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12 Favorite Business Movies Of MBAs

Wednesday 16 May 2018, by Jeff Schmitt

Will Smith in The Pursuit of Happyness, one of the favorite movies of the 2018 Best & Brightest MBAs.

Everyone loves an underdog. And as long shots go, you won’t find a bigger one than Chris Gardner.

Separated from his wife, evicted from his apartment, and weighed down with debt, Gardner has hit rock bottom — a homeless, single father who bounces from shelter to subway station with his five-year-old son. But Gardner lives a double life. By day, he works at Dean Witter Reynolds, competing against 20 other unpaid interns for a coveted stockbroker position. In the process, he balances pitching high-income clients with picking his son up from daycare, eating in soup kitchens, and finding a place to sleep.

Why? Simple: Gardner is driven by the dream of financial independence and a better life for his son.


Gardner’s courage and sacrifice pays off. He beats the odds to earn that full-time broker job, eventually becoming the millionaire CEO of his own stockbrokerage firm. For the MBA Class of 2018, Gardner personifies the American dream. That may be one reason why so many of our Best & Brightest MBAs chose The Pursuit of Happyness, a Gardner biopic starring Will Smith, as their favorite movie about business.

For one of those MBAs, the University of Rochester’s Shahbaaz Mubeen Mamadapur, The Pursuit of Happyness is a universal story that reminds students that intangibles still matter.

Steve Carell (left) and Ryan Gosling in The Big Short

“This movie teaches us that no matter where you come from and what your background is, courage, sincerity and perseverance will always help you achieve your goals,” Mamadapur says. “It’s also touching to see the father and son go through such hardships, but never get bogged down.”

While The Pursuit of Happyness may serve as an inspiration, another popular choice among the Best & Brightest acts as a cautionary tale. Set 25 years after Gardner’s pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps saga, The Big Short is a requiem for hubris wrapped in a failure of imagination. An interconnected series of stories about the economic collapse that led to the Great Recession, the movie follows hedge fund managers and investors who made billions by bucking convention and betting against the housing bond market. In the process, The Big Short spotlights the warning signs and conflicts of interest that spurred the 2008 financial collapse.


Not surprisingly, The Big Short hit home for MBA graduates, many of whom witnessed the carnage first-hand in their communities when they were coming of age. Now, looking at the big picture, the Class of 2018 has taken away far different lessons. “The Big Short taught me how as an investor I need to be objective and disengage myself from the chaos going around me,” explains Stanford GSB’s Animesh Agrawal. “It also taught me that the role of financial institutions in society is to provide capital for growth and not just engage in speculation.”

Not every business movie involves a soaped-up Margot Robbie explaining subprime mortgages or a slicked-back corporate raider preening around a board meeting. In fact, some members of the Best & Brightest found wisdom in the most unexpected stories. Take Carnegie Mellon’s Michael Provenzano. What’s his favorite business movie? Well, it’s actually a series — Harry Potter!

“While it may be a bit of a stretch from business,” Provenzano admits, “I believe the elements from the movies, such as building a loyal and engaged team, pursuing bold and unusual visions despite what critics say, and growing along the way from those around you should be fundamental pillars of any company. Similar to business in real life, some of our Best & Brightest MBAs to list their favorite movie about business. In addition, they shared the biggest lesson they gained from it. From The Wolf of Wall Street to Barbershop, here are a dozen movies that shaped how the Class of 2018 thought about business.

The Social Network

Premise: From idea to enterprise and friendship to betrayal, The Social Network follows the development of Facebook from Harvard dorm sensation to world-changing platform that connects over a billion people worldwide. It is a business case on what happens when success is swift — and the shortcuts and tradeoffs people make when their success become bigger than their imagination.

MBA Says: “The biggest lesson I gained from it, which was also driven home in my Entrepreneurship class, is that a good idea is just an idea and it’s all in the execution (a lesson the Winklevoss twins learned as well). The team who identifies a clear problem and actually delivers the best solution the fastest wins.”
Erin Gumms, UC-Berkeley (Haas)

Best Movie Quotes:

Mark Zuckerberg: “I think if your clients want to sit on my shoulders and call themselves tall, they have the right to give it a try — but there’s no requirement that I enjoy sitting here listening to people lie. You have part of my attention — you have the minimum amount. The rest of my attention is back at the offices of Facebook, where my colleagues and I are doing things that no one in this room, including and especially your clients, are intellectually or creatively capable of doing. Did I adequately answer your condescending question?”

