8. Horse Feathers (Norman Z. McLeod, 1932)
Horse Feathers is one of the greatest Marx Brothers films, focusing on two fictional colleges, Darwin and Huxley, and the football rivalry between them. Groucho stars as the new president of Huxley college where his son, played by Zeppo, attends. One of his first acts of business is to recruit two great football players from the local bar to play for Huxley in the game against Darwin but Groucho ends up recruiting the wrong men.
The two mistaken ball players are actually two wacky bootleggers played by Harpo and Chico. During all of this, all four Marx Brothers become romantically involved with the local college widow, a woman who hangs around colleges to find a good husband. The film culminates in a funny and ridiculous football game.
Like the other Marx Brothers films, this one is not grounded in reality, filled with over the top gags and jokes. This combined with the many musical numbers and the ludicrous characters makes Horse Feathers a hilarious but bewildering viewing experience. It captures the feeling of the classic university culture, focused on school spirit and sports, while adding the Marx Brothers’ own unique twist on the subject.
7. The Rules of Attraction (Roger Avary, 2002)
This unsettling portrait of the young, upper-class generation is by far the darkest and most disturbing film on this list. Based on the novel by Bret Easton Ellis, The Rules of Attraction follows three main characters who have all been emotionally scarred and twisted by their cold and artificial environment.
The main character Sean Bateman, played by James Van Der Beek, is a sexually charged, preppy drug dealer at a prestigious college who feels no empathy for those around him. After many empty sexual encounters with both boys and girls, Sean finally develops feelings for a relatively innocent girl, Laura, in his class. In addition to unsuccessfully wooing Lauren, Sean wanders through life, engaging in pathetic attempts to find any meaning or happiness.
While no characters in this film are particularly good or mentally stable, Sean Bateman, the younger brother of Patrick Bateman from American Psycho, represents the unstable product of a materialistic and privileged society. Sean places no value on others lives and is completely oblivious to the pain he causes others.
Relentlessly depressing, this film shows the danger of the young, debaucherous generation, showing college as the breeding ground for depraved behavior. Although some may find the film too aggressively dark, The Rules of Attraction is an extremely powerful satire on the debasement of youth.
6. Back to School (Alan Metter, 1986)
Rodney Dangerfield stars in one of his funniest roles as Thornton Melon, a successful businessman who moves into his son Jason’s dorm at Greater Lakes University in order to help him through his adolescent troubles.
Thornton is uneducated and uncultured and although he is shrewd at business, he uses his money to buy success in everything else. His big personality clashes with the uptight administration and a certain professor whose girlfriend he is stealing. While initially trying to buy his son’s grades and social life, Thornton learns that not everything can be bought and some things in life must be earned through work.
Featuring Dangerfield’s trademark offensive humor and jokes, Back to School is a highly entertaining comedy filled with college spirit and outrageous parties. The snobs-vs-slobs setting, which Dangerfield previously found success with in Caddyshack, allows for hilarious fish-out-of-water interactions.
In addition to be a wacky comedy, the film also provides a good lesson teaching that there is more to life than money. Also starring Robert Downey Jr. in an early role, Back To School is a fun 80s comedy that is also surprisingly touching.
5. Revenge of the Nerds (Jeff Kanew, 1984)
This classic college movie stars Anthony Edwards and Robert Carradine as a pair of nerds who start their own fraternity with other social rejects after failing to get accepted into the popular ones. This zany group of characters with names like “Booger” and “Pointdexter” engage in all of the usual frat activities like panty raids and fundraisers, while putting their own awkward, creepy spin on them.
When the nerds start making moves towards the jock’s girlfriends, their fraternity, along with their meat-head coach, played by John Goodman, move to get them kicked off of campus. They jocks and nerds have to face off in a university-wide contest to win control of the student board and stay on campus.
Revenge of the Nerds was a very popular movie because it opened up the stereotypical college movie to include typically ignored members of college life. This allowed for many different humorous interpretations of the normal cliches of the genre.
Like many other 1980s comedies, Revenge of the Nerds is pure, outrageous fun, filled with campy content culminating in a bizarre concert. Breaking the standards of movies at the time, Revenge of the Nerds was a fresh new addition to the college genre and a great depiction of 1980s culture.
