Business is an inexhaustible source of inspiration for movies. While the mundane is a fact of life for business, the machinations and personal interactions from any enterprise provides more than their fair share of drama and comedy.
Films are at their best though, when we walk away from them having learned something. Here, in no particular order, are our picks for essential small biz movies:
11.) The Godfather
The Godfather (and to a lesser extent, The Godfather 2. There is no Godfather 3) would be on all other entrepreneur’s “must-watch” lists. For good reason. The story of Michael Corleone’s reluctant succession as the boss of a New York crime family touches on a lot of the things entrepreneurs experience.
The themes of the difficulty of separating work and family life ring especially true for many small business owners. Consider that family firms comprise 80 to 90% of all business enterprises in North America. (J.H. Astrachan and M.C. Shanker, Family Business Review, 2003) and you’ll see that even in legal ventures, much of the Godfather saga rings true.
10.) Glengarry Glen Ross
Whether as a business owner or an employee – whoever you are really- we will all eventually come face to face with odds we just can’t get over. It happens. It’s hard to find a movie that expresses this kind of mundane hopelessness so well and so memorably. Glengarry Glen Ross is full of memorable performances by a cast with talent probably equivalent to NASA’s Mission Control, except for movies.
The brilliant thing about Ghostbusters is they’ve somehow managed to blend its inherently ridiculous premise with a decidedly ordinary setting. The more interesting parts are when they’re doing really mundane business to help their Ghostbusting along. Ghostbusters shows how team dynamics affects a small business. We guess.
8.) Hearts of Darkness
A lot of entrepreneurs also fancy themselves as artists, or at least, believe that their businesses are more than just a means to earn a living. If you ever felt that way, look into Hearts of Darkness, a documentary that recounts Francis Ford Coppola’s disaster-ridden Apocalypse Now shoot.
This fascinating documentary details how Francis Ford Coppola raised the first critical funds that led him to create his own production company- and how he almost bankrupted it. A must for any business owner or manager.
7.) Art and Copy
A lot of what makes a product or service great is just in the way you perceive it. This stunning documentary delivers the goods. You might never look at ad copies the same way again. Understanding how much psychology and other sciences mess with our perceptions is essential for any entrepreneur.
6.) The Social Network
If Google Analytics is correct, a lot of our traffic comes from Facebook. While The Social Network is totally NOT about Facebook *cough*, it details the stunning rise of a fictional*cough* social network, that in a lot of ways resembles Facebook, but is totally NOT Facebook.
For small-time would-be entrepreneurs looking to break into the tech industry, this film is a definite must-see.
5.) The Aviator
While Howard Hughes already had money to begin with, his passion and obsession with details allowed him to turn his family’s otherwise comparatively modest fortune into a multibillion-dollar business empire at a time when the word “billion” was considered a ridiculously obscene amount. This biography is a fascinating insight into achievement going hand-in-glove with dysfunction.
4.) The Pursuit of Happyness
The Pursuit of Happyness manages to do the impossible, which is to make an inspiring film that works without descending into cloyingly sweet melodrama. And it really happened too.
3.) Confessions of a Sociopathic Social Climber
I have no idea why this is here. Everyone else I talked to told me to include it. I find it bizarre myself, and I’ve never seen, let alone heard of it until I asked for suggestions. Something about how personality disorders figure into creating an enterprise.
Absolutely rewatchable. Blow is based on the real life story of American cocaine kingpin George Jung, and his association with Pablo Escobar, Carlos Lehder, and the Medellín Cartel. Entrepreneurial criminals arguably showcase the spirit of business at its most Hobbesian. That means “cruelest”, for you people who’d recommend #3.
It’s probably also the most divisive film on this list – critically at least. But it undoubtedly contains numerous lessons for anyone who wants to go into business for themselves.
1.) Gary Hustwit’s Design Trilogy:
Kind of cheating, considering these are 3 different documentaries centered around design. While none of these is about small business specifically, the implications and questions raised by the complexity of typography, product design, and even project planning figure heavily into the question of what makes one thing better than another.
The devil is always in the details. This series is an absolute must for entrepreneurs – especially inventors – looking to develop their raw ideas into saleable concepts.
Forrest Gump, Guru, Wall Street, The Pirates of Silicon Valley
I’m sure you’ll have a bone or two to pick with our choices. Have at them! We’d love to hear from you!
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