Small Business Movies from Hollywood
The Oscar nominees are out, and two of the front-runners highlight that age-old conflict: big business versus small. While The Wolf of Wall Street shocks viewers with its tale of corporate largesse, The Dallas Buyers’ Club endears them with a story of a small operator who imports potentially lifesaving but certainly illegal AIDS medication.
Even the most informed Hollywood insiders are at a loss for who will take the statue for best picture this year, but that shouldn’t stop us from recounting some of the best small business movies ever made.
Blade Runner (1982)
This probably seems like an odd choice for this list, but although most people may remember the massive Tyrell Corporation, Blade Runner is awash in small businesses, from the small shop where they make custom artificial animals to the corner noodle shop where Deckard eats his meals to Taffy’s club where the owner is used to being leaned on by police.
But what this movie has that other movies rarely capture is a complete ecosystem of small businesses. The club owner buys snakes from the small manufacturer. Even more importantly, we see that the Tyrell Corporation actually works with independent contractors for its components. Hannibal Chew makes eyes for the replicants while J.F. Sebastian designs their brains.
It’s easy to think of small businesses and large as being in competition, but it’s important to remember that many small businesses benefit from partnering with larger ones.
There are few better examples of entrepreneurs taking a big risk on a crazy idea and winning big than Ghostbusters. Though we certainly wouldn’t advise you to get the kinds of mortgages that Dr. Venkman foists on Dr. Stantz (an adjusted $230,000 in interest alone during the first 5 years can kill any business), sometimes you do have to take some risks. Remember to keep business and personal finances separate so that if things do go poorly, you don’t have to go down with the ship!
Mystic Pizza (1988)
Mystic Pizza is often dismissed simply as the vehicle that catapulted Julia Roberts to stardom, but it’s much more than that. Besides being a decent movie, it’s also one that has made a huge impact on the real business portrayed. Nearly 30 years later, people still come to Mystic, Connecticut just to visit the famous pizzeria.
Tommy Boy (1995)
Tommy Boy is a beloved movie, and it has both good lessons and bad for small businesses. First, don’t have a succession plan in place that puts an unprepared son at the helm of the business. As it happens in the movie, sometimes the person at the heart of the business can be lost unexpectedly, and you need to be prepared in case that happens. Because although things work out well in the movie, it usually doesn’t in real life.
However, it’s also important to remember what matters to your clients. Ultimately, young Tommy is able to come through because he speaks the same language as his clients and is sincere and honest, if a bit bumbling.
Jerry Maguire (1996)
It’s striking how often movies show people standing up for the good of the company and getting fired for it. Sadly, that’s a pretty accurate representation of what speaking your mind will get you in a big business setting. What Jerry Maguire shows is that often a small business gives you better opportunities for aligning your workplace with your values, rather than the other way around.
The Social Network (2010)
An influential movie on one of the biggest defining trends of our age, The Social Network recounts how small businesses become big businesses, and what can be lost along the way. When your business begins, it’s likely you will have many people contributing to your success. Acknowledging their contributions as you go and bringing people along as the business grows can help you avoid real trouble later on. And remember, slighting people doesn’t actually make your business more likely to succeed—many people have traded friends for dubious gains in business and regretted it afterward.
It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
I put this one last because it’s the best. Frank Capra’s masterpiece is known these days mostly as a Christmas movie, but it’s more a movie about community, and the role a small business can play in that community. George Bailey squares off against the coldhearted Mr. Potter, and although he never sees the level of success that Potter does, he runs his business in a way that we can all admire. He treats his customers with respect and dignity, despite the fact that they’re not the sort that society considers respectable and dignified (he fraternizes with Italians!)
It’s a Wonderful Life shows us how small businesses come to mean more than just business—they become the lifeblood of the community, and when they’re threatened, we can all rally around them.
Does your business inspire this kind of loyalty in its clients? Could it?