Edvoy

12 motivational movies to get you through your first semester

Lily Martin
Last Updated: 22 September 2021 • 9 min read

Heading off to start a new adventure studying abroad? There’s nothing quite like those first few weeks in a new place, settling in and learning everything there is to know about your home-from-home.

Sometimes we all just need a bit of motivation during a time of change - and what better way than through movies? Curl up and grab the popcorn, because we’ve compiled a list of our twelve favourite motivational movies about university to get you through your first semester.

12 motivational movies to get you through your first semester

  1. Legally Blonde
  2. The Breakfast Club
  3. Educating Rita
  4. Pitch Perfect
  5. Back to the Future
  6. Harry Potter
  7. The Graduate
  8. The Da Vinci Code
  9. On the Basis of Sex
  10. The Prince and Me
  11. Good Will Hunting
  12. Indiana Jones

1. Legally Blonde

Is there anything better than a movie starring the icon that is Reece Witherspoon? 

In Legally Blonde, she plays wanna-be law student Elle Woods, who, to win back the man of her dreams, gets into Harvard Law School. Accompanied by her dog Bruiser and a stunning wardrobe ensemble, she navigates the world of graduate school whilst proving herself to her peers, professors, parents and that ex-boyfriend.

If you’re looking for proof that hard work pays off, this is definitely one to watch. And there’s even a sequel where Elle heads to Washington DC - thank me later.

2. The Breakfast Club

This iconic 1985 classic is known for its star-studded cast, featuring five of the ‘Brat Pack’, and has become firmly fixed into the firmament of coming-of-age movies.

Accompanied by one of the best soundtracks produced (including the youth anthem ‘Don’t You Forget About Me’ by Simple Minds), an excellent script combines comedy, realism and a hint of drama to deliver an insight into the minds of every American teen.

Five teenagers, from five different cliques at high-school, find themselves stuck in Saturday detention, supervised by their authoritarian assistant principal. If you’re looking for some assurance that we’re all on this strange journey of life together, this is a must-watch.

The film is considered of the most recognisable and important of it’s era and in 2016 it was selected to be preserved in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.

3. Educating Rita

Educating Rita follows the story of 26-year-old, working-class hairdresser Susan (known as Rita), who returns to university to study English Literature. 

Here, she is assigned Professor Frank Bryant, a disillusioned academic whose love of the subject is reignited by the passion of his student.

Michael Caine plays Bryant, with Julie Walters playing Rita in her breakthrough role. Moreover, the film was predominantly shot at Trinity College Dublin, so the sets are incredible.

If you’re in desperate need of some motivation to knuckle down and work, this is where you’ll find it.

4. Pitch Perfect

If you love a good pop-music sing-along, then this is a great place to start.

Pitch Perfect was a worldwide sensation on its release in 2012, following the story of Becca, a college freshman who joins the local acapella group ‘The Barden Bellas’. As they get to know each other, settle into a new environment and manage their studies, they also prepare themselves to compete at Nationals.

It’s the perfect blend of wit, comedy and great female lead characters, combined with some important life lessons about heading off to college for the first time. Oh, and great music.

As an added bonus, there’s also two excellent sequels.

5. Back to the Future

Back to the Future has become a cult classic since its initial release back in 1985, being turned into a stage show musical in 2020 which is currently on London’s West End.

In this trilogy, acting icon Michael J. Fox stars as Marty McFly opposite Christopher Lloyds’ Doc Brown as they accidentally go back in time and change the course of history.

Prepare yourself for amazing ‘80s costumes and set design, alongside amazing ‘50s costumes and set design. Plus there’s the DeLorean, which has been most teens’ dream car since the film’s release.

Expect to be thrown into the incredible world of sci-fi with a blend of high-school drama and typical 1980s charm.

6. Harry Potter

I mean where to start? The Harry Potter franchise is possibly the most successful ever made. And there's a good reason.

Think magical boarding school in a stunning castle in the sublime scenery of the Scottish Highlands. Plus a fab set of characters, including my personal favourite, Professor Minerva McGonagall, a witch-turned-teacher and Head of Gryffindor House.

The series follows the eponymous Harry Potter as he discovers he is, in fact, the most famous wizard in the world and his progression through Hogwarts and the Magical Wizarding Wars.

Better yet? There’s eight films. Yes, eight. And they’re all great.

7. The Graduate

Based on the best-selling 1963 book by Charles Webb and follows the story of recent graduate Benjamin Braddock as he juggles his very complicated love life and the pressure of life after college.

