College! It is the greatest and worst time ever, all rolled up into a hopeful four, but likely five-to-nine year stretch. You can’t just go to school anymore, ya know? You gotta get the undergraduate degree, then the graduate degree, then another, then a doctorate in something completely unrelated that takes the least amount of time so you can have that Ph.D next to your name! Is it worth it? We’ll let the following list be your guide, or your lure back to the wonderful world of university. Here are 10 of the best movies ever made, set on, or around, a college campus.
10. Revenge of the Nerds (1984)
Back in the day, the Greek system at most universities was a huge deal. It was elite. People who didn’t “qualify” felt marginalized, thus necessitating the age of college films featuring fraternities at war, or the marginalized fraternity willing to accept anyone. Revenge of the Nerds is a perfect example of this formula—a stellar ensemble cast of social rejects, in attempt to open their own fraternal chapter, after being socially rejected by the cool fraternities on campus. They eventually became the Adams College chapter of Lambda Lambda Lambda, a traditionally all-black fraternity, and plot a delightful scheme of revenge against their intramural foes. They then scheme to win the annual big-man-on-campus fraternal competition to stake claim in the Adams College influence. If you’re ever looking to watch something with a definitive 1980s vibe, look no further than Revenge of the Nerds.
9. The Waterboy (1998)
Critics skewered The Waterboy when it was released in 1998, but audiences flocked to theaters anyway, ready to take in another slice of quality Adam Sandler absurdity. In a sense, this was the beginning of the end to any quality in Sandler-produced comedies. He showed too much moxie in Punch Drunk Love for the masses to buy into his phone-it-in efforts of the past 10 years. Enough digression: The Waterboy. Adam Sandler plays the legendary Bobby Boucher, a waterboy and equipment manager for a struggling South Central Louisiana State Mud Dogs, coached by none other than The Fonz himself, Henry Winkler. After a turn of fortunate/unfortunate events, it’s discovered that Bobby Boucher is so much more than a waterboy, he’s God’s gift to the game of football. With more one-liners than you can shake a stick at, this is one of those movies you can “do alll niiight long!”
8. Real Genius (1985)
Real Genius is more definitive 1980s in the form of cinematic comedy. Coming on the heels of Revenge of the Nerds, Real Genius also featured some really smart guys, but with more of an edge and a lot more cool. Who do you get to to tell such an ambitious story? Val Kilmer, of course. Movie trivia: Did you know Val Kilmer went from the role of Chris Knight in Real Genius to playing Iceman in Top Gun? Talk about a versatile stretch. Chris Knight plays the mentor to lead character Mitch Taylor (Gabe Jarret), and a merry band of absurdly intelligent, savvy misfits (including Jon Gries, aka Uncle Rico). Together, they develop a new laser technology—which is eventually stolen by the government—leaving them to do one thing: get even. If you haven’t seen it, be sure to bust out the popcorn for this one.
7. Rudy (1993)
How do we not talk about Sean Astin more? This guy has done more cool movies than anyone in history, and that includes John Wayne, Tom Cruise and maybe even Ben Affleck. Sean Astin has been a Goonie, a WWII bomber, Rudy, Samwise Gamgee and has even voiced Raphael in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. What have you done with your life? Addressing the 1993 football drama, Rudy, the filmmakers do a knockout job in adapting the story of Daniel Ruettiger Jr., who walked on and played for the illustrious Notre Dame football program in the 1970s. He stood at 5’6″ and was not football material, much less Notre Dame material, but his continuous desire to play football for Notre Dame landed him on the practice squad, and eventually scored him some playing time and helped him garner a college education. The production does a nice job of capturing the era.
