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Top 10 Movies For Fans Of the Dark Academia Aesthetic

The advent of “dark academia” is by no means recent in the media. Distinctly sophisticated and holding major subtest, the aesthetic has captivated corners of Tumblr posts and lingered in cinema for decades now. The imagery here is of ivory towers and scholars buried deep in their passions. Whether it is philosophy, poetry, ancient languages, or mythos, you’ll find the characters often hanging around moss-covered libraries and dreamy landscapes. The movies that capture this aesthetic evoke a sense of mystery and ignite an obsession across creative minds.

The subculture becomes more pronounced on screen when films use certain signifiers like cropped sweater vests, tweed blazers, glasses and ribbons, and tousled natural hair. Naturally, movie makers tend to stay up to date and take notes from trends that captivate audiences. Incorporating the same alluring tones and creating projects that explore this aesthetic leads to good results. In a way, a movie becomes a montage of Tumblr boards as it captures the prestige of quiet learning with the priestly romanticism of days gone past.

10 Dorian Gray (2009)

Momentum Pictures

If you’re a big reader, you’re probably in love with Oscar Wilde’s philosophical piece of work that also becomes the inspiration behind this 2009 movie. Led by Ben Barnes, Dorian Gray is set in an 1850s English manor that houses a boys’ academy.

Our titular character, who harbors a great darkness within himself, makes a Faustian bargain to never age as the lives of her peers continues to change around him. But as academic ambitions shift and Dorian commits one little sin after the other, his stunning portrait takes a sinister life of its own. While Barnes’ haunting performance carries the story around, it is the lavish sets of libraries and rolling countryside that really capture dark academia with perfection. A visual treat for any lover of melancholy and mystery, the movie does justice to its source material.

9 The Goldfinch (2019)

Warner Bros.

Donna Tartt’s coming-of-age novel comes to beautiful life under John Crowley’s careful direction. Centered on a young boy who survives a terrorist bombing at an art museum but loses his mother in the same attack, the movie follows Theodore Decker as he escapes with a priceless work that would come to define his troubled yearning for meaning, connection, and family.

From studying at a prestigious prep school to beyond,The Goldfinch witnesses Theo grapple with loss and use the artifact as a symbol of hope, while turning to a life filled with crime. Ansel Elgort portrays the dark character with thoughtful sincerity and the supporting work from Nicole Kidman and Sarah Paulson deserves praise as well. As for the aesthetic, the echoing galleries and classrooms, as well as the air of yearning, make for an interesting watch.

8 A Beautiful Mind (2001)

A Beautiful Mind crowe connelly
Universal Pictures / DreamWorks Pictures

At a renowned 1950s graduate program, the sheepish and insecure genius, John Nash, perfects his mathematical skills. However, the brainy man, who also went on to become the American Nobel Prize winner for his important notes on game theory, slips into paranoid schizophrenia during the time. Russell Crow and Jennifer Connelly anchor this biopic from the very beginning, when Nash ascends the status of his intelligence.

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All the while, he’s battling a crippling sort of mental illness by staying aloof. His condition only worsens when he accepts a task from William Parcher, played by Ed Harris. While not without darkness, director Ron Howard tries to infuse compassion into the movie. His idea was to celebrate how devoted teachers and academic havens allow a person’s brilliance to cultivate.

7 Kill Your Darlings (2013)

Burroughs talks to Ginsberg and Kerouac on the roof in Kill Your Darlings
Sony Pictures Classics

Loosely adapted from the real life of poet Allen Ginsberg, Kill Your Darlings follows the events that occurred at a prestigious men’s art college back in 1944. Allen had long fostered a liking for a fellow classmate Lucien Carr. But his affections were rivaled by someone who was found dead not soon after.

When suspicions arose, Allen, Lucien, and William Burroughs were accused and arrested for murder. The Bohemian aesthetic gets a sinister twist in this brilliant film directed and co-written by John Krokidas. Set in a time when America was under a buttoned and hushed belief about same-sex relationships, the film makes strong points on freedom and discipline and whether or not they’re related. Daniel Radcliffe delivers a stunning performance as the young poet who is believed to shake art and society.

6 Tolkien (2019)

Nicholas Hoult Tolkien
Fox Searchlight Pictures

The world knows J.R.R. Tolkien has a legendary author. His works, including the classic fantasy novel series like The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, have time and again transported the audience to gorgeous realms. However, before he became the phenomenal creator, he was a young man with a normal, albeit tumultuous life.

