In no particular order:
|Wall Street (1987)
There are numerous lessons to be learned from this movie. It’s probably THE most famous business. What’s more, it’s still amazing today, 20 plus years later! Some of my favorite quotes include: “It’s not a question of enough, pal. It’s a zero sum game, somebody wins, somebody loses. Money itself isn’t lost or made, it’s simply transferred from one perception to another”. “Life all comes down to a few moments. This is one of them”. The most valuable commodity I know of is information”. And probably the most quoted: “Greed is good.”
Although the above quotes are mainly about greed, which is the central theme of this movie, there are many many many lessons to learn. There’s ambition, taking chances, the power of information, and so on.
An interesting tidbit, one of the pivotal scenes of this movie is quoted as part of another movie in this list (The Boiler Room).
The story of a group of friends from high school who decide to start a dot com business at the height of the dot com boom (aka mania).
It starts off as you would expect, with lots of excitement and energy. But as the business grows, VC money becomes more and more important since there is no real revenues. To avoid spoiling the movie for those that haven’t seen it, let’s just say a lot of issues have to be dealt with.
This is a great movie for people thinking of starting a business with a group of friends, of exactly what can happen and what you should discuss beforehand. Plus it show the importance why a business should be run to be profitable. The whole movie is really about getting the next round of VC (Venture Capital), it’s not about how to grow the business to earn more money. I don’t even remember this being discussed once in the whole movie!
|The Secret of My Succe$sThe Secret of My Succe$s (1987)
The Story of an ambitious young man who wants to conquer corporate America. Although he doesn’t climb through the proper channels and there’s plenty of 80’s style “you can do anything”, there’s lots of good lessons. For example, in the movie he was able to climb just by filing the proper paperwork!
Some great lessons include the power of charisma, the power of information, the value of social networks, and so on. Although this may be a more arguable point, that sometimes it takes a bit more than hard work to get ahead, you also need to create your own luck. I would of course not recommend creating luck the way Brantley (played by Michael J. Fox) did in the movie, but the idea is that he took his destiny into his own hands.
|Jerry Maguire (1996)
Ignoring the two big quotes from this movie: “You had me at hello” and “Show me the money”, this movie is what entrepreneurship is all about. Jerry is a successful agent for his clients at a large firm when he comes to the realization that things aren’t working for him. He writes a mission statement of what the company should be, where agents should have less clients so that they can foster better relationships.
Needless to say, this doesn’t go well. So he sets off on his own to start his own company with his own clients which will be run according to his mission statement. He will focus his business on managing less clients but taking more time and effort with each client. On building relationships with them.
And like any business, the start can be rough. It never quite goes as planned (it honestly rarely does – double to triple your estimates, and not your best estimates), and in this movie he almost loses everything. But he is able to pull through, and he does succeed.
You might be wondering why this movie is in the list, it’s because it’s not just about romance.
Business is about understanding your customer’s problems and finding solutions to those problems. In this case Hitch is a successful consultant not only because he’s good at what he does, but also because he’s figured out what his customers want, even when they don’t really know it.
What’s also interesting is this is one of the few movies you see someone be selective with their customers, and even fire their customers. Hitch interviews all his clients to make sure their intentions are good, and only then will he work with them. If he finds out later that they aren’t, he immediately fires them.
All around a good movie showcasing the importance of understanding what your customers problems are and finding solutions for them.
As an added bonus, he always demonstrates the power of word of mouth marketing! His business is not exactly something you want to advertise on a billboard, so it has to be through word of mouth. And he is successful.
| Forrest Gump (1994)
Shrimp anyone? Even Lieutenant Dan didn’t believe Forrest could start a shrimping business.
The main lesson here is that it doesn’t take brilliance to start a business, anyone can. Sure Forrest had a little luck because of a storm that wiped out his competition, but had he not tried he never would have gotten anywhere. And he definitely wouldn’t have been on the cover of Fortune Magazine as depicted in the movie.
