Films About College Life

The following is a list of films about college life. I have not seen every film so please preview them before you select them for classroom use. Also, consider using short clips from several films to create cogent teaching points. If you have recommendations to add to this list, please email me at suggestions@brittandreatta.com.

A

The Addiction (1995, USA). Heroine Kathleen (Lili Taylor) is a Ph.D. candidate in philosophy at NYU, lost in her ivory-tower world. This world dissolves after an attack by a vampire (Annabella Sciorra). Now instead of pondering the phenomenon of bloodshed, Kathleen finds herself subsumed within it. Horror/Drama, 90 min. R

Animal House (1978, USA). Set pre-Vietnam in the early 60s. What to do when a cabal of snobbish Greek societies and school administrators imperils your slushy frat house? Road trip, of course. Comedy. 109 min. R

Anywhere But Here (1999, USA). Natalie Portman (Ann) and Susan Sarandon star in this film about the struggles between a single mom and her daughter.  Ann hopes to get far away from home by attending college “back east” and her mother deals with feelings of betrayal and letting go. Drama. 114 min. PG-13

 

B

Back to School (1986, USA). Fifty-ish millionaire Rodney Dangerfield goes to college to help his son become a big man on campus. Comedy. 96 min. PG-13

A Beautiful Mind (2002). Russell Crow plays John Nash, the Nobel prize-winning mathematician, from his days at Princeton, where he developed a groundbreaking economic theory, to his meteoric rise to the cover of Forbes magazine and an MIT professorship, and on through to his eventual dismissal due to schizophrenic delusions. 136 min. PG-13

The Big Chill (1983, USA). An ensemble cast of baby-boomers reunites for a long weekend after the suicide of an old college friend. Drama. 103 min. R

Blue Chips (1994, USA). This film is an incriminating look at major college recruiting in the days of secret payoffs, circa the early 1990s. Coach Pete Bell seems to be the only honest man left in sports, and the pressure to win at his UCLA-like school soon takes its toll. Drama. PG-13

Breaking Away (1979, USA). A cycling team of recent high school graduates enter a collegiate race in order to beat the college team. This films addresses issues of class, decisions in going to college, and the role of a college education. Drama. 100 min. PG

 

C

Campus Man (1987, USA). Two college buddies, an entrepreneur and a studly athlete, team up to create a beefcake calendar. Comedy. 94 min. PG

Carnal Knowledge (1971, USA). A gritty look at the seedy sex lives of two college pals (Jack Nicholson and Art Garfunkel) through the filter of their partners (among them Candice Bergen and Ann-Margaret). Drama. 96 min. R

Circle of Friends (1995, Ireland-USA). Three friends from a strict Catholic small town face old inhibitions and new freedoms when they go away to college in Dublin.  Adapted from the Maeve Binchy novel. Romantic drama. 96 min. PG-13

 

D

Dean Man on Campus (1998, USA ) Dark comedy based on the apocryphal university policy of awarding straight A’s to students whose roommates kill themselves. Two freshman dunces seek to boost their academic performance by inviting a series of depressed, self-destructive classmates to share their dormitory suite. Comedy 94 mins

Dead Poets Society (1989, USA). Set in the 50s. Unorthodox prep school English teacher Robin Williams inspires his students to love literature. Drama. 128 min. PG
(Note: this film is not about higher education per se but it’s messages about critical thinking are right on target).

Double Happiness (1994, USA). A young Chinese-American woman has a romance with an Anglo college student against the wishes of her very traditional father. Comedy/Drama. 87 min. PG-13

Drive, He Said (1972, USA). Jack Nicholson directed this oddly told tale of coming-of-age angst and alienation. Scene-stealer Bruce Dern plays the maniacal college basketball coach. Sports/Drama. 90 min. R

 

F

Fandango (1985, USA). On the eve of their college graduation in 1972, five students go off for one last road trip together to righteously celebrate the privilege of youth before facing Vietnam and their futures. Drama. 90 min. PG

Fast Break (1979, USA). Deli clerk Gabe Kaplan fast-talks his way into a job coaching college basketball. Sports/Comedy. 107 min. PG

First Love (1977, USA). An idealistic college student finds that neither his classmates nor his girlfriend takes sex as seriously as he does. Based on Harold Brodkeys story “Sentimental Education.” Romantic drama. 92 min. R

The First Time (1982, USA). A movie-loving college freshman has no luck with women despite counsel from his psych professor, who uses his dilemma as research. Comedy. 90 min. M

The Freshman (1990, USA). Marlon Brando does a Godfather send-up as he gives a young film student (Matthew Broderick) an education in the school of life. Comedy. 102 min. PG

Foreign Student (1994, USA). A French foreign exchange student falls for a professor’s housekeeper, but she being Black, and this being 1954, their affair stirs trouble at the conservative Virginia college. Romantic drama. 96 min. R