Mark Zuckerberg: “Without money the site can’t function. Okay, let me tell you the difference between Facebook and everyone else, we don’t crash EVER! If those servers are down for even a day, our entire reputation is irreversibly destroyed! Users are fickle, Friendster has proved that. Even a few people leaving would reverberate through the entire userbase. The users are interconnected, that is the whole point. College kids are online because their friends are online, and if one domino goes, the other dominos go, don’t you get that?”

Erica Albright: “You are probably going to be a very successful computer person. But you’re going to go through life thinking that girls don’t like you because you’re a nerd. And I want you to know, from the bottom of my heart, that that won’t be true. It’ll be because you’re an asshole.”

Office Space

Premise: Burnout can be an ugly thing. It goes far deeper than a treacherous fax machines, incomplete TPS reports, or simply a “bad case of the Mondays.” Want to look for the real reasons why employees are unmotivated and cultures are so dysfunctional? Office Space has you covered with a parade of meandering managers, clueless consultants, and overtaxed coders.

MBA Says: “So many great nuggets in this one. It shows you why having too many bosses is bad. Why using an outside consulting firm to downsize is a bad. Why you shouldn’t steal money from your company. Why you should make sure there is enough birthday cake for everyone at the office. Why you should let people have their red staplers if they’re really partial to them.”
Declan Nishiyama, Georgia Tech (Scheller)

Best Movie Quotes:

Peter Gibbons:  So I was sitting in my cubicle today, and I realized ever since I started working, every single day of my life has been worse than the day before it. So that means that every single day that you see me, that’s on the worst day of my life.”

Peter Gibbons: “Eight (bosses), Bob. So that means that when I make a mistake, I have eight different people coming by to tell me about it. That’s my only real motivation is not to be hassled, that and the fear of losing my job. But you know, Bob, that will only make someone work just hard enough not to get fired.”

Milton: “And I said, I don’t care if they lay me off either, because I told, I told Bill that if they move my desk one more time, then, then I’m, I’m quitting, I’m going to quit. And, and I told Don too, because they’ve moved my desk four times already this year, and I used to be over by the window, and I could see the squirrels, and they were merry, but then, they switched from the Swingline to the Boston stapler, but I kept my Swingline stapler because it didn’t bind up as much, and I kept the staples for the Swingline stapler and it’s not okay because if they take my stapler then I’ll set the building on fire.”

Go to next page for The Wolf of Wall Street, Moneyball, and The Intern

The Wolf of Wall Street

Premise: “Sell me this pen” —tThink that’s a tough proposition? Just try selling penny stocks. Yes, this rags-to-riches story is a portrait of the 1990s boiler room, replete with blow-fueled parties, souped up Ferraris, and f-bombs galore. Alas, Stratton Oakmont had few redeeming qualities — and the characters never seemed to learn from their excess, falling prey instead to suicide, prosecution, and bankruptcy. Call it capitalism run amok, a reminder that quick buck artists will ply their dark arts in every bull or bear market.

MBA Says: “This film is clearly not a demonstration of good business practices, but it provides a pretty entertaining example of the need for strong oversight and organizational procedures to ensure that individuals, and especially those in positions of power, don’t act unethically or create a culture that perpetuates such problematic behaviors.”
Isabelle Cox, MIT (Sloan)

Best Movie Quotes:

Jordan Belfort: “So you listen to me and you listen well. Are you behind on your credit card bills? Good, pick up the phone and start dialing! Is your landlord ready to evict you? Good! Pick up the phone and start dialing! Does your girlfriend think you’re a f-ing worthless loser? Good! Pick up the phone and start dialing! I want you to deal with your problems by becoming rich!”

Mark Hanna: “OK, first rule of Wall Street: Nobody — and I don’t care if you’re Warren Buffett or Jimmy Buffett — nobody knows if a stock’s going up, down, or f-ing sideways, least of all stockbrokers. But we have to pretend we know.”

