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The Greatest Leadership Movies

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.

82 Comments

  1. Patrick McHugh on February 16, 2012 at 6:27 am

    How about Patton?

    • Tim Elmore on February 16, 2012 at 11:10 am

      Great addition to the list! Thanks for commenting!

    • Jen Mickelson on August 4, 2019 at 7:21 pm

      Hoosiers.

  2. Michael Shelley on February 16, 2012 at 7:25 am

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

  3. Pilot Unplugged on February 16, 2012 at 7:42 am

    Twelve O’clock High is a glaring omission. .

    • Tim Elmore on February 16, 2012 at 11:11 am

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

  4. JP on February 16, 2012 at 7:48 am

    Suprised Patton isn’t on the list

    • Tim Elmore on February 16, 2012 at 11:12 am

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

  5. JT on February 16, 2012 at 8:10 am

    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 on February 16, 2012 at 11:13 am

      Great suggestions! Thanks for posting!

    • Jeffrey Hranek on September 12, 2019 at 10:03 pm

      Gladiator

  6. Travis Dommert on February 16, 2012 at 10:45 am

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

    • Tim Elmore on February 16, 2012 at 11:13 am

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

  7. Josh Rahn on February 16, 2012 at 11:59 am

    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 on March 23, 2012 at 3:53 pm

      Thanks for adding another great movie to the list!

  8. billqsack on February 16, 2012 at 12:07 pm

    Friday Night Lights. Brilliant movie.

    • Tim Elmore on March 23, 2012 at 3:53 pm

      The movie and the TV series are both great!

  9. Rob T on February 16, 2012 at 1:39 pm

    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 on March 23, 2012 at 3:53 pm

      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!

  10. Kevin Beasley on February 16, 2012 at 4:29 pm

    How about a television show… West Wing

    • Tim Elmore on March 23, 2012 at 3:51 pm

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

  11. Joslin Green on February 16, 2012 at 4:29 pm

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

  12. Kristin Cagan Quintana on February 16, 2012 at 4:30 pm

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

    • Tim Elmore on March 23, 2012 at 3:51 pm

      Great movie! Thanks for adding it to the list!

  13. Kevin Beasley on February 16, 2012 at 4:30 pm

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

  14. Kevin Beasley on February 16, 2012 at 4:32 pm

    Tombstone?

  15. Coelho707 on February 16, 2012 at 5:38 pm

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

    • Tim Elmore on March 23, 2012 at 3:50 pm

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

    • George Malhiot on December 7, 2012 at 7:10 pm

      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.

  16. Brian on February 16, 2012 at 6:39 pm

    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 on February 16, 2012 at 6:40 pm

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

    • Tim Elmore on March 23, 2012 at 3:50 pm

      Great additions to the list. Thanks for sharing!

  17. Duncantwd on February 16, 2012 at 9:58 pm

    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 on March 23, 2012 at 3:49 pm

      Great film. Thanks for sharing!

  18. Tami Heim on February 17, 2012 at 10:38 am

    Remember the Titans
    We Are Marshall
    Schindler’s List

    • Tim Elmore on March 23, 2012 at 3:47 pm

      All great additions. Thanks for sharing, Tami!

  19. Jim Kane on February 17, 2012 at 11:00 am

    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 on March 23, 2012 at 3:47 pm

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

  20. chrysp on February 17, 2012 at 11:52 am

    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 on March 23, 2012 at 3:47 pm

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

  21. Jlepetri on February 17, 2012 at 11:39 pm

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

    • Tim Elmore on March 23, 2012 at 3:45 pm

      Interesting additions. Thanks for sharing!

  22. Brent Wilson93 on February 18, 2012 at 6:03 pm

    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 on March 23, 2012 at 3:45 pm

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

  23. Ron Lewis on February 18, 2012 at 7:00 pm

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

  24. Michelle on February 19, 2012 at 6:11 pm

    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 on March 23, 2012 at 3:45 pm

      Great addition. Thanks for sharing!

  25. aubradford on February 19, 2012 at 10:31 pm

    Master and Commander.

  26. Mike Neighbors on February 22, 2012 at 2:51 pm

    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 on March 23, 2012 at 3:44 pm

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

  27. Holly on February 22, 2012 at 4:43 pm

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

    • Tim Elmore on March 23, 2012 at 3:43 pm

      Great additions! Thanks for adding to the list!

  28. Holly on February 22, 2012 at 4:46 pm

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

    • Tim Elmore on March 23, 2012 at 3:43 pm

      Thanks for taking time to comment!

  29. Chriss on February 23, 2012 at 7:07 pm

    Lord of the Rings. All of them.

    • Tim Elmore on March 23, 2012 at 3:42 pm

      You can’t go wrong with any of those!

  30. Wes Connell on March 2, 2012 at 1:33 pm

    Tucker is awesome!  Or how about Blindside?

    • Tim Elmore on March 23, 2012 at 3:42 pm

      Great movies! Appreciate you taking the time to comment.

  31. dirtbikegirl on March 4, 2012 at 2:01 pm

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

  32. Tom on March 22, 2012 at 12:48 pm

    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 on March 23, 2012 at 3:42 pm

      Great movie. Thanks for sharing!

  33. Damon Barber on March 22, 2012 at 2:07 pm

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

    • Tim Elmore on March 23, 2012 at 3:41 pm

      Yes! Great movie! Thanks for adding it!

  34. Kerry on March 22, 2012 at 3:58 pm

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

    • Tim Elmore on March 23, 2012 at 3:41 pm

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

  35. Ken5206 on March 22, 2012 at 5:28 pm

    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 on March 23, 2012 at 3:41 pm

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

  36. guest on March 28, 2012 at 1:03 pm

    Lean on Me – Morgan Freeman

    • Tim Elmore on April 4, 2012 at 7:42 am

      Yes! Morgan Freeman is great in that movie!

  37. Cantrelld33 on April 2, 2012 at 7:55 pm

    Don’t forget Norma Rae with Sally field.

    • Tim Elmore on April 4, 2012 at 7:42 am

      Great addition! Thanks for adding to the list!

  38. Lmarks on May 23, 2012 at 2:35 pm

    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 on May 24, 2012 at 7:02 am

      Those are great! Thanks for mentioning them!

  39. Bruce Gillies on March 9, 2017 at 4:50 pm

    How could “12 O’Clock High” be missing? This is one of the greatest films of leadership.It exhibits so many elemental and advanced aspects of leading an organization, developing political power, establishing standards, and motivating individuals. It also clearly depicts the downfall of a leader who tries to do too much.

    • C David Buchanan on April 11, 2017 at 7:56 pm

      Passing of the boots – Experience walking in another’s shoes…

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