Popcorn Leadership

The Best Leadership Movies of All Time

By David Drury


(Added on 02 Feb 2006: Braveheart, School of Rock & others)


Leadership is a learned art.  We read about leadership principles and ideas in books and magazines.  We pick the brains of other leaders we respect.  We develop plans to grow in certain areas of leadership.  We listen to tapes and CDs or download motivation to our iPods.  Most of all we learn it from experience—bad and good.  We learn the hard way or we learn when we happen to pull it off.  But let’s face it—all this stuff can get boring after a while.


Sometimes I just get tired of the leadership development tools that I have on my shelves.  It all starts to sound the same.  My eyes roll when they sound simplistic.  My eyes cross when they sound stupid.  Some leadership tapes make me want to take a nap—not motivate my team.  This even happens to me while reading stuff I have written about leadership myself.  It gets old quick.


So we have two options when leadership learning gets boring to us: 1) forget about developing as leaders or 2) mix it up a bit.


If you chose the second option you chose wisely.  There are certainly a myriad of ways to mix up your leadership learning input… but one of the best I’ve found is to invest some time in what I call “popcorn leadership”—developing my leadership while watching a good movie.  Popcorn leadership is easy—just find a great movie on leadership at the theatre, buy some popcorn for twelve dollars or whatever it costs these days, and sit down and learn.  Or rent one of the greatest leadership movies of all time, microwave some popcorn and learn (while being entertained of course.)


There are some great movies that come out each year that leaders can learn from—but what about those greatest movies of all time for leaders?  What’s the list?  Well, as with all such “greatest of all time” lists as soon as you read it you get frustrated that your favorite isn’t on the list.  So, this list is just a start, and I invite you to help build this list over time with me.  This will be a constantly expanding “best of” list, if you’ll help me.


Please click here to go to the comments area and support one of these choices or to submit your favorite leadership movie or a new category of movies.  (If submitting, please include the title and a one or two line reason why that movie is great for leaders to watch.)


The Best Leadership Movies of All Time


Sports Movies

(It seems like every movie about sports, especially a team with a coach, has some great leadership moments.)

*       Miracle — On building a team with the right players, and coaching each individual for their individual role

*       Remember the Titans – On changing the culture of a team and a town (submitted by Dennis Jackson)

*       Rocky – On overcoming all odds as an underdog (submitted by Dan Ward)


War Movies

(Battles create some of histories most fascinating leaders—even when circumstances force them to.)

*       Bridge Over the River Kwai – On how devotion to one goal can cause a leader to lose focus on the overall mission (submitted by Keith Drury)

*       A Bridge Too Far – On the effects of top leadership decisions in the trenches—and the implications of failure in war

*       Saving Private Ryan – On heroism and sacrifice for brothers-in-arms

*       We Were Soldiers – For examining the character Lt Colonel Hal Moore and his leadership (submitted by Mike Takas)

*       Great Escape – Amazing ingenuity, persistence and teamwork escaping from a Nazi prisoner of war camp (submitted by Justin J. Nierer)

*       BraveheartVision casting, overcoming all odds, inspiring other leaders, compromise, etc, etc.  (submitted by A. J. Thomas)


Meeting Movies

(Some movies focus on leading a group of people, usually in a meeting, towards a decision—for good or ill.)

*       12 Angry Men – On changing the minds of others through conversation; the art of persuasion in a meeting

*       Conspiracy – On the tragic consequences of a meeting where power and genocide were up for grabs (submitted by Keith Drury)


How Not To Lead Movies

(Other movies about leadership at it’s worst—here’s how not to lead.)

*       The Second Chance – Michael W. Smith in a surprisingly good role as a bad leader (submitted by Keith Drury)

*       Office Space – On how not to lead an office culture, one of the most hilarious stupid bosses in movie history!

*       Star Wars Episodes I – III – For the Emperor/Anakin leadership manipulation dynamic (Submitted by Matt Guthrie)


Mentoring Movies

(Movies that show us a mentoring—mentee relationship and how it affects the leadership of one or both of them.)

*       Finding Forrester – On how mentoring and investing in the next generation frees us both.

*       Training Day – When you start to believe your own lies as a leader; ethics, cops & gangs in the streets of L.A.

*       Dead Poet's Society – Mentoring and dreaming for others (submitted by Dennis Jackson)

*       Bull Durham On moving from doing oneself to teaching others (submitted by “Dvd Avins”)


Other Movies

(et cetera – movies that can’t be categorized in the above)

*       A Few Good Men – The change from self-centered to selfless leadership (submitted by Pete Yoshonis)

*       The Lion King Simba questions himself and then comes into his own

*       Forrest Gump – Doing the right things; the serendipitous (and lucky) side of having integrity (submitted by Dan Ward)

*       Return of the King – Aragorn as self-sacrifice; Gandalf as wise counselor; Frodo as conflicted decision-maker (this one has it all)

*       Ghandi – Yeah, it’s Ghandi, ‘nuff said.

*       The Passion of the Christ – Ditto, but Jesus… so all the more ‘nuff said.

*       Cool Hand Luke – How leaders "pay the price" for others and can be trapped by their own image (Submitted by Keith Drury who posted other reasons in the comments beyond this)

*       The Matrix Morpheous to Neo: "I can only show you the door, you have to walk through it”… analogy for evangelism or mentoring (Submitted by Derek Bethay)

*       Mr. Holland’s Opus – While we're "doing" leadership, the most profound influence we have may be deeper than anything we can possibly measure. (Submitted by Dennis King)

*       Schindler’s List – How sometimes a leader should shift his values and actions, and the lasting results of a leader adopting more virtuous values.

*       The Godfather – For Michael Corleone, it was all about development of a leader (submitted by Justin J. Nierer)

*       School of Rock – Team building, helping people find their proper place in the organization, being willing to give leadership and credit away (submitted by A.J. Thomas and Anonymous)



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© 2006 by David Drury


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