Business Movies that will teach you real lessons about Entrepreneurship

Business Movies that will teach you real lessons about Entrepreneurship
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“Don’t ever let someone tell you, you can’t do something. Not even me.You got a dream, you got to protect it. People can’t do something themselves, they want to tell you, you can’t do it. You want something, go get it. Period. Alright?”

— The Pursuit of Happyness.

Films inspire and ignite our imaginations like nothing else. At the same time, there are few greater aspirations in life than launching and running a massively successful business. And so, as far back as Citizen Kane (and before it) filmmakers have themselves been inspired with telling the stories of business.

Below you’ll find a short list of great films about business. It’s the ideal starting point, but once you get going, you’ll find that this cinematic genre is a bottomless well.

The Top Rated Business Movies Of All Time

You’ll want to start here, as these are the best of the best. Film students study them. Film fans talk about them constantly.

Citizen Kane

(1941, Directed by Orson Welles, Starring Orson Welles)

The name “Citizen Kane” is synonymous with “the greatest film of all time”for a reason. It’s hard to imagine now, but the film was a box office bomb on its original release, and nearly faded into obscurity. Why? Because Welles drew inspiration from a variety of elite figures in the media, banking, and investment sectors.

Key themes for entrepreneurs

  • Avoid falling into the trap of loneliness at the top.

The Wolf of Wall Street

(2013, Directed by Martin Scorsese, Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, MargotRobbie)

With five Academy Award nominations, The Wolf of Wall Street was also a major commercial success (and Scorsese’s highest-grossing film), raking in an amazing $406 million during the theatrical run alone.

Key themes for entrepreneurs

  • Respect the hustle (just don’t take the path of Jordan Belfort).
  • Don’t get overconfident in success.


(2011, Directed by Bennett Miller, Starring Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill)

Nominated for six Academy Awards, Moneyball is based on Michael Lewis’ book of the same name. It charts the incredible success story of the Oakland Athletics baseball team in2002. Underfunded and struggling, the manager leveraged statistics to turn in a record-breaking 20-win streak. The way baseball teams are managed was then changed forever.

Key themes for entrepreneurs

The Pursuit Of Happyness

(2006, Directed by Gabriele Muccino, Starring Will Smith)

If you ask most entrepreneurs what film they find most inspiring, this one will appear on more lists than any other. Based on the life of Chris Gardner, the film depicts a man that struggled with homelessness, but became a successful stockbroker.

Key themes for entrepreneurs

  • Back yourself, have a plan, and commit.
  • Difficult times are not the time to give up.

It’s A Wonderful Life

(1946, Directed by Frank Capra, Starring James Stewart, Donna Reed)

Yes, It’s A Wonderful Life is a Christmas film, but it’s also considered to have real-world business relevance, with many critics “rediscovering” the film for its parallels to the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s and 1990s. It’s essentially a modern take on A Christmas Carol, as a town rallies to support a family business in the face of a heartless banker.

Key themes for entrepreneurs

  • The value of being a positive influence in a community.
  • The value of resilience even in the darkest times.

Glengarry Glen Ross

(1992, Directed by James Foley, Starring Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, AlecBaldwin and Ed Harris)

This is one of the true masterpieces in showcasing the impact of competitive environments on people. Four real estate salesmen are told by a “motivational” trainer that only two of them will keep their jobs at the end of two weeks.

Key themes for entrepreneurs

  • Competition can bring the worst out of people.
  • Work environments that are too competitive result in poor overall performance.

Business Films Based On A True Story

The business leader biopic is one of the best ways to learn about the most visionary entrepreneurs.

The Social Network

(2010, Directed by David Fincher, Starring Jesse Eisenberg)

David Fincher is a thriller specialist, and it’s important to understand that he brings that sense of drama to The Social Network. It is not the most accurate biopic in business film history. However, the general beats are there, and there’s a compelling take on the tech billionaire’s rise.

Key themes for entrepreneurs

  • As the film notes “you don’t get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies”. Be prepared to back yourself even at some personal cost.
  • The startup space can be cut-throat. Make sure you know who you are partnering with.

The Founder

(2016, Directed by John Lee Hancock, Starring Michael Keaton)

This biopic depicts the brilliance by which Ray Kroc undermined and eventually removed the McDonald brothers from the restaurant that bears their name. In the process, he founded an iconic global fast-food phenomenon.

Key themes for entrepreneurs

  • Understand your businesses’ strengths and protect them.
  • Look for lateral opportunities—McDonald’s’ success came from real estate, not burgers.

The Big Short

(2015, Directed by Adam McKay, Starring Brad Pitt, Steve Carell, RyanGosling)

The Big Short tells the story of the 2007-2008 financial crisis. It somehow made some enormously complex banking concepts easy to understand and entertaining. GettingMargot Robbie, Anthony Bourdain, and Selena Gomez to explain finance was an inspired direction.

Key themes for entrepreneurs

  • There is always an opportunity, even when the market crashes around you.
  • Identify market shifts and position yourself to benefit from the pivot.

Steve Jobs

(2015, Directed by Danny Boyle, Starring Michael Fassbender)

While this film is a financial disappointment, it provides a critical insight into Steve Jobs’ mindset and business acumen at three pivotal moments in his career. It is based on a biography written by Walter Isaacson, and interviews with Jobs conducted by film writer Aaron Sorkin. As a result, it might be the most authentic biopic we ever get of the great man.

