With the 90th Academy Awards just around the corner, I thought we’d take a look at some of the best sales movies Hollywood has to offer for salespeople.
To be frank, Hollywood doesn’t churn out enough sales related movies.
And when they do, most of them show salespeople as soulless predators who leech money off innocent people – and it’s true in some cases.
However, a handful of them over the years have truly captured what it’s like to be a real salesperson.
Regardless of the light in which salespeople are shown, all these movies still offer a lot of takeaways: from persuasion tactics to attentive listening to building relationships to pep talks.
So grab some popcorn, crack open a cold one, and get comfy…
For here is a list of movies that we think would entertain, motivate, or help today’s salespeople.
Best Sales Movies over the Last 50 Years
Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)
ABC. “A”, always. “B”, be. “C”, closing. ALWAYS BE CLOSING. Always be closing.
Often considered as the Citizen Kane of sales movies, Glengarry Glen Ross is the story of four sales reps battling against each other to save their jobs. This movie portrays how toxic a competitive environment can be. They use all sorts of unethical practices and tactics to close deals; ranging from stealing leads to selling undesirable property to lying, cheating, threatening, bribery, and more.
Despite all these, it still has scenes that offer a lot of value to salespeople. For example, the famous Alec Baldwin scene, where he explains the ABC and AIDA technique to his peers to “motivate” them, is by far the best and most useful scene from the movie. Not only does it explain these two concepts, it also shows how a manager should go about motivating his team – well, unlike Baldwin here, you probably would want to tone down on the profanity a bit.
Sales reps have been quoting one-liners like, ‘Coffee is for Closers only’ or ‘You close or hit the bricks!’ from this scene. Despite being fiction, Glengarry Glen Ross is probably the most realistic sales movie ever.
The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)
In order to not waste any time… I wasn’t hanging up the phone. I gained another eight minutes a day.
I wasn’t drinking water… so I didn’t waste any time in the bathroom.
Based on a true story, The Pursuit of Happyness follows the journey of a struggling salesman, Christopher Gardner, played brilliantly by the enigmatic Will Smith. The trials and tribulations faced by Chris when he loses his job, his wife, his house, and raises his son homeless accounts for an absolutely heartbreaking but inspirational story.
He never gives up, he relentlessly chases down high-value prospects, he gives his 100% whatever the circumstances may be, and most of all respects his superiors. Chris also exhibits many good sales practices; like using an energetic and positive tone to talk to his prospects or optimizing his cold calling process to save a few minutes, etc.
The Pursuit of Happyness is a must-watch film not only for salespeople but for everyone. Just be sure to have a box of tissues by your side, because this movie really pulls at the heart-strings.
Door To Door (2002)
Patience and Persistence.
Another true story, Door To Door is based on the life of Bill Porter, an inspiring and successful door-to-door salesman who suffers from cerebral palsy. Despite him being crippled with cerebral palsy, severely disabled, as well as having speech impediment problems, Bill Porter sold Watkins’ products for nearly 40 years, from door to door on a 7-mile route in Portland, Oregon.
Patience and Persistence. With these two qualities his mother instilled in him, Bill Porter worked his route with such fervor and perseverance that he eventually became Watkins’ top-selling salesman.
Alongside the brilliant Helen Mirren, William H. Macy brings the house down with a power-packed performance as Bill Porter.
Death of a Salesman (1985)
I don’t say he’s a great man. Willie Loman never made a lot of money. His name was never in the paper. He’s not the finest character that ever lived. But he’s a human being, and a terrible thing is happening to him. So attention must be paid. He’s not to be allowed to fall in his grave like an old dog. Attention, attention must finally be paid to such a person.
Death of a Salesman is the tragic story of Willy Loman, a washed up, insecure, and self-deluded salesman who at the end of his career, contemplates his failed life and the failed promises to his sons. Delusional and suicidal, Willy sets down to make one last attempt at reconciling with his sons and giving them a better life.
Willy is absolutely bad at this job; he doesn’t have a good relationship with his colleagues or his family; he has delusions of grandeur about success and money – he is everything a salesman shouldn’t be. But at the end of the day, as tragic as Willy can be, he offers us a few things; like, it’s okay to have reasonable goals, it’s okay to set plans that are easier to attain, and it’s okay to let go of dreams for other’s sake.
Based on Arthur Miller’s famous play which has been adapted four times, this 1985 version with Dustin Hoffman as Willy and John Malkovich as his son Biff is the one to watch.
The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Jordan Belfort: Brad, show them how it’s done. Sell me that pen. Watch. Go on.
Brad: You want me to sell you this f****** pen?
Jordan Belfort: That’s my boy right there. Can f****** sell anything.
Brad: Why don’t you do me a favor. Write your name down on that napkin for me.
Jordan Belfort: I don’t have a pen.
Brad: Exactly. Supply and demand, my friend.
This movie needs no introduction.
Filled with high-energy dialogues, lavish parties, overt sexism, unethical sales practices, and a bunch of Quaaludes, this Martin Scorsese biopic about the infamous Jordan Belfort took the world by storm. It’s the story of how Belfort built an empire by pushing worthless penny stock to the public.
Despite the decadent tactics used by him, there are a few things a salesperson can learn from this film. Like the core concept of selling – sell the dream, sell the need, the product is irrelevant. Or the use of vocal tonality to effectively engage prospects. Belfort illustrates the power of using a sales playbook and sales scripts which he teaches even today as a sales coach.
