School’s Back in Session: My “Classy” List of the Top Ten College Themed Movies of All-Time

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All over the country, college students have been secretly crying themselves to sleep all week. This can only mean one of two things.

Either, they’ve accidentally caught a glimpse of Miley Cyrus’ VMA performance and they’ve been having a weeklong bout of vivid night terrors.

OR they’ve come to the conclusion that summer is officially coming to an end, which means that the 2013 Fall Semester will quickly be upon them.

And maybe, just maybe, for the unlucky few it’s already here.

So, gather up your pencils, books and notepads (or in these days: a single, solitary tablet) and take good notes. I’m about to unleash my syllabus for the…


Top Ten College-Themed Movies of All-Time: 


And just in time for today’s official start of the NCAA College Football season, we’ll KICKOFF the list with what is sure to be a controversial play…


NUMBER 10. “The Program” (1993) 

This particular film is about several college football players from different backgrounds try to cope with the pressures of playing for a major Division I university. Some turn to hard drinking, others succumb to hard drugs (including steroids), and some choose to hit the books… hard. This film brings up some interesting points regarding steroids and other performance enhancing drugs (PEDs), years before they became all the (roid) rage amongst Major League Baseball players.

Although the Timberwolves happen to be the name of the football team at the fictional school of ESU, the story draws parallels with the issues and problems that took place at the University of Miami, and their Hurricanes football team, in the late 1980’s

James Caan in "The Program"

James Caan as the Head Coach of the fictional ESU football team in movie number 10: “The Program”

and mid 90’s (which, by the way, was brilliantly captured in the ESPN-produced short film/documentary series “30 for 30” entry – simply titled “The U.”) “The Program” stars a young Halle Berry, Omar Epps, Andrew Bryniarski (who later became Leatherface in the “Texas Chainsaw” reboots) and James Caan as the head coach of the Timberwolves.


TRIVIA: The original film (and it’s first set of trailers) had a scene in which a bunch of the players decide to lay down, single-file, on the double-yellow line, as traffic whizzes by in an idiotic test of courage. When a few of the more impressionable youths who saw this scene tried to win a Darwin Award by imitating it and ended up dead as a result, the studio removed it from the film… forever. No copy of the film that included this scene, has since been seen, which led to speculation that the negatives had been destroyed. I smell a “Special Edition”  coming, don’t you?


NUMBER 9. “Higher Learning” (1995)

“Higher Learning” is John Singleton’s sophomore effort (following the gritty and poignant “Boyz n the Hood”) focuses on the

"Higher Learning" official movie poster

Official movie poster for the number 9 film: “Higher Learning”

fictional Columbus University, where a small group of main characters, from all different cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds, encounter the “3 R’s”: racial tension, rape and responsibility. Not to mention, the value and meaning of an education.

Michael Rapaport stands out as an introverted and troubled young man, who’s recruited by a group of skinheads and their charismatic leader (played by Cole Hauser). Look for Andrew Bryniarski (who, just in case your short-term memory is THAT terrible, was also in “The Program”) as a member of the skinhead crew. The film also stars rappers Ice Cube and Busta Rhymes (as the militant, pro-black answer to the skinhead threat), Omar Epps (who ALSO starred in “The Program.” Jeez, was there a shortage of young actors in the 1990’s or what?), and Laurence Fishburne (then known as “Larry”), and his horrible West Indian (?) accent, as the moral center of the film; Professor Phipps.


NUMBER 8. “Real Genius” (1985)

Val Kilmer plays Chris Knight: a gifted student at (fictional) Pacific Tech, who is unwillingly used by his science professor (played by William Atherton, who cornered the market on the “d-bag role” in the 80’s – with his performances in “Ghostbusters” and “Die Hard”) to create a military-grade super laser, which in the end becomes the most expensive popcorn maker of all-time. The deadly weapon, which is called “Crossbow” and is essentially a laser beam shot from space that can literally target a single person for incineration, is way ahead of its time. Despite the humor of the weapon’s final usage, it actually is some spooky stuff. Look for a young Jon Gries (Uncle Rico in “Napoleon Dynamite”) in a standout role as

Val Kilmer and friends in "Real Genius"

Jon Gries (far left), Val Kilmer (second from right) and friends in the number 8 film on the list: “Real Genius”

the mysterious hermit Lazlo, who literally lives in a dorm room closet (well… behind a sliding door that leads to a secret compartment anyway).

“Real Genius” is a perfect example of charming and compelling Kilmer USED to be on screen, during the 80’s and early 90’s. Frankly, I mark the end of Kilmer’s career in 1996 with “The Island of Dr. Moreau.” Who would’ve thought that when he was imitating co-star Marlon Brando during one (rather funny, mind you) scene from the film, it was really just a glimpse into his own future, as Kilmer has since ballooned in weight and deflated in box office appeal.

SIGNATURE SCENE:  The smart people rig a PA device in the room of their rival, Kent (Robert Prescott) and proceed to tell him that they’re the voice of God and they’ve been watching him. “For God’s sake (or should it be “our sake,” since THEY’RE pretending to be God?), stop playing with yourself,” they yell at Kent. It doesn’t SOUND funny, as I read it back to myself, but trust me – it is. Just watch it.


NUMBER 7. “PCU” (1994)

It’s called the “ultimate college satire” by and some say it’s the 1990s version of “Animal House” (which is actually higher on this list). The premise is this: A high school senior (Chris Young) visits the campus of Port Chester University (aka: PCU… aka: Politically Correct University. Get it?) for a weekend tour, which is given by resident party dude, Droz (played by a young-looking, but still smarmy, Jeremy Piven – In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the character of Droz eventually became Ari Gold from “Entourage”). Droz happens to be the leader of the PCU party frat “The Pit.”. The young “pre-frosh” gets into all sorts of trouble with every (and any) campus group that has a political agenda. From the fuzzy-legged feminists to the militant African-Americans to The Pit’s rivals; a Young Republican group called “Balls and Shaft” (led by David Spade), the pre-frosh starts all types of s**t.

The end result is a party (isn’t it always), which is held at The Pit, in order to save the fraternity, where all the groups – who

P-Funk and Ari Gold in "PCU"

George Clinton (frontman from Parliament Funkadelic) and Jeremy Piven in the number 7 film: “PCU”

couldn’t get along at first – now remarkably are partying together, while listening to the funky sounds of George Clinton and Parliament (who arrive at The Pit, due to a ridiculous sub-plot involving Gutter – played by a heavyset, young Jon Favreau – a quest to find beer, the trumped-up effects of marijuana, and a lost tour bus… don’t ask). Favreau’s character is also responsible for the film’s best quote, “Don’t be that guy” – which is what Droz says to him after finding out he’s going to wear the t-shirt of a band to that band’s concert.

TRIVIA: Parliament (aka: P-Funk, Funkadelic), the band that plays at the big party at the end of the film, was not the filmmakers’ first choice. Their primary choice was actually Nirvana, but they were deemed TOO EXPENSIVE. So much for the “anti-sellout” principles of Kurt Cobain.

Another trivia nugget: The film was directed by Hart Bochner, who played Ellis – the coke-snorting/drinking, yuppie a-hole – who gets shot in the face by Hans Gruber. Sorry, my bad… Hans “Bubby” Gruber.


NUMBER 6. “The Social Network” (2010)

Basically, this is “the Facebook movie” and is based on the failed relationship – business-wise and personal – between creator Mark Zuckerberg (a spot-on Jesse Eisenberg) and his partner/co-creator Eduardo Savarin (a pre-Spiderman Andrew Garfield) and their subsequent war over the rights to the social media giant. The film goes all the way back to their Harvard days and also highlights Zuckerberg’s legal battles with the Winklevoss twins (both played by a pre-“Lone Ranger” Armie Hammer). Also, I never thought I’d say this, but it has a breakout performance by Justin Timberlake as Napster cofounder Sean Parker.

