It’s easy to learn business lessons from movies that focus on business. But you can also learn business lessons from crime movies. Did you ever stop to consider that many popular crime movies are filled with small business owners, entrepreneurs and self-employed freelancers? After all, it makes for a more exciting plot when characters don’t have to go to a 9-to-5 job everyday but instead have the flexible schedules of the self employed.
We collected 8 films where protagonists went to prison or worse, but which have business themes in them. See if you can guess all eight. After you click “Finish” you’ll see key business lessons and concepts for each film. Take the quiz!
Quiz: Business Lessons in Crime Movies
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#1 This movie features a teenager who steals $3 Million from an airline and ends up working for the FBI.
Catch Me If You Can is based on the true story of Frank Abagnale. After his father’s business went bust due to IRS problems and being denied a business loan, the family falls apart. Frank leaves home and starts his life as a con man — while still a teenager.
It is an amazing life, with Frank impersonating an airline pilot and forging Pan-Am payroll checks for almost $3 million. He also impersonates a doctor and a lawyer.
He is caught, spends time in prison, and eventually starts working for the FBI teaching agents how to spot crimes. While some of his escapades were exaggerated for the movie, Frank was a con man and forger in real life. Today he runs a private security firm.
A key business theme (in a contrarian way) is that self-confidence will get you far. Another theme: your past experience, including what you learned from your mistakes, is valuable and can be parlayed into a business later.
#2 This movie follows a family business as it passes on to a son more ruthless than his father.
The Godfather is considered one of best movies of all time. At its core it’s about a family business and the succession to the next generation.
Vito Corleone builds a Mafia empire. When he passes away, his son Michael, a war hero turned cop killer, takes over. In many family businesses the next generation is not as smart, capable or driven as the founder. Not so in Michael’s case. He’s even smarter and more ruthless than his father.
But in the process of leading the family enterprise, his relationships with his family take a back seat to ambition.
The Godfather has many lessons. One of the key lessons is that you should be loyal to family, yet ironically business triumphs over family in the film and in the sequel, The Godfather II.
#3 The iconic line “greed is good” came from this movie.
Wall Street, the movie, is about a young ambitious stockbroker who gets caught up with a corporate raider, Gordon Gecko. In a scene where he defends corporate raiding as “liberating” poorly performing companies, Gecko delivers the famous line “greed is good.”
However, both characters let their greed run afoul of insider trading laws. Eventually the young stockbroker and the corporate raider get arrested. Along the way friendships and family ties are betrayed.
One of Wall Street’s lessons is: unbridled greed is not good. It can lead to prison and damaged relationships.
#4 This violent action film features a puppy, many freelancers and small business owners of a chop shop and an unusual hotel.
Keanu Reaves stars in the title role of John Wick.
Wick sets out for revenge after the spoiled son of a Russian crime boss sends a team to break into his home, kills the puppy his recently-deceased wife had given him, and steals his classic car. Wick had been trying to go straight under his wife’s influence, but now that goes out the door.
The movie features the owner of a unique hotel just for bad guys, called the Continental Hotel, and the owner of Aurelio’s Garage, a high end chop shop. In addition, the movie has lots of self-employed terminators.
One of the movie’s business lessons is: not everything is about money.
#5 The daughter of a safecracker seeks revenge after her father is double crossed in this action film.
The Italian Job is an exciting action film involving four souped-up Mini Coopers. The 2003 remake features Charlize Theron as Stella, the daughter of a master safecracker.
After masterminding the theft of $35 million in gold bullion in Venice, her father and the rest of the crew are double crossed in the Alps by one member of the gang.
The gang resurfaces and connects up with Stella, who is a self-employed locksmith and safecracker, to get the gold back from their former team member. The team, under the meticulous planning of Charlie, executes a finely-choreographed and high-tech plan to recover the money.
Business themes in The Italian Job are the importance of great planning. Goal setting and teamwork are also important. And there is a running theme about the value of mentoring, as Charlie was mentored by Stella’s father.
#6 A huge government contract goes terribly wrong for two entrepreneurs in this film.
War Dogs is a dark comedy of two entrepreneurs who land a huge arms sale contract.
David is a massage therapist turned failed bed-sheet entrepreneur who ends up going into business with his friend Efraim. Efraim has learned the government-contract bidding system that awards contracts to small businesses. Together the two land contracts selling arms to the Pentagon. They grow the business, living the high life.
Their silent partner is — get this — the owner of a dry cleaning business.
But as they seek bigger and bigger contracts, they get scammed by Albanians. Efraim stiffs a small business supplier, a packaging company, whose owner turns them in. Meanwhile, Efraim turns on David. Eventually the two get arrested.
War Dogs is based on a true story. This movie has many business lessons. One is: get rich quick schemes are risky. Another lesson is: don’t double cross the people you do business with.
#7 Called one of the greatest Mob movies ever, Ray Liotta’s character is forced to enter witness protection.
Goodfellas, directed by Martin Scorsese, is based on the real life story of gangster Henry Hill, played by Liotta. This powerful account portrays Hill’s rise and fall.
Hill runs afoul of his crime boss because he is doing drug deals and other work on the side such as the Lufthansa Heist.
Hill’s freelance work is seen as a breach of loyalty by the crime boss, who cuts him loose with a piddling $3,200 severance payoff after 25 years. Hill’s partners and associates turn on each other. In the end, there’s no one he can trust.
A business theme in this movie is trust among partners and business associates – or lack thereof. It proves the old saying is true: “No man is an island.”
#8 A poacher stumbles on a drug deal gone bad in the desert and is violently hunted by freelance assassins.
No Country for Old Men is a powerful drama all about freelancers. A small-time poacher stumbles on a drug deal gone bad in the desert. He recovers a suitcase with $2 million in it.
Two assassins are hired to find the money. One freelance operative ends up killing the other and the group that hired the other because he felt he should have had an exclusive right to the contract.
Eventually the poacher and his wife are killed, bringing the death tally to over a dozen people.
A small town sheriff played by Tommy Lee Jones follows the killing trail, but is unable to stop it. In the end the sheriff decides to retire because he feels “outclassed.”
A key theme: greed leads to bad consequences.