The Greatest Leadership Movies

February 16, 2012 — 84 Comments

We love leadership movies. So recently we started a fun new tradition at our Growing Leaders office. Once a month we end the workday early and move into our creative space at our office, we pull some snacks out and watch one of these great leadership movies together.

Leadership Movies

Our team brainstormed some of the best leadership movies over the last few decades and we are going through this list once a month. We may not get through all of them but it provided us a great chance to see leadership failures and successes and discuss it afterward.

Let me list some of these leadership movies for you. I encourage you to watch them with a group and talk them over afterwards. I have listed the title and rating of each of the leadership movies below. Obviously, if you view these leadership movies with students, you’ll want to keep the content and language of the movie in mind.

  1. The Last Castle (R)                                  19. Miracle (PG-13)
  2. Crimson Tide (R)                                      20. Bridge Over the River Kwai (PG)
  3. Courage Under Fire (R)                             21. Saving Private Ryan (R)
  4. A Few Good Men (R)                               22. Twelve Angry Men (PG)
  5. The King’s Speech (R)                             23. Hoosiers (PG)
  6. The Queen (PG-13)                                  24. Invictus (PG-13)
  7. Glory (R)                                                 25. Apollo 13 (PG)
  8. Freedom Writers (PG-13)                         26. Amazing Grace (PG-13)
  9. The Great Debaters (PG-13)                    27. Chariots of Fire (PG)
  10. The Iron Lady (PG-13)                             28. Taps (PG)
  11. Pay It Forward (PG-13)                            29. Schindler’s List (R)
  12. The Hunt for Red October (PG)                30. The Glory Road (PG)
  13. Braveheart (R)                                        31. Black Hawk Down (R)
  14. Dave (PG-13)                                         32. Band of Brothers (Series)
  15. Remember the Titans (PG-13)                 33. Men of Honor (R)
  16. Dead Poets Society (PG)                        34. The Last Samurai (R)
  17. Finding Forrester (PG-13)                        35. The Patriot (R)
  18. We Were Soldiers (R)                             36. The Devil Wears Prada (PG-13)

You can begin the discussion of these leadership movies with questions like:

  • Where did we see evidence of poor leadership in this story?
  • Where did we see evidence of good leadership in this story?

 Which leadership movies would you add to this list?

Looking for a great way to communicate leadership principles to your team? Check out Habitudes: Images That Form Leadership Habits and Attitudes.

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  • Patrick McHugh

    How about Patton?

    • Tim Elmore

      Great addition to the list! Thanks for commenting!

  • Michael Shelley

    Emperor’s Club would be a good addition to the list

    • Tim Elmore

      Very good! 

  • denniscarmody

    Twelve O’clock High is a glaring omission. .

    • Tim Elmore

      I haven’t seen that one – will have to add it to the list!

    • Eric Smith

      Here here! I just watched that – it is an amazingly inspiring movie with leadership at it’s core!

  • JP

    Suprised Patton isn’t on the list

    • Tim Elmore

      This list is just getting better as everyone adds to it!

  • JT

    Great list, Tim!  Miracle is my favorite movie of all time.  Glad it made the list!  A few others I would suggest are Rudy, Facing the Giants and Hotel Rwanda.

    • Tim Elmore

      Great suggestions! Thanks for posting!

  • Travis Dommert

    Thanks for the reminder!  Just put “The Last Castle” in the Netflix queue!

    • Tim Elmore

      Great! Looking forward to hearing what you think about it!

  • Josh Rahn

    Great list!  How about “Gods and Generals”?  It  focuses predominantly on the leadership of General Stonewall Jackson.  An inspiring movie! (that is, if you can get past the whole “country-fighting-against-country” thing)

    • Tim Elmore

      Thanks for adding another great movie to the list!

  • billqsack

    Friday Night Lights. Brilliant movie.

    • Tim Elmore

      The movie and the TV series are both great!

  • Rob T

    Great list. thanks for posting it.  it would be fun to make one with TV shows.  I would echo Hotel Rwanda and also add Gladiator and Saving Private Ryan.

    • Tim Elmore

      Yes, a TV version would be fun. It’s a little harder to nail down those leadership moments when you have to track down a specific episode but there’s no doubt there are great lessons in TV shows, too!

