31 Best Quarter life crisis movies Movies to Watch

Staff & contributors

The film opens with Julie in her early twenties, longing to pursue a career in medical school. But after briefly testing the waters, she switches over to psychology, only to drop completely out of school and transform her hobby of photography into a professional career. This indecisiveness carries over in most aspects of her life, including and especially in romance, where impulse and desire drive her to run after what she believes to be love. The movie follows Julie as she navigates adulthood in modern Oslo—at once a specific yet universally relatable story about the growing pains of growing up.

With The Worst Person in the World, Joachim Trier scores again with another life-changing Norwegian drama about longing, love, grief, and finding your place in the world. His films can be quite sad but amidst all the drama, moments of happiness and hope are scattered throughout, as it is in real life.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Anders Danielsen Lie, Anna Dworak, Gisle Tveito, Hans Olav Brenner, Herbert Nordrum, Ine Jansen, Maria Grazia Di Meo, Marianne Krogh, Renate Reinsve, Ruby Dagnall, Sofia Schandy Bloch, Thea Stabell, Vidar Sandem

Director: Joachim Trier

In both documentaries and films, adoptees meeting their biological parents for the first time is an event often painted in a sweet light. Never mind the child’s mixed feelings about it or the tragic reality that caused the split in the first place—it’s a reunion between family members, so it must be unequivocally special. In Return to Seoul, director Davy Chou doesn’t just debunk that myth, he subverts it by making the adoptee, Freddie, as unapologetically complex and emotionally enigmatic as possible. She resists affection but wallows in loneliness. She craves reinvention but stays in the same place for years. She’s in constant motion while being absolutely stuck in life. In other words, she’s a realistic embodiment of a person struggling to find some semblance of home. Chou displays an intimate understanding of the foreign experience, and he couples it with captivating cinematography, a rousing soundtrack, and fantastic performances across the board to make a daring, inventive, and thoroughly exciting film. 

Genre: Drama

Actor: Guka Han, Heo Jin, Hur Jin, Kim Dong-seok, Kim Sun-young, Louis-Do de Lencquesaing, Oh Gwang-rok, Oh Kwang-rok, Yoann Zimmer

Director: Davy Chou

Rating: R

Mary and Max is the tale of an overlooked 8-year-old girl from Australia starting an unlikely friendship via mail with a middle-aged Jewish man from New York. Shot completely in monocromatic claymotion, it is the first feature film by Australian stop-motion animation writer, Adam Elliot, and the first ever animated film to score the opening slot at Sundance Festival. In all its playful absurdity, Mary and Max is an emotional and wise gem of a film that examines the human condition through the eyes of a troubled child and an autistic American. In contrast to its clay-based animation, it deals with some pretty dark and adult themes, but succeeds in balancing those with happiness and absurd humor. Moreover, Elliott gathered an ensemble cast to do the voice-overs, which includes Philip Seymour Hoffman, Toni Collette, and Eric Bana. We recommend it 8 condensed milks out of 10.

Genre: Animation, Comedy, Drama

Actor: Adam Elliot, Barry Humphries, Bethany Whitmore, Carolyn Shakespeare-Allen, Christopher Massey, Eric Bana, Henry Karjalainen, Ian 'Molly' Meldrum, Ian Meldrum, John Flaus, Julie Forsyth, Michael Ienna, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Renée Geyer, Renée Geyer, Toni Collette

Director: Adam Elliot

Rating: Not Rated

Miles Teller plays Andrew Nieman, an ambitious young jazz drummer striving for greatness, who is edged towards breaking point by the sadism of his teacher and conductor, Terence Fletcher, played expertly by J.K. Simmons. Fletcher insults him, pressures him, and makes him cry in front of all his peers. Directed by Damien Chazelle, who was one of the youngest people to receive a Golden Globe and an Academy Award for the powerful La La Land, the aptly titled Whiplash poses some intense questions about artistry and ambition. Will Andrew survive? Will it lift him to a higher artistic level? Can his tormentor be appeased through accomplishment? It's almost impossible to single out the best part of this film, considering the flawless performances, masterful script, and meticulously crafted soundtrack. Cherishing the existential artist without giving easy answers, Whiplash is an inspiring watch.

