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Making the grade: Higher education at the movies

We mark up 13 school-set films from A+ to F



For those wondering which college-themed films pass with flying colors and which prove to be the celluloid equivalent of a dunce cap, here's a handy checklist of several school-set stories that run the gamut from A+ to F. All are readily available to rent or buy on DVD, but CL University will not be offering extra credit to anyone who shells out the dough to peruse these pictures.

A+ The Freshman (1925). A silent classic. Convinced that he can only become the most popular person at his college by joining the football team, a cheerful go-getter (Harold Lloyd) is proud when he reaches his goal... little realizing that he's actually been picked to serve as the team's water boy.

John Belushi in National Lampoon's Animal House (Photo: Universal)
  • John Belushi in National Lampoon's Animal House (Photo: Universal)

A National Lampoon's Animal House (1978). It's the slobs vs. the snobs in this comedy that introduced the world to Bluto Blutarsky (John Belushi) and birthed such lines as "Christ, seven years of college down the drain!" and "Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life, son."

A- Horse Feathers (1932). Huxley College president Quincy Adams Wagstaff (Groucho Marx) turns to two bumblers (Harpo and Chico) to help the school's football team win their big match against Darwin College; somehow, a horse-drawn vehicle is incorporated into their game plan.

B+ Back to School (1986). A self-made millionaire (Rodney Dangerfield) who returns to college to help his son (Keith Gordon) ends up spending more time partying than studying, all while delivering quips like "The football team at my school — they were tough. After they sacked the quarterback, they went after his family."

B Love & Basketball (2000). Because the relationship between its leads (Sanaa Lathan and Omar Epps) spans years, only a portion of this film is actually set in college. But because many students will experience their first real blush of romance during this period, it would be neglectful not to include one superlative love story on this list.

Reese Witherspoon in Legally Blonde (Photo: Fox)
  • Reese Witherspoon in Legally Blonde (Photo: Fox)

B- Legally Blonde (2001). Shallow sorority girl Elle Woods (Reese Witherspoon) learns all about life, liberty and the pursuit of a higher education as she heads off to law school. "You got into Harvard Law?" she's asked. "What? Like it's hard?"

C+ With Honors (1994). A lovable homeless man (Joe Pesci) offers valuable life lessons to a self-centered Harvard student (Brendan Fraser) and his rebellious roommate (Patrick Dempsey). This predictable picture at least keeps the melodrama mostly in check.

C Mona Lisa Smile (2003). An open-minded art teacher (miscast Julia Roberts) arrives at Wellesley College in 1953, ready to change the world to the chorus of "carpe diems." Instead, she's shocked to learn that her students plan to never use their education, opting instead to become housewives. A waste of a good premise.

C- Love Story (1970). Rich college boy (Ryan O'Neal) meets poor college girl (Ali MacGraw). Rich college boy falls for poor college girl against the protests of his father (Ray Milland). Poor college girl gets sick and dies. Incredibly popular film ages badly.

D+ Road Trip (2000). Several college kids embark on the title trek, and Tom Green plays a character named Barry Manilow. It's hard to believe there was ever a point in American history when scores of people thought Tom Green was funny.

Betsy Russell, Michael Zorek and Kathleen Wilhoite in Private School (Photo: Universal)
  • Betsy Russell, Michael Zorek and Kathleen Wilhoite in Private School (Photo: Universal)

D Private School (1983). A group of college guys dress up in drag in order to check out the shower action at an all-girls academy. Yes, this is but one of the infinite number of low-end teen sex comedies that blanketed the '80s.

D- The Allnighter (1987). With her mom in the director's chair, Susanna Hoffs (lead singer of The Bangles) landed her first — and last — starring role in this disaster about three college friends (Hoffs, Joan Cusack and Dedee Pfeiffer, Michelle's sister) and their final night before graduating.

F The Rules of Attraction (2002). This atrocious movie, centering on troubled students at a New England college, hits all the keywords for conjuring up foul imagery: "misogyny"; "rape"; "vomit"; "scatology"; "nose-picking"; "Bret Easton Ellis."

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