The Top 25 American Film Schools

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As cultural, social and technological change rock the entertainment industry, these top colleges and universities — from USC to AFI — are training the next generation of cinematic geniuses.

Illustration by Simone Massoni

Over the past couple of years, film schools have been gearing up, building VR labs and greenscreen studios and stocking up on 3D stereoscopic cameras. All that technology, though, only makes a difficult decision — where to go to film school — more challenging. When it comes to mastering the cinematic arts, is it better to shoot on 
a 360-degree 3D camera? Or can more be learned from an antique 35mm? Fortunately, THR‘s annual Top 25 Film Schools list can help. The magazine consulted with educators, industry professionals and alumni and ranked the best of the best based on not just how much tech they have but also the quality of their faculty and facilities, their reputations in the industry and the achievements of their graduates.


“Hollywood Needs Us”: A Year in the Trenches at America’s Top Film School | USC

Profiles by Borys Kit, Pamela McClintock, Rebecca Sun, Joelle Goldstein, Mia Galuppo, Tatiana Siegel and Brian Porreca.

USC School of Cinematic Arts

USC has been churning out great filmmakers since Douglas Fairbanks, Darryl Zanuck and Irving Thalberg were teaching classes there. From James Ivory (’57) to Robert Zemeckis (’73) to Doug Liman
(’92) and up to Ryan Coogler (’11) — they all learned how to point 
a camera on this Exposition Park campus. For Ride Along director Tim Story (’91), that history was one of the school’s big selling points. “It was my admiration for George Lucas,” he explains why he applied, referring to class of 1969’s most famous pupil (also most generous; Lucas donated another $10 million last year). “That it was 20 minutes away from
where I [grew up] didn’t hurt either.” This year, the school got 
a new animation director — Teresa Cheng, who’s worked at Warner Bros., DreamWorks and Lucasfilm — and teamed with the State Department to launch the Middle East Media Initiative to support collaborations with filmmakers in Saudi Arabia (which just lifted a 35-year ban on movie theaters). But of all the things USC has going for it — including its master classes (Lisa Kudrow taught one on comedy this year), its state-of-the-art VR Lab and its program for video game designers — the thing that keeps this school on the very top of this list, for the sixth year in a row, is its world-class faculty. Says Planet of the Apes scribe Amanda Silver (’89), “There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t refer back to what I learned with those teachers.”

Tuition $55,320 (undergrad); $33,981 to $44,837 (grad) per year

Alumni John Singleton, Shonda Rhimes