Usually, trips to the movie theatre are all about salted popcorn, oversized soft drinks and blockbuster thrills; two hours of escapism, essentially, where you can forget about work and immerse yourself in the drama, laughs or shocks of alternative worlds.
But what about those films where, actually, if you’re paying attention, there’s a few handy career lessons to be learned? Some movies offer a wealth of educational and inspiring wisdom that we can apply to our own lives, directly or otherwise; it could be to your benefit to try and spot them.
To point you in the right direction, we’ve compiled a brief list, so clear out your weekend schedule, crack open a jumbo bag of tortilla chips and get your notepad ready. Here are seven movies about work that could really help your career…
1. Office Space (1999)
For the uninitiated, Mike Judge’s 1999 cult classic is the ultimate workplace critique – a 90-minute dissemination of frustration, boredom and small-scale rebellion, told through the hypnotised eyes of Ron Livingston’s work-weary software engineer.
Encapsulating every soul-crushing, exasperating inanity of corporate America (including memo etiquette, "cases of the Mondays" and the grim familiarity of Gary Cole’s tortuous middle manager), it may not drive you to burn your own office down, but it will certainly help you realise the importance of purpose and satisfaction away from your 9-to-5 grind.
Definitive scene: That photocopier scene. No words required – just the raw, visceral culmination of a million office fantasies being realised at once.
See also: The Office (TV series), Silicon Valley (TV series)
2. Up in the Air (2009)
On the surface, this existential drama about George Clooney’s corporate ‘downsizer’ (a.k.a. someone who fires people for a living) is a character study of loneliness and nonfulfillment. Looking at it from a career perspective, though, it riffs on some relevant workplace themes; particularly, the importance of maintaining face-to-face communication in an increasingly digitalised environment, the oft-overlooked personal effects of corporate restructuring and the general lack of empathy that many companies have for their staff.
If you’re a frequent business traveller, it also offers some insightful observations into the nomadic nature of the lifestyle; this is an important film for anyone who’s ever compromised their home life in exchange for their career.
Definitive scene: "At what point were you going to stop and go back to what made you happy?" Clooney’s Ryan Bingham asks a recently fired office worker why he abandoned his dream of becoming a chef for a life of corporate stability.
See also: Thank You for Smoking
3. The Intern (2015)
There are several lessons that can be taken away from this charming 2015 comedy/drama (not least how to handle the various startup leadership dilemmas that Anne Hathaway's Jules encounters over the course of the film) but the real star turn is undoubtedly Robert De Niro’s eponymous intern, Ben, a wise old head who foregoes the boredom of his widower retirement to take a menial position at a design company.
Of course, after an initial bout of scepticism, the cynical assortment of millennials all realise that they have plenty to learn from the old timer, be it in life, love or work. But there’s plenty to make you think about your own career, too, from your goals and motivations to what you’re prepared to do to reach them.
Definitive scene: "You’re never wrong to do the right thing". Ben channels his inner Mark Twain to impart some much-needed leadership wisdom on his young boss.
See also: The Internship
4. The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
When you overlook the copious drug abuse, the hedonistic lifestyle and the extremely dubious moral compass of just about every character in The Wolf of Wall Street, there are some hugely interesting takeaways from Martin Scorsese’s 2013 classic.
Criminal stock broker Jordan Belfort (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) may be odious and unlikeable in every possible way, yet he inspires an unwavering loyalty and sense of commitment from his workforce. Likewise, Matthew McConaughey’s five-minute cameo as Mark Hanna is about as seminal a mentorship as you’ll ever see on the big screen. Just don’t bring your goldfish to work on the busiest day of the year…
Definitive scene: "Sell me this pen". In one short, almost throwaway exchange, Jon Bernthal's Brad demonstrates what separates a natural entrepreneur from the millions of wide-eyed 'suckers' who’ll never quite grasp the secret.
See also: Glengarry Glen Ross, Wall Street, Suits (TV series)
5. Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004)
You might be wondering what a nonsensical, ad-libbed, slapstick comedy set in a 1970s newsroom might have to do with your career, but the only thing sillier than the jokes is the fact that women in the workplace were once genuinely viewed in the same way that Will Ferrell’s Ron Burgundy and co are guilty of here.
From the blatant sexual harassment to the total ignorance of gender equality ("What in the hell is diversity?!"), it’s clear that the characters’ over-the-top misogyny is the butt of the joke; this should serve as a reminder of just how ridiculous workplace attitudes once were, though, and why it’s so important that companies continue to strive for an equal footing now.
Definitive scene: "Times are changing – ladies can do stuff now, and you’re going to have to learn to deal with it". In a brief cameo, Mexican action star Danny Trejo explains the new world order to a disgruntled Burgundy.
See also: Made in Dagenham
6. The Devil Wears Prada (2006)
There have been some memorably horrible bosses portrayed on the big screen, but Meryl Streep’s Miranda Priestly – loosely based on the real-life Vogue editor Anna Wintour – is surely at the top of the pile. Cutting, vindictive and acid-tongued, she is the embodiment of every tyrannical manager you’ve ever complained about to colleagues when you’re three drinks deep at the Friday get-together.
Aside from riffing on the perils of bad bosses, The Devil Wears Prada also touches on our professional ambitions and asks us what we are prepared to do in order to impress our superiors, let alone achieve our goals. This is essential viewing for anyone who’s ever been faced with the moral dilemmas that office politics can entail and, certainly, for anyone who’s ever been made to feel tiny by their boss.
Definitive scene: "Is there some reason that my coffee isn’t here? Has she died or something?" Priestly strikes a chord of fear into the heart of every intern that’s ever been responsible for the office coffee run.
See also: The Devil’s Advocate, Horrible Bosses
7. The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)
Based on the true story of investment broker Chris Gardner (portrayed here by the Oscar-nominated Will Smith), The Pursuit of Happyness (deliberately misspelt) is essentially a tale of determination, ingenuity and pure dedication to succeed. In the film, Gardner’s motivation is simply to provide a better life for his young son, but his story and his methods can serve as inspiration to anyone who has their eyes set on a particular career goal.
There’s a few practical tips, too; as a gifted salesman by trade, there are plenty of interesting closing techniques on show, while the scene depicting Gardner’s initial interview with a brokerage firm offers some insights into the benefits of being honest and, more importantly, being yourself.
Definitive scene: "If people can’t do something, they want to tell you that you can’t do it. Don’t ever let somebody tell you that. If you want something, go and get it. Period." Gardner reflects on his own struggles while encouraging his wannabe athlete son.
See also: Seven Pounds, Cinderella Man
As you can see, there’s plenty of guidance to be found in these career movies, even if you have to dig a little deeper to find them. So, whether you’re a student planning your next move, a graduate struggling to choose the right calling or an experienced professional simply looking for a little inspiration, don’t be afraid to consult the big screen – you never know what you might learn!
What movies have provided guidance or inspiration to your career? Let us know in the comments below…