Surprisingly, there aren't too 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.
Sure, being a gangster or a wizard might technically be a "job," but let's be real—those aren't true, everyday occupations.
I'm talking about lower-class, middle-class, blue-collar, white-collar jobs in the real world. Often, the most impactful stories are the ones about the mundane, the ones we can relate to on a personal level.
Here are the best movies about jobs, offices, and careers where people are caught up in the day-to-day grind of work.
16. Boiler Room (2000)
Directed by Ben Younger
Starring Giovanni Ribisi, Vin Diesel, Nia Long
Crime, Drama, Thriller (2h)
If you want to dive into the seedier side of office hierarchies, Boiler Room is a good place to start.
Featuring Giovanni Ribisi, Vin Diesel, Nia Long, and Ben Affleck (who plays a character similar to Alec Baldwin's in Glengarry Glen Ross), Boiler Room follows college dropout Seth Davis who works as a broker and trudges his way to success, only to be exposed to its illegitimacy.
The strength of the film comes from its up-and-coming stars duking it out to see who can outlast the rest. (And the true standout is actually Diesel, who gives one of his best early showings as smug broker Chris.)
15. Horrible Bosses (2011)
Directed by Seth Gordon
Starring Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis
Comedy, Crime (1h 38m)
Work can be a nightmare even under normal circumstances, but it would be so much worse if your boss was one from Horrible Bosses.
Back in 2011, this film was a fine addition to the genre of R-rated comedies, largely thanks to the committed cast.
Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, and Jason Sudeikis play three friends who, fed up with their bosses, plot to murder them, leading to comical results. The trio bring their A-game to the material, especially Day who infuses his role with his It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia energy.
But the bosses also stand out, particularly the against-type Jennifer Aniston who plays Charlie Day's sex-crazed boss. Messy yet hilarious, Horrible Bosses is uproarious fun.
14. The Intern (2015)
Directed by Nancy Meyers
Starring Robert De Niro, Anne Hathaway, Rene Russo
Comedy, Drama (2h 1m)
Second chances for a fruitful career are always possible, as proven by Robert De Niro in The Intern.
This Nancy Meyers film (which also stars Anne Hathaway as his workaholic boss) finds De Niro playing Ben, a senior intern for a fashion site. Despite his unorthodox hiring, Ben learns all about the business and applies his expertise to succeed.
Those within De Niro's age group may learn a thing or two about a second life in the office. The Intern is a rewarding watch, and—without a doubt—Hathaway's office here is one of the most ideal ones.
13. Sorry to Bother You (2018)
Directed by Boots Riley
Starring LaKeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson, Jermaine Fowler
Comedy, Drama, Fantasy (1h 52m)
Here we have a film that exhibits the exact opposite of an ideal workplace. Sorry to Bother You pulls no punches in showing the ruthless world of corporate hierarchy, social divide, and organized labor.
LaKeith Stanfield plays Cassius Green, an ambitious telemarketer who dons a "white man" accent to succeed. However, his ascent up the corporate ladder drives a wedge between him and his friends.
Director Boots Riley never desires for an easy watch, opting to make every part of Cassius's life—both personal and professional—truly grimy and oppressive. From start to horrifying finish, Sorry to Bother You is unapologetic in its satire.
12. Monsters, Inc. (2001)
Directed by Pete Docter
Starring Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Mary Gibbs
Animation, Adventure, Comedy (1h 32m)
Work competition can be tough, but Mike and Sulley seem to make it effortless. Throughout their time as friends in the Monsters, Inc. franchise, the inseparable pair finds numerous ways to overcome adversity, save their world, and stand out as the most resourceful workers.
In Monsters, Inc., the duo proved their strong bond as they did their best to return the little girl Boo to her home. John Goodman's Sulley is the muscle while Billy Crystal's Mike is the brains and comic relief of the operation. Together, they turn the entire factory upside-down.
11. Working Girl (1988)
Directed by Mike Nichols
Starring Melanie Griffith, Harrison Ford, Sigourney Weaver
Comedy, Drama, Romance (1h 53m)
If you're a lady looking for an empowering film about jobs and work, Working Girl is the film for you.
This Mike Nichols film features Melanie Griffith as ambitious worker Tess McGill, who takes a shot out of her secretarial role and formulates a profitable business proposal, only to butt heads with her boss Katharine Parker (played by Sigourney Weaver).
Working Girl may look like another rags-to-riches story, but its appeal comes from Tess, who's truly a character worth rooting for. She's the underdog who learns to navigate a domineering world filled with childish figureheads and comes out as strong as ever.
10. Clerks (1994)
Directed by Kevin Smith
Starring Brian O'Halloran, Jeff Anderson, Marilyn Ghigliotti
Comedy (1h 32m)
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, yet it ended up grossing $4.4 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's always seemed.
