On your next movie night or slow afternoon, don’t waste time watching trailers for hundreds of different movies just to end up playing old episodes of “The Office.” We compiled the list of best movies for entrepreneurs, so you’ll have the essential watch-list at your fingertips to not only to speed up your selection process, but maybe even make you a better entrepreneur, too. In the list, you’ll find some expected movies and some unexpected ones with interesting lessons for startup founders.
The Founder (2016)
Key takeaways: How the McDonald’s fast-food restaurant chain got its start.
This biographical film takes the audience through the rise of McDonald’s — and into some messy truths about honesty, integrity, and work ethic in entrepreneurship. “The Founder” follows Ray Kroc, a businessman that, despite his zero involvement in the launching of what would become McDonald’s, ends up as “the founder.” Once the credits roll, you’ll be determined to triple check your legal agreements and think hard about who’s let into your circle.
IMDb rating: 7.2/10 (149K votes)
Rotten Tomatoes: 81%
Baby Boom (1987)
Key takeaways: A new mom leaves her safety net behind in favor of founding a baby food business.
Diane Keaton stars as J.C. Wiatt, a woman married to her big corporate job. Her big promotion is jeopardized when a distant relative dies, leaving her with a newborn baby. J.C. must decide if she’ll prioritize the corporate world or her family — and ends up making a business out of it.
Key takeaways: A fine-dining chef takes his talent on the road.
When a high-brow chef gets into a fight with a food critic, he finds himself jobless in Los Angeles. Desperate for income as a single dad, he deices to open and operate his own food truck, where he rediscovers his love of cooking. Written and directed by and starring Jon Favreau with script and menu consulting by chef Roy Choi, the film was hailed for its accuracy about the food industry, though all types of entrepreneurs could relate to the story of losing everything to gain something better.
The Aviator (2004)
Key takeaways: A biographical film about the life of Howard Hughes, one of America’s most prolific entrepreneurs.
A businessman, filmmaker, aircraft designer and inventor, Howard Hughes was the definition of a renaissance man. “The Aviator” follows him through the early days of his career, building his empire while struggling with mental illness. Hughes’ story is tinged by tragedy and loss but conveys an important message: passion is crucial for entrepreneurial success.
You’ve Got Mail (1998)
Key takeaways: Two business rivals are also in an anonymous, online relationship.
This beloved romantic comedy is as much a story about love and romance as it is about big versus small business. Joe Fox (Tom Hanks) runs a chain of mega bookstores, while Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan) is working to keep her local bookstore afloat. “You’ve Got Mail,” told with the early days of the Internet as a backdrop, business savvy folks could pull as much small business management advice out of the film as warm fuzzies.
IMDb rating: 6.7/10 (213K ratings)
Rotten Tomatoes: 69%
Key takeaways: The story of Joy Mangano, inventor of the self-wringing Miracle Mop and one of the first to sell her own home product inventions on television networks.
Jennifer Lawrence snagged a Golden Globe for her portrayal of Joy in this film that dives into the nitty-gritty of what it was like to be an up-and-coming female entrepreneur in the 1990s. While in her mid-30s, Joy launches what would become a business dynasty. Her story is told through an angle of endurance and strength and can inspire entrepreneurial thinking in any audience.
IMDb rating: 6.6/10 (137K ratings)
Rotten Tomatoes: 60%
The Big Short (2015)
Key takeaways: Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, and Brad Pitt play four men who bet against the housing market in 2008 — and make a fortune.
An adaption of Michael Lewis’ book “The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine,” this critically acclaimed film tells the true story of financial professionals who identify the seedy underbelly of banking and then decide to dive in. “The Big Short” blends comedy and drama in an entertaining yet educational walkthrough of the 2000’s financial system and the ultimate price of greed.
IMDb rating: 7.8/10 (424K ratings)
Rotten Tomatoes: 89%
Steve Jobs (2015)
Key takeaways: A detailed look at Steve Jobs’ life — and Apple Inc.’s life, which were one in the same — from 1984 to 1998.
Through the unveiling of the Apple Macintosh 128K, the NeXT Computer and the iMac, “Steve Jobs” shows the chaos, hopelessness and riotous success that hovered behind the scenes of Apple’s earliest days. The film is tied together through its examination of Jobs’ personal character and response to the ups and downs of each product launch and gives unique insights into the mind of one of the world’s most renowned entrepreneurs.
