The “quarterlife crisis” marks the period of life for many young people when the rivers of freedom, privilege and carefree living suddenly run dry, leaving only responsibility, careers and commitments to confront.
Many movies depict the main character’s journey through a quarterlife crisis. Protagonists are often forced to reject their metamorphosis or accept the banalities of adulthood.
Here are some of the best of the “quarterlife crisis” films, a sub-genre often consisting of wandering male leads, pressures from friends and family and absolutely killer soundtracks. (Fair warning: Some of these get a little raunchy, but they’re ultimately redemptive).
Watch and know that whatever form your crisis takes, you’re not alone.
Garden State (2004)
The quintessential quarter life crisis film of the 2000s, Zach Braff starred in and directed this semi-autobiographical journey of a struggling actor’s return to his hometown after the death of his mother. He must face his hometown, clean up the the cobwebs of his past and attempt to glean what wisdom and experience he can to propel him forward.
Building on the “Will it ever happen to me?/Always a bridesmaid, never a bride” idioms, Bridesmaids features Kristen Wiig at her post-SNL best. Struggling with confidence in both her personal and professional life, she must hit rock bottom in a chocolate fountain meltdown before she can pick herself up to find her Romeo and her true calling.
Frances Ha (2012)
Noah Baumbach’s 2012 film features the guileless Frances Halladay, played by Greta Gerwig, whose crisis that sends her around the world in search of herself begins in the seemingly simplest of ways: her roommate decides to move out.
Office Space (1999)
Instantly relatable for anyone who’s ever spent time in a cubicle. Office Space explores what happens when the broken printers, working weekends and a hovering boss create an incurable “case of the Mondays.”
Taxi Driver (1976)
With little backstory, we are quickly introduced to our twentysomething anti-hero, Travis Bickle, who’s struggling to find his place in society. He relegates himself to the dark streets of NY, absorbing the underbelly of society and ultimately taking on the role of a self-appointed cultural savior through redemptive violence. He goes through a with a misguided personal journey that leads to uh, well … a bloody, bloody end.
Good Will Hunting (1997)
A prodigy from South Boston struggles with his own inadequacy and loyalties to his blue collar childhood friends. Guided by the counsel of a small-time psychologist, Will Hunting seeks to find a way to reconcile his past and define what “potential” means to him.
Knocked Up (2007)
Judd Apatow thrives with characters who are forced to grow up before they think they’re ready. Knocked Up’s two leads, played by Katherine Heigl and Seth Rogen, certainly fit that mold and are thrust into maturation when a one-night stand turns into a commitment neither of them were ready for.
Shaun of the Dead (2004)
Yes, there is a literal crisis of Zombies overtaking the U.K. that threaten the life of Shaun, played by Simon Pegg. But the silver lining in this Zombiepocalypse is that Shaun is forced out of his daily monotony of beer, video games and dead-end job as an electronic’s store manager. He loses (sort of) his step dad and best friend in the process, but he is pushed beyond his limits and though he eventually returns to his life of beer and video games, he does so with a new sense of accomplishment.
Tommy Boy (1995)
There comes a time in every man’s life when he must stack up against the life of his father. For some, like our protagonist Tommy, it’s not a fair fight. With the family business in his hands, Tommy ventures out on the road to save the company and prove himself once and for all to dear ol’ dad.
The Graduate (1967)
An early adopter of the “quarterlife crisis.” Ben Braddock returns home from college to find the life his parents have laid out for him; job interviews, potential girlfriends and scuba trips. But Ben stalls, unable to join the previous generation’s system, he chooses instead the accompaniment of a woman twice his age. Eventually, the wild oats run out and he’s forced to face his future and decide what’s worth investing the rest of his life in.