When we are faced with a blocked road in our career, we usually turn to TED talks and motivational books to inspire us, often overlooking the power of movies; a good storyline may be just the push that you need to reach your career goals.
To point you in the right direction, we've compiled a brief list of the best motivational career films, so sit back and relax, crack open a jumbo bag of tortilla chips and get your notepad ready.
Here are 15 inspirational movies that are definitely worth watching!
1. Office Space
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), Office Space 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 nine-to-five grind.
2. The Social Network
This gripping movie shows how Facebook came into existence. While the lead character is based on Facebook's founder, Mark Zuckerburg, The Social Network takes a fictional spin on social platforms rise to popularity.
Instead, the film shows how two friends pulled together to build a thriving business, but money and greed got in the way of their friendship, forcing a string of lies to tear their relationship apart. The lesson here is not to allow power and success to change your morals and personality.
3. Up in the Air
On the surface, this existential drama about George Clooney's corporate 'downsizer' (aka 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, Up in the Air also offers some insightful observations into the nomadic nature of the lifestyle; this is an essential film for anyone who's ever compromised their home life in exchange for their career.
4. The Internship
When two salesmen Nick (Owen Wilson) and Billy (Vince Vaughn) find themselves unemployed, they attempt joining an internship at Google. Notwithstanding their complete lack of knowledge, they pair with other 'misfit' interns to get through several tough challenges.
Despite their comical failures, The Internship shows just how important it is to stay up-to-date in such a digital world – but it also highlights the importance of teamwork. Although you may be good at what you do, you need to remember that being a good team player is essential when looking at the wider picture.
5. The Intern
Several lessons can be learned from this charming comedy/drama (not least how to handle the various startup leadership dilemmas that Anne Hathaway's character encounters throughout the film). However, the real star in The Intern is undoubtedly Robert De Niro's eponymous intern, Ben, a wise, oldhead 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. There's plenty to make you think about your career, too, from your goals and motivations to what you're prepared to do to reach them.
6. Legally Blonde
This light-hearted movie tells the story of Elle Woods (Reese Witherspoon), a sorority queen who decides to follow her boyfriend to law school. After being dumped by her beau, the fashionista focuses on studying law to win back the heart of her ex. After pushing through hurdles, Elle discovers her passion for law and focuses on becoming a successful lawyer.
Although Legally Blonde is not a conventional, educational movie, it teaches us to place our energy on our career. It also reminds us that when you set your mind on something and work hard, you can achieve anything!
7. The Wolf of Wall Street
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 interesting takeaways from Martin Scorsese's 2013 classic.
Criminal stockbroker 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 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.
This film shows the story of a chef who goes from owning a big-time restaurant to a small food truck business. Chef portrays a man who has had his fair share of knock-backs but doesn't give up on what he's truly passionate about.
It reminds us that sometimes, obstacles get in the way of our career, but if we truly believe in our craft, we should continue pursuing our dreams!
9. Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy
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 through this lens.
From the blatant sexual harassment to the total ignorance of gender equality, it's clear that the characters' over-the-top misogyny is the butt of the joke. Anchorman serves 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.
10. Jerry Maguire
As a top sports agent, Jerry Maguire (Tom Cruise) seems to have it all – until he gets fired! His life then takes a turn as he has to start from the beginning to try and rebuild his career. During his new start-up, he hires a single mother who is dedicated to following her new boss anywhere he goes.
Jerry Maguire proves that you never know what's around the corner, but regardless of what is thrown your way, you can turn any negative situation into a new opportunity.
11. The Devil Wears Prada
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 undoubtedly 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 of office politics and for anyone who's ever been diminished by their boss.
12. Forrest Gump
Forrest Gump is a great reminder to enjoy the simple things in life. Despite his difficulties, the simple-minded Forrest Gump (Tom Hanks) depicts a kind-natured soul who lives his life as he feels right. The story evolves to show Forrest winning competitions, owning his own shrimp company and ultimately inspiring people across the nation.
Forrest's character reminds us that we don't have to be an expert to succeed – having the right mindset and motivation can be enough to carry us through!
13. The Pursuit of Happyness
Based on the true story of investment broker Chris Gardner, The Pursuit of Happyness is essentially a tale of determination, ingenuity and pure dedication to succeed. In the film, Gardner's motivation is to provide a better life for his young son, but his story and his methods can serve as an inspiration to anyone who has their eyes set on a particular career goal.
There are 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.
This classic underdog story takes us through the life of a kind-hearted boxer, Rocky (Sylvester Stallone), who works as a debt collector for a loan shark. He follows his passion to become a heavy-weight boxer, and we watch him rise from a small-time, club-fighter to a champion.
While there are several inspiring boxing movies, as an all-time classic Rocky stands out from the crowd – it teaches us that despite your financial abilities, you can still achieve your dreams if you're motivated and have a strong work ethic!
15. Erin Brockovich
Based on a true story, Erin Brockovich takes you on a journey through the life of an American activist and legal clerk who single-handedly brings down a California power company accused of polluting a city's water supply.
Despite her hostile colleagues, Erin pushes all prejudice aside and throws herself into her work. Her dedication to pursuing justice teaches us that despite any hardships, it's important to fight for what we believe in.
As you can see, there's plenty of guidance to be found in these inspirational 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 their calling, an aspiring entrepreneur 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.
This article is an updated version of an earlier article originally published on 20 July 2018. Siôn Phillpott also contributed to this article.