Jordan Belfort: “Give them to me young, hungry, and stupid, and in no time, I’ll make ’em rich.”



Premise: “If we play like the Yankees in here, we will lose to the Yankees out there.” That’s the mantra of any upstart that dares face off against entrenched market players. That’s exactly what Oakland A’s General Manager Billy Beane did in 2002. After big market teams plundered his roster, Beane decided to compete on his own terms. Unable to match long-term, high-paying contracts as a small market team, Beane chose instead to embrace analytics, identifying undervalued virtues in players and building teams based on quantitative measurements over observation and intuition. Spoiler Alert: Beane’s A’s return to the playoffs, despite boasting one of the league’s lowest payrolls.

MBA Says: “I love how this movie showed that looking at the right data and using statistics can change the game. To be successful, your gut can be important, but analyzing the right data should support it.”
Meredith Dominigue, Southern Methodist University (Cox)

Best Movie Quotes:

Billy Beane: “The problem we’re trying to solve is that there are rich teams and there are poor teams. Then there’s fifty feet of crap, and then there’s us. It’s an unfair game. And now we’ve been gutted. We’re like organ donors for the rich. Boston’s taken our kidneys, Yankees have taken our heart. And you guys just sit around talking the same old ‘good body’ nonsense like we’re selling jeans. Like we’re looking for Fabio. We’ve got to think differently. We are the last dog at the bowl. You see what happens to the runt of the litter? He dies.”

Peter Brand: “It’s about getting things down to one number. Using the stats the way we read them, we’ll find value in players that no one else can see. People are overlooked for a variety of biased reasons and perceived flaws. Age, appearance, personality. Bill James and mathematics cut straight through that. Billy, of the 20,000 notable players for us to consider, I believe that there is a championship team of twenty-five people that we can afford, because everyone else in baseball undervalues them, like an island of misfit toys.”

John Henry: “For forty-one million, you built a playoff team. You lost Damon, Giambi, Isringhausen, Pena and you won more games without them than you did with them. You won the exact same number of games that the Yankees won, but the Yankees spent one point four million per win and you paid two hundred and sixty thousand. I know you’ve taken it in the teeth out there, but the first guy through the wall, it always gets bloody, always. It’s the threat of not just the way of doing business, but in their minds it’s threatening the game. But really what it’s threatening is their livelihoods, it’s threatening their jobs, it’s threatening the way that they do things. And every time that happens, whether it’s the government or a way of doing business or whatever it is, the people are holding the reins, have their hands on the switch. They go batshit crazy. I mean, anybody who’s not building a team right and rebuilding it using your model, they’re dinosaurs. They’ll be sitting on their ass on the sofa in October, watching the Boston Red Sox win the World Series.”

The Intern

Premise: “You can do anything and be anyone.” Maybe women can, but it comes with a steep price nonetheless. Meet Jules Ostin, the chronically late founder of a high-flying online fashion startup who pinballs from crisis-to-crisis, always pushing the big issues to another day. However, she meets her match in Ben Whittaker, a 70 year-old widower and former executive who applies to become an intern to cope with boredom. Sure enough, the old dog absorbs new tricks as Jules learns to loosen up without compromising what truly matters.

MBAs Say:

The movie is about a female founder of a retail technology startup, specializing in renting attire for special occasions. The main character, played by Anne Hathaway, wanted to be involved in every part of her company at the expense of her own self-care and family. She had to learn to trust the people around her to provide quality work, while prioritizing her wellness and personal relationships.”
Alana Williams, University of Texas (McCombs)

The biggest lesson I gained from this movie was that businesses can benefit from hiring diverse talent, gleaning unique viewpoints from people with various life experiences. The movie taught that there is never an age where people have to stop learning, and that being humble and willing to serve others can garner trust and respect from colleagues.”
Jana Soares, Texas A&M (Mays)

Best Movie Quotes:

Jules: “Nobody calls men ‘men’ anymore. Have you noticed? Women went from ‘girls’ to ‘women’. Men went from ‘men’ to ‘boys’? This is a problem in the big picture. Do you know what I mean?”



