37 Project Management Movies That You Should Watch Twice

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Warning: Movie descriptions may contain spoilers.

The goal is clear, but the time to complete all of its requirements is running out.

The team is ready to go, but disorganization is holding them back.

The stakes couldn’t get any higher—the results of this project could make or break a product, a career… a life.

There’s only one kind of person that can step in and save the day.

If the setup above sounded like the premise of a lot of TV shows and movies, you’re absolutely right. Yet a project manager might not immediately think of John McClane or James Bond—they might think of last Friday, when Jim from development didn’t finish his work for the end of a sprint, holding back the whole team.  

Some of the best movies in Hollywood are about project management—you don’t need a PMP or to know how to use project management software to recognize when an awesome plan comes together. But to celebrate cinema’s greatest PMs, I’ve drawn up a list of the best project management movies out there.

These are the qualifiers that I used for selection:

  • There had to be a clear project in the film. In other words, there needed to be a temporary situation with clear time constraints that required strategic and collaborative thinking.
  • The movie had to be “good.” It needed a 75% or better on Rotten Tomatoes.
  • The film had to reveal something unique about project management itself. That could include the flighty nature of projects, what incredible project management looks like, or how a project manager could fail, for example.

With all that said, here are the top movies all project managers should check out!

Action and Adventure

1. Back to the Future (1985)

Rotten tomatoes score: 96%

Premise of the film: Marty McFly is all about being an 80s high schooler, which isn’t too helpful when he’s suddenly zapped back to the 1950s. When Marty then accidentally prevents his then-teenaged parents from meeting and falling in love, he risks disappearing forever. Marty has to help the two unlikely lovers connect, while trying to figure out how to get back to 1985.

Be sequential: Marty struggles with a classic time-travel paradox throughout the film; if he doesn’t rekindle his parents’ affection, he won’t ever be born in the future. And if he doesn’t return to the future, he’ll be stuck in the the past—where he certainly doesn’t belong—for the rest of his life. Marty creates a risky plan to get home that involves lightning striking an exact spot at an exact time, but none of that planning would have saved Back to the Future’s protagonist had he not convinced his father to be brave by the end of the film.  

2. Casino Royale (2006)  

Rotten tomatoes score: 95%

Premise of the film: Upon receiving his license to kill, James Bond heads to Madagascar to spy on Mollaka, a freelance terrorist. While doing so, he discovers a link between a terrorist cell and Le Chiffre, a terrorist financier. Upon learning that Le Chiffre plans to recover money he lost on a stock short, Bond, under the direction of MI6, gambles that he alone can topple Le Chiffre’s organization.

Laughter is better than sarcasm: At one point in the movie, Le Chiffre ties a nude James Bond to a seatless chair and proceeds to beat him with a thick rope. In the face of torture, Bond decides to make light of the situation: he instructs Le Chiffre on how to beat him properly. In fact, crying out in pain would have only made the situation worse—and that’s true of project management too. Put a face on even if your project is less than ideal. It’ll benefit everyone around you.  

3. Chicken Run (2000)

Rotten tomatoes score: 97%

Premise of the film: No one wants to be dinner, including Rocky the Rooster and Ginger the chicken. Knowing that they both face certain death, they rally their fellow chickens to escape the Tweedy compound before they’re turned into pies.

Inspire: “There’s a better place out there, somewhere beyond that hill!” Ginger says, pointing beyond the Tweedy compound. Not everyone is convinced. Rocky, scoffs, “There’s a one in a million chance of escaping this place.” That only energizes Ginger, who caps the conversation with, “Then there’s still a chance.”

Some projects seem insurmountable, and if your teammates have no buy-in, there is no way that your project will succeed. First, believe that the impossible is possible yourself, then find nuggets of possibility, and use those details to craft a vision for the rest of your team.

4. Die Hard (1988)

Rotten tomatoes score: 92%

Premise of the film: When German terrorist Hans Gruber takes Holly Gennaro and others hostage at a Christmas Party in Los Angeles, he isn’t prepared to face John McClane. Desperate to save his estranged wife and unable to contact backup, the NYPD officer is forced to take matters into his own hands.

