Dancing scene from the film 'Girlhood' (2014)
(Pyramide Distribution)

10 Best Movies Like Thirteen

It’s been two decades since Thirteen sparked conversations, raised eyebrows, and made a few parents quite uncomfortable. But that’s the beauty of this film. It doesn’t just entertain; it educates, resonates, and disturbs. Where teenage turmoil is often sugarcoated, Thirteen is a bold, genuine testament to the struggles of growing up. The main character, Tracy, is a 13-year-old girl who, in her quest for acceptance, tumbles down the rabbit hole of self-destruction. 

Recommended Videos

Tracy’s metamorphosis from a grade-A student to a rebel without a cause is not just a transformation; it’s a not-so-shocking revelation of the teenage psyche. And, like Thirteen, there are several other films that are like mirrors held up to society, reflecting the often unseen struggles of young adolescents—the list below highlights ten of these films.

Moonlight (2016)

Trevante Rhodes as Chiron in Moonlight

Moonlight, a film as luminous as its title, takes us on a journey through the life of Chiron, a young black man navigating his identity and sexuality in the rough-and-tumble world of Miami. Divided into three acts, each part of the film reveals a layer of Chiron’s life, from a shy, bullied child to a hardened adult. In the first act, “Little,” we meet Chiron as a quiet, introverted child, nicknamed “Little,” who wrestles with the challenges of troubled home life and bullying. 

The second act shifts to his teenage years, delving into Chiron’s struggles with his sexuality and identity amidst the trials of high school. In the final act, “Black,” Chiron is an adult, his exterior hardened by years of emotional suppression and societal expectations. Moonlight transcends the boundaries of traditional storytelling, offering an empathetic and profoundly human exploration of the complexities of growing up in a world where vulnerability and strength coexist.

The Virgin Suicides (1999)

Lux Lisbon (Kirsten Dunst) lays in a grassy field and smiles wistfully in 'The Virgin Suicides'
(Paramount Pictures)

Directed by Sofia Coppola, The Virgin Suicides unfolds the enigmatic story of the Lisbon sisters, five ethereal beings trapped in the suffocating embrace of suburbia and parental control. It’s like peering through a misty window into a hauntingly beautiful yet profoundly sad world. The film, set in the 1970s, is a dreamy, almost surreal portrait of youth and loss. 

The Lisbon sisters are like rare, exotic flowers in a garden of the mundane, wilting around the edges under the watchful eye of their overbearing mother. The neighborhood boys, serving as our somewhat unreliable narrators, add a layer of mystique as they attempt to piece together the puzzle of these enigmatic sisters from afar. Their fascination mirrors our own; it’s part voyeuristic, part empathetic.

Girlhood (2014)

Karidja Touré, Assa Sylla, Lindsay Karamoh and Mariétou Touré in 'Girlhood' (2014)
(Pyramide Distribution)

A gem in the crown of French cinema, Girlhood, directed by Céline Sciamma, captures the essence of growing up as a girl in the Parisian banlieues. We follow Marieme, a girl whose journey from shy wallflower to street-smart swan is as mesmerizing as the City of Lights itself. Marieme’s transformation is not just a change of wardrobe or hairstyle; it’s a profound exploration of identity, friendship, and the pursuit of freedom in a world that often seems to have its own plans. 

The film doesn’t shy away from the grittier aspects of teenage life, from schoolyard skirmishes to the battlefields of young love. It paints a picture that’s as real as it is resonant, a portrait of youth that doesn’t need the Eiffel Tower in the background to be quintessentially Parisian. Girlhood shines a spotlight on stories often left in the shadows, illuminating the lives of those who navigate the complex interplay of gender, race, and class. 

Mustang (2015)

Güneş Şensoy. Doğa Doğuşlu, Elit İşcan, Tuğba Sunguroğlu and İlayda Akdoğan in 'Mustang'
(Ad Vitam)

Mustang is a poignant narrative set in a remote Turkish village. The film follows the lives of five sisters whose spirits are as wild and untamed as the title suggests. Directed by Deniz Gamze Ergüven, Mustang is an odyssey of resilience and defiance, told with a warmth that mesmerizes the viewer. These sisters, caught in the tangles of tradition and the grip of conservative guardians, embark on a journey that’s as much about breaking free as it is about growing up. 

Their world, constrained by societal norms, is a battleground where every giggle, every whisper, every dream is an act of rebellion. Mustang doesn’t just depict this struggle; it celebrates it, painting a portrait of youthful defiance that’s as beautiful as it is bittersweet. The sisters’ unbreakable bond reminds us that sometimes, the fiercest battles are fought with laughter, love, and a stubborn refusal to conform. 

The Hate U Give (2018)

Amandla Stenberg in The Hate U Give.

