Cubicle Verite The all-time greatest office movies won't just entertain you. They'll give you lessons to work by.
(Business 2.0) – Is there life beyond Office Space? There is in the celluloid world. Even without that 1999 flick, which focused on surviving a gulag--er, corporate--existence and now enjoys cult status (1.9 million copies sold on DVD), the workplace movie genre merits several trips to Blockbuster. For starters you could grab The Office, a BBC television hit overseas that made its DVD debut here last month. But, as our list of the all-time greats illustrates, office drama--with insights into how to get ahead--is an utterly timeless theme. --CHRISTOPHER NULL
The Fountainhead (1949)
The Story: Based on Ayn Rand's mammoth novel. Iconoclast architect Howard Roark (Gary Cooper) meets resistance from his bosses, and would rather destroy his creations than make compromises.
Watercooler Wisdom: Despite seven attempts to turn Rand's more popular Atlas Shrugged into a compelling movie script, the story has never reached the big screen.
Teaches You: To believe in your dreams and fight for them tirelessly (though perhaps not by detonating explosives).
The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (1956)
The Story: Gregory Peck (as World War II veteran Tom Rath) must transition from the nightmare of bloody combat to the intimidating pursuit of a successful career.
Watercooler Wisdom: The Horse in the Gray Flannel Suit, a 1968 production, was only similar in name. The Disney version focused on the coming together of a little girl, a horse, and a drug called Aspercel.
Teaches You: That war is hell, and the daily grind isn't much better.
The Apartment (1960)
The Story: Brownnose C.C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon) lends his bachelor pad to any company superior with a mistress. The invitation gets used--and abused.
Watercooler Wisdom: The long office shots featured dwarf actors to keep sets small and building costs down.
Teaches You: To work your tail off first and focus on making friends much later.
How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (1967)
The Story: Window washer J. Pierpont Finch (Robert Morse) reaches the top of the corporate ladder in a week, falsely crediting his reading of the titular book.
Watercooler Wisdom: Before there was Matthew Broderick in a Broadway version, there was Charles Nelson Reilly.
Teaches You: To rely on your intuition, not that dog-eared copy of The Seven Habits.
Save the Tiger (1973)
The Story: A rough day in the life of slimeball Harry Stoner (Lemmon again), who believes burning down his own garment business will solve all of his problems.
Watercooler Wisdom: Lemmon took an Oscar--one of but two in his 51-year career.
Teaches You: That your business plan should include at least a sliver of morality.
9 to 5 (1980)
The Story: Three underappreciated office workers (Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, and Dolly Parton) kidnap their misogynistic boss (Dabney Coleman)--and then outperform him.
Watercooler Wisdom: The movie spawned two TV remakes doomed by B-list casts. The first ('82-'83) "starred" Rita Moreno; the second ('86-'88), Sally Struthers.
Teaches You: To do unto others as you would have them do unto you, no matter their gender (or their political bent, or the enormity of their country-music empire).
The Story: Don't attempt to separate the bizarre dream sequences from the "real" action. Just watch as an insignificant clerk (Jonathan Pryce) in an Orwellian corporation rises to a position of unwieldy power--all thanks to a smooshed bug.
Watercooler Wisdom: Director Terry Gilliam's battle with Universal Studios brass over the film's very life was documented in a compelling book (The Battle of Brazil, 1987).
Teaches You: To be very careful of what you wish for (and to keep flies far away from your computer hardware).
Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)
The Story: Al Pacino, Kevin Spacey, Ed Harris, Alec Baldwin, and (yet again) Jack Lemmon play cutthroat real-estate hustlers determined to sell worthless land.
Watercooler Wisdom: The line to use against office blowhards? Muster up the Pacino within and haltingly say, "What you're hired for is to help us!...Not to fuck us up!"
Teaches You: To shut your trap, put your head down, and get the job done.
Time Out (L'Emploi du Temps) (2001)
The Story: Vincent (Aurelien Recoing) gets fired and tries desperately to save face by not letting on to family or friends.
Watercooler Wisdom: Time Out was inspired by the true story of a Frenchman who posed as a gallant U.N. doctor before killing his entire family.
Teaches You: To debate the virtues of our modern work culture (hey, it's French).