45 Best College Movies of All Times

College movies are a cinema staple, delighting those who attended college with nostalgia and those who did not, with plenty of drama, comedy, and general mishaps to hold their interest. Films with college as the backdrop often focus on characters who are learning what it means to be an adult for the first time, and these stories rarely feature a smooth journey.

Stacker gathered IMDb data on 45 of the most beloved college movies and ranked them by user rating. The top 45 are presented here and ranked from worst to best. While college isn’t always the focus of the films on this list, it is, at the very least, the setting. Also included are details about how the film and its creators have impacted college students and culture at large.

Several of the films listed here are based on books, some won or were nominated for Oscars and other awards, and one was deemed “too controversial” to be shown in Italian theaters. Another film is a part of one of the highest-grossing franchises of all time and one much-loved animated movie even managed to make the top 20. More than one sequel impressively earned a place on this ranking when the original film did not.

Read on for the 45 of the best college movies.

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1 / 45


#45. Smart People (2008)

– Director: Noam Murro
– IMDb user rating: 6.1
– Metascore: 57
– Runtime: 95 minutes

A depressed, estranged Carnegie Mellon literature professor (Dennis Quaid) begins a relationship with one of his former students (Sarah Jessica Parker). When his adopted brother (Thomas Haden Church) shows up on his doorstep, he realizes he needs to make some life changes and reconnect with his children (Elliot Page and Ashton Holmes). Reviews for the film were mixed.

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Paramount Pictures

#44. Orange County (2002)

– Director: Jake Kasdan
– IMDb user rating: 6.2
– Metascore: 48
– Runtime: 82 minutes

A smart high school student’s (Colin Hanks) acceptance into Stanford University is jeopardized when his guidance counselor sends the wrong transcript in with his application. The high-achieving student spends the rest of the film trying to prove he truly is a top applicant, with hilarious help from Jack Black. Roger Ebert gave the film three out of four stars, calling it a “happy project” with stars of Hollywood’s next generation.

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Columbia Pictures

#43. St. Elmo’s Fire (1985)

– Director: Joel Schumacher
– IMDb user rating: 6.3
– Metascore: 35
– Runtime: 110 minutes

In this classic 1985 “Brat Pack” coming-of-age film, a group of recent Georgetown University graduates struggles with adulthood. The all-star cast features Emilio Estevez, Rob Lowe, Andrew McCarthy, and Demi Moore. Friendship is a major theme in the film, and the college friends continue to support each other through all their misadventures. The theme song even became a #1 hit on the Billboard charts.

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Good Universe

#42. Neighbors (2014)

– Director: Nicholas Stoller
– IMDb user rating: 6.3
– Metascore: 68
– Runtime: 97 minutes

A young couple moves in next door to a fraternity house and initially tries to get along with the cool fraternity president, played by Zac Efron. A war erupts, however, when they call the cops on the students during a raucous party. The raunchy comedy has echoes of the hard-partying fraternity scenes made famous by “Animal House.”

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Touchstone Pictures

#41. The Program (1993)

– Director: David S. Ward
– IMDb user rating: 6.4
– Metascore: 51
– Runtime: 112 minutes

This 1993 film, starring Halle Berry and Omar Epps, follows college football players as they try to cope with the pressures of playing at a top university. Some sink into the allure of steroids or hard drugs, while others turn to alcohol to relieve the stress. A controversial scene in which the movie’s hero lies down in the middle of traffic was removed from the film after several teenagers tried it and were either injured or killed.

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6 / 45

TriStar Pictures

#40. The Freshman (1990)

– Director: Andrew Bergman
– IMDb user rating: 6.4
– Metascore: 78
– Runtime: 102 minutes

In “The Freshman,” an NYU film student (Matthew Broderick) accepts a job with a local mobster who resembles a famous cinema godfather. The movie was received well by critics, though “The Godfather” alum Marlon Brando, who parodies himself in the film, apparently deemed it a flop. It was the first role he’d had since the 1980 film “The Formula.”

