Ten More of the Best Films About the Business World

The International Movie Data Base (IMDb) is probably the best single source for information about films and television programs. The links provided in this post are to IMD.

In my opinion, these are ten more of the best films from which to learn valuable lessons about the business world, listed in the order in which they were first released.

Spartacus (1960): Some of the best films focus on an insurrection of one kind or another. In this instance, a slave revolt is led by Spartacus (Kirk Douglas) whose objective is not to conquer the Roman empire; rather, to lead his followers to freedom. For me, the most important business lesson is suggested near the end of the film when the victorious Roman general Crassus (Laurence Olivier) offers to spare the slaves their lives if they identify Spartacus, dead or alive. Otherwise, all will be crucified. One by one, the slaves stand up announcing “I am Spartacus!” The most successful companies are those in which each employee thinks, feels, and behaves as if they are the company.

godfather-1The Godfather (1972): Based on a bestselling novel by Mario Puzo, this is the first in a trilogy of films about a family involved in both legal and illegal business. Literally, it is “kill or be killed” and there are dozens of dos and don’ts for executives to keep in mind, including advice from Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando): “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” Another notable quote from Calo: “In Sicily, women are more dangerous than shotguns.”

Norma Rae (1979): Sally Field won an Oscar playing a young single mother and textile worker who agrees to help unionize her mill despite the problems and dangers involved. Many films portray hostilities between labor and management but few humanize the conflicts as well as this one does. Notable quote from a union organizer, Reuben Warshowsky (Ron Leibman): “I know the first time you’re in is bad. It comes with the job. I saw a pregnant woman on a picket line get hit in the stomach with a club. I saw a boy of 16 shot in the back. I saw a guy blown to hell and back when he tried to start his car in the morning. You just got your feet wet on this one.”

Trading Places (1983): There are hilarious moments in this film, to be sure, but also several revealing moments when class differences and their implications create avoidable tensions and conflict. Briefly, Louis Winthorpe III (Dan Ackroyd) is a businessman who works for commodities brokerage firm of Duke and Duke owned by the brothers Mortimer (Don Ameche) and Randolph (Ralph Bellamy) Duke. The brothers bicker over the most trivial of matters and what they are bickering about now is whether or not a person’s environment or heredity that determines how well they will do in life. They wager a substantial sum and eventually both lose after Louis trades places with Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy), a street hustler. Notable quote:

Billy Ray Valentine: [watches Louis clean his shotgun] You know, you can’t just go around and shoot people in the kneecaps with a double-barreled shotgun ’cause you pissed at ’em
Louis Winthorpe III: Why not?
Billy Ray Valentine: ‘Cause it’s called assault with a deadly weapon, you get 20 years for that shit.
Louis Winthorpe III: Listen, do you have any better ideas?
Billy Ray Valentine: Yeah. You know, it occurs to me that the best way you hurt rich people is by turning them into poor people.

working-1Working Girl (1988): One of the wittiest films directed by Mike Nichols, co-starring Melanie Griffith and Harrison Ford. Basically, what we have is an honest girl with good business ideas, the best of which is stolen from her by her boss, Katherine Parker (Sigourney Weaver). The situation is complicated by the fact that Tess (Griffith) pretends to be her boss, deceiving all other parties involved. I think the key message is that professional ambition and personal integrity should be — and sometimes are — interdependent rather than mutually-exclusive. Notable quote:

Tess McGill: [to Katherine] Look, you, maybe you’ve got everyone around here fooled with this saint act you have going, but do not ever speak to me again like we don’t know what really happened, you got me?
Katherine Parker: Tess, this is business. Let’s just bury the hatchet, okay?
Tess McGill: You know where you can bury your hatchet? Now get your bony ass outta my sight!

The Insider (1999): More often than not, whistleblowers are punished rather than rewarded for calling attention to a situation that is bad and could become much worse if ignored. A research chemist, Jeffrey Wigand (Russell Crowe), finds himself under personal and professional attack when he decides to appear in a “60 Minutes” expose on Big Tobacco. Its producer Lowell Bergman (Al Pacino) sniffs had correctly senses that the former research biologist for Brown & Williamson had a story to tell and applied great pressure on him to tell it. When the company leans hard on Wigand to honor a confidentiality agreement, he gets his back up. Trusting Bergman and despite a crumbling marriage, he goes on camera for a Mike Wallace interview and risks arrest for contempt of court. Notable quote:

Mike Wallace: I’m not talking celebrity, vanity, CBS. I’m talking about when you’re nearer the end of your life than the beginning. Now, what do you think you think about then? The future? In the future I’m going to do this? Become that? What future? No. What you think is “How will I be regarded in the end?” After I’m gone. Now, along the way I suppose I made some minor impact. I did Iran-Gate and the Ayatollah, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Saddam, Sadat, etcetera, etcetera. I showed them thieves in suits. I’ve spent a lifetime building all that. But history only remembers most what you did last. And should that be fronting a segment that allowed a tobacco giant to crash this network? Does it give someone at my time of life pause? Yeah.

