Top 30 Must-See Movies for Business Students

  1. Business Through Hollywood's Lens
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    Business Through Hollywood's Lens

    For Hollywood, the world of business can be a vehicle for many kinds of stories, from morality tales to conspiracy theories to David-and-Goliath fables. Celluloid heroes and villains illustrate the best and worst of human nature and in the process, tell us a little something about greed, management, even capitalism itself.

    With that in mind, Bloomberg Businessweek asked deans at the top 30 U.S. business schools to name their favorite movies with a business theme or lesson and to explain their choices.

    For anyone contemplating business school, or currently enrolled in one, these picks serve as a kind of silver-screen curriculum on leadership, ethics, and the exercise of power. The list contains a mix of classic and modern films, documentary and fictional works, comedies and dramas.
  2. Gung Ho
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    Gung Ho

    Year: 1986
    Starring: Michael Keaton, Gedde Watanabe, and George Wendt
    Recommended by: Joseph Thomas, dean of Cornell University's Johnson Graduate School of Management

    This movie was made when Japan was showing the world how to make better products. The movie is about the clash and eventual reconciliation of cultures. Both cultures are overdrawn a bit, but the movie is thoughtful and funny.
    —Joseph Thomas
  3. Norma Rae
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    Norma Rae

    Year: 1979
    Starring: Sally Field, Beau Bridges, and Ron Leibman
    Recommended by: James W. Dean Jr., dean of the University of North Carolina's Kenan-Flager Business School

    Leadership doesn't just come from the top. Norman Rae is a single mother who—despite great personal risk—fights to unionize her textile mill to improve terrible working conditions. The film is based on the true story of Crystal Lee Sutton, a textile worker in Roanoke Rapids, N.C. It is important to know this history to understand why unions operate as they do. Quote: "Forget it! I'm stayin' right where I am. It's gonna take you and the police department and the fire department and the National Guard to get me outta here!"
    —James W. Dean Jr.
  4. Patton
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    Patton

    Year: 1970
    Starring: George C. Scott, Karl Malden, and Stephen Young
    Recommended by: Robert F. Bruner, dean of the University of Virginia's Darden School of Business

    A profile of the most aggressive American general in World War II. His drive and strategic ingenuity achieved remarkable results on the battlefield. But his aggressive genius was flawed by a temper and callousness toward subordinates. Was the commander of the Allies right to remove Patton from leadership because of his flaws? This movie prompts deep reflections on the emotional intelligence that must underpin true leaders.
    —Robert F. Bruner
  5. Moonstruck
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    Moonstruck

    Year: 1987
    Starring: Cher, Nicolas Cage, and Olympia Dukakis
    Recommended by: Paul Danos, dean of Dartmouth College's Tuck School of Business

    The character Cosmo Castorini, played by Vincent Gardenia, has the "hard sell" down pat, saying to a naive young couple: "There are three kinds of pipe. There's what you have, which is garbage—and you can see where that's gotten you. There's bronze, which is pretty good, unless something goes wrong. And something always goes wrong. Then there's copper, which is the only pipe I use. It costs money. It costs money because it saves money."
    —Paul Danos
  6. Herb and Dorothy
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    Herb and Dorothy

    Year: 2008
    Starring: Herb and Dorothy Vogel
    Recommended by: Judy Olian, dean of the UCLA Anderson School of Management

    The beauty of maniacal focus: how a couple of modest means amassed one of the great modern art collections in America.
    —Judy Olian
  7. The Secret of My Success
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    The Secret of My Success

    Year: 1987
    Starring: Michael J. Fox, Helen Slater, and Richard Jordan
    Recommended by: Bob Dammon, dean of Carnegie Mellon University's Tepper School of Business

    A great comedy about a young Midwesterner (Michael J. Fox) traveling to the big city to begin his corporate career.
    —Bob Dammon
  8. Something Ventured
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    Something Ventured

    Year: 2011
    Starring: Bill Bowes, Herbert Boyer, and Po Bronson
    Recommended by: Rich Lyons, dean of the University of California, Berkeley's Haas School of Business