9. Salesman (1969)
Directed by Albert Maysles, David Maysles, and Charlotte Zwerin
Starring Paul Brennan, Charles McDevitt, James Baker
Documentary, Drama (1h 31m)
Salesman is a 1969 documentary movie about door-to-door Bible salesmen. Sounds borings, but it has a 100% on Rotten Tomatoes for good reason: it's really 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 as they make their pitches to low-income families, and even more uncomfortable when they occasionally succeed in selling their overpriced product.
But these guys don't live high on the hog. They lead empty, meager existences in and out of cars and cheap hotel rooms. Their lives are an endless cycle of predation, failure, and disappointment.
In the end, you almost feel bad for these Bible salesmen—the same way you might feel bad for a starving shark who can't find a meal.
8. Fight Club (1999)
Directed by David Fincher
Starring Brad Pitt, Edward Norton, Helena Bonham Carter
Drama (2h 19m)
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, but it just goes to show what people of the decade had on their minds.
Simply put, dissatisfied 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.
7. Factotum (2005)
Directed by Bent Hamer
Starring Matt Dillon, Lili Taylor, Marisa Tomei
Comedy, Drama, Romance (1h 34m)
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.
6. Trading Places (1983)
Directed by John Landis
Starring Eddie Murphy, Dan Aykroyd, Ralph Bellamy
Comedy (1h 56m)
Two comedy heavyweights of the 1980s clash in this comedy classic. Trading Places finds Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy as two men of opposite social upbringings who become pawns in a high-stakes bet to see who lasts longer when they swap lives. Elaborate hijinks ensue.
Nearly everyone on the corporate ladder is ruthless in Trading Places, which makes Murphy's character Billy Ray Valentine a true underdog with his conniving schemes and street-smarts to stay afloat.
Despite the fact that Trading Places delves into dicey territory, it never fails to keep the laughs in place.
5. The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)
Directed by Gabriele Muccino
Starring Will Smith, Jaden Smith, Thandiwe Newton
Biography, Drama (1h 57m)
Will Smith delivered one of his most heartfelt roles in The Pursuit of Happyness, which is as emotionally fraught now as it was then.
He plays real-life motivational speaker Chris Gardner, who started off as a bone scanner salesman but struggled to secure a stable livelihood.
When his wife Linda (played by Thandiwe Newton) leaves him, he's forced to raise his son Christopher Jr. (played by Jaden Smith) on his own, all while juggling homelessness.
Any admirer of inspirational films will appreciate this biographical drama. Seeing Gardner claw his way out of poverty is empowering to see, especially his scenes interning as a stockbroker. It somehow gets you motivated to work, and that alone is recommendation enough.
4. Up in the Air (2009)
Directed by Jason Reitman
Starring George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick
Comedy, Drama, Romance (1h 49m)
What if you love your job, but your job involves firing people from their jobs? There's indeed an irony to that.
George Clooney stars as Ryan Bingham, a workaholic traveling downsizer who discovers both the meaning and destitution in his line of work. He has all the perks and privileges of his position, but he's also trapped by aimless direction.
Up in the Air blatantly shows the emptiness that can lurk behind the love and luxury of work. That irony makes this work-centered comedy bleak, but Clooney and Jason Reitman's direction make it funny.
3. 9 to 5 (1980)
Directed by Colin Higgins
Starring Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Dolly Parton
Comedy (1h 49m)
One of the best work empowerment movies ever made, 9 to 5 is the grand starring vehicle of pop icons Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, and Dolly Parton.
The three stars play hardworking women who plan to overthrow their boss Franklin Hart Jr. (played by Dabney Coleman), who's notorious for his abusive, bigoted behavior.
But there's more to 9 to 5 than its merits as a female empowerment film. It's a film about an oppressed workforce sticking it to their unfair bosses, and that's something that'll never grow tired to watch.
2. Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)
Directed by James Foley
Starring Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, Alec Baldwin
Crime, Drama, Mystery (1h 40m)
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 the 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. Just watch Alec Baldwin's legendary seven-minute monologue as he chastizes, demeans, and abuses his subordinates!
Glengarry Glen Ross shows how desperate, manipulative, and pathetic people can become when their jobs are on the line.
1. Office Space (1999)
Directed by Mike Judge
Starring Ron Livingston, Jennifer Aniston, David Herman
Comedy (1h 29m)
Office Space is the greatest movie about the modern American office worker ever made, and it can never be topped. It will forever resonate as true for all who find themselves stuck in the 9-to-5 grind of the office.
Unfortunately for working stiffs like us, the movie's themes and humor don't seem like they'll become outdated any time soon.
In the meantime, however, we can all cathartically watch Ron Livingston's character Peter Gibbons revolt against the soulless corporate purgatory he's 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."