Over half of American salespersons are sleazy, greedy, lazy, dummies, or occasionally criminal — according to sales movies.
And that hasn’t changed. Since 1903, when salespeople began appearing on the reel, portrayals have remained stagnant, and salespeople have despised them. Like, LinkedIn sales manager, Kelly Marberry, for whom, Glengarry Glen Ross and Boiler Room make salespeople look “slimy.”
Seth Davis, as a “boiler room” broker, gains acclaim via unethical deals, while Glengarry Glen Ross’ salesmen constantly lie, deceit, threaten. But these movies are often liked. Wolf of Wall Street, where Jordan Belfort cons the innocent, churned $400m and also catalyzed an interest in stockbroker jobs.
However, it’s not just because of the “movies vilifying salespersons” debate, or because so many people seem to enjoy sales movies, that we’ve created the best sales movies list; it’s also because they’ve been depicted in a myriad of roles, situations, genres for over the past century.
A 2006 study that analyzed 258 sales movies from 1903 to 2005 revealed that door-to-door salespeople were shown most at 43%; then, store or car salespeople at 29, B2B at 16, and financial at ten.
Salespersons have also been characterized in many different ways — from villains to tricksters to shapeshifting heroes and sidekicks. But only 14% of those were female. Can you think of any other profession that movies have depicted so variedly — and stereotypically?
Probably, not. So, expect a fun, complicated, interesting ride.
From rom-coms to action and animation, we’ve prepared a comprehensive list of the 25 best sales movies — those you can stream [also, at sales meetings] — that are bound to hook you, and possibly inspire you to zoom past your quotas.
Now imagine a dark room, crunching popcorn, occasional laughs, sobs, hoots — and on-screen, the 25 best sales movies, ever.
Outside, New York is burning. Inside, it’s burning, too, but more so because of the eye-popping, edgy courtroom drama, where a poor Puerto Rican teenager is being tried for stabbing his father to death. All 12 male jurors, except one — Juror #8, terrifically enacted by Henry Fonda — prejudicially agree to the boy’s guilt. Can Juror #8 sway all else’s opinions?
Sales Takeaway: When you think a deal is lost — it may actually not be: Persuasion tactics and irrefutable arguments can help you sell anything — even if you’re on shaky ground.
Sales Quote: “It’s now your duty to sit down and try and separate the facts from the fancy.”
At a Long Island boiler room — where raging phone selling, [fraud], and testosterone flows — Queens College dropout Seth Davis, played by Giovanni Ribisi, makes 700 calls a day, sometimes with two clients at once. The movie follows Seth’s rise from his home-grown gambling business, to a cold selling pioneer on a path to lots and lots of money — but everything changes when he stumbles upon an ethical dilemma.
Sales Takeaway: Always be closing.
Sales Quote: “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?”
The adaptation of Arthur Miller’s on-stage classic starring Dustin Hoffman as an aging, depressed traveling salesman, aloof from his two grown sons and wife, pivots around family problems and introspection. Broke, depressed, unemployed, salesman Willy Loman now wants to live up to his family. Is it too late? Miller won a Pulitzer for his playwriting, and Hoffman won a Golden Globe and an Emmy for his acting. Death of a Salesman is a TV movie that first released on CBS.
Sales Takeaway: Avoid sales burnout. If you’re out in the field, a route planner app can help.
Sales Quote: “The jungle is dark but full of diamonds, Willy. One must go in to fetch a diamond out.”
I found a new phrase for inspiring: “Bill Porter,” a friendly door-to-door household item and baking products salesman, inborn with cerebral palsy. But Porter’s perceived physical limitations surrender to his humor, compassion, and likability. His clients love him, and after a few early rejections, Porter walks for about ten miles each day winning hearts, and the “salesman of the year” award year after year. Door to Door is a TV movie that first released on TNT.
Sales Takeaway: Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Also, as a salesperson, it’s vital to connect with your customers on an emotional level.
Sales Quote: “I’ve never done well on the phone. Women find my voice sexy, and I think it distracts them.”
Fun Fact: Critics who argue that movies have only vilified salespersons, seem to have conveniently omitted Bill Porter’s on-screen portrayal: Katie Hartman, author of the 2006 sales movies analysis.
