Five Academia Films to Usher in the Spirit of the Fall Semester

Therefore, as I apply myself to learning,

may I be mindful that all created things

are your creative expression, that all stories

are held within your greater story,

and that all disciplines of order and design

are a chasing after your thoughts—

so that greater mastery of these subjects

will yield ever greater knowledge of the

symmetry and wonder of your ways.

From “A Liturgy for Students & Scholars,” in Every Moment Holy by Douglas Kaine Mckelvey

Happy Monday, friends!

For many of you, just the same as it is for myself, today is the first day of the *drumroll* fall semester. After some graduate orientation meetings last week and English professor meet-and-greets, I’m excited, nervous, jumpy, and slightly petrified to begin classes today.

However, as it is with everything, there’s always a way in which stories can prepare us for the most frightening realities. Frightening realities such as the fall semester.

Perhaps you’re also slightly nervous to jump into whatever your school year holds, whether that’s becoming a college freshman, transferring to a new university, getting ready to finish senior year of high school, or just sliding back into wherever you are on the academic ladder.

I’ve put together a list of five of my favorite academia films to foster the flame of learning and greatness in your hearts this season.

the theory of everything

…if we do discover a complete theory, it should in time be understandable in broad principle by everyone, not just a few scientists. Then we shall all—philosophers, scientists, and just ordinary people—be able to take part in the discussion of the question of why it is that we and the universe exist. If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason. For then we would know the mind of God.

Stephen Hawking, from A Brief History of Time

The Theory of Everything (2014) is a biopic about the life of renowned Cambridge physicist Stephen Hawking. Instead of focusing entirely on Hawking’s groundbreaking scientific achievements, the film highlights instead his relationship with his wife Jane, who chose to marry him despite his ALS diagnosis. A committed atheist, Stephen finds himself in love with the Christian Jane, who loves him and cares for him selflessly, enabling him to continue in pursuit of physics and inevitably, a “theory of everything.”

Set in the aesthetically breathtaking Cambridge University during the 1960s, The Theory of Everything is a beautifully flawed and rather heartbreaking story that demonstrates the power of love and its impact on human resilience, whether one studies the arts or the sciences.

Harry Potter

Wit beyond measure is man’s greatest treasure.

Rowena Ravenclaw

Of course I included Harry Potter. 😎

Every Harry Potter film (and book) is a symbolic testament to just how remarkable academia can be. From the Hogwarts castle and the flowing school robes, to the plethora of magic classes and stained spell parchments, the Harry Potter stories took the academia genre and transformed it into something out of this world.

The Golden Trio’s scholarly adventures in the halls of a medieval castle speak to my dark academia fetish, and Hermione Granger’s commitment to excellence in her studies closely mirrors my own. As an academia epic, the Harry Potter film series shines, reminding all of us mere Muggles that academia can indeed be magical.


I made stories . . . legends. After all, what is language for? It’s not just the naming of things, is it? It’s the lifeblood of a culture, a people.

J.R.R. Tolkien, from Tolkien

Tolkien (2016) wasn’t as well received as anticipated, but that didn’t stop me from going to see it. The film focuses on Tolkien’s younger years at university, and it closes with his writing of The Hobbit.

Most moviegoers wagered they’d be witnessing Tolkien’s creation of Middle Earth and his time with The Inklings, but the film focuses instead on everything leading up to that. In that regard, it must have shattered a lot of expectations, but it also brilliantly portrayed Tolkien’s academic life as well as his time as a soldier in WWI.

A main point of interest in the story is Tolkien’s academic pursuits as a philologist, which a lot of people forget about. He’s known for being a storyteller and theologian, but his time at Oxford studying philology is sometimes forgotten.

His group of childhood school friends fostered a spirit of art, learning, and beauty in him at a young age—a spirit that he would carry with him to Oxford, into the war, and ultimately into his composition of Middle Earth.

Nicholas Hoult’s performance as J.R.R. Tolkien was truly a soulful one to watch, and Lily Collins’s performance as his wife Edith brought so much joy, romance, and brilliant chemistry to the film.

good will hunting

People call these things imperfections, but they’re not. That’s the good stuff. And then we get to choose who we let into our weird little worlds.

