Whether you went to college or not, everyone feels owed to Hollywood’s long history of college-centric movies. They are the perfect setting for any situation, whether exposing the vulnerability of young adults away from their families for the first time, showing what some will do to succeed, or just how much a teenager will drink and party when his parents are out of place. From comedy to horror, musicals to dark dramas, some of the most memorable movies ever made are about the college years. Here are the best.
National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978)
Whenever someone mentions the best college-themed movies, this is the one that gets mentioned first. Co-written by Harold Ramis (ghost hunters) and produced by John Landisthis movie does Saturday Night Live stand out John Belushi a familiar name. Set in 1962, Belushi plays John “Bluto” Blutarsky, a drunk student at Faber College. The film centers on a rowdy fraternity and their hilarious battles with the tense Dean (John Vernon). It would go on to become one of the best and highest-grossing comedies of all time.
Revenge of the Nerds (1984)
The success of animal house would usher in a massive release of jocks vs nerd college movies in the 80s. This is the best of them. Anthony Edwards and Robert Carradine star two computer geeks at Adams College who go to war with the sportsmen of the Alpha Beta fraternity. It’s a slapstick grand adventure, gross and crude, but full of heart, that sees downtrodden nerds rise up to subdue and defeat their bullies. The film’s success would spawn three sequels, none of which could match the magic or success of the original.
True Genius (1985)
Val Kilmer starred in this film, in what was only her second film role. Here he is an engineering student named Chris Knight at Pacific Tech. He is paired with fellow student Mitch Taylor (Gabe Jarret), to build a laser. They don’t know it’s built for the CIA as a weapon. While there are plenty of hijinks to be found (who could forget the popcorn scene finale), the film works through its characters, especially Kilmer’s carefree Chris. They are portrayed more as real people than stereotypical stereotypes. Even before Superior gun a year later, it was the film that made Kilmer a movie star.
Back to School (1986)
It’s not often you see a 65-year-old going to college, but that’s the plot of this comedy, starring the legendary comedian Rodney Dangerfield. Here he plays Thornton Melon, a self-made millionaire who goes back to school to be with his son who is in college and struggling to succeed and fit in. There’s the usual self-deprecating humor and one-liner you’ll find in any Dangerfield film and comedy routine, but at its core the film is about what you’ll do to support your family. The film is also known to be one of Robert Downey Jr..’s early roles and features a cameo from none other than the writer Kurt Vonnegut.
School stunner (1988)
This is the second film by the writer and director Spike Lee. Featuring the likes of Laurence Fishburne and Giancarlo Espositio, Lee examined the experiences of black students at Mission College in Atlanta. As with many of his early works, the film focuses on deeper sociological themes like race and classism, but here Lee takes a unique approach by including musical bits and taking a more comedic approach. There’s always a seriousness to the laughter, and you won’t forget the last line, where Fishburne turns to the camera and stares at the audience, breaking the fourth wall, as he pleads, “Please, wake up.”
You don’t have to be a sports fan to love this heartwarming film. This true story is the ultimate underdog story. Thirty years later, coaches still show it to their players to motivate them. Sean Astin stars beside Jon Favreau, Ned Beattyand Charles S. Dutton like Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger, a walk-in football player at the prestigious Notre Dame, who against every conceivable obstacle, fulfills his dream of stepping onto the pitch and playing for the Fighting Irish. This feel-good movie will have you believing in yourself and your own dreams.
Good Hunting (1997)
Goodwill hunting is the movie that made Matt Damon and Ben Affleck megastars in Hollywood. Written by the duo (they would win an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for their efforts) and directed by Gus Van Sant, this powerful tale tells the story of young Will Hunting, a troubled genius working as a janitor at MIT. After an incident sees him accept therapy to avoid jail time, we’re introduced to Will’s therapist, Dr. Sean Maguire, played to perfection by Robin Williams, which would also win an Oscar. The movie works by tugging at your heart and soul without being predictable and sappy. Two decades later, it’s still the best thing everyone involved has ever done.
Old School (2003)
Before Will Ferrell was a movie star, he was a Saturday Night Live icon, known for his brilliant prints of George W. Bush and Alex Trebek. This comedy launched his film career, with Elf and Presenter coming soon after. Here in this film written and directed by Todd PhillipsFerrell is one of a trio of men, with Vince Vaughn and Luke Wilson, who, as sad adults, decide to relive their college days by creating a fraternity. Many reviewers criticized it for being a more tame version of animal house, but the audience loved it. This made Ferrell a hit, and twenty years later it’s still a cable TV staple.
The Social Network (2010)
There are few laughs to be found in The social network, a biopic about the Facebook founder’s college days Mark Zuckerberg. Written by Aaron Sorkin and led by David Fincherhe played Jesse Eisenbergwhich came out of the success of zombieland the year before. He was so convincing as the eccentric Zuckerberg that he would be nominated for an Oscar. Everything works here, from acting, directing, writing, editing and even the score of Trent Reznor by Nine Inch Nails. The film would win three Oscars, propelled by the usual wit of Sorkin’s characters, but underscored by a deep sense of pain.
Not Perfect (2012)
A star-studded set featuring the likes of Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Brittany snowand Anna Camp carries this musical. The film focuses on the Barden Bellas, an all-female a capella singing group from Barden University, as they take on another group. The plot is a rehash of similar films, but it’s the musical performances that set it apart. Kendrick showed why she was more than worthy of becoming an even bigger star later in Frozen. The film was a huge commercial success, inspiring two well-received sequels.
Monsters University (2013)
Monsters Inc. is one of the best films in Pixar history. The 2001 computer-animated comedy, featuring the voices of billy crystal like Mike Wazowski and John Goodman like James P. “Sulley” Sullivan, about the monsters that hide under your bed, was a huge hit. Twelve years later, audiences were blessed with a follow-up prequel. While it’s not the instant classic that the original movie was, it’s a witty nod to all the college tropes. We follow Mike and Sulley as they roam the halls of Monster University, learning to become Scarers. It takes the formula of other popular films on this list, even paying homage to them, but gives the plot its own pinch of originality to go along with it.