Top 10 Movies Every MBA Should See

By: Matt Acuff
Neeley MBA Class 2012

Most MBA students have little time to devote to anything other than school and job searching and even less time to watch movies. However, just as every professional golfer has seen CaddyShack and Tin Cup and every pilot has seen Top Gun and Airplane, there is a core-curriculum of movies that every MBA student should see. If you’re an MBA you need to see these movies because they apply to your profession of business, because they contain valuable lessons to be learned and because, frankly, you don’t want to be the only one left out of the joke at the meeting the next time your boss cracks a joke or quotes a line from one of these particular films. So, I’ve compiled a list of the Top 10 Movies Every MBA Should See. In this list we’ll hit all the finer points of being an MBA, including college life, finance, investments, supply chain, entrepreneurship and ethics.

Ready? OK, let’s go!! Coming in at …

10. Back to School – Starring Rodney Dangerfield and Sally Kellerman

Back To School

Plot – A self-made millionaire decides to go back to school to prove a point. However, because he’s already a made man, all he focuses on is partying and having fun (um, what else is there?). Hilarity ensues as he dusts off his old swim trunks for the dive team!

Why it’s an MBA Must? – Getting geared up to go back to school is an exciting prospect for a new MBA student. We have the potential to relive those glory days that most of us remember from undergrad. You know, the all-night parties, the fountains of beer and unbridled debauchery that nowadays would require an online subscription and a shot of penicillin. Sadly though, most of us soon realize that we’ve somehow lost a step or two. We notice that those beers catch up with you in the morning, we actually have to stretch before intramural sports and pray we don’t pull something, and we get cranky when people won’t sit down during breaks at the football game—even though we’re in the student section. Alas the actual MBA program may prove to be more business than pleasure., but it’s still fun to think back on and have a little fun just one more time!

Stock Rating: + 5%

Back To School

9. Wall Street (1&2) – Starring Michael Douglas and Charlie Sheen (Shia LaBeouf)

Wall Street

Plot – “Money is everything.” “Greed is Good.” You’d sell your family down the river to make it big on Wall Street. In this thriller we see just what lengths people will go to make a buck or two … and by buck I mean a million! Young stock broker Bud Fox becomes enamored with millionaire mogul Gordon Gekko and will do anything it takes to make it. Or will he?

Why it’s an MBA Must? – This movie really deserves to be numbers 1 through 10 on the list and is a picture of how most MBA’s dream of being a “Big Shot.” It provides a look of what power and greed can do to the human soul. It’s a lesson in business that just may have more value added than any of your core classes. It is also the one movie on this list you MUST see before you get your MBA. An MBA who hasn’t seen Wall Street is like a priest who hasn’t heard of the Pope. Oh and by the way, the second Wall Street is pretty good too!

Stock Rating: +10%

8. Boiler Room – Starring Ben Affleck, Vin Diesel and some other schmuck

Boiler Room

Plot – Boiler Room is kind of a modern day Wall Street with bad acting. Talented young broker gets caught up in a scheme to defraud people. He is blinded by the lure of money and ultimately must make a decision to do what’s right.

Why it’s an MBA Must? – Well actually it’s not. We follow up the “must see movie” of Wall Street with the “if you have to skip one” movie Boiler Room. It is without a doubt the weakest movie on the list. However, if you like cheesy acting (Ben Affleck) and can picture Vin Diesel as a principal of an investment firm (ha!), then this movie just might be for you. Boiler Room is a good look at what we all think the life of an investment banker should be like and horrors of what a lack of ethics has potential to be. Its only real merit of being on this list is that if one day you do find yourself in a room full of traders you won’t want to be the only one who hasn’t seen it. But then again you may be better off.

Stock Rating: -2.5%

7. The Insider – Starring Al Pacino and Russell Crowe

The Insider

Plot – The Insider is a quasi true story of a man on the inside of a company who is doing wrong. He decides to put an end to it and blow the whistle on the company. However, by doing so he risks his life and the safety of his family. He is faced with a choice of doing the right things and risking his life to do it or keeping his mouth shut.

Why it’s an MBA Must? – Business ethics pure and simple. As future leaders MBAs need integrity. It’s a must and its non-negotiable integrity is either something you have or you don’t. It means doing the right thing when it doesn’t matter if you do the right thing or when the right thing is not the easiest thing to do. There is a simple way to test your integrity: Which is worse? Stealing a piece of bubble gum or stealing a million dollars from the corporate account? Do you know the answer?