The Premise: A rat is the worst thing to find in your kitchen …unless he can cook, of course. Turns out, Remy the Rat is a Paris chef par excellence. That’s the basis of Ratatouille, a seemingly-forgotten Pixar release that reminds us that anyone, regardless of station, can excel in the rat race (pun intended).

MBA Says: “The movie is an extension of the idea ‘Everyone has the right to dream’. However, it elaborates that it is not an idea or a dream that makes it big; it is the execution that lets the idea shine. The little mouse, Remy from Ratatouille, aspires to become a chef. He has his goal in sight, knows his strengths, weaknesses and is aware of the ecosystem around him. He crafts an execution strategy to get him to the goal and takes successes and failures head on. We all have a ‘Little Remy’ inside us who dreams; however, often, he is lost even before execution starts. Ratatouille inspires me to stay focused and work hard, regardless of being different or the hardships that life may throw.”
Sonia Sahni, IE Business School

Best Movie Quotes:

Anton Ego: “In the past, I have made no secret of my disdain for Chef Gusteau’s famous motto: Anyone can cook. But I realize, only now do I truly understand what he meant. Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere. It is difficult to imagine more humble origins than those of the genius now cooking at Gusteau’s, who is, in this critic’s opinion, nothing less than the finest chef in France. I will be returning to Gusteau’s soon, hungry for more.”

Colette: “You think cooking is a cute job, eh? Like mommy in the kitchen? Well mommy never had to face the dinner rush where all the meals are different and none are simple with all the different cooking times and they must all arrive at the customer’s table at exactly the same time, hot and perfect! Every second counts, and you cannot be mommy!”

Go to the next page for The Pursuit of Happyness, The Big Short, and The Devil Wears Prada.

The Pursuit of Happyness

The Premise: Think you’ve had a run of bad luck? Try a broken marriage, jail, homelessness, and debt — not to mention working for free. That would be just about enough to break anyone. Well, Chris Gardner wasn’t just anyone. Born into a poverty marked by alcoholism domestic violence, and abandonment, Garden excelled in the U.S. Navy and medical sales … before his life fell apart again. Living day-to-day in shelters and even public bathrooms, Gardner beat the odds to work as a stockbroker at a leading firm. Sure enough, after the credits rolled, he emerged as a financial legend, author, philanthropist, and (most important) father of the year.

MBAs Say:

“I’m a firm believer in hard work and that success is built on resilience, not just talent. I think The Pursuit of Happyness has a great story in it. It highlights the importance of overcoming adversity and not letting others tell you what you can or cannot be while keeping in mind what is truly important in life — our families.”
Ilja Orre, University of Virginia (Darden)

“It’s a movie about struggle, resilience, and triumph. It’s the American dream wrapped into two hours.” Brandon Byers, University of Illinois (Gies)

“Apart from making me cry hopelessly, it reminds me to never take anything for granted and that persistence and determination can go a long way.”
Sravya Yelewarapu, Dartmouth (Tuck)

“I recently re-watched The Pursuit of Happyness on Netflix. The biggest lesson I took away from was importance of empathy. I think it is crucial that businessmen and women master this life skill to understand not only where their peers have come from, but also what personal challenges and institutional barriers they encountered along the way to success.”
JP Ortiz, Emory University (Goizueta)

“I love The Pursuit of Happyness starring Will Smith, based on the experience of entrepreneur Chris Gardner. In the face of incredibly tough circumstances and humiliation, Gardner focuses on what he can control and finds success taking one step at a time. The movie is humbling and inspiring.”
Sarah Hinkfuss, Stanford GSB

Best Movie Quotes:

Chris Gardner: “It was right then that I started thinking about Thomas Jefferson on the Declaration of Independence and the part about our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And I remember thinking how did he know to put the pursuit part in there? That maybe happiness is something that we can only pursue and maybe we can actually never have it. No matter what. How did he know that?”

Chris Gardner: “You got a dream. You gotta protect it. People can’t do somethin’ themselves, they wanna tell you you can’t do it. If you want somethin’, go get it. Period.”