Burt Lancaster clinched best actor Oscar for his magical portrayal of a smooth-talking salesman, Elmer Gantry, who wins a gig as a traveling evangelist led by Sister Sharon Falconer [Jean Simmons]. Gantry’s enthusiastic “fire and brimstone” sermons boost Falconer’s cause, but a complication arises when Gantry’s dark past interrupts — his relationship with a prostitute [Shirley Jones]. Jones, too, won an Oscar for best supporting actress.
Sales Takeaway: Build persuasive pitches.
Sales Quote: “Well, as long as I got a foot, I’ll kick booze. And as long as I got a fist, I’ll punch it. And as long as I got a tooth, I’ll bite it.”
Movie night at home without warm, comfy blankets. Not possible, right? Likewise, the best sales movies list without Glengarry Glen Ross, which discloses the sales, “A, B, C,” or “Always Be Closing,” isn’t possible. Adapted from David Mamet’s 1984 play, the movie reproduces a Chicago “pressure-cooker real-estate office,” where a group of four real-estate salesmen must sell; only the top two will retain their jobs. But who’s stealing hot leads?
Sales Takeaway: Always be closing.
Sales Quote: “A, I, D, A. Attention, Interest, Decision, Action. Attention: Do I have your attention? Interest: Are you interested? Decision: Have you made your decision for Christ? And Action.”
Fun Fact: Daniel Pink, a sales guru describes the sales “A, B, C” as “Attuned, Buoyancy, Clarity.”
Amitabh Bachchan’s son Abhishek shines as Gurukant Desai nicknamed “Guru,” in this classic rags-to-riches tale, inspired by Dhirubhai Ambani’s life, India’s biggest tycoon. Guru migrates to Turkey for work and returns as a skillful salesperson, where after a cloth trading stint, he establishes his own Mumbai-based textile business. Guru’s sharp selling techniques help him tackle various hiccups that arise with establishing a complicated business.
Sales Takeaway: To not settle for a “no” during a sale — instead, to maneuver it into a positive response.
Sales Quote: “You gave me five minutes right? In four minutes 30 seconds, I finished everything — 30 seconds profit...this is called business.”
The only animated film on this best sales movies list! Inside Out is noteworthy for salespeople said, Tracey Wik, Managing Director, GrowthPlay. “The reason for that is because you have to appeal to all buyers and their emotional needs.” Inside Out follows 11-year-old Riley’s emotional turmoil after she’s been uprooted from her Midwest life to San Francisco.
Joy has Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, and Bradley Cooper — the same winning combination from David O. Russell’s SilverLinings Playbook. Joy, too, demonstrates conflicted, complex human relationships. Lawrence portrays Joy Mangano, creator of the Miracle Mop, and her many struggles — from an imaginative child to an Eastern Airlines booking agent, and a divorced mother of three — to a powerful matriarch. Underlined by wild familial situations.
Sales Takeaway: Chase those dreams.
Sales Quote: “In America, everyday people make of what they will of themselves. I’m going to do something.”
Fun Fact: Amy Dordek, Co-founder, GrowthPlay cries when she watches Joy. “Because I [can] relate so much to Joy and her passion around what she’s doing, and her belief that she has something that other people need.”
There’s another way to win a game of America’s favorite pastime: Sabermetrics, or baseball quantitative analyses that questions traditional player scouting techniques. Billy Beane, played by Brad Pitt, Oakland A’s general manager, uses unconventional metrics, against popular opinion, to inexpensively acquire weak players. Moneyball is adapted from Michael Lewis’s 2004 book based on Beane’s real-life success mantra.
Sales Takeaway: Keep testing your strategies. If results from a test exceed the status quo — learn and implement.
Pirates of Silicon Valley documents the closely-connected lives of Microsoft founder Bill Gates [Anthony Michael Hall], and Apple co-founders Steve Jobs [Noah Wyle] and Steve Wozniak [Joey Slotnick]. The movie unveils various key moments of their lives: from humble dorm-rooms and college struggles to becoming the world’s two biggest tech giants. Based on Paul Freiberger and Michael Swaine’s book Fire in the Valley, Pirates of Silicon Valley is a TV movie that first released on TNT.
Sales Takeaway: Take ingenious actions.
Sales Quote: “Good artists copy, great artists steal.”