IMDb rating: 7.2/10 (169K ratings)
Rotten Tomatoes: 85%
The Social Network (2010)
Key takeaways: How Mark Zuckerberg, while a student at Harvard, turned his lack of popularity into one of the most influential companies ever.
“The Social Network” is a film for and about college entrepreneurs. The plot explores the misogynistic beginnings of what started as “The Facebook” and ended up being Zuckerberg’s ticket out of Harvard and into billionaire status. The film shows the complications of working in a team, the pitfalls of fame and riches, and what it’s like to manage competitors for a burgeoning social media site. For entrepreneurs who think idea is everything, “The Social Network” is a must watch.
IMDb rating: 7.8/10 (693K ratings)
Rotten Tomatoes: 96%
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
Key takeaways: A Hobbit named Frodo accepts a quest through the Cracks of Doom to destroy an ancient ring.
The film adaption of the first installment of one of the best-selling book series of all time, The “Fellowship of the Ring” chronicles Frodo, and his team’s adventures through Middle-earth. You’ve likely heard of the series before — if you haven’t rewatched it over and over by now — but on this round, pay attention to the team-building and problem-solving every character employs. There’s no better example of forming, storming, norming, performing and adjourning than Frodo and the gang.
IMDb rating: 8.8/10 (1.8M ratings)
Rotten Tomatoes: 91%
Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
Key takeaways: A dysfunctional family marked by tragedy take a VW bus on a road trip to enter their youngest daughter in the Little Miss Sunshine pageant.
For an example of how to keep your head up during trying times, look no further than “Little Miss Sunshine.” With none of the lead characters fitting societal molds, they rely on each other and strangers along the interstate to accomplish what may seem like the impossible. Underdogs in any space can relate to the family’s journey.
IMDb rating: 7.8/10 (477K ratings)
Rotten Tomatoes: 91%
Shark Tale (2004)
Key takeaways: A fish and a great white shark form an unlikely alliance when they learn each other’s secrets.
When Oscar (Will Smith), a fish at the bottom of the food chain claims to have killed the shark mob boss’ son, he becomes the talk of the ocean. Wanting to gain more friends and fans, Oscar builds a brand on the lie — and faces the consequences. While it’s a solid fish-based retelling of “The Godfather,” “Shark Tale” also hits on quality marketing, building yourself into a brand, and the importance of being able to deliver what you promise.
IMDb rating: 6/10 (182K ratings)
Rotten Tomatoes: 35%
The Donut King (2020)
Key takeaways: A documentary on Ted Ngoy, a Cambodian immigrant who opened a famous donut shop in California.
Ted Ngoy immigrated to the United States in 1975, baking donuts to earn a living. Soon, his shop took off, skyrocketing Ngoy into the standard rags to riches tale — until he finds himself addicted to gambling. The documentary follows his rise, fall, and rise again to success as an entrepreneuring immigrant chasing the “American Dream.”
IMDb rating: 7.2/10 (924 ratings)
Rotten Tomatoes: 97%
This is Spinal Tap (1984)
Key takeaways: A mockumentary that centers on Spinal Tap, a metal band trying its best to get popular again.
There is perhaps no better movie on people management than “This Is Spinal Tap.” The rock band has one perception of themselves while the world has another, and their manager and publicist fight to spin the narrative anywhere but the actual truth—the band’s just not that good. Told through a lens of crass and tongue-in-cheek humor, “This Is Spinal Tap” hits at a truth especially applicable to entrepreneurs: never take anything too seriously.
IMDb rating: 7.9/10 (139K ratings)
Rotten Tomatoes: 95%
The Sixth Sense (1999)
Key takeaways: A child psychologist gets a new patient who says he can see dead people.
If you’ve put “detail-oriented” on your resume, give “The Sixth Sense” a watch. No spoilers here — all we’ll say is this: after you stream it, you’ll want to watch it again and again. It’s a supernatural, psychological thriller that will make you question how well you really pay attention.
IMDb rating: 8.2/10 (980K ratings)
Rotten Tomatoes: 86%
Key takeaways: A cooking rat gets the chance to flex his culinary skills in Paris with the help of the restaurant’s garbage boy.
Remy is a Parisian rat with big dreams: work in Paris as a respected professional chef. Of course, that goal has a lot of hurdles — for one, he’s a rat in a kitchen. After being separated from his family, Remy finds his way to the restaurant of his dreams, falls in through the skylight, and perfects a soup. With a positive review from the food critic visiting, Alfredo Linguini, one of the newest team members, decides that this rat might be his ace.
