To parody the workplace one doesn’t necessarily have to leave the workplace. The American workplace is largely a self-fulling, eternal loop of satirical moments—from byzantine meetings to black hole paperwork, from faltering tech originally meant to save time to Wonderland jargon spoken by so many management emperors wearing no clothes.
At least this seems to be the case on a bad day at work. However, one can also look at some of the data:
– Over $25 million is wasted per day on unnecessary meetings, resulting in $37 billion thrown away on meetings that aren’t productive.
– $650 billion are lost yearly because of multitasking, mainly due to the fact most companies will not embrace automated prioritization solutions.
I’m sure you have your own statistics and empirical evidence. Sometimes it’s a wonder any of us gets bored during work once we open our eyes and notice the quirks of the workplace (or move our eyes away from watching the same YouTube video for the tenth time at work).
We always have movies to showcase existential realities, and when it comes to satirizing the workplace no shortage exists. Most of these films are comedies, although their “Ha-ha!” is more of the sad type of “Ha-ha!” and not the funny “Ha-ha!” type.
In the spirit of work sanity and this weekend’s Academy Awards, here are the ten most accurate parody movies of the workplace.
Office Space (1999)
Mike Judge’s creation is as close as you can get to nailing it when it comes to the Mad Hatter aspect of the workplace. The film was not a hit, but quickly blossomed into a cult flick and documentary of sorts, because it’s so bloody true! It contains all the keynotes of a sanity-sucking job: the jammed printer, the soulless but suave boss, the Kafkaesque memos, the cubicles-as-coffins, and much more. In the end, the lesson of Office Place is clear: mediocrity tends to rise to the top of the business world and a postal, pyrotechnic mindset wins the American Dream.
Same as it ever was, as the Talking Heads song goes.
Notable quote: Human beings were not meant to sit in little cubicles staring at computer screens all day, filling out useless forms and listening to eight different bosses drone on about mission statements.
9 to 5 (1980)
Not only does this film reveal the absurd side of the workplace, but it’s also a groundbreaking feminist exposition. Dolly Partner, Lilly Tomlin and Jane Fonda—a trinity of the female plight in business—go up again Dabney Coleman in all his genius as an actor and all his misogyny and bigotry as a character. We’ve all resented our bosses, but kidnap and torture one? Mmm…certainly a plausible fantasy long before sexual harassment, verbal abuse, and racial discrimination laws were actually enforced.
Notable quote: What are you, a man or a mouse? I mean, a woman or a wouse?
Working Girl (1988)
Melanie Griffith makes a dream move to forge her own deal at a Wall Street Investment bank, regardless of her lowly position and education. She goes up against the dark side of feminism: a haughty Sigourney Weaver in between fighting Aliens. This movie is more of a romantic comedy, with Harrison Ford playing her love interest and business ally. Yet Griffith’s narrative as someone attempting to break the bonds of business fate and caste systems is touching and uplifting.
Notable quote: You can bend the rules plenty once you get to the top, but not while you’re trying to get there. And if you’re someone like me, you can’t get there without bending the rules.
Fight Club (1999)
The story doesn’t exactly center on the workplace. However, one of the chief quests of the main character, Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), is to deprogram all the other characters of their views on careers and the business world in general. The movie takes pointed shots at American consumerism, runaway brand loyalty and modern masculinity. But it’s the day at work that is the great tumor at the center of the human imagination—according to Durden—even as he tries to bring all of society crashing down around him in an act of global terrorism. I’m sure none of us have imagined bringing the system down after a long day of paperwork and bureaucratic nightmares.
One has to wonder what kind of team the women from 9 to 5 and Durden would have made if they joined forces in 2016.
Notable quote: We’re consumers. We are by-products of a lifestyle obsession. Murder, crime, poverty, these things don’t concern me. What concerns me are celebrity magazines, television with 500 channels, some guy’s name on my underwear. Rogaine, Viagra, Olestra.