Wall Street (1987)
I’ve been in this business since ’69. Most of these Harvard MBA guys don’t add up to dogs**t. Give me guys that are poor, smart, hungry and no feelings. You win a few. You lose a few. But you keep on fighting – and if you need a friend, get a dog. It’s trench warfare out there, pal.
Even if you haven’t seen this movie, you would have certainly heard of Gordon Gekko. One of the most ruthless characters to be shown on the silver screen, Gordon Gekko is a man driven by pure greed. Pure, Unadulterated Greed.
Wall Street follows the story of an ambitious young stockbroker named Bud Fox who seeks fame and fortune. He exchanges insider trading information with Gekko who acts as his mentor. What ensues is a tale of absolute power, greed, and corruption that involves stock manipulation, taking down other firms, and destroying lives in the process without a second thought.
Gordon Gekko values information above all – and this is more than relevant than ever in today’s business world. The more information salespeople have, the more effectively they can close deals.
Boiler Room (2000)
And there is no such thing as a no sale call. A sale is made on every call you make. Either you sell the client some stock or he sells you a reason he can’t. Either way, a sale is made, the only question is who is gonna close? You or him? Now be relentless, that’s it, I’m done.
This underrated movie chronicles the story of Seth Davis, a 19-year old college dropout who lands a job at a stock brokerage firm. Here he learns how to strong-arm clients into buying the worthless stock they are offering and make easy money.
Sounds very familiar, right?
Because Boiler Room is loosely based on the now-defunct Stratton Oakmont, which was founded by Jordan Belfort. Similar to Stratton Oakmont, this firm is shown to use several fraudulent business practices, maintain a hyper-aggressive environment to keep their stockbrokers motivated and so on. Known for its realism and accuracy of how such shady stock firms work, the movie is said to be a masterpiece in the sales world.
To put it simply, If Glengarry Glen Ross and Wall Street had a baby, it would be Boiler Room. They even refer to Gordon Gekko multiple times and have Ben Affleck playing a poor man’s version of Alec Baldwin’s character from Glengarry Glen Ross.
The Big Kahuna (1999)
Here’s to the profound religious experience that comes from doing a job well and being grossly underpaid.
The Big Kahuna is a criminally underrated sales movie (even more so than Boiler Room). It has a simple premise. Two experienced salesmen try to land a whale client through a young and inexperienced peer. The majority of the movie takes place in one room and the three talk about philosophy, relationships, religion, and the art of sales.
Not your typical sales flick, The Big Kahuna is a movie that explores three different characters and takes a look at how some people put their religious beliefs ahead of the job. Which begs the question; should one ignore his/her job duties given by the company because it clashes with their convictions?
An excellent movie filled with moral allegories that not only apply to salespeople but to any working professional as well. Danny DeVito, Kevin Spacey, and Peter Facinelli pull off an incredible job portraying three vastly different characters.
If you’re still not convinced, here is a monologue by DeVito’s character about life and pitching.
Thank You For Smoking (2005)
That’s the beauty of argument, if you argue correctly, you’re never wrong.
Another movie that deals with moral dilemma, Thank You For Smoking is a story of Nick Naylor, a lobbyist who works for the Academy of Tobacco studies. He walks a thin line between defending the use of tobacco and setting a good example for his son.
The movie brings up the age-old question; is it okay to praise and sell harmful products?
Regardless of the context, Nick’s impeccable lobbying techniques are something a sales rep can pick up on and use in their sales pitches.
I hate losing more than I love winning.
Our last entry here is anything but a sales movie. However, this movie is a must-watch for salespeople. Here is why.
Moneyball tells the story of how Billy Beane, the General Manager of Oakland Athletics, used Sabermetrics to help them win 20 games on the row – the 5th longest winning streak in MLB. With the help of his assistant general manager, Billy Beane applied data analysis of baseball metrics to analyze and scout undervalued players to form a winning team.
And how is this relevant to sales, you ask?
At Klenty, we believe that this is the future of sales. Data-driven sales strategies – whether it is in prospecting or understanding user engagement or predictive analytics will be a game changer for fast-growing companies.
From Albert and David Maysles, Salesman is a documentary that follows the rivalry between four door-to-door bible salesmen. They travel from town to town across America selling overpriced Bibles to low-income families.
The desperate measures taken, the vicious lies spewed, the use of Jesus and guilt to sell Bibles to elderly woman and bored housewives from a poor background accounts for a harrowing and depressing tale about the state of the salesman which is relevant till this day.
Mad Men (2007-2015)
Although this post is about movies, I’d be remiss if I don’t talk about Mad Men. Set in the 1960s, this period drama show revolves around the business of advertising.
Mad Men has changed the way marketing and sales professionals approach their clients. There are several brilliant sales pitches across the seven seasons that any sales rep can pick pointers from. The show has been so influential, that this pitch from Don Draper inspired Heinz to come up with this delightful advertisement in 2017.
Despite being set in the 60s, the characters and writing from this show were ahead of its time. Mad Men should be made mandatory viewing for anybody serious about getting into the marketing and sales industry.
Have we left out any of your favorite ones? If so, just drop your suggestion in the comments below.