Princeton University in popular culture

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Princeton University, one of the oldest universities in the United States, has been the subject of numerous aspects of popular culture. The trend accelerated after Princeton was ranked #1 by US News and World Report at the start of the 21st century.[1]


  • F. Scott Fitzgerald's literary debut, This Side of Paradise, is a loosely autobiographical story of his years at Princeton. A Princeton Alumni Weekly[2] on Princeton fiction called it the "ur novel of Princeton life."[3]
  • In Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises, the character Robert Cohn attended Princeton.
  • Geoffrey Wolff's The Final Club is a coming-of-age book about Nathaniel Auerbach Clay, a fictional member of the Princeton Class of 1960 (Wolff was an actual member of this class). The Final Club is written as homage to F. Scott Fitzgerald's This Side of Paradise and The Great Gatsby.
  • Princeton plays a large part in the second half of Stephen Fry's Making History, in which the protagonist, Michael Young, attends Princeton.
  • Mohsin Hamid's The Reluctant Fundamentalist is partly set at Princeton and the characters Changez and Erica are fictional members of the Princeton Class of 2001. (Hamid was an actual member of the Princeton Class of 1993).
  • The book The Rule of Four is set on Princeton's campus and the campus of neighboring Princeton Theological Seminary.[4]
  • In Her Shoes, a novel by Jennifer Weiner '91: Rose Feller is a Princeton grad. Her younger sister Maggie camps out in a Princeton library.
  • Watchmen, a graphic novel created by writer Alan Moore, artist Dave Gibbons, and colorist John Higgins: Dr. Jon Osterman/Doctor Manhattan, born 1929, attended Princeton University from 1948–1958 and graduated with a Ph.D. in atomic physics.
  • Admission, a novel by Jean Hanff Korelitz, is largely set at Princeton and features as its protagonist 38-year-old Portia Nathan, an admissions officer at Princeton University. Korelitz worked as a part-time reader for Princeton's Office of Admission in 2006 and 2007 and is married to Princeton professor Paul Muldoon.
  • Humboldt's Gift (winner of the 1976 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction) features Von Humboldt Fleisher who briefly achieves the position of "Chair in Modern Literature"


  • In A Beautiful Mind, the Academy Award–winning film about the famous mathematician John Forbes Nash, the depiction of Nash's initial days at Princeton were filmed on campus.[4] Although the film is a fictionalized biography of his real life, Nash did receive his doctorate from Princeton and was a Senior Research Mathematician at the university's mathematics department till his death in 2015.
  • The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999) features Matt Damon as Tom Ripley, who pretends to have gone to Princeton, and at one point in the film can be seen wearing a crested Princeton jacket.
  • The movie I.Q., which stars Meg Ryan and Tim Robbins with Walter Matthau as Albert Einstein, takes place in Princeton.[5] The scene in which Tim Robbins' character gives a lecture was filmed in Room 302 of the Palmer Physics Laboratory, which is part of Frist Campus Center.
  • In the film Risky Business, Tom Cruise portrays a high school student whose father wishes him to attend Princeton. Joel Goodeson, Cruise's character, is interviewed by a Princeton alum.[6]
  • Spanglish, a film featuring comedian Adam Sandler, is presented as an essay on a fictional Princeton application. The film was released in 2004.[7]
  • In the movie A Cinderella Story, a major part of the storyline revolves around Chad Michael Murray's and Hilary Duff's characters both aiming to attend Princeton to study writing.
  • Across the Universe's Jude, played by Jim Sturgess, comes to America to find his lost father at the university. He thinks his father is a professor but discovers that he is in fact a janitor. While Jude is searching on campus, he encounters Max, played by Joe Anderson, an actual Princeton student.
  • Bruce Wayne, Christian Bale's character in the film Batman Begins, attends Princeton as an undergraduate. Though he informs butler Alfred Pennyworth that he likes the university "just fine", he drops out and flees to China.
  • In the Coen Brothers' 2008 film Burn After Reading, John Malkovich plays CIA analyst and Princeton class of 1973 graduate Osborne Cox.
  • In the Scott Derrickson 2008 remake of the 1951 film The Day the Earth Stood Still, Jennifer Connelly plays the role of Dr. Helen Benson, a professor of astrobiology at Princeton University.
  • In the movie Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement, the main character, Princess Mia, is referred to as a graduate of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.
  • In Robot and Frank, Frank gets a robot caregiver from his son, due to the onset of memory loss. Toward the end of the movie, he asks his son about Princeton even though the son has long since graduated.
  • In Stay Alive, a 2006 ghost story/computer-gaming cross-genre movie, the lead female character, Abigail, tells her friends that she got into Princeton, but later admits she was lying.
  • In The Happening, a 2008 horror movie by M. Night Shyamalan, one of the scenes takes place on Princeton's campus.
  • She Loves Me Not (1934 film) is a romantic comedy set at Princeton, where Paul Lawton (Bing Crosby) helps cabaret dancer and gangland murder witness Curly Flagg (Miriam Hopkins) hide out on campus disguised as a (male) Princeton student. Much hilarity ensues.
  • Scenes from the 2009 film Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen were filmed at several locations on campus in July and August 2008 as main protagonist Sam Witwicky attends his freshman year at college.
  • In the movie Toy Story 3 it can be inferred, based on the "Go Tigers" pennant in his room and his Princeton shield screensaver that Andy is going to Princeton. (Though the design on the football helmet seems to indicate Clemson University, which also has a tiger mascot)
  • In the film The Fugitive, during the St. Patrick's Day Parade sequence, Harrison Ford is shown giving his jacket to a man wearing a Princeton sweatshirt.
  • The university is one of the destinations of Harold and Kumar, the main characters of Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle.[8] Though the characters visit campus locations filled with undergraduate students, the film was actually filmed in the graduate dormitories.
  • The main character Evelyn Salt (Angelina Jolie) in the 2010 movie Salt graduated from Princeton University.
  • The movie Admission is based on the story of a fictional Princeton admissions officer and is also partially filmed at Princeton University.
  • In the 1979 movie Last Embrace, Ellie Fabian is a doctoral student at Princeton who is secretly murdering descendants of the Zwi Migdal as revenge for the organization having enslaved her grandmother.


