Whether it’s Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End with the bizarre portrayal of the head of the East India Trading Company, or the main character in There Will Be Blood, business men (and women) are rarely shown sympathetically, often cast as the default villain.
Honestly, it might seem as if all corporate and/or entrepreneurial movie roles are written to be inherently evil, guilty of the sin of simply being in business.
Thankfully, that’s not always the case, and I’d like to share with you 10 films which actually celebrate hard-working entrepreneurs, and show believers in the free market as heroes.
Kicking off our list is a real shocker: a film daring to offer us two parents who are happily married, have well-adjusted children, are Christians, live in the South, own a restaurant franchise, are wealthy, AND are charitable, unprejudiced, good people.
How did this movie even get made in Hollywood today?
I confess I have no idea, but there’s no arguing its unabashed championing of hard work, religion, and entrepreneurship – all of which made (and make) America great.
The most interesting aspect of this movie isn’t the well-choreographed fight scenes, beautiful score by Randy Edelman, or even the fantastic storytelling. What truly impressed me is that this film showed how one man was able to beat the odds to become a successful business owner, despite so many situations and people trying to hold him back.
For the most part, Bruce Lee never complains about his lot in life. He opens a dojo in America to train anyone who wants to learn martial arts, builds a successful film career, and does his best to be a supportive husband and father.
What’s NOT to like about the guy?
If someone asked me what would I call the quintessential American film, I would answer, without hesitation, “Ghostbusters!” (just as they do in the movie’s theme song).
The movie follows a group of scientists who start their own business by fulfilling a pressing need in New York City. With a nod towards reality, they’re almost shut down by the Environmental Protection Agency along the way.
Ask yourself: can you imagine the EPA being shown in such a negative light in a film today? I can’t envision the idea even being suggested.
Undaunted, our heroes manage to save the day with their patented proton packs and other proprietary gadgets, ending up being so good at their jobs that they essentially put themselves out of business.
Heroic, noble, and rich – all qualities you’d like to see in successful entrepreneurs.
4. Iron Man
Tony Stark is a remarkable character. He never has to worry about money, so he lives an idle existence. But when he suddenly realizes that he has been profiting off of others’ misery, he completely transforms his life.
He doesn’t donate all of his wealth to charity, or simply lobby the government to resolve the dangerous situations he helped create. Rather, his vast wealth empowers him to do what no one else can, helping him to fashion a suit of armor that allows him to put things right again.
At turns both self-centered and selfless, Stark is nonetheless an awe-inspiring character.
Now is the perfect time of year to mention this film.
George Bailey thinks he’s a failure because he never fulfilled his fantasies of exploring the world, but he subordinated his own wishes to serve others in his hometown of Bedford Falls. He followed in his father’s footsteps and became a banker, helping people in his town get loans to improve the area and build it into a thriving community.
True, the film’s villain is a greedy banker who only wants to earn a profit to the detriment of all around him, but he doesn’t overshadow Bailey’s graciousness and integrity. Our lasting impression is the power of a small-business owner, chipping away at an autocratic mentality.
In a big departure from its classic fairy tale brand of storytelling, Disney managed to extol the virtues of entrepreneurship in this 2009 animated film.
A young woman works hard for years to save up enough money to buy an old warehouse she intends to transform into a high-class restaurant. Along the way, she meets a prince who’s been cut off from his parents’ fortune for being incredibly lazy.
Together, they find a happy medium between work and fun, even as they build the restaurant as husband and wife.
Now that’s what I call a happy ending.
Another animated film – and about a restaurant, no less. I know, but bear with me because this one is excellent.
Remy is a rat who’s tired of his life. He doesn’t want to live off the scraps of others who produce wonderful things. He wishes to take his place as an equal among humans with his special talents, to show what he can do.
He gets his chance when he (quite literally) takes control of a budding chef at a prestigious Paris restaurant. But when a government health inspector closes down the restaurant when it’s discovered that rats are in the kitchen, Remy (with some help from his human friends) starts his own business, soon becoming a huge success.
The end of the film finds Remy no longer living in anyone’s shadow, and certainly not taking anything he hasn’t earned.
One of my favorites, and not just because it inspired me to go to college.
It’s about a young man who refuses to listen to what others deem to be his limitations. They say he’s not smart enough to go to college. Yet with the assistance of a Catholic priest, a wise tutor, tons of studying, and many prayers, he eventually makes it into Notre Dame.
They say he’s too small to play football. No matter. Aided by a patient coach, a merciful groundskeeper, and dozens of teammates, the highly-determined Rudy is able to overcome his lack of physical stature and realize his dream of playing on Notre Dame’s football team.
Please note that none of this came about because of government mandates or federal intervention. It was all regular people helping each other out and looking to God for the ultimate answers.
I loved this movie as a kid and admittedly I enjoy it even more as an adult.
Kevin Flynn is an intelligent programmer who creates various video games which he’s planning on using to catapult himself to fame and fortune within a big company. But another sneaky programmer steals Flynn’s files and pretends that they are his creations.
Flynn is soon fired. However, he doesn’t retaliate by trying to take the company down out of spite, but by relying on his own ingenuity to solve his problems. He attempts to gain evidence to prove his intellectual property was stolen, in order to take his rightful place at the head of the company.
I should also mention that while the villain is portrayed as being greedy and corrupt, it’s not because he’s the head of a corporation. Instead, he’s evil since he was only able to obtain his position by stealing from someone else, someone who’d earned their right to be there.
You’ve probably never heard of this movie, just as you’ve likely never heard of Preston Tucker himself.
Tucker was the Nikola Tesla of automobiles: disc brakes, seat belts, fuel injection, and many other now-standard features in cars were first used in conjunction in his 1948 Tucker Sedan. However, the car flopped on its release, just as the film did 40 years later. Unbowed, Tucker heroically defied conventional wisdom and spat in the face of other auto makers who wanted to crush him and his radical ideas.
But even though Tucker never became a household name, his vehicle safety features did. His story is further proof that it’s rarely government edicts but rather entrepreneurial ingenuity that drives innovation, helping to make the world a safer, cleaner, better place.
Each of these films will resonate with anyone who believes in traditional values, the Free Market and the power of the individual. So if you need a break from the seemingly constant barrage of films denigrating American Exceptionalism, religious faith and/or the spirit of Capitalism, I’d suggest that you give one of these a look.
Who knows? There just might be hope for Hollywood yet.
Robert lives in Utah with his wife and three children. He enjoys running, biking, reading, and watching movies with his family.