There is charisma in caring: John McClane is not going to give up on Holly, California job and terrorists be… darned. Without passion, it’s impossible to be a leader, especially without technical know how. Luckily he has both, which encourages you, the viewer, to root for him as he saves the day. Project managers, take note. If you liked Die Hard, you probably liked it, in part, for McClane’s commitment to his project. Show the same leadership when you’re working with your team.  

5. Fast Five (2011)

Rotten tomatoes score: 77%

Premise of the film: When ex-cop Brian O’Connor breaks his brother-in-law out of custody, he has little choice but to go on the run from US authorities. He escapes to Brazil with one goal in mind: steal $100 million and then disappear. A ruthless FBI agent isn’t making the heist easy, so Brian calls upon the power of family, channeled through Dom, Han, Roman, Tej, Gisele, Leo, and Santos, to up the ante with vehicular warfare to save the day.

Choose the right tools: When it comes to vehicular warfare, the Fast Five stars aren’t driving anything bought on sale, and each vehicle is customized, from the Dodge Charger to the Subaru Impreza WRX STI—decisions that ultimately lead to project success. Whether you’re trying to rob a corrupt businessman, dodge the US Diplomatic Security Service, or build a standout app, successful project management relies on using the right tools to get the job done.

6. The Great Escape (1963)

Rotten tomatoes score: 93%

Premise of the film: If Hollywood can teach you anything, it’s that Allied troops excelled at escaping the Nazis. Frustrated with their sieve-like prisons, the Nazis move their captives to an “escape proof” facility… which over seventy prisoners dig out of. But they’re not out in the clear yet, as the Nazis quickly organize to recapture the escapees.

Know the goal then know your role: The escape functioned like outstanding construction project management: there were discrete jobs and talents (scroungers, manufacturers, tunnel kings, tailors, and so on). Initially aiming to dig out three tunnels, each team worked together to complete a project that would have worked well with sequential Gantt chart software. Although two tunnels failed, all the teams knew their ultimate goal was to escape, which meant quickly moving on from their failed subprojects to their ultimate goal. In other words, they were agile when the situation called for it.  

7. Ocean’s Eleven (2001)

Rotten tomatoes score: 82%

Premise of the film: It doesn’t take Danny Ocean long to come up with his next target after serving time for thievery. In fact, he aims to pull off the biggest heist in history. To that end he puts together an eleven-member team to rob the biggest casinos in Vegas: The Bellagio, The MGM Grand, and The Mirage—all casinos owned by Terry Benedict, who is notably interested in Ocean’s ex-wife, Tess. To hit all three casinos simultaneously, the crew will have to give everything they can, hoping to walk out $150 million richer.  

Build an incredible team: If you’re going to rob three casinos at once, you need to have the right people. Luckily, Rusty and Danny know the best people to fill the roles that they need. Throughout the movie, each of the eleven prove their worth, yet stay within the scope of their original role. When starting up a project, pick the right people to see it through.

8. Princess Mononoke (1997)

Rotten tomatoes score: 92%

Premise of the film: Lady Eboshi wants to expand Iron Town into a forbidden forest inhabited only by gods, wildlife, tree spirits, and San, a human girl raised by wolves. Ashitaka, a cursed prince traveling from the east happens upon their conflict and tries to mitigate the pain, anger, and suffering felt on both sides.

Kindness leads to irreplaceable loyalty: Lady Eboshi could be easy to hate—she kills gods at will with little remorse and is not afraid to abandon individuals for the benefit of her people. But there’s a reason why Eboshi inspires so much loyalty; she reaches out to the poor, the underprivileged, and the fatally ill and gives them safety, purpose, and respect. She apologizes when she needs to, yet makes no apologies for who she is. The movie industry tends to run imperfect women in power through the mud; instead, this film shows how compassion and emotional intelligence can be a tool of strength for leaders and project managers.  

9. The Lego Movie (2014)

Rotten tomatoes score: 96%

Premise of the film: Emmet is about as square as a Lego can get; he follows all the rules, he relishes being ordinary, and he’s happy to do as he’s told without question… that is, until a cute Lego named Wyldstyle mistakes him for the most important Lego in the world. Drafted into a ragtag group of rebels, Emmet must learn who he is outside of his world’s expectations.

