They Didn’t All Win Oscars, But These Work-Related Movies Hold a Special Place in Our Hearts
And the Oscar Goes to…
The nominees for this year’s Academy Awards feature whimsy and fantasy, wartime adventures and family dramas. These movies may be praiseworthy, but they largely lack any perspective on the things that occupy most viewers’ daily lives: impersonal cubicles, tedious commutes, the chances of promotion.
We, therefore, have assembled an alternate list of deserving films that offers a peek into what it is to be a worker, striving for career advancement and negotiating all the hurdles along the way. And be warned, we’ve got some dark horse picks that you might not have even considered “work” movies, so make sure you click all the way to the end.
Without further ado, here are our picks for the top 10 workplace movies of all time:
10. Dirty Pretty Things (2002)
Ostensibly, this movie is a crime thriller about a group of London hotel employees who stumble upon an illegal organ-selling ring operating out of their workplace. At the same time, however, it offers a glimpse into the very human motivations, fears and ambitions of the workers – mostly illegal immigrants – who work and sacrifice unseen to keep the hotel running smoothly.
9. The Hudsucker Proxy (1994)
Is it possible for a comedy to be simultaneously satirical and screwball?
If so, that is what Joel and Ethan Coen have achieved with this movie, in which naïve but ambitious mailroom clerk Norville Barnes (Tim Robbins) finds himself suddenly elevated to the rank of top executive as part of a nefarious plan by the company’s board of directors.
Plus, it’s got Paul Newman. Enough said.
8. Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (1956)
The plight of Gregory Peck’s character in this movie — a war veteran and PR flack feeling the pressures of the corporate world — has become so iconic that the film’s title is still used as shorthand for discontented, faceless office workers.
7. Broadcast News (1987)
This movie, centered on the work and lives of a network news producer and two reporters, has office romance, coworker rivalries and career mishaps. But what really sets it apart from other workplace films is that it takes these characters’ careers seriously; the standards and ethics of journalism are treated as if they do and should matter
6. Clerks (1994)
The movie that launched director Kevin Smith’s career is both raunchy and nerdy, but still manages to capture the inertia and ennui that can accompany working behind a counter. And there is no one who has worked in customer service who cannot relate to video store clerk Randal’s complaint that “This job would be great if it wasn’t for the (bleeping) customers.”
5. Working Girl (1988)
Sure, it’s fun watching scrappy, working class Tess McGill (Melanie Griffith) use her brains and business sense to work her way up the corporate ladder (and get the guy). But what really makes the movie is Tess herself: fearlessly sexy (“I’ve got a head for business and a bod for sin.”), ready to bend the rules, and consistently confident in her own abilities.
4. Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)
Perhaps the darkest selection on the list, this film embodies the sometimes harsh and soul-crushing side of the working world.
In this movie’s most famous scene, a pre-ironic Alec Baldwin orders underling salesman Jack Lemmon to put down his mug because “Coffee’s for closers.” And things only get worse from there.
3. The Princess Bride (1987)
We know, we know — you’re wondering how in heck this is a “work” movie, right? But hear us out.
To the uninitiated, this cult favorite may appear to be no more than a fairy tale adventure. Not so. Consider Fezzik and Inigo, mere laborers under the supervision of Vizzini (himself a freelancer, hired out by Prince Humperdinck). Miracle Max is the quintessential victim of castle downsizing. And Westley’s promotion to the role of Dread Pirate Roberts is perhaps one of the clearest cinematic examples of workable succession planning (“The real Roberts has been retired 15 years and living like a king in Patagonia.”)
2. Office Space (1999)
Office Space should make it onto any list of workplace movies, if only for the sheer volume of cultural references it has generated.
But it also provides an escapist fantasy for those who have dreamt of dismantling their cubicles, ignoring the boss, and taking a baseball bat to that wonky printer. Damn it feels good to be a gangsta.
Just try to avoid setting the office on fire. You can always find another stapler.
1. Modern Times (1936)
This Charlie Chaplin classic may be the first real workplace film to come out of Hollywood.
The movies may offer no clearer symbol of the pressures of modern work than the moment in which Chaplin’s body is literally wrapped around the cogs of factory machinery as he tries to keep up. And this vision of a little-guy worker struggling to get ahead while the world changes around him remains incredibly relevant to this day.
Take These Movies Home with You
Before the Academy Awards kick off, have a viewing party of your own with the movies on our list. Get them here: