Bosses in Movies: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Recurring archetypes are no stranger to cinema, from the anti-hero with a heart of a gold to the damsel in distress, figures like this are omnipresent in film. The “boss” is unique though, in that whether they be an executive, a CEO, or some other corporate entity, they are not always depicted in a similar manner on the big screen. Here’s a look at some of the more interesting versions of the “Boss” archetype: the good, the bad, and the ugly.
In “Tommy Boy,” Chris Farley plays the titular Tommy, the inheritor of his father’s brake pad company and fortune. But after Tommy Sr.’s death, the bank decides to go back on its loan unless Tommy can prove the company has longevity after its founder’s death. Thus starts a road trip movie where the boss finds himself away from the actual company doing sales work. As it’s a comedy, much of the film relies on the evolution of the child-like Tommy into the (somewhat) mature adult that can handle running the day-to-day operations of Callahan Auto. While goofy, the film does manage to epitomize the “good” boss: the one that is willing to make sacrifices for the good of their company and the workers under them.
By contrast, the Oliver Stone directed movies “Wall Street” and its sequel “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” paint a much more negative portrayal of the movers and shakers in the private sector. Gordon Gecko, Michael Douglass’ character, is obsessed with wealth, going so far as to deliver the infamous line “greed is good.” And while the sequel depicts Gordon Gecko as less of a villain than in its predecessor, the movies constantly ask the audience to decide whether greed actually is as good as Gecko claims. Perhaps these movies are the most accurate perception of audience’s expectations of Wall Street and what it’s like to be the boss of a highly successful company. It’s films like these where morality and profit share an ambiguous relationship, and where doing the right thing often comes at great financial cost. Where Tommy Boy’s protagonist used sales as a means to fight for the common man, Gordon Gecko and his various proteges use sales as a means to further their own ends.
Other notable examples of the “bad” boss include Tom Cruise’s character Les Grossman in the film “Tropic Thunder.” Les Grossman, a satirical depiction of the money-obsessed studio executives in Hollywood, spends the movie urging terrorists to kill one of his actors so that they can sell his old movies to a currently disinterested public.
And then of course, there is the “ugly” depiction of bosses in cinema. While Gordon Gecko and Les Grossman may be obsessed with money, their purpose is at least clear. These characters, on the other hand, are after something more intangible: respect. “American Psycho” gives the audience insight into the mind of a Gecko-wannabe, and shows how strongly success is tied to appearances. It’s not just enough to have luxuries others only dream of, perfection has become a lifestyle that must be carefully maintained to function in this upper echelon of society. It’s no wonder that the madness of perfection drives the main character, Christian Bale’s Patrick Bateman, to slaughter countless innocents (or at least in his mind).
“Fight Club” and “American Beauty” come to mind as well when discussing the ugly side of bosses. Both movies offer fascinating looks into the culture of consumption, and the never-ending cycle of work to feed to work. Both come to the same conclusion as well, as the main characters blackmail their bosses in order to comfortably retire from the company and pursue their true dreams (at which point the two movies vastly differ).
Of course, this is just a small sliver of films where corporate America is given a magnifying glass into its good, bad, and ugly.
This has been a guest post from Australia’s CEO Magazine,if you’d like a peak inside their pages, why not have a look at the website?