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Smarter Worklife

Offices on the silver screen

From the cult series The Office to the immortal classic Wall Street – what goes on in offices in popular culture? Here are Smarter Worklife’s favorites, which all portray to some degree the thing we’re all passionate about—the workplace. 



Wall Street (1987) 

Most people are familiar with the quote “Greed is good.” Once again, New York is the scene of office drama—this time behind the closed doors of the financial world. The young, hot-headed stockbroker Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen) is ready to do anything to claw his way to the top. His mentor is the legendary, uncompromising Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas). We soon see that what happens behind the closed doors of the financial world is not within the framework of the law—and the high-stakes game soon becomes life-or-death.

Wall Street reflected the money-hungry 1980s and established the image of Wall Street as the mecca of ultra-capitalism, full of greedy, uncompromising villains in suits, making their riches off hard-working everyday people. 

The Devil Wears Prada (1996) 

Here, too, we are taken to the city of corporate ladder climbing and sharp elbows, New York. “Andy” (Anne Hathaway) wants to be a journalist at the market-leading magazine Runway (read: Vogue). She gets a step closer to her goal when she becomes an assistant to the immortal editor Miranda Priestley (Meryl Streep), who turns out to be the devil herself, demanding 100% service every hour of the day. This results in Andy sacrificing love and friendship for the job—but is it worth it?

The movie was an eye-opener for many, and created discussions about leadership, toxic workplaces and unhealthy working conditions.    

The Severance (2022)

Separating work and leisure can be challenging. But this acclaimed, dystopian TV series, directed by Ben Stiller, which largely takes place in an office, takes this to the extreme. Through a surgical procedure, where a chip is implanted in the brain, the employee’s memory is completely split between private life and work. When the main character Mark (Adam Scott) goes up in the work elevator, he forgets all his feelings and who he is on the outside. And vice versa when he clocks out. It is only when an old colleague seeks him out outside of work and sends hidden messages that Mark begins to question what is actually going on in the company Lumon Industries’ sterile, creepy corridors...

The Office UK (2001) 

”I suppose I’ve created an atmosphere where I’m a friend first and boss second. Probably an entertainer third.” Is the series’ main character David Brent, masterfully portrayed by Ricky Gervais, the world’s worst or best boss? If you ask him, the answer is unequivocally the best. This cult mockumentary (fictional documentary) series takes place in a dull, grey suburban office in Slough outside London, and deals with everything from forbidden love between colleagues to a tactless boss who fires employees as a joke. The Office changed the entire genre of comedy series, demonstrating that it was at least as funny, if not more, without obvious jokes, laugh tracks or a studio audience. 

“A classic example is ‘The Devil Wears Prada’, which features an obvious tyrant who either breaks you or drives you to rebel.” 


 Hello there ... 

... Caroline Hainer, author, cultural journalist and film critic. Caroline Hainer.png


What is the general image of the office in popular culture? 

“In general, you could say that the office is used in two ways: Either as a backdrop for a psychological tale of human nature, group dynamics and hierarchies and the monotony of conformity. A classic example is The Devil Wears Prada, which features an obvious tyrant who either breaks you or drives you to rebel. Or else the office is used as a way to describe the society we live in, capitalism pitting individuals against the unstoppable forces of the market. Oliver Stone’s Wall Street, for example. In it, stockbrokers do battle with each other for their own survival, while the super capitalist Gordon Gekko controls the financial world from his opulent office at the top of the skyscraper.” 

Why are offices so ideal for drama? 

“For one thing, there are built-in hierarchies that are easy to create drama around. Do you step in line, or do you rebel? And also, the office is an excellent reflection of society as a whole, where individuals who want to change and improve things contrast sharply with the silent followers who don’t want to rock the boat. And somewhere in between there is the opportunity to see that we are all people with dreams, joys and sorrows.”