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50 best college movies

  • 50 best college movies

    College movies are a cinema staple, delivering those who attended college doses of nostalgia and those who didn't 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 popular college movies from IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes, pulling each film’s audience-based IMDb rating and critic-based Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer rating. All relevant movies were then ranked based on the Stacker Score metric, which weighs both the IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes measurements equally. The top 50 are presented here and ranked from worst to best. While college isn't always the focus of the films on this list, it is the setting at the very least. Also included are details about how the film and its creators have impacted college students and culture at large.

    The oldest movie on this list was released in 1971 and the youngest was released in 2016. Several 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. 

    During a time that college looks like it never has before because of a global pandemic, read on to find out where you can find some welcome nostalgia with the 50 best college movies. 

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  • #50. 21 (2008)

    - Stacker score: 51.5
    - IMDb rating: 6.8
    - Tomatometer: 35

    Based on the best-selling nonfiction book “Bringing Down the House” by Ben Mezrich, “21” follows the story of a student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) 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.

  • #49. St. Elmo's Fire (1985)

    - Stacker score: 54
    - IMDb rating: 6.4
    - Tomatometer: 44

    In this classic 1985 “Brat Pack” coming-of-age film, a group of recent Georgetown University graduates struggle 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.

  • #48. Orange County (2002)

    - Stacker score: 54
    - IMDb rating: 6.2
    - Tomatometer: 46

    A smart high school student’s (Colin Hanks) acceptance into Stanford University is put in jeopardy 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 3 out of 4 stars, calling it a “happy project” with stars of Hollywood’s next generation.

  • #47. The Program (1993)

    - Stacker score: 54.5
    - IMDb rating: 6.4
    - Tomatometer: 45

    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.

  • #46. The Rules of Attraction (2002)

    - Stacker score: 55
    - IMDb rating: 6.7
    - Tomatometer: 43

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

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  • #45. Smart People (2008)

    - Stacker score: 56
    - IMDb rating: 6.2
    - Tomatometer: 50

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

  • #44. Eurotrip (2004)

    - Stacker score: 56
    - IMDb rating: 6.6
    - Tomatometer: 46

    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.

  • #43. PCU (1994)

    - Stacker score: 56.5
    - IMDb rating: 6.6
    - Tomatometer: 47

    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 cast of classics: Jeremy Piven (pre-“Entourage”), David Spade, and Jon Favreau.

  • #42. Higher Learning (1995)

    - Stacker score: 57
    - IMDb rating: 6.5
    - Tomatometer: 49

    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.

  • #41. American Pie 2 (2001)

    - Stacker score: 58
    - IMDb rating: 6.4
    - Tomatometer: 52

    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 awkward and hilarious series—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 genre.

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