The film, which is based off of Ben Mezrich’s 2009 book “The Accidental Billionaires,” is masterfully directed by David Fincher

Rooney Mara and Jesse Eisenberg in "The Social Network"

Another bar scene – this one is with Rooney Mara and Jesse Eisenberg (as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg) in the number 6 entry: the Academy Award-nominated film “The Social Network”

 and written – with signature wit – by Aaron Sorkin. It also is the only film on my list to receive an Oscar nomination for Best Picture. In fact, the film received EIGHT Oscar nominations, which also included Best Actor (Eisenberg) and Best Director (Fincher). It actually won three out of the eight – Best Adapted Screenplay (Sorkin), Best Original Score (Nine Inch Nails front man Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross) and Best Film Editing.

Zuckerberg, himself, is outspoken in his disdain for “The Social Network” – telling an audience at Stanford University that the film (among other things) does not accurately represent his motivations to create Facebook: citing that the film makes his character look like he did it to “get girls,” therefore ignoring the real reason, his love of “building things,”  in the process.


NUMBER 5. “Back to School” (1985)

Starring the one and only Rodney Dangerfield, the story follows the exploits of Thornton Melon – the wealthy owner of a chain of “Tall and Fat” stores, who, after a messy divorce from his adulterous wife Vanessa, decides to go back to school (hence the title: “Back to School”) to the fictional Grand Lakes University, in an attempt to show his flailing son Jason (Keith Gordon) some fatherly love and support. Actually, the sentiment behind the vulgar and childish antics of Dangerfield is actually kind of touching… kind of.

Look for a young Robert Downey Jr. when he had teased hair (dyed purple and pink) and was clearly messed up on something –on and apparently off-screen. Drugs or no drugs – boy, was he funny. In addition, the late, great Sam Kinison makes an appearance as a history teacher with a tendency towards PTSD and Vietnam flashbacks (Oh…Ohhh…OHHHHHH!!!), as does Burt Young (Paulie in “Rocky”), who plays Melon’s personal bodyguard, driver and best bud. William Zabka also makes an appearance as Jason’s diving team rival Chas, who – like the aforementioned William Atherton – cornered the market on a-holes, albeit of the younger variety, in the 80’s. In 1985 alone, Zabka played the jerky, Cobra Kai member Johnny “Sweep the Leg” Lawrence from “The Karate Kid,” the table-flipping, Cro-Magnon teen Greg Tolan in the underrated “Just One of the Guys” and Audrey Griswold’s cheating, shifty boyfriend (God, I miss) Jack in “National Lampoon’s European Vacation.”

Furthermore, Gordon eventually became a successful TV director (10 episodes of one of my favorite shows, “Dexter”), who also

Rodney Dangerfield in "Back to School"

Rodney Dangerfield playThornton Melon, who’s doing the famously-difficult “Triple Lindy” dive in entry number 5: “Back to School”

directed the WWII-themed tour de force – 1992’s “A Midnight Clear.” And finally, look for legendary film composer Danny Elfman in the film, as his band – Oingo Boingo – performs their song, “Dead Man’s Party,” at a shindig at Thornton Melon’s apartment. Watch Elfman’s eyes bug-out of his head as he stares at the crowd. Great stuff. 

CLASSIC MOMENTS: Dangerfield hires (and eventually fires) the real Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. to write a paper for him on – (you guessed it) the writings of Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. Also, he joins the diving team with his son and performs – in a hilariously-silly scene – the legendary “Triple Lindy” dive to win the meet.


While sitting in a hot tub filled with bikini-clad coeds: “Hey, what’s a bath without bubbles? Bubbles, get over here, will ya.”

To “Bubbles,” when she finally joins him:“Well, what’s your favorite subject?” – To which she replies, “Poetry.” – To which Thronton then retorts, “Maybe you can help straighten out my Longfellow.” 

