Legend has it that Columbia’s lawns are always green because of the fees the school charges to any company that wants to film there. Truth or urban legend? You decide!
Gossip Girl: Nate, Serena, and Blair all end up at Columbia, shown via exterior shots. Not sure why any of them thought Columbia was fabulous enough to hold them, but I would be a lot more likely to go to class if a Chace Crawford look-alike were there.
Spiderman: Shots of Columbia feature in all three Tobey Maguire–era Spiderman movies. Unlike the stunningly attractive Nate, Serena, and Blair, Peter Parker would blend in perfectly with the Columbia student body. He’d be that guy you stared at in lecture, wondering if he was actually cute or just a little weird-looking.
Mistress America: This film about a Barnard student and starring Greta Gerwig (BC ’06) features scenes in the Quad, the Diana, and Hewitt dining hall, among other Barnard locations. While it briefly touches on the Barnumbia relationship, it doesn’t seem to understand it any more than we do.
How I Met Your Mother: For three seasons, Ted is an architecture professor at Columbia. Like most films and shows on this list, the exterior shots are genuine Columbia, but the interior shots are not. The fictional students are actually fairly Columbia-esque, abandoning his class to protest.
Ghostbusters (1984): The famous trio of Peter Venkman, Ray Stantz, and Egon Spengler are originally Columbia professors before they get fired and pursue their true calling. While no Columbia buildings are mentioned by name, “Weaver Hall” is actually Havemeyer wearing a really lazy disguise. (They just changed a plaque.)
Ghostbusters (2016): In a nod to the original, Erin Gilbert is also a disgraced Columbia professor, and there are some exterior shots of Columbia. As soon as they show an interior shot of “Columbia,” the illusion is broken—her office is way too clean.
Kill Your Darlings: A story about one of Columbia’s most famous and least-acknowledged alumni, Allen Ginsberg, Kill Your Darlings has exterior shots of Columbia galore. The palatial interiors, which are intended to be Columbia circa the 1940s are a far cry from John Jay as it currently stands. And a scene in which Ginsberg and others replace rare books on display in the library with pornographic ones could never actually happen at Columbia today—students studying in Butler would shush them for being too boisterous.
Simon (1980): This little-known movie stars Alan Arkin (of Argo and Little Miss Sunshine) as Simon, a Columbia professor who is brainwashed by the Institute for Advanced Concepts into thinking he’s an alien being who has to improve the world. The movie’s best scene takes place in 309 Havemeyer. Simon is in the midst of an inspiring lecture on the necessity of creative thinking when one of the few students raises her hand and asks, “Is this going to be on the final?” Same girl, same.
Suspicious lawns via Archives.