Micromanagers are literally the worst: President Business strives for complete control, so he sends out a squad of Sentinel-like “micromanagers” to “perfectly” arrange the Lego Universe and everyone in it. The entire premise of the movie is that micromanagement is bad—no one likes to be manipulated to the will of a third party for an indeterminate period of time! And while the micromanagers are a less-than-subtle metaphor, the film has a point. Don’t be a micromanager. Elicit feedback from your team about where they’d like freedom and where they’d like direction, and strike a balance in between.  

Comedies

10. Beverly Hills Cop (1984)

Rotten tomatoes score: 84%

Premise of the film: Axel Foley is way out of his element; he’s a loud-mouthed detective from Detroit whose superior has banned him from doing the one thing that he does best: solve a murder that’s personal to him. Desperate to find out who killed his childhood friend, Foley secretly travels to Beverly Hills to solve the case.

Rigid methods don’t always work: All cops in Beverly Hills go by the books… and then Axel Foley shows up. While he’s not using agile methods to develop software, he teaches local cops that to solve crimes, getting iterative is the best way to go.

11. Big Night (1996)

Rotten tomatoes score: 96%

Premise of the film: During the 1950s, brothers Primo and Secondo have a shared dream: to start an authentic, quality Italian restaurant. Sadly, business in America isn’t the same as business in their home country of Italy. While the two successfully open their restaurant, customers don’t come in—and if they do, they don’t appreciate the food as they should. Drowning in debt, the brothers go to their rival, Pascal, for help. The result? One night to cook the best Americanized Italian meal, lest they lose the restaurant.

The stake—(steak?)—holder is always right: Big Night embodies a struggle that many business owners and project managers are familiar with: they know the right way to do things, but the stakeholders want something else. When Primo is unwilling to compromise Italian authenticity and standards in his kitchen, The Paradise begins to bleed money to the point of failure. Eventually, Pascal imparts good advice: “Give them what they want now and what you want later.” Good advice for a long-term business plan, and great advice for the project manager who knows where to find that balance on longer projects.

12. Bottle Rocket (1996)

Rotten tomatoes score: 85%

Premise of the film: After Dignan “rescues” his best friend, Anthony, from a voluntary mental health facility, he convinces Anthony to join in on his 75-year plan… which includes going on a crime spree. Anthony reluctantly follows along. As the heists go wrong, Anthony finds love and Dignan ends up on the wrong side of a jail cell.

There is such a thing as too-big picture: Dignan clings onto the idea of a 75-year plan that he created for himself and his best friend, Anthony. While incredibly detailed, he doesn’t do any risk management—the man is all about “the big picture” and idealism instead of accounting for behavioral and life changes. Project managers, keep your goals clear, manageable, and accomplishable, lest your team abandon you.  

13. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)

Rotten tomatoes score: 81%

Premise of the film: Ferris Bueller is a charismatic high schooler skilled cutting classes. One day, he calls in “sick,” convinces his best friend to “borrow” a Ferrari, and sneaks off to enjoy a day in Chicago with his friend and girlfriend. All the while, the suspicious high school principal is catching on to Bueller’s tricks, determined to catch him faking sick.

Be a “righteous dude”: Part of Bueller’s efficacy at cutting class is that he has buy-in from his peers. Don’t knock the power of character—whether Bueller is dancing the Twist and Shout in the Von Steuben Day parade or giving motivational speeches to his possibly schizophrenic but definitely depressed best friend, he gets buy-in whenever he wants it.

14. A Fish Called Wanda (1988)

Rotten tomatoes score: 93%

Premise of the film: Wanda Gerschwitz typically gets what she wants, especially if it’s expensive. After her mobster lover hides the jewels from their latest con, she uses every tool available to her to get them back.

Play to your team’s strengths: One of Wanda’s lovers, Otto, is an idiot who’s conceded enough to think he’s a genius. That doesn’t stop Wanda from including him in her plans; Otto makes for great muscle, and, with a bit of flattery, can be convinced to do anything. Yet Otto’s idiocy continues to jeopardize Wanda’s mission. She should have long cut him from the team before she did. Project managers, if someone is dragging your team down because of social problems, fully evaluate the impact on the overall team’s success—regardless of their technical skills. At times, social interruption and poor decision making merit a removal from the team for the sake of the project.  

15. Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

Rotten tomatoes score: 94%

Premise of the film: It’s the summer of 1965 and young love has made its way to a small New England summer camp. Two kids fall in love and run away together, only to be pursued by a slew of frustrated, concerned,and empathetic friends and authority figures.  

