Home Office / Jeff Wuorio
5 Academy-worthy business movies
|Want to learn the ins and outs of running a small business?
Burn every how-to book in sight. Play hooky from pricey seminars.
Tell every consultant within earshot to go push someone else's
Instead, fluff up the La-Z-Boy, zap a bag of nuclear corn and dig
up your VCR remote.
Admittedly, there aren't many movies that address small-business
success. Rewarding as it is, the average small business has enough
drama to make "My Dinner with Andre" as nail-biting as the chariot
race in "Ben Hur." But that's not to say there aren't solid,
entertaining movies that offer nuggets of wisdom of why a small
business clicks — or, rather, why it doesn't.
Here, in no particular order, is one reviewer's overview of five
movies that, in one way or another, have a small-business lesson to
offer (Yes, there are others that worthy of nomination, but this is
The story: The tale of Rick's Café, set in North
Africa as Nazi Germany is overrunning much of the world.
Romance, mystery, intrigue, betrayal, the whole falafel — since
you've probably seen this gem a few hundred times, no need for a
Why it's good: The café does a thriving business
because it knows its clientele and gives patrons what they want.
And that means everything from looking the other way when Nazis
belt their national anthem to letting local French officials win
at the roulette table.
What it teaches: Granted, Rick's knows what turns a
profit — a salient point of success for any small business. If
letting the cops drink for free keeps the gambling tables
humming, that's the price of commerce. But, in the end, Rick
(and we) discover that there are more important things than the
bottom line; that, if need be, it's essential to stick your neck
out for someone else when it comes to doing the right thing. And
that's good business in a broader sense of the term.
The story: An immigrant family in early 20th century
America. Amid other struggles, the family opens a department
store and, for a time, thrives, moving from inner-city Baltimore
to the more prosperous suburbs.
Why it's good: "Avalon" celebrates the wide-eyed,
optimistic sense of enterprise that drove the country a century
back. Hard work, diligence bordering on blind stubbornness —
interwoven within a beautiful story of the dynamics of family
life (check out the Thanksgiving mutiny over carving the
turkey). "Avalon" illustrates the timeless dynamics that power
What it teaches: On one hand, how hard work focused in
the proper fashion reaps its rewards. But, as we see in the
latter part of the film, to take nothing for granted, that the
fortunes of business can tumble far faster than they can be
built, often through the most simple of oversights.
"Glengarry Glen Ross"
The story: This does for real estate what Hitchcock
did for quaint roadside motels. "Glengarry Glen Ross" portrays a
struggling real estate office that can't move a single property.
A hotshot executive unveils a sales contest: first place, a new
car; second place, cutlery; third place, a pink slip.
Why it's good: Anyone who's ever had to work in a
come-home-with-your-shield-or-on-it environment can empathize.
Even if you haven't, it's hard not to cringe as the various
salespeople struggle and scheme to stay afloat as the axe floats
above each of their noggins.
What it teaches: If ever a film personified the slogan
"The beatings will continue until morale improves," this is the
baby. Admittedly, business is a tough nut, but "Glengarry Glen
Ross" does a wonderful job of showing that business by threat of
the guillotine is not merely ineffective, it's completely
The story: The Quickie Mart from you-know-where.
"Clerks" offers an hysterical, day-in-the-life glimpse of two
convenience store workers and, in essence, just how wretched
both their personal and their "professional" (quotes definitely
warranted) have become.
Why it's good: You'll know if you've ever set foot in
a convenience store and, upon leaving, felt the need for a
purifying shower as quickly as possible. Amid the leathery meat
snacks, fingered porno rags and bizarre customers — one is
completely focused on finding the "perfect" dozen eggs —
"Clerks" is gritty, occasionally repulsive but completely
What it teaches: Through the power of its wretched
reality, "Clerks" amply illustrates how a prospective customer
can see your business. Put another way: Would I go into a place
that looks like this? Not bloody likely. And, nor would you.
(When the star of the movie can't get the metal security gates
open, he shoe polishes "I assure you, we are open" on the front
of the building.) Wow, let's go there for a jerky and ginger
The story: For those of you who may have been chanting
in a reclusive monastery for the past several years, "The
Producers" by madman Mel Brooks tells the story of a failing
Broadway mogul and a neurotic numbers cruncher who discovers
that an overfunded flop is a greater money maker than an actual
Why it's good: The 1968 movie that predates the
Broadway musical is fall down funny, frequently tasteless but,
in its own way, a thoughtful study of the quirks of the
What it teaches: In these days of Enron and WorldCom,
a reminder that cooked books almost always spoils. On top of
that, never, ever assume anything is predetermined to be
successful or for that matter, doomed to the grave. After years
of well-intentioned failures, our heroes score big with a
musical romp about Eva and Adolph at Berchtesgaden. If that
seems completely implausible, just remember pet rocks,
chalupa-hawking Chihuahuas, mood rings, inside-the-shell egg
scramblers, pocket fishermen, Baby on Board signs . .
"It's a Wonderful Life": Jimmy Stewart makes us all
feel good about running our own businesses.
"Citizen Kane": Kind of the antithesis of Wonderful
Life, but it definitely has a moral to the story.
"Wall Street": What greed ultimately gets you. Maybe
this should be required watching for some of the former execs at