Movies are great, aren’t they? They’re engaging and entertaining – and even educational! I think I’ve learned a lot from movies over the years. I’ve learned that aliens are often susceptible to the common cold, cars that fall off of cliffs always explode, and no matter how bad your relationship is, you can patch things up by running to the airport, catching up to your significant other just as he or she is about to board a plane, and declaring your love.
Movies have even taught me some helpful things about work and how to be an effective employee. Now I know there aren’t that many movies that focus specifically on the workplace. (Maybe because the office isn’t always the most exciting place to be? There aren’t any aliens there, generally.) But after giving it a little thought, I did come up with ten movies that seem to fit the bill.
So here’s my list of workplace movies (presented in the order that I thought of them), and the lessons that can be learned from each:
- Office Space (1999)
When a hypnotherapy session goes wrong, an office worker gains the power to fight back against workplace bureaucracy, tiny cubicles, and perpetually jammed printers.
Lesson: Speak your mind – your bosses will respect you for it! (And keep tabs on your stapler.)
- Nine to Five (1980)
Three office workers become close friends and decide to work together to bring down their sleazy, sexist boss.
Lesson: Your coworkers are awesome! You should be friends with them.
- The Devil’s Advocate (1997)
Keanu Reeves is an attorney who defends horrible, guilty people in order to get ahead – only to find out that his boss is actually the devil. (I hate when that happens.)
Lesson: Don’t compromise your principles for a promotion.
- Working Girl (1988)
In order to escape the secretary pool, Melanie Griffith transforms herself (makeover time!), pretends to be her backstabbing boss, and puts together a lucrative business deal.
Lesson: If you want to be taken seriously, you need to have serious hair.
- The Secret of My Success (1987)
In order to escape the mailroom, Michael J. Fox pretends to be a hotshot, young executive.
Lesson: When an opportunity arises, you should seize it.
- Norma Rae (1979)
Sally Field fights the powers that be in order to form a union at the textile factory where she works.
Lesson: Stand up for what you believe in.
- The Devil Wears Prada (2006)
Poor Anne Hathaway has to deal with a terrible boss when she takes a glamorous new job at a fashion magazine.
Lesson: Even if your job is horrible, there can still be some perks – like free clothes and trips to Paris! No? Well, maybe you get free food once in a while?
- Desk Set (1957)
Katharine Hepburn is a brilliant head librarian who feels threatened when a huge new computer is brought in to help modernize her department.
Lesson: Don’t be afraid of technology. Computers are extremely helpful!
- The Apartment (1960)
In order to win the favor of his scummy, corporate bosses, Jack Lemmon allows them to use his apartment as a place to rendezvous with their mistresses. As a result, he almost loses his chance at true love.
Lesson: Don’t let people take advantage of your good nature.
- Trading Places (1983)
As the result of a cruel bet, down-on-his-luck Eddie Murphy and rich, clueless Dan Aykroyd trade places, and it turns out they’re both pretty good commodity brokers.
Lesson: Don’t be afraid to try new things. You never know what you might be good at!
I know there are many more movies that I’ve missed –classic films, guilty pleasures, trashy B-movies, etc. Please feel free to share your favorite work-themed movies in the Comments section below!
This one trumps them all: Metropolis (1926) — a classic silent-film fantasy of a futuristic city and its mechanized society, with an upper-class young man abandoning his life of luxury to join oppressed workers in a revolt. The result is chaos and tragedy all around. Lesson: Never underestimate the power of greed, robots, ugly mobs, and women named Maria.
Jerry Maguire: “Show me the money!”
Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead (1991)- how to emerge into the workforce by faking it ’til you make it and the lesson in what not to do with petty cash.