Up In The Air (2009)
Many of us wonder at times if this will be the day we will lose our job. Even Steve Jobs was fired once, when he was head of Apple. This movie deals with the downsizing issue in nuanced and moving ways—as George Clooney and Anna Kendrick fly around the country as firing consultants during our never-ending reality of continuous corporate layoffs. The hunter must become the hunter, as they say, and Clooney finds himself a firing expert threatened to be fired.
History and art portray many heroic versions of those who face death, but so far very little heroism on how to gallantly fire someone or handle being fired. Up In The Air at least makes a noble attempt.
Notable quote: On a street level, I’ve heard that losing your job is like a death in the family. But personally, I feel more like the people I worked with were my family and *I* died.
The Devil Wears Prada (2006)
Bosses are scary and demanding. If they’re not, our imagination and office gossip can make them scary and demanding. Meryl Streep plays a scary and demanding in both reality and her company’s imagination. She is the true archetype of the severe boss, ruthlessly pilling tasks on the Anne Hathaway character. Whether it’s getting coffee or retrieving a pirated version of the latest Harry Potter book for Streep, Hathaway takes a licking and keeps on ticking as many of us wished we could until it’s time to leave for a better professional world.
But does that world exist? Some say you have to make a deal with the real Devil for this…
Notable quote: You sold your soul to the devil when you put on your first pair of Jimmy Choo’s, I saw it.
High Fidelity (2000)
Of course, owning your business is viewed as the solution to not having a boss. However, running your company is not like Humphrey Boggart in Casablanca—wearing a nice tux and waltzing around with the clientele. It’s more like High Fidelity, based on the Nick Hornby book of the same name. John Cusack plays the protagonist who owns a struggling vinyl record shop, with all the nonromantic pains of a staff and bills. Worse, he’s stuck in a post-grunge world where being the boss is as much of an existentialist quandary as being an employee.
As a companion, certainly watch Clerks (1994).
Notable quote: My friend here’s trying to convince me that any independent contractors who were working on the uncompleted Death Star were innocent victims when it was destroyed by the Rebels.
Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)
Based on David Mamet play, the story accurately captures the intensity and often nihilism of the sales aspect of business. Death of a salesman is easy if you just place him in a system that only rewards the top one percent (sound familiar in overall society?). On one spectrum, Jack Lemmon’s character is so simultaneously pathetic, poignant and passive we wonder how anyone could embrace the sales life. On the other spectrum, Al Pacino’s character is so transcendental and elegantly predatory, it’s apparent there is a metaphysical component to a good salesperson that can never be trained in business. In between, welcome to the passion narrative of the average sales team.
Notable quote: We’re adding a little something to this month’s sales contest. As you all know, first prize is a Cadillac Eldorado. Anybody want to see second prize? Second prize is a set of steak knives. Third prize is you’re fired.
Gung Ho (1986)
Before Batman, Michael Keaton was a brilliant comedic actor. Here he plays an out-of-work foreman who convinces a Japanese company to take over his town’s shuttered plant. As a warning, this Ron Howard vehicle is rather politically incorrect for these days with its views of Asians. Nonetheless, the movie is timeless in its showcasing the struggles of the American factory against cheaper labor and rising foreign interests. It is nice, though, to see working class individuals on both sides of the ocean rise to heroism.
Notable quote: I do not understand American workers. They come five minutes late, leave two minutes early. They stay home when they are sick. They put themselves above company. You seem to feel the same way as they do.
Monsters, Inc. (2001)
This mention might seem odd, considering the narrative revolves around warring department beasts in tech business during an incoming recession. Wait, it’s perfect for our times! From the worker eccentricities to the boardroom savagery for the bottom line, this Pixar hit holds life wisdom for adults as much as children. In the end, the real monsters aren’t the anxious managers or insecure employees, but any individual who attempts to screw over customers, clients or the overall brand vision for a little extra profit.
Notable quote: I’ll kidnap a thousand children before I let this company die, and I’ll silence anyone who gets in my way!
Honorable mentions: Boiler Room, The Leggo Movie, Empire Records, Social Network, You’ve Got Mail, Bridget Jones’s Diary and Baby Boom. I’m sure you might have others, and please let us know through Twitter (@qSample).
Now back to your YouTube video or listening to your boss drone on about a mission statement. See you at the Oscars!