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HR lessons from Hollywood

lesssons from hollywood

Lessons from Hollywood

I love movies. Movies are an escape from my day-to-day. No one yells at me in the movie theater, no one wants a decision out of me and most of all, no one is complaining to me. The biggest decision I make is regular or extra butter on my popcorn and do I pee before the movie starts or can I hold it for the next 2 hours. #FirstWorldProblems for sure. I often assign employees homework in the form of movies. This way we both have something in common we can discuss when it comes to learning a lesson about corporate life. In this weeks post I provide a few HR lessons from Hollywood and hopefully, this will give you ideas to build common ground when sharing lessons in your corporate life. I know I missed a few, so please share your favorite movies in the comments below. 

Just so we establish a baseline, my scale for movie approval is below:

HRNasty’s rating scale (similar to how I review candidates) 

  • Thumbs up
  • Thumbs Down
  • The Finger from my dominant hand
  • The Finger from both hands

At a more sophisticated level:

  • Don’t bother
  • Rental
  • See it in a movie theater but only at matinée prices
  • See it in a movie theater because of the soundtrack or special effects
  • Must see in THX, IMAX, or iPic. This movie deserves your full attention, the full effect and will be worth the extra money paid.

Money is no object

I do not judge a movie by how much it cost to make. For me, don’t care if it cost 2 million or 100 million to produce. Mrs. Nasty and I are only paying 28.00 to watch this movie. What do I care what the movie cost to make?

Below are a few examples that combine two of my favorite two things (HR and Movies) as they relate to movie lessons for corporate life.

lesssons from hollywood

Ed Harris has a great line I love when talking about failure. “Failure is not an option.”

Apollo 13

Tom Hanks, Ed Harris, Kevin Bacon


“Houston, we have a problem”. The true story of the Apollo mission where the capsule was damaged while in space endangering the lives of those aboard. The movie shows how Houston and the crew of the Apollo worked together to come up with a solution to bring the team in space back safely to earth. There is a classic scene where the team in Houston is in a conference room and a guy comes in with a box and dumps the contents of the table in front of a number of engineers. It looks like a box of junk but these are the same parts available on the Apollo spacecraft. From this box of parts, the crews both on earth and in space figure out what they can construct to get the team safely back home. If you have an individual or a team who is always saying “Impossible” or “we can’t do that”, assign this movie.


lesssons from hollywood

Matt Damon putting in the work to figure it out.

The Martian

Matt Damon


Two thumbs up. See this on in THX, IMAX or iPic. Yes, this movie is worth the extra money. I LOVED THIS MOVIE! A modern fictional version of Apollo 13 and a great flick. I just assigned the watching of this movie as homework for a recent new hire. This new hire is a millennial and I didn’t think that they would relate to Apollo 13. The premise is that Matt Damon is stranded on Mars. This guy does three things that everyone in corporate American can take a cue from.

  • Even though things look hopeless keeps a sense of humor against incredible odds
  • Damon does NOT blame anyone and he goes out of his way to make sure the rest of the team doesn’t feel like they were at fault.
  • He doesn’t give up. He keeps coming up with and trying new ideas.


If you have anyone at work that doesn’t think it can be done or is always losing their cool, this is the movie for them. On the flip side, my fishing partner said I would LOVE the Reverence with Leonardo DiCaprio. He thought I would appreciate this movie because it is all about living in the outdoors. Well, I liked the story, but DAMM this was depressing. One set back after another. This guy can’t catch a break. If I live hardship from 9 – 5, I don’t need to pay another 28.00 and an afternoon on my weekend for the privilege of living vicariously through Titanic Boy. I like the outdoors, but I like also like my Jet-Boil, Gor-tex, and Leatherman gadgets. I don’t want to test my man strength against a bear, death or eating raw buffalo. Oh yeah, spoiler alert: not a great ending either.


lesssons from hollywood

Sean Combs with a classic rant on a passion for your client’s products.

Get em’ to the Greek

Russel Brand, Sean Combs, and Jonah Hill


This movie is hilarious. I love Russell Brand in this movie. No matter how stupid you think the cover on the DVD looks, you really owe it to yourself to check this one out. How does it relate to HR and your career? Sean Combs has a classic scene where he explains to Jonah Hill how he needs to be passionate about Russell Brand new song. I blogged about his rant here. 

If you are a manager who has a newb that doesn’t believe in your brand, your product or your service, they need to take a cue from Mr. Combs.

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

1970 Gene Wilder

If there ever was an interview loop, it was Willy Wonka’s tour of the chocolate factory.

