Surprisingly, there aren’t that many good movies about work. And if you disregard movies about labor movements and labor strikes, the number of work-related movies drops even further.
Yeah, being a gangster or a wizard might technically be a “job,” but let’s be real—nobody actually considers those to be true occupations. I’m talking about lower-class/middle-class and blue-collar/white-collar jobs in the real world.
For every movie about a job in a mundane workplace, there are dozens (or even hundreds) of movies about bank heists, war operations, cops and crime lords, and other “jobs.” And few of those mundane-workplace movies are even good.
Want to watch something like The Office in movie form? Here are the best workplace movies about people who are caught up in the day-to-day grind of real-world jobs and careers.
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Kevin Smith’s directorial debut Clerks was an absolutely huge hit when it came out in 1994. The budget for the movie was only $27,575… and it ended up grossing $3.2 million at the box office.
This movie came out at the perfect time: right at the tail end of the grunge movement. It did a good job portraying the suburban ennui that was often the central focus of the media at the time.
It gave young people a movie that was actually about them—and this time, the movie was even made by one of them.
Clerks has its flaws, but it still holds up well enough to make for a fun watch even today. The Jay and Silent Bob scenes are still as funny as they were in the 90s, and Dante is still as whiny as he has always seemed.
Salesman is a 1969 documentary movie about door-to-door Bible salesmen. It has a 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, and for good reason: it’s one of the best documentaries ever made.
The movie presents a critical—yet somewhat empathetic—look at desperate salesmen as they try to sell gold-leafed Bibles to people who definitely don’t have the money to afford them.
It’s uncomfortable to watch them make their pitches to low-income families, and even more uncomfortable to watch when they occasionally succeed in selling their overpriced product.
But these guys don’t live high on the hog. They lead an empty, meager existence in and out of cars and cheap hotel rooms. Their lives are an endless cycle of predation, failure, and disappointment.
In the end, you feel bad for these Bible salesmen—the same way you might feel bad for a starving shark who can’t find a meal.
4. Fight Club
Fight Club is a divisive—and often misunderstood—movie from a pre-9/11 era when unfulfilling office jobs and empty consumerism loomed large in the American mind.
Several other movies about exposing and escaping the trappings of corporate America also came out in 1999 alongside Fight Club, including American Beauty and The Matrix.
I’ve always found it bizarre that so many hit films involving many of the same themes across many different genres came out in the same year. And even more bizarre that this emerging trend somehow wasn’t repeated ad nauseum until the premise was beat into the ground—as it usually happens.
Disaffected white-collar workers got a burst of recognition and empathy from Hollywood blockbusters in 1999. The culture was clearly heading somewhere with these ideas, but then 9/11 happened and shifted the focus away from it all.
Factotum is an adaptation of the Charles Bukowski novel of the same name. Matt Dillon gives a superb performance as Henry Chinaski, the literary alter-ego of Charles Bukowski.
The story follows a drunken, destitute Chinaski as he listlessly careens from one menial job to another. His relationships with women are as transient as his employment and address.
Betting on horses at the racetrack while pocketing his co-workers’ gambling money is the only activity that seems to offer him respite from the terrible jobs he can’t bring himself to do.
This movie about a flawed character in a flawed world is one of Matt Dillon’s best roles, and one that’s absolutely worth watching.
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Glengarry Glen Ross is what happens when you give some of the greatest dialogue ever written to some of the greatest actors in movie history and let them chew scenery to shreds.
This movie is an intense, funny, and darkly poignant examination of the twisted behavior—both incentivized and coerced—that’s fundamental to the world of New York City real estate sales.
The business of real estate sales (at least as it’s represented in the movie) exploits the salesman as much as the salesman exploits his clients. The movie shows how desperate, manipulative, and pathetic people can become when their jobs are on the line.
1. Office Space
Office Space is the greatest movie about the modern American office worker ever made, and I’m not sure it can ever be topped. It will forever resonate as true—and hilarious—for all who find themselves stuck in the 9-to-5 grind of an office job.
Unfortunately for working stiffs like us, the movie’s themes and humor don’t seem like they will become outdated any time soon. In the meantime, we can all cathartically watch Ron Livingston’s character Peter Gibbons revolt against the soulless corporate purgatory he has found himself trapped in.
We can all relate to the serenity that Peter expresses in one of his best lines of the movie. After skipping work, when he’s asked what he did all day, he replies: “I did nothing. I did absolutely nothing, and it was everything I thought it could be.”