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Weekend Roundtable: Favorite College Movies

This week’s Pixar prequel ‘Monster University’ takes a trip back in time to visit lovable scarers Mike and Sulley in their college days. Today’s Roundtable, therefore, seems like a good opportunity to look at some of our favorite movies about the college experience.

Daniel Hirshleifer

While it doesn’t have the cachet of ‘Animal House’ or even ‘Old School’, the 2006 comedy ‘Accepted‘ gets much closer to an actual college experience. Even more importantly, it focuses on the enormous pressure put on kids to succeed out of high school, and does so in a clever fashion, utilizing several comedians who were just up-and-comers at the time (including the now nearly ubiquitous Jonah Hill). While the picture digs into a few clichés (Justin Long’s character woos the attractive girl who’s dating the hot fraternity guy who goes to the big expensive private college on the other side of town), for the most part, it takes a more honest and refreshing look at college than many of its cinematic brethren. On top of that, it has Lewis Black in one of his best film roles. It may not get quoted throughout pop culture, but ‘Accepted’ is a film very much worth catching.

Tom Landy

I’ve brought it up before in the Roundtable, but since I’m such a big fan of ‘Revenge of the Nerds‘, I have to mention it again here. I just find this 1980s R-rated college comedy to be utterly hilarious on all fronts, and I never grow tired of watching it. I’d even go as far to call ‘Revenge of the Nerds 2: Nerds in Paradise’ a guilty pleasure. It had some of the same magic as the original at least, which unfortunately can’t be said for the later sequels.

Mike Attebery

Anyone who’s read HDD or the blog probably knows that my favorite movie is ‘Wonder Boys‘. I’m sure I’ve mentioned it a dozen or more times in Roundtable posts alone, but I just love that movie. Nothing captures the feeling of going to college and wanting to be a writer better than that film. The cold, the rain, the snow, the beer parties, the literary gatherings, the dive bars, the driving, the cold, the frustrations and joys of writing… Did I mention the cold? I went to school in Rochester, NY. I have to mention the cold. If I could go back to college and live it again, I’d probably do it, and if I could relive college in a movie, I’d relive it in ‘Wonder Boys’.

Brian Hoss

Perhaps this has changed, but back in 1993, the hallmarks for college movies were all comedies like ‘Animal House’, ‘Revenge of the Nerds’ and ‘Back to School’. That’s why the ‘Simpsons‘ episode ‘Homer Goes to College’ is such a great counterpoint to the tropes of so many college movies. Forced to take a single college course, Homer insists on seeing and reenacting college movie clichés including partying, committing pranks, cramming for exams and altering grades. Not only does Homer get his nerd friends expelled and reinstated in college movie fashion, his repeated interpretation of the hip, young, empathetic dean as the stodgy joyless caricature of college movies results in the dean being victimized and permanently injured by Homer’s “Running you over” prank. So long as college movies skew towards “double secret probation,” ‘Homer Goes to College” will remain my favorite take on college movies.

Bryan Kluger

I have a couple:

Rudy‘ might be one of the best underdog stories besides ‘Rocky’. This is the true story of Daniel Ruettiger (played by Sean Astin), a short, unfit guy whose dream was to play football for Notre Dame. His grades weren’t the best, his athleticism was awful, and he didn’t have any suave moves with the ladies – but he could go the extra mile and do whatever it took to make the football team. Year after year playing a human punching bag, he finally got to play 30 seconds of the last game in 1975. His heart and spirit won the day.

A young Jon Favreau and Jeremy Piven lead the cast of ‘PCU‘, a hilarious college comedy about an incoming freshman deciding what university to attend. David Spade plays the conservative asshole who hates everybody. Parliament does a live set, and there’s a guy named Pigman doing his thesis on the Caine-Hackman theory. A true modern classic.

Luke Hickman

Even though my college experience could not have been further removed from those depicted in ‘The Social Network‘, I absolutely loved the world painted in this movie. Even though I didn’t go to an Ivy League school and my college life was drastically different, the lectures, the bland social outings, the naive ideas of post-college grandeur, and the belief that the world was my oyster – those are the things that any former college student can relate to. Add that instant nostalgia with Aaron Sorkin’s perfect screenplay and David Fincher’s flawless directing, and you’ve got one of my favorite films of 2010.

Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)

College! Sure, there’s the beer and toga parties and all that, but at the end of the day, academia is about the pursuit of excellence. What’s more excellent than beating back death itself? That’s why when I think of college, my mind turns to Miskatonic U. ‘Re-Animator‘ is set largely in and around the not-quite-real New England university. Its central character is a rebellious student. He has a foxy girlfriend (tons of nudity too, kids!), the dean can’t stand the guy, there’s a stodgy professor who’s always getting in Herbert’s way – c’mon, what screams “college movie” more than that? I love ‘Animal House’ and ‘Old School’ too, but they didn’t have any zombies or anything close to that same demented, twisted sense of humor, so ‘Re-Animator’ wins.

M. Enois Duarte

While there are several college movies that I really enjoy (‘Wonder Boys’ and ‘Revenge of the Nerds’ are particular favorites), the one that makes me feel dirty to admit is ‘Old School‘. The idea of grown men reliving their college glory days is already funny enough, but what I enjoy best is that the story hilariously looks at modern-day schools and how they’re nothing like what you see in the movies. I also think it’s one of Will Ferrell’s best and most memorable performances. It’s a silly movie, but it’s my guilty pleasure about college.

Josh Zyber

Toga! Toga! Toga!

So, yeah, we can’t do this topic without mentioning ‘Animal House‘. Obviously. Personally, I didn’t go to college in the 1960s and I have an inherent loathing of fraternities (owing to the fact that my freshman year roommate was a raging fratboy douchebag whose name was literally Joe Frat – that wasn’t a nickname; that was his actual name, and he was a repulsive excuse for a human being). Still, it’s a funny movie, and that’s all that matters.

Being that I went to school in Bahston, I should probably also give a shout-out to ‘Good Will Hunting‘. Even though the characters in that movie technically weren’t college students, Will works as a janitor in a college, so that counts, right?

However, the movie that I really want to single out here is ‘Real Genius‘. What I like about this one is that it celebrates the smart kids, which was a rarity among the glut of college comedies at the time (and still is, honestly). Sure, the nerds in ‘Revenge of the Nerds’ may have delivered sweet comeuppance to the obnoxious jocks who tormented them, but they had to, because they were social outcasts, and the movie has to validate that they’re worthwhile people too. The nerds in ‘Real Genius’, meanwhile, are the cool kids in school right from the start. Val Kilmer’s character, who we’re told is one of the ten smartest people in the country, is positively a rock star on campus. In fact, there are no jocks or fratboys at their school. Pretty much all the characters, good and evil, are super-smart nerds, as if that’s simply the way things are supposed to be at college. The movie’s really goofy, but I still think that’s pretty cool.

What are your favorite college movies? Tell us in the Comments.

8 comments

  1. EM

    Horse Feathers, in which the Marx Brothers…well, really, that should be enough explanation right there.

    Re-Animator is a brilliant and inspired choice. I’ll also give an honorable mention to City of the Dead (1960, a.k.a. Horror Hotel), about another college research project gone wrong, though much of it takes place away from the college milieu. Still, the scenes of professorial quarreling can be quite entertaining! Scholarly research far, far off campus—this time conducted by a hardworking but popular professor—also figures in another of my honorees, Raiders of the Lost Ark.

  2. Eric

    Does Ghostbusters count, because they work at a college to start the film?
    I really liked Adventureland. While it deals with a different aspect of college life (summer job), having worked at a camp one summer, I could very much relate to the film both in content and tone.
    My favorite college movie, however, is one that I didn’t see mentioned: Road Trip. The first time I saw this movie, I loved it, and it gets better with every viewing. Todd Phillips should stick to college movies, because between Old School and Road Trip he has two classics. Even Tom Green is funny in the movie, and while the conceit is forced, the movie is filled with big laughs.

  3. Bryan

    I absolutely love “Real Genius” … seriously one of my top 10 movies of all time.

    I can’t believe there has never been a blu-ray release of any kind (let alone a special edition DVD). Would love any kind of extras about the making of/etc ….

  4. Awesome pick Josh, this has long been one of my favorite movies and Val Kilmer is at his funniest in this movie.

    There are times you are at odds with what I believe, then I see this.

    Socrates said “I drank what?”

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