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Lights, Camera, Penn State: Our Favorite PSU Movie References

Penn State is a massive school, so it makes sense that dear old state wiggles itself into a few headlines here and there. Whether Penn State is receiving news coverage for the glorious philanthropy that is THON, or an unexpected clown riot on a Monday night — one could say our student body is an eclectic cast of characters.

Sure we can make the news sometimes, but let’s not forget the Hollywood limelight. Though a subtle name drop in an episode of Grey’s Anatomy may seem low-key, a Penn State reference or campus shot doesn’t just happen. The Penn State Film Office approves and reviews requests from filmmakers and studios, working hard to maintain the university’s high profile in movies and popular culture.

From the most minor reference of Penn State football in the Rugrats, to playing a huge role in Perks of Being a Wallflower, here are just a few of our favorite times that blue and white took to the red carpet.


Perks of Being a Wallflower 

Author and director Stephen Chbosky, reveals his obvious fondness for Dear Old State in his masterpiece The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Chbosky was a guest speaker for SPA’s Distinguished Speaker Series last year, where he spoke upon his novel and experiences adapting his work into a major film.

The book is chock full of Penn State references — and specific ones, at that. Emma Watson’s character Sam has her heart set on going Penn State (Which she ultimately does. Woo!) while the main protagonist Charlie, played by Logan Lerman, has an older brother who plays football for the Lions. Other memorable Penn State mentions include The Creamery, The Diner, and Sam gushing to Charlie about how he just has to try grilled stickies when he visits.

 Ph: John Bramley © 2011 Summit Entertainment, LLC. All rights reserved.


In the film Rudy, Penn State is depicted on the scoreboard in a fictionalized football game against Notre Dame. Though in reality Notre Dame was playing Georgia Tech, we’ll happily accept the reference. Also, Rudy was offsides.

RUDY, Sean Astin (center), 1993, ©TriStar Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection

Grey’s Anatomy

Penn State is mentioned in the ever-so-popular medical drama series Grey’s Anatomy.



The media loves alluding to Penn State football. The episode “Turtle Recall” of The Rugrats alludes to a Penn State and Notre Dame football game. Stu notices the game on TV, stops what he’s doing, and excitedly announces, “Hey! Is that the Penn State and Notre Dame game?!”

rugrats football

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl 

Another beloved coming-of-age flick, Me Earl and the Dying Girl is a high school comedy drama. The main character Greg Gaines, a lanky, awkward, and angsty teenaged boy, receive an acceptance to Penn State as the film progresses. Though the film is set in Pittsburgh, we’re happy to see the directors selected Penn State over Pitt.


Food Paradise: Ice Cream Paradise

The Travel Channel’s show Food Paradise takes an in-depth look into the Berkey Creamery. Interviews with Creamery manager Tom Palchak and associate professor of food science, Bob Roberts, are featured, as well as student Creamery employees.


Boy Meets World 

In this classic Disney sitcom, protagonist Cory Matthews and Topenga Lawrence engage in a discussion about college. Topengas’ declares her school of choice is Penn State. As for Cory? The same, of course.



Paranormal State 

A handful of episodes of A&E’s Paranormal State were filmed at University Park. Airing in 2007, this reality show followed the Penn State’s Paranormal Research Society as they investigated mysterious and haunting events around State College. First this, then Monica The Medium — who knew this campus was so spooky? (hint: we did.)



Because the 2010 block buster featuring Denzel Washington was filmed in western Pennsylvania, the film crew worked closely with the professors in the College of Communications. Students were offered ample opportunity to help work with the film, many interning as production assistants. Though no direct Penn State reference, having so many Penn Staters work on such a sensational production really highlights our excellent connections that permeate the entertainment industry.


With all these shows and movies that allude to Penn State, you think the university would be asking for some dough in return. That’s not the case. While some schools in California, for example, charge producers and studios to film on their campuses, Penn State does not. “We find it invaluable to keep Penn State in the national media,” said Clair Poletti, manager of the Penn State Film Office. “The value is the opportunity to have alumni and friends of Penn State see the university in that way. It’s also beneficial for the students and area businesses if anything is filmed in the area.”

Though it may see we’re in a big bubble of school spirit in the middle of nowhere, our university has clearly made it to the big screen multiple times, and hopefully with many more to come.

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About the Author

Carolyn Popescu

Current senior studying Advertising and Visual Arts, Carolyn has a passion for entertainment and music. She also loves photography, film, graphic design, social media, and all things in between. She's the current Sony Music Marketing Representative for State College, so be sure to reach out to her with any local music scene questions, ideas, proposals, or if you just need someone to geek out about music with.

(Contact her through [email protected] or [email protected])

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