For Harpreet Singh Bedi, played by Ranbir Kapoor, sales is the ideal career, because, to him, that’s where skills trump grades. And, he’s right: Despite his low GPA, Singh’s selling persistence during an interview wins him a computer salesperson gig. But on one solo trip, Singh’s exposed to his company’s dark reality. Now, he has three options: quit, continue, or start selling on his own.
Sales Takeaway: Know what you’re worth.
Sales Quote: “Business is not a number, business is people...only people.”
Not only the best sales movies list, but even the best documentaries list should feature Salesman, credited for a resurgence of documentaries in the U.S. The poignant narrative follows four resilient door-to-door salesmen from Boston to Chicago, and Miami, who strive to meet their quotas of selling pricey, ornate bibles to low-income Catholic families. A classic, directed by brothers, Albert and David Maysles.
Sales Takeaway: Don’t sell to sell. Your primary goal should be to create value. Always.
Sales Quote: “If a man’s not a success, he’s got no one to blame but himself.”
“Kahuna” means “important person.” For industrial lubricant salespersons, Larry [Kevin Spacey], Phil [Danny DeVito], both in their 50s, and Bob [Peter Facinelli], a 20-something newbie, that’s a CEO named “Dick Fuller,” who they seek to woo at a lavish cocktail party. Larry and Phil learn, however, that the “big kahuna” dropped by and spoke to Bob about his dog’s death and Christianity. Has the young salesperson bagged himself the biggest client of all their careers?
Sales Takeaway: Be human.
Sales Quote: “It doesn’t matter whether you’re selling Jesus or Buddha or civil rights, or ‘How to Make Money in Real Estate With No Money Down.’ That doesn’t make you a human being, it makes you a marketing [representative]. If you want to talk to somebody honestly, as a human being, ask him about his kids. Find out what his dreams are.”
Calculated prediction: That’s The Big Short’s centerpiece. Adam McKay’s five-time Oscar-nominated flick intricately follows the 2008 market crash — a disaster for many, and lottery for some. No joke. Lottery for the movie’s protagonists, inspired by real-life financial newbies, who predicted what banks, governments, media shunned: the 2008 financial collapse.
Sales Takeaway: Don’t underestimate high risks — sometimes they can be catastrophically high.
Sales Quote: “While the whole world was having a big old party, a few outsiders and weirdos...saw the giant lie at the heart of the economy, and they saw it by doing something the rest of the suckers never thought to do: they looked.”
Each day, McDonald’s feeds 1% of the world. It churns as much to be the 90th largest economy and has more employees than Luxembourg’s population. But, who created McDonald’s? It’s all in The Founder. Based on Ray Kroc’s life, a struggling Illinois multimixer door-to-door salesman [performed magnetically by Michael Keaton], who meets the founders, Mac and Dick on a sales trip, manages to pull McDonald’s from them — and manufactures a fast-food empire.
Sales Takeaway: Measure what matters: What’s driving up your sales?
Sales Quote: “Persistence. Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent won’t. Nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius won’t. Unrewarded genius is practically a cliché. Education won’t. The world is full of educated fools. Persistence and determination alone are all-powerful.”
“I’m a Google intern.” Former salesmen Billy [Vince Vaughn] and Nick [Owen Wilson] can say that. Both of them, whose sales careers have drowned due to rapid digital growth, do the impossible: get an internship at Google. But, that’s a battle half won. For full-time employment, they are required to compete with their young fellow interns — tech-savvy and America’s smartest. Will Billy and Nick along with their team of perceived misfits, Neha [Tiya Sircar] Stuart [Dylan O'Brien], Yo-Yo [Tobit Raphael] be able to call themselves Google employees?
Sales Takeaway: It’s never too late to reinvent yourself, or employ new tech tools: they’re always handy.
Some things are non-negotiable: Like a best sales movies list without Will Smith’s goose bumping cult — American entrepreneur, Chris Gardner’s biopic. Smith’s poignant portrayal of a drowning San Francisco-based medical device salesman, and a complicated unpaid sales internship — throughout which he’s homeless with his five-year-old — is an epitome of the never-say-die-attitude.
You might as well call it “the rise and fall of Jordan Belfort,” a former New York stockbroker, brimmed with sex, drugs, curses, and arguably, plenty misogyny. Martin Scorsese’s fifth collaboration with Leonardo DiCaprio follows Belfort’s life, from his Long Island brokerage gig to becoming a penny stock millionaire — thanks to his persuasion prowess [and the hard sell] — to a downfall that he’d never imagined.
