Fall is in the air, and we’ve taken the lead from a plethora of ’80s comedies that sent audiences back to school. Yes, it’s time to revisit college! This week’s match-up is courtesy of three college campus comedies: Revenge of the Nerds (1984), Back to School (1986), and Campus Man (1987).
In crediting the stills above, we start with the top row and proceed left to right. Top Row: Revenge of the Nerds, Back to School; Second Row: Back to School, Back to School, Third Row: Campus Man, Back to School; Fourth Row: Back to School, Revenge of the Nerds; Bottom Row: Campus Man, Revenge of the Nerds
Why the ’80s explosion in college campus films? Sure, some existed for the sole purpose of reveling in the wild shenanigans of pre-adult life. But others had heart. True heart. Take Revenge of the Nerds, which follows the adventures of a group of outcasts searching for a meaningful college existence after they’re booted from their dorm, a facility that’s converted to athletic housing overnight when members of the football team carelessly burn down their frat house. With each setback, our heroes grow stronger, eventually gaining campus-wide respect while putting the films coiffed antagonists in their rightful place.
In fact, this “fish out of water” theme is prevalent in most ’80s campus films that attempted to tell a story worth following. Take Rodney Dangerfield’s Thornton Melon in Back to School, a middle-aged businessman who enrolls in college for the first time in order to support his struggling son who is threatening to drop out. Neither father nor son are a natural fit for campus life; each man’s strengths seem to be the other’s weaknesses. Their attempts to fit in are the comedic focus of the film.
And we can’t forget Campus Man, whose lead (played by John Dye) lacks the tuition to stay in school and must come up with the funds in 30 days. He therefore launches a student calendar featuring the campus hunks, then must struggle to remain ethical as further monetary opportunities present themselves.
Against the backdrop of imminent failure, our heroes rise to the challenge, attending an occasional wild party, dive meet, and university carnival along their path. These events evoke a true nostalgia in all of us–the audience. What if we could go back and do it all over again? What if our inner strengths were enough to outshine key campus beautiful people named Chaz, Stan, and Betty?
We can’t go back, but we can enjoy the plight of others who take the college world by storm on film.
Happy back-to-school season!