The Business Movie as Genre & Tool

By Shaun O’L. Higgins

Business films have moved, over decades, from being a sub-genre of drama to being a genre in their own right. The number of films that fit the genre grows exponentially, not only during business downturns, but also during times of strong economic growth.

Movies about business not only provide insight into the way business is perceived at a given time in a given culture, but also serve as instructional vehicles for teaching and training executives and the people they manage.

Business-genre movies often depict business as a destructive force that is conspiratorial in nature and unethical in practice and in continual need of regulation and oversight. Movies such as Norma Rae, The China Syndrome, Wall Street, Silkwood, The Rainmaker (based on the John Grisham novel, not the N. Richard Nash play), and The Insider as an impersonal, often evil institution. In such films, business (usually BIG business) exploits working people to benefit obsessive-compulsive robber barons who lie, cheat, steal and flatter their way to riches. Workers are not the only folks who take it on the chin from these screen villains. Stockholders, customers and communities also get punched. And yet, for every Gordon Gekko in films like Wall Street, there is are counter-balancing Thomas Edisons and Alexander Graham Bells; for every upstart Russell Crowe in The Efficiency Expert, there’s a “seen the light” Anthony Hopkins; for every Mr. Potter, there is a George Bailey.

It is impossible to use movies as tools in business, without examining how business is characterized in the movies, and to recognize that it is not always “a bad guy”…

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