Directed with a deft hand by George Tillman Jr., The Hate U Give is adapted from Angie Thomas’s novel, bringing to life the story of Starr Carter, a teenager who straddles two worlds: the poor, predominantly black neighborhood where she lives and the affluent, mostly white prep school she attends.

The film is a powerful conversation starter, a catalyst for discourse. Starr portrayed compellingly with vulnerability and strength, becomes the eyes through which we witness a tragedy that shakes her and her community to the core. Her journey from a girl who silently observes to a voice that demands to be heard is as inspiring and heart-wrenching.

Lady Bird (2017)

The young Ladybird tries to pray but is distracted while kneeling in a church pew in "Ladybird"

Set in the early 2000s, Lady Bird follows Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, played by Saoirse Ronan, a high school senior with more ambition than her Sacramento confines can contain. Directed by the remarkably talented Greta Gerwig, the film is like a love letter to the awkwardness of growing up, the clashes with parents who don’t understand, and the painful beauty of first loves and friendships. 

Gerwig’s direction balances between humor and heartache, capturing the essence of being on the brink of adulthood, where every emotion feels like a seismic event. The dialogue crackles with the energy of real-life conversations, topped with humor and insights that make you nod in recognition.

Pariah (2011)

Adepero Oduye as Alike in 'Pariah'
(Focus Features)

A film as bold and beautiful as a Brooklyn sunrise, Pariah explores identity, sexuality, and the complexities of youth. Directed by Dee Rees with a sensitivity that’s as touching as it is truthful, the film tells the story of Alike, a young African-American woman grappling with her sexual identity amid the backdrop of a world that’s not quite ready to embrace her truth. It’s like watching a butterfly struggle out of its cocoon, a metamorphosis both painful and exquisite.

Alike’s journey, portrayed with an understated yet powerful performance, is not just about coming out; it’s about coming into one’s own in a society that often feels like a straightjacket of expectations. What makes Pariah remarkable is its ability to tell a story that’s both specific and universal. It’s like a well-crafted poem, each line resonating with a rhythm that speaks to the heart. 

Brown Girl Begins (2017)

Mouna Traoré  in 'Brown Girl Begins'

Brown Girl Begins, directed by Sharon Lewis, is an adaptation of Nalo Hopkinson’s novel Brown Girl in the Ring, and it transports us to a dystopian Toronto in 2049. Here, we meet Ti-Jeanne, a fiery protagonist with the spirit of a warrior and the heart of a healer. Brown Girl Begins is rich with elements of Afro-Caribbean folklore with a futuristic vision, creating an enchanting and thought-provoking narrative.

The film expertly marries the fantastical with the real, crafting a world where spirits mingle with humans and the future is as steeped in the past as it is in the present. Ti-Jeanne’s journey is a fight for survival, self-discovery, and empowerment. Brown Girl Begins stands out because of its refreshing perspective. We rarely see a post-apocalyptic world painted with such a rich palette of cultural influences or a heroine whose strength comes from her heritage and community. 

American Honey (2016)

Sasha Lane as Star in 'American Honey'

With its sprawling narrative and eclectic cast of characters, American Honey is like a love note written on the fringes of a civilization in flux. Sasha Lane brings unfiltered, magnetic energy to the role of Star as she joins a group of misfit teenagers who sell magazine subscriptions and set out on a quest that is as much about making money as it is about finding oneself in the vast American landscape.

In a cinematic world often obsessed with neat narratives and tidy endings, American Honey is a refreshing gust of wind, reminding us that sometimes the most profound stories are those that unfold in the backroads and byways of life, in the spaces between destinations, in the heart of the journey itself.

The Edge of Seventeen (2016)

Hailee Steinfeld as Nadine in 'The Edge of Seventeen'
(STX Entertainment)

The Edge of Seventeen, directed by Kelly Fremon Craig, is a sharp-witted, heart-tugging expedition into teenagehood. This film, starring Hailee Steinfeld as the irresistibly endearing and perpetually mortified Nadine, captures the high-stakes drama of high school, where every social misstep feels like an apocalypse.

Nadine’s life is a roller coaster of emotions set against the monotony of the suburbs. There are ups and downs in her family life, her friendships, and her sexual relationships. It’s like watching a wildlife documentary on the adolescent species, both hilariously relatable and poignantly insightful. 

(featured image: Pyramide Distribution)

The Mary Sue is supported by our audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn a small affiliate commission. Learn more about our Affiliate Policy
Image of Faith Katunga
Faith Katunga
Faith is a freelance journalist with an insatiable curiosity for all aspects of current events, from the global economy and fashion to pop culture and travel. She watches an absurd number of cat videos on Instagram when not reading or writing about what is going on in the world. Faith has written for several publications, including We Got This Covered, Italy Magazine, TheTravel, etc., and holds a master's degree in Fashion Culture and Management.