Starting and running a business takes more than skill. It takes a lot of hardwork. But most important, you have to actually start the company!
As I’ve said before, Ideas are a Dime a Dozen. Not to downplay them, but the concept is that coming up with an idea is not hardest part of a business, executing the idea is. And in the movie, we see Forrest does just that!
|Baby Boom (1987)
A high powered executive (known as the Tiger Lady) inherits a baby and suddenly finds her life turned upside down. She eventually makes the decision to move away to the country to raise the baby. Once there, she comes across the idea of creating high quality baby foods for a niche market. Being the 80’s and all, there’s the classic montage of her building her business into a very successful business, so successful that her previous company offers to buy her out.
The biggest lessons learned from this movie are about the importance of niche markets. How it’s important to focus on thing and be the best at that thing. Had she created another brand of baby food, it would’ve just been another baby food company, and she would’ve had no chance. Instead she found a segment of the market she wanted, then she spend some time analyzing that market for it’s potential (yes, you actually see her analyze her market segment/niche in the movie).
It’s important to have a USP (Unique Selling Proposition), and J.C. (the high powered executive) definitely figures hers out.
|Boiler Room (2000)
You would think this is the movie to show you what not to learn about business because it’s all about scamming your customers. True, I agree, but there are still several things to learn.
My favorite quote: “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.” That’s right, this movie is mainly about high pressure sales tactics. Although I personally disagree with this kind of sales tactic, but it’s still important to understand because it will eventually be used on you.
They also discuss about market segmentation, but not exactly in those terms. They discuss how some customers are more profitable then others, and how to identify them. How to determine which are the fat whales.
There are some other great lessons in this book, especially the importance of questioning a too good to be true deal. You’ll definitely get learn something from this movie.
|Pirates of Silicon Valley (1999)
Who doesn’t know Bill Gates or Steve Jobs? What better movie can there be on business than the story of how those two started their companies.
Although it’s not exactly known for it’s accuracy, it’s still an amazing movie with a lot to learn from. These are two different people that both succeeded wildly yet took very different paths to success.
What’s also very interesting is the impact of some of the decisions they made early on. There’s a saying that basically goes along the lines of, you can be good in business and succeed, but you need to be both good and be lucky to succeed wildly. They were both good, and fortunately for both for them, they also both made some very good decisions early on.
|Office Space (1999)
How can this movie not be on the list. It’s a classic! Of course it’s not so much about learning how to run a business as it is about how NOT to run a business! But still this movie is just too hilarious to leave out.
Examples of how not to run your business include TPS reports. Or having a dozen managers ask you about your TPS report. Can you imagine having to deal with that many managers?
One of my favorite quotes is: “Yeah, I just stare at my desk; but it looks like I’m working. I do that for probably another hour after lunch, too. I’d say in a given week I probably only do about fifteen minutes of real, actual, work.”. How can you expect any company to excel and lead if you’re people are that de-motivated.
In this movie Brian (played by Tom Cruise) is a very ambitious young man excited to get his start in the business world. He quickly learns that none of the big companies are interested in hiring him without a degree, so he unrolls at the local city college and starts a part time job where he meets his counterpart for the movie.
Together they go through quite an adventure. They decide they’re going to open their own bar called Cocktails and Dreams. But to do this, they need money, and this is where they start to diverge on their paths. This also where the biggest lessons can be learned. Having a business partner is not something to do on a whim. It’s very difficult, you need to have the same goals, you need to be able to work together through the tougher times, you basically need to work better together than an old married couple.
Above that, and the usual business lessons, another interesting aspect of this movie is that not all money to start your company is equal. That is to say, just because you can get money, it doesn’t mean you should. It may or may not be worth the costs. So be careful when you take money for your business, make sure it’s worth the cost for you, not just personally, but also that you’re not giving away too much for it.