  • Kevin Beasley

    How about a television show… West Wing

    • Tim Elmore

      That is a great show with many leadership lessons! Thanks for sharing!

  • Joslin Green

    Great list. Two more sports movies to add: We Are Marshall and Moneyball.

    • Tim Elmore

      Yes! Great sports movies!

  • Kristin Cagan Quintana

    I would add Mr. Maggorium’s Wonder Emporium – especially for kids in leadership positions.

    • Tim Elmore

      Great movie! Thanks for adding it to the list!

  • Kevin Beasley

    My all time favorite hands down…  The Mission with Robert DeNiro

    • Tim Elmore

      Thanks for sharing!

  • Kevin Beasley


    • Tim Elmore

      Great movie!

  • Coelho707

    The Endurance…Ernest Shackelton’s Biography about his Antarctica expedition

    • Tim Elmore

      That sounds fascinating. I’ll have to check it out!

    • George Malhiot

      For a class on leadership which was called “Leadership as a Liberal Art”. We analyzed Ernest Shackelton using a Harvard Case Study. We also read books such as Drucker’s “Lost Art of Management”, Robert Quinn’s “Building the Bridges as you Walk on It”, and William Duggan’s “Strategic Intuition” to gain a better understanding of what kind of leader he was. Shackelton is a very interesting leader.

  • Brian

    I would add The Mission which is the story of the Jesuits in Paraguay… the conflict between the Jesuits and the conquistadors… and the ways of violence and peace.

    I would also really suggest the recent Of Gods and Men… courage, spirituality, commitment to vocation… powerful.

    Hotel Rwanda is spectacular for leadership.

    The Last King of Scotland is one of the best for bad leadership (has several sexual scenes)

    For mentoring movies:

    1. there is a 13 minute clip of Anthony Hopkins training Antonio Banderas to become the new Zorro which has about 20 mentoring principles illustrated.  

    2.  Finding Forrester is brilliant on mentoring as is Baggar VAnce

    3.  Akeelah and the Bee has more good stuff on mentoring.

    • brian

      sorry, i added a few of these before skimming down through the comments

    • Tim Elmore

      Great additions to the list. Thanks for sharing!

  • Duncantwd

    Amazing Grace is a 2006 biographical drama film about the campaign against slave trade in the British Empire, led by William Wilberforce, who was responsible for steering anti-slave trade legislation through the British parliament. The title is a reference to the hymn “Amazing Grace”

    • Tim Elmore

      Great film. Thanks for sharing!

  • Tami Heim

    Remember the Titans
    We Are Marshall
    Schindler’s List

    • Tim Elmore

      All great additions. Thanks for sharing, Tami!

  • Jim Kane

    Three Submarine based films (seems living underwater brings leadership to the forefront) – Run Silent, Run Deep; Das Boot , The Enemy Below and from an entirely different perspective – Toy Story

    • Tim Elmore

      Submarines – that makes for a fun theme! Thanks for sharing!

  • chrysp

    These are great movies for sure.  I see someone else suggested Toy Story and I would agree…all three have great leadership lessons.  I’ve always thought Seabiscuit was a great leadership movie too.  The Jeff Bridges character is nearly a study of Kouzes and Posner’s “The Leadership Challenge.”  This is a GREAT idea–thanks!

    • Tim Elmore

      Thanks for sharing – I enjoyed all three Toy Story movies and there are definitely leadership lessons that emerge. Seabiscuit is great as well!

  • Jlepetri

    I would add,  The Power of One,  and , believe it or not, Brother Son. Sister Moon.

    • Tim Elmore

      Interesting additions. Thanks for sharing!

  • Brent Wilson93

    Love this idea! Saw a documentary on the real “horse whisperer” called “Buck”. I realize that humans are not horses, but valuable lessons on understanding behavior and providing training/instruction with care.

    • Tim Elmore

      I’ll have to check that out. Thanks for sharing!

  • Ron Lewis

    Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (wish he’d go again)!
    Captains Courageous

    • Tim Elmore

      Great movies! Thanks!

