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10 must see business movies: Documentaries

February 27, 2014

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With the Academy Awards coming up on Sunday March 2, it’s a great time to look at films in which business plays a role. That covers a wide swath of films, so our series is dividing them into three categories: classics, contemporary and documentary.

Previously, we looked at fictional films in which the business world played a role. In this wrap up, here are 10 documentaries that tell real-live tales of the business world and how it affects all aspects of society and daily life.

1) Who’s Counting? (1995) Filmmaker Mark Cummings, whose epic series The Story of Film is highly recommended for any movie buff, nominates this look at women, and the way their work is often undervalued by economists. Documentarian Marilyn Waring suggests looking at contributions by women based on time, not on monetary output.

2) Hoop Dreams (1994) Ostensibly a look at Chicago high school athletes aiming for basketball glory, Hoop Dreams raises important questions about sports and the financial benefits they can provide to the athletes and their families. The movie is even more meaningful in an age when many college players opt to join the NBA long before graduation.

3) The Kid Stays In The Picture (2002) Legendary Hollywood producer Bob Evans examines his life, from actor to movie mogul. It’s a rare look from a Hollywood insider at the twists and turns of the movie world, and how it wounds those who make it their life’s work.

4) The Smartest Guys In The Room (2005) The movie explores the financial scandal that brought down Enron, the Houston energy company, and the executives who ran it. Based on the book by two Fortune Magazine writers, the movie pre-dates the Great Recession, but explores the attitudes that led the country to an even bigger economic crisis.

5) An Inconvenient Truth (2006) Former Vice President Al Gore won an Oscar for this film about the toll that industry and consumerism has taken on the environment. It’s given credit for raising the nation’s consciousness about global warming, and it also may be a factor behind the drop in driving that’s taken place across the country.

6) Who Killed The Electric Car? (2006) In the 1990s, General Motors touted its work on the EV1 electric car, only to kill it and destroy its fleet of EV1 cars, although many of their owners loved their vehicles. The film explores the auto industry’s resistance to, and later embrace of alternative fuel technology.

7) Man On Wire (2008) In 1974, wire walker Philippe Petit took a daring stroll between the two towers of the World Trade Center. In order to pull off his stunt, Petit had to finance the operation and practice in secret. The documentary will have you covering your eyes, even though Petit obviously made it. Some consider it the artistic crime of the century; others a masterful marketing effort.

8) Freakonomics (2010) Why do people make the economic choices that they make? Based on the blog, book and ongoing work by a journalist and a professor, Freakonomics explains the sometimes mystifying reasons that lead consumers to their decisions about life and money.

9) Exit Through The Gift Shop (2010) An intriguing look at modern art by Banksy, the guerrilla street artist whose work recently appeared around New York City. An unflinching look at the way artists and dealers manipulate buyers, some critics wondered if it was a “mockumentary” (Banksy has insisted it is a true story).  You will never look at the art world in the same way again.

10) Jiro Dreams Of Sushi (2011) This story follows Jiro Ono, the octogenarian owner of the world’s most famous sushi restaurant in Tokyo. It depicts his endless focus on top quality, and his devotion to his craft, to the detriment of his family relationships. A wonderful look at a culinary artist, whose work costs $300 a meal.

10 Must See Business Movies: Contemporary

10 Must See Business Movies: The Classics

Micheline Maynard is a Reynolds Visiting Professor of Business Journalism at Arizona State. A lifelong film buff, she is the editor of the crowd-funded journalism project Curbing Cars: Rethinking How We Get Around, and former Detroit bureau chief for the New York Times.


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