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Killer Films

#39. Kill Your Darlings (2013)

– Director: John Krokidas
– IMDb user rating: 6.4
– Metascore: 65
– Runtime: 104 minutes

“Kill Your Darlings” is a biographical drama about a murder involving legendary beatniks Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and William Burroughs. John Krokidas’ debut film follows the young poets during their college years, when Ginsberg, played by Daniel Radcliffe, is a freshman at Columbia University.

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Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)

#38. Legally Blonde (2001)

– Director: Robert Luketic
– IMDb user rating: 6.4
– Metascore: 59
– Runtime: 96 minutes

A seemingly stereotypical sorority girl enrolls in Harvard Law School—”What, like, it’s hard?”—to try and win back her ex-boyfriend. The 2001 film was hugely popular, inspired a sequel, and can even be credited for inspiring some women to pursue their law school dreams. Reese Witherspoon said starring in “Legally Blonde” motivated her to create more feminist movies, and the film cemented her status as a bankable star.

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#37. American Pie 2 (2001)

– Director: J.B. Rogers
– IMDb user rating: 6.4
– Metascore: 43
– Runtime: 108 minutes

The second film in the “American Pie” comedy film series, “American Pie 2” finds the friends reuniting at the beach the summer after their first year of college. The now-iconic and hilarious film franchise—which launched the careers of Jason Biggs and Alyson Hannigan, among others—was a hit among high school and college students. It became one of the highest-grossing franchises of all time and has had a big influence on the comedy film genre.

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Twentieth Century Fox

#36. PCU (1994)

– Director: Hart Bochner
– IMDb user rating: 6.5
– Metascore: 42
– Runtime: 79 minutes

A high school senior visits the fictional Port Chester University for the weekend and gets a taste of politically correct campus life while staying at the wildest house on campus. The film is notable for its anti-establishment message and its ensemble cast, including Jeremy Piven (pre-“Entourage”), David Spade, and Jon Favreau.

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Columbia Pictures

#35. Higher Learning (1995)

– Director: John Singleton
– IMDb user rating: 6.5
– Metascore: 54
– Runtime: 128 minutes

In this John Singleton-directed ensemble film starring Omar Epps, Ice Cube, Jennifer Connelly, and Laurence Fishburne, a diverse group of freshmen at Columbus University learn about life and cope with sexual assault, racism, and violence on campus. Fishburne won an NAACP Image Award for his work in the film. When “Higher Learning” was released in 1995, violence plagued the cinemas showing the film during its opening week, resulting in two deaths. The conflicts the characters experience on-screen are eerily similar to the real-life issues prevalent on college campuses today.

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Dreamworks Pictures

#34. Road Trip (2000)

– Director: Todd Phillips
– IMDb user rating: 6.5
– Metascore: 55
– Runtime: 93 minutes

A group of college students embarks on a wild road trip from New York to Austin, Texas, to save their friend’s relationship. It opened to mixed reviews but reached #3 at the box office, grossing a grand total of $119 million.

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Orion Pictures

#33. Back to School (1986)

– Director: Alan Metter
– IMDb user rating: 6.6
– Metascore: 68
– Runtime: 96 minutes

A concerned father (Rodney Dangerfield) enrolls himself in college to encourage his son to attend, but the uneducated, self-made millionaire faces trouble when he learns how to manipulate the system a little too well. The 1986 Dangerfield comedy is consistently remembered as a classic back-to-school film.

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Kingsgate Films

#32. The Rules of Attraction (2002)

– Director: Roger Avary
– IMDb user rating: 6.6
– Metascore: 50
– Runtime: 110 minutes

“The Rules of Attraction” is a black comedy about the incredibly privileged students of the fictional Camden College and their empty lives. Based on the novel by Bret Easton Ellis, the film received relatively poor reviews, with some critics noting its failure to adequately adapt the story for the screen.

