College has always been a great source of laughs and enjoyment in the world of comedy. The very concept and idea of college culture makes it the perfect setup for hilarious hijinks. Maybe that’s why it has become such a legendary setting for the genre and this weekend yet another college comedy hits theaters called “Life of the Party”. In anticipation of the Melissa McCarthy-led project and with college graduations now in full swing (congrats to all the graduates by the way) I wanted to examine the best of the best in this comedy subgenre. These are my picks for the Top 10 College Comedy Films.
For this list I looked at films that used college as a backdrop for their comedic stories. That’s pretty much the gist of it. I did not include films where the characters just happen to be in college. I’m talking about films that use concepts like college parties, sororities or fraternities, or even out of place students trying to fit in on campus to bring the laughs. Nothing involving summer break either. Summer break movies could make a list all their own.
Other than that, it’s free game. So let’s get to it! What’s your favorite college comedy movie? Let me know in the comments below and look for my review of “Life of the Party” this weekend. Enjoy the list!
10. “Real Genius”
Set on the campus of Pacific Tech this 1985 science fiction comedy was a major career-making film for pretty boy Val Kilmer and helped make him a household name before he appeared in “Top Gun” the following year. The film sees Kilmer portray Chris Knight, a genius working on a chemical laser during his senior year of college. He is paired with a new student named Mitch, played by Gabriel Jarret, who learns that Knight is more interested in having fun than finishing the project despite his genius intellect and reputation. As the two students butt heads hilarious situations come to light with Mitch seeking to finish the laser on time but Knight choosing to be more carefree and party. The two eventually form a bond where Knight reveals his respect for the fun in life over the stress of being an intellectual God in college. “Real Genius” is a slick mix of genres that was beloved by critics and showed the lighter side of Kilmer’s range as he took on a complex but lovable college intellectual with finesse. It’s simultaneously funny and sincere and has since become a classic piece of 80s comedy gold.
One of two films from 2014 on this list, “Neighbors” doesn’t spend a lot of time on a college campus but DOES focus on the odd rituals and brotherly bond of a fraternity after a group of college men, led by Zac Efron’s Teddy, set up shop next door to a married couple and new parents played by Seth Rogan and Rose Byrne. As the couple tries to reason with the fraternity and convince them to respect their neighbors the fraternity turns their parties up to eleven leading to a back and forth prank war with hilarious results. Like many films before it “Neighbors” uses the clichés and well-know practices of American frat houses to its advantage, giving viewers an entertaining look into their ridiculous pledge rituals and the odd bond these young men form with each other in their early adult years. The film flawlessly combines these tropes with the prank war concept and while the end result is a bit one-dimensional it all comes around to a pleasant message about growing up and how college is more than just a time for parties and drugs. It’s also a time to mature into the man (or woman) you’re going to be for the rest of your life.
A unique college comedy, the 2006 film “Accepted” actually doesn’t take place on any college campus, well not a real one anyway. Rather the film revolves around Justin Long’s Bartleby Gaines who hatches a plan with his friends to invent their own made up university called the South Hampton Institute of Technology (or S.H.I.T.) after he fails to get accepted to a single college. Creating a fake website and other tools to sell their ruse, Gaines and his friends eventually earn a following as more and more people want to enter the fictional university with unique, quirky and seemingly useless courses eventually turning S.H.I.T. into a semi-real entity where students can learn what they want how they want without the limits of the normal college format. “Accepted” is harmless fun with a unique twist on the college comedy concept and challenges the norms of college life. It’s a film that questions the system and brings some effective laughs thanks to its shameless utilization of the fictional school’s acronym and the parents’ blind trust in their students that they are getting the education they need from the school. It might be ridiculous, unbelievable and completely over the top in its concept but that’s what makes it so interesting and unique in the genre even over ten years later.
7. “Revenge of the Nerds”
A 1984 comedy classic that launched a franchise, people either love or despise “Revenge of the Nerds” from the bottom of their hearts. The film takes the idea of smart people versus jocks to its most extreme. Set at the fictional campus of Adams College as the resident nerds go to war against the Alpha Beta fraternity of jocks and the sorority Pi Delta Pi, the battle of brains versus brawn leads to a prank war as the nerds and jocks try to one up each other before going head to head in a campus-wide competition to decide who is truly superior. Completely overplaying the stereotypes of both nerds and jocks in its narrative, “Revenge of the Nerds” is an equal opportunity parody-like film that sheds light on the ridiculous nature of the normal public image of the two separate cliques especially in the context of higher education. Filled with iconic scenes and jokes, including the techno music number late in the competition, “Revenge of the Nerds” might be annoying and over-the-top but that is, after all, the point. It’s a comedy that is just ridiculous enough to be funny and amusing but never loses sight of its deeper morals that challenge the stigmas of college and the unwarranted value many put on muscle over the power of the mind.
6. “Monsters University”
The only animated film on this list, “Monsters University” returns viewers to the world first depicted in Pixar’s classic “Monsters, Inc.” but before the series’ stars Mike Wazowski and James P. Sullivan met each other. Mike gets to attend Monsters University, a childhood dream of his, and seeks to become a scarer arming himself with an endless supply of knowledge through studying. He meets Sully for the first time who comes from a family of notable scarers but lacks knowledge as his ego and family credibility make him a slacker who thinks he has a degree in the bag. The two form a rivalry but soon must work together to earn their place on campus. Mike must overcome his inherent lack of scariness while Sully must learn that there’s more to the job that just roaring at the child. “Monsters University” is a solid sequel that captures the college campus feel perfectly and adapts it to the monster world in which it is set. Filled with quality laughs, plenty of fantasy action and beautiful animation, and the classic tropes as well as some new ones that give the film a familiar feel with modern flair, “Monsters’ University” remains one of Pixar’s better sequels…er prequels and it certainly worth a watch for those looking for a more friendly college comedy adventure.
