15 Must-See Movies About College, Ranked

College is a time to let loose, unfettered by the restraints that make high school such a prison. As a result, movies that revolve around the college experience have a tendency to embrace a wild atmosphere. Despite the general concept of university as a place to get an education, the focus in college movies tends to be on partying first, studying later. 

That's the stereotype of a college film, anyway: toga parties and sororities and hazing as far as the eye can see. But the reality (much like the reality of college itself) is far more varied. We have the expected stories about college students going completely off the rails as soon as they get an ounce of freedom from parental supervision; we also have depictions of students defying the odds to succeed, or facing the sometimes terrifying consequences of said freedom. Get ready to take notes, because here are 15 movies about college you have to see.

15. Accepted

In a way, "Accepted" is the perfect college movie for millennials. Think about it: They were told their entire lives that their futures depended on college, only to have the rug swept out from under them during the recession and become the proud owners of a useless piece of paper that no longer guaranteed a well-paying job (to say nothing of record-breaking student loan debt.) So really, why shouldn't their college comedy be about how fundamentally broken the entire American university system is and revolve around a group of would-be students who design their own education in a way that makes sense for them? 

At first, Bartleby (Justin Long) creates his own university in a bid to trick his parents into thinking that he's attending college. But it quickly takes on a life of its own as more students begin to show up to his fake school, necessitating dorm rooms, a curriculum, and even a school crest. Yeah, it's silly and dumb — but hey, so is college.

14. The Skulls

You might be very willing to scoff at the inclusion of "The Skulls" on this list. It's a cheap college thriller about the legendary Yale secret society, the Skull and Bones, which includes amongst its number many members of the political elite: dozens of senators, representatives, governors, and even a president or two. You know, the sort of all-boy shenanigans that naturally occur when you're at a school that isn't going to let women into their undergraduate program until the late 1960s. 

"The Skulls" focuses on one new initiate, played by Joshua Jackson, who comes from a more modest background than the majority of his wealthy and privileged peers. When his friend and roommate is found dead under mysterious circumstances, he begins to suspect foul play and wonders exactly how dangerous this organization might be. It's peak early-2000s entertainment, and although it was savaged by the critics, it struck a chord with young audiences, becoming profitable enough to launch two sequels and the careers of some of its stars, including Paul Walker and Leslie Bibb.

13. Old School

Who says you have to be a young adult to have the full experience of college? "Old School" tests the theory that, at any point in your life, you can suddenly revert to your frat boy days and have a little bit of fun with your buddies. (This is, of course, to suggest that you ever stopped living like a scummy college student, which many full-grown adults have not.) 

When Mitch (Luke Wilson), recently broken up with his long-term girlfriend, moves into a house that's just a stone's throw from a college campus and is quickly informed that it needs to be used for student housing, he and his friends decide to start their own fraternity, complete with raucous parties and full-on freshmen hazing. Wild hijinks ensue, including an all-out battle with the college administration (led by a very oily Jeremy Piven), but despite the advanced age of the fraternity members, "Old School" nonetheless captures the spirit of an old-fashioned college comedy.

12. Real Genius

"Real Genius" is an affable 1980s science fiction comedy about a group of university students who have been brought in to work on a top secret defense project — a laser powerful enough to target and kill individuals from space. But really, what "Real Genius" is best known for is launching the career of Val Kilmer, who was only beginning to develop a reputation as an in-demand young actor. 

"Real Genius" was part of a trend of films depicting the advent of the computer age, where the stereotype of the science nerd was called into question. Much like "Revenge of the Nerds," which came out just a year earlier, it focused on sending the message that geeks, rather than being socially maladjusted losers, were actually way cooler than they seemed. If only they knew the levels of toxic nerddom that would develop within just a few short decades.

11. Pitch Perfect

Of all the extracurricular activities one can participate in at university, the a cappella singing group has to be the most cringe-inducingly collegiate. Everyone and their brother was in one: They were usually terrible, and they were apparently contractually obligated to have a bad pun in their name. But "Pitch Perfect" begs the question: What if a cappella groups were, dare we say, cool? 