Rudy is here because it’s so inspirational. Rudy is a movie based on the true story of a “5 foot nothin’, 100 and nothin’ with barely a speck of athletic ability’ man who achieved his dream of playing in a football game for Notre Dame. No one believed he could, not even his family or friends, no one.
However through sheer will and determination Rudy was admitted to Notre Dame, got on the football team, and got to play one game. That’s amazing considering he had everything going against him!
He worked hard, he persevered where most people would’ve quit. He worked so hard that when the coach said he wasn’t going to be able to play him on his last possible game, the football team revolted and refused to play unless he got dressed. Not only that, they got him on the field. And best of all, as far as I understand Rudy was the only person ever to be carried off the field on the shoulder’s of the other players. That’s how much they respected his dogged perseverance!
|Trading Places (1983)
In this movie two investors/businessmen decide to make a $1 bet to see if they can turn a successful person into a homeless criminal and homeless criminal into a succesful business person.
It has all the charm of an 80’s comedy. But above that, the two main characters invest and work the commodities market, along the way exposing mis-perceptions about the American Dream.
|Working Girl (1988)
Ignoring the massive 80’s Big Hair, this movie is the story of Tess’s climb up the corporate ladder during the big Merger & Acquisition fad of the 80’s.
Above the normal business lessons, this movie really shows the importance of social skills in business. Not only do you need to be smart, but you need to be able to work with people. You need to understand other people’s needs. You need to be able to communicate with other people. And most importantly, it really helps if other people believe in you.
This is the story of Howard Hughes, from his beginnings all the way to the end.
Even though Howard had some personal issues, but he was still an amazing businessman. How many people are willing to make the types of bets he did on succeeding? Betting the whole company many times over?
There’s no doubt he was a very smart person, but he also had a lot of ambition and was willing to put his money where his mouth was. And not just on a small scale, but on a massive scale.
What I found most interesting is that all the while he was creating and growing his company he was also battling some very big inner demons. He was able to succeed where most people would’ve crumbled, and he built a largely successful company above that.
Business is not all about making smart decisions and executing on them, it’s also very much about the people behind the business. Without people there is no business.
And this movie is in this list because it shows the importance of people. Not so much about getting the right people, that’s another lesson, but in treating your people right.
In the movie, the owner of the newspaper company basically decides to decrease the pay of the newsies, which they don’t appreciate. This leads to a strike. Do remember of course that this movie takes place many years ago, when child labour was common and striking wasn’t unionized as it today.
In any case, the lesson here is to remember to treat your employees well. This not only includes paying them what they deserve, but also treating them the way you’d like to be treated. It will make a difference in the long term, as Hearst (the owner of the newspaper company) learned the hard way.
As important as your business is to you as an entrepreneur, you also have to realize that there are other things that may be even more important.
In this movie, Michael (played by Adam Sandler) learns the hard way that climbing the corporate ladder isn’t the most important thing in his life. His family is the most important thing.
When starting, and even when running a largely successful company, too many entrepreneurs focus solely on their companies forgetting almost everything else, even their own basic health! And in some cases, they sometimes wear this as a badge of honor. Yes your business is important, but is it the most important thing in the world? You should always ask yourself what the most important thing in the world would be if you had a heart attack today?
|Risky Business (1983)
First there’s the obvious standard business lessons. You need a product that people want. You need to market it. You need to … But what’s more interesting is the underlying theme of this movie, which is how greed can corrupt people.
Joel starts off innocently enough, but by the end of the movie his business venture isn’t exactly what you’d call mainstream. Mainstream or not though, all businesses obey the same core principles. As he describes at the end, his business is “Dream Fulfillment”. Find what a customer needs and fill that need.
|Tucker: The Mad and his Dream (1988)
To quote the tagline: “When they tried to buy him, he refused. When they tried to bully him, he resisted. When they tried to break him, he became an American legend. The true story of Preston Tucker.” If his story doesn’t inspire you to build your company, I don’t know what will.
