20 movies I never thought about as leadership stories

There’s another list that’s worth compiling, and that’s great movies that I need to watch again because I never thought of them as leadership movies. I don’t have a rubric for ranking these in any rigorous manner. I’d love to hear your comments on the leadership lessons you saw in these, and any other surprise leadership movies you want to suggest.

12 Angry Men – This one probably should have been on my top 20 list, but since I hadn’t seen it in some time and didn’t watch it through the lens of leadership, I’ll put it at the top of this list.

Dead Poets Society – Teacher movies are obviously leadership stories.

Ender’s Game – I just watched this story about an adolescent boy who struggles to live into the leadership role he was selected for. I’m putting it here because it didn’t make my top 20, and it wasn’t marketed as a leadership movie.

The Blind Side – The Mom shows great courage in fighting for someone no one would give a chance, and in doing so I suppose she influences a football player, a coach, a team and a community. But I wonder: is this a leadership story, or just a great hero story?

The Matrix – Like the Hunger Games, it’s a story about someone who discovers everyone thinks he’s “The One.” Great reluctant leadership concept.

A Knight’s Tale – This movie certainly has its fans. Maybe watching it a third time, I’ll see its importance and leadership lessons.

Kingdom Of Heaven – This comment reflects my memory of it as well, especially the last part: “Great story of a man struggling with the loss of his wife and his faith. Finds himself a noble in a strange land, and negotiates loyalty, responsibility, and leadership with poise and kindness… the best exemplar is Salah ad Din – he could have wiped out Jerusalem entirely, but restrained his power to preserve the city and allowed the Britons to retreat.”

Runaway Jury – I love the showdown between the two men trying to manipulate the jury.

A League of Their Own – “How to lead when you have an ineffective leader.” I do recall how bad Tom Hanks’ character was and how various women, especially Geena Davis’ character, stepped up. Probably lots of good leadership lessons, then.

The Social Network – “The story of the rise of Facebook provides for us a glimpse into the brilliant mind and potentially destructive personality of the most creative and talented NextGen business leader ever.”

Mary Poppins – “seriously!” Having just watched Saving Mr Banks (maybe that one should be on this list!), I want to see Mary Poppins again. I’ll bet it is a good leadership portrayal in an unexpected package.

Glory – Any military movie could make my list, but I do recall the interesting overtones. Someone mentioned it gets into emerging leadership, one of my favourite topics.

Mr Holland’s Opus – Another teacher movie.

Aliens – someone nominated this one because of Sigourney Weaver’s character, Ripley.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – Here’s the comment I got: “I just re-watched the first Hobbit movie and there are some surprisingly good themes related to unrecognized/unexpected potential (i.e. Bilbo as an ‘adventurer’), taking risks/courage (moving from our zone of comfort), conflict resolution, and an especially critical skill for every leader…swordsmanship when faced with an army of orcs!”

We Were Soldiers – Another military movie.

Trouble with the Curve – A “more subtle” exploration of leadership, where “I’d say the lady carries lead role.”

The Help – There is a whole genre of southern women who stand up to the system. This one was good, as was Fried Green Tomatoes. And I probably could have included Steel Magnolias if I had a more recent memory of it.

Chicken Run – Yes, I had difficulty including an animated movie, and I refuse to put Kung Fu Panda on this list, but here’s the comment that made me think again about Chicken Run: “Great for… vision, learning from failure, persistence, modelling the way, influencing, organisation, decisiveness.” Sounds like I should see it again, because I certainly wasn’t watching for those characteristics.

Bend it Like Beckham – The idea of leadership emerging from young, female characters in a cultural context that devalues both makes it worth watching again. I just remember it being enjoyable but a bit of a softball in terms of story-telling power.


Credit: Some of the comments I received included links to other lists. So let me give due credit for some of these thoughts:

See the other blogs in this series:


1 thought on “20 movies I never thought about as leadership stories

  1. I recently watched Runaway Jury, and I still think there are some great leadership portrayals in the battle of wits between two men (and a woman behind the scenes) who are determined to swing the jury. The book is good, too, by the way.

    I also watched Chicken Run, and while I can see that there are some leadership concepts there, I think the characters are very thin. Not a lot of deep leadership concepts to discuss afterwards.

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