There’s not a soul in the world who will not, at some point or another, have to answer to someone. While not everyone will have a boss in the traditional sense of the word – though most will – everyone will find themselves in a position where another will dictate what is right or wrong and what can and cannot happen.
It’s because that relationship is so easily understood, so universal, that it has become a favored dramatic trope for filmmakers. While not every film about bosses takes place in classic corporate environs, each deals with power, its rewards and, more significantly, its risks.
THE GODFATHER (1972): It takes a truly charismatic actor to pull of a role like Don Vito Corleone. On one hand a generous benefactor and on the other a ruthless criminal willing to resort to significant violence, Marlon Brando’s Corleone is a unique cinematic invention and the prototype for every movie crime boss that has followed.
NINE TO FIVE (1980): The worst-case scenario for corporate leadership, Dabney Coleman’s Franklin Hart is, in the words of one of the secretarial pool trio that takes him on, “a sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot”. It comes as no surprise that Hart’s is not a happy ending in this sharp satire on office politics.
FULL METAL JACKET (1987): Anyone who has spent any time in the military will tell you that the basic training drill instructor is the ultimate boss. Short of telling recruits when they may inhale and exhale, they are empowered with dictating everything their charges may and may not do. R. Lee Ermey’s Gunnery Sgt. Hartman might be the ultimate cinematic representation of this relationship gone wrong. An instructor who wields discipline like a weapon, his desire to craft perfect Marines eventually leads to tragedy.
SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH (1962): The story of a failed actor who returns home to win his lost love is less a romantic melodrama than it is a study of a small town unofficially controlled by a powerful boss. How power is collected, curried and squandered in small town America is captured here.
THE PLAYER (1992): This pitch black comedy rates as one of legendary director Robert Altman’s best and Tim Robbins’ portrayal of a paranoid Hollywood executive is a scathing portrait of someone who finds that privilege comes with a price. What starts as a simple misunderstanding spirals into murder, betrayal and a true questioning of what is art and what is artifice.