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14 Best Movies Like Stand By Me You Need To Watch

Looper 9/28/2022 Meg Shields
River Phoenix staring © Columbia Pictures River Phoenix staring

There are plenty of directors who look down on children both as cinematic subjects and audience members. It's easy to be condescending towards kids when you lack the memory (or the imagination) to consider them as complex human beings with rich inner lives, feelings, and desires. "Stand by Me," on the other hand, is a high watermark when it comes to films that treat kids with respect.

Released in 1986, "Stand by Me" is directed by Rob Reiner and adapts Stephen King's 1982 novella "The Body," in which four young friends set off down the local train tracks to locate the corpse of a missing boy. Along the way, we learn more about each of the boys' difficult family lives and why, exactly, they're so keen to spend a weekend away from home. Gordie Lachance (Wil Wheaton) feels like his parents resent him for being alive after the sudden death of his much-loved older brother. Chris Chambers (River Phoenix) comes from an abusive home and flirts with a self-destructive life of crime. Teddy Duchamp (Corey Feldman) bares the literal scars of his veteran father's PTSD, and Vern Tessio (Jerry O'Connell) lives in poverty. What begins as a curiosity-satiating expedition quickly develops into something more tender as we relive the events of that fateful weekend through the eyes of adult Gordie (Richard Dreyfuss). 

"Stand by Me" remains one of the most authentic cinematic portraits of childhood to grace the big screen. That said, there are more than a handful of films that scratch a similar itch. From coming-of-age road movies to nostalgia-bathed films that highlight the warmth and terror of being a kid, here's a look at films you should watch if you're a fan of "Stand by Me."

12 And Holding

Jacob Carges Rudy Carges looking down © IFC Films Jacob Carges Rudy Carges looking down

Directed by Michael Cuesta, 2005's "12 and Holding" follows the intertwined stories of three pre-teens: Malee (Zoe Weizenbaum), Jacob (Connor Donovan), and Leonard (Jesse Camacho). While Malee's story tackles the thrill and heartache of first love, Jacob and Leonard's stories are more directly in conversation with two of Stephen King's big hang-ups -- senselessly cruel bullies and the loss of innocence. Without giving away the tragic lynchpin on which "12 and Holding" turns, the film features some truly horrific scenes of teenager's messing around and finding out the hard way. It feels like there's a direct line between Jacob genuinely plotting to murder his tormenters in "12 and Holding" and Gordie being fully prepared to unload a gun into his bully's chest in "Stand by Me." Kids go through enough as it is what with being confronted by the harsh realities of the adult world. Throwing genuine flirtations with taking a life into the mix is like pouring fuel on an already roaring fire.

Now And Then

Now and Then group shot © New Line Cinema Now and Then group shot

"Stand by Me" is clear from the get-go about its interest in nostalgia -- in the way we tend to look back on our childhoods with the benefit of more understanding, perspective-rich hindsight. Things may have been hard, "Stand by Me" posits, but those early friendships were something special. While it's arguably less bittersweet about the past (adult Gordie's final remark that he suspects no one ever has relationships quite like the ones they had as kids stings), "Now and Then" performs a similar reflexive movement. 

Four childhood friends -- Roberta, Teeny, Chrissy, and Samantha -- are now in their 30s. And during a much-needed reunion, the group reflects on how differently their lives have turned out and think back to that life-defining summer when they were 12, which includes everything from uncomfortable divorces to performing seances in the local cemetery. Calling Lesli Linka Glatter's 1995 coming-of-age flick "'Stand by Me' for girls'" doesn't do either film justice. But with the amount of movies on this list about lil' guys being 'lil dudes, we figured the scales needed to be tipped a bit.

Hunt For The Wilderpeople

Ricky Baker and Hec in woods © Sony Pictures Ricky Baker and Hec in woods

The culmination of director Taika Waititi's early career interest in New Zealand-set coming-of-age stories, 2016's "Hunt for the Wilderpeople" tells the tale of notorious bad egg Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison), a ward of the state who's spent much of his young life being bounced between foster homes. We join the rebellious youngster en route to his (maybe) new forever home deep in the boonies. 