Genre: Drama, Music

Actor: Adrian Burks, April Grace, Austin Stowell, C.J. Vana, Calvin C. Winbush, Charlie Ian, Chris Mulkey, Clifton 'Fou Fou' Eddie, Damon Gupton, Henry G. Sanders, J.K. Simmons, Janet Hoskins, Jayson Blair, Jocelyn Ayanna, Joseph Oliveira, Kavita Patil, Keenan Allen, Keenan Henson, Kofi Siriboe, Marcus Henderson, Max Kasch, Melissa Benoist, Michael D. Cohen, Michelle Ruff, Miles Teller, Nate Lang, Paul Reiser, Rogelio Douglas Jr., Stephen Hsu, Suanne Spoke, Tarik Lowe, Tony Baker, Tyler Kimball, Wendee Lee

Director: Damien Chazelle

Rating: R

Poignant, delightful, and simply gorgeous, Licorice Pizza just might be Paul Thomas Anderson's best work to date. The period dramedy follows two young people, one in her 20s and one in his teens, as they strike an unlikely but lovely friendship and try to find their place in the world. They may be 10 years apart, but they're stuck in the same swirl of rejection and confusion that trap a lot of ambitious people like them. The premise is far from original, but Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman turn in captivating performances (made even more impressive by the fact that this is both their film debut). There is an ease and naturalism to both their chemistry and onscreen performances that’s hard not to love.

The thick and wistful patina of the ‘70s, the comedic asides, and the colorful supporting cast all also help paint an overall charming picture that shouldn't be missed.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Adam Somner, AJ Carr, Alana Haim, Alex Canter, Alex Herschlag, Allegra Clark, Anna Cordell, Anthony Molinari, Ariel Rechtshaid, Benjamin Barrett, Benny Safdie, Bottara Angele, Bradley Cooper, Cassandra Kulukundis, Charlotte Townsend, Christine Ebersole, Ciara Williamson, Cooper Hoffman, Craig Stark, Dan Anderson, Danielle Haim, Danielle Miller, Delaina Mitchell, Demelza Cronin, Destry Allyn Spielberg, Dick Rudolph, Eloy Perez, Emily Althaus, Emma Dumont, Erica Sullivan, Este Haim, Fatimah Hassan, George DiCaprio, Gerren Hall, Harriet Sansom Harris, Hazel Schaffer, Ingrid Sophie Schram, Isabelle Kusman, Iyana Halley, Jeff Willy, John C. Reilly, John Michael Higgins, Jon Beavers, Jonathan Goetzman, Joseph Cross, Karen Kilgariff, Kat Barnette, Kimiko Kasai, Kirk Saduski, Lakin Valdez, Laura Gary, Laura Louise Richardson, Liz Cackowski, Louis Delavenne, Mark Flanagan, Mark Wolfson, Mary Eileen O'Donnell, Mary Elizabeth Ellis, Max Mitchell, Maya Rudolph, Mick Giacchino, Nate Mann, Paige Locke, Patrick Salway, Pearl Minnie Anderson, Ray Chase, Ray Nicholson, Richard B. Larimore, Rogelio Camarillo, Ryan Heffington, Sasha Spielberg, Savannah Ioakimedes, Sean Penn, Skyler Gisondo, Steven Herrera, Tim Conway Jr., Tom Waits, Tyler Young, Waylon Richling, Yumi Mizui, Zoe McLane

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

Adam Sandler, though currently imminently marketable, incredibly played out and boring, used to be a real actor. This is the film by which his legacy will be judged, where we see the funnyman drop the mask and actually show real feelings besides bumbling rage. Sandler's hurt and confused performance is beautifully vulnerable and true and is complimented by P.T. Anderson's incomparable direction (the man behind Boogie Nights and There Will Be Blood), creating a true masterpiece of American cinema. This beauty also stars Philip Seymour Hoffman and Emily Watson.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance, Thriller

Actor: Adam Sandler, David H. Stevens, Don McManus, Emily Watson, Hazel Mailloux, Jason Andrews, Joji Yoshida, Jonathan Loughran, Karen Kilgariff, Larry Ring, Luis Guzman, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Nathan Stevens, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rico Bueno, Robert Smigel, Shelley Waggener

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

Rating: R

A young bisexual woman attends a shiva, caught between her parents and their expectations, her ex, and her sugar daddy. Rachel Sennott’s Danielle is yet to find her path in life and everyone is determined to remind her of that. Taking place almost entirely in real-time, the film’s sharp wit is contrasted with constant anxiety, complemented by Ariel Marx’s horror-like score, full of discordant pizzicato that sounds like every last bit of sanity snapping. 