Christopher: “There was a man who was drowning, and a boat came, and the man on the boat said, ‘Do you need help?’ and the man said ‘God will save me.’ Then another boat came and he tried to help him, but he said ‘God will save me,’ then he drowned and went to heaven. Then the man told God, ‘God, why didn’t you save me?’ and God said ‘I sent you two boats, you dummy!’”

The Big Short

Premise: What do you do when the financial world is teetering on the brink — and no one seems to care? You bet on the masters of the universe to fail … and fail they did. The Big Short follows the stories of three insurgents who decide to stick it to the man — and make a tidy profit in the process. Turns out, these characters were only a handful of winners to come out of the 2008 financial collapsed. Banks closed. Jobs vanished. And the guilty parties were given a stern finger wagging, bailed out, and sent on their merry way to the next bubble (Smart money is on student loans or cryptocurrencies). In the meantime, The Big Short relishes in demystifying complex financial tools and exposing the rot and hypocrisy at every grubby corner of the system.

MBAs Say:

This movie, and the story behind it, remind me that it’s important to maintain a healthy skepticism and challenge the status quo when you strongly believe that the consensus view is incorrect.”
Ryan Ripp, Columbia Business School

The movie demonstrated that challenging conventional wisdom can pay enormous dividends if you trust your instincts and work tirelessly to uncover a new way of thinking.”
Travis Martin, Michigan State (Broad)

“I think The Big Short is a great business movie, not just because of the content that it shares about how the financial crisis came to be, but how it experiments with storytelling. The short explanations in the middle about business concepts showed me that no matter how unfamiliar an audience may be with a subject, if you are creative in how you tell the story and can relate to the audience while doing that, they will engage with the content.”
Mahum Yunus, New York University (Stern)

“I learned that the worst-case scenario could absolutely come true. Never believe that something’s too big to fail. Overconfidence can lead to big failure.”
Mabel Gomes, Vanderbilt University (Owen)

Best Movie Quotes:

Mark Baum: “We live in an era of fraud in America. Not just in banking, but in government, education, religion, food, even baseball. … What bothers me ins’t that fraud is not nice. Or that fraud is mean. For fifteen thousand years, fraud and short-sighted thinking have never, ever worked. Not once. Eventually you get caught, things go south. When the hell did we forget all that? I thought we were better than this, I really did.”

Ben Rickert: “If we’re right, people lose homes. People lose jobs. People lose retirement savings, people lose pensions. You know what I hate about f-ing banking? It reduces people to numbers. Here’s a number — every 1% unemployment goes up, 40,000 people die, did you know that?”

Mark Baum: “The banks have given us 25% interest rates on credit cards. They have screwed us on student loans that we can never get out from under. Then this guy walks into my office and says those same banks got greedy, they lost track of the market, and I can profit off of their stupidity? F-, yeah, I want him to be right!”

Jared Vennett: “If the mortgage bonds were the match, then the CDOs were the kerosene soaked rags, then the synthetic CDO was the atomic bomb that the drunk President holding his finger over the button, it was at that moment in that dumb restaurant, with that stupid look on his face that Mark Baum realized the whole world economy might collapse.”

The Devil Wears Prada

Premise: Every college graduate goes through it. You take a starter job to pay your dues (and rent). It is a rite of passage; you gain experience and build a network … all while taking home meager pay and rarely plying your talents. In the case of Andy Sachs, it was a Faustian bargain, replete with the devil herself: Miranda Priestly. The editor-in-chief of Runway magazine, Priestly is cold and dismissive … well, except when she is acidic and ruthless. A primer on the gap between personal identity and business culture, The Devil Wears Prada is a movie that poses the big questions for young professionals. Are the sacrifices worth the return? How long can you compromise your values before you become what you hate? Then there is the biggest question: Is Miranda simply cruel – or has she adapted better to the demands and culture better than anyone else? You decide.

MBA Says: “Though there are literally hundreds of lessons in this movie, the biggest one is that people are not always who they appear to be and can come in clutch for you when you most need them to.”
Alex McNair, Emory University (Goizueta)

Best Movie Quotes:

Miranda Priestly: “Do you know why I hired you? I always hire the same girl — stylish, slender, of course … worships the magazine. But so often, they turn out to be — I don’t know — disappointing and, um … stupid. So you, with that impressive résumé and the big speech about your so-called work ethic — I, um — I thought you would be different. I said to myself, go ahead. Take a chance. Hire the smart, fat girl. I had hope. My God. I live on it. Anyway, you ended up disappointing me more than, um — more than any of the other silly girls.”