Give your project a little magic: Wes Anderson masterfully contrasts the kids’ and adults’ worlds in Moonrise Kingdom. In which world would you rather operate: one with loveless marriages, the monotony of the quotidian, and the unspoken battle for social superiority, or one with adventure, romance, and the occasional fantasy creature? Take the time to get to know the lives of those working on your project, and add in a “big picture” element to inspire your team members to attach some magic to their deliverables.

16. Office Space (1999)

Rotten tomatoes score: 79%

Premise of the film: Peter Gibbons isn’t in a great place. He has a difficult neighbor, a cheating girlfriend, and a dead-end, soul-sucking job. But upon coming out of a botched hypnotherapy session, Peter no longer worries about money—or keeping his job. Yet his new behavior makes him more appealing to corporate, and as the business is downsizing and his friends are laid off, he’s promoted. Together, he and two friends decide to take revenge on the company.

Trash the printer: Employees everywhere identify with Office Space. In the scene where Lumbergh asks Gibbons to come in on a Saturday (that’d be greeeaaattt), he’s demonstrating what a poor project manager he is himself. Gibbons gets the short end of the stick and feels resentful toward his manager, which ultimately lead to resentment to the detriment of the company. Being realistic about deadlines acts both in service to the company and to the team. You owe it to your teammates to be clear and fair about your expectations.

17. The Parent Trap (1998)

Rotten tomatoes score: 86%

Premise of the film: Annie and Hallie have a lot in common—including, they discover at summer camp, their parents. They trade places when returning home with one goal in mind: bring their parents back together.

Be agile: When Annie and Hallie finally get their parents into the same building, they have to continue to pretend to be the other twin. That means that when they are at risk of being in the same room, one twin has to think of a quick distraction so the other could escape. While I can’t recommend outright deceit on a project, quick innovation on a small team can do wonders to mend setbacks.

Documentaries

18. Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father (2008)

Rotten tomatoes score: 94%

Premise of the film: Soon after Andrew Bagby was killed, Kurt Kuenne, the director of this film, discovered that Bagby’s murderer was pregnant. In an attempt to introduce the unborn child, Zachary, to his deceased father, Kuenne begins collecting and arranging footage of people remembering the good and the bad of Andrew Bagby. While filming, a child custody war between Bagby’s parents and Bagby’s killer erupts over who should have custody of Zachary.

Be patient, be iterative: Kuenne demonstrates incredible flexibility, adaptability, and grit while making Dear Zachary. The film was originally intended—and shot—as a home-movie gift for an unborn child, but ended up being an exposé of the Canadian legal system’s inability to protect children of known, dangerous mentally ill parents. That meant iterative development; he was shooting the movie as Zachary’s story was unfolding. The end result is a masterpiece.  

19. Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005)

Rotten tomatoes score: 97%

Premise of the film: Why did Enron fail, and what does corruption have to do with it? This documentary explores the company’s several illegal entanglements that had only one purpose: to keep its executives in their high-paying jobs.

If it seems too good to be true…: Enron’s failure came at the intersection of deregulation, globalization, and internet technology. The “smartest guys in the room,” or Jeff Skilling, Kenneth Lay, and Andrew Fastow, saw that there was opportunity to “get rich quick,” and jumped on it. Because they were so charismatic, their employees didn’t question Enron’s meteoric rise until it was too late. In the end, Enron was not the team and long-term profits weren’t the company’s goal, so of course it failed. Project managers, take note: do not promise something that you cannot deliver. If you do, you’ll be tempted to fudge numbers and requirements, and you will eventually get caught.   

20. Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2012)

Rotten tomatoes score: 99%

Premise of the film: 85-year-old Jiro Ono is considered the world’s greatest sushi chef. He’s the owner of a 10-seat sushi restaurant in Tokyo, where one must make reservations months in advance in a small window to get a seat. Learn why Jiro makes the world’s best sushi, what costs he pays for his craft, and how his sons will recover once Jiro inevitably passes.

Cleanliness leads to success: Jiro’s kitchen is spotless—there’s no chance that so much as a fly can penetrate his immaculately cleaned back room. So too should a project manager’s workspace and project process be so clean. As Henny Portman writes, “If you, as a project manager, don’t have your project hygiene, e.g. documentation, progress reporting in place and up to standard it will be hard to be successful.”

