Even the most widely successful entrepreneurs need some motivation and inspiration from time to time. The good thing is, if you’re a true businessman or woman, you can quote any of these films easily.
Between autobiographical documentaries and fictional films, there is much wisdom to be learned from the plight of entrepreneurs on the big screen. Whether you are a young fellow fresh off the academy or an established name in the industry, anyone can benefit from some powerful insights displayed in some of the most enlightening movies ever produced.
There have been many forms of media attempting to replicate the feeling you get when you’ve just made a sale or convinced a client to go through with the deal, but perhaps most effectively, is seeing it play out right before your eyes than any other visual medium.
There’s nothing quite like seeing some of your likeness on the screen, be it the initial reservedness when only beginning to the gleeful pride in which you carry yourself and your business venture. Especially in the underdog cases, when the main character is fighting amidst so much adversity just for their visions to see fruition, that you find yourself most empathetic and supportive of.
Much like our main characters in most of these films discover and live for, running a business is hard—but honest—work. It can be pretty gruesome on the days you just want to take a breather, and then especially quiet on the days you do want to get back on the grind.
More often than not, sometimes you just need a little inspiration to get through the rough patches. Here are some of our favourite films to binge when we feel on the down-low.
1. The Social Network (2010)
Some of the best entrepreneur movies always include some kind of resistance against an establishment, and The Social Network is no exception. This autobiographical movie about one of the greatest minds behind social media details the treacherous path of Facebook’s beginnings when entrepreneurial-minded Mark Zuckerberg (played by Jesse Eisenberg) launches the social network in his Harvard dorm to get back at a recent ex-girlfriend.
Soon enough, with financing from investor and friend Eduardo Saverin, Facebook takes on a life of its own as it catapults into stardom and sensation. Because of its short tenure as an “indie” platform, Zuckerberg builds everything else single-mindedly, ignoring financial requirements, legalities, and other people’s feelings in the process.
The Social Network captures the archetypes of entrepreneurship and the early rise of the tech world in Silicon Valley. It is a perfect entrepreneur movie (and warning sign) of what can happen when an idea catches the world on fire.
2. Joy (2015)
This true-to-life entrepreneur movie Joy, tells the story of entrepreneur and business magnate Joy Mangano. It starts with showing Mangano (played by Jennifer Lawrence) before her success: living in a rundown house with two kids, divorced parents, grandmother, and a deadbeat ex-husband. Her future looks dim until she is struck with an all-encompassing inspiration so familiar to every entrepreneur: an idea for a revolutionary cleaning product called the Miracle Mop.
There are only a few movies about small businesses that so accurately capture the craziness that often goes on behind the scenes, like a particular scene where Mangano scrambles to produce enough units in time for her appearance to keep up with the demand. Likewise, her struggles to manage both her family and business will ring true with almost all entrepreneurs, especially working moms.
3. Wall Street (1987)
This titular movie is an exploration of how much you can push yourself to the limit in the name of power and success. Wall Street unravels this greed for success through the lens of Bud Fox (played by Charlie Sheen), an ambitious stockbroker who navigates the economic tornado that is Wall Street. He adopts a ‘greed is good’ mantra and applies it with his everyday dealings and work transactions.
This movie gives you a peek into the world of corporate finance, portfolio management, investment law principles, and capital markets. Wall Street shows just how slippery the slope of greed truly is when you are surrounded by the glamorous lifestyle that accompanies it, and the ultimate consequences of fraudulent business practices if you’re not careful.
4. The Intern (2015)
The Intern delves into the taciturn life of Fit founder Jules Ostin (played by Anne Hathaway), who can barely keep her head on straight when her commerce company suddenly rockets to success. She takes on more help as she hires a 70-year-old intern, Ben Whittaker (played by Robert De Niro), who she automatically assumes will be a hard one to mentor because she thought you couldn’t teach an old dog new tricks.
But the wise and observant Whittaker quickly learns from his younger coworkers, offering suggestions to optimize the business. Ostin then grows to be increasingly reliant on his advice when it proves successful.
The movie is a refreshing take on age and gender politics, while also exploring some stereotypes about Silicon Valley and romantic comedies along the way. It’s a rare depiction of a woman entrepreneur who’s as passionate about her business as any man—and a man who supports her decisions and points out that success in one isn’t necessarily a failure in the other.