Beginning with an ill-fated affair with Mrs Robinson, the wife of his father’s business partner, Ben quickly realises that he is in fact falling hard for Elaine - Mrs Robinson’s daughter.

Starring Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft and Katharine Ross, it has become one of the most iconic productions of all time. 

If you’re in need of a feel-good romance with a lot of life lessons, this is where you've got to start. Plus, the soundtrack is iconic, written by the power-duo Simon and Garfunkel.

8. The Da Vinci Code

Another classic based on a book of the same name is The Da Vinci Code, originally written by acclaimed author Dan Brown.

This mystery thriller stars Tom Hanks in the lead role as Professor Robert Langdon, a renowned symbologist and academic at Harvard University and Audrey Tautou as cryptologist Sophie Neveu.

Langdon, visiting the French capital of Paris on a business trip, gets dragged into the murder of a Louvre Museum curator and a web of intrigue. The plot explores the history and symbolism surrounding the Priory of Sion and Opus Dei’s conflict on the possibility of Jesus Christ having had a child with Mary Magdalene.

It also stars the incomparable Ian McKellen, alongside Paul Bettany, Jean Reno and Alfred Molina. 

Sequels include Angels & Demons and Inferno.

9. On the Basis of Sex

If you’re looking for an empowering female lead, accompanied by an assortment of important lessons surrounding life, equality and success, look no further than On the Basis of Sex.

This 2018 film is based on the life and early cases of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. RBG, as she is affectionately known, was an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court from 1993 until her death in 2020 and only the second woman to serve on the Supreme Court.

Moreover, she spent the majority of her legal career advocating and campaigning for gender equality and women’s rights. She was, without a doubt, one of the most important and influential women in the history of women’s rights both in the USA and in the Western world.

The film follows Ginsburg as she progresses through Law School at both Harvard and Columbia and then goes on to teach.

Starring Felicity Jones as Ginsburg, this is a must-see for anyone looking for an inspirational real-life story proving that you are the change that you want to see in the world.

10. The Prince and Me

Who doesn’t love a good love story? In The Prince and Me, aspiring Doctor Paige Morgan returns to the University of Wisconsin-Madison to complete her pre-med studies.

Meanwhile, Denmark’s Crown Prince, known as Eddie, parks his playboy lifestyle and travels half-way across the world to complete his studies as an international student. 

They meet and fall for each other, but she has no idea he’s the future King of Denmark. You get the gist.

Definitely a feel-good movie for those evenings while you’re still unpacking - and it gives a great insight into the day-to-day life of a college student.

Julia Stiles plays Paige, with Luke Mably as Eddie and an excellent supporting cast including James Fox and Miranda Richardson as Denmark’s reigning King and Queen.

Plus, the scenes in Denmark’s Royal Palace are breathtaking. Nothing like a European palace to make your Sunday.

11. Good Will Hunting

So, the story goes that best-friends Ben Affleck and Matt Damon wrote the screenplay for this film after Damon submitted a first draft as a final assignment for a playwriting class he was taking at Harvard University.

The film has scenes filmed at Harvard too, something that is usually not allowed. Apparently actor John Lithgow, an alumni of the college, intervened to make it happen.

Good Will Hunting follows Janitor Will Hunting who is a natural and self-taught genius, working at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, otherwise known as MIT.

When Professor Gerald Lambeau leaves a difficult mathematics problem on a blackboard to test his students, Will solves the problem anonymously, shocking both students and academics.

This film is the tale of two incredible characters, Will Hunting and Dr Sean Maguire, played by Robin Williams, with an amazing screenplay. 

Williams won an Oscar for his performance, with Affleck and Damon winning both an Oscar and a Golden Globe for the screenplay.

12. Indiana Jones

Indiana Jones is perhaps one of the most recognisable franchises in the world, following the life and adventures of Indy, a Professor of Archaeology.

Although the classroom-based scenes are limited at best, Indiana is an enthralling character played by on-screen legend Harrison Ford in one of his most famous roles.

They’re proper action-adventure romances, with a fair bit of history thrown in for good measure and you can guarantee humour, sadness and joy everytime you watch them. Plus, they're the work of Director Steven Spielberg alongside George Lucas, creators of Star Wars.

With the first film, Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, being set in 1936 (and released in 1981) and a fifth film in production in 2021, it’s easy to become enthralled in the incredible life of Indiana and his adventures.

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Lily Martin
Written By
Lily Martin

Lily is a Content Writer and Editor based in Manchester, UK. She is passionate about travel, literature and higher education.

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