Screen scrimmage: Famous scenes shot at Stanford and Berkeley

Nov. 16, 2023, 10:06 p.m.

About an hour and 15 minutes into “High School Musical 3,” Gabriella Montez (Vanessa Hudgens) steps into an arcade near Main Quad’s East Gateway, smiles in the courtyard behind Wallenberg Hall and bikes past the Papua New Guinea garden. 

Beyond “High School Musical,” Stanford and UC Berkeley’s campuses have been settings for some iconic films and TV shows. How do the scenes shot on each campus compare? In this article, I will walk you through some notable movies and TV shows that show snippets of our and our rival’s university grounds. 

Scenes shot on Stanford campus

“High School Musical 3” (2008)

To many, Stanford realized its claim to fame in film through Gabriella’s campus strolls. Despite filming being restricted by Stanford administrators, the University made a special exception for “HSM 3” to shoot on campus because the storyline reflected the message about accessibility that the University wants to convey.

Although “High School Musical 2” is my favorite of the franchise for its catty plot and catchy songs (how could anything ever top “Bet On It” or “Work This Out”), “HSM 3” is also unforgettable due to its Stanford setting. Briefly seeing the Product Realization Lab in the background struck a personal chord with me. Gabriella’s story is inspiring, showing students from diverse backgrounds that they, too, could pursue an education at Stanford. 

“The Internship” (2013)

Two tech-unsavvy salesmen (Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson) end up at Google internships after losing their jobs. In one scene, they try to seek help from fictional Stanford Professor Charles Xavier, who aggressively rebuffs their pleas for help in the arcades of Main Quad. Only a Stanford student will notice the inconsistencies in the scene’s varying backgrounds. 

“The Internship” truly is an oddball film, with humor that really hits home for all of us seeking those coveted big tech internships. I was charmed by the chemistry between Vaughn and Wilson; the duo gives off a chaotic yet “bromantic” energy similar to that between Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill in the “Jump Street” movies. 

“Flubber” (1997)

“Flubber” was the last film whose crew was permitted to film on campus before “HSM 3.” In the movie, mad scientist Philip Brainard (Robin Williams) invents a bouncy, blubbery substance in his efforts to develop a new energy source. Given the substance’s elastic properties, Brainard lends it to his university’s struggling basketball team, who wins a game with their newly bestowed springiness. Although the basketball game was filmed at a set on Treasure Island, a scene showing Brainard and others outside the stadium seems to have been taken at Maples Pavilion.

“Bill Nye the Science Guy”

Every episode of “Bill Nye” was constructed using a series of short segments, such as ones featuring scientists discussing their research. In the episode “Pollution Solutions,” former Stanford professor Chris Somerville spoke about his research with biodegradable plant-based plastics. Somerville and others discovered that they could genetically engineer Arabidopsis, the thale cress plant, to produce granules of polyhydroxybutyrate, a polyester used for biodegradable plastic containers. Interestingly enough, Somerville is now a professor emeritus at Berkeley


The cult classic TV show filmed multiple scenes at Stanford. In an episode about driving with hands-free devices, the MythBusters ran an (uncontrolled) experiment with the driving simulator at Stanford’s Volkswagen Automotive Innovation Lab. The MythBusters also swung by campus to use a mass spectrometer in an episode about germs. One final episode sees the Mythbusters recruiting student-athletes from the men’s rowing team to see whether “row-skiing” — having a boat of eight rowers pull a skier across water — would be feasible. Indeed, it was. The MythBusters never fail to test some outlandish idea, and their experiments at Stanford make the show even more endearing to me.

Scenes shot on Berkeley campus

“Oppenheimer” (2023)

One of the summer’s blockbusters, “Oppenheimer,” is based on the life of physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, who was a professor at Berkeley before starting the Manhattan Project. The movie shows Oppenheimer walking across Edwards Field, through the Faculty Glade and into Sather Tower. Although the movie was critically acclaimed, I must note that I found the scene in which Oppenheimer utters lines of the “Bhagavad Gita” during intercourse to be deeply disrespectful. 

“Ant-Man and the Wasp” (2018)

When I watched this movie with my mom and brother, we were shocked when everyone turned to dust after sending Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) deep into the Quantum Realm. What a great cliffhanger. Some time earlier, Ant-Man and his colleague Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) look for Pym’s lab. They head to Pym’s former partner Bill Foster’s space at UC Berkeley, passing through Cal’s famous Sather Gate, a scene in which Rudd looks as ageless as ever.

“The Graduate” (1967)

This film tells the volatile story of a recent college graduate who is having dalliances with both a mother, Mrs. Robinson, and her daughter Elaine, a Berkeley student. Benjamin goes to Berkeley to try to reconcile with the daughter after she learns of his two-timing, where eventually Mr. Robinson arrives to give Benjamin a piece of his mind. Some scenes display parts of Berkeley, like the Theta Delta Chi House and Sproul Plaza. 

“Hulk” (2003)

Some scenes of “Hulk” were shot at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), which is presided over by the UC system. Protagonist Bruce Banner receives a hit of gamma radiation from the Gammasphere in the Berkeley Lab. Eventually, he wreaks great destruction across this lab. 

“Ocean’s Eleven” (2001)

The “Ocean’s” series has always been one of my favorites, mostly because of the characters’ infallible propensity to scheme and scam. They always manage to steal millions of dollars but somehow spin their heists as ethical behavior, which is the best part. I was intrigued to learn that the first film of the series had a scene taken outside the Berkeley Lab, from which the team steals the “pinch,” a device ostensibly capable of taking down a city’s power grid.

Stanford vs. Berkeley: The verdict

From this selection, it seems that Berkeley’s scenes are associated with darker themes like war, destruction and betrayal, while Stanford’s feature new beginnings, comedy and wacky experiments. As a Stanford student, I find the clips at Stanford to be particularly resonant, having walked through some of these locations innumerable times and made irreplaceable memories.

Editor’s Note: This article is a review and includes subjective thoughts, opinions and critiques.

Contact Sarayu at smpai918 ‘at’

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