Clearly, it makes sense to build friendships with people in your own age group. You have obvious cultural references in common and you’re in the midst of a lot of similar life experiences, so you can relate to each other easily. Not to devalue that connection—it’s very important, of course—but there is something special and exciting about an intergenerational friendship. Being friends with someone who is significantly younger or older than you can be transformative…or just comforting. It allows you to see the world or yourself in a different way. The bond that develops in these relationships feels deeper, because it’s rooted in something fundamentally human, and not just the fact that you sit next to each other in Spanish class or have the same interests. Here is a list of inspirational, aspirational, or just plain interesting cinematic intergenerational friendships that show how cool—and sometimes necessary!—this kind of connection can be.
Back to the Future (1985)
Marty McFly is just your typical suburban teen rascal. He skateboards, wails on his guitar, wears hella layers of clothing (a puffer vest, over a jean jacket, over a button-down, over a T-shirt), and regularly hangs out with the local mad scientist/inventor of time travel, before and after school. How did Marty even meet Doc Brown for the first time? Like, where would this totally average teenager even cross paths with a wild-eyed, white-haired intellectual who doesn’t seem to have much interaction with the world outside of his house?
The simple answer: It doesn’t matter. Marty is Doc’s number one (and vice versa). He’s also his assistant. They trust each other implicitly, and that’s what’s important about their intergenerational friendship—which is by far the most intergenerational friendship ever, because time travel. While testing out Doc’s time machine (and subsequently trying to fix all of the space-time continuum-altering events they set into motion through that test), Marty knows that if he gets stuck in 1955, where his—at that time—teenage mom falls in love with him, he can count on Doc to get him back to the future. If Doc gets stuck in 1885, he knows he can count on Marty to go to the Old West and save him before he’s gunned down in a duel. And, while flying DeLoreans are bomb, that trust that exists between these two is the most compelling thing about this unlikely friendship. Doc is obviously older—and a genius who singlehandedly made Albert Einstein’s Theory of Relativity look like amateur hour—but he treats Marty like an equal, something that a lot of adults who are far less intelligent than this time-traveling brainiac can’t seem to do when interacting with teenagers.
Lost in Translation (2003)
So many people have the “Bill Murray is my homie” fantasy. You know—where he hangs out with you while doing his whole Bill Murray–sardonic-awesome-guy shtick, whispering magical “Bill Murray” secrets into your ears. Lost in Translation is essentially a look at how that fantasy might actually play out. In the film, Murray is Bob Harris, an aging movie star, doing some work in Tokyo to make easy cash. He meets Charlotte, a fellow American in her early 20s, in his hotel. She’s tagging along with her photographer husband while he works in Japan and still trying to figure out what she’ll pursue as a career.
Bob and Charlotte are partners in loneliness, venturing out into the city to combat a shared sense of ennui. Their differences—and that’s not even including their ages—are probably numerous, but matter very little in this setting. One evening, they step out of a karaoke party together and just sit silently in a hallway beside each other, Charlotte’s head resting on Bob’s shoulder. In that moment, they’re disconnected from their surroundings, but so connected to each other that they don’t even have to talk. Simply sitting there together is nice—it’s enough. As Americans abroad, isolation and low-key malaise bond them. It’s clear that this is the only place that this friendship—which grew out of boredom—could exist, which makes their time together kind of dreamy, enchanting, and very precious.
Ghost World (2001)
Enid is an aimless recent high school graduate. She and her best friend decide to prank a cranky loner named Seymour by pretending to be a woman he’d been trying to reconnect with through a sort of “Missed Connections” personals ad in a newspaper. Enid is fascinated by the man, tries to get to know him, and eventually begins to admire and respect his quirks as she spends more time with him.
Seymour is at least twice Enid’s age, but they’re both outsiders who don’t relate to society or want to participate in what they perceive as vapid, low culture (hanging out at a chain coffee shops; listening to shitty, shallow music). The relationship that Enid and Seymour forge, as her friendship with her high school best friend begins to disintegrate, is cool to watch because it isn’t just about companionship, it’s about the relief of discovering an ally—someone who isn’t hypnotized by all of conventional society’s B.S.
Léon: The Professional (1994)
12-year-old Mathilda is a precocious li’l spitfire of a child with one of human history’s greatest bob haircuts (monuments should be built in honor of that thing). Léon is a stoic, socially isolated hitman. After a crooked DEA agent murders her family, Léon reluctantly becomes Mathilda’s caretaker.
Because of their age difference, their relationship takes on some expected forms—they are like father and daughter; they’re mentor and student (Mathilda has revenge on the brain, and wants Léon to teach her his ways). However, they’re also playmates, which is really interesting, considering the dreadful circumstances that led to their friendship. Yeah, Léon is the deadliest dude in town (in the opening of the movie, he takes on an entire gang on his own), but Mathilda’s presence and her plucky little kid–ness soften and relax him. They perform impersonations to entertain each other, and Léon does an uncanny pig oink for Mathilda’s amusement (if that isn’t the basis for an enduring friendship, then I don’t know what is). In the midst of all the violence that surrounds them, they’re able to laugh and provide each other with a tiny bit of normalcy.
