In the uncertainty of our post-pandemic world, layoffs are becoming the new normal. While it’s never an easy process to go through, it’s worth remembering that it’s not the end of the world. As a wise man once said, “When one door closes, another door opens.”
One relatively affordable way to cope with the emotional impact of a job loss: movies. Stories about people who’ve been through a big job setback can offer a blueprint for how to process it all, get you laughing, and remind you that you’re not alone.
Because we are humans who care (and streaming algos and ChatGPT cannot), we’ve curated a list of 10 movies that encapsulate the emotional journey of being laid off — and the inherent human ability to overcome adversity.
The Company Men
The Story: When a big company undergoes a massive downsizing, young executive Bobby Walker (Ben Affleck) and co-workers Gene (Tommy Lee Jones) and Phil (Chris Cooper), suddenly find themselves out of work. Removed from their huge cushy jobs and salaries, all three men must quickly redefine themselves and reassess their priorities in order to survive the harsh realities of unemployment.
Uplift factor: While the movie highlights the importance of adaptability, humility, and perseverance in surviving tough times, The Company Men at its core is a melodrama with a throbbing social conscience, as it shows a good amount of white-collar reckoning. Greedy corporate executives are not immune to hardships and consequences here, and it’s comforting to see them learn their own lessons in humility.
Memorable lines: “I will win! Why? I have Faith! Courage! Enthusiasm!”
“I’ve called everybody I know and a lot of people I don’t, and begged, f*cking begged for a job, a lead, anything!”
Where to find it: HBO Max
The Story: Disgraced record executive Dan (Mark Ruffalo) meets heartbroken singer-songwriter Gretta (Keira Knightley) at a club in New York and forms an unlikely friendship after deciding to work together on her debut album.
Uplift factor: A feel-good but understated musical comedy-drama, Begin Again feels authentic. It’s a story about second chances and finding the ability and willingness to heal, and a look at how new beginnings can reignite our passion for life. With a splendid musical score (including songs from the film’s co-star Adam Levine), relatable characters, and an unexpected but deeply satisfying ending, this one is a certified mood-enhancer. Yet it’s also instructive, showing us how we can never allow our current situation to define us. The takeaway: If we forgive ourselves, we can begin again.
Memorable line: “Musicians for the most part are monosyllabic teenagers who really don’t have a whole lot to say.”
Where to find it: Netflix
The Pursuit of Happyness
The Story: Chris Gardner (Will Smith) is a down-on-his-luck salesman struggling to make ends meet when he gets evicted from his apartment. Together with his young son (Jaden Smith), they live in shelters and rely on soup kitchens to get by. A chance encounter lands him an internship at a brokerage firm, but as he’s not getting paid, he has to take drastic measures to get by and create a future for himself and his son.
Uplift factor: It’s a moving and illuminating story about the American dream that also serves as a cautionary tale. Based on the life story of Chris Gardner, a self-made salesman, stockbroker, and philanthropist, Pursuit of Happyness demonstrates how perseverance is critical to success. Yet it does so while exposing the soul-crushing nature of poverty and the possibility that anyone can fall on hard times.
As the saying goes, “Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.” The takeaway: Pursuing happiness is a choice, the film posits, so if you’re feeling out of luck, choose to pick yourself up, keep your dreams alive, and keep going.
Memorable line: “You got a dream…You gotta protect it. People can’t do somethin’ themselves, they wanna tell you you can’t do it. If you want somethin’, go get it. Period.”
Go deeper: “Some people will see ‘The Pursuit of Happyness’ as a glorification of capitalism, but the movie is much less about ‘getting’ than it is about ‘not having.'” — Stephanie Zacharek, Salon
Where to find it: Netflix (new starting February 1st)
Everything Must Go
The Story: After getting fired, salesman and heavy drinker Nick Halsey (Will Ferrell) gets dumped by his wife on the same day. He decides to hold a yard sale in front of his former home to turn his life around, and ends up living on his lawn.
Uplift factor: Billed as a comedy-drama, this one can be bleak, but it’s ultimately an optimistic movie about the unexpected jolts in our lives that give us the chance to reassess our work, relationships, and shortcomings. The theme is “letting go,” and the painful yet necessary process that allows us to make room for new things to materialize. It’s a cathartic story, showing how we can release negative emotions and move forward with our lives. But Everything Must Go is also a refreshingly honest film, as its resolutions are open and unsettled—like life. The takeaway: It’s your own life story, so go ahead and write your own ending.
Memorable lines: “I’m no different than you. I just don’t hide in my house.”
Where to find it: Tubi
The Story: Peter (Ron Livingston) is an unmotivated software programmer who decides to undergo hypnotherapy. When his therapist dies in the middle of the session, it leaves him in a trance, and a new state of enlightenment. Back at work, he starts to behave irresponsibly, which inadvertently charms his supervisors into promoting him. But when Peter’s co-workers find out that the company is downsizing, they decide to hatch an elaborate revenge plot in this iconic comedy that launched a few careers.
Uplift factor: With plenty of meme-worthy scenes that are way too real and one-liners that can last for days, this cult classic about the anxieties of corporate life will surely have you in stitches. Though it was released in 1999, the movie still resonates, perfectly nailing workplace frustration and malaise. It might hit too close to home at times, but at least you can laugh at it.
