Good and Bad Movies to Watch to Prepare for your MBA

Texas MBA Student Edward HirschBy Edward Hirsch, Texas MBA at Dallas/Fort Worth Class of 2013

Not all of us learn through reading, as modern educational psychologists can confirm. Many if not most people are visual or aural learners, and it is important to not fight the nature of your own development tools and strain your eyes on exhaustive texts keeping up with graduate class work. Despite what your parents may have tried to convince you of, movies are a perfectly reasonable tool for learning and understanding the world. After all, are you more likely to understand Hegelian Dialectics by reading Hegel’s own Phenomenology of Spirit, or by watching Alien versus Predator? So while you are cramming through your GMAT prep books, I offer the following study aids for your future in an MBA program and life as a business leader.

Glengarry Glen Ross

Glengarry Glen Ross

Grade: A+
Classes Needed For: All, Life

Before I started the MBA program here, I expressed to my then-boss that I suspected you would learn no more about business by earning an MBA than you would by just watching Alec Baldwin’s speech at the beginning of Glengarry Glen Ross every day for a year. Now four semesters in on my own MBA, this prediction turned out to be 100% true. Most classes are word-for-word recitals of this speech, or PowerPoint summaries there-in. Most modern grading systems even utilize this movie, as a professor will simply identify you as a “Blake”, “Roma”, “Williamson” or “Levine”. Aside from the Baldwin speech, Roma, Moss and Levine all provide excellent observations on people management and motivation principles. Simply put there is no movie on earth that will prepare you better for an MBA. Glengarry can be thought of as the Philosophy 101 of business school.

Trading Places

Trading Places

Grade: F
Classes Needed For: Advanced Finance

As you will learn in Advanced Finance, Trading Places is a terrible representation of how futures markets operate, trading strategies are formed, and insider trading actually occurs. This movie, when referenced in interviews with I-Banking (unrelated – you will learn in your MBA program that Investment Banking is called I-Banking to make it sound even more pretentious) firms will only secure guffaws and chortles from the interviewers, and not a call back. Furthermore, gorillas would not confuse a person dressed up in a gorilla suit for another gorilla, nor could Dan Aykroyd actually stuff an entire smoked salmon down his Santa suit.

Wall Street

Wall StreetGrade: D
Classes Needed For: Economics, Finance

There are those who may try to convince you that Gordon Gecko is the archetype MBA programs strive to produce, and that the “Greed is Good” speech is the most important lesson for a future MBA/finance grad to learn. Now this is patently false as Alec Baldwin’s Glengarry speech is more important, and in general any Alec Baldwin character can probably be pin-pointed as a better business-leader archetype. But the real issue is that Michael Douglas’ speech doesn’t even compare to Danny Devito’s “Buggy Whip” speech in the drastically under-appreciated comedy Other People’s Money. While Gecko does a decent job encapsulating the operator’s dilemma between owners and management, Devito also works in a far better understanding of economics and strategic positioning of an organization. My advice – skip Michael Douglas in this one, and instead watch Devito in Other People’s Money, or even Batman 2.

Top Gun

Grade: B
Classes Needed For: Operations, International Business

Top Gun

Aside from Tom Cruise’s key commentary on establishing foreign relations with MiG fighter pilots (valuable for planning your international trip), the value of this movie is in Tom Skerritt’s monologue describing the origins of the Top Gun school, which you probably went to get popcorn during! Skerritt’s speech, while mostly historically oriented, helps describe the development of the OODA (Observe-Orient-Decide-Act) Loop. This will come up in the process improvement portion of operations management, and help you understand how to control and improve processes much deeper into the quote-unquote Danger Zone than Six Sigma.

Also, there is a surprising amount of volleyball played in MBA programs. Usually teams are larger than 2-on-2, but it’s still good strategy.

Gung Ho

Gung Ho

Grade: B
Classes Needed For: Managing People, Strategic Management, Operations

An oft-forgotten Ron Howard film featuring Michael Keaton, Gedde Wantanabe and George Wendt, Gung Ho is a great study for management and operations from the perspective of ‘80s car manufacturing. This film will both help you understand the management difficulties in overcoming cultural differences and give you context to the Toyota production philosophy, which will be referenced in management and operations again and again. Once you have seen this movie, you will realize that there are few manufacturing/factory issues that cannot be solved using the tactics utilized in this movie.



Grade: A
Classes Needed For: Accounting, Marketing, Strategic Management

Based on the life of Christopher George Latore Wallace a.k.a. Notorious B.I.G., Notorious is the 1b to Glengarry’s 1a in terms of important MBA movies. While Glengarry delves into the philosophy that must underline your life from here on out (“Nice Guy? I don’t give a #&%$!”), Notorious delves more into the grit of modern business. Marketing and personal differentiation, accounting and cash management, and how to not die are all key lessons of this film. At the very least, you should be intimately familiar with Mr. Smalls’ “10 Crack Commandments” before seriously attempting an MBA.

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One comment on “Good and Bad Movies to Watch to Prepare for your MBA
  1. Denise says:

    This is the best list of movies to watch!! I love Glengarry Glen Ross And Wall Street.. m 2 all time favourites, cant believe they missed them out on this list


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