Business Movies and Documentaries - The Ultimate List

by Jeff Rutherford

A high school business teacher recently asked other teachers for recommendations on business movies or documentaries that she could show her students as a treat at the end of the semester. That got us to thinking about our favorite business movies and documentaries, and we decided to create this ultimate list business movies and documentaries.

ATTENTION HIGH SCHOOL TEACHERS - IMPORTANT NOTE - some of these movies have strong adult language or situations. So please watch the movie before showing to your students and use your judgement about what your students and school administrators are comfortable with. Watching business documentaries and movies with your students can be a fun treat and a great conversation starter about the big issues related to success or failure in business.

Beer Wars (documentary)

Director Anat Baron takes you on a no-holds-barred exploration of the U.S. beer industry that ultimately reveals the truth behind the label of your favorite beer. Told from an insider’s perspective, the film goes behind the scenes of the daily battles and all out wars that dominate one of America’s favorite industries.



Brick By Brick: Inside Lego (documentary)

This short (20 minute) documentary focuses on the recent business turnaround of the iconic toy company Lego. The Denmark-based toy maker was in trouble in the early 2000s. It had overextended, lost its identity, and was bleeding money. New CEO Jørgen Vig Knudstorp’s strategy refocused the company on its core business, and Lego rebounded to become the world’s fastest-growing toy company.

Candyman – The David Klein Story (documentary)

The story of the rise and fall of David Klein, the man who invented Jelly Belly jelly beans.



Call of The Entrepreneur (documentary)

A merchant banker. A failing dairy farmer. A refugee from Communist China. One risked his savings. One risked his farm. One risked his life. The main subjects of this documentary are Brad Morgan, Frank Hanna, and Jimmy Lai. Morgan, a dairy farmer from Evart, Michigan discusses his journey from a struggling dairy farmer to the owner and operator of a million-dollar dairy and compost company. Hanna, a merchant banker in New York City who originally hails from Georgia, explains how financial engineering not only makes credit more widely available to entrepreneurs today but also played a crucial role in the discovery of America. Lai talks about his childhood in Communist China and his move at twelve years old to Hong Kong. There, he founded Giordano, a retail outlet, and later Next Media.



Cola Road (documentary)

THE COLA ROAD follows the launch of the first trial in Zambia to use Coca-Cola’s crates and distribution know-how to deliver life-saving anti-diarrhea kits.





Dog Days (documentary)

An unemployed entrepreneur and a veteran hotdog vendor take a joint leap of faith to keep the American Dream afloat amidst a sinking economy.

Plunging into the colorful, micro-entrepreneurial underworld of street vending in the nation’s capital, DOG DAYS follows two unlikely business partners as they challenge the status quo by offering Washingtonians a gourmet alternative to the ubiquitous hot dog.





Door to Door Door to Door is a 2002 television film about Bill Porter, an inspiring and successful door-to-door salesman with cerebral palsy. Porter had been told for many years that he was not employable, but he was determined to succeed and focused his efforts into working as a salesman for Watkins. Despite the awkwardness and pain of his condition, he would walk eight to ten miles a day to meet his customers. Porter supported himself and continued to work as a salesman until age 69. Produced for the TNT cable network, Door to Door was nominated for twelve and won six Emmy Awards, including Outstanding Made for Television Movie, and also won a Peabody Award.[1]





Edison - American Experience (documentary)

By the time he died in 1931, Thomas Edison was one of the most famous men in the world. The holder of more patents than any other inventor in history, Edison had amassed a fortune and achieved glory as the genius behind such revolutionary inventions as sound recording, motion pictures, and electric light.

EDISON explores the complex alchemy that accounts for the enduring celebrity of America’s most famous inventor, offering new perspectives on the man and his milieu, and illuminating not only the true nature of invention, but its role in turn-of-the-century America’s rush into the future.