Anna Kendrick stars as Beca, a freshman reluctantly attending Barden University who is pressured into joining the Barden Bellas, an all-girls a cappella group on campus. They have an intense rivalry with the Barden Treblemakers, the boys' a cappella group — a rivalry that is complicated by Beca's burgeoning relationship with one of the male singers. If you can overcome the idea of a bunch of groups of college kids hanging around having a "riff-off" as anything other than hopelessly lame, you'll likely find the songs and choreography of "Pitch Perfect" to be way more fun than you're expecting.

10. Black Christmas

Although "Black Christmas" takes place on a college campus and the majority of the characters are students, we don't really see them in an academic environment. Instead, most of the action is centered around the large, spooky house where the girls all live together — and where many of them will die. Throughout the film they are targeted by a mysterious, malevolent figure, who begins with disturbing but fairly harmless phone calls and quickly escalates to violence, hiding within the walls of the house and picking the girls off one by one. 

"Black Christmas" has remained a horror classic because of how well it depicts the vulnerability of the female characters, especially when they are in their own home, the one place where they expect to be safe. Perhaps its most iconic and horrific image is that of a victim wrapped in plastic, grotesquely positioned in a rocking chair in the attic for days without her roommates being any the wiser. And just like that, you can cross "attic space" off your real estate wish list.

9. L'auberge espagnole

Studying abroad in college is a rite of passage and one of the only opportunities in life where it's socially acceptable to bum around Europe, live in a run-down flat with a bunch of other college students from all over the world, and basically survive on alcohol, coffee, and cigarettes. 

"L'auberge espagnole" (or "The Spanish Inn") is a French film that cultivates a uniquely aspirational vibe. As we watch Xavier (Romain Duris) find himself while studying abroad in Spain, we are enthralled and just a tiny bit jealous. His experiences and his various relationships with an international crew of new friends are utterly charming and perfectly capture the joy and excitement of being out in the world for the first time as a young adult. "L'auberge espagnole" proved incredibly popular in France and would eventually spawn two sequels: "Russian Dolls" in 2005 and "Chinese Puzzle" in 2013.

8. Starter for Ten

If there's a key fundamental element of the British college experience, it's the constant presence of "University Challenge" — a TV quiz show that pits teams of college students from different universities against one another to test their general knowledge. It's the ultimate dream for Trivial Pursuit enthusiasts everywhere and an activity guaranteed to make or break a college overachiever's entire year. 

"Starter for Ten" revolves around a first-year student who is obsessed with "University Challenge" and makes it his mission to get on the Bristol University team. Along the way he struggles with class prejudice and romantic entanglements, both of which threaten his position on the team. "Starter for Ten" features a veritable murderer's row of up-and-coming actors who would be catapulted to stardom within a few short years of appearing in the film, including James McAvoy, Benedict Cumberbatch, Rebecca Hall, and Dominic Cooper. (Sadly, James Corden also makes an appearance, but hey, you can't have everything.)

7. Happy Death Day

"Happy Death Day" is like "Groundhog Day" but set in a sorority ... with murder. What more can you ask for than that? Tree (Jessica Rothe) wakes up in a stranger's dorm room, and her day doesn't get much better — especially when it ends with her being murdered by an ominous figure in a creepy baby mask. Really, just about the worst possible way for your day to go. 

That is, unless you consider the possibility of having to relive the day of your murder over and over and over again, which is what happens to Tree. She finds herself stuck in a time loop and becomes convinced that the only way to get out of it is to survive the night and uncover the identity of her attacker. "Happy Death Day" is inventive, with a sense of humor that elevates it above other films of its ilk. It also features a star-making performance from Rothe, who is put in a position to carry the entire film on her back and knocks it out of the park.

6. The Freshman

The college film has been around for much longer than most moviegoers probably realize — essentially, since the very beginning of cinema itself. They were immensely popular during the silent era in the 1920s, and one of the greatest gems to come out of this period was "The Freshman" starring Harold Lloyd. 

Lloyd was one of the best on-screen comedians of the day. Charlie Chaplin may have made more poignant films, and Buster Keaton was the best at putting his body on the line for physical comedy, but Lloyd managed to blend the two and was the most compelling in romantic comedies. In "The Freshman," Lloyd is a scrawny but very eager young student, desperate to join the school's football team despite his small stature, in the hopes that he will win over the girl of his dreams. He's treated more or less as a punching bag by his teammates, but he perseveres, creating one of the original inspirational sports moments and a very sweet love story at the same time.

