Attorney Mitch Martin (Luke Wilson) breaks up with his girlfriend (Juliette Lewis) when he accidentally discovers that she takes part in orgies. Mitch encounters his high school crush, Nicole (Ellen Pompeo), at the wedding of his friend Frank (Will Ferrell) and makes an awkward impression. Later, he finds a house located near the campus of the fictional Harrison University in Upstate New York.
Mitch's other friend Bernard (Vince Vaughn) throws a party at Mitch's house, dubbed Mitch-A-Palooza, which is a huge success. Frank gets drunk at the party and is seen streaking by his wife, putting a strain on their new marriage. The trio run into an old acquaintance whom they used to ridicule at school: Gordon Pritchard (Jeremy Piven), who is now the college dean. He informs them that they must vacate because Mitch's house has been designated exclusively for campus housing. Bernard proposes starting a fraternity that is open to anyone to meet the dean's criteria of campus housing. The new fraternity carries out several hazing events throughout campus, attracting the attention of the dean and other members of the faculty.
Nicole brings her boyfriend Mark to the party for one of Bernard's children and Mitch walks in on him in the bathroom while he was hooking up with a girl from the catering firm. While initially discreet, Mitch is forced to recount the entire incident to Nicole when Mark tries to lie that the girl was with Mitch instead of himself. The oldest fraternity member, Blue, has a heart attack, collapses, and dies during a "KY lube wrestling" match with two good-looking college girls at his birthday celebration. At Blue's funeral, Frank's wife says she wants a divorce, forcing Frank to live with Mitch.
Plotting revenge against the group, Dean Pritchard tries to get the student council president, Megan Huang, to revoke the fraternity's charter. Megan, who met her boyfriend at one of their parties, initially remains loyal to the fraternity until the dean bribes her with promises to help her get into Columbia Law School. By video, he claims that the group is violating university policies, subjecting the students in the non-sanctioned fraternity to expulsion. Mitch finds out that the group has the right to bypass the dean's ruling if all of their members complete activities that include academic tests, public debates and athletics to prove their legitimacy.
Frank is able to defeat James Carville in a debate over the government's role in biotechnology. Next, the fraternity successfully navigates its way through a difficult academic exam largely due to the assistance of two of Mitch's co-workers, who help the guys cheat. In the school spirit evaluation, the fraternity loses points when Frank unsuccessfully attempts to jump through a ring of fire while dressed as the school mascot. Badly burned and humiliated, Frank rallies to give a strong performance in the floor exercise routine of the gymnastics competition. Bernard manages to complete the rings routine, leaving only the vault exercise remaining. Pritchard chooses Weensie, an obese member of the fraternity, to perform the vault. Amazingly, Weensie executes a perfect landing, allowing the fraternity to pass gymnastics.
The men are able to complete all of the activities successfully with an 84% average. However, Pritchard tells them that their average has dropped to a failing 58% after accounting for the absence of the deceased member Blue. While the students are in despair, Megan arrives with tape recorded evidence of the dean's bribery. After a chase, Frank obtains the tape and uses it to get the dean fired. The fraternity's charter is reinstated and the fraternity moves into Dean Pritchard's old house.
Nicole visits Mitch, intent on moving their relationship forward. Despite Bernard and Mitch withdrawing from the fraternity, Frank maintains his ties as leader. In the closing credits, Mark's car falls on top of Pritchard and explodes, killing both, and Frank hooks up with Mitch's ex-girlfriend.
The film was filmed in and around La Crescenta, California. Filming locations included Palisades High School, UCLA, USC and Harvard University. The film is considered a forerunner to the Frat Pack since three of its stars are core members of that group.
The film received mixed to positive reviews. The review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reported that 60% of critics gave the film a positive review based on a sample of 160 reviews, with an average score of 5.6/10; the consensus stated "While not consistently funny, the movie does have its moments." At the website Metacritic, which utilizes a normalized rating system, the film earned a rating of 54/100 based on 32 reviews by mainstream critics.
The film grossed $17,453,216 in 2,689 theaters in its first opening weekend at the U.S. Box office, opening at #2 behind Daredevil which was on its second week at the top spot. Old School has had gross receipts of $75,585,093 in the U.S. and Canada and $11,470,256 in international markets for a total of $87,055,349 worldwide.In 2003, Artios Awards nominated Old School for best casting for feature film.
In 2003, The MTV Movie Award Nominated Old School for Best Comedic Performance (for Will Ferrell, losing to Jack Black for School of Rock) and Best On-Screen Team.
In 2004, Taurus Award nominated Old School for Best Fire Stunt.
in 2012, Spike Guys' Choice Awards Guy Movie Hall of Fame: Old School
At the Mitch-a-palooza party, Snoop Dogg and Kokane perform "Paper'd Up", sampling Eric B & Rakim's track "Paid in Full". The soundtrack also included "Fun Night" by Andrew W.K., "Dust in the Wind" by Kansas, "Hungry Like the Wolf", "Farmer in the Dell", "Gonna Make You Sweat", "Louie Louie", "Chariots of Fire", "Good Lovin' Gone Bad", "Master of Puppets" by Metallica, "Playground in My Mind" by Clint Holmes and "The Sound of Silence" by Simon & Garfunkel. The main song in this movie is "Here I Go Again" by Whitesnake, which is played when Will Ferrell's character is fixing his car and in the closing credits. Also, The Dan Band sings one of the famous songs of Bonnie Tyler, "Total Eclipse of the Heart" (with some interesting improvisational departures as to the cover's lyrics), and Styx's "Lady". During the introductory sequence Ryan Adams' "To Be Young (Is to Be Sad, Is to Be High)", co-written with David Rawlings, can be heard most memorably during the metal detector scene.
In 2006, a sequel, titled Old School Dos, was written by Scot Armstrong but was turned down by original stars, Will Ferrell and Vince Vaughn. The story concerned the aging fraternity going to Spring Break. While promoting Semi-Pro in 2008, Ferrell had this to say about the defunct project: “I read [the script]. Some super funny set pieces, but I don’t know. I think Vince [Vaughn] had the same reaction. We’re just kind of doing the same thing again. It was like us going to Spring Break, but we’ve got to find this guy who’s the head of a fraternity. Once again, funny things but it’s just us once again back in a fraternity setting. It just felt like it was repeating. But watch, I’m over-thinking it.”