It’s doubtful you’ll have an uphill battle as difficult as Remy’s, but as an entrepreneur, you can learn a lot of lessons from that rat about hope, grit, and drive.
IMDb rating: 8.1/10 (721K ratings)
Rotten Tomatoes: 96%
The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005)
Key takeaways: A documentary on Enron and how fraud in its accounting practice led to domino-style downfalls in the corporate energy world.
A documentary that every accounting student has likely watched many times, “The Smartest Guys in the Room” details the fall of energy industry leader Enron Corporation and the subsequent ruin of Arthur Andersen, one of the then-Big 5 accounting firms. The entire debacle, fraught with fraud and negligence on all sides, resulted in the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 and countless new guidelines and expectations for the business world. As educational as it is eye-opening, anyone planning to be involved in the books can benefit from the failures of who we thought were the smartest guys in the room.
IMDb rating: 7.6/10 (19K ratings)
Rotten Tomatoes: 97%
The Devil Wears Prada (2006)
Key takeaways: An aspiring journalist gets a job as a junior assistant to editor-in-chief of the biggest magazine in the fashion world.
As a Northwestern grad (Anne Hathaway) navigates the fashion industry (something she knows nothing about) she’s left to choose between her happiness and her career. “The Devil Wears Prada” wraps up a lot of great life lessons in beautiful outfits. While self-confidence, friendship and team building are key points, the film makes one point very clear: don’t sacrifice your life for a job — especially one you hate.
IMDb rating: 6.9/10 (414K ratings)
Rotten Tomatoes: 75%
Key takeaways: An elf travels from the North Pole to New York City to meet his real dad.
Internally motivated to spread Christmas cheer for all to hear (especially his disbelieving dad), Buddy works to get all his new friends and family on the nice list. As one of Santa’s elves in the big city, Buddy (Will Ferrell) knows what it’s like to be an outsider and still everyone on his side anyway. If you’re finding it difficult to attract funding or support, Buddy the Elf is the right inspiration year-round.
IMDb rating: 7/10 (264K ratings)
Rotten Tomatoes: 85%
Legally Blonde (2001)
Key takeaways: Elle Woods, a fashionista fueled by spite after getting dumped, applies to Harvard Law School — where she finds herself at the top of her class.
“Legally Blonde” is a romantic comedy that’s really more about subverting the public’s expectations. Elle’s entire persona resolves around her hair: she’s a natural blonde that’s used to ridicule. When she scores a near-perfect score on the LSAT, though, that all changes. Now she’s at Harvard Law School, determined to win back her ex-boyfriend and prove her intelligence. Regardless of what kind of first impression you make, Elle Woods is proof that you can create your own opportunities.
IMDb rating: 6.4/10 (215K ratings)
Rotten Tomatoes: 70%
A Quiet Place series (2018, 2020)
Key takeaways: When the world is overrun by sightless monsters with remarkable hearing, the world must learn to move in silence.
Both “Quiet Place” movies are horror/thriller/sci-fi films that follow the Abbott Family (parented by John Krasinski and Emily Blunt) through a silent, post-apocalyptic world. With a deaf daughter, the family uses sign language to communicate — but they’re still forced to learn new survival skills in near-constant life or death situations. If the Abbotts are anything, they’re entrepreneurial thinkers: discovering the monsters’ strengths and weaknesses, moving from place to place in total silence and even giving birth and raising a new child, trailblazing their own paths with little guidance.
IMDb rating: 7.5/10 (517K ratings)
Rotten Tomatoes: 96%
Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
Key takeaways: An orphaned 18-year-old in Indian finds himself in the final rounds of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” despite having little formal education or support.
Living on the streets of Mumbai, Jamal Malik (Dev Patel) learns enough life lessons to potentially win 20 million rupees on India’s biggest game show — and convince the police he’s cheating. Through flashbacks, “Slumdog Millionaire” tells Jamal’s story of growing up orphaned, fighting to stay alive, falling in love, and finding a spot on national TV.
IMDb rating: 8.0/10 (840K ratings)
Free Solo (2018)
Key takeaways: Climber Alex Honnold attempts to become the first person to free solo climb Yosemite’s El Capitan.
Alex Honnold has dedicated his life to climbing, and now, he’s set on making it into the history books. As you watch Alex prioritize his passions and fight to find free time to do something never done before, you’ll likely find a lot to relate to.
IMDb rating: 8.1/10 (67K ratings)
Rotten Tomatoes: 98%