Sales Takeaway: Periodically invigorating your sales team is a winning success strategy — but to not be obsessed with success is vital, too.
Sales Quote: “If you want to be rich, never give up. People tend to give up. If you have persistence, you will come out ahead of most people. More importantly, you will learn. When you do something, you might fail. But that’s not because you’re a failure. It’s because you have not learnt enough. Do it differently each time. One day, you will do it right. Failure is your friend.”
Fun Fact: Scout Exchange’s senior marketplace director, Gary Benedik’s favorite movie: “I love the actors in the movie, [and] it really opens up your eyes to how addicted you can get to success,” Benedik said, with an emphasis on “addicted.”
Door-to-door aluminum siding salesmen were commonly slanged as “tin men” in 1963 Baltimore. In this context, two rival salesmen, Ernest Tilley [Danny DeVito] and “BB” Babowsky [Richard Dreyfuss] ram into each other’s success symbols — their Cadillacs. BB decides to take revenge by seducing Tilley’s wife, leading to various twists, followed by BB and Tilley’s predicaments. But, remember, they’re corrupt.
Sales Takeaway: Your competitors aren’t your enemies. They may prove to be useful at some point.
Sales Quote: “There is no sympathy for the working man in this country.”
When lazy bum and nepotism epitome, Tommy, who’s been undeservingly rewarded, and a scornful accountant, [David Spade] annoyed for that very reason, embark on a sales trip together, then humor’s galore. Tommy, a sales dummy and underachiever, comically played by Chris Farley, pursues an impossibly daunting task: sell enough brake pads to save his dad’s auto-parts business. Does he succeed?
Sales Takeaway: Inculcate your natural gifts and unique strengths into your selling approach.
Sales Quote: “You’re either growing or you're dying, there ain’t no third direction.”
Fun Fact: Dan Stanton, BetterUp’s leadership development consultant, loves Tommy Boy. “It’s like honing your craft, understanding your buyer,” Stanton said. “I can put a guarantee on the box, but what’s the guarantee if you don’t trust the person on the other side? Tommy Boy epitomizes a little bit more to modern selling that we’re trying to do.”
Francis Ford Coppola’s automobile connection is a little crazy. Coppola, director of this Jeff Bridges dazzler, based on automobile visionary, Preston Tucker, was born at Detroit’s Henry Ford Hospital, and Ford was a patron of the Detroit Symphony where Coppola’s father played the Flute. Coppola follows Tucker’s dream to create innovative cars, shortly post World War II, and the selling techniques that allow him to bring his fantasy to life.
Sales Takeaway: You’ve won most of the battle with persistence, optimism, and a goal.
Sales Quote: “People don’t buy stock. They buy people they can trust, or people they believe they can.”
Imagine a life reversed as part of a nature versus nurture bet? That’s Trading Places fulcrum, where two successful broker brothers, switch roles between Louis Winthorpe III [Dan Aykroyd], an arrogant investor who works at their company — whom the brothers get falsely arrested — and a street con artist, Billy Ray Valentine [Eddie Murphy]. When Winthorpe and Valentine learn of the bet, they set out to return the favor.
Sales Takeaway: Be street-smart and innovative. At times, bookish knowledge may not give you the best sales answers.
Sales Quote: “Think big, think positive, never show any sign of weakness.”
It’s one against the other, even after one of them dies. Kurt Russell, essaying a cheeky, corrupt used car salesman named Rudy Russo, does everything in the book to save his former boss’s lot from the greedy, rival twin brother, who orchestrates the murder. Can Russo save the lot with his smooth selling acumen, and fulfill his dream of becoming an Arizona senator? Among the best car sales movies.
Sales Takeaway: Be loyal. Keep promises.
Sales Quote: “Don’t let the little head do the thinking for the big head.”
Set in 1980s Wall Street, this Oliver Stone flick follows Bud Fox [Charlie Sheen], an overly ambitious stockbroker itching to reach the top. Fox convinces his unethical, affluent idol, Gordon Gekko [Michael Douglas], to mentor him in return for insider trading information. Soon, blinded by Gekko’s “greed is good” philosophy, Fox drops his ethics, but realizes his oversight after a near personal tragedy.
Sales Takeaway: Don’t be blinded by success or money.
Sales Quote: “The most valuable commodity I know of is information.”