Definitive Business Films of the 80s and 90s –

lights-camera-actionWhen you think of the 80’s you probably think of Shoulder pads on women and women’s hair on the men. But when I think of the 80’s I think of the Reagan Administration and America’s love of corporate wealth. Nowhere is this period more clearly illustrated than on film.

The 80’s gave us some of the best stories of protagonists trying to get their hands on the brass ring, no matter what the cost. It was the age of greed and boy was it fun. So without further adieu, I present to you the very best of the Business Films of the 80’s.

While the 90’s ushered in the birth of Grunge and ‘Generation X’, corporate greed still had it’s place in film. While not as overt, some of the themes still lingered on.


Nothing say’s 80’s like Michael J. Fox, cheesy music and corporate America. Climbing your way to the top while sleeping with your Aunt. God I miss the 80’s. Not that I wanted to have sex with my Aunt or anything.


There was a great part of this that spoke to me when I was in Junior Achievers as a teenager. It takes a truly keen business acumen for a teenager to monetize the situation presented to him; turning his empty house into a brothel catering to rich high school student. He got accepted to Princeton and got one over on Joey Pants as a pimp. Talk about a future CEO in the making.


“Greed is good…” The sentence that most clearly and succinctly wraps up America of the 1980’s. This role won Michael Douglas an Oscar as “Gordon Gecko” a Wall Street tycoon bent on market domination at any cost or method. And this monologue is the reason he won. Check out the scene in “Boiler Room” where Vin Diesel and Giovani Ribisi watch his speech… art imitating art imitating life.


It’s not always the men who make the business film. Take Melanie Griffith. “I have a head for business and a bod for sin.” One of the only true films about breaking the ‘glass ceiling’ in business. That it came out in the 80’s speaks to it being ahead of time.


It’s tough to top Michael Douglas as Gordon Gecko, but if anyone is up to the task it is Alec Baldwin in “Glengarry Glen Ross”. “Cause’ you drove a Hyundai to get here, I drove an $80,000 BMW… THAT’S my name!” It doesn’t get any better than that.


This movie is missed by a lot of people, but at the time it was made it was a “who’s who” of young actors. It’s a nice character study of the cost on a person when business ethics and legality are thrown out the window. The first video is Ben Affleck’s (somewhat lame) attempt to channel Alec Baldwin. Not the best, but you get the idea. The second… well read “Wall Street” above.


One of the only films on the list to discuss the flip side of Business Ethics. What happens when heart trumps greed? Everyone remembers the lines “Show me the money!” and “You had me at hello.” But to me the true sentiment of the film is wrapped up in what the Copy Store clerk says when he prints Jerry’s ‘Mission Statement”… “That’s how you become great, man. Hang your balls out there!”


No film has ever captured the mundane and soul crushing nature of working in a midlevel business. Mike Judge’s film was a box office bust but became a cult-classic on DVD. The reason? Because it so perfectly captures the nuance and monotony of working in a cube. It is easily one of the most personally relatable films of all time… because you feel like you’ve met a version of each of the characters before and you’ve known the horror of the “PC Load Letter” error!


Featuring the rare ‘subdued’ performances of Al Pacino and Russell Crowe, this film was comment on the class-actions against a great number of big business firms of the 90’s… most notably Firearms and Big Tobacco. A great view of how true it is that when money is that big, nothing is too evil for a corporation to consider, even the deaths of millions of consumers.


Ok so technically speaking, it’s 2001. But I had to include at least one documentary, especially one that encapsulates the ‘dot-com bubble burst’ of the late 90’s. A riveting film that shows how truly enticing and dangerous the new frontier of .com business was in the 90’s.