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Twentieth Century Fox

#31. Revenge of the Nerds (1984)

– Director: Jeff Kanew
– IMDb user rating: 6.6
– Metascore: 44
– Runtime: 90 minutes

A group of geeky college students is thrown out of their dorm by the Alpha Betas after their fraternity house burns down. Forced to live in dumpy quarters, the nerds reach their breaking point and plot revenge. The 1984 comedy inspired three sequels and foreshadowed the modern trend of nerds becoming mainstream in pop culture.

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Paramount Vantage

#30. Like Crazy (2011)

– Director: Drake Doremus
– IMDb user rating: 6.6
– Metascore: 68
– Runtime: 86 minutes

While attending college in Los Angeles, an American (Anton Yelchin) falls in love with a woman from London (Felicity Jones) who violates the terms of her visa, forcing her to return to England. The pair struggles with maintaining a long-distance relationship but keeps returning to each other. The film won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance when it premiered in 2011 and earned praise from critics.

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Dreamworks Pictures

#29. EuroTrip (2004)

– Directors: Jeff Schaffer, Alec Berg, David Mandel
– IMDb user rating: 6.6
– Metascore: 45
– Runtime: 92 minutes

After being dumped by his girlfriend, a recent high school graduate goes on an epic trip to Europe with his friends. Matt Damon went to college with the writers of “EuroTrip” and agreed to make a cameo, singing “Scotty Doesn’t Know” in what would become one of the most famous scenes in the movie.

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Warner Bros.

#28. Fandango (1985)

– Director: Kevin Reynolds
– IMDb user rating: 6.7
– Metascore: data not available
– Runtime: 91 minutes

Set in 1971, “Fandango” is about five college friends from the University of Texas—led by a young Kevin Costner in one of his first film roles—who embark on a road trip across the Mexican border before facing their post-grad futures. The film garnered a cult following, and fan groups still hold yearly “Fandango” gatherings to tour shooting locations. The film itself was made by a University of Southern California student named Kevin Reynolds, who, according to reports, originally titled the film “Proof.” Steven Spielberg saw it, liked it, and decided to fund a feature-length version.

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BBC Films

#27. Starter for 10 (2006)

– Director: Tom Vaughan
– IMDb user rating: 6.7
– Metascore: 69
– Runtime: 92 minutes

Produced by Tom Hanks, “Starter for 10” is a 2006 British dramedy about a working-class student who tries out for a popular TV show called “University Challenge” during his first year at Bristol University. Based on a book of the same name by David Nicholls, the movie earned good reviews for its charming, authentic depiction of the British university experience.

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Fox Searchlight Pictures

#26. Mistress America (2015)

– Director: Noah Baumbach
– IMDb user rating: 6.7
– Metascore: 75
– Runtime: 84 minutes

A lonely college freshman living in New York City gets pulled into the exciting antics of her adventurous stepsister. The quirky comedy, originally released in Brazil, explores the millennial generation’s relationship with meaningful work environments and their desire for upward mobility.

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BCDF Pictures

#25. Liberal Arts (2012)

– Director: Josh Radnor
– IMDb user rating: 6.7
– Metascore: 55
– Runtime: 97 minutes

A 30-something man falls for a college student when he returns to his alma mater in Ohio for a professor’s retirement party. “Liberal Arts” expresses a nostalgic view of college, notably through the protagonist, who hasn’t been truly happy in his lackluster life since he graduated. This aligns with the popular trope that college is the happiest four years of one’s life.

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#24. Adventureland (2009)

– Director: Greg Mottola
– IMDb user rating: 6.8
– Metascore: 76
– Runtime: 107 minutes

During the summer of 1987, a recent college graduate (Jesse Eisenberg) plans to travel around Europe before attending graduate school but is instead forced to take a job at the local amusement park. Expecting the worst, he is pleasantly surprised when he finds love with a co-worker.

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Columbia Pictures

#23. 21 (2008)

– Director: Robert Luketic
– IMDb user rating: 6.8
– Metascore: 48
– Runtime: 123 minutes

Based on the bestselling nonfiction book “Bringing Down the House” by Ben Mezrich, “21” follows the story of a student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who, in order to earn money to pay for medical school, joins a secretive club of brilliant students being trained by a professor in the art of card-counting. The group runs into trouble when they win big at a Las Vegas casino. Kevin Spacey, Jim Sturgess, Laurence Fishburne, and Kate Bosworth left critics with mixed reviews, but the movie was a box-office success.