Emily: “Really? It’s for Paris, I’m on this new diet. Well, I don’t eat anything and when I feel like I’m about to faint I eat a cube of cheese. I’m just one stomach flu away from my goal weight.”

Nigel: “Yes, because that’s really what this whole multibillion-dollar industry is all about, isn’t it? Inner beauty.”

Miranda Priestly: “That is all.”

Go to next page for The Founder, Wall Street, and The Godfather. 

The Founder

Premise: Ray Croc was the Mark Zuckerberg of his era …without the hoodie. A middle-aged milkshake machine salesman, Croc’s life — and American commerce — was forever transformed when he visited a San Bernadino burger joint in 1954. He quickly snapped up a stake in the operation, whose assembly line cooking process paired consistent quality with a steamlined and speedy delivery. Within five years, Kroc had opened 100 restaurants nationwide and turned the “Golden Arches” into ground zero for many communities The “founding father of fast food,” Kroc re-defined marketing, building his empire’s value proposition on branding, real estate, and franchising. He set the highest standards for restaurant cleanliness, training, and customer service, while maintaining a simple menu and strict guidelines that stifled costs. He even introduced sponsorships to diversify revenue streams. Croc was a true genius … but also someone who cut the original founders out of royalties and drove their business into the ground. The Founder is a movie about turning an idea into a household name — and how innovation is often the result of fine-tuning and spreading another’s ideas.

MBA Says:The Founder is a movie that depicts how Ray Kroc built the McDonalds empire through good fortune, talent and execution. Although it was serendipitous that Ray stumbled upon the McDonald’s brothers in the first place, Ray was smart enough to recognize that the burger spot was an opportunity that could be scaled up and had the gumption to follow through. The brilliance, however, was in Ray’s realization that prime real estate could act as a golden goose, paving the way to McDonalds becoming a mammoth in not only fast food, but commercial real estate. Because opportunities may not always be immediately obvious, look for the subtle connections.”
Jay Kiew, University of Western Ontario (Ivey)

Best Movie Quotes:

Ray Kroc: “I’m looking for a few good men … and women … who aren’t afraid of hard work. Aren’t afraid to roll up their sleeves. I’m looking for scrappers, hustlers, guys that are willing to roll up their sleeves. They’re livin’ on drive, they got a little fire in their belly. I stand right here before you today, I’m gonna offer you something as precious as gold. And you know what that is? Anybody? Anybody? Opportunity. It’s opportunity. Opportunity. Opportunity to advance, to move forward, to move up, to advance … To succeed. To win. To step up. The sky’s the limit. The sky is the limit. Grab the brass ring. To give yourself a shot at the American dream. Put your arms around the American dream. Opportunity. Cause I’ll tell ya somethin’ … At McDonald’s? It’s like this great nation of ours … Some of that elbow grease. I guarantee ya, if you got the guts … the gumption, the desire … I guarantee ya you can succeed. There’s gold to be had. At the end of … those Golden Arches … Golden Arches. Golden Arches. Now who’s with me? Who wants to jump on that ladder to success? Be part of the McDonald’s ‘mishpokhe’. Now who’s with me? Come on, lemme see some hands.”

Ray Kroc: “I know what you’re thinkin’ … What the heck do I need a 5-spindle for … when I barely sell enough milkshakes to justify my single-spindle. Right? Wrong. Are you familiar with the notion of the chicken or the egg Mr. Griffith, I mentioned … that there’d be costs. Well, I think it applies here. Do you not need the multimixer because, well heck, you’re not selling enough milkshakes. Or are you not selling enough milkshakes because you don’t have a multimixer? I firmly believe it’s the latter. Because your customer comes in here and he knows if he orders a shake from your establishment … that well, he’s in for a terrific wait. He’s done it before and he thinks to himself, well by golly, I’m not gonna make that mistake again. But if ya had the Prince Castle, 5-spindle, multimixer … with patented direct-drive electric motor we’d greatly increase your ability to produce … delicious, frosty milkshakes, FAST. Mark my words. Dollars to donuts, you’ll be sellin’ more of those sons of bitches … then you can shake a stick at. You increase the supply, and the demand will follow. .. Increase supply, demand follows. Chicken, egg. Do you follow my logic?I know you do because you’re a bright, forward thinking guy who … knows a good idea when he hears one. So… What do you say?”

