If you've got just a few hours to boost your business savvy, we've got you covered. These 11 documentary films offer in-depth looks at entrepreneurs, companies, and big ideas you might only be superficially familiar with.
From a film on Wal-Mart's business practices to one on aspiring sommeliers, each will simultaneously entertain and educate you about business.
Documentaries that will make you smarter about business
11 Documentaries That Will Make You Smarter About Business
If you think that starting and building a company is like a real-life version of "The Social Network," think again. The 2014 documentary miniseries "startupland" takes viewers through the development of five businesses enrolled in a tech accelerator, showing how scary the experience really is. Each episode features interviews with well-known business execs and entrepreneurs, including Reddit's Alexis Ohanian and AOL's Steve Case. (The feature film "startupland," from the same creators, comes out this year.)
The face on Burt's Bees products belongs to Burt Shavitz, a beekeeper who never anticipated that he'd found a billion-dollar international brand. "Burt's Buzz" tells the story of Shavitz's career, starting from his days as a young New York City photojournalist. Viewers also learn about Shavitz's complicated relationship with cofounder Roxane Quimby, who eventually bought Shavitz out and sold the business to the Clorox company.
"Somm" follows a group of four men preparing for the master sommelier exam, a test with one of the lowest pass rates in the world. Their obsession with getting ready for the exam consumes them as well as the people closest to them. The film will inspire you to pursue your own ambitions, however lofty they may seem.
Based on the bestselling book, the 2005 film "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room" traces the downfall of Enron, the energy company that was once valued at $70 billion but filed for bankruptcy in 2001. The documentary takes a look at the psychological factors that led to the fraud and corruption at the company.
A word to the wise: Don't plan on snacking while you watch "Food, Inc." — you might feel sick. The 2008 film is based on the premise that virtually everything we eat comes from corporations that value their own profit over consumer and environmental health. It raises questions about what companies should do when their financial interests conflict with their customers' well-being.
When "Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price" debuted in 2005, it highlighted many of the company's negative business practices, like underpaying its workers. Since then, Wal-Mart has made a number of changes, namely raising wages for workers and stocking some organic foods. It's a compelling — albeit controversial — look at the effects of big business in America.
Based on the highly popular book by Stephen Levitt and Stephen Dubner, the 2010 film "Freakonomics" explores how science and economics help explain our everyday behavior. Topics covered range from sumo wrestling to crime rates to financial incentives for improving academic performance. Viewers will learn more about what motivates their friends, coworkers, and customers.
Napster and its creators are the stars in "Downloaded," a 2013 film about the rise of file sharing on the internet. Viewers learn how the company developed, the impact it made on the music industry, and how it was eventually acquired by Rhapsody. Most importantly, they get to hear the narrative from multiple perspectives — Napster's founders as well as musical artists and legal experts.
Released in 2001, "Startup.com" tells the story of the dot-com startup boom, focusing specifically on the rise and fall of e-commerce site govWorks.com. Despite their initial excitement, govWorks founders Kaleil Isaza Tuzman and Tom Herman disagree over what the business should look like and nearly end their friendship. More than a decade after the dot-com era, the film offers a compelling glimpse into a moment when Americans believed they could become rich overnight.
Morgan Spurlock is perhaps most famous as the filmmaker behind "Super Size Me," but he's also responsible for the 2011 documentary "The Greatest Movie Ever Sold," about product placement, marketing, and advertising. Spurlock takes readers on his journey to get funding for his own film, and interviews everyone from Ralph Nader to Quentin Tarantino. It's a behind-the-scenes look at the marketing process that we typically ignore or take for granted.
The PBS documentary "Steve Jobs: One Last Thing" is in many ways a tribute to the entrepreneur who died in 2011. The film takes viewers through Jobs' career trajectory and the development of his memorable product presentations. It's a moving look at the life of a man who pursued his passions and changed the world.