Fearing he'll be returned to child protective services after a sudden tragedy, Ricky poorly fakes his death and flees into the brush, with his cranky, reluctant foster dad, Hec (Sam Neill), in hot pursuit. Due to extenuating circumstances (a broken ankle), the two are forced to work out their differences and buddy up to survive in the wilderness and evade the nefarious clutches of the fuzz, who incorrectly believe Hec has kidnapped Ricky and means him harm. A warm and comforting coming-of-age comedy that highlights the pastoral beauty of rural New Zealand and the transformative impact an outdoor journey can have on a young mind, "Hunt for the Wilderpeople" and "Stand by Me" would make for a splendid double bill.

Holes

Hector 'Zero' Zeroni concerned © Buena Vista Pictures Hector 'Zero' Zeroni concerned

For folks who encountered Stephen King's "The Body" first, "Stand by Me" easily hits as one of the greatest book-to-film adaptations of all time. As he detailed to Rolling Stone, King considers Rob Reiner's film to be the best movie ever made from one of his books (in the interview, King describes how he cried and hugged Reiner when the director screened the film for him).

And if we're talking about great film adaptations of books that are simultaneously dark and essential reading for the younger crowd, we have to mention "Holes." Based on Louis Sachar's YA novel of the same name, Andrew Davis' 2003 film tells of a young rapscallion named Stanley (Shia LaBeouf), who's unduly shipped off to a work camp for kids in the middle of a dried-up lake. He and his fellow prisoners -- uh, we mean campers -- are tasked with digging (you guessed it) holes. They're told it's to build character, but in reality, it's because the warden (Sigourney Weaver) wants to find a buried treasure that's evaded her family for generations. "Holes" benefits from having a screenplay written by the novelist himself, but the kid actors' selling the heck out of their group effort to defeat the prison industrial complex is a hoot and a half too.

Heavenly Creatures

Pauline Parker day dreaming © Miramax Films Pauline Parker day dreaming

Remember the part in "Stand by Me" where Gordie's dad tells him not to hang around his friends because they're a bad influence? Sure, Chris, Teddy, and Vern might be a little rough around the edges. But they're clearly doing more good for Gordie's emotional well-being than his emotionally manipulative dad. But let's say, for the sake of argument, that Mr. Lachance was right. And let's say that Gordie's friends weren't just a bad influence, they were like a gravitational maelstrom that conflated desire, obsession, and imagination into one violence-courting melting pot. Oh hey, we're describing the plot of "Heavenly Creatures," aren't we? 

Directed by Peter Jackson, the 1994 film dramatizes the true events of the Parker-Hulme murder case, which saw two extremely co-dependent teenage best friends "yes, and" themselves into murdering one of their mothers at the prospect of their upcoming separation. Portrayed by a young Kate Winslet and Melanie Lynskey, the film won the Silver Lion after its premiere at the Venice International Film Festival and announced Jackson's arrival as more than just a horror director. While we, uh, hope that this film doesn't stir feelings of nostalgia in you, "Heavenly Creatures" is, without a doubt, one of the greatest films about how intense and meaningful childhood friendships can be ... even if it's to a fault.

River's Edge

Matt upset © Island Pictures Matt upset

If the idea of kids getting wrapped up in matters of life and death intrigues you, why not kick things up a notch or two with 1986's "River's Edge"? Directed by Tim Hunter, the film tells of a gaggle of teens who are shocked to learn that one of their number knows where to find a dead body. They're not intrigued, mind you, because it belongs to a missing kid whose discovery will bring the group fame and fortune. Oh no. It's because John (Daniel Roebuck) knows where Jamie's (Danyi Deats) corpse is because he killed her for speaking ill of his dead mother. 

Following the lead of their de facto head honcho, Layne (Crispin Glover), once they confirm that, yes, John really did kill their pal, the teens resolve not to speak a word of the atrocity. While Jamie's corpse rots by the river bank, the kids are a lot more interested in getting high than confronting what John has done. Meanwhile, Matt's (Keanu Reeves) volatile younger brother, Tim (Joshua John Miller), enters the picture, stirring the pot even further. If you feel like "Stand by Me" is a bit too straight-laced for your tastes, don't worry: "River's Edge" is for the degenerates amongst us, and it absolutely rules.

