - 1:22pm

This is genius.

Aug 22 11 - 8:30pm

Looks like someone's been hitting up for retro cultural analysis inspiration. . . .

Aug 22 11 - 9:37pm

Is it just me, or are most commenters on Nerve ass holes?

Enjoyed the article.

Aug 23 11 - 1:38am

Sometimes people equate being an asshole to being witty and/or intelligent.

Aug 25 11 - 3:03am

or saying things are retarded or being condescending when they simply have a difference of opinion

Aug 23 11 - 2:39am

didn't Cracked already do an article like this?

Aug 23 11 - 8:06am

Sorta. It has a similar take on ferris, but it doesn't address the others.

Aug 23 11 - 11:44am

i think you misunderstand ferris bueller, sir. here is a story about friendship, and the story is really about cameron. if you have ever suffered from depression, you would understand the importance of having a friend come and help you get out... to emote, in some way. ferris saves cameron, whether on purpose or by accident, but the true heart of the story is in there.

Aug 25 11 - 3:04am

just a different interpretation

Aug 23 11 - 12:18pm
Sandy D

Some really good points. Well written article.

Aug 23 11 - 7:33pm

why is "stand by me" formatted differently than every other entry?

Aug 25 11 - 4:57pm

You forgot about "Man in the Moon" with Reese Witherspoon. Great movie, great acting, uncomfortable precociousness (precociousity?)

Aug 25 11 - 7:57pm

These were all great movies and we saw them for entertainment, that's all. Geez dude, take a laxative.

Aug 25 11 - 9:06pm

The Jake Ryan criticism is legit, but why the assumption his girlfriend was a virgin? Was that covered in the movie?

Aug 26 11 - 2:01pm

The implication is that Sam was deflowered, not Jake's girlfriend. The fact that she's a virgin is made much of in the movie, and it's not unreasonable to assume that she lost it to Jake after the birthday cake scene.

Aug 29 11 - 9:28pm

Fell out of bed feeling down. This has brghiteend my day!

Mar 25 12 - 12:00am

how are any of these films considered "disturbing"? have you been watching Bambi for the last 25 years?
Dude you need to flex your cinematic world. If your getting payed for this nose dive you call a review you need to give the money back. I hope this is a comedy bit and i just don't get the joke

May 02 12 - 11:43pm

big is disturbing? because tom hanks has sex with whats her name. cause he is playing the part of a 13 yr old.? Puritanism is alive and well on the internet