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27 Movies Every English Major Should Watch

You’re gonna need a bottomless bowl of popcorn, some wine, and a sympathetic friend who doesn’t mind you interrupting to explain what a Grail Quest trope is.

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1. Mr. Pip (2012)


Starring Hugh Laurie as a school teacher in Bougainville who tries to encourage the children who caught in the middle of a civil war. He begins reading Great Expectations to them and Matilda, one of the students, daydreams about her own Pip. This film is perfect if you want to see more PoC representation in classic English Literature.

2. Midnight in Paris (2011)


Gil is a nostalgic writer who is dragged around Paris by his pushy fiancée. As soon as he wanders off alone he gets transported back to 1920s Paris where he meets the expatriate writers, Hemingway and the Fitzgeralds, as well as Gertrude Stein and Picasso. The brilliance of this film comes out with Hemingway - he speaks exactly as he writes, which is an English Major’s dream.

3. Haider (2014)

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Based off of Shakespeare’s objectively best play Hamlet, Haider is an Indian film that takes place in the middle of the Kashmir turmoil. Complete with a creepy Oedipal Complex and a gorgeous Ophelia, as well as some of the best actors in Bollywood, this interpretation is heart-wrenching and perfect. Also it includes some typical Bollywood song and dance. Super A+

4. Kill Your Darlings (2013)

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About the Beatniks, Kill Your Darlings stars Daniel Radcliffe as Alan Ginsberg and Dane DeHaan as Lucien Carr. This film is all about the heady days when Ginsberg, Carr, William Burroughs, and Jack Kerouac believed they were creating a new way of writing. And it’s all fun and games until someone ends up dead. Def not telling who.

5. The Jane Austen Book Club (2007)


Five women and one guy form a book club around Jane Austen’s works and each member takes on the challenge of presenting on one of Austen's books. As the movie progresses we see each character embodying their chosen stories and learning from them. This movie is best served with a bottle of wine.

6. O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)


Based on The Odyssey, this Cohen Brothers Film set in Mississippi includes elements of the original Homeric tale. It has a fantastic soundtrack and a fair amount of referential jokes.

7. Persepolis (2007)

Via Persepolis (2007)

Though technically Persepolis is a graphic novel, it’s still a beginner lit class favorite. This film, done in the same style as the graphic novel and with the same story and creator, is very much just the living version of the novel. Persepolis is about the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s and is equal parts sad, beautiful, and hilarious.

9. Trishna (2011)


Trishna is Tess of the D’Urbervilles set in India. Riz Ahmed is a spoiled, controlling heir to a hotel fortune and Frieda Pinto, Trishna, is the unfortunate girl caught up in his mind games. The setting is beautiful and the story is tragic, definitely in line with the original literary inspiration.

11. Bright Star (2009)


Keats was a poetic genius who achieved more before his untimely death at 25 than pretty much everyone else ever. He will always be a sore spot for every English Major. BUT this film, which details his love affair with Fanny Brawne, lets you watch his tragic story slowly unfold. It’s got poetry, love, and Ben Whishaw.

12. Young Frankenstein (1974)


As it says in the name, Young Frankenstein is a parody of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Starring Gene Wilder as Dr. Frankenstein (it’s pronounced Franken-steen), this movie rewrites everything you knew about the mad scientist. Also, Igor (it’s pronounced I-gor) is snarkier, darker, and weirder than you could ever have imagined.

13. The History Boys (2006)


Though not directly about literature, the History Boys, based on the West End show of the same name, is littered with literary references and British war poetry. It’s also about students who are made cynical by the college application process (sound familiar?).

14. Fahrenheit 451 (1966)


This film is like a double whammy - not only is it based on the Bradbury classic but it’s literally about the power of books. You have to promise me that you’ll read the book first, though.

15. Becoming Jane (2007)


Another film about the development of a writer who is a staple in the English Major's curriculum, Becoming Jane did it write (see what I did there?). With Anne Hathaway playing the stubborn and headstrong Jane who doesn't want to give over to her feelings and James McAvoy as her love interest, we see her life parallel her stories.