Four Friends (1981, USA). Three men who love the same woman find their entwined lives fractured by college, drug abuse, and the Vietnam War. Drama. 115 min. R

Fraternity Row (1977, USA). Fraternity hazing at an elite Eastern college in the mid-1950s. Drama. 101 min. PG

French Postcards (1979, USA). American college juniors abroad in France. Reunites the writing team behind American Graffiti (minus George Lucas). Drama/Comedy.  92 min. PG

Frosh (1993, USA). Filmmakers spent a year living in a multicultural, co-ed dormitory at Stanford University. The film highlights such key issues as maintaining ethnic identity on a predominantly white campus, Eurocentric versus multicultural curricula and minority student retention. It documents students’ difficult search for personal identity within an increasingly diverse student population. Documentary. 98 min. N/R (see also Seniors).

 

G

Good Will Hunting (1997, USA). Yale dropout Matt Damon and his costar Ben Affleck won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for their story of four working-class friends in South Boston, one of whom is a genius. When an MIT math professor “discovers” Will Hunting, he insists that he stop wasting his talents, and sends him to psychologist/teacher Robin Williams to motivate him. Drama. 126 min. R

The Graduate (1967, USA). Director Mike Nichols watershed portrait of an aimless college graduate (Dustin Hoffman) whose progression from sex to love finally defines him. Drama/Comedy. 105 min. R

Gross Anatomy (1989, USA). A dying professor inspires a bright but lazy medical student. Comedy/Drama. 109 min. PG-13

 

H

Happy Together (1989, USA). A would-be playwright discovers that, through a mix-up, his new college roommate is a flashy actress. Romantic comedy. 102 min. PG-13

The Heart of Dixie (1989, USA) Three white southern college women find their lives and politics shifting as they confront the civil rights movement in the late 50s.  Drama. 96 min. PG

The Heidi Chronicles (1995, USA) Adapted by Wendy Wasserman from her Pulitzer Prizewinning play, the film follows a woman from prep school to Vassar College and on through her adult life and loves. Made for cable. Drama. 94 min.

Higher Learning (1995, USA). Political correctness and race issues haunt several students, whose lives intersect briefly and tragically on the campus mall. It shows a range of diversity issues and isn’t always pleasant. Drama. 127 min. R

Hoop Dreams (1994, USA). This documentary follows two high school basketball players in their pursuit of their NBA dream. Issues of race and class are highlighted as one makes it to Marquette University and the other attends junior college. Documentary. 171 min. PG-13.

House Party 2: The Pajama Jam (1991, USA). Rap duo Kid n Play raise their past-due college tuition with a house party.  Comedy. 94 min. R

How I Got Into College (1989, USA). A second-rate student scratches his way into college to pursue his dream girl. Comedy. 89 min. PG-1

 

J

Just Another Girl on the IRT (1993, USA). A quick, sassy girl from the projects has designs on a med school career until her accidental pregnancy postpones her plans. Drama. 96 min. R

 

K

Kent State (1981, USA). Emmy-winning made-for-TV movie about the 1970 tragedy at Kent State University, in which National Guardsmen shot and killed four college protesters. Political drama. 120 min.

Kicking and Screaming (1995, USA). Four recent college graduates don’t want to face the realities of life on the outside. Comedy. 96 min. R

Krippendorf’s Tribe (1998, USA). Instead of documenting a previously unknown tribe in New Guinea, Professor Krippendorf (Richard Dreyfuss) has blown the last two years, and all his grant money, rearing his out-of-control kids. Desperate to bluff his way past impatient colleagues, Krippendorf decides to focus his camera on the wildest tribe he can find—his family. Comedy. 94 min. PG-13

 

L

Legally Blond (2001, USA). Elle Woods (Reese Witherspoon) is the President of her Sorority and a Fashion Merchandising major who fits the Southern California stereotype of pretty, blond, and draped in pink. She sets her sights on Harvard Law School to win back her boyfriend and learns a lot about herself in the process. Comedy. 171 min. PG-13

Les Cousins (1959, France). Within the milieu of Parisian student life, a decadent city boy and his pure country cousin vie for the affections of the same young woman. Drama. 112 min.

Life Begins in College (1937, USA). The comedy/singing team The Ritz Brothers (Harry, Al, and Jimmy) help a college win the big game. Sports/Comedy. 94 min.

A Little Stiff (1991, USA). A Gen-X UCLA film student pines hopelessly for his classmate. Romantic comedy. 85 min.

Loser (2000, USA). Paul Tannek is a farm-town boy who’s gotten himself a scholarship to a fancy Manhattan college. He’s worried that he’s not going to fit in with the sophisticated city crowd. Well, he’s right to worry. He doesn’t fit in, which his three dorm-mates are quick to remind him. Comedy. 95 min. PG-13.

