One of the most popular trends in the art world nowadays is the dark academia subculture, even though it has been years since it has been one of the most beloved topics in literature or movies, and TV shows. From Peter Weir’s melancholic Dead Poets Society and Donna Tartt’s magnificent Goldfinch or The Secret History to Tim Burton’s vision of Family Addams’ Wednesday, it is an intriguing subculture whose interests include ancient and classic literature. Mostly set at a university or connected with some sort of higher education, Dark Academia is a pretty newly invented term that goes way back in art history, and in this list, we have included the 10 best Dark Academia movies and TV shows of all time.
Dead Poets Society (1989)
What it’s about: Todd Anderson is a shy boy sent to a private school where he befriends his roommate, popular and friendly Neil Perry. Todd, Neil, and their other friends meet Keating who tells them about the Dead Poets Society and encourages them to join it. Each of them will have their own experience there and will be changed for life.
Why you should watch it: A private school. English lessons and details about various poets and writers make it one of the best representatives of dark academia. It is a dark, serious, and heartbreaking story about people’s formative years that often greatly depend on their environment and the way others behave with and around them.
Kill Your Darlings (2009)
What it’s about: This drama is based on true events about Allen Ginsberg and his educational days in 1944 as an English major at Columbia University. Ginsberg was disappointed with the orthodox studies of his college and became friends with a more open-minded group of students, like Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs. They began to explore new ideas that would eventually lead them to become founders of the Beat Generation.
Why you would watch it: Whether you are a literature fan and want to know more about Ginsberg and his colleagues or you are simply interested in this part of literary history, this drama is a great introduction to their lives in general. It is a true representative of the dark academia subculture.
What it’s about: This is a biographical drama about the formative years of one of the most famous authors of all time, J.R.R. Tolkien. It explores his personal life and the way he perceived friendship, love, and relationships. It studies his bond with a fellow group of outcasts at school and his feelings when World War I threatened to tear the group down.
Why you should watch it: This movie is a great way to get to know Tolkien and find out more about his inspiration for writing The Lord of the Rings. You won’t learn everything you would in a book about him but this is a nice way to gain a somewhat different perspective.
What it’s about: This romantic drama follows two English male friends who fall in love at Cambridge. Clive, even though madly in love with Maurice, decides to marry and maintain his place in society. But Maurice stays by his side and alone in his sadness, finds solace in the arms of Alec, the gamekeeper.
Why you should watch it: Brilliant directing by James Ivory, and excellent performances by Hugh Grant, Rupert Graves, Helena Bonham Carter, and James Wilby account for a wonderful experience while watching this emotional movie that depicts all the issues that someone who is different than the majority has to go through.
School Ties (1992)
What it’s about: It is the 1950s and David Greene, an excellent footballer is sent to a prestigious school to help its football team against their old rivals. But David is not from this world, coming from a working-class background and being a Jew. David is outgoing, friendly, and makes friends easily, but has to hide this side of his out of fear of being rejected.
Why you should watch it: This movie gives us a great look into the differences between students in prep schools and the ways they have to adapt to the environment, especially if coming from different backgrounds. Some of its motives perfectly represent the dark academia subculture and it is one of the earliest titles connected to it.
Wednesday (2022 – )
What it’s about: The story centers on Wednesday’s teen days during her first year at Nevermore Academy where she was sent after a terrible accident she caused in her old school. We follow her adaptation to the school her parent went and while getting to know her and her peculiar fellow students, we are drawn into an intriguing series of murders that are connected with Wednesday and her ancestors.
Why you should watch it: One of the most popular dark academia titles in the past few months is definitely this fantasy series. If you are a Tim Burton fan, you shouldn’t wait long before you see it. It is dark, unusual, and original, with Jenna Ortega who rocked as Wednesday. It is witty and clever, with an interesting storyline and unique characters, full of secrets, and it has this dark academia vibes all over it.
The Riot Club (2014)
What it’s about: Miles and Alistair start their first year at Oxford University and despite being completely different, they both become members of the Riot Club, an elite drinking club that believes that money is the most important thing in the world. Their beliefs and convictions are so crooked that they are convinced that they can do whatever they want, nevertheless the consequences. A night in the function room of a country club will show what all of them are capable of.
Why you should watch it: Excellent cast full of great young British actors is the first reason you should watch this movie. The other ones are its interesting story and the overall message behind it and the fact that this might be going on in different universities around the world where young privileged students think everything revolves around them.
A Discovery of Witches (2018 – 2022)
What it’s about: This is a very well-made book adaptation, written by Deborah Harkness. It tells the story of Diana Bishop, a historian, and a witch, responsible for solving the mystery of Ashmole 782, the most important writing by Elias Ashmole. She is offered help from the charming and secretive Matthew Clairmont who happens to be a vampire which makes everything pretty complicated since witches should never trust vampires.
Why you should watch it: This is a slow-paced mystery drama full of dark academia motives and details. It is dark and mysterious, it takes place at a university, often dealing with various literature and intriguing book titles and its overall atmosphere makes it one of the best representatives of this subculture.
The Skulls (2000)
What it’s about: Luke McNamara is a college senior from a working class who becomes a member of an elite secret society, a fraternity organization called “The Skulls” which he believes will help him get into Harvard Law School. At first, he is seduced by the club’s power and wealth, but after his best friend’s suicide and a series of weird accidents, he begins to believe there is much more behind the perfect secret society facade.
Why you should watch it: This is an adrenaline-packed thriller drama that won’t let you rest until its very end. It is intense, and interesting, with a great performance by Joshua Jackson and Paul Walker. It is said that it was loosely based on a secret organization at Yale that George Bush belonged to. It gives us an insight into secrets and all the legal and illegal activities that happen inside these societies.
Cruel Intentions (1999)
What it’s about: Kathryn and Sebastian are manipulative step-siblings, bored and always getting what they want. Their new project is Annette, the daughter of the headmaster of their school. Kathryn makes a bet with Sebastian to seduce her and sleep with her, changing her decision of waiting until she gets married. At first, everything seems to go perfectly well, until Sebastian starts to develop feelings for this sweet girl.
Why you should watch it: High society, an academic world that hides all sorts of mysteries and secrets makes this excellent dark romantic drama a perfect choice for everyone who wants to be introduced to some aspects of the dark academia subculture. What mostly resembles the dark academia features and mood here is the fantastic soundtrack that consists of soothing, calm songs.