Ray Kroc: “I know what you’re thinking, how the heck does a fifty-two year-old, over the hill, milkshake machine salesman build a fast food empire with sixteen hundred restaurants and an annual revenue of seven hundred million dollar? One word: persistence.”

Wall Street

Premise: The archetypal business movie, Wall Street is an allegory that’s as old as storytelling. Bud Fox, an ambitious young man tethered to a dead end sales job, aspires to “one day be on the other end of that phone.” His prayers are answered after he lands five minutes with robber baron extraordinaire Gordon Gekko (after 59 attempts, no less). Eventually, Gekko brings Fox into his inner circle after he proves himself by gathering information through dubious means. Soon enough, Fox learns that he is being led along by Gekko in an airline deal. That leads to a fateful choice: Does he take the golden parachute out … or risk his future by turning against Gekko and protecting the livelihoods of the airline employees? He makes his decision – and pays the price.

MBAs Say: “Wall Street shows how greedy business people can be. As Gordon Grekko said in this movie, ‘The main thing about money is that it makes you do things you don’t want to do’ and ‘Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies and cuts through to the essence of the evolutionary spirit’. Frankly, I don’t agree with that. I think that this movie helps to put things into perspective and it shows that people who only care about money can be extremely narrow-minded.”
Maria Potapova, Cambridge University (Judge)

(Editor’s Note: The “main thing” quote was actually delivered by Lou Mannheim).

Wall Street. In the 1987 movie, Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko had a very interesting line: ‘Greed, for the lack of a better word, is good.’ But is it?

“Greed in the form of wanting more and more, and believing that the end justifies the means is definitely bad. You can see evidence of that in the 2008 financial crisis, which can be traced back to one human flaw: greed.

“However, that’s not the only form of greed. Greed in the form of relentless passion and desire to learn, improve, and achieve great things in life is actually good. Perhaps, if the early human didn’t greedily want warmer caves, humankind would have never discovered fire.”
Ahmed Bakr, IESE Business School

Best Movie Lines:

Lou Mannheim: “You can’t get a little bit pregnant, son.”

Gordon Gekko: “If you’re not inside, you’re outside!”

Gordon Gekko: “Lunch is for wimps.”

Gordon 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.”

Lou Mannheim: “Man looks in the abyss, there’s nothing staring back at him. At that moment, man finds his character. And that is what keeps him out of the abyss.”

Gordon Gekko: “Ah, Jesus. I wish you could see this. Light’s coming up. I’ve never seen a painting that captures the beauty of the ocean at a moment like this. I’m gonna make you rich, Bud Fox. Yeah. Rich enough, you can afford a girl like Darien. This is your wake-up call, pal. Go to work.”

Carl Fox: “There came into Egypt a Pharaoh who did not know.”

Gordon Gekko: “I beg your pardon, is that a proverb?”

Carl Fox: “No, a prophecy. The rich have been doing it to the poor since the beginning of time. The only difference between the Pyramids and the Empire State Building is the Egyptians didn’t allow unions. I know what this guy is all about, greed. He don’t give a damn about Bluestar or the unions. He’s in and out for the buck and he don’t take prisoners.”

The Godfather

Premise: Is The Godfather an American crime story, a treatise on immigration’s aftermath, or a primer on best business practices? In reality, it is a combination of all three. You may not find Don Corleone on the alumni roll of Columbia Business School, but the hard-won wisdom he imparts could fill a semester-long course. For Corleone, ‘business’ is an extension of relationships, ones forged by building goodwill within his community (with the expectation that he’ll eventually receive something in return as a token of respect for his ‘services’). In fact, the Don’s reputation – if not his brand – stems from his ability to execute (ahem) decisively. Corleone also carefully delegates responsibilities and allocates resources, knowing a wrong move (such as moving into narcotics) could undermine his larger investments. At the same time, he treats business as business, an impersonal calling where the greatest sin is impulsiveness (ala Sonny). That’s not to say the Don doesn’t keep a close eye on the competitive landscape. “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer,” he advises his son in one of the movie’s most quoted lines. It is timeless advice for sure.

