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Saturday, May 25, 2024
The Observer


What's the greatest college movie?

After about an hour of studying in the Hayes-Healy basement on Monday, I decided that it was time for a ten-minute study break. Usually, my breaks go like this: 

  1. I look up classic movies on Tubi or PlutoTV. I’m always looking to see what movies were popular 30, 40 or even 50 years ago, and these services have the largest collection. 
  2. I click on a movie that looks interesting and dive deeper. I look into actors’ careers and related movies. If I’m interested, I’ll even watch the trailer.  
  3. Once I’m sold on a movie, I make a mental note before going back to work. There’s my dining hall viewing content for tomorrow morning.  

That Monday night, the film that caught my attention was “Less Than Zero” (1987), starring Andrew McCarthy fresh off “Saint Elmo’s Fire” (1985), a young Robert Downey Jr., James Spader and Jami Gertz (look up her net worth if you have a second). In short, the plot follows college freshman McCarthy who tries to get his hometown friends Downey and Gertz sober. This movie looked interesting, but one question kept popping into my head as I studied that night — what is the greatest undergraduate college movie of all time?

It’s easy to come up with three nearly universally loved high school movies: “The Breakfast Club” (1985), “Dazed and Confused” (1993) and “Superbad” (2007). Try the same exercise with college movies, however, and it’s much more difficult. For me, “The Social Network” (2010), “Good Will Hunting” (1997) and “Rudy” (1993) came to mind first. But “The Social Network” just starts in college, Will in “Good Will Hunting” is not even enrolled in college, and “Rudy” is more of a football movie. College is simply a section of the plot in these films rather than its true focus. 

In addition to the movies above, college comedy classics like “National Lampoon’s Animal House” (1978), “Revenge of the Nerds” (1984) and “Old School” (2003) have memorable scenes but are extremely outdated. They might have once been considered great college films, but not today. Go watch “Animal House” in its entirety and then justify leaving the movie as is. In addition, for Notre Dame students specifically, these films focused on fraternity life have little resemblance to their college experience. College movies exist, but are any of them truly great?

If I were to design a great college movie, here’s the plot. We have a senior struggling to find a job. They are panicking as they realize that the 30-year plan that they lined out on their first day of freshman year is not what they want anymore. One night, on a walk from the library to their dorm, our student makes a new friend who encourages him to pick up a new activity (maybe it’s writing for the school newspaper). After picking up the hobby, he discovers his true passion, encounters a new crowd and successfully lands a job in that field. Along the way, he overcomes shifting priorities and faces upset parents who do not initially approve of his choice (so many teen movies use this mean parents trope). By the end of the film, our protagonist finds what he loves to do, graduates with a degree and sets off to face the real world.  

Many of my favorite college-related films such as “Kicking and Screaming” (1995) and “The Big Chill” (1983) are about reflecting on college and the looming “what’s next?” question that the anxious characters face. However, this fear of the future is just as real during college, and a film could show this as an important time for a person’s development. To me, funny as it sounds, the film that most closely resembles this college journey is “Pitch Perfect” (2012). College students do not have all the answers. Not even close. Highlighting the confusion about what comes next could show a student using the college experience to find their passion.  

I will admit — I have not watched every college movie to exist, far from it. If I am missing a great undergraduate college movie, please let me know. I’m always looking for movie suggestions! However, if you browse for movies during study breaks as I do, you’ll see that films focus on transformational change during high school much more than in college. Many college movies exist, but the title of the greatest college movie of all time is still very much up for grabs. It’s just waiting to be made.