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Movies That Teach You About Business

My Favorite Movies That Teach You About Business, Sales and Marketing

I love movies about business, and I’ve been wanting to write this post for some time now. It’s Oscar night so this seems like as good of a time as ever, so here goes my list of movies that have taught me a thing or two about the business world.

Let’s start with The Masterpiece

The Godfather I & II I used to have a photocopy of an article from a magazine called “Everything I Learned About Business, I Learned From Watching The Godfather”. I think it was in Printing Impressions, but I can’t find it anywhere online. There’s a handful of other blog posts about it, I’m not going to mention the one everyone always says, but a few of my favorite lessons from the Godfather are:

movies about business
Michael Corleone, The Godfather
  • “Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.” You would be surprised at what type of intelligence you can acquire from the competition if you make a point to be friendly as opposed to adversarial.
  • “Hyman Roth is the only one left because he always made money for his partners.” Uncle Junior, er…um I mean, Johnny Ola dropped this little gem in Part II, and it always resonated for me. When it comes to the startups, investors, and people you go into business with, the best position you can be in is to make sure the people around you see you as a profitable business partner. Or else you may get whacked.
  • “Fredo, you’re my older brother, and I love you. But don’t ever take sides with anyone against the Family again. Ever.” – Loyalty is a vital characteristic of any business person’s arsenal. There’s no way to find yourself on the outside looking in if you choose to behave subversively regarding your employer or business partners.

The Salesperson’s Guide To The Galaxy

Glengarry Glenn Ross– The cinematic version of the Tony award-winning play gave us a star-studded cast of Hollywood heavy hitters. While it seems commonplace today, it used to be a rare treat to enjoy the combined talents of Al Pacino, Kevin Spacey, Jack Lemmon, Alan Arkin, Ed Harris, and, of course, Alec Baldwin. Each one represented the various salesperson archetypes – the big kahuna, the bipolar maniac, the washed-up old-timer, and the sales manager who doesn’t understand the business. Baldwin’s character, Blake, rips into the crew mercilessly and gave us two sales paradigms to live by: A.B.C. – “Always Be Closing,” and A.I.D.A – “Attention, Interest, Decision, and Action.” This is how you close deals. Bonus: Pacino’s monologue in the bar with a potential client is a thing of beauty and smooth as silk. 

The Internship  At some point, someone said, “Hey I have an idea for a movie. Modern, trendy Silicon valley types clash with old school sales dudes.” Someone’s reply must have been, “Sounds amazing! Let’s call in Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson.” Of course, this movie was probably commissioned by Google to be used as a marketing tool. But it shows how that as far as we have come technologically, “sales” or the place for a sales professional is not an archaic business concept that has been replaced by zeros and ones. Real personal relationships with other human beings are still what drive the business world, and without them nothing is possible.

movies about business

Tommy Boy  Classic, hysterical, and possibly Chris Farley’s first work. Ok, you may not learn anything about business, but at least we got to see how not to sell. And we did get that line from Big Tom Callahan, “Of course, I can get a hell of a good look at a T-Bone steak by sticking my head up a bull’s ass, but I’d rather take the butcher’s word for it.” I pulled this line one time when I was in printing sales, and the prospect asked if we did press checks. Too bad the buyer grew up in the 60s and 70s and had no idea where I got the line from. This is also when I knew I needed to get out of the printing business.

For the PR pros

movies about business
Nick Naylor, Vice-President of the Academy of Tobacco Studies

Thank You For Smoking – Whether you agree or disagree with the cause that main character Nick Naylor appears to be fighting for, you must admit, he is a prolific spinster who almost convinces you that smoking just may be ok for you. It’s an incredible commentary on how companies can distort public perception, which is sort of the point of public relations. Just like most of the movies on this list, it can also serve as a field manual for sales and the art of negotiation.

Wag The Dog – Another great movie about how public perception can be manipulated and crafted. However in Wag The Dog, the orchestration is much more overt. I mean, the premise of bringing in a Hollywood producer (so wonderfully portrayed by Dustin Hoffman), to create a diversionary fake war is straight-up genius. Makes you wonder….

The Struggle

movies about business
Will & Jaden Smith in The Pursuit of Happyness

The Pursuit of HappynessIf you’re looking for an uplifting story about the real-life struggle that many of us go through, then this movie is for you. The story of a 100% self-made man, it shows that when all hope is lost, dedication and perseverance are all that matter. In business, you can’t always control what happens around you. You will be faced with challenges, and things will not always go your way. But if you stay focused on a higher purpose or something of utmost importance in your life, such as the security of your family, you can come out on top.

Swimming with Sharks  I love movies that are about Hollywood, where you get to see a glimpse of what the real world of the film business looks like. Kevin Spacey kills it as “Buddy Ackerman”, and shows you what kind of torture you must go through to get ahead in that business. It gets pretty twisted by the end, so don’t say we didn’t warn you.


Opportunity Knocks  “Love in a love con? What is this, amateur hour?” Keep love and business separate (see Godfather I, “Don’t ask me about my business.” Plus Dana Carvey in the lead role, doing what he does best- funny voices.

Honorable mentions:

Secret Of My Success

The Wolf of Wall Street

The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard

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