The best college movies are those that stand the test of time. They make you laugh, cry, sing along or shudder in fear no matter how many times you watch them. Yes, they may be formulaic and predictable. Yes, there is always a “root for the underdog” element. But that’s part of what makes college themed movies great, isn’t it? Initially planned as a walk down memory lane of five great college comedy movies, this list also includes a musical and a horror film. So sit back, relax and enjoy these awesome college movie trailers. Grab your popcorn and finish it while watching the trailers…much like what always happens in the movie theatre. If you’re like me you’ll probably want to rent a few to enjoy again.
When asked about your favorite college movie, chances are a comedy will come to mind. And why not? They are hilarious (the good ones anyway), the characters do really stupid things, get into amazingly convoluted situations and rule the day in the end. Who wouldn’t want that? The three college comedy movies below are the essence of the genre:
1. National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978)
Directed by John Landis and Starring John Belushi, Stephen Furst, Kevin Bacon, Mary Louise Weller, Mark Metcalf and More
I know it’s cliché, and has been said many times, but no college movie list would be complete without National Lampoon’s Animal House. What can be said about this standard setting college movie that hasn’t been said before? It’s the college movie to which all other college movies are compared. The movie’s central theme is a fraternity, Delta Tau Chi and the college dean who wants to expel all of its members because the fraternity is a blight on the college. Hijinks and hilarity ensue. Animal House spawned a number of catch phrases such as “Double Secret Probation,” “Fooooood Fiiight,” and “Toga! Toga! Toga!” Awesomeness.
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2. Back to School (1986)
Directed by Alan Metter and starring Rodney Dangerfield (and a very young Robert Downey Jr.)
1986 was a good year for movie comedies. I remember exactly when “Back to School” came out because it was the same year as “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” another hilarious movie. Rodney Dangerfield plays a self-made millionaire named Thornton Melon who has been educated by the school of hard knocks. When he finds out that his son, Jason, wants to drop out of college, he enrolls with him in support. Never having graduated high school himself, Thornton bribes his way into becoming a student. Once there we follow the likable but obnoxious Thornton as he invokes the wrath of a college dean, but wins over everyone else. There is the mandatory improbable love interest angle for both Thornton and his son, as well as the popular, good-looking jock who bullies Jason.
Who can forget the film’s climatic diving match scene and the legendary “Triple Lindy” dive which saves the day? It’s the stuff college comedy movies are made of. The final scene has Thornton speaking at commencement where he admonishes graduates that the real world is no joke and to make it easier on themselves by moving back in with their parents. More than twenty-five years later those words are equal parts ironic and prophetic.
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The Triple Lindy Scene
3. Revenge of the Nerds (1984)
Directed by Jeff Kanew and starring Anthony Edwards, Ted Mcginley and John Goodman among others
The original Revenge of the Nerds (not the sequels), is a hilarious college comedy movie about a group of college misfits who are bullied by the BMOC (big men on campus). No matter where the nerds go or who they ask for help, no one assists them. Until, that is, they hook up with Lambda, Lambda, Lambda (Tri-Lambs), a black fraternity that supports their efforts to get revenge on the bullies. The result is sweet, hilarious, and complete. In the end, they win, take over and even get the girl. When they invite anyone who has ever felt picked on or put down to join them, the majority do, reflecting fears and insecurities that we all have at one time or another. It’s a satisfying conclusion. One that should have been left alone.
The Horror Movie
When you think about college movies, horror doesn’t typically come to mind…at least good ones. But there are a few classics out there worth taking a look at. Queue up the trailer, watch this one in the dark and get ready to jump.
4. Black Christmas (1974)
Directed by Bob Clark and starring Margot Kidder, Olivia Hussey, Keir Dullea and John Saxon
This college movie is about a group of sorority house members who are stalked by a psychopath. “The moaner,” as he has been nicknamed by the students makes creepy calls to the house which they don’t take seriously (the Scream movies did the same thing, didn’t they?). When one student doesn’t show up to meet her father, the disappearance is reported to the police who are initially dismissive (standard horror movie progression). However, they do eventually come around. One by one the women are killed and the bodies stack up. This independent college movie has garnered a cult following and is often featured in October around Halloween. If you like slasher films and you haven’t seen this one, you may want to rent or buy. Make sure you get the original though, not the 2006 remake.
Selecting a college movie musical was actually a very simple task because there are so few. The lone movie on this list is a musical drama. It performed respectably at the box office and is fun to watch in all of its eighties glory.
5. School Daze
Directed by Spike Lee (1988) and starring Larry Fisbourne, Tisha Campbell-Martin, Samuel L. Jackson and other familiar faces
School Daze is a “Spike Lee Joint,” a phrase coined by Spike Lee and used in place of “directed by.” This college movie musical is about the conflict between sorority and fraternity members and other students at a historically black college. The film is unique in that it features an all black cast. There are sub-plots such as the story of what happens when a geeky student (played by Spike Lee) wants to pledge a popular fraternity. The movie touches upon issues of race and class and at times uses pejorative language (i.e. the N word). Watching it today some of the language is harsh to my ears, which to me is a good thing. While the movie tries to be deep it still follows the basic college movie formula. We’ll stop at five for now, but there are many other wonderful college movies out there to see!