21. Jodorowsky’s Dune (2014)

Rotten tomatoes score: 98%

Premise of the film: Cult film director Alejandro Jodorowsky is obsessed with making the perfect film adaptation of Dune, one of the greatest science fiction novels of all time. Unfortunately, he fails. This film explores why.

Keep your scope in check: “Length!? What is length!? If I make a movie that is 12 or 20 hours, it is 12 or 20 hours! I am a poet!” Jodorowsky believes that his adaptation of Dune should be able to be as long as he’d like, and keeps expanding the scope of the movie… so much so that it gets cut. Keep your scope in line so your stakeholders don’t grow frustrated and ultimately abandon you alongside the project.

22. The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness (2014)

Rotten tomatoes score: 91%

Premise of the film: Want to know how some of the best-animated movies in the world—including Princess Mononoke— are made? Director Mami Sunada follows international film legends Hayao Miyazaki, Isao Takahata, and Toshio Suzuki of Studio Ghibli as they work on the simultaneous release or two films: The Wind Rises and The Tale of the Princess Kaguya.

Pursue greatness: If there’s any man in the world who will never be satisfied, it’s Hayao Miyazaki. “I don’t ever feel happy in my daily life,” he says with a smirk on his face. “How could that be our ultimate goal? Filmmaking only brings suffering.” So why do it? Some pursuit of truth, of greatness. Many who work at Ghibli do so just to get close to Miyazaki’s genius. His vision—accompanied by his grounded producer’s project management timeline requirements—produces greatness.

Thank God he came out of retirement again.   

23. Super Size Me (2004)

Rotten tomatoes score: 93%

Premise of the film: If you need proof that junk food will make you fat and unhealthy, watch this movie. Morgan Spurlock goes on a quest that requires 30 days of eating nothing but McDonald’s for three meals a day. Follow his journey to learn about the physical and emotional consequences of relying on the Golden Arches for one’s diet.

Keep it simple: Spurlock’s whole project can be summarized in just a few sentences—and I’d argue that’s part of what made this film, this project, so successful. The whole experiment was simple for anyone to understand and replicate.  That made it easy for Spurlock to create a team of doctors and friends to help usher him through his weight-gain journey—and understand the consequences.  

Drama

24. Apollo 13 (1995)

Rotten tomatoes score: 95%

Premise of the film: The crew of Apollo 13 are stranded in outer space after an oxygen tank explodes. In a film based on true events, astronauts Jim Lovell, Fred Haise, and Jack Swigert must choose between suffocating or freezing to death as NASA scrambles to find a way to bring them home.

Houston, we have a problem: Apollo 13 is a lesson in crisis management. NASA had done its risk management homework  and practiced using the Apollo 9’s lunar module to control the ship’s “whole stack.” Because of investment in contingency planning, the mission isn’t a complete failure: the crew returns alive.

25. The Dark Knight (2008)

Rotten tomatoes score: 94%

Premise of the film: The trinity of DA Harvey Dent, Lieutenant Jim Gordon, and Batman are successfully keeping Gotham City safe, until an unpredictable, brilliant criminal only known as “Joker” makes it his mission to introduce a little chaos, pushing the city to anarchy.

Don’t forget to smile: The Joker is the epitome of a phenomenal project manager… the only problem is that he’s evil to the core. He has a grand vision of what Gotham should be and creates an amazing team, timeline, and PR plan to execute it. And though the Joker is a repulsive human being, there’s a reason why he’s so charismatic. He cracks jokes—however odd—and is consistently adding levity to his terrorism. Humor is a powerful project management tool. Use it wisely.   

26. Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)

Rotten tomatoes score: 94%

Premise of the film: Sales is not a sport for the weak. In the dramatic, masculine world of Chicago real estate, salesmen compete for a Cadillac El Dorado or a set of steak knives—the only other “prize” is job loss. Under pressure to succeed, a robbery goes wrong, leading to a series of unforeseen consequences.   

Coffee’s for closers: There is such a thing as being too harsh. In fact, if you lead your team with negativity, you’ll inspire nothing but fear—which can lead to the detriment of your company. If you don’t have complete information as a project manager, you can’t possibly guide your team to success. Have the right information and represent it without unneccesarily adding fear into the equation.