Super 8

Super 8 kids scared © Paramount Pictures Super 8 kids scared

Grab a sleeping bag and a comb because we're going to go for a long walk. "Stand by Me" wasn't directed by Steven Spielberg. But it does share in that special "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial" Amblin Entertainment warmth that colors much of Spielberg's work. That's why 1980s-indebted modern media like "Stranger Things" tend to cite both Rob Reiner's film and Spielberg's whole deal in the same sentence. So if you're in the market for a film that owes a similar debt, you should absolutely check out "Super 8," a film with genetic parentage from both sides of the proverbial train tracks. 

Directed by J.J. Abrams, the 2011 coming-of-age sci-fi film follows a gang of kids who accidentally witness a shocking event while filming a no-budget movie at the local train yard -- their science teacher derailing a speeding train by ramming it with his truck. Soon, the kids find themselves embroiled in a much larger conspiracy, with an alien on the loose! If you discovered "Stand by Me" because of the 1980s craze of "Stranger Things" but you haven't seen "Super 8," consider correcting that blind spot. The Duffer brothers absolutely copied Abrams' homework (though, to be fair, Abrams was copying Spielberg's and Reiner's).

The Breakfast Club

Claire Standish smiling © Universal Pictures Claire Standish smiling

In the canon of films that really feel like they captured something essential about being young, wistful, and prone to poor decision-making, right alongside "Stand by Me" you're liable to find "The Breakfast Club." Sure, age-wise, the kiddos in John Hughes' 1985 classic would fit in a lot better with the gang run by bully Ace Merrill (Kiefer Sutherland), but don't let that throw you off. Though their age gap may be significant (at least, from a kid's perspective), both groups of troubled youngsters have a ton in common. Namely -- complex inner lives that defy the expectations of the adults around them. 

Gordie's pals aren't juvie-bound losers, far from it. They ground him and make him see his own potential. Likewise, none of the members of the titular Breakfast Club can be encapsulated by their high school cliques. Confined to an early morning detention session, five high schoolers from opposing ends of the cafeteria (a jock, a prep, a nerd, a weirdo, and a rebel) find out that they have a lot more in common than they expected. Romances bloom, tearful disclosures of home life spill out, and each of the teens begin to view each other as human beings rather than stock characters. Both Hughes and Rob Reiner really had a talent for making young people feel real and complicated without misrepresenting them as tiny adults.

The Sandlot

Sandlot dog © 20th Century Fox Sandlot dog

"Stand by Me" has, for lack of a better phrase, really big "what's better than guys being dudes?" energy. A bunch of boys setting off on a weekend expedition and forgetting to bring a lick of food? Sounds about right. Likewise, the ragtag baseball players of "The Sandlot" waft of a certain latchkey kid chaos. Do their parents know what they're doing? Not really. It's the early 1960s. Kids were basically feral animals back then. 

David Mickey Evans' 1993 film follows Scotty Smalls, a new kid in town whose efforts to join the local kids' baseball team are thwarted by the fact that he absolutely sucks at baseball. But good news -- what he lacks in natural talent he makes up for in sheer dumb luck. A summer of lads bonding and playing ball ensues. Now, who wants to cozy up for a double bill of nostalgic period pieces with ensemble casts of charming child actors and memorable set pieces with guard dogs? Look, if you're in the mood for "Stand by Me" but you're looking for something without any dead kids in it, "The Sandlot" has got you covered.

The NeverEnding Story

Bastian Balthazar Bux reading © Warner Bros. Bastian Balthazar Bux reading

While some of Stephen King's work definitely treads into fantastical territory (looking at you, "The Stand"), the tale of Gordie and his pals' pilgrimage to see another kid's dead corpse isn't one of them. That said, if you are in the market for a coming-of-age tale that crosses the streams with 1980s high fantasy, Wolfgang Petersen's "The NeverEnding Story" is a must-watch. 

Based on Michael Ende's book of the same name, the 1984 film follows the improbably named Bastian Bux (Barret Oliver), a reclusive nerd whose grieving process after the death of his mother isn't helped by the incessant bullying at school. Then, on one fortuitous day fleeing from bullies, Bastian finds an oasis -- a bookstore where he comes across an especially transportive tome. Soon, Bastian is sucked into the plight of the kingdom of Fantasia, its hopeful savior Atreyu (Noah Hathaway), and the encroaching Nothing that threatens to swallow the fantastical world whole.

