Last updated: April 2018
Films are a great way to extent intellectual curiosity beyond the classroom. I’ve listed the following movies because they satisfy two criteria. Firstly, I think that they are excellent ways to reflect upon key issues in the art of business management – I have utilised these films to probe my thinking about areas of my research and teaching, and to that end I feel screenings can be incorporated into either a discussion group or classroom environment. Secondly, they all pass a basic hurdle in terms of entertainment and quality. However you utilise these recommendations I hope you enjoy them!
The Wizard of Oz (1939)
Is this story an allegory for monetary systems? Some claim that Dorothy represents the everyman America, the Scarecrow represents farmers, the Tin Woodman industrialists, and the Lion is William Jennings Bryan (Democratic Presidential candidate). At a time when American’s feared deflation the yellow brick road to Oz is a reference to the gold standard and Washington DC. Rather than reinstate the silver standard (proposed by Bryan at the time) we see the Emerald City of greenbacks and the Wizard of Oz himself (the President) exposed as fraud.
12 Angry Men (1957)
Highly decorated and intense portrayal of the decision-making process in the jury room of a murder trial. A simplistic view is that it exposes blatant and latent prejudice, but can also be viewed as a warning against groupthink and a desire to build consensus. Ultimately it’s the vindication of the role of a Devil’s Advocate in a group setting.
All the President’s Men (1976)
This is the most famous whistleblowing case writ large in a Hollywood blockbuster. Interesting to compare with Woodford’s book and the information that has come to light since “Deepthroat” was revealed. It demonstrates that whistleblowers aren’t disloyal and aren’t opportunistic.
Name of the Rose (1986)
Not strictly related to economics, but a great account of the diffusion of ideas and the treatment of knowledge as a resource. Based on Umberto Eco’s book, I see it as a version of the Fatal Conceit, where those in positions of authority pervert Truth and Reason. It also shows the dangers of historical revisionism and thus the importance of reading the classics.
Wall Street (1987)
Some see this as the embodiment of capitalism, but it’s better viewed as a vision of how some groups view capitalism – by comparing the events depicted in the film to real life one can disentangle the complexities.
Antz is an animated film featuring the voices of (among others) Woody Allen, Sylvester Stallone, Sharon Stone, Gene Hackman and Jennifer Lopez. The protagonist, “Z-4195” is an individualist who challenges the hierarchical structure of the colony, demonstrating a modern parable of rights, responsibilities and ultimately of freedom.
Office Space (1999)
The best film I’ve seen that demonstrates the monotony and fatalism of typical office life. All managers should watch this, and realise that Bill Lumbergh isn’t a fiction. The film bombed at the box office, was slated by the New York Times, but has become a cult classic.
Good Bye Lenin! (2003)
Set in East Berlin, a woman falls into a coma and misses the fall of the Berlin Wall. When she awakes her children don’t want to shock her and try to screen her from the economic changes occurring outside the bedroom window. This is an entertaining but poignant demonstration of the transition process and alternative economic systems.
There Will be Blood (2007)
The film is less moralising than the book, but there’s an undercurrent that demonises the protagonist for his profit seeking. Aside from the majestic performance by Daniel Day-Lewis this raises questions about risk-taking, speculation, eminent domain and the relationship between business and family management.
The Lives of Others (2007)
An enthralling depiction of the East German Stasi, with the main character questioning the implementation of his ideals whilst spying on a playwright. There’s no neat ideological conclusion, but a challenging portrayal of espionage.
Mad Money (2008)
A pretty pointless crime movie but it raises some interesting discussion points about the mechanisms of monetary policy and the ethical implications of macroeconomic policy.
Two Days One Night (2014)
Not seen it yet, but Tyler Cowen has.
A wonderfully presented tale of eminent domain and the bureaucracy and corruption that come with it. I was expecting a battle between man and the state, but it was more of a Vodka-fuelled truel than a duel. Also contains a fascinating side plot with regard to how it was funded.
Eye in the Sky (2015)
A nicely tense example of a moral dilemma, which also serves as a brilliant case study in decision-making under pressure and chains of command. I would be intrigued to see how the viewer’s own judgment changes throughout the course of the film, and the verdict on the organisational structure on display.
The Death of Stalin (2017)
A chillingly funny case study of collective decision making within a leadership vacuum. Molotov’s speech, and the manner in which consensus is formed is a wonderfully applicable example of herding effects and deference.
In addition to the above I’ll indulge myself by listing films that aren’t necessarily MBA curricula, but I’ve deeply enjoyed nevertheless. These tend to be either British realism; cognitive-based science fiction/epistemological thrillers (i.e. Christopher Nolan); espionage/action, soppy, or just plain daft:
An Affair to Remember, Roman Holiday, Trainspotting, The Mission: Impossible Series; Cannibal the Musical, The Lady Vanishes, North by Northwest, Nuts in May, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Fight Club, Napoleon Dynamite, Vanilla Sky, Village of the Damned, Charade, The Machinist, Children of Men, The Bourne Series, The Hostel Series, Inception, The Prestige, The Hunger Games Series, The Before Series, Everyday, Boyhood.
I’m also a big fan of Emir Kusterica and my ranking of his best films is:
- Black Cat White Cat (1998)
- Underground (1995)
- When Father was Away on Business (1985)
Other Balkan/Romanian New Wave movies that I enjoyed: 4 Months 3 Weeks 2 Days (2007), The Belgrade Phantom (2009), How I Ended This Summer (2010), Beyond the Hills (2012), Leviathan (2014), Ida (2014)
For my ranking of boxsets, see here.