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Embassy Pictures

#22. Carnal Knowledge (1971)

– Director: Mike Nichols
– IMDb user rating: 6.9
– Metascore: 77
– Runtime: 98 minutes

Released in 1971, Mike Nichols’ iconic “Carnal Knowledge” follows the lifelong sexual development of two men who first become friends as college roommates. The film, which stars Jack Nicholson, Candice Bergen, Art Garfunkel, Rita Moreno, and Ann-Margret, was deemed “too controversial” for its exploration of chauvinism and male psychology to be shown in Italian theaters. A theater operator in Georgia was even taken to the Supreme Court for screening the movie. Still, it was nominated for a number of awards and is still considered a classic.

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Delphi III Productions

#21. Real Genius (1985)

– Director: Martha Coolidge
– IMDb user rating: 6.9
– Metascore: 71
– Runtime: 108 minutes

Two highly intelligent college roommates team up on a project to develop a high-powered laser. Conflict ensues when they learn the CIA intends to use their technology as a weapon. The goofy comedy received positive critic reviews and was one of the first films to be promoted online.

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Annapurna Pictures

#20. Everybody Wants Some!! (2016)

– Director: Richard Linklater
– IMDb user rating: 6.9
– Metascore: 83
– Runtime: 117 minutes

Set in 1980s Texas, a college freshman meets his new baseball teammates and finds a life of disco, parties, and generally unsupervised youth. The film is based on director Richard Linklater’s own college experience as a ballplayer in Texas.

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Embassy Pictures

#19. The Sure Thing (1985)

– Director: Rob Reiner
– IMDb user rating: 7.0
– Metascore: 76
– Runtime: 95 minutes

College freshman Gib (John Cusack) road trips all the way to California to meet a girl after repeatedly striking out with the women at his own college. On the way, Gib and his passenger, Alison (Daphne Zuniga), fall in love. Rob Reiner directs and Anthony Edwards, Tim Robbins, and Nicollette Sheridan co-star in the film Roger Ebert dubbed “a small miracle.”

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Dreamworks Pictures

#18. Old School (2003)

– Director: Todd Phillips
– IMDb user rating: 7.0
– Metascore: 54
– Runtime: 88 minutes

An attorney (Luke Wilson) moves into a new house near a college campus and tries to get his life back together after a bad breakup. His two best friends (Will Ferrell and Vince Vaughn) join him, and the trio opens a new fraternity in an attempt to relive their glory days. “Old School” gained a massive cult following after its release and helped launched the careers of Simon Helberg (“Big Bang Theory”) and Elisha Cuthbert, among other co-stars.

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Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)

#17. 22 Jump Street (2014)

– Directors: Phil Lord, Christopher Miller
– IMDb user rating: 7.0
– Metascore: 71
– Runtime: 112 minutes

In this sequel to “21 Jump Street,” police officers Schmidt and Jenko go undercover at a local college. The film includes some commentary on the changing views of gender and sexuality on college campuses. Overall, the movie received positive critic reviews and praise for being a successful comedic sequel, which traditionally flop.

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Brownstone Productions (II)

#16. Pitch Perfect (2012)

– Director: Jason Moore
– IMDb user rating: 7.1
– Metascore: 66
– Runtime: 112 minutes

College freshman Beca isn’t sure where she fits in on campus until she joins an all-girl a cappella group and becomes immersed in crushing the competition. The female-driven movie was a huge success, grossing $113 million worldwide. To nobody’s surprise, it also had the bestselling soundtrack of 2013 and a single that rose to #6 on the Billboard Hot 100, launching a full-on franchise. “Pitch Perfect” also helped college a cappella groups reach newfound popularity in the mainstream.