NUMBER 4. “National Lampoon’s Animal House” (1978)

This is, hands down, the prototypical college party film. I personally guarantee that the black & white movie still, with the late, great John Belushi on it (who plays John “Bluto” Blutarsky) staring into space with the words “College” adorned on his sweatshirt, is STILL to this day hanging on the dorm room walls of nine out of ten students from UCONN to UCLA. Nevertheless, I also guarantee that six or seven out of those nine students haven’t actually SEEN the movie. It’s always been

John Belushi in "National Lampoon's Animal House"

The late, great John Belushi as Bluto, who’s bottle-deep into the famous “College” pose, in entry number 4: “National Lampoon’s Animal House.”

the idea of “Animal House” – not the content of the movie – that transcends it from the realm of cinema into the world of keg stands and frat house parties.

That being said, even if you see it for the first time today, the movie will still make you pee your pants with laughter, despite the somewhat dated nature of the humor. It does take place in 1962 after all. Another guarantee: the spirit of “Delta House” at Faber College will forever live on and people will probably look at this list and think “Animal House” is too low. Point taken.


Bluto“Look, I’m a zit. Get it?” (after shooting mashed potatoes out of his mouth and causing a catastrophic food fight)

Dean Wormer (John Vernon) “Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life, son.” (To Flounder, in a meeting that resulted from “double secret probation”)


NUMBER 3. Rudy (1993)

This is probably the most controversial entry on this list. Okay, okay. Most people think this movie, starring Sean Astin (post-Goonies/ pre-Samwise Gamgee) as Notre Dame walk-on Daniel “Rudy” Ruetigger, is a full-on piece of crap. Fair enough. However, just because you don’t like sports in general or won’t admit that this movie tugs on your heart strings, doesn’t make it a bad movie. It just makes you an insecure person. Sorry, that was a cheap shot.

That being said, there’s not a more polarizing film in the film universe amongst “dudes” than “Rudy.” Either you love it or you

Sean Astin in "Rudy"

Sean Astin stars as walk-on Notre Dame Football player Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger in entry number 3: “The Notebook” for dudes – “Rudy”

hate it. It’s either been, “I frickin’ hate that movie” or “That little guy gets me every, damn time.” I’ve never met a dude who’s been like, “Yeah, “Rudy’s” an okay movie.” I happen to be one of those dudes who gets misty-eyed during the scenes when Rudy finally gets the letter of acceptance from Notre Dame or when he sacks the quarterback in his one and only college appearance for the Fighting Irish. That is, even if the events in the film ARE a crock of s**t and are manipulated for cinematic purposes. But, so what? It’s a good football movie, if not great one – just in time for this year’s pigskin action. Leave Rudy alone. What’d he ever do to you? Besides make you cry and hate yourself for it.

Be on the lookout for a young Vince Vaughn AND (a heavyset) Jon Favreau (both in their pre-“Swingers” days), as a spoiled, underachieving player and Rudy’s best buddy D-Bob, respectively. Also, check out who plays legendary Notre Dame Head Coach Ara Parseghian. It’s Jason Miller – aka: Damian Karras from “The Exorcist.” “The Conjuring” star Lili Taylor also makes an appearance in the film as Rudy’s ex-girlfriend.


NUMBER 2. “Revenge of the Nerds” (1984)

Nerd BFFs Louis Skolnick and Gilbert Lowell descend upon Adams College (yes, that is James Cromwell – playing Mr. Skolnick – that drops them off at school in the beginning of the film), but are immediately persecuted for their nerdliness. The boys, along with weed-smoking fartmaster Booger, 12-year old child prodigy (and horndog) Wormser, bespectacled weirdo Poindexter (an almost unrecognizable Timothy Busfield), ultra-feminine acting rapper Lamar, and a slew of other outcasts, attempt join the all-black fraternity house Lambda Lambda Lambda (Tri-Lambs for short) in an effort to fit in. Tri-Lamb President UN Jefferson (Bernie Casey) allows their membership… and the hilarity ensues!