Love and Basketball (2000, USA). This great film spotlights the contrast between men’s and women’s basketball. Quincy and Monica have been neighbors their whole lives. While Quincy plays college ball on huge courts to cheering, sold-out crowds, we see Monica’s sweat, tears, and sheer physical dedication in front of tiny audiences in small gyms and second-rate auditoriums. Romance and career complications ensue. Romance/Sports. 127 mins. PG-13

Love Story (1970, USA). Ryan O’Neal stars as a law student who defies his rich and powerful father on every issue, including the former’s love for a poor music student attending Radcliffe (Ali MacGraw). The two marry, start life together…and then the Grim Reaper turns up at the door. Drama. 100 min. PG

Lucky Jim (1957, Great Britain). A lowly college lecturer bungles his attempts to impress his department head. Comedy. 95 min.

 

M

Marie (1985, USA). True story of a single mother (divorced after her husband battered her) who works her way through school and finally rises to the head of the Tennessee parole board. Sissy Spacek stars. 113 min. PG-13

Maurice (1987, Great Britain). Two male students feel they have to repress their mutual attraction, given the stifling sexual mores at Cambridge in the Edwardian era. Based on E.M. Forster’s novel of the same name. Drama. 140 min. R

Mystic Pizza (1988, USA). Three young women of blue-collar Portuguese descent work in a pizzeria in the coastal town of Mystic, Connecticut, and one dreams of going to Yale. Romantic Comedy. 104 min. R

 

N

Noa at Seventeen (1982, Israel). Set in the 50s. Against the backdrop of the newly formed and turbulent Israeli homeland, a middle-class family debates school versus kibbutz for their daughter. In Hebrew; subtitled. Drama. 86 min.

 

O

October Sky (1999, USA). Based on the memoir Rocket Boys by Homer H. Hickam Jr., this true story begins in 1957 with Russia’s historic launch of the Sputnik satellite. Homer sees Sputnik as his cue to pursue a fascination with rocketry, but winning the science fair is his only ticket to college and out of life in this West Virginia coal-mining town. Drama. 108 min. PG

Oleanna (1994, USA). David Mamet wrote and directed this adaptation of his controversial play about collegiate sexual harassment and sexual politics. Drama. 89 min.

Orange County (2002, USA). This movie features an Orange County teen and aspiring writer named Shaun who yearns for admission to Stanford, and his sensible girlfriend who knows just how to nurture his dreams. Much of the comedy arises from the foibles of Shaun’s dysfunctional family as the college admissions officer arrives for a visit. Comedy. 82 min. PG-13

Out of Towners (1999, USA). This hilarious movie starring Goldie Hawn and Steve Martin features the challenges that parents face when children leave home for college. The mother faces her fears of losing her identity as a parent while the father faces career challenges. An exciting adventure in New York City ensues. Comedy. 90 mins. PG-13.

 

P

The Paper Chase (1973, USA). First-year law students toughen up to survive the acid wit of their intimidating professor (John Houseman). Comedy/Drama. 111 min. PG

P.C.U. (1994, USA) A freshman falls in with dorm mates who organize offensive activities. A social satire of political correctness. Comedy. 81 min. PG-13

Poetic Justice (1993, USA) Pop star Janet Jackson plays a creative young woman who gives up her dream of college after her boyfriend is murdered. She becomes a hair stylist, but continues writing poetry (penned for the film by Maya Angelou). Sobering cinematography shows post-1992-riot South Central L.A. Drama. 109 min. R

The Program (1993, USA). A college football teams cult-like dedication to championship play drives some players nearly over the edge. Sports/Drama. 114 min. R

 

R

Real Genius (1985, USA). The treacherous head of an elite California technology institute scouts a team of the nations best physics students to achieve his own morally bankrupt agenda. Comedy. 104 min. PG

Reality Bites (1994, USA). A bright young cast (Winona Ryder, Ethan Hawke, Ben Stiller, Janeane Garofalo) stumbles into the real world after college. Romantic drama. 94 min. PG-13

Real Women Have Curves (2004, USA). Eighteen-year-old Ana has won a college scholarship, her first boyfriend, and a chubby figure that her similarly overweight mother won’t stop harping about. Mom insists that Ana forget college and work in her sister’s dressmaking sweatshop, continuing a family tradition that can only break her spirit. Drama. 86 min. PG-13

Return of the Secaucaus 7 (1980, USA). College friends get together a few years after college and reflect on how their dreams didn’t become reality. Drama. 107 min. R.

