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.
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.

Top 30 Must-See Movies for Business Students

Business Through Hollywood's Lens
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.
Gung Ho
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
Norma Rae
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.
Patton
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
Moonstruck
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
Herb and Dorothy
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
The Secret of My Success
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
Something Ventured
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
Man in the Gray Flannel Suit
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
Repo Man
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
Inside Job
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
Trading Places
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
The Wizard of Oz
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.
House of Strangers
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
Animal House
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
The Social Network
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.
The Godfather
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
Wall Street
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
12 Angry Men
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
Up in the Air
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
Tunes of Glory
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
Barbarians at the Gate
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
Risky Business
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
Citizen Kane
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.
It's a Wonderful Life
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
Other People's Money
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
A Small Act
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
A Christmas Carol
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.
Working Girl
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
Invictus
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
Too Big to Fail
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