    I recently saw Something Ventured by our alum, [producer] Paul Holland, which I really liked. It's about the history of the VC industry and Silicon Valley. As a documentary, it did a fine job of communicating what the founding actors of venture capital are really like. One gets the feeling that if this hadn't been captured like this today, it might never have been captured in this first-person way. Also, it's of personal significance since I grew up in the heart of the Silicon Valley. And while my family was not in the venture industry, several of my friends' families were. My early years corresponded closely with the industry's early years.
    —Rich Lyons
  9. Man in the Gray Flannel Suit
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    Man in the Gray Flannel Suit

    Year: 1956
    Starring: Gregory Peck, Jennifer Jones, and Fredric March
    Recommended by: Robert F. Bruner, dean of the University of Virginia's Darden School of Business

    Based on Sloan Wilson's book by the same name—highly recommended reading, too. The film recounts the discovery by a 1950s "organization man" of the things that really matter, especially relationships and integrity. The story is one of the bellwethers of post-World War II reaction against conformist business culture.
    —Robert F. Bruner
  10. Repo Man
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    Repo Man

    Year: 1984
    Starring: Harry Dean Stanton, Emilio Estevez, and Tracey Walter
    Recommended by: Thomas W. Gilligan, dean of the University of Texas, Austin's McCombs School of Business

    Determined professionals relentlessly pursue legitimate commercial objectives in a morally and technologically ambiguous world.
    —Thomas W. Gilligan
  11. Inside Job
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    Inside Job

    Year: 2010
    Starring: Matt Damon, William Ackman, and Daniel Alpert
    Recommended by: Judy Olian, dean of the UCLA Anderson School of Management

    A shocking post-mortem of the most significant global economic crisis in decades, pointing to shared culpability across many financial institutions, government organizations, and business leaders.
    —Judy Olian
  12. Trading Places
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    Trading Places

    Year: 1983
    Starring: Eddie Murphy, Dan Aykroyd, and Ralph Bellamy
    Recommended by: Joseph Thomas, dean of Cornell University's Johnson Graduate School of Management, and Bob Dammon, dean of Carnegie Mellon University's Tepper School of Business

    One of our finance faculty suggests that people watch this movie after studying futures and options. It can make people reflect on what they want from a career and life.
    —Joseph Thomas

    A humorous story of greed, deception, and redemption. It is always great when the good guys win.
    —Bob Dammon
  13. The Wizard of Oz
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    The Wizard of Oz

    Year: 1939
    Starring: Judy Garland, Frank Morgan, and Ray Bolger
    Recommended by: James W. Dean Jr., dean of the University of North Carolina's Kenan-Flager Business School

    This famous classic showcases Industrial Age perfection in the Emerald City. Quote: "Snip, snip here, snip, snip there." It is intriguing that these exact production methods were used only a few years later to build tanks and airplanes for World War II, and in many American industries for decades afterward. Another great link between this film, warfare, and business is the Cowardly Lion's speech on courage, which concludes: "What makes the Hottentot so hot? What puts the 'ape' in apricot? What have they got that I ain't got?"
    —James W. Dean Jr.
  14. House of Strangers
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    House of Strangers

    Year: 1949
    Starring: Edward G. Robinson, Susan Hayward, and Richard Conte
    Recommended by: Paul Danos, dean of Dartmouth College's Tuck School of Business

    House of Strangers shows how microfinance worked in the ghettos of New York in the 1920s and '30s. The Gino Monetti character's banking success is based on lending money to neighborhood people with just a handshake, but that kind of "collateral" does not pass muster with the new breed of bank regulators.
    —Paul Danos
  15. Animal House
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    Animal House

    Year: 1978
    Starring: John Belushi, Karen Allen, and Tom Hulce
    Recommended by: Thomas W. Gilligan, dean of the University of Texas, Austin's McCombs School of Business

    One of the best documentaries ever made on how to structure management training and leadership-immersion programs.
    —Thomas W. Gilligan
  16. The Social Network
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    The Social Network

    Year: 2010
    Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, and Justin Timberlake
    Recommended by: Bob Dammon, dean of Carnegie Mellon University's Tepper School of Business; Judy Olian, dean of the UCLA Anderson School of Management; and James W. Dean Jr., dean of the University of North Carolina's Kenan-Flager Business School

    A timely look at the inception of Facebook and social media, the story demonstrates both the power and profitability of a great idea, as well as some real-world entrepreneurial challenges.
    —Bob Dammon

