Movies are a great source of inspiration. Though they are mostly dramatized and sometimes exaggerated, they present situations, conflicts and experiences that reflect the ones we have in our own lives. Good movies can even give sound advice or life lessons that may help us in making our decisions or simply inspire us to do or be better. So, if you’re pondering some career-related questions - be it on ethics, career-change, integrity, your superiors and whatnot - here are ten of the best career movies that might just give you some answers.
1. Julie & Julia
Julie & Julia is a story of two women leading different lives in different times, connected through their culinary passion. Julia Child is a 1950s housewife in Paris who sought to learn the art of French cuisine, a career then dominated by men. Julie Powell is a woman of the 21st century, struggling to find meaning in her day job while also seeking to fulfill her culinary dreams through Julia Child’s cookbook. Both women, in the course of the story, learns the value of perseverance in the face of adversity. For me, the message that came across clearly is that being steadfast in pursuing your passions in life always leads to something extraordinary.
2. Up in the Air
If you’ve seen Up in the Air, you might ask why a movie that tells the story of a man travelling all over the United States to fire people will inspire anyone about their career. What I love about this movie is that it makes you rethink your own career decisions and to take the end of something as an opportunity to start something better for yourself. At some points, it speaks directly to corporations on the value of their people, especially those who have given most of their life to the company. It’s also a good movie to watch for rookies in the corporate setting, as demonstrated by Anna Kendrick’s character.
3. The Devil Wears Prada
Not all people are happy with their bosses and Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep), the fiendish editor of Runway Magazine, is the epitome of horrible. With vague instructions like, "Find me that piece of paper I had in my hand yesterday morning," it’s a wonder her first assistant Emily has survived her for so long. The Devil Wears Prada deals with a lot of work-related situations that anyone can relate to such as work-life balance (where does the desk end and life begins?), the politics behind corporations, the thin line between work friends and career goals and the sacrifice of your true goal to a distorted, hashed-down version that gives you money for rent. It’s not just about fashion.
4. 12 Angry Men
Movies like 12 Angry Men are a rarity nowadays and although this was released in 1957, it’s still highly relevant, if not more so. This movie will show you in one room, one setting, all the people you will encounter in life, especially at work. There’s the idealist, the moralist, the cynical, the persistent, the people-pleaser, the racist, the pessimist, the optimist and more. It shows you the importance of fighting for your convictions. It also makes you think twice about making rash decisions without research or pondering other angles, because sometimes, the weight of your choice carries a life on the balance.
5. The Pursuit of Happiness
Who doesn’t love a rags-to-riches story? What makes The Pursuit of Happiness different, though, is that there is no fairy godmother, no magic, no inheritance, nothing. It’s the raw, stripped-down version with no glamour and flair. It shows you the value of hard work amidst all life struggles and of pushing forward whatever situation you might be in. Anyone who has had to endure money troubles, relationship problems, homelessness all the while trudging on trying to find work, will see that this story, which is based on real life, hits close to home.
6. 3 Idiots
This is a Bollywood film (fair warning for those who are not too keen on reading subtitles.) Despite the title, I really can’t firmly say that the main characters are idiots. I found them to be smart, creative students trying to figure out their paths across the restraints of traditional education, family expectations and sometimes depression in the pursuit of their dreams. I’ve sometimes used the mantra "All is well," to help calm me down in times of panic and it gave me little nuggets of wisdom when I lacked inspiration, the best of which was, "Pursue excellence and success will follow, pants down."
7. Erin Brockovich
How far can determination and confidence get you? Erin Brockovich is another movie based on a real person. Erin in the film is the embodiment of fighting for your beliefs and using everything in your power to stand by them. There will be many times when you’ll encounter roadblocks such as gender discrimination and judgement for the way you dress or your stature in life. But for Erin, those are not excuses to back down and stop pushing for what is right.
8. It's a Wonderful Life
It’s a Wonderful Life is a classic Christmas movie, but the lessons behind it are anything but seasonal. A lot of us have grappled to find meaning and purpose in our lives, just like the lead George Bailey. He had given up most, if not all, of his dreams in order to serve others and on Christmas eve ends up on a bridge, intending to take his life. In appreciation of his honesty and sacrifice, family and friends helped save him from this doom. The film teaches us that no matter how overcome we are with challenges at work, the meaning of life is not lost. It’s still wonderful. As the Angel Clarence said, "No man is a failure who has friends."
9. Jerry Maguire
With its most famous lines, "You complete me" and "You had me at hello," immortalized in Valentine’s Day cards, most people would categorize Jerry Maguire as a romantic film. But in truth, this film is about upholding integrity within your industry. Maguire insists on authenticity as a way to keep clients amongst his peers who have fallen into lip service and underhanded tactics. Though he encounters rough patches along the way, his belief eventually pays off, proving that nothing can beat honest work.
10. The Fountainhead
The Fountainhead tells the story of architect Howard Roark, based on a novel by Ayn Rand. It deals with the conflict between individualism and conformity. Roark is a creative, innovative and highly individualistic architect whose modernistic designs clashed with the strictly traditional style of his industry. He is alienated, discredited and at one point had to resort to a menial job, but he remained unfazed and eventually found like-minded people who shared his beliefs. The Fountainhead deeply explores the dynamics of holding your own against societal and peer pressures.
Work, the journey of building one’s career, is one of the key issues in life that almost everyone in the world has gone through and movies have long delved deeply into the struggles and triumphs that come with it. Aside from these ten, there are an abundance of films that, through their stories, have helped give a bit of clarity and even just a little inspiration as we go through the daily grind. What’s your pick? Let us know in the comments section below.