Two men sit and stand around a drum set.

Image Courtesy of Into Film

By Tess Rempel

A common tradition amongst college students is to create and follow a bucket list, chock-full of campus traditions and local adventures, during their four years. An underrated item is that of watching the best movies about the college experience.

More people watch movies about college, before entering college or ever going, than one may think. Because college is seen as an important life stage in Western society, it serves as the backdrop of several films. 

Prior to entering college, I watched five movies about college, including The Social Network, Pitch Perfect, Legally Blonde, Monsters University, and Spring Breakers.

I continue to indulge in the guilty pleasures of Pitch Perfect and Legally Blonde. Both films involve a comedic tone, showing off the talents that college students acquire whilst there and the struggles of identity that one often undergoes in their early twenties.

I also enjoy Spring Breakers, which tends to take the opposite perspective. 

This film has a more cynical take on college students as privileged, immature, and with a thirst for power. Although the perspectives of these films contrast, they are all accurate, representing different college students you may come across during your experience. 

While in college, I watched six movies about college life, including Whiplash, The Graduate, Rudy, Like Crazy, Higher Learning, and Liberal Arts. This time around, with three years of college under my belt, I could put my perspective to the test.

Whiplash, Higher Learning, and Liberal Arts are my favorites in the collection.

Similar to Pitch Perfect, Whiplash represents the capacity of young people to develop themselves by sharing their talents with the world. It better represents the struggles that you have to undergo and the sacrifices you have to make to succeed.

Higher Learning was particularly interesting, as the only film to engage with questions about the exploration of racial identity and diversity on a college campus. It explored the topic daringly and directly, exploring the experience of rape, the desire for power when you lose yourself, and the violent tendencies of racist people. This film was the most educational of all of them, and I wish I had seen it during my freshman year.

The film Liberal Arts was one that I watched over spring break of this year and is definitely worthy of your time. 

The movie is full of incredible acting and writing, along with a classical soundtrack that will have you hooked. Of all of the films, this one felt the most real, the most grounded, a real-life experience. This is the closest a film has gotten to the beating heart of what college is like on an average but beautiful day.

Similar to Higher Learning, the film Like Crazy had a similar goal: to explore a specific aspect of the college experience, in both how it unites and separates people.

Although Like Crazy wasn’t one of my favorites, I appreciated this film for its thoughtfulness, raw honesty, and sense of intimacy while depicting a college romance.

To sum up, I think the best college movies (that I have watched thus far) are: Pitch Perfect, Legally Blonde, Spring Breakers, Whiplash, Higher Learning, and Liberal Arts.

Pitch Perfect and Legally Blonde are for someone who just wants a fun, guilty pleasure, to get excited about the person they can become by going to college. 

Whiplash, Spring Breakers, and Higher Learning are films with darker tones. 

Whiplash can be thought of as the dark side of Pitch Perfect, displaying how you can become the “best” at a skill only by becoming a worse version of yourself – maybe a good watch for perfectionists. 

Spring Breakers is here to tell college students that they’re actually not all that great – despite their education. You remain still seeking short-term pleasures like money, drugs, and sex, like everyone else. 

Lastly, Higher Learning is here to tell you to represent how college campuses are truly microcosms of society – and its social issues (in this case, racism).

Liberal Arts may be the most realistic and down-to-earth representation of college. It toggles between childhood/adulthood, young love/true romance, arrogance/genuine intellect. For a newcomer or near-graduate, it may just be the perfect film to sum up the four years.

For those who are interested in watching, Pitch Perfect is available with an Amazon Prime subscription, Whiplash is available on Netflix, and Liberal Arts is available for free on Tubi.

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