By Abragail Kappel for The Real College Guide
If “Intro to College Themes in American Cinema” didn’t make it to your class sched, check out the Cliffs Notes on our top picks. Popcorn, anyone?
What is it about movies set on college campuses? So many of these films have become modern classics we find ourselves watching over and over again. That’s why we decided to rent and review a few of our favorites, and re-evaluate them for their underlying lessons.
Good Will Hunting (1997)
It’s the story of a guy too poor to go to college who works as a janitor for the most prestigious technology institute: MIT. A teacher takes special interest in him after discovering he’s got some mad math skills. This is the film that made Matt Damon and Ben Affleck famous. The two actors wrote and starred in the movie, which won two Oscars, one for Best Original Screenplay. Robin Williams took Best Supporting Actor for his role as the “lost” psychologist who doesn’t regret anything in his life except the loss of his wife.
Lesson worth remembering: Don’t be afraid to take a shot at something.
Go after what you want when you have a chance, because you never know when the opportunity will arise again. Art imitated life in this case, because that’s exactly what Affleck and Damon did: Two 20-something kids took a leap and made one heck of a successful movie.
If you like this one, also check out: The Blind Side (2009)
Animal House (1978)
If you haven’t seen Animal House, what are you waiting for? This comedy classic takes us to a misfit fraternity filled with seven-year college students and boys who love to party. One word: toga! It’s all about the sex, drinking and a cool oldies soundtrack (the film is set in 1962).
Lesson worth remembering: Classes don’t teach you everything.
Okay, that doesn’t mean you get to skate through school just because Bluto (late comedian John Belushi) can get a 0.0 GPA and still become a (spoiler alert!) U.S. senator. School is important … but sometimes the best lessons we learn are those we take away from the experiences we have while in college.
If you like this one, also check out: Back to School (1986)
Revenge of the Nerds (1984)
A group of geeky misfits attempt to set themselves up in a Lambda Lambda Lambda fraternity house after being smoked out of the freshmen dorm by a bunch of Alpha Beta blockheads. Can the tri-Lambs ultimately flex their brains to outwit the bullies? A typical tale of nerds vs. jocks, this is a hysterical flick full of laugh-till-you-snort corniness.
Lesson worth remembering: Step out of your comfort zone.
This movie is about having the courage to fight for your rights even in the most trying of circumstances. As Thomas Edison once said, “Stand up for what you believe in even if it means standing alone.” But if you’re lucky, you’ll have a few dorks to back you up.
If you like this one, also check out: Real Genius (1985)
Dead Poets Society (1989)
While one might not consider this a college-themed film — because it takes place in an all-boys’ prep school — we think a lot of college-age kids can relate. The prestigious, upscale Welton Academy is full of professors and a headmaster who think for the students. Conformity is the rule at this school! The boys’ parents have basically chosen the life paths their children will take, preparing them to go Ivy League and then on to be doctors and lawyers and the whole cliché. Only when a new professor (Robin Williams again!) enters the school do the boys begin to look at life differently.
Lesson worth remembering: Teachers are people too.
“Carpe diem!” Williams’ character, John Keating, tells his students. Yes, “seize the day” is this movie’s signature slogan. And the film’s subplots drive that message home with tales of boys bucking the system and chasing their dreams. But Professor Keating, exudes a humanity that, for all his bravado, shows that even the most steadfast can be exceedingly vulnerable.
If you like this one, also check out: Wonder Boys (2000)
Legally Blonde (2001)
After a bad breakup with her boyfriend, Elle Woods (Reese Witherspoon) decides to win him back by following him to Harvard Law. After she is accepted, her “girlie” ways become a target of mockery for the entire school. Her fellow students and teachers openly wonder how she ever got in and are intent on seeing her fail. However, Elle is strong-minded and able to prove everyone wrong — even herself.
Lesson worth remembering: Blonde does not equal dumb.
Elle knows she’s out of place and looked at differently, but she never gives up her identity and instead uses her uniqueness to her advantage. She ultimately surprises everyone around her with her cleverness — all while staying true to her style.