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Twentieth Century Fox

#15. The Paper Chase (1973)

– Director: James Bridges
– IMDb user rating: 7.2
– Metascore: 65
– Runtime: 113 minutes

A first-year Harvard law student struggles to keep up with the demands of the school’s stern contracts professor and makes the situation worse by dating the professor’s daughter. The film is based on the hit novel “The Paper Chase” by John Jay Osborn Jr., inspired by his own time as a Harvard Law student. The film received good reviews and was later made into a TV series.

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40 Acres & A Mule Filmworks

#14. Love & Basketball (2000)

– Director: Gina Prince-Bythewood
– IMDb user rating: 7.2
– Metascore: 70
– Runtime: 124 minutes

“Love & Basketball” follows two childhood friends, Monica and Quincy, who both endeavor to play professional basketball. The two begin to fall in love as they grow older, but their diverging paths threaten their relationship. Written and directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, the film had a lasting impact on sports and romantic comedy genres as well as minority representation on screen.

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Walt Disney Pictures

#13. Glory Road (2006)

– Director: James Gartner
– IMDb user rating: 7.2
– Metascore: 58
– Runtime: 118 minutes

The new basketball coach at Texas Western College leads the first all-Black starting lineup to the NCAA national championships, an unheard-of achievement in the 1960s. “Glory Road” was loosely based on the true story of the 1966 Texas Western Miners.

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Universal Pictures // Getty Images

#12. Wonder Boys (2000)

– Director: Curtis Hanson
– IMDb user rating: 7.2
– Metascore: 73
– Runtime: 107 minutes

An English professor copes with his wife leaving him, writer’s block, and the many complex problems of his students in this Curtis Hanson picture. After initially performing poorly at the box office, “Wonder Boys” reopened in 15 theaters nationally in November 2000. It went on to secure three Oscar nominations, winning the award for Best Original Song.

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Schiwago Film

#11. A Coffee in Berlin (2012)

– Director: Jan-Ole Gerster
– IMDb user rating: 7.3
– Metascore: 63
– Runtime: 86 minutes

An aimless law school dropout spends a fateful day wandering around Berlin, attempting to make sense of life. The black-and-white German film had a limited release in the United States and won a slew of European awards, including the German Film Award for Best Feature Film.

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Bac Films

#10. L’auberge Espagnole (2002)

– Director: Cédric Klapisch
– IMDb user rating: 7.3
– Metascore: 65
– Runtime: 122 minutes

In “L’auberge Espagnole,” a French university student moves to Barcelona to improve his Spanish language skills and has a life-changing experience living in a house full of international students. Cédric Klapisch reportedly wrote the script in less than two weeks and shot the film in Barcelona on a lightweight digital camera.

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Pixar Animation Studios

#9. Monsters University (2013)

– Director: Dan Scanlon
– IMDb user rating: 7.3
– Metascore: 65
– Runtime: 104 minutes

In this animated hit, Mike Wazowski enrolls in Monsters University to fulfill his lifelong dream of becoming a Scarer and enters into a rivalry with natural-born Scarer Sulley. The Pixar team painstakingly detailed their animation of a college campus and went on visits to Stanford, Harvard, and the University of California, Berkeley. They even created a fake website for the university.

38 / 45

Universal Pictures

#8. American Graffiti (1973)

– Director: George Lucas
– IMDb user rating: 7.4
– Metascore: 97
– Runtime: 110 minutes

In a nostalgic look at 1960s teenagers, George Lucas’ iconic “American Graffiti” follows high school graduates as they cruise down California streets and live it up on their last day of summer vacation. It was almost a TV movie until Francis Ford Coppola signed on as a producer shortly after the release of “The Godfather” and secured more funding. “American Graffiti” was nominated for four Oscars, including Best Director.

39 / 45

Universal Pictures

#7. Animal House (1978)

– Director: John Landis
– IMDb user rating: 7.4
– Metascore: 79
– Runtime: 109 minutes

“Animal House” is the classic college comedy about a disreputable fraternity at the fictional Faber College that throws outrageous parties and continually challenges the authority of the disapproving dean. John Belushi’s famous role as Bluto significantly influenced the comedy genre, and the movie profoundly impacted the image of the college lifestyle in popular culture. The “Animal House” portrayal of competitive Greek life and wild, nonstop partying has been replicated in numerous teen movies, including “Neighbors,” “Accepted,” and “Old School.”