27. Gone Girl (2014)

Rotten tomatoes score: 88%

Premise of the film: Amy Dunne is missing. Her husband, Nick Dunne, reported her disappearance on their fifth wedding anniversary. Under the scrutiny of the investigation and a drama-seeking media, truths about the Dunne’s marriage start to point to one central question: Did Nick Dunne kill his wife?

I’m so much happier now that I’m dead: Amy Dunne, like Batman’s Joker, is one of the greatest project managers displayed on film. As a meticulous planner, she builds her revenge over the course of years. She also figures out contingency plans for when things go wrong—which they inevitably do. If you want to see incredible project management in action, watch this film.  

28. Room (2015)

Rotten tomatoes score: 94%

Premise of the film: Raised within the confines of an outdoor shed, five-year-old Jack has no understanding of a world beyond “Room.” Yet Joy, his mother, has been outside—she’s been held captive in the shed for seven years. One day, the boy and his mother escape, and must learn to adapt to the new world around them.

Rid yourself of sunk costs—even if they’re emotional: Jack understandably wants to return to Room—he’s spent the majority of his life there and would prefer to stay in the comfort of the familiar. Yet, upon returning, he realizes just how small Room is… and that it’s time to say goodbye. He does it with reverence, saying goodbye to each object in the room that he used to love. He then exits Room forever, comfortable with his decision. Project managers should take note: it’s hard to let go of past projects and past mistakes. Say goodbye, and then move on.

29. Saving Private Ryan (1998)

Rotten tomatoes score: 92%

Premise of the film: D-Day. The Ryan brothers, all of the same American family, are dead—that is, all but James Francis Ryan, who is serving somewhere in Normandy. A team of soldiers, including Tom Hanks as Captain John Miller, set out to find the lost soldier. As they encounter the inevitable obstacles of war, they begin to question whether saving one life is worth risking many.

Be a servant leader: Captain Miller embodies fearlessness—at least, on the outside. He chooses to rush Normandy because he had faith that his men, scared as they were, would follow him. And they did—knowing that Miller was willing to put his life on the line gave them the courage to finish what they needed to do, regardless of the carnage.  

30. Selma (2015)

Rotten tomatoes score: 99%

Premise of the film: In 1965, Alabama’s black citizens technically, and constitutionally, have equal voting rights. Yet, they’re unable to make it out to the polls. Why? Racist registrars, police, and lawmakers. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. makes it his mission to right these injustices and sets off to his chosen non-violent battleground: Selma.

Great leaders are made by their people: Selma is quick to show that, although King had a say in strategy and helped garner support on the ground, there were dozens of other people in the room where decisions were made. Sure, he had the charisma to help maintain momentum, but his people were not monolithic, and King’s decisions were not always correct. Project managers, have the humility to know when to listen to your people. Take their feedback and be sure to incorporate it into your overall project management strategy.

31. The Social Network (2010)

Rotten tomatoes score: 96%

Premise of the film: The Social Network dramatizes the rise of Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg. Starting all the way back with Facemash—a revenge site Zuckerberg created to retaliate against a college ex-girlfriend in 2003—the film follows Zuckerberg as he finds investors, recruits a team, meets Napster co-founder and “ideas guy” Sean Parker, and builds an empire while losing all his friends through his the 00s.

Recruit your team based on skills: On paper, Zuckerberg and his team, are not impressive. They’re college dropouts who got into trouble for hacking into Harvard’s database. Yet he’s able to complete Facebook and launch one of the biggest companies in the world—because of his skills that aren’t on paper. Project managers, when determining who to recruit to your team, be sure to pull from known talents, and don’t be afraid to ask around about their skills reputation.

32. Steve Jobs (2015)

Rotten tomatoes score: 86%

Premise of the film: Watch Michael Fassbender portray Steve Jobs over the course of three iconic product launches: Macintosh (1984), NeXT Computer (1988), and iMac (1998). Through it all, envy Jobs’ eye for design, watch his reckless pursuit of perfection, and learn about the monster he was to his child.

Getting results while dying alone: Jobs was fired from Apple not because of poor marketing or budgeting decisions, but because he was downright awful to work with. And while he returned to Apple and turned around the company with the iMac, the movie ends with Jobs having no one truly committed to Steve Jobs the person as opposed to Steve Jobs the persona.