5. “22 Jump Street”
Considered one of the best comedy sequels of all time, “22 Jump Street” is the newest film on this list being released around a month after “Neighbors” in 2014. Based on the “21 Jump Street” television show and following the 2012 movie of the same name, “22 Jump Street” takes the series’ two buddy cops, Jonah Hill’s Morton Schmidt and Channing Tatum’s Greg Jenko, and graduates them to college for a new undercover mission whereas the previous film placed them in high school. The two are tasked with finding the supplier of a new drug on a college campus and experience numerous classic college scenarios in their attempt to fit in and find the answers they need to solve the case. Despite being older than the average student both cops face their personal insecurities while in college which adds an interesting bit of emotional depth to a hilarious comedy that earns its place in comedy history as one of the best in modern cinema. Packed with action, fun, and enough college humor to hold you over an entire semester “22 Jump Street” not only surpasses its predecessor, it shows that the college campus can still be a perfect setting for a modern comedy film with the right story, cast and eye for humor to bring it all together.
4. “Back to School”
Now we’re getting to the cream of the crop. “Life of the Party” might only be the latest film to see a parent or adult return to college, but the one that made the trope truly popular was “Back to School”. This 1986 film stars comedy legend Rodney Dangerfield as Thornton Melon, a successful uneducated business man who experiences somewhat of a mid-life crisis and visits his son at college. Upon discovering his son is at the bottom of the social ladder and planning to drop out Melon becomes a student with hopes of showing his son the importance of an education, but it turns out Melon is more interested in partying and thus ends up becoming a punchline himself. Packed to the brim with Dangerfield’s unique comedic genius “Back to School” showcases a memorable father-son dynamic with the challenge of graduating college as a bonding factor between the two. It mixes lighthearted humor with a sincere moral that even for the most successful in life the value of a degree should not be overlooked. It remains timeless and maybe even more relevant today than it was 32 years ago and helped set the standard for a college comedy trope that is often imitated but never quite executed as well as it was here.
3. “Old School”
A 2003 comedy that helped Will Farrell skyrocket into comedy superstardom, “Old School” remains a modern classic today as possibly the most beloved college comedy of modern cinema…well except for one other post-2000 project but more on that in a minute. The story seeks a trio of friends, played by Farrell, Luke Wilson and Vince Vaughn, start a fraternity to overcome their depression in their thirties attracting a slew of oddball characters to join and forcing them to engage in hilarious, often brutal pledge challenges. While it wasn’t as embraced upon its initial release, “Old School” has evolved into a cherished comedy filled with unique (for the time) awkward humor, legendary characters even among its minor roles, and some of the best college-based humor in the modern era of cinema. “Old School” is a must-watch for any college fraternity or even any college student in general despite the fact that the cast is on the older end and the concept involves going BACK to college rather than being a part of the normal age demographic. But that’s what’s great about this film. The fact that it speaks so well to any college student, whether it’s a just-out-of-high-school freshman or someone looking for a new beginning in a mid-life-crisis, and remains just as funny today as it was way back then is why it deserves to be so high on this list.
2. “National Lampoon’s Van Wilder”
While “Old School” is memorable, “Van Wilder” takes the title of THE quintessential college comedy of modern cinema and is the perfect blend of newer genre comedy and classic comedy with a charming star leading the way. Before “Van Wilder” Reynolds appeared in a handful of films, but it was this movie that fully introduced the world to the quirky humor he would build his career around. Reynolds plays the titular college student who focuses more on the fun and party life of college rather than graduating. Now in his seventh year Van becomes the subject of an article by a fellow student, played by Tara Reid, leading to his tuition being cut off and the partier having to decide whether he wants to finally grow up or find new ways to feed his wild side. “Van Wilder” smoothly combined the humor of its predecessors with a more modern touch that paved the way for many films in the subgenre that succeeded it, including quite a few on this very list. Like others in this countdown is also balances a touching moral core about growing up and taking responsibility for your life which brings Van Wilder’s story full circle. Although several follow-up films have been produced since, the original remains beloved and respected as harmless fun and a classic gross-out college comedy that, despite its horrible reviews, serves as somewhat of a right of passage for incoming college students as required viewing to prepare them for what’s to come.
1. “National Lampoon’s Animal House”
Before debuting the legend of “Van Wilder” and before any other movie on this list was even conceived National Lampoon introduced the world to the concept of a college comedy with “Animal House” in 1978. By far the most iconic film on this list in terms of pop culture impact, “Animal House” focuses on a fraternity of misfits who continuously challenge the authority of the dean of their school. Faber College. Featuring an iconic and unforgettable performance by the late John Belushi, as well as the famously improvised “I’m a zit” gag, and originating many tropes of college culture in both film and reality “Animal House” was not only influential, it was a transformative film for the genre that took the humor in a whole new direction. It was considered one of the best films of 1978 by some critics, including Roger Ebert, and over time has become beloved as a comedy masterpiece. It was essential to establishing the gross out movie concept and is often found on “greatest of all time” lists among all genres making it a college comedy that transcends the limits of this list in so many ways. Every movie on this countdown pails in comparison to “Animal House” as it was the film that set the tone for what a college comedy movie could be. It remains undeniably the greatest such film ever made, meaning there was no way I couldn’t put it at the top of my own list of great college comedies.