Matilda

Matilda in class © Sony Pictures Releasing Matilda in class

While we've tried our best to not let this list become too much of a boy's club, "Stand by Me" is literally a film about a boy's club, so it was kind of inevitable that things would skew that way. Enter: "Matilda," the 1996 Roald Dahl adaptation directed by none other than Danny DeVito. As with its source material, the coming-of-age film tells the story of its titular child prodigy (Mara Wilson). Despite her smarts (and latent psychokinetic abilities), Matilda is reviled and abused by her terrible family, who could care less about young Matilda's future, let alone her astonishing gifts. 

While her ridiculously kind and supportive teacher Miss Honey (Embeth Davidtz) tries to secure Matilda a better future, the powers that be, Pam Ferris' Miss Trunchbull, attempt to squash her spirit by any means necessary. In addition to featuring an incredible child performance from Wilson, "Matilda" shares the same conviction as "Stand by Me" that kids are much more sensitive and smart than we tend to give them credit for. Like the lads in "Stand by Me," "Matilda" also features a young character attempting to fight for their right to be loved and successful in spite of an abusive upbringing.

The Goonies

Goonies cast together © Warner Bros. Goonies cast together

If you're scrolling through your streaming service of choice and you're trying to find something like "Stand by Me" with more of an "Indiana Jones" vibe, look no further than "The Goonies" (which, incidentally, enjoys a story credit from "Indy" director Steven Spielberg). 

In light of the boring, fun-hating contractors who plan to transform their neighborhood into a golf course, a local group of misfit kids (the titular Goonies) put their tiny noggins together in an effort to save their homes. Then, the answer -- or rather, a pirate map to buried treasure -- falls into their laps. Embarking on a perilous adventure to save their stomping grounds from being turned into a putting green, the Goonies soon find that they're not the only ones searching for the buried riches. With a money-hungry crime family hot on their heels, it's up to the Goonies to find the treasure before the actual goons do. 

Featuring a wealth of young talent (including Ke Huy Quan, Sean Astin, and Corey Feldman), "The Goonies" is right up there with "Stand by Me" as an essential embodiment of childhood nostalgia, albeit with less intense themes and more secret passages and booby traps.

The Lost Boys

David Powers sneering © Warner Bros. David Powers sneering

While "Stand by Me" might boast an R rating and an on-screen dead kid, it isn't a horror movie. But what if you did want to watch a coming-of-age horror movie about a gang of boys going on an adventure (that also just so happens to co-star Kiefer Sutherland and Corey Feldman)? Well, in that case, you can't go wrong with 1987's "The Lost Boys." 

Directed by Joel Schumacher, "The Lost Boys" tells of two brothers, Michael (Jason Patric) and Sam (Corey Haim), who discover that their new sea-side California town is actually home to a biker gang of vampires. When Michael, the elder of the two, begins to exhibit symptoms of falling in with the wrong crowd, as it were, it's up to his kid brother and two pint-sized Van Helsings to save the day and destroy the blood-sucking brood. 

"The Lost Boys" won't scratch your 1950s itch given that it's one of the most aggressively 1980s films ever made. But if little dudes forging their way in a dangerous world while making friends and memories along the way is what you're looking for, "The Lost Boys" has you covered.

The Outsiders

Ponyboy Curtis sitting © Warner Bros. Ponyboy Curtis sitting

An ensemble film about a bunch of tough but sensitive boys in the 1950s? Why yes, we're talking about "The Outsiders," Francis Ford Coppola's 1983 adaptation of S.E. Hinton's novel of the same name! Like "Stand by Me," Coppola's coming-of-age drama rides and thrives on the talents of its young cast, who do an excellent job of endowing their characters with unexpected softness and vulnerability. If you ever wanted to make a double bill out of "tough boys with bad home lives in the 1950s crying a lot," you could do a lot worse than this film and "Stand by Me." 

As with its source material, "The Outsiders" follows two greasers, Johnny (Ralph Macchio) and Ponyboy (C. Thomas Howell), who ignite a long-brewing gang war with the preppy Socs after Johnny is forced to kill one of their number in self-defense. With class warfare on the horizon, the film primarily focuses on Johnny and Ponyboy, whose lives seem to be in a downward spiral despite their aspirations for something stable, loving, and free from violence. With only their friendship and belief in each other holding their noses above water, the pair make an apt duo alongside "Stand by Me's" Gordie and Chris.

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