Science Fiction

33. Ex Machina (2015)

Rotten tomatoes score: 93%

Premise of the film: Can Ava, a human-like AI machine, pass the Turing Test? That’s the question her creator, Nathan Bateman, hopes to answer with Caleb Smith, an employee at his giant Google-like company.

Emotional intelligence ties teams together: Ava can’t escape without Nathan, so she uses everything in her arsenal—expressions of pain, sexuality, individuality—to not only convince her tester that she has consciousness, but that’s she’s worth saving. Do you have any bonds with your teammates? If not, will they step in to save you if you’re in trouble?

34. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Rotten tomatoes score: 91%

Premise of the film: What happens when you take a chaotic neutral space adventurer, a humorless bodybuilder, a brilliant raccoon, a humanoid tree that spares few words, and an assassin who recently discovered morality and put them on a team to save humanity?

This film.

Avoid plans with a single point of failure: To be fair, I’ve written extensively on this film already, but it bears repeating: supervillains are superbad at risk management. Ronan relies on The Dark Astor to fulfill his intention to wipe out the Xandarian people, which has a single, vulnerable point of failure, which, of course, the Guardians exploit. When planning a project, even if it’s genocide, make sure it doesn’t hinge on a predictably bad variable.

35. The Martian (2015)

Rotten tomatoes score: 92%

Premise of the film: A fierce sand storm hits during the third manned mission to Mars. Faced with pursuing a presumed-dead astronaut and saving the rest of her crew, Commander Melissa Lewis takes off, leaving the red planet—and astronaut Mark Watney, who’s still alive—behind. With only a few supplies and no way to contact Earth, Watney must figure out how to survive and, ultimately, get back home.  

Use your technical skills: Consider this: Mark Watney is a skilled project manager who’s able to figure out a hexadecimal alphabet, has enough of a background in chemistry to make water out of hydrazine fuel, and can figure out how to grow potatoes millions of miles from Earth. Project management relies heavily on theory that can span across industries, sure, but having specific, actionable know how gives project managers that extra boost that can make the difference between project success and failure.  

36. Star Trek: First Contact (1996)

Rotten tomatoes score: 93%

Premise of the film: Earth: what’s the worst thing that could happen? The Borg, for one. The crew of the Enterprise go back in time to prevent The Borg from assimilating the entire human race.

Engage: As a project manager, it’s your job to remove obstacles from your team’s path to success and then get out of the way. In the interest of ensuring that warp drive inventor Zefram Cochrane made contact with the Vulcans, the crew of the Enterprise had to clear his challenges and then get out of the way to make sure that history proceeded as it should. Engage, enable, and exit. Let your team do the work and get the glory for it.

37. Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983)

Rotten tomatoes score: 80%

Premise of the film: With the Death Star fully operational, optimism isn’t high among the Rebels. They have one hope to save the galaxy: Luke Skywalker, the son of the Empire’s second in command. As the Rebel forces launch a last-ditch attempt to dismantle the Empire’s arsenal, Skywalker faces down his father and the Emperor himself.

The Emperor does not share your optimistic appraisal of the situation: “You may dispense with the pleasantries, Commander,” Darth Vader growls, displeased with his direct report’s progress, “I’m here to put you back on schedule.” In spite of his multiple character flaws, Darth Vader is an outstanding project manager. Watch him motivate his team with an effective—albeit not ethically recommended—tactic to get the second Death Star done on time and within budget: fear.   

More?

There are many more outstanding project management movies that did not make this list. Which ones did I miss? What is on the list but shouldn’t be? Let me know in the comments section below, and I’ll consider your suggestions for the next update!

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Rachel Burger

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Rachel is a former Capterra analyst who covered project management.

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I’d add “Ike: Countdown to D-Day”, as it shows the interaction with the Project Sponsor (Churchill), the managing of the different “sub-teams” and their respective leaders (navy, army, etc) and also poses examples of risk and time management, as well as issue handling.

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Definitely a great addition to the list of top project management movies! What would your big takeaway be?

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How about the Thomas Crown Affair? (the original). Millionaire playboy remotely orchestrates a flawless bank robbery by issuing anonymous instructions to a group of unrelated stakeholders out of sheer boredom.

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