The Social Network (2010)
Friends matter. He may be the world’s youngest billionaire, but Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg didn’t get to that point without making a few enemies along the way. From a Harvard dorm room to the courtroom, The Social Network film is based on the Facebook creator’s (played by Jesse Eisenberg) trials and triumphs as he builds the social network into the billion-dollar empire. Though the Zuckerberg and his early staff shrug the movie off as totally fictional, the saga does come with a valuable warning to young entrepreneurs about how easily fame and fortune can jeopardize personal relationships.
Wall Street (1987)
Greed is not always good. Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen), an eager young stockbroker on Wall Street, is desperate to make it big in the finance world. He finagles a meeting with the notoriously ruthless and extremely wealthy broker Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas), whose motto is “greed is good.” Gekko becomes a mentor for Fox, folding the younger businessman under his successful wing as he encourages deceitful business practices—including fraud and insider trading—to get ahead. But when Fox is arrested for shady business dealings, he realizes there are more important things to strive for than money. The takeaway? Wall Street provides business owners with a strong moral message that wealth doesn’t come overnight and that greed almost always comes in the way of true success.
The Aviator (2004)
Don’t be afraid of the big guy. The Oscar-winning film follows the 20-year career of the legendary Howard Hughes (Leonardo DiCaprio), as he goes from being a perfectionist Hollywood film director to an innovative airplane pilot and owner of an airline. The bio-pic shows Hughes as he takes over Trans World Airlines and tries to compete with the big, bad Pan American Airlines. The road is long, and PanAm puts up a fight, but Hughes never gives up. And though Hughes eventually suffered from debilitating paranoia and phobias, in the movie he at least makes a brief comeback at the end. The lesson from this movie and entrepreneur’s story is this: Never be afraid to take on a company bigger than yours.
In the Pursuit of Happyness (2006)
Good work ethic goes a long way. Chris Gardner (Will Smith) is a struggling salesman in San Francisco who is left homeless and caring for his young son after he blows his family’s savings on a bad business investment. But Gardner doesn’t waste time despairing. He decides to take on an unpaid six-month long internship that could potentially lead him to the job of his dreams. Though the other interns are younger and more educated, Gardner’s common sense, good attitude, and incredible work ethic prevails. He gets the dream, while also earning the respect of everyone he works with.
Jerry Maguire (1996)
Stick to your values. Once a big-firm sports agent willing to do anything to score lofty contracts for athletes (and the hefty commission that comes with it), Jerry Maguire (Tom Cruise) is fired after a change of heart leads him to adopt a more honest approach to his work. He may have lost his job and most of his clients, but rather than give up, Jerry decides to start a sport agency of his own. The movie reminds us that starting a business is never easy, but doing what you believe in is always the right choice. In the end, he's happier and more successful than ever.
Baby Boom (1987)
Work-life balance is possible. J.C. Wiatt (Diane Keaton) is a successful New York City businesswoman—albeit a workaholic. But she soon learns that she has inherited an infant from a distant relative who has passed away. Unable to keep up her demanding career with a child at home, she moves from the city to the country, and starts a booming business selling baby applesauce. She learns that success can be balanced with a happy and meaningful home life.
Pirates of Silicon Valley (1999)
Competition is good for business. This made-for-TV drama captures the rivalry between Apple and Microsoft as Steve Jobs (Noah Wyle) and Bill Gates (Anthony Michael Hall) both begin to build their technology empires in the 1980s. Though the film is fictional, it does translate an intense rivalry between two businessmen, and how they constantly feed off that rivalry. Considering that the real Steve Jobs and Bill Gates are now at the top of their industry, looks like the movie was making (at least one) point: When you’re just starting out, a little competition never hurt anyone.