Sean Maguire, from Good Will Hunting


This movie really messed me up.

Confession: I watched Good Will Hunting (1997) for the very first time this year, but it’s still jerking tears and breaking hearts as I suspect it did when it was originally released twenty-four years ago.

A tale about prodigious genius, opportunity, trauma, and the pursuit of love, Good Will Hunting is a deeply emotional story about embracing potential and cherishing what really matters in life. Matt Damon plays Will, a young orphan, ex-con, and mathematics prodigy whose given his freedom only on two terms: he studies with (and works alongside) mathematics professors at MIT and sees a therapist. The equations he’s given to solve come easy to him, but the therapy proves his greatest challenge as he comes up against emotions and torments he didn’t realize he had.

One of the reasons I’m so fond of this film is its honest discussion about mental health among young people, especially those who are academically inclined. The pressure to perform that Will feels from the academic overlords, his desire to be “just a normal kid from Southie,” and his love for a young woman who doesn’t even know the worst of him all feel like such real problems for college kids, and the reminder that “it’s not your fault” is sometimes all we school kids need to hear.

Additionally, the film features a small baby version of Matt Damon and My Favorite Uncle™ Robin Williams. Now you really wanna watch it, don’t you?

dead poets society

We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race, and the human race is filled with passion. Medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love . . . these are what we stay alive for.

John Keating, from Dead Poets Society

Look, ma! Another Robin Williams movie!

But really: how could I not include Dead Poets Society? *sobs in Neil Perry*

The cult film of the dark academia aesthetic, this 1989 epic is the infamous film that gave me a soft spot for sweater-wearing poetry boys who recite monologues and scream about Walt Whitman.

Dead Poets Society follows a class of young men at Welton, a prestigious east coast boarding school. After they encounter a radical poetry teacher intent on showing them the beauty of art, romance, and (of course) poetry, they all have artistic reawakenings and rediscover themselves all over again.

I still cry, folks. I still cry.

It’s a beautiful, melancholic, somewhat tragic film, but it will always be in my top five of all time. Robin Williams is once again the must huggable person in the film, and Robert Sean Leonard’s performance as Neil Perry is glorious through and through.

So, what did you think?

Did I miss any of your favorite academia films? What’s your favorite of the five I mentioned? And lastly: are you ready for the fall semester? Whether you’re an active student or not, the fall semester really is the beginning of new avenues for learning, love, and beauty. I’m so excited to jump in!

Additionally, here’s my favorite back-to-school/fall/early winter playlist from Spotify. These tracks tend to put me in a happy place for studying, walking around campus, and diving into my love for autumn (which includes wooly sweaters, scarves, and pumpkin lattes).

I hope you’re just as ready as I am to tackle new horizons, absorb and create knowledge, and pursue beauty as summer turns to fall and winter. Maybe I’m a tad premature, but in my view, it’s never too early to begin celebrating the changing of the seasons. 😉

Ich wünsche der bestes für Ihr dieses Schule Jahr!

Emily 😉

5 thoughts on “Five Academia Films to Usher in the Spirit of the Fall Semester

  1. “Ah, I must watch ‘Tolkien’ again,” thought I when I saw the title of your post. Low and behold, it seems doubly important now that you have included it in your post. 🙂 But my family is deep in The Mandalorian right now, so I am not sure when we shall get to it. I might have to sneak off to some quiet corner to watch it by myself…

    1. Ah yes! Tolkien is a wonderful film. But oooh, The Mandalorian is definitely hard to beat as well. I think films are such beautiful parts of different life seasons! The Mandalorian tends to remind me of Christmas 😂

  2. Ahhh, I still haven’t seen Tolkien! *shakes head at self* I must remedy that ASAP; your mini-review made me want to watch it all the more! I’ve also been hearing high praise for Dead Poets Society, so I may have to look into that one.

    Harry Potter. Yes, truly an icon of academia film.

    1. Tolkien is a great film, Amelie! You’d love it! And of course Dead Poets Society is an absolutely glorious film. It’s so beautiful. So so beautiful.

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