14 Films That Shaped My College Experience

Have a single conversation with me and one thing becomes immediately clear: I love movies. Watching a movie is the first thing I suggest when hanging out with friends. I am a regular at the movie theatre, and I am MoviePass’s most faithful customer. It’s safe to say that film has played an important role in my life. As graduation approaches (and I start to get sentimental), here is a look at 14 films that shaped my college experience. 

1. The Social Network

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I saw this movie for the first time my freshman year of high school in the town where I would eventually attend college. One of Aaron Sorkin’s many masterpieces, this was one of the first “grown up” films I remember liking. The intensity of the story and the rapid-fire-back-and-forth dialogue seemed so sophisticated to 15-year-old me. I have watched this film countless times in my four years of college and even wrote several papers on this film for my freshman film course. Simply put, The Social Network helped to not only spark my interest in film but to keep the spark alive. 

2. Lady Bird

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Lady Bird, though being a more recent film, is one of the more important. I have never seen a film better capture the mother daughter relationship. As someone who is incredibly close to her mother, Lady Bird highlighted all of the emotions I am feeling as I prepare to enter the “real world” and move away from my mom. Lady Bird has made me laugh and cry and is the perfect inspiration to any young woman who one day dreams of making a film. Bonus: it features hilarious performances from Beanie Feldstein and Timothée Chalamet. What more could you want? 

3. The Greatest Showman 

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This film has only been around for only one semester of my college career, but it has had a huge impact. The spectacle, the stars, the music—this film has everything I love in movies. For the entire spring semester, this film has been at the top of my list. It seems as though everyone on campus (and social media) has seen this movie, which makes it easy to discuss with friends. The Greatest Showman really highlights how film can bring people together. 

4. La La Land

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If The Greatest Showman is an example of film bringing people together, La La Land emphasizes how film can spark debates. It seems that you either love or hate this MGM-esque musical. As someone who loves this movie (like, a lot), I have had the opportunity to engage in many discussions with people who don’t share the same opinions I do, and learn how to discuss film in a productive manner. 

5. Crimson Peak 

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I impulsively went to see Crimson Peak with my roommate during the fall of our sophomore year. Neither of us knew much about the film but left the theatre speechless. This Gothic masterpiece has become the so called “Gold standard” I use when critiquing similar films. The story, while familiar, is engrossing, and Jessica Chastain and Tom Hiddleston give fantastic performances. I credit Crimson Peak for inspiring me to seek out more films in the horror genre, a genre that has become a personal favorite. Also, the score to this film is gorgeous, and has been the soundtrack to many a study session. 

6. Star Wars

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I have been a Star Wars fan for most of my life. And as fan, I was a little nervous when the new films were announced. The good news is I have enjoyed the new additions to the Star Wars canon (for the most part). The better news was that these Star Wars films provided a connection to back home. It can be hard to keep in touch with people from back home, but film can provide a great tether. While I was away at school, my dad and I would keep in touch and discuss our thoughts on the latest Star Wars news. And when I came home for winter break, we would go see Star Wars together; a tradition that will continue for many years. 

7. The Shining 

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If I had to pick one lesson I learned from The Shining, it would be that different people can interpret films in different ways. For example, some people view The Shining as one of the most terrifying films of all times; I see it as a ridiculous comedy. 

8. Legally Blonde 

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It took me way too long to see this movie (I watched it for the first time in April 2017), but I regret waiting so long. Elle Woods is the perfect heroine. Her arc throughout the film exemplifies how you don’t have to compromise your femininity to be a strong, confident, independent woman, which is a lesson I will carry with me throughout my life. 

9. Psycho 

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I watched Psycho for the first time during my freshman year. And even though I was watching it for class on a Friday afternoon in Swem, I was scared out of my mind. I was initially dismissive, wondering how such an old movie could be scary in the present day. But boy was I wrong, Psycho is one of the most suspenseful films I have ever scene. And it taught me an important lesson—don’t dismiss a film because it is on the older side. 

10. Rear Window 

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For a long time, I thought you had to like classic films simply because they are classics, even if they didn’t resonate with you. But Rear Window taught me that “classic” doesn’t always equal “good.”

11. Phantom Thread 

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A slow burn, but such a good movie. The first two hours of Phantom Thread are beautiful, but boring. But boy do the last fifteen minutes of the film make it all worth it. I knew almost nothing about Phantom Thread going into it and loved the element of surprise. Funny, interesting, and complex, Phantom Thread is a great reminder in the age of social media that sometimes you need to know nothing about a film to experience it in the appropriate way. 

12. The Normal Heart

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I love film (obviously), but I have also spent my time in college studying public health. Fortunately, I have had the opportunity in multiple classes to explore the intersection of film and public health messaging. Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart is only one example of how film can provide a visceral example of a social issue and inspire the public to take action.

13. Wonder Woman

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I have always believed women could do anything. And as an avid viewer of superhero films, it never really bothered me that there wasn’t a female led superhero blockbuster. I mean, I already knew women could kick butt—did I need to see it on screen? I didn’t know it, but the answer was yes. Seeing Wonder Woman was such a moving experience and seeing a woman in a position of power on screen was deeply inspiring. Wonder Woman is not only a fun film, but one that has permanently changed the genre.  

14.  Love, Simon

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Love, Simon is the most recent film on this list, but is greatly deserving of its spot. I saw this film with some close friends, and not only was it a fun bonding activity (especially since we all had read the book!), but the discussion that followed highlighted the importance of representation in film and other media. When we sit down to watch a movie, most of the time, we do it to be entertained. But we should never forget the power film can have when it comes to telling people’s stories.