f there’s anything we know about going off to college, it’s that you want to be prepared. And there’s no better way to study how to hit the books than to watch movies about hitting the books.
That’s right, we’ve composed a list of must-see movies that are all about college. Well...they’re about college, but not really about college, if you know what we mean. Because, c’mon, who really wants to watch a real movie that’s actually about college? Realistic movies about college wouldn’t be able to get much more exciting than reheating cold cups of coffee at 1am or any scarier than walking through the university bookstore during syllabus week.
Needless to say, the same way High School Musical is not at all a realistic representation of high school, movies about college fall a bit flat from accurately capturing the “glamorous” college experience. But sometimes, we just want to watch some movies that meet our high expectations for what we hope college will be like or, for those of us who are post-graduation, what we wished it was like, but never actually was.
Here are some of our must-see college movies about….well…”college.” Don’t worry though, we’re not here to judge unrealistic college movies. We’re just here to suggest them, and then point out all of the ways that they are (not so) realistic.
National Lampoon’s Animal House
🍿Comedy/Romance | 🎬 1h 49m | 📆 1978 | 🎥 R | 📺 Sling TV
We can’t put a list of movies about college together and not include National Lampoon’s Animal House. Toga parties, overloaded plates at the dining hall, over the top pranks—Animal House is the quintessential representation of the stereotypical college experience that everyone imagines. Although, you won’t see the characters doing a lot of studying, since the movie centers around a fraternity trying to prevent their charter from being taken away from the Dean.
👍 Yup, got it right: Frat boy shenanigans and college drinking culture...yeah some of that is right.
🤔 Sorry, which university is this again? Rambunctious frat boys successfully outwitting the Dean and coming out on top?...Yeah, no...
🍿Comedy/Romance | 🎬 1h 52m | 📆 2012 | 🎥 PG-13 | 📺 HBO Max
For those who don’t vibe with the college frat party scene, there are always movies about college a cappella competitions. In Pitch Perfect, freshman Beca Mitchell keeps to herself at Barden University, that is until she’s recruited for the Barden Bellas, an all female a cappella team. Beca’s background in radio and ability to mash songs together helps turn the bland Barden Bellas into a dynamic threat on stage. The movie follows the Bellas as they compete to win the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella against their rivals the Treblemakers, an all male a cappella team at the same university. Even if you don’t dig movies with singing or dancing in them, at the very least, Pitch Perfect will have you laughing pretty hard.
👍 Yup, got it right: Beca takes some time to find friends and figure things out, which seems pretty on par for most first-year student’s college experiences.
🤔 Sorry, which university is this again? Something tells us that it would take a few more rehearsals before the Barden Bellas are able to improvise in sync perfectly...just saying...
Good Will Hunting
🍿Drama/Romance | 🎬 2h 7m | 📆 1997 | 🎥 R | 📺 Starz
Good Will Hunting doesn’t take place in college as much as it is set around college. But we’re still going to include it in this list because it is. Just. That. Good. Will Hunting is a 20 year-old genius who works as a janitor in MIT. Yeah, read that one again.
Will impresses Professor Lamebua after figuring out the solution to a difficult math problem on a chalkboard that even the graduate students can’t solve. When Will gets into a street brawl and assaults a police officer, Lambeau makes a deal with the Judge to drop jail time if Will studies mathematics under his wing and agrees to attend therapy sessions.
The complicated and often contentious relationship Will has with his therapist, Dr. Sean Maguire, helps him find a sense of direction in life (well, his therapist and the gorgeous girl from Harvard whom he flirts with along the way).
👍 Yup, got it right: Will doesn’t actually attend college, so it’s hard to say what this movie gets right about it. But we do get to know some of the brainy college students in Cambridge, and yeah, and we can confidently say the movie resemble Ivy League-ers pretty accurately.
🤔 Sorry, which university is this again? After you watch this you probably won’t think “which university is this?” but “do I even need to go to university at all?”