It’s a sex-positive take on 20-something life, treating bisexuality as wholly unremarkable and passing no judgment on Danielle’s sugar daddy income. Its specificities about Jewish customs and traditions are non-exclusionary, while its social claustrophobia is achingly universal. It’s comforting in the way it portrays the social horrors we all face, the feeling that everyone but you has life figured out, and that – ultimately – those who matter will pull through, eventually. One of 2021’s best.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Ariel Eliaz, Cilda Shaur, Danny Deferrari, Deborah Offner, Dianna Agron, Fred Melamed, Glynis Bell, Jackie Hoffman, Molly Gordon, Polly Draper, Rachel Sennott, Richard Brundage, Rita Gardner, Sondra James, Ted Seligman

Director: Emma Seligman

Rating: Unrated

This masterpiece from Norwegian director Joachim Trier is a clear-eyed movie that takes place in one day in the life of a 34-year-old. Anders, a recovering drug addict, gets to leave his rehab facility for the first time to take a job interview. He visits friends, tries to meet his ex, and goes to the interview. With every interaction, you get to know him more and understand that what he's going through is shared with everyone he meets. At 34, Anders feels it is too late to turn his life around, and so do his friends. He just happens to be a drug addict.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Aksel Thanke, Anders Borchgrevink, Anders Danielsen Lie, Hans Olav Brenner, Ingrid Olava, Kjærsti Odden Skjeldal, Malin Crepin, Øystein Røger, Petter Width Kristiansen, Renate Reinsve, Tone Beate Mostraum

Director: Joachim Trier

Rating: Not Rated

After 2019's The Souvenir—a drama about a toxic, suffocating relationship—director Joanna Hogg brings back her protagonist (played by a superb Honor Swinton Byrne) and sees her attempting to communicate the experience of this failed romance through her thesis film. Anybody with an interest in the production process of cinema should glean a ton of useful advice from The Souvenir Part II's mundane on-set interactions and difficult conversations about the line between compromise and practicality. And through increasingly surreal images of stages within stages and reflections within reflections, Hogg paints a complex, intelligent portrait of cinema as a place of ultimate self-examination.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Alice McMillan, Amber Anderson, Amrou Al-Kadhi, Anna Calvi, Ariane Labed, Ben Hecking, Byron Broadbent, Charlie Heaton, Chris Dickens, Crispin Buxton, Davide Albonetti, Erik Wilson, Frankie Wilson, Gala Botero, Harris Dickinson, Honor Swinton Byrne, Inès Rau, Jack McMullen, James Fox, Jaygann Ayeh, Joe Alwyn, Lydia Fox, Richard Ayoade, Tilda Swinton, Tom Burke, Tosin Cole, Yasmin Paige

Director: Joanna Hogg

Sunshine Cleaning is a great addition to that unidentified genre of grown-up comedies populated by other great entries like Your Sister's Sister and Enough Said. It is however, less of a comedy than it is a heart-warming emotional tale. Powered by outstanding performances from Amy Adams and Emily Blunt, it ultimately evolves into a character study of failed potential and validation seeking. Sunshine Cleaning is enjoyable, satisfying to a fault, and provides an interesting peak into the lives of its characters.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Alan Arkin, Amber Midthunder, Amy Adams, Amy Redford, Angelique Midthunder, Clifton Collins Jr., Emily Blunt, Eric Christian Olsen, Ivan Brutsche, Jason Spevack, Judith Jones, Kathy Lamkin, Kevin Chapman, Lois Geary, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Paul Dooley, Steve Zahn, Susie Yip, Vic Browder

Director: Christine Jeffs

Rating: R

This beautiful, realistic, and nostalgic anime movie about childhood is one that almost anyone can relate to. Set in the year of 1982, twenty-seven-year-old Taeko Okajima is traveling to the countryside by train. Along her journey, she gets flashbacks of her childhood: mostly in elementary school, stealing glances at a boy, and navigating puberty. The movie goes back and forth between past and present, easily making one long for sun-filled summers of yesteryear and silly jokes between playfriends. As well as telling a story about Taeko's past, Only Yesterday also tells a story about her present, and the combined realism of the plotline with the beautiful animation grips you and doesn’t let go. Only Yesterday truly feels like home.

