10. The Apartment (1960)
Directed by Billy Wilder
What it’s about: C. C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon) is a lower-middle manager in one of the five largest companies in the country. He also has an apartment that’s convenient to the corporate headquarters and the perfect lover’s nest for Baxter’s bosses to bring their mistresses.
Why watch it: For the education on office politics and the perfect comic timing of Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine, who plays his love interest.
Business takeaway: The climb to the top might be rife with pitfalls and other moral judgments. How much do you want that promotion, and can you live with yourself if you compromise your morality?
Memorable scene: The scene where Baxter makes Fran a spaghetti dinner and, in typical bachelor fashion, strains the noodles with his tennis racket.
C.C. Baxter: [narrating] On November 1st, 1959, the population of New York City was 8,042,783. If you laid all these people end to end, figuring an average height of five feet six and a half inches, they would reach from Times Square to the outskirts of Karachi, Pakistan. I know facts like this because I work for an insurance company, Consolidated Life of New York. We’re one of the top five companies in the country. Our home office has 31,259 employees, which is more than the entire population of, uhh … Natchez, Mississippi. I work on the 19th floor. Ordinary Policy Department, Premium Accounting Division, Section W, desk number 861.
C.C. Baxter: Miss Kubelik, one doesn’t get to be a second administrative assistant around here unless he’s a pretty good judge of character, and, as far as I’m concerned, you’re tops. I mean, decency-wise and otherwise-wise.
Next up: Wall Street
9. Wall Street (1987)
Directed by Oliver Stone
What it’s about: A young stock trader (Charlie Sheen) is willing to do anything to get to the top, including working with illegal inside information. His mentor, Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) casts a dark mentorship.
Why watch it: For Douglas’ performance as Gordon Gekko, which makes the movie. In rewatching 25 years after it debuted, Wall Street seemed dated in places, and Daryl Hannah’s performance as Sheen’s love interest was distractingly awful. With that said, the basic theme of being seduced by success, along with Douglas’ great take on corporate greed, keeps this a cult favorite.
Business takeaway: Is greed good? The bubbles and market crashes and outright insidious behavior by many who control the global financial levers would tend to disagree with that notion.
Memorable scene: Gekko’s speech to shareholders about greed is one of the most quoted scenes in film and won Douglas the Oscar for best actor.
Gekko: I am not a destroyer of companies. I am a liberator of them! The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind. And greed, you mark my words, will not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA.
Gekko: You got ninety percent of the American public out there with little or no net worth. I create nothing. I own. We make the rules, pal. The news, war, peace, famine, upheaval, the price per paper clip. We pick that rabbit out of the hat while everybody sits out there wondering how the hell we did it. Now you’re not naive enough to think we’re living in a democracy, are you buddy? It’s the free market. And you’re a part of it. You’ve got that killer instinct. Stick around pal, I’ve still got a lot to teach you.
Next up: Death of a Salesman
8. Death of a Salesman (TV 1985)
Directed by Volker Schlöndorff
What it’s about: The Arthur Miller play comes to life in this made-for-TV version, which was also penned by Miller. It’s the classic tale of Willy Loman (Dustin Hoffman) a traveling insurance salesman who is slowly losing his mind and his will to live.
Why watch it: You might be familiar with the play, but Hoffman’s incendiary performance as Willy Loman makes it well worth another viewing.
Business takeaway: You are only as big as your dreams, but to realize those dreams you have to be willing to take the first step.
Memorable scene: Where Biff (John Malkovich) visits Willy at the hotel in Boston, forever changing the direction of both of their lives.
Biff Loman: [arguing with Willy] Pop, I’m a dime a dozen and so are you…
Willy Loman: [shouting] I am not a dime a dozen! I’m Willy Loman and you are Biff Loman!