What’s great about this movie is that it shows that sometimes you need more than sheer will, you also need a bit of salesmanship to go along with it. You need to to sell people on your idea, and more importantly on you!
|Gung Ho (1986)
Although dated, this film shows that business isn’t just about ideas and execution, it’s also a lot about culture. And although this movie is about the 80’s business Japanese business culture clashing with the 80’s American business culture, it’s about a lot more than that.
Mergers and acquisitions aren’t always as rosy as they appear on paper. Just because two businesses can appear to have “synergy”, it doesn’t mean they will work well together.
But the biggest lesson to take away is that all business have cultures that get established within them. These cultures can be good or they can be bad for the business. It’s therefore very important to cultivate cultures that will benefit the company, especially because it’s extremely hard to change them later.
|Tommy Boy (1995)
“Holy Schnike”, Tommy Boy is on this list? Yes it is. Why? To quote Ray Zalinsky (played by Dan Aykroyd): “Truth is, I make car parts for the American working man because I’m a hell of a salesman and he doesn’t know any better.”
In other words, a great product doesn’t make a great business. It sure helps, but it doesn’t guarantee you’ll succeed. Betamax was better than VHS. The Mac was better than Windows in the 90’s. There’s countless examples of products that were superior but lost out. To succeed at business you need to be able to sell and market yourself.
|You’ve Got Mail (1998)
Although the central theme of this movie is the love story between Joe Fox and Kathleen Kelly (played by Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan), it’s also about a small company having a big competitor move into it’s market.
It’s generally better if you can be the aggressor, but if not, you need to be prepared and learn how to differentiate yourself. In this movie Kathleen’s store is very different from Fox Books, it’s personable, it’s memberable, and so on. But it’s still not enough to compete with discount prices on commodity items (the same book can be purchased cheaper down the street). She wasn’t able to learn how to differentiate herself enough before it was too late.
Therefore the lesson here is don’t try to compete head on with a big company on their terms, find another way to compete with them on your terms, one which you can hands down beat them. And go from there.
|Family Man (2000)
With anything else, you need to have balance. And to reach the very top of success requires a lot of sacrificing, which Jack (played by Nicholas Cage) has done in this movie. But is it worth it? Is all the money worth it? Maybe, maybe not.
Assuming you don’t want to be the very best of the best, it’s important to realize that starting a business does require some sacrifices. If you want to start a business at night and on the weekends, then that’s coming out of your free time.
Also expect it to take a long time, there’s no way you can do it in just a few short months.
If you want to go even bigger than that and quit your job, then expect to be working more and harder than your full time job to get your company started. Success does require a great deal of effort, it isn’t easy. Otherwise everyone would be doing it.
|In Good Company (2004)
The most obvious business lessons to take from this movie is that there are multiple ways to successfully run a company. And there are the multiple approaches to building up your client base. In the movie Dan does it through social networking while Carter does it through cross-promoting, etc. Both are very successful in their own ways.
Another lesson I personally cherished is that just because there’s a new way to do things, it doesn’t mean it’s always the best or right way. In many cases it is, but not always.
How many of you remember the main business strategy of the dot com era? The idea of getting as many eye balls on your company’s website as possible, no matter what the cost. Dominate the market segment and then figure out how to be profitable.
Always, always, listen and understand why it was done the way it was done before you jump into a new way of doing things.
The following are more great business related movies that you can benefit from watching, movies that I could have made fit in this list but would have made the list too long to read. They include:
- Click (2006)
- Clerks (1994)
- Mr Mom (1983)
- For Love or Money (1993)
- Greedy (1994)
- Fun With Dick and Jane (2005)
The following are related movies that are suppose to be really good but that I just haven’t yet seen:
- The Triumphs of the Nerds (1996)
- Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)
- E-Dreams (2001)
- Barbarians at the Gate (1993)
- Rogue Trader (1999)
- Code Rush (2000)
- Big Night (1996)
- The Corporation (2003)
- Capitalism: A Love Story (2009)
If I missed any please add them below in the comments.