Revenge of the Nerds (1984, USA). A ragtag team of nerds, geeks, losers, and freaks starts its own fraternity in rebellion against the Greek elite. Comedy. 90 min. R

Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds in Paradise (1987, USA). The nerds head to Florida for Spring Break. Comedy. 185 min. R

The Revolutionary (1970, USA). A college student gets caught up in the role of political revolutionary, until he’s in dangerously over his head. Drama. 100 min. PG

Risky Business (1983, USA). With his parents out of town, entrepreneurial Tom Cruise decides to spend the lull while waiting to hear from colleges dancing in his under-wear and organizing a prostitution ring. By the time he gets to college, he’s a wiser man. Comedy. 99 min. R

Roommate (1984, USA). Set in the 50s, the film finds a straight-laced valedictorian and a political rebel sharing room and board. A PBS presentation based on John Updike’s story Christian Roommates.” Comedy/Drama. 96 min.

Rudy (1993, USA). The true story of Rudy Ruettiger who overcame all odds to realize his lifelong dream of making the Notre Dame football team. Drama/Sports. 112 min. PG.

 

S

St. Elmo’s Fire (1985, USA). A loose-knit group of college friends finds that each of them bears a unique burden in facing adulthood. Drama. 108 min. R

Say Anything… (1989, USA). A young kickboxer falls for the smart girl. She’s college bound; he’s maybe not. Comedy/Drama. 89 min. PG-13

The Secrets of College Success (1994, USA)  Honor students guide you through essential information needed to thrive in college, delivering a wealth of practical advice. Topics covered are: The First Semester, Dorm Life, The Classroom, Studying at Home, Test Taking Tips, Taking Notes, Writing Papers, Setting Goals, and more. Also comes with handbook.  77 Mins

School Daze (1988, USA). Homecoming weekend on a southern campus highlights how some blacks deny or affirm their racial identity. Directed by Spike Lee. Musical comedy. 114 min. R

School Ties (1992, USA). A handsome young Jewish prep school athlete hides his religion to survive anti-Semitism in the 50s. Drama. 107 min. PG-13

Seniors: Four Years in Retrospect (1997, USA). The filmmakers of Frosh (see page 130) returned to Stanford three years later to see how college life had changed five of these students. Combining extensive footage shot during senior year with prophetic clips and outtakes from Frosh, the two directors have produced an altogether new film focusing on the different trajectories students from diverse backgrounds take to a fulfilling and successful college experience. Documentary. 56 min. N/R

Son in Law (1993, USA). Rebecca is a farm girl who goes to the big city to attend college. Crawl (Pauly Shore), her RA, challenges her to find her true self and give this college thing a try. She dyes her hair, gets a tattoo and then has to face her family’s reactions at Thanksgiving. Comedy. 96 min. PG-13

Soul Man (1986, USA). A white student masquerades as a black for the sake of a minority scholarship until he’s overcome by guilt after meeting the single black mother who was second in line for the money, and after learning lessons on race from his hectoring black professor (James Earl Jones). Comedy. 101 min. PG-13

Stand and Deliver (1988, USA). A class from an East L.A. barrio commits to taking the Advance Placement Test in calculus, inspired by their dedicated, tough-love teacher (James Edward Olmos). Drama. 105 min. PG

The Sterile Cuckoo (1969, USA). Liza Minnelli plays an aggressive college student pursuing a shy freshman boy. Comedy/Drama. 107 min. PG

The Sure Thing (1985, USA). College students thrown together on a trip cross-country find love on the way. Romantic comedy. 94 min. PG-13

Surviving Desire (1991, USA). A neurotic English professor falls for his student, who, for her part, is using the affair as fuel for her writing. Romantic comedy. 86 min.

 

T

Threesome (1994, USA). Three dissimilar college students become unlikely best friends, forging a relationship so exclusive it actually troubles onlookers. From the inside, however, the trio are enjoying the safety of their own bond and exploring varying needs of love and sexual adventurousness. Comedy/Drama. 93 min. R.

Tortilla Soup (2001, USA). A multigenerational tale of a widowed Latino father trying to hold his family of 3 fractious daughters together with the bond of carefully prepared meals. His daughters, a repressed Catholic, a liberated high schooler who has plans for college, and a “modern woman,” just won’t conform to his standards of proper Latinas. Drama. 103 min. PG-13.

 

U

Undergrads (1985, USA). Estranged from his son, feisty Art Carney decides to get to know his grandson better by attending college with him. Made for TV by Disney. Comedy. 102 min.

 

W

Water Boys (1983, USA). Two prep school roommates come up against class differences and a salacious secret neither one is fully aware of. Comedy/Drama. 98 min. R

When He’s Not a Stranger (1989, USA). Intensely portrayed date-rape story. Made for TV. Drama. 100 min.

With Honors (1994, USA). After he finds a students honors thesis, a street bum holds it for ransom. Comedy/Drama. 103 min. PG-13

Wonder Boys (2001, USA).  A pot-smoking, aging writing teacher and his bizarre and brilliant student embark on a lost weekend that changes them both.  Comedy/Drama.  120 min.