A comprehensive rundown of productions throughout film history that are not set at Columbia University.

It is without question that the great cultural legacy of Columbia University in the City of New York is its storied track record of appearing in movies. As a prestigious and renowned university, Columbia has appeared in a litany of films over the past century, leading to a high level of visibility for our university! However, there are some movies that do not prominently feature Columbia, Barnard, the Manhattanville campus, the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, CUIMC, or any other Columbia-affiliated locations. Let’s take a look at some of these movies that do not take place at Columbia!


This 2001 animated classic captured the attention and imagination of a generation, and spawned a vast legacy of modern humor, storytelling, and creativity. However, though it charmed its audience through an inspired fusion of fairy tale stories, modern influences, and Scottish representation, Shrek does not take place on Columbia’s campus. If you’ve been hoping to catch a glimpse of Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, or a firebreathing dragon hanging around Butler Lawn or Law Bridge, you won’t be seeing them around here anytime soon!

Now You See Me

Were you under the impression that this thrilling 2013 heist movie took place in and around Amsterdam and Broadway in the Upper West Side neighborhood of Morningside Heights, Manhattan? You thought wrong, because this star-studded story of jet-setting, moderately attractive magicians does not share any connections to Columbia University, nor did its 2016 sequel, Now You See Me 2. Guess we’ll just wait and see if Summit Entertainment, TIK Films, and K/O Paper Products, in conjunction with distribution by Lionsgate, decide to greenlight a third installment, this one revolving around Morningside Heights!

Star Wars, Episode II: Attack of the Clones

It is widely believed that the (chronologically) second entry in George Lucas’ esoteric science-fiction film franchise Star Wars takes place, in part, in the venue of Columbia University. Most of the misconception comes from the part of the movie where Obi-Wan Kenobi, following the trail of the bounty hunter behind the attempted assassination of Naboo Senator Padme Amidala, arrives on the ocean world of Kamino and discovers an army of clones being manufactured on behalf of the Galactic Republic, with their genetic template based on the mysterious Jango Fett, whom Obi-Wan confronts and ultimately pursues through an asteroid belt, leading to the desert planet of Geonosis, where the forces of the Confederacy of Independent Systems have begin to mobilize. However, contrary to popular belief, none of these scenes take place on Columbia’s campus.

The Martian

It is understandable that one might confuse the events of this Matt Damon-fronted science-fiction spectacle with Columbia, as people talk about a lot of nerdy science stuff at Columbia, just as they do in this movie. However, The Martian has no connection to our campus whatsoever, geeky as it may be. (I haven’t seen The Martian, I just know it doesn’t take place at Columbia.)

La La Land

Though it ultimately lost out for the Oscar award for Best Picture, this Damien Chazelle-directed narrative was celebrated for its screenplay, cinematography, production design, and musical numbers. Through gripping storytelling and powerful imagery, it elevates a type of harrowing story rarely told by the mainstream media: struggling white artists in Los Angeles. Unfortunately for us Barnumbia students, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone did not perform their iconic dance scene, as memorialized in La La Land’s widely-disseminated promotional posters, in Havemeyer 309 or in line for the fusion bowl station in John Jay Dining Hall. In fact, it took place at the little-known Griffith Observatory, a local gem in the Los Angeles metropolitan area. 

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

This film is hailed as a holiday classic that has inspired much of the culture surrounding modern acts of celebration of Christmas. If there’s one thing this film doesn’t have, though, it’s the setting of Columbia University, as no part of the movie takes place on our beloved Morningside campus, and, in fact, no aspects of the movie are affiliated with Columbia University in any discernible way. It is rumored that this heartwarming holiday favorite was initially supposed to take place entirely within the realm of Barnumbia. However, after Columbia lost its #2 spot in the US News and World Report rankings and fell all the way to the inconceivable #18 spot, the producers and distributors of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer decided that they could no longer justify affiliating their holiday tale with Columbia, and the film was scrapped and entirely rewritten mid-production; all live-action scenes that had already been filmed at Columbia were replaced instead by cheap claymation recreations, to save the money and manpower that already went into Rudolph’s production.


Columbia gets a lot of attention for the movies set on campus and filmed on location, so I’m glad I was able to take the time to educate myself and my faithful readers on the movies that did not take place on Columbia’s campus! (You can look out for the upcoming publication of my subsequent research on other works of art created on campus, in which I reach a stunning conclusion to the question of whether Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata was first written and performed in our very own Chef Mike’s Sub Shop.) Our understanding of this field is still very limited, so make sure to keep an eye out for more movies that do not take place on Columbia’s campus!

Header via Bwog archives