Stock Rating: +6%

6. Tucker: A Man and His Dream – Starring Jeff Bridges


Plot – Another true story of Preston Tucker, the founder/designer/creator of the Tucker Automobile. Tucker was an entrepreneur who created a car and used his passion to briefly live the American Dream.

Why it’s an MBA Must? – This movie is full of the American Dream, the Land of Opportunity and the Entrepreneurial Spirit that many of us MBAs have. It’s a feel good (kinda) film that will inspire you to follow your dreams and sacrifice to make them a reality. Entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart but can be the most rewarding concentration of any of the MBA specialties.

Stock Rating: +10%

5. Office Space – Starring Ron Livingston and Jennifer Aniston

Office Space

Plot – I’m not sure exactly? But it’s funny! OK, I’ll try. This comedy is about a guy who one day decides he’s fed up and not going to put up with every day drone of the 9-to-5 anymore. So while everyone else is clocking in he’s busy clocking out! Just trust me on this one, this movie is hysterically funny and will relate to anyone who has ever held an office job. The best business is funny business and there’s no funnier business than Office Space.

Why it’s an MBA Must? – If you’ve ever gone to work and wanted to scream at the top of your lungs just how screwed up the place really is but didn’t this is the movie for you. The funniest/scariest part of this movie is just exactly how real it actually is. This movie is an inside look at office politics at their finest. It’s a case study in bad management and will give you an up close and personal look at exactly what consultants do! Hehe. As MBAs, at one time in our past or some time in our future, we can all relate to this movie and thus it’s perfect to be included on this list.

Stock Rating: +16%

4. Glengarry Glen Ross – Starring Al Pacino, Kevin Spacey, Alec Baldwin, Jack Lemmon, Ed Harris and more

Glengarry Glen Ross

Plot – “Sales it’s a tough racket (gulp).” This movie is about a bunch of salesmen who get fired and get the opportunity to get their jobs back! The cut throat world of just what it takes to be a salesman in this world is the topic of discussion.

Why it’s an MBA Must? – This movie will give any MBA the ABC’s of selling, literally! It’s a great film on what exactly it takes to make it in the business world as a salesman. If that’s your future then you must see this film!

Stock Rating: +15%

3. Smartest Guys in the Room – Featuring Kenneth Lay and Jeffery Skilling

Smartest Guys In The Room

Plot – This is the only documentary on the list and boy is it good. Produced by billionaire Mark Cuban, it’s an in-depth look at the mega fraud and downfall of what was ENRON, the biggest failure in the history of business. See how it happened and all the crooked things ENRON and its executives were doing to cover it up. Its fascinating! The things you see in this documentary leave no doubt that big business can be evil. It’s scary because it is true!

Why it’s an MBA Must? – It’s real life lesson in business ethics. It makes you think and be cautious of things that seem too good to be true. This film is not only a good watch but it’s almost a class in itself and thus important because it actually happened. This film is a must for any MBA and will remain with you and cause you to really think about the difference in doing things right and doing the right things!

Stock Rating: +20%

2. Citizen Kane – Starring and directed by Orson Welles

Citizen Kane

Plot – Widely considered the greatest movie of all time,  this classic is about the rise of newspaper tycoon Charles Foster Kane. Kane is a man who starts with good intentions but gets consumed by the pursuit of power. Citizen Kane takes you through a series of flashbacks as a reporter tries to unravel the mystery of the tycoon’s dying words.

Why it’s an MBA Must? – Not only is it widely considered the best movie in American film history, it’s also the best business movie in history. Coincidently, the movie teaches a lesson to any and every potential MBA about the dangers of the path that we are already on! This movie is an American classic and there really is no excuse for not having seen it but now that you’re a business student you even more or a reason and less of an excuse.

Stock Rating: +25%

OK, nine down one to go! Before we reveal the No. 1 Must See Movie for every MBA lets recap what we now know.

10. We know going Back to School is no dive in the pool!

9. We know Greed … and well Greed is Good!

8. We know Ben Affleck can’t act!

7. We know ethics and integrity Inside and Out

6. We know that “A Man and His Dream” can change the world!

5. We know exactly how good it feels to be a gangsta!

4. We know what it takes to make it in sales!

3. We know to “ask why? … asshole.”

2. We know Rosebud!

So now for the for No. 1 MBA movie and most important lesson that any MBA can learn..