Boiler Room (2000): This film focuses a familiar situation: A highly ambitious young person becomes involved in a business culture within which financial success and personal integrity are (r at least seem) mutually exclusive. Seth Davis (Giovanni Ribisi) is a college dropout running an illegal casino from his rented apartment. Driven by his domineering fathers disapproval at his illegitimate existence and his desire for serious wealth, Seth suddenly finds himself seduced by the opportunity to interview as a trainee stock broker from recent acquaintance Greg (Nicky Katt). Walking into the offices of JT Marlin, a small time brokerage firm on the outskirts of New York – Seth gets an aggressive cameo performance from Jim Young (Ben Affleck) that sets the tone for a firm clearly placing money above all else. Notable quote:

Jim Young: And there is no such thing as a no sale call. A sale is made on every call you make. Either you sell the client some stock or he sells you a reason he can’t. Either way a sale is made, the only question is, who is gonna close? You or him? Now be relentless, that’s it, I’m done.

remember-1Remember the Titans (2000): There are lots of excellent films about the sports world (e.g. Brian’s Song, Rudy, Hoosiers, Seabiscuit) but none, in my opinion, that offers better lessons about leadership under severe stress, managing major cultural differences, and forging the kind of unity and loyalty to a common cause than this film and aforementioned Spartacus do. Roughly based on a true story, two high schools and their athletic teams in Alexandria, Virginia, are consolidated. Herman Boone (Denzel Washington) is the varsity football coach of what had been a predominantly black school; his counterpart, Bill Yoast (Will Patton), at what had been a predominantly white school and his staff now report to Coach Boone. What we have here is a socioeconomic mine field through which everyone proceeds fearfully. Notable quote:

Coach Boone: “This is where they fought the battle of Gettysburg. Fifty thousand men died right here on this field, fighting the same fight that we are still fighting among ourselves today. This green field right here, painted red, bubblin’ with the blood of young boys. Smoke and hot lead pouring right through their bodies. Listen to their souls, men. I killed my brother with malice in my heart. Hatred destroyed my family. You listen, and you take a lesson from the dead. If we don’t come together right now on this hallowed ground, we too will be destroyed, just like they were. I don’t care if you like each other of not, but you will respect each other. And maybe… I don’t know, maybe we’ll learn to play this game like men.”

The Social Network (2010): Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) creates the social networking site that would become known as Facebook, but is later sued by two brothers — Cameron Winklevoss and Tyler Winklevoss (Armie Hammer and Josh Pence) —- who claimed he stole their idea, and the co-founder who was later squeezed out of the business. This is an especially enter raining as well as informative film about how an acorn can become an oak tree in the forests of free enterprise. Notable quote:

Gage (attorney for the Winklevoss twins): Mr. Zuckerberg, do I have your full attention?
Mark Zuckerberg: [stares out the window] No.
Gage: Do you think I deserve it?
Mark Zuckerberg: [looks at Gage] What?
Gage: Do you think I deserve your full attention?
Mark Zuckerberg: I had to swear an oath before we began this deposition, and I don’t want to perjure myself, so I have a legal obligation to say no.
Gage: Okay – no. You don’t think I deserve your attention.
Mark Zuckerberg: I think if your clients want to sit on my shoulders and call themselves tall, they have the right to give it a try – but there’s no requirement that I enjoy sitting here listening to people lie. You have part of my attention – you have the minimum amount. The rest of my attention is back at the offices of Facebook, where my colleagues and I are doing things that no one in this room, including and especially your clients, are intellectually or creatively capable of doing.


Mark Zuckerberg: Did I adequately answer your condescending question?

moneyball-1Moneyball (2011): This is the first film in which the importance of analytics in sports (introduced by Bill James) is featured. Based on the book by Michael Lewis, the focus is on the real-life general manager of the Oakland Athletics general manager, Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), and his efforts to get his team into the playoffs and eventually a MLB championship. He hires Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) on a hunch that this non-athlete — with an Ivey League education, who suggests that personnel decisions be based much more on analytics and much less on hunches — will give him row competitive advantage he needs. Notable quote:

Brand: It’s about getting things down to one number. Using the stats the way we read them, we’ll find value in players that no one else can see. People are overlooked for a variety of biased reasons and perceived flaws. Age, appearance, personality. Bill James and mathematics cut straight through that. Billy, of the 20,000 notable players for us to consider, I believe that there is a championship team of twenty-five people that we can afford, because everyone else in baseball undervalues them.

To check out the first set of ten I previously selected and discussed, please click here.

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