Key themes for entrepreneurs

  • The more an entrepreneur can get into Steve Jobs’ mindset, the better.
  • How the contrast between Jobs’ personal and business lives shaped him.

Business Documentaries For Entrepreneurs

Documentaries offer us some of the deepest insights into businesses and leaders. They can be hugely entertaining too. The truth is often stranger than fiction.

Madoff: The Monster of Wall Street

(2023, Directed by Joe Berlinger)

The story of the greatest Ponzi scheme in history is so incredible that it’s difficult to believe you’re watching a documentary. You can feel the incredulity from the filmmakers as they piece together the story of how Madoff got away with it for so long.

Key themes for entrepreneurs

  • A scheme is going to eventually fall over, even if it takes a long time.
  • Once you’re locked into a scheme, it’s almost impossible to get out.

Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room

(2005, Directed by Alex Gibney)

From Ponzi schemes to accounting fraud, Enron was another incredible example of business leaders getting away with things regulators should have caught. Fun fact:Incredibly, given that the total losses reached $74 billion over four years, Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling, was only sentenced to 12 years in prison. Bernie Madoff was sentenced to 150!

Key themes for entrepreneurs

  • Kicking the (accounting) down the road won’t solve the problem.
  • The CEO and CFO are the two roles you need to hire for integrity above anything else.

Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened

(2019, Directed by Chris Smith)

Fyre was going to be the greatest music festival and a party for the rich and gorgeous. It all turned out to be a fraud, and the most famous thing about it was the photo of this depressing and very not-elite sandwich.

Key themes for entrepreneurs

  • Overpromising will fail. Even if you give organizers, Ja Rule and Billy MacFarland, the benefit of the doubt, Fyre was never going to deliver what was promised.
  • Fyre’s marketing was incredible. They forgot to build the product. As a founder, marketing is important, but don’t make that mistake with your startup.

(2001, Directed by Jehane Noujam and Chris Hegedus) follows the story of dot-com startup,, which failed after raising $60 million. It became symbolic of the investment hype that fueled, and ultimately burst, the dot-com bubble.

Key themes for entrepreneurs

  • Every entrepreneur needs to study the dot-com bubble in-depth, to avoid the same mistakes.
  • How internal politics can undermine a startup right from its opening moments.

Business Films With A Strong Warning

Not all films about business and leaders are about good people. Often filmmakers use their art to share with us what we should avoid.

Wall Street

(1987, Directed by Oliver Stone, Starring Michael Douglas, Charlie Sheen)

The iconic line spoken by Michael Douglas’ Gordon Gekko that “greed, for lack of a better word, is good,” highlights that the film is also not exactly a celebration of WallStreet. Amazingly, though, the filmmakers behind the film have said that in the years since people tell them that this film inspired them to become stockbrokers!

Key themes for entrepreneurs

  • Don’t be like Gordon Gekko.
  • Assume that there are some Gordon Gekkos in business.

Margin Call

(2011, Directed by J. C. Chandor, Starring Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons)

Like The Big Short, above, Margin Call is about the 2007-2008 financial crisis. Unlike The Big Short, this film is not entertaining or funny. This is a powerfully sober look at a bank’s greed and dishonest behaviour right at the cusp of the crisis.

Key themes for entrepreneurs

  • Greed corrupts

Thank You For Smoking

(2005, Directed by Jason Reitman, Starring Aaron Eckhart, Maria Bello)

Thank You For Smoking is a wickedly amusing dark comedy about a job role that many find reprehensible today. It’s about marketing for Big Tobacco and combatting efforts to raise awareness about tobacco risk.

Key themes for entrepreneurs

  • With the right pitch and charisma, you can sell anything.
  • It’s important not to fall for your own nonsense and be aware of your product.

The Man In The White Suit

(1951, Directed by Alexander Mackendrick, Starring Alex Guinness)

This is a classic film that becomes more relevant every year. A scientist discovers a material that is so perfect and durable that demand for cloth plummets. People need fewer clothes. It crashes the industry. The hook is that the suit is made with radioactive materials, and this raises the question —are the innovations moral and market disruption positive? That’s food for thought in our new world of AI.

Key themes for entrepreneurs

  • Innovation should be responsible.
  • Disruptive technology’s social and economic impact should be considered from the start.

The Bank

(2001, Directed by Robert Connolly, Starring David Wenham and Anthony La Paglia)

This Australian thriller is yet another warning against the attitude that“greed is good,” but has a fascinating lesson for entrepreneurs. In the film, a corrupt bank CEO under board pressure to maximize profits falls into a complex web set by one of his victims. Given software that accurately predicts stock market movements, the CEO hedges everything on the software, only for it to (deliberately) fail at the right moment to send the bank bankrupt.

Key themes for entrepreneurs

  • Don’t allow the drive for profit to lead you to take big bets.
  • Properly vet business partners that have good sales pitches.

Will your own story become a film?

One of the common threads through these films is that these characters—heroes or villains—are exceptional because they back themselves and take the right risks. Of course you want to be a Chris Gardner and not a Gordon Gekko, but the gap between the two is not so great. You have a vision and a passion to solve problems in the market and build your startup. As these films teach and inspire us, the key is in finding the pathway and never giving up.

Whether you’re midway through building a business or have become inspired to start one, consider joining one of Antler’s residency programs. Located in 25 cities around the world, Antler supports founders from pre-seed, pre-team and even pre-idea.


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