50 years of movies featuring the University of Washington campus

When the major motion picture, “The Boys in the Boat,” hits screens in December and January, audiences around the world will be treated to a view into the University of Washington. The story focuses on the 1936 UW rowing team who overcame the odds and, thanks to their training, teamwork and gumption, triumphed at the Olympics in Berlin at the dawn of World War II. Early parts of the film represent the UW campus.

But this isn’t the first time the University of Washington has come to the silver screen. Our university has a long history of being celebrated in movies—from thrillers and ghost stories to coming-of-age tales. Here are some of the better-known films where the UW is either a central or supporting character.

One man standing with sunglasses on, another sits on a bicycle, both smiling in front of a large fountain on the UW campus.

Sydney Pollack and Sidney Poitier on the UW campus in 1965. Courtesy of Paramount Pictures.

The Slender Thread

This Sydney Poitier vehicle from 1965 highlights the actor as a college student and crisis line volunteer. He is called by a woman, played by Anne Bancroft, who has taken a lethal dose of barbiturates. A desperate search ensues. Scenes include Poitier riding his bike across the grass-covered plaza that would later become Red Square. Bonus fact: the score was created by Quincy Jones, a Seattle native.

Two men walk through shadows on a college campus

A still from “The Changeling” shows Red Square decades ago.

The Changeling

In this horror/thriller, George C. Scott stars as a University of Washington music professor who moves into a haunted Seattle mansion. The 1980 picture has scenes of Red Square and a few other campus locations.


A teen-aged hacker, played by Matthew Broderick, stumbles into a nuclear war simulation and triggers a global emergency. The 1985 movie is set in Seattle, though it was mostly filmed in California. Still, in one scene, Broderick walks past the Glenn Hughes Penthouse Theater.

Black Widow

In this 1987 thriller, an FBI agent played by Deborah Winger, tracks a serial killer to Seattle. The woman she suspects has been killing her wealthy husbands comes to the UW in pursuit of an affluent curator and collector connected with the Burke Museum. One scene was filmed in the old Burke’s conference room with the stained-glass Tiffany window as a backdrop.

Behind-the-scenes photos from UW Athletics taken during the 1996 filming of “Prefontaine.” Extras were told to wear 1972 fashions.


Jared Leto stars as famed runner Steve Prefontaine in this 1997 biopic. While much of the filming took place at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Husky Stadium stands in as the 1972 Olympic Stadium in Munich.


Also known as “Death by Pizza,” the 1998 crime comedy features a college dropout who, while delivering pizza, stumbles into the scene of a murder. He soon becomes the prime suspect.

Judas Kiss

This indie film from 1998 tells the story a filmmaker who has a chance to reshape his destiny by returning to his alma mater. The UW campus stands in as a fictional university. Scenes include the Quad and Guggenheim Hall’s auditorium.

Viewers of “21 and Over” might notice the medical center featured in the film is actually Lewis Hall on the UW campus.

21 and Over

The 2013 comedy by the writers of “The Hangover” captures the antics of a promising college student who overindulges on his birthday, the night before his med school admissions interview. A feast of campus scenes include the Quad, the Ave, the Burke Gilman Trail and the climbing rock near Husky Stadium.