#1: Office Space
Released in 1999, perhaps no other movie about work has survived the test of time – well, 18 years – better than Office Space, starring Ron Livingston, Jennifer Aniston, a hated printer, an itinerant red Swingline stapler, and a ridiculously talented supporting cast. The enduring legacy of this movie resides in its all-too-accurate portrayal of the humiliating, degrading, and absurd realities of life working in office environments. From vapid bosses and annoying coworkers to pointless corporate rules and heartless HR policies, Office Space makes #1 on HRFR’s top 9 movies about jobs, employment, and human resources.
#2 Up in the Air
It’s a good thing George Clooney and Anna Kendrick are extremely good looking people. Otherwise, a movie about beautiful professionals who lay off regular people for a living – during the worst economic disaster America has seen since The Great Depression – wouldn’t resonate with those of us at HRFR. But, alas, it does simply because it is honest and heartfelt about what jobs mean to people, and what job loss means to people as well. That’s a tough emotional feat to pull off, but this movie manages to make everyone involved in the plot accessible and worthy of our sympathy and compassion.
#3 The Pursuit of Happyness
It’s easy to smirk at the overly emotional plot line that pits a destitute but ambitious father and lovable son against the very deliberate and institutionalized obstacles put in place by Evil Empire that is corporate America. But this movie, based on a true story, manages to capture this determined dad’s grit, tenacious positive attitude, and indefatigable love for – and dream to provide for – his equally irrepressible son. For HRFR, this film underscores, again, how important employment is to our lives and how jobs define our identity not only to the rest of society, but to our own children. At the very least, jobs – of every ilk, title, and role – present us with the opportunity to earn the pride and respect of others, and, more importantly, ourselves.
#4 Jerry Maguire
The goldfish scene. At one point in all of our careers, we have all lived out in our imaginations the gold fish scene. Perhaps that is taking our uniquely unparalleled genius in marketing, programming, or graphic design – or whatever our chosen career path –and marched out in a frustrated fit of anguished adrenaline and into a future of being independent, successful, and in-your-face wealth. Sadly, for most of us, life won’t work out like Jerry McGuire. But that doesn’t mean it can’t or won’t. It just means that we haven’t been pushed hard enough by outside forces to make such a gloriously audacious stand. Perhaps that pressure should come from within. Jobs come and go. You only live once.
Moneyball isn’t a baseball movie. It is a movie about what it takes to assemble the best team possible given the limitations of a tough situation and adverse circumstances. Money Ball is about leadership, management, and vision. No one really reaches their true potential without being part of something greater than themselves, and that means being part of a team. Yes, there are times when all of the clichés about professionals being part of a team, or even a family, are true – if you are lucky. One of the most rewarding parts of employment is accomplishing incredible and meaningful things with other people. Things you could never have done alone.
#6 The Company Men
All storytelling is based on drama – which is driven by conflict – and job loss if full of conflict. Losing a job means cleaning your desk, wondering how to tell your family and friends about the loss of income and status, and how to tell yourself you are somehow going to make it through this level adversity you didn’t deserve and have little power over. The Company Men is a modern American story that not only explores the journey of self-discovery that unemployment can be, but also the complex relationship between people – men in particular – and the companies that provide them with employment that is neither secure nor loyal.
#7 Working Girl
Working Girl pursues a dreamlike scenario that many professionals not at the top of the ladder run through their imaginations often while idling in their car at a stoplight or sitting on the toilet at work: What if someone gave me a shot. Deep down, we all wonder how we would lead our teams, our departments, or even our entire companies and enterprises. In Working Girl, one such lowly secretary from Staten Island, played by Melanie Griffith, gets her shot at the big time when her boss breaks a leg in a skiing accident. If only we could all be so lucky.
#8 The Big Short
“For every 1% that unemployment goes up, 40,000 people die.” – Ben Rickert
That about puts it all into perspective. Which is why we included The Big Short in our list of the best films about jobs, employment, and human resources. It just goes to show how important jobs are to people, and how disconcertingly little control most of us have over our own lives.
Are we missing anything? What other movies belong on this list?
Special Bonus Film: Glengarry Glen Ross
Business writer, editor, and aspiring beach bum @tedkinni pointed out on Twitter that our list was missing the film Glengarry Glen Ross, directed by film legend David Mamet and starring an incredible list of Hollywood icons: Al Pacino, Jack Lemon, Alec Baldwin, Ed Harris, Alan Arkin, Kevin Spacey, and Jonathan Pryce.
Glengarry Glen Ross, released in 1992, was adapted from the play Mamet penned in 1984 of the same name, which won a Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award. The plot revolves around four real estate salesmen who are forced into a Darwinian standoff when a trainer, commissioned by corporate, arrives and informs them that in one week only the top two salesmen will still have jobs. Yikes.
Enjoy (Warning: Language): Always. Be. Closing.