16. The World’s End (2013)


Definitely the most literary of Wright’s ‘Cornetto Trilogy,’ this movie is dripping in references to Arthurian legends. It is, at its core, a grail quest. Simon Pegg and his unwilling band of men (all with names like Knightly and Prince) attempt to finish the pub crawl they started years ago only to be thwarted by an unknown force.

17. Dead Poets Society (1989)

Another double whammy - there actually is a Dead Poets Society book. This film, about an eccentric poetry teacher at an elite private school for boys, revels in the importance of poetry. Watch it in honor of Robin Williams and all the kooky literature teachers who managed to get you to read every book on the reading list.

18. Were the World Mine (2008)

This indie musical transplants the power of Puck into a small New England town. Timothy is a gay teenager who is bullied by his classmates until he auditions for the school’s rendition of A Midsummer’s Night Dream and accidentally discovers Puck’s love-in-idleness flower. He uses it to make the boys in his school fall in love with each other, changing minds irrevocably. “The course of true love never did run smooth.”

19. Love and Other Disasters (2006)


Starring the late and great Brittany Murphy, this movie is a modern retelling of Truman Capote’s novella “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” Not only do they reference the original story and the Audrey Hepburn film, but they let everyone have their happy endings with minimal existential crises. It’s sweet, playful, and funny - perfect for a post-Audrey cry-fest come down.

20. Big Fish (2003)


This under-hyped Tim Burton film, starring Ewan McGregor and Billy Crudup, is about truth, stories, and fantasy. It looks at the intersection of fiction and real life and is completely spell-binding.

21. Stage Beauty (2004)


We all know that women weren’t allowed on stage in Shakespeare’s time, but in the 17th century King Charles II, at the behest of his concubine Nell Gwynn, lifted the ban. This movie is the fictional account of an actor and an actress, their lust, and how their ambition changed the tide for English drama. It stars Clare Danes and Billy Crudup.

22. Everything is Illuminated (2005)


A quiet Jewish-American man, Jonathan Safran Foer, played by Elijah Wood, travels back to the Ukraine to dig up his family's history. His ancestors were scattered by the Holocaust, World War II, and their own wants, whims, and tragedies. It’s definitely worth reading the book first even though this movie is fairly loyal to the original story.

23. Black Swan (2010)


Though the Swan Lake ballet isn’t exactly literary, it is dripping in tropes, motifs, allegories, and everything else English Majors foam at the mouth for. Black Swan twists the original story of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake and looks at the darkness inherent in the twin characters of the Black Swan and the White Swan. Natalie Portman plays both parts extremely well and this film will haunt you for days after.

24. Gnomeo and Juliet (2011)


This fun, child-friendly take on the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet is a useful respite from some of the other more dramatic films on this list. With Emily Blunt, James McAvoy, Jason Stathem and many others lending their voices to this production, this tale of two garden gnomes will definitely entertain you no matter what your age is.

25. The Hours (2002)


Obvs a good story transcends time (uh, Beowulf, anyone?). The Hours is about how the novel Mrs Dalloway by Virgina Woolf, who is played by Nicole Kidman with a completely unexpected nose piece, affects two different women, Meryl Streep and Julianne Moore, in two different times.

26. The Life of Brian (1979)


This often overlooked Monty Python classic is about hapless Brian Cohen of Nazarath who gets mistaken for the Messiah at every turn in his life. He tries to dodge crazy devotees, his shrill mother, and his unintentional destiny. It’s pure religious satire and perfect for the English Majors who have taken ‘The Bible as a Novel’ courses.

27. Shakespeare in Love (1998)

Probably the must obvious film on the list, Shakespeare in Love, starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Joseph Fiennes, is about how Shakespeare won and lost love(’s labours). It is replete with references to all of his plays and some of his sonnets. Also Shakespeare has never been so hunky.

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