College movies have an undeniable appeal, regardless of whether or not you’ve ever been to college or don’t intend to go. This genre saw the creation of so many cliches (the classically wild frat party, the studious nerd in search of cool) that audiences have come to know.
It would be easy to rattle off a list of movies that happen to take place on a college campus. Instead, these college movies show off some of the most amusing, inspiring, and downright accurate elements of college life; college students anywhere can relate, graduates can reminisce, and everyone else can just sit back and imagine.
National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978)
Simply put, this is the gold standard by which all other college movies are measured. It would be sacrilegious to not cap off the list with this frat classic. The low-class Deltas and their inspiring, hilarious underdog struggle against the school’s elites remains an inspiration for anyone making college movies today.
The Social Network (2010)
This more recent film takes us into the mind of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, whose world-spanning creation began humbly in a Harvard dorm. Regardless of all the partying, football, murder, and mayhem on this list, this film is a keen reminder of how college students have the potential to affect the entire world. Not to mention that this star-studded cast really brings the story to life with a little unexpected action.
Revenge of the Nerds (1984)
Another classic, this college movie takes us back to the day when being a nerd was not an acceptable thing. Some of you probably don’t even remember back that far, but that’s all right. If you were ever ostracised, made fun of, dissed, or dumped because you knew your way around a computer, then you’ll feel a small share in the triumph of the Lambdas as they give the jocks their just deserts.
The Graduate (1967)
Where do you go after school? What do you do? If you’re smart, prepared, and honestly a little lucky, you’ll probably get a job instead of going home, getting depressed, lazing by the pool, and having an affair with your friend’s mother. Whether you get a job or not, having an affair with your mom’s friend is expressly not recommended. While we’re on the subject, affairs with your dad’s friends are also extremely ill-advised. While not a college movie in the strictest sense, no other film captures the lethargy and frustration of the post-college years quite like this one, where we watch a young Dustin Hoffman try to sort through the values of the world he’s been dumped into upon graduating.
With Honors (1994)
In With Honors, Brendan Fraser plays a smug Harvard undergrad who’s convinced he’ll graduate with flying colors… until his prized thesis ends up in the position of a homeless man played by Joe Pesci. While the premise is a little questionable, this college flick deals out a heaping helping of amusement along with some valuable life lessons, as Fraser’s character soon finds out.
Back to School (1986)
While having a millionaire dad may be a popular daydream, your dad showing up to go to school with you is undoubtedly a worst nightmare. Rodney Dangerfield does just that in Back to School, where he tries to excite his son about school by attending alongside him. Predictably, he finds himself more than a little distracted by partying, and unlike his son, he can pay professionals to do his classwork for him.
Dead Man on Campus (1998)
A college movie classic. It’s an urban legend old as the Ivy League that the roommates of students who kill themselves are granted straight A’s, which leads two buddies in danger of flunking out to seek a suicidal roommate. Despite their best efforts, their plans end up going horribly wrong. Unfortunately, most of us are already aware that bereavement passing is just a myth.
St Elmo’s Fire (1985)
A group of spoiled, self-centered graduates struggle to get over their college lives and to put at least one foot through the doorway of the real world. Though the characters in this film are sometimes so obnoxious it hurts to watch, the depiction of that floundering stage between college and adulthood hits you where it counts.
The Rules of Attraction (2002)
Based on a novel by Bret Easton Ellis, the mind that also brought you American Psycho, this college movie covers an unusual love triangle between classmates. It’s a little more scandalous than many of the other listings here, so wait and watch it when you’re parents aren’t in town visiting.
Rudy is the first sports film on this list and is by far the biggest tearjerker. This college movie follows the journey of Daniel Ruetteger as he follows his dreams to play football for Notre Dame, despite his mediocre athletic performance, his poor background, and the fact that he is only half the size of the other players. Even if you couldn’t follow a game of football if you tried, or don’t want to try, this particular film isn’t one to be missed.
Wonder Boys (2000)
Based on Michael Chabon’s novel by the same name, Wonder Boys focuses on a creative writing professor desperate to have his latest book published and his enigmatic, suicide-obsessed student. Their journey together is darkly quirky, and reminds us of just the sort of professor that made us consider grad school. Unlike a lot of college movies, the ending to this film is far from predictable, and is satisfying to watch.
The Skulls (2000)
To continue with the creepy theme, we come to our next college movie. The Skulls details the secret and horrific inner workings of a campus secret society (yes, there are some colleges with secret societies). The Order in the film is an ape of Yale’s real life secret society called the “Skull and Bones Society,” whose members include three U.S. presidents and a long list of other politicians and other powerful people. Secret societies are another classic slice of university lore, even if real ones don’t usually feature murder and duels on a regular basis. We like to think they don’t, but we weren’t cool enough to be included. Or if we were, we aren’t allowed to talk about it.
Urban Legend (1998)
For many of us, spooky storytelling and late-night horror-fests are as integral a part of our college experience as beer and toga parties (and studying, of course!). Urban Legend brings together some of the most memorable tales we’ve all heard swapped around, and then shamelessly, brutally executes them upon a gaggle of unwitting students who were just trying to spook one another.
Good Will Hunting (1997)
The film that put Ben Affleck and Matt Damon on the map (both as the stars and the film’s writers, leading to their Academy Award win for Best Original Screenplay), Good Will Hunting is a tale of a janitor who has a secret gift for mathematics. This film explores the boundaries between the academically inclined and individuals from blue-collar backgrounds. Damon’s character struggles with these boundaries as he learns he has to leave his neighborhood and best friend behind; leaving behind family and friends is something all college students and grads can relate to.
Legally Blonde (2001)
Legally Blonde is one of the great girl power college films of our time. It is funny, sometimes silly, and doesn’t always give the most accurate look into the college classroom, but this college movie is also heartwarming and a lot smarter than one might think after just seeing a trailer. The characters are over the top – on purpose, to make a point – but even then, we can all say we’ve known someone like Elle Woods. Legally Blonde is well-loved enough that it even inspired a popular Broadway musical adaptation.