20 Life-Changing Films Every 20-Something Needs To See

zach braff garden state
Garden State

1. Good Will Hunting

Ben Affleck and Matt Damon star in this beautiful film, alongside Robin Williams. This movie tells us the story of Will Hunting, a janitor working at MIT in Boston, who happens to be a mathematical genius suffering from an emotionally abusive childhood. Both a love story and a story of overcoming emotional challenges, this film teaches us about the meaning of perseverance. Robin Williams steals the show as a therapist who becomes a close friend of Will’s and encourages him to be his best self.

2. Like Crazy

Starring the late Anton Yelchin and beautiful Felicity Jones, this story encompasses themes of long-distance love, frustrating love, wonderful love, and ultimately what it means to be crazy in love. Jones’s character has to return to England after her visa expires, and the couple strives to keep the relationship alive. It shows us what it means to sustain love—it’s the belief that no matter what, two will keep working to be better people and support one another.

3. Reality Bites

Most people in their 20s have probably seen this 90’s classic by now. A group of UTAustin college graduates find themselves dealing with the daily struggles of entering real adulthood. There is love, there is humor, and there is chaos amongst this group of friends. Winona Ryder and Ethan Hawke’s rather erratic and tense friendship has us all on the edge of our seats as we wonder where their relationship will go. By the end of the film, I always feel like I’ve spent a year in the shoes of another 20-something. And it may sound strange to say, but it’s pretty refreshing.

4. The Count of Monte Cristo

Anyone who has read this phenomenal book-turned-movie (originally written by Alexandre Dumas) is probably wondering why in the world I’d put this as number four on the list. This film has it all: revenge, romance, struggle, drama, and loss. The main character has been placed in the most terrible prison in France for a crime he did not commit. The movie makes us ask ourselves what we ought to do when we have had parts of our lives stolen from us. Do we take revenge on others or do we move on and become better people?

5. Dead Poets’ Society

Now you’re probably thinking, “She really loves Robin Williams.” It’s true, once again, he steals the show as the most vibrant, intelligent, creative and kind boarding school English teacher. Set in a rural all boys’ boarding school in Delaware, Mr. Keating teaches a group of boys about what it really means to live fully. I find myself reflecting on this movie often, even though I am past the teenage years now. Its lessons especially apply to being in your 20s: be a good friend, learn as much as you can, and live your life to the fullest.

6. The Talented Mr. Ripley

This psychological thriller is deeply creepy at certain points. We follow Matt Damon’s character (Tom Ripley) to Italy where he assumes the false identity of a Princeton alumnus. He is being paid to lure a young trust fund baby, Dicky (Jude Law), back to New York City. Jude Law’s character exudes that of a narcissist, and everyone flocks to him. What was meant to be a simple job: to bring Dicky Greenleaf home, turns into a rather disastrous string of deadly events. This movie’s message to me is simple: be wary of who you trust and allow into your life. The movie covers feelings of envy and guilt, and themes of homosexual love, and identity of the self.

7. Fight Club

It’s a cult, screw-society movie that every 20 something ought to watch when feeling a little rebellious. Based off of the novel of the same name by Chuck Palahniuk, the story follows the narrator as he explores his own identity amidst crippling insomnia and office life. When he meets Tyler Durden, (arguably another version of himself that he would like to be) his life changes. This movie deals with aggression, violence and power and how we come to terms with who we are when we having nothing.

8. Little Miss Sunshine

A somewhat “abnormal” family makes a journey to California for their youngest child’s attempt at winning a beauty pageant. Each person in this family is confronting his or her own insecurities, and ultimately we learn that it’s okay to have a strange family. It’s okay for everyone to be a little weird in their own way. Our faults become what make us special.

9. The Help

The film, based on the book by Kathryn Stockett, tells the story of a group of maids in the deep south trying to find their own voice against some extremely wealthy and unkind white families who do not treat them as they ought to be treated. The main character, Skeeter, (Emma Stone) plays a young woman who is determined to write about the truth behind the maids’ stories. This story teaches us so many lessons. It teaches us that standing up for what is just might sometimes be hard, but in the end, it’s worth it. It teaches us that a young woman can be a writer if she wants to be, even if the world is telling her not to be. It teaches us that no matter what background we come from, we can all unite for what is right in this world.

10. Before Sunrise

Two young travelers meet in Vienna and have an instant connection. This film teaches us that love can happen spontaneously. We ought to be open to experiences that scare us sometimes, because often they are worth it. Even though these experiences might not last long-term, they can change us for good.