Genre: Animation, Drama, Romance

Actor: Chie Kitagawa, Ichirō Nagai, Issey Takahashi, Masahiro Ito, Masahiro Itou, Mayumi Iizuka, Mayumi Izuka, Michie Terada, Miki Imai, Toshiro Yanagiba, Yoko Honna, Yorie Yamashita, Yoshimasa Kondô, Yuki Minowa, Yuuki Masuda

Director: Isao Takahata

Rating: PG

John Carney, who directed the critically and commercially successful Once, may be the world’s best captor of charm. Begin Again tells the story of a broken-hearted singer who gets discovered by a failed showbiz executive. Their ideas and love for music are all they have to face their failures and bring their creativity to life. The original songs are charming and from Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo to Yasiin Bey (Mos Def), Adam Levine, and Cee-Lo Green, the cast generate sparkling chemistry and portray the story beautifully. Begin again is a sweet and effortless watch, yet far from being your classic rom-com.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Music, Romance

Actor: Adam Levine, Andrew Sellon, Aya Cash, Catherine Keener, Cee Lo Green, CeeLo Green, Danielle Brisebois, David Abeles, David Pendleton, Emily Yarbourgh, Eric Burton, Hailee Steinfeld, James Corden, Jen Jacob, Jennifer Li Jackson, Jimmy Palumbo, John Carney, Karen Pittman, Keen Ruffalo, Keira Knightley, Kena Onyenjekwe, Maddie Corman, Madison Love, Marco Assante, Mark Ruffalo, Mary Catherine Garrison, Mos Def, Paul Romero, Rob Morrow, Sama Fernands, Shannon Maree Walsh, Shannon Walsh, Simon Delaney, Stacey Maltin, Terry Lewis, Yasiin Bey

Director: John Carney

Rating: R

Asako is in love with Baku—deeply and almost delusionally, in a way that can only manifest in young love. But when the freewheeling Baku ghosts Asako for good, she moves from Osaka all the way to Tokyo to start a new life. Years later, she's startled to meet Baku's doppelganger in Ryohei, an office man whose solid dependability and lack of artfulness, while endearing, could not place him any further from Baku. Confused and lonely, Asako tiptoes around her feelings for Ryohei and, in the process, raises thought-provoking questions about the meaning, ethics, and true purpose of love.

 

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Ariei Umefune, Atsushi Kaneshige, Daichi Watanabe, Erika Karata, Fusako Urabe, Koji Nakamoto, Koji Seto, Maki Nishiyama, Masahiro Higashide, Misako Tanaka, Nao Okabe, Rio Yamashita, Ryotaro Yonemura, Sairi Ito, Takeshi Ōnishi

Director: Ryusuke Hamaguchi

Rating: Not Rated

Annette Bening, Greta Gerwig, and many other big names star in this comedy-drama directed by Mike Mills (Beginners, Thumbsucker.) The story spans multiple generations but starts in 1979, where Dorothea Fields (Bening) is finding it increasingly difficult to raise her son alone. She enlists the help of two other women, one her son’s age and the other a New Yorker in her twenties who is very active in the punk scene. The three women, of three different generations and personalities as well as takes on the concept of “only a man can raise a man,” play different roles in this kid’s life. 20th Century Women is based on director Mike Mill’s own upbringing in Southern California.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Alex Wexo, Alia Shawkat, Alison Elliott, Annette Bening, Billy Crudup, Britt Sanborn, Cameron Gellman, Cameron Protzman, Christina Offley, Christopher Carroll, Curran Walters, Daniel Dorr, Darrell Britt-Gibson, Elle Fanning, Eric Wentz, Finn Roberts, Gareth Williams, Greta Gerwig, Ian Logan, J. Francisco Rodriguez, John Billingsley, Joshua Burge, Kai Lennox, Kirk Bovill, Laura Slade Wiggins, Lucas Jade Zumann, Matthew Cardarople, Matthew Foster, Mike Mills, Nathalie Love, Olivia Hone, Paul Messinger, Paul Tigue, Randy Ryan, Rick Gifford, Thea Gill, Toni Christopher, Victoria Bruno, Victoria Hoffman, Vitaly Andrew LeBeau, Waleed Zuaiter, Zoë Worth

Director: Mike Mills

Rating: R

This drama was the first feature written and directed by an out Black lesbian, Cheryl Dunye, and it is an absolute joy: a cheeky faux-documentary that ingeniously blends lesbian dating life with a historical dive into Black actors in 30s Hollywood.

Dunye plays Cheryl, a self-effacing version of herself, an aspiring director working at a video store who begins to research an actress known as the Watermelon Woman for a documentary. The more Cheryl dives into her research, the more she sees parallels between her subject and her own relationship. 

As incisive as it is funny, The Watermelon Woman shares some common ground with other major indie debuts of the era like Spike Lee’s She’s Gotta Have It and funnily enough Kevin Smith’s Clerks, but Dunye’s style is wholly her own and a dazzling treat to experience.

 

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Brian Freeman, Camille Paglia, Cheryl Clarke, Cheryl Dunye, David Rakoff, Guinevere Turner, Irene Dunye, Lisa Marie Bronson, Sarah Schulman

Director: Cheryl Dunye