This film, like “Real Genius,” is also ahead of its time, as the nerds put up security cameras in the Pi Delta Psi (the “Pies”) sorority house, so they can watch the girls get undressed via video feed – especially Lewis’ dream girl Betty. If the internet was

The Tri-Lambs in "Revenge of the Nerds"

The Lambda Lambda Lambda fraternity is all here. Louis, Gilbert, Booger, Wormser, Poindexter, Lamar, Takahashi and company in entry number 2: “Revenge of the Nerds”

invented at this time (it wasn’t… it was 1984, after all), the nerds would have the Pie house on a video sex chatline. Just saying, is all.

Of course, the nerds get their revenge (duh) against the Alpha Beta frat house, which is made up of football-playing studs like quarterback Stan Gable and my favorite character – the moronic, nerd-hating bully Ogre. Also, look for a fairly skinny John Goodman who plays the equally nerd-hating head football coach of the Adams Atoms (brilliant team name!).

Highlights include the “talent show” at the end of the film, where the nerds perform their awesome song (“… and a rap by little old me, Lamar.”) and the nerd “pie eating” booth at the Greek Carnival, where Ogre discovers the secret behind the outrageously-high sales. Also, the “Liquid Heat” jock strap prank is pretty, damn good too.

“Revenge of the Nerds” is right up there with the aforementioned (and Number Three entry) “Rudy” and “Rocky” as the ultimate underdog movie of all-time. Even if it did spawn a mediocre second film and horrible third and fourth one. Just check out the film “American Splendor” for the scene when the character of Toby (played by Judah Friedlander) makes his assessment regarding what the film means to nerds all over the world.




NUMBER 1. “Old School” (2003)

Absolutely, without a doubt, it’s an American classic. Three older gentlemen (Will Ferrell, Vince Vaughn and Luke Wilson, respectively) enter full midlife crisis mode and decide to form a fraternity. This is after one of them buys a house that sits on the campus of local (fictional) Harrison University. Do I need to say it? Okay… hilarity ensues.

This film simultaneously, got the proverbial ball rolling on both Will Ferrell’s career (post “SNL”) and the middle-aged male, ensemble comedy boom (ie: “Dodgeball,” “Wedding Crashers,” “Anchorman,” “Grandma’s Boy,” “Knocked Up,” “The 40-Year Old Virgin,”  etc., etc., etc.). Look for Ellen Pomepeo (pre-“Grey’s Anatomy”) who plays Mitch’s (Wilson) love interest, Nicole, and roles/cameos from Craig Kilborn, Elisha Cuthbert, Andy Dick, Leah Remini, Snoop “Snoop-a-loop” Dogg, Artie

Will Ferrell as Frank the Tank in "Old School"

Will Ferrell gets a tranquilizer dart in his neck in the number one college themed movie of all-time according to me): “Old School.”

Lange, Matt Walsh, Juliette Lewis, James Carville, Sarah Shahi, etc. In the ironic full circle department: Jeremy Piven – who played the anarchistic Droz in “PCU – plays the Dean of Harrison University, Gordon “Cheese” Pritchard in this film. Classic line: Beanie (Vaughn) says to Cheese, “Didn’t we throw you in a dumpster in high school?” Cheese replies, “I got out.”

Another entry into the ironic full circle department: “PCU” was considered the “Animal House” of the 90’s, while “Old School” was considered the Animal House of the 00’s. Piven was in both.

This film also spawned numerous catchphrases from its hilarious dialogue, that it’s virtually impossible not to go tit-for-tat in the catchphrase department, whenever someone merely mentions the title of the film. That being said…


I’ll do this real quick – smorgasboard-style – “You got a dart in your neck,” “We’re going streaking.” “Earmuffs.,” “Frank the Tank!!,” “I’ll do one – He’s gonna do one!!,” “You’re my boy, Blue!,” etc., etc., etc.

In fact, there are so many great scenes, characters and moments, it’s hard to name ‘em all.


If I have forgotten some (or all) of your favorite college-themed movies, then I am truly sorry. If you want, you can go ahead and drop the names of the films in the comments section.

Remember: there are no right and wrong answers and the only stupid question is a question not asked.

Pencils down… and… STOP.

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