As a boy, Tolkien had struggled to find acceptance among fellow orphans. Finding similarity in a bunch of outcasts, he shaped a guild of his own and drew artistic inspiration from them. His passion for ancient languages and myths was fueled by brotherhood and never-ending discussions in lamplit libraries. Amidst it all, was his relationship with Edith Bratt, that suffered greatly when World War broke out. With Nicholas Hoult playing the titular character, Tolkienshines as a study of camaraderie and youthful spirit.

5 The Imitation Game (2014)

Alan Turing and his team deciphering German enigma codes
The Weinstein Company

Perhaps situated at the pinnacle when it comes to portraying the dark academia aesthetic, The Imitation Game is the story of Alan Turing, the man who built the machine that would crack Nazi codes and prevent more of the world from destroying itself. Chronicling the early life of Turing first, the biographical thriller sees him turn into a brilliant cryptanalyst after joining a team of like-minded mathematicians and finally find a way to decipher German codes.

Benedict Cumberbatch is absolutely incredible in depicting the inner turmoil of a genius man. Because while his life was dedicated to solving puzzles and racing against time to shape the digital age, he was also going through his own issues of identity. Keira Knightly adds quiet charm and compassion to a story that celebrates unsung visionaries who pushed the limits and saved the world, often at a personal cost.

4 Good Will Hunting (1997)

Matt Damon and Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting

Robin Williams and Matt Damon shine as the two men who teach the world about self acceptance and the art of letting go. Damon plays Will Hunting, a genius man working an unassuming job as a janitor.

Will has a genius-level intellect and the ability to solve any mathematical problem. But when his life is at crossroads, he finds himself crushed in the face of emotional crises. Will finds solace and guidance in Harvard’s esteemed halls when Dr Sean Maguireto, a psychiatrist, helps him recover. Thanks to the professor, Will confronts personal demons and finds purpose in academics. His arc of self discovery is pushed around with engrossing discussions and touching on heavy topics about prestige. The aesthetic is infused by director Gus Van Sant quite naturally, making Good Will Hunting an inspiring film.

3 The Theory of Everything (2014)

Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything
Focus Features

The man who revolutionized physics with his work on how the universe came into origin and what the black hole meant, Stephen Hawking was a famed physicist. It is only fair that his story is cemented in cinema as well, and James Marsh does an astonishing job in putting it on screen. Unfolding against the backdrop of Cambridge’s tapering buildings and tree-canopied lanes, The Theory of Everything follows Hawking as a young student of astrophysics, drowning in his research and unraveling scientific insights, only to learn that he has motor neurone disease and no more than two years to live.

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Despite a disability that isolated him within the body, Hawking makes meteoric revelations in his field. Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones dedicate themselves to the breathtaking roles. Paired with compassion, the movie is a testament to how inspiring certain lives can be.

2 Maurice (1987)

James Wilby as Maurice
Cinecom Pictures

A semi-autobiographical portrait of the titular character, Maurice first familiarizes us with the manicured lawns of Cambridge. During the pre-WWI Edwardian era, many intellectuals were known to share their curiosities and discuss everything under the stars with such passion it was impossible not to immerse yourself in their words. Set in the same time, the film explores the blossoming affections and tender romance between Maurice Hall and Clive Durham, two men belonging to different social spheres and grappling with their own sexualities.

While peer pressure forces them to create distance, the beautiful novel springs to life on screen under James Ivory’s sublime direction. From schooldays to university, every detail of Maurice’s life is under scrutiny here. James Wilby and Hugh Grant and dreamy men and when their love and knowledge is put out there for an audience to appreciate, what really could go wrong? Sensitive in its depiction, the movie broke all barriers with its representation of queer romance back in the 1980s.

1 Dead Poets Society (1989)

Williams and the cast of Dead Poets Society
Buena Vista Pictures Distribution

John Keating once said, “But only in their dreams can men be truly free. ‘Twas always thus, and always thus will be.” How much truth the statement holds is accurately portrayed in Dead Poets Society, a movie that paired the beloved Robert Williams with a young Ethan Hawke and Robert Sean Leonard.

Filmed in an elite Vermont boarding school during the 1950s, the film centers around a maverick teacher who dares to shake the conformist roots of the boys’ education and encourages them to break free, dream, and seize the day. He awakens a suppressed creativity in his students, inspiring new kid Todd Anderson to be more confident, and Neil to pursue his dream of doing theater against the wishes of his parents. Using classic verse and secret poetic society meetings, these young minds find their purpose. A modern classic by all means, the film features archways and queer subtext that makes it a treat for fans of dark academia.

This story originally appeared on Movieweb

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