5. Urban Legend

The biggest curse of "Urban Legend" is that it will forever remain overshadowed by "Scream." In the years following the release of Wes Craven's smart horror satire, everyone and their brother was trying to capitalize on its success, pushing dozens of high school and college slasher films into production. But among them all, "Urban Legend" is the one that has never gotten the credit it deserves as a horror movie that can exist on its own two feet rather than just as a knockoff of "Scream." 

It revolves around a college campus that is plagued by a series of murders that evoke classic urban legends: the man with a hook for a hand who attacks a couple while out on a romantic drive; the motorist desperately trying to alert a fellow driver of the man hiding in her backseat; the college student coming home late at night and finding their roommate dead in the morning, along with the chilling message, "Aren't you glad you didn't turn on the light?" Just as much as "Scream" did, "Urban Legend" plays with what we know about and expect from horror movies, with a note-perfect late-1990s cast to bring it to life.

4. Sh*thouse

A lot of movies set in college make it seem like an endless party. And maybe it is, once you've found your people and are fully settled into your new environment. But they fail to acknowledge the crippling loneliness that many people experience during those first weeks of freshman year, when they don't know anyone, are sharing a bedroom with a stranger often for the first time in their lives, and are miles away from their family. 

"Sh*thouse," despite its somewhat crass name, beautifully depicts the struggles of an introverted young man desperately trying to make connections with people when it feels like everyone else has already cultivated a circle of friends. In a genre full of loud hedonism, "Sh*thouse" is low-key and conversational as its lead character Alex (played by Cooper Raiff, who also wrote and directed the film) gradually comes out of his shell.

3. Animal House

Is it overstating things to say that "Animal House" is like the "Citizen Kane" of college movies? Maybe! But that doesn't make it any less true. "Animal House" is the story of the grossest fraternity on campus, Delta Tau Chi, perpetually on the brink of expulsion due to their increasingly wild and unruly antics. It highlights two freshmen who, upon realizing that they don't exactly have the best chance to get into a more prestigious fraternity, decide to rush. They will undoubtedly regret that decision. 

At the time that "Animal House" came out, John Belushi was the only really established star in the cast, having shot to fame on "Saturday Night Live." But "Animal House" also features plenty of actors for whom this film would serve as a launching pad, including Kevin Bacon, Karen Allen, and Tom Hulce. Some of the humor in the film has arguably not aged in a 100% unproblematic way, but you really can't fight against Bluto's famous rallying speech or the sheer joy of the toga party.

2. Legally Blonde

Law school counts as college, okay? And it doesn't get a whole lot more collegiate than the ultra-competitive atmosphere of Harvard: Whether it's the undergraduate college, the law school, or any of their other institutions, they demand excellence. 

You often think of the Harvard student as an over-achieving, unbuttered slice of plain white toast — one in a long line of WASPs heading to the school as part of their birthright as a mere pit stop on the way to a law partnership or a congressional seat. That's what makes "Legally Blonde" so delightfully disarming: the fact that Elle (Reese Witherspoon), a perpetually sunny Beverly Hills native who aims to succeed at law school, does so out of sheer force of will. She's the sort of beautiful and put-together woman who almost seems intimidating, but what makes Elle so unique is that she has a genuinely kind-hearted and loving nature. Her vibrant personality is a balm against the cutthroat culture that law school generally cultivates and is a joy to watch.

1. Good Will Hunting

As much as Harvard is held up as one of the most prestigious universities in the country (if not the world), it's common knowledge that a lot of its students are there because of family connections, money, or both. You don't have to be a genius to go there, and there are so many incredibly intelligent people who will never be admitted into the school because of any number of circumstances. "Good Will Hunting" posits the question, "What if the smartest person at Harvard wasn't there as a student but a janitor?" 

Will Hunting is a Boston townie, for whom a school like Harvard was never even on his radar. He was never encouraged in academics and as such was never able to reach his full potential. But one day, after solving a supposedly unsolvable problem written on the blackboard of a high-level math class, he catches the eye of a professor, who is stunned to realize that the man mopping the floors is potentially a math prodigy. Matt Damon puts in one of his strongest performances as Will, who is not only way smarter than anyone gives him credit for but is also desperately trying to crawl his way out of a lifetime of trauma that has stunted him emotionally.