It’s time for the Academy Awards and it’s got us thinking about some of the best movies about terrible workplaces … all of which will make you happy you work at THRIVE | Coworking. Or remind you why you should.
It’s Oscars season and many of this year’s nominees are, in some way or another, workplace movies: As conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic in Tár, Lydia Tár presides over a toxic culture that enables her rampant sexual harassment and abuse of power, while a grim IRS office acts as a portal to parallel universes in Everything Everywhere All at Once.
But the workplace has always provided rich fodder for Hollywood screenwriters. Here are some of our favorite movies about bad workplaces from decades past (that make us grateful we work at THRIVE).
9 to 5 (1980)
This classic finds Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton facing gender discrimination at work from their “sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot” of a boss, Ed. Ed sexually harrasses his secretary, Doralee (Parton), and passes over his ultracompetent office manager, Violet (Tomlin), for a promotion, giving the position to a man instead. In a series of hilarious weed-fueled fantasy sequences, each woman daydreams about how she will take her revenge: Doralee wants to hog-tie him at a rodeo, while Violet imagines herself as a Disney princess who poisons his coffee with the help of a series of animated woodland creatures. Until one day they decide to do something about Ed for real.
Stream it: HBO Max
Office Space (1999)
Nothing captured Gen X ennui quite like Mike Judge’s cult classic about tech workers at a software company called Initech that’s being downsized. After a hypnosis session gone wrong (or very right, depending on your perspective), disaffected software engineer Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston) starts flouting office protocol, ignoring his micromanaging boss, Bill Lumbergh (Gary Cole), and hatching a plan with his coworkers that will eventually see Initech go up in flames. From the fluorescent lighting to the endless stream of pointless TPS reports, Initech represents everything that sucks about working in a conventional office. You’ll never look at a stapler the same way again.
Stream it: hulu
The Devil Wears Prada (2006)
Based on a thinly veiled roman à clef from a former Vogue staffer, this dramedy offers a brutal look at what it’s like to work at a top women’s fashion magazine. Anne Hathaway plays aspiring journalist Andy, who lands a job as an assistant to Anna Wintour — er, “Miranda Priestly” — viciously played by Meryl Streep, whose withering glances at Andy’s frumpy ensembles signal the need for a makeover montage. Andy learns the hard way that being successful in the glamorous world of fashion publishing might mean sacrificing her relationships, and her morals.
Stream it: Amazon
The indignities of temp work take center stage in Clockwatchers, set among a maze of generic office cubicles where bland bossa nova music plays constantly over the PA because “some dodo bird in charge read a study that said it increases worker efficiency.” Jaded temp Margaret (Parker Posey) shows mousy Iris (Toni Collette) the ropes of temping, which mostly involves trying to look busy until the second the clock strikes 5pm.
Stream it: Peacock
Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)
In this ruthless critique of American greed adapted from David Mamet’s Pulitzer–winning play, four real estate salesmen face losing their jobs if they fail to sell enough properties in the Glengarry Highlands development by the end of the week. Alec Baldwin plays a sales trainer brought in to “motivate” the men, which he does by unleashing a torrent of verbal abuse and the memorable mantra: “Always be closing!” The all-star cast includes Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, Alan Arkin and Ed Harris.
Stream it: YouTube
Norma Rae (1979)
Based on the true story of union organizer Crystal Lee Sutton, this drama won Sally Field an Oscar for her role as a single mom who gets fed up with the dismal conditions in the cotton mill where she works. When her father is denied a break and dies of a heart attack on the factory floor, Norma Rae is determined to bring change. The actors worked in a factory to research their roles, and the film’s most iconic scene — where Norma Rae stands on a table holding a “UNION” sign as the plant workers gradually shut down their machines — happened almost exactly as it did in real life.
Stream it: HBO Max
And bad workplaces aren’t limited to the big screen. Check out these management lessons from a collection of terrible TV bosses.