Steel Magnolias (1989)
Shelby, M’Lynn, Truvy, Annelle, Clairee, and Ouiser are an iron-willed, tighter-than-tight multigenerational girl gang who can usually be found shooting the breeze at an in-home Louisiana beauty salon—they’re all different ages, ranging from early 20s to senior citizens, but it’s the time in that salon that brings them together and provides the foundation of their friendship. The film, which spans decades, shows how this friendship between women who are at very different places in their lives—one is newly married, one is a mother three adult children, one is a widow and the grande dame of their small town—endures over the years.
With pure, unadulterated sass coursing through their veins, these charming Southern smart asses can’t open their mouths without some piece of biting gossip or succinct bit of unpretentious, t-shirt slogan-worthy wisdom spilling out. (“The only thing that separates us from the animals,” Clairee says, “is our ability to accessorize.”) This crew keeps it REAL AS HELL—never shying away from taking darkly hilarious jabs at each other or from dispensing hard, emotional truths. Obviously, the fact that they communicate almost entirely in witty quips and one-liners would be reason enough to want to hang with these women at the annual town Christmas parade, but they’re also fiercely loyal—as Shelby and her mother M’Lynn deal with life-threatening illness, the other women are steadfast in their support. Ultimately, age has very little bearing on their friendship—their connection transcends that nonsense—instead they’re bonded by their deep appreciation of talking smack (“If you can’t say anything nice about anybody, come sit by me,” Clairee says at one point) and an even deeper appreciation of each other.
After suffering a great personal tragedy, a grumpy senior citizen named Carl Fredricksen decides to go on the adventure that he’d always dreamed about as a child. He ties thousands of helium balloons to his house and leaves for South America in his scientifically sound airship, unaware that an eight-year-old, hyperactive Wilderness Explorer named Russell who’d been attempting to earn his “assisting the elderly” merit badge was clinging to his front porch during takeoff.
Carl is forced to interact with the excitable youngster as he makes his way through the wilderness and, naturally, Russell’s relentless enthusiasm and curiosity are, at first, an annoyance to Carl. But the beauty of this pairing—which slowly grows into a friendship as the two chill with a talking dog and a giant, chocolate-loving bird while trying to find a waterfall that had captivated Carl in his youth—is that it teaches cautious, curmudgeonly Carl that sometimes you need to throw your plans out of the window of your floating house—it’s the unexpected, uncontrollable complications, like Russell’s presence and eventually the fatherly affection that Carl unconsciously starts to feel for the boy, that turn our experiences into adventures.
Whip It (2009)
Bliss is a small-town teenage outcast who participates in beauty pageants to please her mother. She knows that all of the tiaras and gowns aren’t her thing, but can’t decide what she wants to do with her life. That is, until she sees a couple of rowdy roller derby girls, becomes intrigued with the sport, and tries out for the roller derby league, lying about her age because she isn’t technically old enough to join!
As a member of the Hurl Scouts, Bliss (who becomes known as Babe Ruthless) is befriended by her team of slightly older women. They are fun, wild, and strong-willed, and provide her with a sense of belonging. As a bunch of grown-ass women, they have no stake in the social hierarchies of her small Texas high school, so they’re cool with Bliss. They’ve already come into their own and aren’t struggling to figure out what to do with their lives in the same way that she is—when she expresses admiration for the women who participate in the sport, the team captain, Maggie Mayhem, encourages Bliss to be her own hero.
Harold and Maude (1971)
While attending a stranger’s funeral, Harold, a death-obsessed, young man who stages theatrical faux suicides meets Maude, a 79-year-old woman who brims with vigor and positivity (and whose milkmaid braids are always ON POINT). They become friends almost instantly—Harold is seemingly enthralled by the eccentric woman and her flare for motor-vehicle theft and Maude, being a jolly, hyper-extrovert, basically steamrolls her way into Harold’s life.
As they go on all sorts of oddly idyllic outings (one day the unlikely duo might have a lovely little picnic in a scrap metal yard; the next day they might steal a cop’s motorcycle), Maude inspires her young companion with her cheerful disposition and penchant for dropping rousing, quotable nuggets of hard-won wisdom into literally EVERY conversation. “Greet the dawn with a breath of fire,” Maude says. Another gem: “Vice, virtue. It’s best not to be too moral. You cheat yourself out of too much life. Aim above morality. If you apply that to life, then you’re bound to live life fully.”
While it’s sometimes the younger people helping the older ones loosen up in these sorts of stories, here, it’s Maude’s refusal to allow her new friend to “back away from life” that convinces morbid Harold to do somersaults. Intergenerational relationships are so rad exactly for this reason: They work both ways, showing us that we don’t ever really stop learning from our friends, no matter how old they are (and vice versa). ♦