E-dreams

An in-depth look at the highs and lows of a dot com. The movie follows the founders of Kozmo.com as they raise money and file for IPO. But no one has predicted the market crash in April 2000.





Enron: The Smartest Guys In The Room (documentary)

Before its bankruptcy on December 2, 2001, Enron employed approximately 20,000 staff and was one of the world’s major electricity, natural gas, communications and pulp and paper companies, with claimed revenues of nearly $101 billion during 2000. This documentary about the Enron corporation examines its faulty and corrupt business practices, and how they led to its fall.





Flash of Genius

Flash of Genius is a 2008 film that focuses on Robert Kearns and his legal battle against the Ford Motor Company when they developed an intermittent windshield wiper based on ideas the inventor had patented. The phrase “flash of genius”, after which the film is titled, is patent law terminology which was in effect from 1941 to 1952, which held that the inventive act must come into the mind of an inventor as a kind of epiphany and not as a result of tinkering.





Freakonomics

FREAKONOMICS is the film version of the bestselling book about incentives-based thinking by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner. Like the book, the film examines human behavior with provocative and sometimes hilarious case studies, bringing together a dream team of filmmakers responsible for some of the most acclaimed and entertaining documentaries in recent years: Academy Award® winner Alex Gibney (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, Casino Jack and the United States of Money), Academy Award® nominees Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing (Jesus Camp), Academy Award® nominee Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me), Eugene Jarecki (Why We Fight) and Seth Gordon (The King of Kong).





Generation Startup (documentary)

The GENERATION STARTUP documentary takes viewers to the front lines of entrepreneurship in America, capturing the struggles and triumphs of six recent college graduates who put everything on the line to build startups in Detroit. Shot over 17 months, it’s an honest, in-the-trenches look at what it takes to launch a startup. Directed by Academy Award winner Cynthia Wade and award-winning filmmaker Cheryl Miller Houser, the film celebrates risk-taking, urban revitalization, and diversity while delivering a vital call-to-action—with entrepreneurship at a record low, the country’s economic future is at stake.





Glengarry Glenn Ross Strong language warning (see note at top of this list) Glengarry Glen Ross is a 1992 film adapted from David Mamet’s Pulitzer Prize and Tony-winning play of the same name. The movie depicts two days in the lives of four real estate salesmen and how they become desperate when the corporate office sends a trainer to “motivate” them by announcing that, in one week, all except the top two salesmen will be fired.





Hank: 5 Years From the Brink (documentary)

For three weeks in September 2008, one person was charged with preventing the collapse of the global economy. No one understood financial markets better than Henry Merritt “Hank” Paulson, Jr., the former CEO of Goldman Sachs. Yet Paulson wasn’t quite the pinstriped banker he appeared to be. A devout Christian Scientist with left-leaning politics, he’d refused two previous offers to be Secretary of the Treasury before finally accepting. In Hank: Five Years From the Brink, Paulson tells the complete story of how he persuaded banks, congress, and presidential candidates to sign off on nearly $1 trillion in bailouts, even as he found the behavior that led to the crisis, and the bailouts themselves, morally reprehensible. Directed by Academy Award nominee Joe Berlinger (Paradise Lost, Some Kind of Monster), the film features Paulson and his wife of 40 years, Wendy. It’s a riveting portrait of leadership under unimaginable pressure, and a marriage under unfathomable circumstances.





Henry Ford - American Experience (documentary) An absorbing life story of a farm boy who rose from obscurity to become the most influential American innovator of the 20th century, Henry Ford offers an incisive look at the birth of the American auto industry with its long history of struggles between labor and management, and a thought-provoking reminder of how Ford’s automobile forever changed the way we work, where we live, and our ideas about individuality, freedom, and possibility.





Indie Game - The Movie (documentary) A documentary that follows the journeys of independent video game developers as they create games and release those works, and themselves, to the world.





