What do George Clooney, Anne Hathaway and Will Smith all have in common besides acting?
They’re your new English teachers!
Hearing conversation is the best way to get comfortable with those business expressions, but isn’t it a whole lot better listening to Tom Cruise than your boss?
These 10 corporate-themed movies will help you practice your listening skills. If you find it a bit difficult, turn on the subtitles and practice your reading skills.
The 10 Best Business Movies for Learning English
1. “Jerry Maguire”
Plot: This famous film from the 1990s is a cult classic, not just for people who like business-related films, but for people who like romance. Jerry Maguire (Tom Cruise) is a sports agent who leaves his company to work on his own with a small client list, and the only person comes along with him is his soon-to-be love interest, Dorothy Boyd (Renée Zellweger).
Quote: “Success consists of simply getting up one more time than you fall.”
The word “simply” adds importance to the phrase that follows because it means “only” or “just.” If the quote was “Success consists of getting up one more time than you fall” it doesn’t have the same impact because “simply” means that getting up and trying again is the only thing that is required to be successful.
Vocabulary: Business slang, negotiation phrases and sport business-related words
2. “Office Space”
Plot: “Office Space” is about the mundane world of office life. One company is undergoing some restructuring thanks to the arrival of some outside consultants, and everyone’s career is in jeopardy.
Quote: “Looks like you’ve been missing a lot of work lately.”
The phrase “looks like” means the same thing as “it seems” or “it appears.” It’s the way someone views something, but they may not be ready to consider it a definite fact.
If the sentence had read “You’ve been missing a lot of work lately” there would be no room for question or defending the claim. However, when the speaker adds “looks like” at the beginning, he/she is inviting the listener to offer an explanation.
Vocabulary: Office small talk and human resources vocabulary
3. “The Social Network”
Plot: This movie is a somewhat loose biography based on the early days of Facebook. In “The Social Network” you’ll learn about how Facebook was set up by a group of students (not just Mark Zuckerberg!) at college, and the battles that follow.
Quote: “You set me up.”
The phrase “set me up” has two meanings. The first (and not what it means here) is to introduce two people for the purpose of a date. The second meaning, however, is to trap or trick someone. When you hear it in this movie, it means the person was tricked into doing something that he wouldn’t have done had he known what was really going on.
Vocabulary: Startup jargon and tech phrases.
4. “The Pursuit of Happyness”
Plot: This film, starring Will Smith, is based on the true story of one man’s struggle to take care of his son while entering corporate America—all without anyone knowing the two are homeless.
Quote: “You aren’t quitting on us yet, are you?”
When someone adds a short question after a statement, (such as “…, are you?”) it’s called a “question tag.” The purpose of doing this is to verify if the first part of the sentence is true and/or to get a response from the listener. In this example, the speaker doesn’t think the other person is quitting, but he wants to hear him confirm it so he adds a question tag.
Vocabulary: Sales and meeting terms
5. “The Big Short”
Plot: The year is 2005 and Michael Burry is a hedge fund manager who believes there will be a housing crisis in the next few years. He decides to profit now on the coming economic problems.
Quote: “When was the last time you closed something, huh?”
In the world of business, “to close” something means to finalize a deal or a sale. In this question, the speaker is implying that the person hasn’t made a sale/deal in a very long time. “Huh?” emphasizes this.
Vocabulary: Mortgage, lending and market terms
6. “Boiler Room”
Plot: College dropout Seth Davis goes from running a casino in his house to the fast-paced world of the stock market, but quickly realizes it’s a dirty business.
Quote: “What do you mean you’re gonna pass?”
Sometimes, when a person asks, “what do you mean” they aren’t actually looking for an explanation as to the meaning or definition of something. Instead, the phrase “what do you mean” is a way to express shock about something that has been said by the other person.
To “pass” on something means to skip it or to not do it. This statement means the speaker (Seth Davis) is surprised that another character is not going to go for the opportunity they’re speaking about.
Vocabulary: Trading, stock and investment terminology
7. “Thank You for Smoking”
Plot: Nick Naylor is a lobbyist whose job it is to keep the tobacco industry profitable by manipulating laws and people. Things turn strange when Naylor faces a major antagonist.
Quote: “Apparently they have it in for us.”
To start a sentence with the word “Apparently” normally means that the following information is something that the person has heard or has been told. To “have it in” for someone means that you want to see him/her harmed, to suffer or to fail.
Vocabulary: Lobby, debate, marketing and advertising terms
8. “The Intern”
Plot: CEO of a successful fashion startup, Jules Ostin (Anne Hathaway), participates in her company’s senior citizen intern program. She forms a special bond with her 70-year-old intern, Ben Whittaker (Robert De Niro).
Quote: “Back in action!”
This is a common expression that you’ll hear in various scenarios. It is said after something or someone starts working after spending a long time not working. It may be said to a sick person after he/she returns to work or it may be said about a computer after it has been repaired. The expression could also be said to someone whose performance slipped below their norm, but is now back to their normal performance level.
Vocabulary: Startup lingo
9. “Up in the Air”
Plot: Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) is a professional “downsizer”—his job is to fire people. As he travels across the United States doing so, love and competition change the story.
Quote: “I couldn’t imagine doing that day in and day out.”
When someone says “I couldn’t imagine doing that” it usually means the speaker has no experience with the activity being spoken about. The phrase “day in and day out” is a more visual way of saying “every day.” Usually this phrase is only used when you want the idea of doing something every day to feel very difficult. In this situation, the speaker wants to emphasize that doing that job every day would be extremely hard.
Vocabulary: Human Resources vocabulary
10. “The Company Men”
Plot: Corporate employee, Bobby Walker (Ben Affleck) gets laid off during the recession. The film depicts the events that follow.
Quote: “I’m confident all these dismissals will stand up under legal scrutiny.”
“Will stand up” is a figurative expression. It’s not actually referring to the act of standing, but rather it means that it will still survive against a strong force. This expressions is usually used when talking about the law, as it is in the quote. In this case, the strong force is the law.
Vocabulary: Human Resources terms
These are just a few business-themed films that can help you to improve your English comprehension.
Now, stop reading and get watching!
Want to Take Your English Movie Learning Up a Level?
What happens when you don’t understand a word in an English movie?
Even with the subtitles turned on, you don’t recognize it…
So you have to go running to your dictionary.
FluentU brings authentic English videos within reach. Every video–including movie clips, TV shows, news reports, inspiring speeches and more—comes with built-in learning tools.
FluentU has a huge collection of authentic English videos that people in the English-speaking world actually watch.
More to the point, FluentU has an entire business category filled with authentic business-related videos covering six language levels.
To show the variety of videos even inside this single category, real-world business videos on FluentU include “Introducing Business Colleagues,” “Business Buzzwords,” “Control Your Inbox!” and “What Warren Buffet Thinks About Cash.”
An added bonus is that if you want to work on other topics later, simply use the same, familiar FluentU platform to learn with videos from other categories, such as “Science and Tech,” “Politics and Society” or mix it up with “Arts and Entertainment” or “Health and Lifestyle.”
Now here’s where things get amazing for business English learners.
Every video comes with interactive subtitles. Just click on any word for an in-context definition, image and multiple example sentences.
For example, if you tap on the word “brought,” you will see this:
Plus, these great videos are all accompanied by interactive features and active learning tools, like multimedia flashcards and fun games like “fill in the blank.”
If you are interested in watching fun, relevant videos and practicing language actively in the process, be sure to create a FluentU account and try out this one-of-a-kind language learning program!
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn English with real-world videos.