By Iliyah Coles ’22
Princeton is known for is its aesthetically-pleasing architecture. To some producers, the campus environment makes it an ideal location for shooting a movie. Here is a list of 10 movies that were filmed on Princeton’s campus.
One of Paramount’s first dialogue films (a “talkie”), Varsity was directed by Frank Tuttle and starred Charles Rogers. The main character, Jimmy Duffy, is a college student, who happens to be the janitor’s (Pop’s) son but doesn’t know it. Pop was an alcoholic and was ruled as unfit to parent, so Jimmy was separated from him as a child. Pop watches over Jimmy in college as he grows up and falls in love. Phillip Holmes ‘30 and Charles E. Arnt, Jr. ‘29 were both Princeton undergraduates who appeared in the film, and later were in several other movies. The Princeton sets built during Varsity were also used in the film She Loves Me Not (1934), for which Arnt was the technical director.
Many people were offended by the film, including a woman who wrote to John Grier Hibben about the way in which Princeton students were portrayed. She described the plot as “[…] a portrayal of a Princeton student in one drunken debauch after another.” Following the public outcry, the film was pulled in February 1929. No known copies were preserved.
Starring Alexander Knox, Wilson was a biopic about Woodrow Wilson’s life, set from 1911 to 1920. The film detailed Wilson’s time at Princeton, then his time as governor of the state, and lastly, his two-term presidency. Princeton undergraduates were included in the production, which cost $5,300,600–the most expensive film ever at the time. Wilson won five Academy Awards: Best Original Screenplay, Best Sound Recording, Best Art Direction, Color, Best Cinematography, Color, and Best Film Editing. However, it was ultimately a box office flop.
People Will Talk (1951)
Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, People Will Talk was only partially filmed on campus, but several undergraduates were allowed to have walk-on roles. The storyline was summarized in the Daily Princetonian as “built around the career of a medical school faculty member (Cary Grant), who marries a wartime romantic (Jeanne Crain) and ‘stands trial’ before his colleagues on malpractice charges brought by a jealous associate (Hume Cronyn).”
The Last Embrace (1979)
A “romantic thriller” starring Roy Scheider and Janet Margolin, The Last Embrace has a chase scene filmed in the tower of Holder Hall. Other scenes were shot in East Pyne. The film follows an ex-CIA agent who thinks someone is out to get him. The cast and crew consisted of nearly 100 people, and some Princeton students and staff appeared as extras. A producer, Dan Wigutow said Princeton was chosen because “‘the college was cooperative and because the campus is so charming.’”
I.Q., a romantic comedy starring Meg Ryan and Tim Robbins, was directed by Fred Schepsi and follows a local auto mechanic posing as a physicist to woo the niece of Albert Einstein (Walter Matthau), who tries to play matchmaker. Princeton students were cast as extras in the film. Though Mercer Street was closed off to prevent the background noise from impeding the filming, an audience was allowed to watch near the set.
One True Thing (1998)
One True Thing was based on an Anna Quindlen novel, where a woman returns to Longhorn, New York to help her father care for her dying mother. It stars William Hurt, Meryl Streep, and Renee Zellweger and was directed by Carl Franklin. Franklin chose to shoot one of the flashback scenes on Princeton’s campus, in the courtyard near the U-Store. Students were told to park mountain bikes elsewhere, as they were “non-period.” However, the flashback scene never made it into the final cut of the film.
A Beautiful Mind (2001)
Directed by Ron Howard and starring Russell Crowe as John Nash, A Beautiful Mind was based on the novel of the same name by Sylvia Nasar, described in Town Topics as having “chronicled the life of Dr. Nash, a mathematical genius whose brilliant career was cut short by schizophrenia and who, after three decades of mental illness recovered and was awarded a Nobel Prize.” Auditions to fill the roles of 3,000 extras were held in McCosh Hall.
There was some controversy during filming, as Crowe reportedly flipped off some onlookers between takes, in the direction of the second story window of 1901 Hall. Jeff Edelstein, a reporter with the Trentonian, claims Crowe made the gesture toward both him and a Princeton student who helped him get a better shot of the set from her dorm room. In an interview with the Princeton Packet, Crowe had labeled the Princeton students people “‘who really do consider themselves in the milk-and-honey elite of this country, because they couldn’t care less if you were making a film there or not… because of that ultimate arrogance.’” However, locals also defended Crowe, noting that Crowe signed autographs while filming and was “really nice to people around Princeton.”
Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)
The sequel to the first Michael Bay Transformers film stars Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox. Production trucks arrived on campus as filming took place. Film critic Billy Goodykoontz wasn’t that impressed: “if you like special effects launched at you with relentless, mind-numbing intensity at the expense of all else, this is the film for you.”
The movie received a lot of backlash once it was revealed that Megan Fox’s audition tape was essentially the actress washing Michael Bay’s Ferrari outside his house. In response, the Prince wrote, “It’s not worth getting too mad at ‘Transformers’ because everyone will watch it anyway, and it’ll be fun enough if you’re (very) drunk.’”
Mudd Library’s Memorabilia Collection houses a Princeton flag signed by Michael Bay, Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, and Ramon Rodriguez during the filming.
Admission sees Tina Fey star as an admissions officer at Princeton University who tries to get a high school prodigy (whom she thought was her long lost son) with an “abysmal transcript” into the school; she does this with the help of an educator and old friend (Paul Rudd). The director, Paul Weltz, actually sat down and talked with admissions officers about the process. He found that it was not necessarily cynical, but still subjective. The Princeton Nassoons a cappella group made a cameo in the film and Tina Fey said it was her favorite moment shot on campus.
Runner Runner (2013)
Thriller Runner Runner follows a Princeton University graduate student (Justin Timberlake) to Costa Rica where he confronts a gambling tycoon (Ben Affleck). Some of the scenes were shot on the 100 block of Nassau Street, which raised some problems for businesses that had to close early. However, other businesses, like Massimo’s Express, saw a surge in sales as fans of Justin Timberlake traveled to Nassau to watch the filming. Though none of the scenes that made it to the final cut were actually filmed on campus, an aerial shot of the Graduate College is seen in the trailer.
Historical Subject Files (AC109)
Memorabilia Collection (AC053)
Office of Communications Records (AC168)
Woodrow Wilson Collection (MC158)