🍿Comedy/Romance | 🎬 1h 37m | 📆 2001 | 🎥 PG-13 | 📺 Netflix
We can’t all attend Harvard Law School, but we can live vicariously through Elle Woods’ remarkable achievements in Legally Blonde. Elle, a fashion merchandising major and sorority sister, applies to Harvard Law School in an attempt to get back together with her ex-boyfriend. Upon first glance, Elle is ridiculed by her classmates and professors who think she isn’t smart enough to make it through Harvard Law School, let alone pursue a career as a lawyer. However, when given the chance to solve a murder case, Elle’s fashion insight gives her adversaries a run for their money.
👍 Yup, got it right: Toxic college environments and law school student rivalries? Yup, sounds like Harvard to us.
🤔 Sorry, which university is this again? By the end of the movie, Elle proves that she knows her stuff, but how she managed to get nearly a perfect score on the LSATs with just a fashion marketing degree with a few months of studying is something we’ll never be able to figure out.
I Still Believe
🍿Romance/Drama | 🎬 1h 57m | 📆 2020 | 🎥 PG | 📺 Hulu
You’re gonna need a box of tissues for this one. Based on the true story of contemporary Christian music singer and songwriter Jeremy Camp, I Still Believe takes place during Camp’s college years, when he falls in love with Melissa Hennig.
Jeremy and Melissa develop a close relationship, all while Jeremy finds his footing in the music industry. When Melissa is unexpectedly diagnosed with liver cancer, Jeremy turns to prayer and music in hopes that she will get better. No doubt, I Still Believe is not an easy movie to get through without tearing up, but the story is remarkable and, whether you’re religious or not, it will likely have you believing in something.
👍 Yup, got it right: Let’s be real, at some point, everyone who attends university hopes they’ll find their soulmate on campus.
🤔 Sorry, which university is this again? Becoming a music legend while in college doesn’t that realistic at all. Although, this is based on a true story, so maybe we should think again...
🍿Comedy/Drama/Romance | 🎬 1h 58m | 📆 2002 | 🎥 PG-13 | 📺 HBO Max
All too often, the role of the university marching band in establishing a hyped up collegiate experience remains unsaid--but not in Drumline. Freshman Devon Miles attends AT&T University, a fictional HBCU in Atlanta, Georgia, on full scholarship as a member of the marching band’s drumline. Devon becomes one of the highest ranked freshmen on the drumline, but his cocky personality and inability to read music quickly creates tension between him and the band’s director. Added pressure ensues when the band director is told they need to focus less on music and more on entertainment as they prepare for the Big Southern Classic marching band competition.
👍 Yup, got it right: College marching band is intense, man!
🤔 Sorry, which university is this again? All in all, Drumline seems like it’s a fairly accurate portrayal of college marching band culture (although the intensity depends on the band, of course), but getting a full ride to march in the band is definitely much easier said than done.
🍿Drama | 🎬 1h 47m | 📆 2014 | 🎥 R | 📺 Starz
If you’re looking for a fun and laid back take on the college experience, then do yourself a favor and don’t watch Whiplash during movie night with your buddies. Andrew Neiman, a drummer at Shaffer Music Conservatory, puts his heart into his music. But then he is accepted into a Jazz Band with Fletcher, an instructor who pushes him to his limits emotionally and physically. Whether this is considered a good movie depends on the person who’s watching it. But its different take on the college experience and raw portrayal of competition, mental health, and other relevant topics many students struggle with, gives it a spot on the list a list. If you’re willing to look past the foul language and some of the more emotionally disturbing scenes, we think it’s worth a watch.
👍 Yup, got it right: More often than not, college is quite stressful. The pressure to succeed can be very overwhelming for many students, and may very well push them to their limits.
🤔 Sorry, which university is this again? While high stakes and pressure are definitely real (especially in prestigious music conservatories), we think it’s safe to say you won’t run into a professor as emotionally abusive and cruel as Fletcher, fortunately.
Movies about college allow us to imagine a world of possibilities of what college could be like—insane parties, never-ending intellect, national trophies. We’ll be the first to tell you that movies about college are hardly realistic, but maybe that’s the point—they give us the opportunity to take a break from the books by living vicariously through characters who are, more often than not, living the idealized college experience we thought we would always have.