    A must-see primer on how the millennials think, invent, and connect—and how bumpy the ride can be from rags to riches.
    —Judy Olian

    This entertaining movie about the creation of Facebook is based on the book, The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook, A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius, and Betrayal, by Ben Mezrich. While a box-office hit, the film's accuracy was questioned by industry insiders, including journalist David Fitzpatrick, author of The Facebook Effect, who had access to Facebook's leadership while researching his book. Quote: "You are probably going to be a very successful computer person. But you're going to go through life thinking that girls don't like you because you're a nerd. And I want you to know, from the bottom of my heart, that that won't be true…"
    —James W. Dean Jr.
  17. The Godfather
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    The Godfather

    Year: 1970
    Starring: Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan
    Recommended by: Paul Danos, dean of Dartmouth College's Tuck School of Business, and Robert F. Bruner, dean of the University of Virginia's Darden School of Business

    The Michael Corleone character, in ordering execution for a top lieutenant's switching loyalty to another family, says, "Tessio was smarter," indicating that it did not surprise him that Tessio would be the first to switch allegiance to a new leader when the old leader was past his prime.
    —Paul Danos

    This routinely ranks among the greatest movies ever made. Any business student could watch it merely for some valuable immersion into an aspect of American culture. But I advocate it to students as a lesson in adherence to personal values. In one of the most famous lines in the film, a character says, "This is business, not personal"—referring to a murder. Should we—can we—ever separate professional life from personal values? No. Business is always personal.
    —Robert F. Bruner
  18. Wall Street
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    Wall Street

    Year: 1987
    Starring: Charlie Sheen, Michael Douglas, and Tamara Tunie
    Recommended by: Bob Dammon, dean of Carnegie Mellon University's Tepper School of Business

    For me, the story is about a character (Charlie Sheen) who is torn between the moral and ethical upbringing he received from his father (Martin Sheen) and the allure of wealth and power as embodied by Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas).
    —Bob Dammon
  19. 12 Angry Men
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    12 Angry Men

    Year: 1957
    Starring: Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, and Martin Balsam
    Recommended by: Joseph Thomas, dean of Cornell University's Johnson Graduate School of Management

    This is not really a business book, but it is a wonderful depiction of group decisionmaking, consensus-building, and persuasion, all crucial in business. For years this movie was utilized in one of our courses at Johnson.
    —Joseph Thomas
  20. Up in the Air
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    Up in the Air

    Year: 2009
    Starring: George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, and Anna Kendrick
    Recommended by: Judy Olian, dean of the UCLA Anderson School of Management

    Reminds all leaders that organizations—no matter how complex or technologically advanced—are about people, not "things."
    —Judy Olian
  21. Tunes of Glory
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    Tunes of Glory

    Year: 1960
    Starring: Alec Guinness, John Mills, and Susannah York
    Recommended by: Robert F. Bruner, dean of the University of Virginia's Darden School of Business

    This is a story about a new commanding officer who takes charge of a military unit and fails to win the hearts and minds of his direct reports. Much of business education is about what one does on the job, but little about how to actually enter an assignment or leave it. How does a leader "take charge?" This movie raises a host of lessons about leading. It also offers rich insights about the psychology of managerial bullies. Dramatic kudos to Alec Guinness, who plays the bully.
    —Robert F. Bruner
  22. Barbarians at the Gate
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    Barbarians at the Gate

    Year: 1993
    Starring: James Garner, Jonathan Pryce, Peter Riegert
    Recommended by: Bob Dammon, dean of Carnegie Mellon University's Tepper School of Business

    The interesting saga of the battle for control of RJR Nabisco, based on actual accounts.
    —Bob Dammon
  23. Risky Business
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    Risky Business

    Year: 1983
    Starring: Tom Cruise, Rebecca De Mornay, and Joe Pantoliano
    Recommended by: Thomas W. Gilligan, dean of the University of Texas, Austin's McCombs School of Business

    An innovative young entrepreneur discovers the profits and pitfalls of business development.
    —Thomas W. Gilligan
  24. Citizen Kane
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    Citizen Kane