Jiro Dreams of Sushi

A documentary on 85-year-old sushi master Jiro Ono, his renowned Tokyo restaurant, and his relationship with his son and eventual heir, Yoshikazu. The documentary illustrates how obsession for quality can lead to acclaim and business success.





Maxed Out: Hard Times, Easy Credit and the Era of Predatory Lenders (documentary)

Maxed Out is a documentary film that chronicles abusive practices in the credit card industry. The film interviews creditors, debtors, academics, and others.





Once in A Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos (documentary)

When the world’s most celebrated soccer star, the Brazilian champion Pele, signed with the N.Y. Cosmos in 1975, the once ignored North American Soccer League became a hit with both fans and the media. The players—including Pele—became the toast of the town, earning their own private table at Studio 54. This documentary looks at the team’s remarkable history and includes interviews with many of the Cosmos’ star players.





Pirates of Silicon Valley

Pirates of Silicon Valley, a made-for-TV movie explores the impact of the rivalry between Steve Jobs (Apple Computer) and Bill Gates (Microsoft) on the development of the personal computer. The movie was based on Paul Freiberger and Michael Swaine’s book Fire in the Valley: The Making of the Personal Computer.





Print the Legend (documentary)

This documentary film, currently avaialble via Netflix, follows the people racing to bring the hot new 3D printing technology to your home, and documents the “Macintosh Moment” of this revolution and exploring what it takes to live the American Dream.





Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year

Harpreet Singh Bedi (Ranbir Kapoor) has just graduated, and his marks are, well, let’s say a little embarrassing. But marks never stopped him from dreaming of an exciting and adventurous career, and they never will.





she++ (documentary)

Founded in 2012, she++ began as Stanford’s first conference on women in technology. The she++ documentary examines the need for more women as computer engineers and coders.





Silicon Valley - American Experience (documentary)

In 1957, decades before Steve Jobs dreamed up Apple or Mark Zuckerberg created Facebook, a group of eight brilliant young men defected from the Shockley Semiconductor Company in order to start their own transistor business. Their leader was 29-year-old Robert Noyce, a physicist with a brilliant mind and the affability of a born salesman who would co-invent the microchip – an essential component of nearly all modern electronics today, including computers, motor vehicles, cell phones and household appliances.

An eye-opening look at the birthplace of the modern technological era told by the people who shaped it, Silicon Valley is a fascinating reminder of how Robert Noyce and his team of trailblazers led the way in transforming California’s Santa Clara Valley into a worldwide hub of industry and innovation, and laid the bedrock for modern technology.





Something Ventured (documentary)

Apple. Intel. Genentech. Atari. Google. Cisco. Stratospheric successes with high stakes all around. Behind some of the world’s most revolutionary companies are a handful of men who (through timing, foresight, a keen ability to size up other people, and a lot of luck) saw opportunity where others did not: these are the original venture capitalists. All were backing and building companies before the term ‘venture capital’ had been coined: companies that led to the birth of biotechnology and the spectacular growth in microprocessors, personal computers and the web. SOMETHING VENTURED uncovers the ups and downs of the building of some of the greatest companies of the twentieth century, and the hidden dramas behind some of the most famous names in business.





Startup.com (documentary)

This documentary of the Internet bubble provides an intimate, behind-the-scenes view of the dot com mania. Startup.com follows the adventures of childhood friends, Kaleil Isaza Tuzman and Tom Herman as they create govWorks.com, an award winning website that lets citizens interact with their local governments.





Startupland (documentary)

startupland is the authentic story of five CEOs taking their companies from idea stage to seed funding through an accelerator program. Featuring interviews with the (co)founder of AOL, Reddit, LivingSocial, Springboard Enterprises, MapQuest and many others, this 6-part series is a compass that can help guide founders down the circuitous path through startupland.