6. The Social Network (2010)
For those who were unfamiliar with the beginnings of Facebook, here’s a somewhat accurate retelling of the story. Well, at least the film gets most of the names right. Written by Aaron Sorkin and directed by David Fincher, The Social Network is one of those films that may be as important to American history as All the President’s Men. Genre and tonality are night and day, but the overall impact of their stories on the social landscape of America are similar. They both represent seasons of significant change in the throes of American history, and the subsequent progression of the United States of America. Jesse Eisenberg plays Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, and the story is told as the social media standard known as Facebook is growing into an impressive entity, while Mark is dealing with the legal challenges of developing what others believed to be a shared idea.
5. Good Will Hunting (1997)
Somehow, amidst the glory of the box office busting, sailing and sinking of the Titanic, a little Miramax flick entitled Good Will Hunting caught the attention of the masses, and went on to launch Matt Damon and Ben Affleck into the stratosphere. Ben may be trolled consistently, but the guy is incredibly talented, and it was on full display. The same goes for Matt Damon, who played the titular Will Hunting and co-wrote the script with Affleck. Neither gent is a student, per se, but Matt Damon works the prestigious halls of MIT as a janitor while dating a student at nearby Harvard. Does the film still hold up? Completely. There’s a bit of that warm-hearted, late 1990s cliche in the mix, but dang it, what we wouldn’t give for more of that in the continuously cynical and sarcastic 21st century!? We would really like them apples…
4. The Rules of Attraction (2002)
The Rules of Attraction slipped through the cracks. What an interesting character study in a university setting. This film is one of the best for offering a transparent dive into the mindset of the collegiate young adult. The amount of talent assembled for this cast is impressive to say the least, and the story is intriguing, and quite well-executed. The filmmakers—especially, writer-director Paul Avary—take some serious risks when developing the world of Camden College, even delivering a five-plus minute split-screen scene between James Van Der Beek and Shannyn Sossamon. Avary is a friend and former collaborator of Quentin Tarantino. Not surprising, he was able to dive into the darkness from the source material: the 1987 novel of the same name. Nearly 15 years after its theatrical release, the film holds up quite well. A great reminder of how young college students really are.
3. Without Limits (1998)
Here’s a college flick that you’ll be hard-pressed to find on another list of this nature. Without Limits is another biopic, this particular hidden gem chronicling the collegiate, and the short-lived international running career of legendary American distance runner, Steve Prefontaine. Affectionately known as Pre, the former Oregon Duck was famous for a multitude of reasons, none of which were the fact that he was the first athlete to ever wear Nike. The film addresses the development of Bill Bowerman’s waffle racer, and hints at the development of Nike in Eugene, Oregon, aka, TrackTown, USA. Billy Crudup plays Prefontaine to relative perfection, and goes all out when it comes to emulating Pre’s running style. As would be necessary in covering a few years in less than two hours, the story also delves into his relationship with Mary Marckx, played by Monica Potter.
2. Everybody Wants Some (2016)
This one is coming your way if you’re outside Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and a few other cities throughout the United States. The film, billed as a “Spirtual Sequel” to Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, is set in the 1980s and serves as his love letter to the college experience, just as Dazed and Confused served as his high school, “Thanks for everything…” It may very well be one of the finest films in this collegiate sub-genre, and as far as comedies go in general, this film will enjoy a long, recycled life span for many generations to come. Similar to his filmmaking foray with Dazed and Confused, Rick Linklater opted to keep the money on the screen and cast a host of relative newcomers in the lead roles. Is the next Matthew McConaughey or Ben Affleck in this cast…? Time will tell.
1. Animal House (1978)
The college film that serves as the Alpha and Omega of all college movies. Animal House was a sleeper hit in 1978, and is still considered a comedy classic to this day. The biggest crime among the millennial generation is the fact that so many have yet to see this John Belushi-led foray into absurdity and intentional asininity. It’s crazy to think this thing has been around for nearly 40 years, and really crazy to think about how “out there” it would have been in 1978. Similar to other storylines set in the university setting, Animal House involves a war of fraternity vs. administration, which enlists a hated fraternity to get the best of Delta Tau Chi—the animal house. Though released in 1978, the story takes place in the early 1960s, and it is a definitive romp. No spoilers. It’s worth every second of your time.