  • Michelle

    How about “12 o’clock high” . Old I know but great for showing the power of  getting the right people in the right place doing the right thing! 

    • Tim Elmore

      Great addition. Thanks for sharing!

  • Brad

    Master and Commander.

    • Tim Elmore

      Great movie!

  • Pingback: Great Mentoring Movies | Tim Elmore()

  • Mike Neighbors

    As a basketball coach with a list of my personal Top 1000 movies, there could not be a more perfect blog entry today!!    I agree with all the above as great movies with leadership stories and/or scenes.  For your next viewing opportunity I would recommend any of the following:
    The GuardianThe American PresidentCool RunningsSecretariatIndependence Day (not the whole movie but the speech scene is classic)The Karate Kid (no one cares how much you know until they know how much you care)The Replacements (great even with Keanu Reeves acting)The Blind SideSearching for Bobby Fisher The Little GiantsThe Mighty DucksFor the Love of the GameAn Officer and a Gentleman (holding to standards)Visionquest (great soundtrack is just a bonus)VictoryAny Given Sunday (game day speech is classic)Brian’s SongThe Fish That Saved PittsburghPatch AdamsGlengarry Glen Ross (Always Be Closing scene)Enjoy!!

    • Tim Elmore

      Great additions to the list. Thanks so much for taking time to comment! There are several that I have yet to see!

  • Holly

    Mona Lisa Smile, Coach Carter, Oceans 11 (especially for stages of team development), and the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.

    • Tim Elmore

      Great additions! Thanks for adding to the list!

  • Holly

    I also like Secretariat, School of Rock, Mean Girls (great for bases of power)

    • Tim Elmore

      Thanks for taking time to comment!

  • Chriss

    Lord of the Rings. All of them.

    • Tim Elmore

      You can’t go wrong with any of those!

  • Wes Connell

    Tucker is awesome!  Or how about Blindside?

    • Tim Elmore

      Great movies! Appreciate you taking the time to comment.

  • Gayle

    A TV series: Last American Cowboy as well as Everwood.

    • Tim Elmore

      Nice! Thanks for sharing!

  • Tom

    Tim this is a great list.  One movie that has inspired me in ministry and leadership is the movie Antwone Fisher.   Mind you, this movie deals with graphic issues at moments and has some rough language.  However, it will break the heart of youth leaders as you begin to think about troubled kids.

    • Tim Elmore

      Great movie. Thanks for sharing!

  • Damon Barber

    “UP” a mentoring movie. Great lessons to be learned.

    • Tim Elmore

      Yes! Great movie! Thanks for adding it!

  • Kerry

    This is a TV show … but I totally recommend Downton Abbey. So many great leadership examples!

    • Tim Elmore

      We’ll take a TV show, too! Thanks for adding to the list!

  • Ken5206

    Great list!  I see a few I have not seen I will need to check out!  Great to meet you at the LEAD conference for Royal Rangers!  I have a few to add:

    Battle Los Angeles, Courageous, Flyboys, Flight of the Phoenix, Red Dawn, Master and Commander, Lord of the Rings, Last Legion, 13th Warrior, To Save a Life, Robin Hood (the new one).

    Just my nickles worth.

    • Tim Elmore

      Great to meet you at LEAD! Thanks for adding a few more excellent movies to the list!

  • guest

    Lean on Me – Morgan Freeman

    • Tim Elmore

      Yes! Morgan Freeman is great in that movie!

  • Cantrelld33

    Don’t forget Norma Rae with Sally field.

    • Tim Elmore

      Great addition! Thanks for adding to the list!

  • Lmarks

    How about “The Whale Rider” to look at leadership and gender, and “Enron: the Smartest Guys in the Room” to facilitate discussion on leadership, greed, ethics, and masculine culture as it relates to leadership.

    • Tim Elmore

      Those are great! Thanks for mentioning them!

  • jojosanmiguel

    12 o’clock High and Gettysburg were two movies we studied in the military.

    • Tim Elmore

      Thank you for sharing those great movies!

  • D. Coggins

    Twelve O’Clock High with Gregory Peck

  • Signor Resipsa Loquitur

    “Master and Commander” with Russell Crowe and “Captain Horatio Hornblower R.N.” with Gregory Peck.