12 Favorite Business Movies Of MBAs

Will Smith in The Pursuit of Happyness, one of the favorite movies of the 2018 Best & Brightest MBAs.

Everyone loves an underdog. And as long shots go, you won’t find a bigger one than Chris Gardner.

Separated from his wife, evicted from his apartment, and weighed down with debt, Gardner has hit rock bottom — a homeless, single father who bounces from shelter to subway station with his five-year-old son. But Gardner lives a double life. By day, he works at Dean Witter Reynolds, competing against 20 other unpaid interns for a coveted stockbroker position. In the process, he balances pitching high-income clients with picking his son up from daycare, eating in soup kitchens, and finding a place to sleep.

Why? Simple: Gardner is driven by the dream of financial independence and a better life for his son.


Gardner’s courage and sacrifice pays off. He beats the odds to earn that full-time broker job, eventually becoming the millionaire CEO of his own stockbrokerage firm. For the MBA Class of 2018, Gardner personifies the American dream. That may be one reason why so many of our Best & Brightest MBAs chose The Pursuit of Happyness, a Gardner biopic starring Will Smith, as their favorite movie about business.

For one of those MBAs, the University of Rochester’s Shahbaaz Mubeen Mamadapur, The Pursuit of Happyness is a universal story that reminds students that intangibles still matter.

Steve Carell (left) and Ryan Gosling in The Big Short

“This movie teaches us that no matter where you come from and what your background is, courage, sincerity and perseverance will always help you achieve your goals,” Mamadapur says. “It’s also touching to see the father and son go through such hardships, but never get bogged down.”

While The Pursuit of Happyness may serve as an inspiration, another popular choice among the Best & Brightest acts as a cautionary tale. Set 25 years after Gardner’s pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps saga, The Big Short is a requiem for hubris wrapped in a failure of imagination. An interconnected series of stories about the economic collapse that led to the Great Recession, the movie follows hedge fund managers and investors who made billions by bucking convention and betting against the housing bond market. In the process, The Big Short spotlights the warning signs and conflicts of interest that spurred the 2008 financial collapse.


Not surprisingly, The Big Short hit home for MBA graduates, many of whom witnessed the carnage first-hand in their communities when they were coming of age. Now, looking at the big picture, the Class of 2018 has taken away far different lessons. “The Big Short taught me how as an investor I need to be objective and disengage myself from the chaos going around me,” explains Stanford GSB’s Animesh Agrawal. “It also taught me that the role of financial institutions in society is to provide capital for growth and not just engage in speculation.”

Not every business movie involves a soaped-up Margot Robbie explaining subprime mortgages or a slicked-back corporate raider preening around a board meeting. In fact, some members of the Best & Brightest found wisdom in the most unexpected stories. Take Carnegie Mellon’s Michael Provenzano. What’s his favorite business movie? Well, it’s actually a series — Harry Potter!

“While it may be a bit of a stretch from business,” Provenzano admits, “I believe the elements from the movie, such as building a loyal and engaged team, pursuing bold and unusual visions despite what critics say, and growing along the way from those around you should be fundamental pillars of any company. Similar to business in real life, some of the best insights come from outside of the workplace.”

This year, we asked our Best & Brightest MBAs to list their favorite movie about business. In addition, they shared the biggest lesson they gained from it. From The Wolf of Wall Street to Barbershop, here are a dozen movies that shaped how the Class of 2018 thought about business.

The Social Network

Premise: From idea to enterprise and friendship to betrayal, The Social Network follows the development of Facebook from Harvard dorm sensation to world-changing platform that connects over a billion people worldwide. It is a business case on what happens when success is swift — and the shortcuts and tradeoffs people make when their success become bigger than their imagination.

MBA Says: “The biggest lesson I gained from it, which was also driven home in my Entrepreneurship class, is that a good idea is just an idea and it’s all in the execution (a lesson the Winklevoss twins learned as well). The team who identifies a clear problem and actually delivers the best solution the fastest wins.”

Erin Gumms, UC-Berkeley (Haas)

Best Movie Quotes:

Mark Zuckerberg: “I think if your clients want to sit on my shoulders and call themselves tall, they have the right to give it a try — but there’s no requirement that I enjoy sitting here listening to people lie. You have part of my attention — you have the minimum amount. The rest of my attention is back at the offices of Facebook, where my colleagues and I are doing things that no one in this room, including and especially your clients, are intellectually or creatively capable of doing. Did I adequately answer your condescending question?”

Mark Zuckerberg: “Without money the site can’t function. Okay, let me tell you the difference between Facebook and everyone else, we don’t crash EVER! If those servers are down for even a day, our entire reputation is irreversibly destroyed! Users are fickle, Friendster has proved that. Even a few people leaving would reverberate through the entire userbase. The users are interconnected, that is the whole point. College kids are online because their friends are online, and if one domino goes, the other dominos go, don’t you get that?”

Erica Albright: “You are probably going to be a very successful computer person. But you’re going to go through life thinking that girls don’t like you because you’re a nerd. And I want you to know, from the bottom of my heart, that that won’t be true. It’ll be because you’re an asshole.”

Office Space

Premise: Burnout can be an ugly thing. It goes far deeper than a treacherous fax machines, incomplete TPS reports, or simply a “bad case of the Mondays.” Want to look for the real reasons why employees are unmotivated and cultures are so dysfunctional? Office Space has you covered with a parade of meandering managers, clueless consultants, and overtaxed coders.

MBA Says: “So many great nuggets in this one. It shows you why having too many bosses is bad. Why using an outside consulting firm to downsize is a bad. Why you shouldn’t steal money from your company. Why you should make sure there is enough birthday cake for everyone at the office. Why you should let people have their red staplers if they’re really partial to them.”

Declan Nishiyama, Georgia Tech (Scheller)

Best Movie Quotes:

Peter Gibbons:  So I was sitting in my cubicle today, and I realized ever since I started working, every single day of my life has been worse than the day before it. So that means that every single day that you see me, that’s on the worst day of my life.”

Peter Gibbons: “Eight (bosses), Bob. So that means that when I make a mistake, I have eight different people coming by to tell me about it. That’s my only real motivation is not to be hassled, that and the fear of losing my job. But you know, Bob, that will only make someone work just hard enough not to get fired.”

Milton: “And I said, I don’t care if they lay me off either, because I told, I told Bill that if they move my desk one more time, then, then I’m, I’m quitting, I’m going to quit. And, and I told Don too, because they’ve moved my desk four times already this year, and I used to be over by the window, and I could see the squirrels, and they were merry, but then, they switched from the Swingline to the Boston stapler, but I kept my Swingline stapler because it didn’t bind up as much, and I kept the staples for the Swingline stapler and it’s not okay because if they take my stapler then I’ll set the building on fire.”

Go to next page for The Wolf of Wall Street, Moneyball, and The Intern

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