4. Wonder Boys (Curtis Hanson, 2000)
This film is different from others on this list in that it focuses on a professor at a university instead of just a lot of partying undergraduates. Michael Douglas stars as the central professor Grady Trip, who found fame through a book he wrote several years prior and has yet to release any new material.
His life is thrown into a wild craze when his wife leaves him and his publisher comes into town, starting a relationship with his brilliant but disturbed student. Soon Grady becomes involved with criminal activity, lustful students and complications with his superiors, making him question his life decisions.
In addition to Douglas, the cast of this film is spectacular, including great performances from Tobey Maguire, Frances McDormand, Robert Downey Jr., and Rip Torn, bringing the colorful characters of the film to life and adding depth to their actions. The film’s unconventional approach to the subject allows for an entirely new perspective on the education system.
The relationship between students and teachers is also greatly explored, showing the influence professors have on the development of young minds. An original and witty drama-comedy about teaching and writing, Wonder Boys is a unique and highly entertaining addition to the genre.
3. The Freshman (Fred C. Newmeyer & Sam Taylor, 1925)
Silent era star Harold Lloyd plays a nerdy college freshman in this early comedy about college life. The freshman is under the delusion that if he acts like his idol “The College Hero” he will be popular too. This involves trying out for the football team and dancing a little jig before he shakes peoples hands.
The popular football players are very entertained by the freshman’s weird demeanor, pretending to include him in their friend group while laughing at him behind his back. Similarly, the football coach lets him on the team due to his spirit but never plans on actually playing him. With the encouragement of his friend Peggy, the freshman learns to be himself and eventually becomes accepted by his peers.
One of Lloyd’s most memorable and successful films, The Freshman includes many classic gags from the silent era. There is a lot of physical, slapstick comedy, executed to perfection by Lloyd who is arguably the greatest stunt performer in movie history. Lloyd is also a great actor, creating laughs from his awkward mannerisms and interactions. Packed with hilarious jokes and situations, The Freshman is an important classic of the silent era.
2. Old School (Todd Phillips, 2003)
This iconic film starring “Frat Pack” actors Luke Wilson, Vince Vaughn and Will Ferrell is one of the funniest and quoted comedies of the 2000s. Wilson plays Mitch, a lawyer who moves out of his girlfriend’s house when he discovers she participates in anonymous orgies. He then finds a cheap house on the campus of his alma mater Harrison University.
After throwing a massive party with his friends Frank and Beanie, played by Ferrell and Vaughn, Mitch attracts attention from the university. The dean of the school, a man who the trio used to pick on in college, tries to evict Mitch saying the property is to be used for campus housing only. In order to keep the house and relive their glory days, the friends use the property to house a new fraternity that they start.
Old School is an interesting college film in that none of the main characters are actually attending or connected to the university. They are able to relive all of the fun aspects of college without having to deal with the academic stresses or worry about the future.
Because the characters are fully developed adults, the typical coming-of-age aspect of college movies is replaced with a more complicated evaluation of adult life. The three friends are unhappy with how their life ended up so they retreat back to the fun college years to gain some perspective. Both a hilarious frat comedy and an interesting portrait of middle-age doubts, Old School is a college comedy classic.
1. National Lampoon’s Animal House (John Landis, 1978)
Animal House is not only the greatest college film but is one of the funniest films ever made, catapulting John Belushi to stardom and popularizing many of the activities in the film like the toga party.
The story follows the wild antics of the members of Delta House, a rowdy, improper fraternity who do nothing but party. They frequently clash with the preppy fraternity and the dean of the college who find their behavior outrageous and disgraceful to the college. After low grades and overall shameful behavior the dean tries to have the house shut down and the students expelled, but Delta House will not go without a fight.
The film captures the atmosphere of a party school while taking the actions to a whole new exaggerated level, for example shooting a horse in the dean’s office. Amidst all the great performances and jokes, however, John Belushi steals the show as the seventh year student John “Bluto” Blutarsky, a fat, stupid and drunk student who fails almost all of his classes but is a master at partying.
The combined antics of the characters changed how the media portrayed college, deviating from the sports driven image and pushing the party aspect. Animal House is not only one of the funniest films ever, it is a cultural milestone, representing the youth of the generation.
Author Bio: Matthew Benbenek is an undergraduate Mechanical Engineering student at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. He has a passion for film, music and literature and, when not watching movies, is an amateur director and violin player.