1. It’s a Wonderful Life – Starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed

It's a Wonderful Life

Plot – Good hearted man George Bailey is down in the dumps. His entire life’s work is on the verge of crashing down. In the pit of despair he contemplates suicide. But before he can act on his impulse he is visited by his guardian angel who takes him on a ride to show him what the world would have been like without good ole George. He sees that life is more than about work and money and when you look at it that way it truly is a wonderful life!

Why it’s an MBA Must? – As another American film classic you really should have already seen this one too as Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed typically make us feel good around Christmas time. But this story really contains at its root the most important lesson a business man or woman can learn. We MBA types can easily get lost in the pursuit of money, and we delve into work and put aside life itself searching for profits. It’s an easy trap to fall into but it is imperative that every MBA keep things in perspective.  Money is really not what’s important in life and no job is worth dying over. In the end our family and friends are truly what’s important and it doesn’t matter if we have a good job or are filthy rich or unemployed, life itself is the real prize of living and we should never forget it!

Stock Rating: +1000% Life is a risk free asset with infinite return!!


18 responses to “Top 10 Movies Every MBA Should See

  1. Should add Social Network in here as an honourable mention or something. But good list, will definitely have to get some of these.

    • Hey Michael thats a good point!

      When I first thought up the post I meant to include the “also-rans” and leave a note for suggestions!

      Feel free to make as many suggestions as you like!

      Thanks for reading

  2. Its not funny how the richest folks get all soft. Oh, its not all about money. Blah, blah. After they get theirs they try to tell you money will just fall in your lap for being a sappy liberal. Oh, come to think of it, with government at the center of life now, I guess that is the only way.

  3. A couple of flicks I’d like to add:

    Patton – Inspirational speeches and the pressures of leadership
    Pirates of Silicon Valley – TNT’s best made4TV, very quotable and quite a few good lessons, if not totally accurate.
    October Sky – Perfect example of a guy who doesn’t have the skills or the know how, but manages to bring it all together. Homer is the entrepreneurial ideal.

  4. Not sure if it should make the Top 10 or not, but Barbarians at the Gate was pretty solid stuff.

    • Barbarians at the Gate was one of my Also-Rans

      Or as we like to call them at TCU the “ADD-RANs” Sorry thats just Frog Humor!

      So here is a quick and incomplete list of the AddRans
      – Trading Places – Eddie Murphy and Dan Ackroyd
      – The Godfather – Brando and Cosa Nostra
      – Barbarians at the Gate – Made for TV
      – Blow – Pharmacuetical Sales
      – Tin Men – Dryfus Devito Slingin Siding
      – Other Peoples Money – Devito again
      – All The Presidents Men – Burnstein and Woodward teach ethics

      I know there are many more but these were some of the ones that just missed the cut in my list! All worthy of a look!

      Thanks Again Everyone!

  5. The hudsucker proxy is a movie that I always seem to enjoy when I catch it on tv. Lots of good business principles with a mix of coen bros quirky sense of humor, it definitely deserves an honorable mention.

  6. I would add the excellent docs I.O.U.S.A. and Freakonomics to this list and second the motion for Barbarians at the Gate.

  7. Great post and great movie list, Matt! I’m happy to report that I’ve seen all but 3, Insiders, Office Space and Smartest Guys In The Rooms; definitely on my list to get.

    Thanks for the recommendations, and keep posting!

    Hoai Nguyen
    MBA Admissions

  8. Two you missed:

    Mandatory for anyone starting a dotcom

    Flash of genius

    Mandatory for entrepreneurs trying to do a deal with a big company

  9. Fascinating. Having performed a scene from Glengarry Glen Ross in acting class, I can tell you it’s one of the driest films out there. So, instead, why not realize that everything you’re doing is selling, and spend the two plus hours it would take to see this film to do something more worth your time.

  10. Add KidCo into your “also ran” at the very least. Personally, I’d bump Back To School for it.

  11. This list of 170 financial/business movies is better, but you were close 🙂

  12. Nice list, I would like to add:
    1. Jerry Maguire – starring Tom cruise – shows how he quits his job to start his own firm and deals with his one and only cranky client who keeps shouting “Show me the money”.
    2. The Firm – again Tom cruise – remarkable how he escapes from the corporate web woven around him by his employers.

  13. Great Movies. My favorite 3 movies in this list. It’s a Wonderful Life,Citizen Kan&Wall Street

  14. Pingback: Preparing for MBA « Kaveesh Manchanda

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