    Year: 1941
    Starring: Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, and Dorothy Comingore
    Recommended by: Paul Danos, dean of Dartmouth College's Tuck School of Business, and James W. Dean Jr., dean of the University of North Carolina's Kenan-Flager Business School

    The office party scene has dancing girls and bands and ends with "The Charlie Kane Song," where the new leader is not only lampooned, but CEO Kane himself joins in the chorus and shows a different side of himself to the troops.
    —Paul Danos

    This psychological study of the making of a publishing empire is based on the life of William Randolph Hearst, whose overwhelming drive for business success was based on compensating for his abandonment by his parents. Released in 1941, it is still considered one of America's finest films. Quote: "I suppose he had a private sort of greatness, but he kept it to himself."
    —James W. Dean Jr.
  25. It's a Wonderful Life
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    It's a Wonderful Life

    Year: 1946
    Starring: James Stewart, Donna Reed, and Lionel Barrymore
    Recommended by: Joseph Thomas, dean of Cornell University's Johnson Graduate School of Management, and Paul Danos, dean of Dartmouth College's Tuck School of Business

    Even if it is a bit sappy at the end, it shows that business can and should be a positive force in the world.
    —Joseph Thomas

    The small Savings and Loan officer, George Bailey, lambastes the money bags character, Mr. Potter, with "… my father didn't think so. People were human beings to him. But to you—a warped, frustrated old man—they're cattle. Well in my book, my father died a much richer man than you'll ever be!"
    —Paul Danos
  26. Other People's Money
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    Other People's Money

    Year: 1991
    Starring: Danny DeVito, Gregory Peck, and Penelope Ann Miller
    Recommended by: Thomas W. Gilligan, dean of the University of Texas, Austin's McCombs School of Business

    Madcap romantic comedy illustrating the finer points of the market for corporate control.
    —Thomas W. Gilligan
  27. A Small Act
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    A Small Act

    Year: 2010
    Starring: Chris Mburu, Hilde Back
    Recommended by: Judy Olian, dean of the UCLA Anderson School of Management

    A powerful demonstration of how individual actions, starting very small, can achieve momentous transformation.
    —Judy Olian
  28. A Christmas Carol
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    A Christmas Carol

    Year: 1984
    Starring: George C. Scott, Frank Finlay, and Angela Pleasence
    Recommended by: James W. Dean Jr., dean of the University of North Carolina's Kenan-Flager Business School

    I know that purists prefer the 1951 Alastair Sim version, but George C. Scott as Ebenezer Scrooge is my favorite. Based on Charles Dickens's novel, the film addresses the most fundamental question of what business is about. Is it simply profits or some broader purpose? As Marley answers the question: "Mankind was my business! Their common welfare was my business!" One more quote, from Scrooge to Bob Cratchit: "Another sound from you … and you'll keep your Christmas by losing your situation!"
    —James W. Dean Jr.
  29. Working Girl
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    Working Girl

    Year: 1988
    Starring: Melanie Griffith, Harrison Ford, and Sigourney Weaver
    Recommended by: Robert F. Bruner, dean of the University of Virginia's Darden School of Business

    This movie evokes Horatio Alger, the iconic poor-kid-makes-good story. In this case, it is a woman—a secretary, the "working girl" who develops a concept for a merger that succeeds. The crisis that drives the plot entails the theft of ideas and the professional advancement that good ideas can earn. A lesson from this movie regards the importance of integrity and authenticity as foundations for success.
    —Robert F. Bruner
  30. Invictus
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    Invictus

    Year: 2009
    Starring: Morgan Freeman, Matt Damon, and Tony Kgoroge
    Recommended by: Judy Olian, dean of the UCLA Anderson School of Management

    The essence of what inspirational leadership is—and can achieve.
    —Judy Olian
  31. Too Big to Fail
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    Too Big to Fail

    Year: 2011
    Starring: James Woods, John Heard, and William Hurt
    Recommended by: Joseph Thomas, dean of Cornell University's Johnson Graduate School of Management, and Thomas W. Gilligan, dean of the University of Texas, Austin's McCombs School of Business

    The topic is such a huge issue for the world now. The movie is well done, even if it omits culpability for some people (and groups) who had a huge impact, for good or for ill. The book is very good, also.
    —Joseph Thomas

    A fictional account of the perils of corporate capitalism.
    —Thomas W. Gilligan