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Harpo Films

#6. The Great Debaters (2007)

– Director: Denzel Washington
– IMDb user rating: 7.5
– Metascore: 65
– Runtime: 126 minutes

A professor starts a debate team at a predominately Black college in 1935, and his band of intellects becomes the first Black debate team to challenge Harvard’s champions. The film is based on the true story of Melvin B. Tolson and the debate team at Wiley College.

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TriStar Pictures

#5. Rudy (1993)

– Director: David Anspaugh
– IMDb user rating: 7.5
– Metascore: 71
– Runtime: 114 minutes

In the iconic 1993 film “Rudy,” a high school student dreams of playing football at the University of Notre Dame, but he doesn’t have the grades nor the money to attend. When his best friend dies, the titular Rudy overcomes obstacles to gain admission to Notre Dame and stubbornly works his way onto the football team. Considered one of the best sports movies of all time, it was inspired by the life story of Notre Dame walk-on Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger.

42 / 45

Columbia Pictures

#4. The Social Network (2010)

– Director: David Fincher
– IMDb user rating: 7.8
– Metascore: 95
– Runtime: 120 minutes

Based on the real-life story of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, “The Social Network” follows the creation of the life-changing social media site while Zuckerberg was a student at Harvard. The film opened with positive reviews, and Harvard students at the time enjoyed the movie’s depiction of life at the university, overall viewing it as a relatable account. “The Social Network” took home three Academy Awards and four Golden Globes, though Zuckerberg wasn’t pleased with some of the liberties the filmmakers took with his story.

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43 / 45

Lawrence Truman Productions

#3. The Graduate (1967)

– Director: Mike Nichols
– IMDb user rating: 8.0
– Metascore: 83
– Runtime: 106 minutes

In Mike Nichols’ seminal film “The Graduate,” Dustin Hoffman plays a recent college graduate who is seduced by a bored housewife while he’s home for the summer, struggling with what to do next in life. The award-winning film became a classic for its relatable depiction of young adulthood, and for capturing the mood of the 1960s college generation, marking a shift in Hollywood and society alike. The movie’s soundtrack, featuring songs by Simon & Garfunkel, also made waves—it was the first time a film had featured a popular rock group’s previously recorded music. College students then and now still repeat some of its most famous lines, such as “wood or wire?” and “one word: plastics.”

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#2. Good Will Hunting (1997)

– Director: Gus Van Sant
– IMDb user rating: 8.3
– Metascore: 70
– Runtime: 126 minutes

Boston native Matt Damon co-wrote and starred in the award-winning “Good Will Hunting,” a film about a man with the IQ of a genius who works as a janitor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and receives life guidance from a psychologist. It catapulted Damon and writing partner Ben Affleck to stardom, earned Robin Williams his sole Oscar, and became director Gus Van Sant’s most profitable film to date, banking $263.5 million worldwide. Still wildly popular among Boston college students more than 20 years later, universities screen “Good Will Hunting” during welcome-week events, and residents visit filming locations around the city.

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Blumhouse Productions

#1. Whiplash (2014)

– Director: Damien Chazelle
– IMDb user rating: 8.5
– Metascore: 88
– Runtime: 106 minutes

“Whiplash” tells the story of a talented young drummer (Miles Teller) studying at a competitive music conservatory where he’s physically and mentally abused by a respected professor intent on pushing his students to greatness. While abusive band director Fletcher, played by J.K. Simmons, was met with some criticism, “Whiplash” was nominated for five Academy Awards, including the 2015 Best Motion Picture of the Year, and won three. Director Damien Chazelle (“La La Land”) said his own high school music experience inspired the film, and he used the movie to take the competitive environment to the extreme.

The article originally appeared on Stacker and has been re-published pursuant to a CC BY-NC 4.0 License.

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