Learn from legendary founders and experts including Steve Case (founder of AOL & Revolution), Kevin Hartz (founder of Eventbrite & Xoom), Alexis Ohanian (founder of Reddit & Hipmunk), Esther Dyson (Investor & Advisor to Evernote, Meetup, and others), Amy Millman (Springboard Enterprises), Michael Chasen (founder of Blackboard & SocialRadar), Tim O’Shaughnessy (co-founder of LivingSocial) and the (co)founders of MapQuest, VHX and others.





Steve Jobs

This theatrical biopic features Michael Fassbender as Steve Jobs, the legendary business leader with a fiery temper. The story unfolds backstage at three iconic product launches, ending in 1998 with the unveiling of the iMac.





Steve Jobs: One Last Thing (documentary)

Steve Jobs was one of the most revered entrepreneurs and designers of our time. As co-founder, he created Apple Computer, was tossed out of the company, and the returned to lead the company to historic business heights. In the PBS documentary “Steve Jobs: One Last Thing,” the filmmakers trace Jobs’ inspiring career and lasting legacy in technology and retail, as well as his legendary product presentations.





The Big Short

The Big Short is a 2015 film, based on the 2010 book The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis about the financial crisis of 2007–2008 which was triggered by the United States housing bubble.[4]





The Greatest Movie Ever Sold (documentary)

A documentary about branding, advertising and product placement that is financed and made possible by brands, advertising and product placement.





The Insider

Based on a true story, and starring Al Pacino and Russe Crowe, The Insider is a film about a research chemist comes under personal and professional attack when he decides to appear in a “60 Minutes” expose on Big Tobacco. The movie was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Actor in a Leading Role (for Russell Crowe).



The Pixar Story (documentary)

A look at the first years of Pixar Animation Studios - from the success of “Toy Story” and Pixar’s promotion of talented people, to the building of its East Bay campus, the company’s relationship with Disney, and its remarkable initial string of eight hits. The contributions of John Lasseter, Ed Catmull and Steve Jobs are profiled. The decline of two-dimensional animation is chronicled as three-dimensional animation rises.



The Pursuity of Happyness

The Pursuit of Happyness is an inspiring film based on entrepreneur and salesman Chris Gardner’s nearly one-year struggle being homeless.





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The Restaurateur (documentary)

A documentary film about the grueling construction of not one but two world class restaurants. Cameras follow Danny Meyer, arguably the most successful restaurateur in America, during the hellish eleven month construction process of Eleven Madison Park and Tabla. Meyer imparts his business and restaurant philosophy while trying to keep his cool. Jumping back to the future, we learn how the restaurants have evolved.



The Startup Kids (documentary)

The Startup Kids is a documentary about young web entrepreneurs in the U.S. and Europe. It contains interviews with founders of Vimeo, Dropbox, Soundcloud and more who talk about how they started their company and their lives as an entrepreneur. Along with that people from the tech scene speaks about the startup environment including the venture capitalist Tim Draper and MG Siegler, tech blogger at Techcrunch.



Too Big To Fail

Based on Andrew Ross Sorkin’s nonfiction book, Too Big To Fail made-for-HBO movie about the early days of the financial crisis. Too Big to Fail earned 11 Emmy nominations.



Tucker: The Man and His Dream

Tucker: The Man and His Dream is a 1988 American biographical comedy-drama film directed by Francis Ford Coppola and starring Jeff Bridges. The film recounts the story of Preston Tucker and his attempt to produce and market the 1948 Tucker Sedan, which was met with scandal between the “Big Three automobile manufacturers” and accusations of stock fraud from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.



Walt Disney - American Experience (documentary)

This documentary which aired on PBS in the U.S. studied Walt Disney’s career from early films to Disneyland to ideas for a new community (EPCOT) that was not realized before his death. In addition to exploring the creativity and storytelling that Disney pioneered, the documentary also carefully examines Disney’s business moves including the labor struggles Disney encountered with his unionized animators.



Do you have a favorite business movie or documentary that we missed? Email us today to let us know, and we’ll update this list.

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