Culture / Film

Must-watch films to see before you turn 30

There has always been something mysterious, magical and meaningless about the age of 30. For a time, reaching this very number signified the juncture where something was meant to have happened for you. Getting the job, getting married, the absurd idea that you're meant to have figured it out at an age where most of us have barely processed the harrowing decade of our 20s. And boy, were those roaring.

Although those particular expectations feel like laughable and somewhat archaic guidelines, turning 30 is obviously still an important milestone and one that should be commemorated by watching a few good movies. So, we've asked a few wise old friends what the best movies to watch before you're 30 are and they've come back with some stellar choices.

Strong characters, powerful messages and belly-aching laughs seemed to be the main criteria for their shortlists. As one friend told me, if "I was doing this list before I turned 21, I would have said Into the Wild. For 30 though, I feel like you just need a good laugh." Another selectee said her criteria for the best movies to watch before you turned  30 was "any film that deals with the terrible angst and uncertainty of your 20s. I feel watching films when you can relate, and seeing your situation played out on the screen is always deeply satisfying, comforting and can be life-changing."

We now give you a list of films that are really good for people of any age to watch, selected by a couple of my helpful 30 year old friends.

1. Frances Ha (2013)

Not many films portray the specifics of that floating listlessness that is your late 20s like Frances Ha. Set in black and white, the Noah Baumbach directed comedy-drama is co-written with Greta Gerwig (who also plays the lead, Frances). The film meanders in true mumblecore fashion around the major anxieties that plague the 20-something person, particularly relationships, career and friendships against the melancholy backdrop of New York City.

2. Romy And Michele's High School Reunion (2005)

What could be more pleasurable than watching Lisa Kudrow and Mir0 Sorvino as Romy and Michele plotting for their high school reunion as they pretend to be more successful than they are? This film's depiction of friendship and style is exactly what you want to see on screen as you head into your third decade.

3. Climax (2018)

"Climax is the sort of movie that will make you want to party OR never party again, which could be helpful as you turn 30," a friend writes. This warning feels necessary, as Climax takes you on a tumultuous journey that starts off at the wrap party of an incredibly chic french dance troupe that turns into the stuff of nightmares. This is one of Argentinian director, Gaspar Noé's classic films that explore violence and sex in equal measure as he artfully explores the darker sides of the human condition. It also contains some invaluable life lessons about not drinking the communal punch.

4. Garden State (2004)

Directed by Zach Braff who also starred in the film along with Natalie Portman, and Peter Sarsgaard, this is a tale of self-discovery and the malaise of young adulthood. This is one of those films that follows the main character back to his hometown where he embarks on his journey of self discovery. This film sure has divided people due to Braff's solidifying of the manic pixie dream girl trope via Portman's character and precious self-aggrandising nature. However, we can't deny the satisfaction of watching the world from Braff's acute portrayal of the terrors of standing on brink of adulthood.

5. A Bigger Splash (2016)

6. Paris is Burning (1990)

Paris is Burning is the only documentary on this list for a reason. In the making for seven years, this vibrant time capsule of New York's Ballroom Scene in the 80s directed by Jennie Livingston is one of the great documentaries of our time. The presentation of the life of black and Hispanic, queer culture tackles pressing issues including racism and poverty many faced. The film inspires a streak of self-determination and the encouragement of individuality mixed with colourful ballroom sequences.

Beau Travail is a staggeringly stunning film that earned director Claire Denis the credit of  "one of the great visual tone poets of our time," by Criterion Channel. This modern tragedy is fuelled by timeless desires as an ex-Foreign Legion officer recalls his once-glorious life. This film uses perspective as its guiding force as it combines the expectations of masculinity, repressed desire and jealousy to combust in an explosive ending.

8. 13 going on 30 (2004)

I'm sorry, I had to. Look, it's not just because of the name. I genuinely think this film comes with some useful messaging about prioritising the things that really matter as you grow older. Although this film definitely had me and every other tweenager expecting to work at a magazine and live in an apartment in New York where we would hail a taxi every morning to our glamorous magazine job, the film's merit is that it ends with the revelation that it's best to be yourself, no matter who you are. It's also just an absolute early 2000s classic that definitely deserves a rewatch before you're 30, flirty and thriving.

If you're looking for something to watch, we have a couple more films you may like. Want to watch more of Luca Guadagnino's films after seeing Tilda Swinton in A Bigger Splash? Or perhaps you'd like another documentary to follow the iconic Paris is Burning. 

9. Dumplings (2004)

You are what you eat. There is no better film that deals in the fear of feminine ageing, and I mean really. This beautifully shot Hong Kong thriller interweaves the tales of two women who are in dire need of rejuvenation - fiscal, and facial. The famed dumpling chef cooks dumplings that are sworn to be the elixir of all youth, and her client, a madam wooing her husband with a wandering eye, buys into the idea that she can reverse time with every bite.

10. May December (2023)

Todd Haynes has done it again. May December is yet another incendiary send-off to his ever-growing collection of acclaimed films, and this one is deliciously campy. Enlisting the help of Natalie Portman and Julianne Moore, the film is a melodramatic feat of explosive age gaps and intrigue. The story of Gracie Athertoon-Yoo is too macabre and heartrendingly curious to resist: What type of thirty-year old woman grooms a fourteen year-old boy?


11. Marie Antoinette (2006) 

Is there a motto for our frivolous twenties better than 'Let Them Eat Cake?'  We here at RUSSH don't think so. This is essential viewing, and we think you know all the confetti'd, lace-crimped reasons why.

12. All About My Mother (1999)

And so it goes. Pedro Almodovar's stunning coming-of-age film is a portrait of womanhood in all its iterations, bleeding narratives of mothers, trans paternal figures, romance and adolescence all in one dizzying saga. Esteban is a child who dreams of one day becoming a writer. His father's identity is tucked away from him until it comes to light that everything he's known about motherhood has only covered a minutia of what it means to live and care for one another. Don't forget to clock baby-faced Penelope Cruz in her bloom.


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Image source: One Two Three