  1. Wonka had a job he was trying to fill because he wanted to retire and assumed that anyone that landed a ticket was a targeted candidate.
  2. Wonka had a targeted job posting (Golden Tickets in chocolate bars). If you aren’t interested in chocolate you are probably not going to apply, or in this case, buy a chocolate bar.
  3. He gave them a tour knowing that just like most job interview loops, most of the candidates would take themselves out of the process because of the mistakes they make based on their personalities. Just like in real interview loops, the candidates don’t know when they are making mistakes and their true personalities come out either solidifying their candidacy or cutting them.

Charlie Bucket fails the test as well, but after the grandfather yells at Charlie to sell out, Charlie apologizes and returns the candy he stole. With that gesture, Wonka found a candidate worthy of the job.

lesssons from hollywood

Hill utilizing statistics to field a winning team.


2011 Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman

If there ever was a recruiting movie this has got to be it. Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill are perfect together. A true story that shows how the Oakland A’s used player statistics and one of the lowest payrolls of in the league to field a winning a Major League Baseball team. There is a scene where the old school coaches are debating players based on the fact that they “look” like baseball players. There is a lot of truth in interviewers using first impressions as the presentation layers as a metric for decision-making. In contrast, Pitt and Hill use innovative statistical strategies to put together a winning team with non-traditional skill sets and go against all baseball tradition.

Lessons from Hollywood

3 interns including the diversity candidate DeNiro

The Intern

Robert DeNiro and Anne Hathaway


No special effects here, but it is worth a big screen showing. I loved this movie for a number of reasons:

One: it is an online tech company and goes out of its way to show that non-traditional workplaces can not only great places to work but successful.

Two: DeNiro is hired as a diverse candidate. He is not only over 40, he is coming out of retirement and shows that old school can be successful in new school. All the while he stays true to himself.

Three: DeNiro is the kind of guy I want to be in the workplace and as an HR practitioner. DeNiro enables his colleagues to become better and they don’t realize the effect he is having on them. He doesn’t need to take the credit for any of the folk’s success. This guy wants to see everyone experience success. He is the epitome of servant-leadership from a position of servant.



Directed by Ron Howard, with Henry Winkler, Shelly Long and Michael Keaton

This is an oldie, but I knew when I saw this movie, I wanted to be Henry Winkler. Here is a guy that is straight and arrow and he ends up working, caring and taking care of a bunch of employees in a very non-traditional business. The employees are call girls with a pimp played by Michael Keaton. Henry Winkler was start-up HR/accounting back in the early 80’s. He used his entrepreneurial savvy to run a tight ship for a less traditional business. The call girls were all taken care of with 401K’s, benefit plans, and all of the other perks that are included when HR is given the freedom to take care of the employees and leverage the culture. And yes, the employees in this business loved the HR guy.


Lessons from Hollywood

Tucci playing mentor and helping Hathaway fit in

Devil Wears Prada

Yes, we have all worked with an evil boss. What I loved about this movie is the mentorship aspect played by Stanley Tucci. Tucci takes Anne Hathaway under his wing and not only shows her the fashion world but loans her clothes so she can fit in with this very select and clique industry. He is the ultimate mentor with style and grace.



Lessons from Hollywood

“Coffee is for closers”

Glengarry Glen Ross


This list would not be complete without this movie making the list. This is probably the most quoted movie of sales professionals out there. The original tagline of this blog was “we’re all out of steak knives” and it’s inspiration came from this movie.

There is a classic motivational sales speech where Baldwin explains the rules of the sales contest to the 3 real estate agents.

“You are all fired as of right now and you have one week to win your jobs back. First place gets a Cadillac. Second place gets a set of steak knives. Third place is fired.

My thinking with the use of the tagline was that when it comes to interviews and promotions, there is only first place. There is only 1 job you and many others are interviewing for. There is only one VP or Director position that you and your peers are vying for. When it comes to job interviews, there is no silver medal. There is only the gold. Second place is really the first place loser.

Must see for Millennia’s and Salespeople

In the classic scene linked below, Alec Baldwin comes in from “downtown” to a small branch office to motivate agents in a small real estate office. Baldwin’s speech is an HR nightmare, a hostile work environment to the n’th degree but there is a lot of truth in the delivery. Folks may not like the way the message is presented, but “coffee is for closers”. If you are a millennial in any sales related industry and your VP is over 40, this is a must-see. This movie or lines from this movie will come up and you need to know about the meaning. This is a must-see for sales professionals just so you are not ridiculed by your peers. Yeah, you are welcome.


I know I have missed a number of great lessons from movies. Share the movie and the lesson you have learned from your favorite movie in the comments below.

See you at the after party,


nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone who is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.

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