5. The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)
Inspired by a true story, The Pursuit of Happyness stars Will Smith and his real son, Jaden. It brings to life the story of an American businessman, Chris Gardner, as it chronicles his life from when he was a working salesman who barely made ends meet and then eventually ends up homeless in the streets. Around the same time, he meets someone who gives him a chance to intern as a stockbroker eventually leading to a full-time position and a prosperous career.
As it is a true story, real lessons can be learned from it. Although it’s an extreme experience, there are valuable lessons embedded in the movie that will have you reflecting on your quality of life and open dialogues about true contentment and satisfaction. Many of those lessons can be gleaned from the talks Gardner has with his son, about never giving up and never letting anyone else define you.
6. Steve Jobs (2015)
This is a man who needs no introduction. Everyone knows Steve Jobs as the iconic turtleneck-wearing founder of Apple, and the autobiographical film under his namesake gives you a more intimate insight into his life. Steve Job offers a look into the mind of the infamous maker played by Michael Fassbender behind the technological genius of his billion-dollar company, as well as the personal life of the founder.
While the narrative around Jobs focuses on the tremendous success of Apple, the movie shows his failures as well. Putting on display the struggles even the most successful entrepreneurs encounter. The hope for business owners and entrepreneurs is that maybe they can take a page out of his book and create a company a fraction as successful as Apple.
7. Catch Me If You Can (2002)
Whenever someone hears Catch Me If You Can, they immediately picture the successful con artist Frank Abagnale (played by Leonardo DiCaprio). He was deceptively charming as he was successfully cunning, a trait his career at forging checks made it all the smoother for him to do.
Based on a true story, like most on this list, it is a classic film that exemplifies the entrepreneurial journey. It touches upon important themes like creative problem solving, turning something good out of a bad situation, and the good ol’ hustle to reach success. Read more.
Frank eventually turned his criminal career into a legitimate one that made millions, creating checks that couldn’t be duplicated. He taught the viewers they could also be sought after if you apply the principles Frank used into your career. When that happens everyone will try to catch you—if they can!
8. The Godfather (1901–1980)
The Godfather trilogy is possibly the all-time best cinema for entrepreneurs. It emphasizes why relationships and building networks matter, why helping people lends itself to good karmic business, and why understanding competition is non-negotiable. The array of movies in this franchise are intensely entertaining, packed with thrilling and thought-provoking scenes that will leave you better prepared to handle your next business challenge.
Mario Puzo’s The Godfather is one of the most unexpected books on management practice and corporate governance. In between the violence, murder and decapitated horses, it describes the establishment of the business empire of Don Vito Corleone, a poor Sicilian immigrant in New York built from the ground up. Don Corleone uses strong man-management skills and a little boardroom bullying to build the biggest olive oil company in the US, with interests in gambling, racketeering and corruption off-balance sheet. Surely, if anyone was an entrepreneurial model, he would be.
9. Erin Brokovich (2000)
This legal drama is based on the true story of Erin Brockovich who, against all odds, helps win the largest settlement ever paid in a direct-action lawsuit. The film embodies female empowerment and underscores the importance of sticking to one’s scruples even in the face of obstacles. It touches upon themes like social responsibility, sustainable business models and gender biases in business.
Although not an entrepreneur movie in the traditional sense, Brokovich’s real-life story is an inspiration to every entrepreneur inspired by a call to support social responsibility and corporate ethics. it covers more than just age and gender politics, it also explores Just Management and Leadership, Professionalism and Ethics, as well as Conflict Management marvellously.
10. Jerry Maguire (1996)
In this entrepreneur tale of the fall and rise of a high-powered sports agent, Jerry Maguire (played by Tom Cruise) is fired from his successful company after advocating for his belief that agents should have a more personal touch, by assigning them fewer clients to give them more time to understand them fully.
He impulsively starts his own sports management agency with the only client who believes in his newly adopted ethos, Rod Tidwell (played by Cuba Gooding Jr.), a volatile football player whose family and financial needs push Jerry to become his best.
With only one former co-worker as his sole employee, Maguire must build his business and overcome both his doubts and those of his only client. Ultimately, he succeeds by putting his client’s needs before his desire to make money. This can be seen as a lesson on priority, and to always put value in your clients before anything else.
As all these characters wonderfully portray the gratifying glory of successfully launching a business, they also displayed the nitty gritty-ness they took on to achieve it. It is a constant chase of the highs and avoidance of such lows that led them to have exciting lives in the field of entrepreneurship.