When it comes to the movie industry, Hollywood is well known as the epicenter of all things cinema. What many people don’t know is that New Jersey was once the “film capital of the world.” In fact, Fort Lee was the birth center of the film industry in the 19th century. Today, it looks like the Garden State is beginning to reclaim its fame with studios recently opening in Jersey City and Kearny. However, while NJ may have lost its reputation as a major hub, it never faded from the limelight. Indeed, New Jersey’s scenic fall foliage, lush forests, sandy beaches, and historic college campuses have made the Garden State a heavily-demanded filming location. Here, we focus on 10 movies filmed on NJ college campuses.
A Beautiful Mind (2001)
“A Beautiful Mind” tells the story of John Forbes Nash Jr., a mathematician who made fundamental contributions to economic studies. The film takes place at Nash’s real-life college where he received his Ph.D. at Princeton University. Several scenes were shot at the institute. However, Holder Hall stands out as the most featured location in the film. Other shots, such as the Governor’s ball scene, were filmed at Lenfell Hall in Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison, NJ.
Across the Universe (2007)
“Across the Universe” is a tale of war, romance, and peace told through the musical stylings of the Beatles. The film focuses on the love story between a British worker, Jude, and an American college student, Lucy. The college scenes were filmed in several parts of Princeton University. However, much like in “A Beautiful Mind,” the most prominent Princeton site is the historic Gothic-style dorm building—Holder Hall.
When it comes to movies filmed on NJ college campuses, it is no surprise that the state’s ivy league school is a sought-after filming location. “Admission,” a romantic comedy-drama focuses on an admission officer’s bid for Dean of Admissions, amorous explorations, and scandal involving a gifted child at an alternative high school. Several scenes were filmed at various colleges in New York, although NJ’s Princeton is the only Garden State institution to make the film’s credits.
The Amityville Horror (1979)
Although the real “Amityville Horror” house was located on Long Island, the town did not embrace the home’s frightful history. As a result, the filmmakers of “The Amityville Horror” took themselves to Toms River to produce the movie. You can spot several Garden State locales throughout the film. Lakewood’s arboretum at Georgian Court University makes an appearance in a waterside scene with the priest.
Young orphan Annie lives out her dreams when she stays with millionaire Oliver Warbucks in a bid to improve his public image. When Annie pulls up to Warbucks’ mansion, audiences see one of Monmouth University’s most historic buildings. Exterior shots of the mansion are attributed to the Great Hall of Shadow Lawn, previously known as Woodrow Wilson Hall.
A Rainy Day in New York (2019)
“A Rainy Day in New York” follows two college students as they venture into New York City for the weekend. In the opening scene of the film, Timothée Chalamet, who plays Gatsby Welles, introduces the audience to Yardley College. A fictional liberal arts school in upstate New York, the real Yardley is actually Drew University in Madison, NJ.
The institution is the alma mater of director Woody Allen’s wife, Soon-Yi Previn. Despite protests by Drew students against the film—due to Allen and Previn’s controversial relationship—all of the Yardley outdoor scenes feature Drew’s campus. The opening shot features S.W. Bowne Hall, home to the Caspersen School of Graduate Studies. The building that Chalamet exits is dorm building Hoyt-Bowne Hall, and the dormitory behind co-star Elle Fanning is Asbury Hall.
The Family Stone (2005)
If you’ve ever been to the Drew University campus, you know one of its most attractive architectural structures is Mead Hall. This Greek revival-style building is where many of Drew’s special events occur. Alumni luncheons, graduation ceremonies, and even weddings take place at this mansion. In the romantic-comedy film “The Family Stone,” the building transforms into a scenic bus station.
Scent of a Woman (1992)
“Scent of a Woman” sees Al Pacino play an ill-tempered, blind, and retired Army lieutenant colonel. The film follows a prep school student (Chris O’Donnell) who takes a job as his assistant so he may afford a plane ticket home for the holidays. Although the film was primarily filmed in New York state, screenwriter Robert “Bo” Goldman chose to use his alma mater as a stand-in for the prep school. Iconic Holder Hall makes an appearance as the prep school’s building, and the scene in the library takes place in Madison Hall at Princeton’s Rockefeller College.
Spinning Into Butter (2007)
Sarah Jessica Parker returns to Drew University in “Spinning into Butter.” This time, the actress plays Sarah Daniels, the Dean of Students at a mostly-white liberal arts school in Belmont, Vermont. The film focuses on racial tensions at the university and filming mostly took place between Drew University and Brooklyn College, CUNY. The most notable Drew scenes feature dorm building Haselton Hall, the equestrian statue of Francis Asbury, and other scenic views of Drew’s campus during the fall.
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)
“Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” sees Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) take on college. Filming originally took place in Pennsylvania, with several scenes shot at the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University. Later, filming moved to New Jersey, with Princeton University becoming the epicenter of the film. The college that Witwicky attends is never named due to the institutions’ refusals to be associated with the film thanks to a marijuana brownie scene. Nonetheless, you can spot Princeton in the action scenes. Viewers can also spot Frist Campus Center which makes an appearance in an aerial shot.
Bonus Film: The Incredible Hulk (2008)
New Jersey has made quite a few appearances in the Marvel cinematic universe. In a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment, Drew University appears as the aerial shot of fictitious Culver University. However, the scenes involving the made-up university were actually filmed at the University of Toronto, Ontario.
Are you a fan of other movies filmed on NJ college campuses? Let us know your picks and click here for more movies filmed in NJ.
About the Author/s
Helen is an editorial intern at The Digest. A senior at Drew University, she enjoys cooking and listening to music. When she's not working in the kitchen, she's typically catching up on pop culture news.