11. The Shawshank Redemption

I saw this film for the first time in my confirmation class in eighth grade. I was not quite sure what to make of it then because it felt so intense to watch in one sitting. This film teaches us about hope, patience, and strength of the human spirit. The main character, Andy, is thrown into jail for a crime he didn’t commit: that of the death of his wife and her former lover. We learn about real struggle, and how it feels to lose years from one’s life.

12. The Royal Tenenbaums

Think of an indie, dysfunctional family living in a townhouse in Harlem. Now picture that family played by actors Ben Stiller, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Luke Wilson. We’re in for a wild ride with this story, as a previously estranged father tries to re-enter his kids’ lives now that they are older. This story makes us remember that every family is weird. We can still come together and support each other, even if it’s been years since we’ve seen one another.

13. Bridget Jones’s Diary

Bridget Jones is a young working woman in London who is constantly asked by her family and friends when she is going to settle down and find a man. Bridget has somewhat of a knack for embarrassing herself—without meaning to do so. After her cute boss (Hugh Grant) hits on her, she finds herself falling head-over-heels only to be later confused by a confession from Mr. Darcy (Colin Firth). This film is loosely based around Pride and Prejudice, so as one can imagine, we can learn not to judge someone by our first impressions of them.

14. Into the Wild

Emile Hirsch stars in this movie which is based on the book of the same title by Jon Krakauer. Hirsch plays Christopher McCandless, a young Emory College graduate who has decided to embark on an isolating journey with the final destination being Alaska. Along the way he burns his money, gets rid of his identification, and does not tell his family or friends where he is going. Some people claim this journey to have been a selfish one for him to have taken. I, on the other hand, completely understand this need for freedom and I wouldn’t doubt if many others in their 20’s do too. The movie, visually stunning, sets itself apart from other films because of its beautiful scenes filmed in nature along with the harsh reality it depicts of surviving on one’s own.

15. The Graduate

It is likely that your parents have talked about this movie in front of you while you were growing up. Remember the song “Mrs. Robinson” by Simon and Garfunkel? Yes, well, that song was created for this film exactly. Dustin Hoffman plays Benjamin Braddock, a recent college graduate who is home for the summer and has no clue what he wants from his life. His somewhat awkward yet charming character starts an enticing affair with his parent’s close friend, Mrs. Robinson. What was meant to be summer fun quickly changes the course of Benjamin’s life. This movie is about taking chances and learning that people are often more complex than we think them to be.

16. An Education

A 16-year-old living in London and attending school falls in love with an older man who seems too good to be true. She experiences high society life outside the classroom by attending jazz concerts, eating in fine restaurants, and being surrounded by luxury. When her love life begins taking over priorities, she must decide between her schooling and her love. This movie teaches us that even if we stray off course and make a bad decision, sometimes there are ways to get back on track if we desire it badly enough.

17. Garden State

Garden State teaches us that going home again isn’t always as bad as it may seem. The main character, an actor in Los Angeles gets call that his mother has died—back home in New Jersey. Returning to the garden state, he meets new friends, reconnects with the old, and happens to find himself on the adventure of a lifetime.

18. Lost in Translation

Many people in their 20’s will travel to a foreign place at some point, especially if one has an international career. This film depicts exactly what it is like to feel lonely in a foreign country. Bill Murray plays a celebrity in Tokyo who feels out of place in the new culture. He meets a recent Yale female graduate who is stuck in an unfulfilling marriage. Mostly filmed in their hotel, the movie lets us experience a new friendship between the two that takes us away from their loneliness. This film teaches us that it is possible to feel connected to others while traveling, and who knows, we may meet someone who really changes our lives for the better and puts more meaning into our lives.

19. To Kill a Mockingbird

This film is a fantastic depiction of the famous book written by Harper Lee. It follows along the plot of the novel, which dips into themes of racism, prejudice, fighting for what is right, fatherhood, family, and the culture of the South in the 1960s. In our 20’s, we find ourselves in situations that beg us to stand up for what we believe in, and this film is a clear reminder that we should do exactly that, even if a whole town of people is against us.

20. Office Space

I saved the funniest movie for last. Yes, this was on purpose. We all need to laugh every now and again, and I think anyone in their 20s can relate to this film about a young man trying to find the meaning of his tech job. It’s sarcastic, it’s creative, and it reminds us that sometimes the most meaningful things in life are not what you expect them to be. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

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