Campus Films & Shows for An Autumn Weekend
What says autumn quite like finding yourself on a school campus just as the leaves begin to turn? Crisp air, soft sweaters, tons of learning… how about some mystery or drama? Quite possibly nothing, though you may not want that drama for yourself. No, certainly as much as we love the browns and yellows and reds of falling leaves and the glowing sunlight as it hits brick buildings at sunset, we probably don’t need to be embroiled in academic scandals or worrying about whether or not we’ll have that paper finished in time to stop our friends from throwing their entire futures away. When you can sit back in the comfort of your own home, wrap up in a warm blanket and around a hot cup of tea, and watch all of these things happen to fictional characters instead of having to live (or relive!) them yourself; this is surely when campus life looks its most pleasing.
In a recent piece, contributor Sam Cohen brought us into the dreamy New England environment to share some of her favorite novels, films, and artwork that take place in the region of the world that is perhaps best known for its fall foliage and its prestigious schools, turning in part towards two of our all-time-favorites, Mona Lisa Smile and Dead Poets Society, thereby waking our campus envy for the season. Needing more, we decided to turn towards our (old and new) favorite campus films and shows. The campus element presents such a perfect plot device in some of our favorite books, and while lush writing can easily transport us to that incubating land of aestheticism and coming-of-age, the elements seem perpetuated tenfold on screen, where our heroes are so often literally cut off from the rest of the world, and yes, the choices they face will be forever life-changing. If you want to get in the campus mood but don’t have time for a full novel, the following will present enough for an evening’s enjoyment or a semester’s worth of episodes to binge or watch on a class schedule.
Love Story (1970)
The earliest film on this list, Love Story is also one of the most iconic. Released in 1970, the film takes place through the 1960s and follows the (love) story of its two protagonists, Oliver Barrett III and Jenny Cavilleri, who meet as they are respectively studying at Harvard and Radcliffe College. No one should ever watch this movie without knowing that at its core, it is a tragedy. It has everything you want to see in a film in the autumn – all of the iconic fashion, the most beautiful settings, the romance – but it will also rip your heart out. Olivia watched Love Story as a college freshman and cried so hard she has never managed to rewatch it. Sometimes she cries if she thinks about it too hard. If that’s your thing or you really need something to add to your autumn moodboard, then Love Story won’t disappoint.
No director probably encompasses autumnal aesthetic visions quite like Wes Anderson. Citing children’s books and his own upbringing as inspiration, Rushmore, his second feature, encapsulates the epitome of prep school drama and its surroundings. Max Fischer, played by a teenaged Jason Schwartzman, attends an all boys school and commits the entirety of his time to pursuing extracurricular activities in the name of power and popularity. At the arrival of a young attractive teacher, he becomes smitten and obsessed with winning her heart. Where other films and shows would probably fail so questionable a plot development, Rushmore handles it perfectly and all characters make it through unscathed, while also being perfectly well dressed and characterized. As with all Wes Anderson films, you could watch this one for the costumes and color scheme alone.
The Romantics (2010)
A bittersweet romantic comedy. Though not technically set at a campus of any sort, The Romantics follows a group of university friends when they reunite six years later for a wedding. Hopelessly stumbling their way through adult life, it doesn’t take long for them to fall back into the patterns and habits of their late teens and early twenties that they had so freely enjoyed together, from drinking all night to skinny dipping and swapping romantic partners. In such a close knit group of friends who date only each other, it’s only natural for the main drama to involve who gets to marry whom, and whether or not the entire group is on board. Based on the director’s novel of the same name, the film was critically panned but is one of Raquel’s favorites, for its upstate country setting and approachable cast of characters. Although not exclusively wardrobed by J.Crew, the brand was instrumental in the film’s promotional tour and the ensuing editorials remain an autumn mood to this day.
Gilmore Girls (2000-2007)
Perhaps the ultimate show that brings academic feelings into your life. The six season show follows the story of Lorelai and Rory Gilmore, a snarky mother/daughter duo who are best friends before all else in life, except for maybe being coffee addicts. The show follows Rory through her high school years at a prestigious prep school in Connecticut and then through her university years at Yale. Rory is extremely bookish but down to earth and perhaps the internet’s favorite character to relate to. The show provides the most autumnal setting possible, perfect to play in the background through the season or to dip into for the very first time.
How To Get Away With Murder (2014 - present)
For fans of The Secret History, at this point HTGAWM (as it’s known amongst fan circles) might be the closest we come to a series following a dangerously close group of students and the demagogue professor they obsessively follow to Hell and back. Swapping Classics for Law, the kids of How To Get Away With Murder enjoy other Secret History-like elements in their life; pathological study hours and lingo, debauchery, sexy times, and covering up murders as bonding exercise. Now in its final season, the thriller has never been short on convoluted drama or mystery, but has also managed to maintain the elements that make it so aesthetically campus-like to watch, from its leafy Philadelphia setting to its continued scenes of student life as the core group balance the ongoing time at their elite law program with working as interns at their professor slash parental icon’s law firm and dealing with surrounding family issues not entirely familiar (unless your father is a crime boss putting out hits on your boyfriend), but as relatable as any other drama one might experience on the cusp between youth and real life.
The Magicians (2015 - present)
Like How To Get Away With Murder and The Secret History, The Magicians presents the perfect stepping stone for fans of the Harry Potter series who find they’ve outgrown Hogwarts, though in many ways The Magicians is a far better series than Harry Potter ever hopes to be. Based on Lev Grossman’s trilogy of books, The Magicians follows a group of witches and wizards in and around present day New York City as they attend a secret, prestigious magical university set upstate. Like Hogwarts, the only way in is to have magical powers you may or may not know exist and to be invited. Upon admission the students learn to hone and channel their magical powers in what is essentially a Masters program, where ongoing threats from other realms and creatures present just as much panic and trouble as wondering whether or not they’ll pass their next exam. At its inception, the show was applauded for its honest treatment of mental health and postgraduate dread and existentialism in our present day society, as well as its central cast of strong diverse characters and LGBTQ+ relationships, though anyone expecting any of these points to transpire in a happy ending will be sorely disappointed.
Dear White People (2017 - present)
A comedy-drama that premiered in 2017, Dear White People is based on and elaborates on the 2014 film of the same name. Revolving around a group of black students – centered around Samantha (Sam) White, a film student and radio host – at a fictitious Ivy League institution called Winchester, Dear White People begins after a black face party happens on the university campus and calls attention to racial tensions. The central group of students investigate exactly what happened and how it was allowed to happen, turning to activism through Sam’s radio show that shares the show’s name, along with various student groups, activities, and marches. Mystery runs through all three seasons of the show, along with romance, journeys of self-discovery, plenty of student journals, coffee shops, and autumnal scenes. Dear White People has everything we know and love from the campus genre, while remaining anchored in the realities we face today.
Olivia Gündüz-Willemin is Editor-in-Chief of The Attic on Eighth. She is dedicated to reading her way through the world and trying to stay as calm as possible.
Raquel Reyes is Creative Director at The Attic on Eighth. When she isn’t promptly texting you back, she enjoys styling photo shoots, dramatic hair accessories, and old fashioned cocktails.