MBAs Say:

The Godfather trilogy — this movie reinforced a long-standing belief — relationships are important, strong networks are everything and to beat competition — always look at things through the vantage point of your opponent.”
Vuyane Mhlomi, University of Oxford (Said)

The Godfather. Some wouldn’t exactly consider it a business movie, but who can forget ‘I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse’? The movie is a treatise on building relationships, gaining trust, and understanding the motivations behind people’s actions.”
Varun Chandak, University of Toronto (Rotman)

Best Movie Quotes:

Don Vito Corleone: “I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse.”

Michael Corleone: “All right. This one time I’ll let you ask me about my affairs.”
Kay Adams: “Is it true? Is it?”
Michael Corleone: “No.”

Go to the next page for additional favorites like Barbershop, Margin Call, and Mrs. Doubtfire

It’s A Wonderful Life

Some additional movies cited by this year’s Best & Brightest MBAs:

Barbershop shows an African-American businessman and barber (Ice Cube) who is juggling the stresses of keeping his business above water while maintaining the morale and performance of his staff, solidifying his family’s financial security, and protecting his storefront from the waywardness of the inner-city. It also touches on social responsibility as he attempts to be a beacon of hope to his community.”
Christopher Staten, University of Pittsburgh (Katz)

Margin Call. While it is a highly dramatized version of the 2008 financial crisis, I think it is an interesting historical fiction that can remind us why personal responsibility is essential to the economy. Lack of responsibility, accountability, misaligned incentives and generally poor ethical behavior can have massive impacts on firms and our society as a whole.”
Francis Varrichio, New York University (Stern)

The Wizard of Lies, and not just because I am fascinated with Bernie Madoff, but because it dives into how the pyramid scheme began and how hard it was for Bernie to pivot out of it. As an accounting undergrad I learned about setting moral boundaries, but the Bernie Madoff story exemplifies everything we learned.”
Mohamed Hrezi, Michigan State (Broad)

Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room. I am not a native Houstonian. Before arriving at Rice, I had a vague idea about the Enron scandal. During my time here, I can’t help but notice the negative impact that the Enron scandal had on the personal lives and the energy industry in Houston. Ethical and sustainable practice in business is a real thing. Jeffrey Skilling may have been the smartest guy in the room, but his of lack a moral and ethical backbone had real consequences for real people.”
Stuart Crockford, Rice University (Jones)

Jobs: True success is staying true to your passions and persisting despite setbacks.”
Rachel Curtis, Arizona State (W. P. Carey)

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. At one point in the film, Butch Cassidy’s gunslinger partner, the Sundance Kid, tells him, ‘You just keep thinkin’, Butch. That’s what you’re good at.’ Lesson: know what you’re good at and what you’re not, and surround yourself with people that complement your skills.”
David James, Babson College (Olin)

“I watch It’s A Wonderful Life each year around Christmas and am always reminded to focus on what’s important in life: family, friends, and being a good neighbor to those around you. George chooses to put everyone above himself, and at the point of appearing to lose everything, the entire town comes to his rescue because of how much he has done for them over the years.”
Clayton Cooper, Penn State (Smeal)

“In the spirit of work-life balance, I don’t watch movies about business. My favorite movie is Mrs. Doubtfire though. If I had to derive a business lesson from it, maybe it would be ‘Fake it ‘til you make it.’”
Ariana Almas, University of Michigan (Ross)

The King’s Speech. Lionel Logue didn’t pander to the whims of King George VI, and he didn’t compromise his methods to extract extra value from a wealthy client. He cared about actually helping the king, and that was more important than prestige, money, or glory. Logue is a noble example of how doing what’s right for our customers — be they a small boy with a lisp or the king of one of the most powerful nations on Earth — is the right decision for your business, and the moral thing to do.”
Hosanna Odhner, Yale SOM


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