Memorable lines: “I’m going to need those TPS reports ASAP. So, If you could do that, that’d be great.”
Go deeper: An Oral History of Office Space
Where to find it: Hulu
Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy
The Story: In the male-dominated world of 1970s broadcast news, top-rated anchorman Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) grows jealous of his hotshot co-anchor Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) when she begins to outshine him on air. A bitter rivalry ensues and in the process of trying to outdo each other, Burgundy tragically makes a vulgar gaffe on air that gets him fired.
Uplift factor: This classic send-up and its over-the-top humor will definitely turn your frown upside down. Rife with crude jokes, quotable lines, and incoherent plot twists, it’s a goofy all-star comedy that somehow works because it doesn’t take itself seriously. That said, Anchorman also offers valuable reminders about second chances, pursuing your passions, fighting for what you believe in, and most importantly, learning how to stay classy when trapped in a glass case of emotion–all of which will come in handy when you’re still reeling from a layoff.
Memorable line: “I’m kind of a big deal. People know me.”
Where to find it: Apple TV+
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
The Story: As a production staffer at Life magazine, Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller), spends his days developing photos for the magazine. To escape the monotony, he drifts into exciting, heroic daydreams and develops a crush on colleague Cheryl Melhoff (Kristen Wiig), but feels unworthy of pursuing her. When the magazine’s new owners send him on a mission to obtain the perfect photo for the final print issue, he finally gets his chance for a real adventure.
Uplift factor: For anyone who has felt the need to “quiet quit” or dreads landing in a job that feels meaningless and mundane, Walter Mitty shows us how those doldrums can give our minds room to take flight. The power of imagination and daydreaming make us infinite. In The Secret Life, they are the impetus for Walter to change, not only helping him escape reality, but prompting him to create a new one. The Takeaway: Dreaming is not enough. The real secret is to take action and bring your dreams to fruition.
Memorable lines: “Lately, I have been wondering if there is time left for daydreaming in this 21st-century world of constant communication.”
“To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, draw closer, to find each other, and to feel.”
Where to stream it: Hulu
The Story: When a street-smart Value Shop assistant manager (Jennifer Lopez) loses a promotion to a college-educated candidate, she decides to embellish her resume to pursue a corporate career on Madison Avenue.
Uplift factor: A predictable yet innocuous workplace comedy about reinvention, ingenuity, and self-belief, Second Act relies heavily on light humor while reminding us that education requires so much more than getting a degree. Lopez’s character has years of life experience under her belt and the hard knocks to prove it, and of course that’s an asset as she learns how to adapt, learn new skills, and think on the fly. The Takeaway: Ultimately it’s the fear of failure that limits our true potential.
Memorable line: “For better or for worse, I have to be who I really am.”
Where to find it: Prime Video
Up in the Air
The Story: Ryan Bingham (George Clooney), a corporate downsizing expert, gets a new business idea from his young new co-worker Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick): perform the layoffs via video conferencing rather than in-person to save the company money. While he takes Natalie on tour to demonstrate the importance of face-to-face firing, he hooks up with and develops feelings for another frequent flier whose personal life he barely knows about.
Uplift factor: Up in the Air is a moving, entertaining, and once again relevant movie about layoffs and our need to form meaningful connections in an increasingly commitment-averse world. The multiple Oscar-nominated film captures the emotional journey of losing a job, incorporating unscripted and unedited scenes from non-actors who have gone through the often heartbreaking experience of being “let go.” It also shows how people deal with loneliness, and how much of modern life has eroded our sense of community. The Takeaway: While technology has made life easier, it cannot fully replace the profound impact of human connection.
Memorable line: “Some animals were meant to carry each other, to live symbiotically for a lifetime—star-crossed lovers, monogamous swans. We are not those animals.”
“All the things you probably hate about traveling (the recycled air, the artificial lighting, the digital juice dispensers, the cheap sushi) are warm reminders that I’m home.”
Where to find it: Netflix
In Good Company
The Story: Middle-aged sports executive Dan Foreman (Dennis Quaid) gets the shock of his life when he is demoted and assigned to become a ‘wingman’ of Carter Duryea (Topher Grace), a much younger sales manager. To make matters infinitely worse, he finds out that his wife is pregnant and his new boss is dating his daughter.
Uplift factor: A comedy that skewers corporate ageism and its consequences, In Good Company is for anyone coming to terms with “the middle years” at the same time that they’re enduring a career humiliation. It may sound like a premise taken too far, but it’s grounded in some reality and gets to some painful truths. The Takeaway: Change is inevitable, and we just have to prepare for it, whether we like it or not.
Memorable lines: “I gotta get home for dinner. My wife is slowly poisoning me to death and she gets very angry if I’m late.”
“Tough times don’t last, tough people do.”
Where to find it: Prime Video
There you have it, your to-do-list for life after a lay off: losing yourself in movies. Of course, the loss of a job is rough, so give yourself some time to process, heal, and find a fresh perspective.
Looking for something else? Try the Watercooler’s search engine to find shows and movies across all platforms that match your mood and interests.