Ah, college. For many, a period of wide-open opportunities and personal exploration. For others (including myself), it consisted mainly of cram sessions and late nights that had nothing to do with the parties. But one thing rings true to us all: a university or community college (even a fake college) often becomes the backdrop of the funniest or most dramatic situations in cinema.
The six movies below rank among the best for varying reasons — showcasing college life and conflicts in the most engaging (and often surprising) ways.
ART SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL
What college story would be complete without a pretentious art major, a budding romance, and… murder? ART SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL is a graphic novel adaptation that follows Jerome (Max Minghella), a misanthropic young man looking for love and, like the title suggests, pursuing his passion at art school.
Available to rent or buy on Prime Video, this dark comedy takes an unforgettable twist when the murders in town and a prestigious art competition combine to get Jerome into a world of trouble, but with a reward he never expected.
Earning three stars from the late Roger Ebert himself, the story’s characters garner particular interest and relatability, staying true to their comic book counterparts.
THE SOCIAL NETWORK
The goal of a biopic like THE SOCIAL NETWORK is to shed light on the origins of public figures, and none is so eye-opening as the dramatic tale of Mark Zuckerburg’s (Jesse Eisenberg) meteoric rise — at the expense of business partners and fellow collegiates from Harvard, of course.
Stream it on Netflix if you want to see how Facebook became a digital superpower — or if you just want heated, historically-charged performances from Jesse Eisenberg and Andrew Garfield.
Kirk Honeycutt of The Hollywood Reporter once called this a “must-see”, thanks to the “mesmerizing, bewildering and infuriating protagonist” that Eisenberg embodies.
This classic college comedy is all about expectations: protagonist Elle Woods (Reese Witherspoon) has her life plan upended by a breakup, and in an attempt to remedy this, she gets her law degree. All the while, she faces hilarious conflicts thanks to an assumed Valley Girl persona — including stereotypes she works to disprove about her capacity to practice law.
Another title on Netflix, LEGALLY BLONDE’S conceptual strength is reinforced by a lighthearted message for everyone who’s been judged by appearance or impressions; as IMDb even states, the main character Elle soon after enrolling “figures out that there is more to her than just looks.”
STOMP THE YARD
A college movie that’s peppered with romance, dance, and a lot of hard truths, this drama centers around street dancer DJ Williams (Columbus Short) after his brother’s death and takes place at a historically Black university, where he competes on a fraternity dance team in stepping competitions and falls in love, to boot.
Available for purchase or rent on Prime Video, STOMP THE YARD is, like most mid-2000s dance dramas, a feast for the eyes with choreography that makes for an engaging experience, especially if you can keep up the pace when you try copying the moves (like you know you will).
Another Netflix streamable, this easy-to-watch irreverent comedy runs in the same vein as AMERICAN PIE, and it follows an Ohio slacker (Justin Long) and his attempt to create a fake university from the ground up to impress his family and his high school crush (Blake Lively).
GOOD WILL HUNTING
A genius in mathematics, MIT janitor Will Hunting (Matt Damon) would be well ahead of his peers if it weren’t for the upbringing he combatted, filled with abuse and self-loathing. This tale follows his powerful transformation when his talents are discovered and he sees a psychologist (Robin Williams) that tries to help him pursue a more fulfilling life without the shadow of his past.
Stream it on STARZ or rent or buy on Prime Video, and watch as Matt Damon and Robin Williams (among other talents) depict a stirring narrative that has won dozens of awards, including two Oscars, and shows audiences poignant struggles in (and outside of) college.
A fun movie night or learning to write a college movie in numerous genres — there’s something to get out of the above films no matter what your goal is. Just remember, college life is an ANIMAL HOUSE all its own, and whether you’re in college or writing about it, the key is to study. So, without any further ado, watch and learn!
Speaking of college, if you’re a student with a great script, enter it into the WeScreenplay College Screenwriting Competition!