Stories of family businesses and inherited wealth have often proved to be fruitful ground for Hollywood story telling. Below we summarize some of the most well-known movies, documentary and TV shows with some degree of tie into the family enterprise world. Admittedly some of the items highlighted below may have a tangential tie to family enterprise, while for others it is more front and center to the narrative.
All descriptions were sourced from Rotten Tomatoes
Let us know what we might have missed!
- Born Rich – This is a fantastic piece. “Born Rich is a 2003 documentary film about the experience of growing up in wealthy families. It was created by Jamie Johnson, an heir to the Johnson & Johnson fortune, and filmed primarily between 1999 and 2001. The film consists primarily of Johnson interviewing 10 other young heirs. These interviews are offset by Johnson’s exploration of his own experience and family as he comes into a large inheritance on his 21st birthday. “
- Queen of Versailles – A natural analog to our recent post – How to Keep a Vacation Home From Becoming an Albatross – “The 2008 global economic crisis threatens the fortune of Florida billionaires David and Jackie Siegel just as they are in the middle of building a 90,000 square-foot estate.”
- Generation Wealth – Greenfield also produced Queen of Versailles above. This film is not as good as QoV. Her book of the same name (Gen. Wealth) is much more interesting. “Lauren Greenfield examines materialism, celebrity culture, and social status and reflects on the desire to be wealthy at any cost. This visual history of the growing obsession with wealth uses first-person interviews in Los Angeles, Moscow, Dubai, China and around the world to bear witness to the global boom-and-bust economy and document its complicated consequences.”
- Tommy Boy – Family business is probably not your immediate thought when considering the slapstick humor of Tommy Boy. “After his beloved father (Brian Dennehy) dies, dimwitted Tommy Callahan (Chris Farley) inherits a near-bankrupt automobile parts factory in Sandusky, Ohio. His brand new stepmother, Beverly (Bo Derek), wants to cash out and close, but Tommy’s sentimental attachment to his father’s employees spurs him to make one last-ditch effort to find someone who will buy their products. With his father’s tightly wound assistant, Richard (David Spade), in tow, Tommy hits the road to scare up some new clients.”
- Hitch – For my money, the scenes where Allegra interacts with her trustees are a phenomenal representation of how badly those relationships can be handled. “Dating coach Alex “Hitch” Hitchens (Will Smith) mentors a bumbling client, Albert (Kevin James), who hopes to win the heart of the glamorous Allegra Cole (Amber Valletta). While Albert makes progress, Hitchens faces his own romantic setbacks when proven techniques fail to work on Sara Melas (Eva Mendes), a tabloid reporter digging for dirt on Allegra Cole’s love life. When Sara discovers Hitchens’ connection to Albert — now Allegra’s boyfriend — it threatens to destroy both relationships.
- Billy Madison – “Man-child Billy Madison (Adam Sandler) has been a spoiled rich kid all his life, and spends his days drinking and partying. When his father, hotel magnate Brian (Darren McGavin), becomes fed up with his son’s irresponsible ways, he issues an ultimatum. Since Billy passed all his schooling thanks to his father’s influence and bribes, he must retake and pass every grade in 24 weeks. Otherwise, the business will be turned over to Brian’s conniving associate, Eric (Bradley Whitford).”
- Brewster’s Millions – “After losing his position as a minor-league pitcher, Montgomery Brewster (Richard Pryor) learns his great-uncle has left him $300 million. To inherit it, Brewster must spend $30 million in 30 days under a complicated set of rules that forbid him from donating too much to charity or retaining any new assets when the period is up. Unable to share details about the will’s odd conditions with anyone, Brewster sets out to spend his money under the stern eye of paralegal Angela Drake (Lonette McKee).”
- My Big Fat Greek Wedding – Hat Tip to the Columbia Global Family Enterprise Program for pointing this one out – Everyone in the Portokalos family worries about Toula (Nia Vardalos). Still unmarried at 30 years old, she works at Dancing Zorba’s, the Greek restaurant owned by her parents, Gus (Michael Constantine) and Maria (Lainie Kazan). After taking a job at her aunt’s travel agency, she falls in love with Ian Miller (John Corbett), a teacher who is tall, handsome and definitely not Greek. Toula isn’t sure which will be more upsetting to her father, that Ian is a foreigner or that he’s a vegetarian.
Drama / Romance
- The Descendants – “Native islander Matt King (George Clooney) lives with his family in Hawaii. Their world shatters when a tragic accident leaves his wife in a coma. Not only must Matt struggle with the stipulation in his wife’s will that she be allowed to die with dignity, but he also faces pressure from relatives to sell their family’s enormous land trust. Angry and terrified at the same time, Matt tries to be a good father to his young daughters, as they too try to cope with their mother’s possible death.”
- Crazy Rich Asians – “Rachel Chu is happy to accompany her longtime boyfriend, Nick, to his best friend’s wedding in Singapore. She’s also surprised to learn that Nick’s family is extremely wealthy and he’s considered one of the country’s most eligible bachelors. Thrust into the spotlight, Rachel must now contend with jealous socialites, quirky relatives and something far, far worse — Nick’s disapproving mother.”
- Sabrina – “Sabrina Fairchild (Julia Ormond) is a chauffeur’s daughter who grew up with the wealthy Larrabee family. She always had unreciprocated feelings for David (Greg Kinnear), the family’s younger son and playboy. But after returning from Paris, Sabrina has become a glamorous woman who gets David’s attention. His older, work-minded brother Linus (Harrison Ford) thinks their courtship is bad for the family business and tries to break them up — but then he starts to fall for her too.”
- The Godfather – Try as he might, Michael ultimately proved unable to make the Corleone family business fully legitimate… “Widely regarded as one of the greatest films of all time, this mob drama, based on Mario Puzo’s novel of the same name, focuses on the powerful Italian-American crime family of Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando). When the don’s youngest son, Michael (Al Pacino), reluctantly joins the Mafia, he becomes involved in the inevitable cycle of violence and betrayal. Although Michael tries to maintain a normal relationship with his wife, Kay (Diane Keaton), he is drawn deeper into the family business.”
- Talented Mr. Ripley – “To be young and carefree amid the blue waters and idyllic landscape of sun-drenched Italy in the late 1950s; that’s la dolce vita Tom Ripley (Matt Damon) craves- and Dickie Greenleaf (Jude Law) leads. When Dickie’s father asks Tom to bring his errant playboy son back home to America, Dickie and his beautiful expatriate girlfriend, Marge Sherwood (Gwyneth Paltrow), never suspect the dangerous extremes to which Ripley will go to make their lifestyle his own.”
- Inheritance – A new release as it came out in 2020 “A patriarch of a wealthy and powerful family suddenly passes away, leaving his wife and daughter with a shocking secret inheritance that threatens to unravel and destroy their lives.”
- Succession – “Although he has no plans to step aside as the head of Waystar Royco, the international media conglomerate controlled by his family, aging patriarch Logan Roy is contemplating what the future holds. “
- Downton Abbey – The poster child of turn of the century inherited wealth.
- Duck Dynasty – “At first glance the Robertsons look like a typical Louisiana family who lives for duck hunting season. A closer look, however, reveals they live very well because of duck hunting season. The Robertsons own and operate Duck Commanders, which specializes in fabricating duck calls and decoys out of salvaged swamp wood.”