  • On Numb3rs, mathematical genius Charlie Eppes attended Princeton at age 13 for his undergraduate.
  • On Doogie Howser, M.D., fictional doctor Douglas Howser graduated from Princeton at age 10.
  • In Weeds, Silas Botwin, the son of the main character, dates Megan, who is accepted to Princeton.
  • The characters of House, M.D. work at the fictional Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital. The outside façade of the fictional hospital are represented by exterior shots of the university's Frist Campus Center. Guyot Hall, home to the EEB and Geosciences departments, is also often visible in the outdoors shots, and so are Fine Hall and the Lewis Library. Four years after the show's first season, fact followed fiction as ground broke on the University Medical Center of Princeton at Plainsboro.[9]
  • In the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Carlton Banks' dream school is Princeton University and he eventually attends the university as the series ends.
  • In Family Ties, "Young Republican" Alex P. Keaton spends the first two seasons of the series preparing to attend Princeton. While visiting for an on-campus interview, Mallory has an emotional crisis. Ultimately, Alex chooses to tend to her rather than complete his interview, thus destroying any possibility of attending Princeton.
  • In The Beverly Hillbillies, Mrs. Drysdale's son Sonny mentions attending Princeton (and Harvard and Yale), and Harvard and Princeton pennants hang on his wall.
  • In The Simpsons, Season 8 Episonde 16 "Brother from Another Series," Sideshow Bob cites as evidence of his brother Cecil's jealousy of Bob's success the years he spent training at 'clown college,' to which Cecil replies "I'll thank you not to refer to Princeton that way."
  • In the primetime drama The West Wing, Sam Seaborn attended Princeton.
  • In the NBC comedy 30 Rock, Jack Donaghy attended Princeton University as an undergraduate. In Season 4, Episode 4, this is used for comedic effect when Jack says, "I don't have bedbugs, Kenneth, I went to Princeton!"
  • In Gossip Girl, Blair Waldorf said that the holy trinity among Ivy Leagues Schools' are Harvard, Princeton and Yale. She later referred to Princeton as a "trade school."
  • In What I Like About You, Henry Gibson attended Princeton.
  • In the season 4 finale of Desperate Housewives, Julie Mayer, Susan's daughter, is accepted to Princeton and prepares to leave home.
  • In Mad Men, Season 3 Episode 3 "My Old Kentucky Home," we learn that Paul Kinsey is a member of Princeton's class of 1955 and sang with the Princeton Tigertones.
  • In 30 Rock, Season 4 Episode 3 (Series No. 61) "Stone Mountain," Tracy sees Kenneth carrying a box of Halloween decorations and says "Orange and Black decorations? Is this Halloween, or Princeton Parents' Weekend? I don't know whether to be scared ... or proud of my cousin?"
  • On The Cosby Show, Sondra, the eldest daughter, attended Princeton.
  • In Gilmore Girls, Paris Geller's first boyfriend Jamie is a Princeton student.
  • In A Cinderella Story, with Chad Micheal Murray, and Hilary Duff, Sam (Duff), and Austin (Murray) both dream of Princeton. End up both attending Princeton in the end of the story.
  • In the show Everwood, Amy attends Princeton after deferring her first semester.
  • In the show The Big Bang Theory, Leonard Hofstadter attended Princeton.
  • In the show Boardwalk Empire, Jimmy Darmody attended Princeton before serving in the military during WWI.
  • In the ABC drama Scandal, Olivia Pope attended Princeton University, graduating with a degree in Politics.