Bosses make great movie villains. It’s easy to see why. Almost everyone has a job and a boss. Even most bosses have a boss.
Bosses get a lot of blame (both justified and not). Bosses are easy to hate. In movies, it’s relatable and sympathetic to root for the protagonist against their boss.
Throughout the years, there have been countless bad guy bosses in movies. Equipped with sharp insults and quotable rants, many bosses end up stealing scenes and the movies themselves with their outrageous and enraging performances.
While some are more memorable than others, most movie bosses fall into one of the several distinct categories. Let these bad movie bosses be a lesson to all the real bosses out there on what not to do, and a thankful relief to HR professionals who don’t have to deal with these horrible bosses.
The Bully Boss
- Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep) in The Devil Wears Prada
- Blake (Alec Baldwin) in Glengarry Glenn Ross
- Buddy Ackerman (Kevin Spacey) in Swimming with Sharks
We’ll start with, arguably, the worst of the worst. This boss doesn’t care for employees. They don’t care about your life, your family, and most of all, they don’t care about respecting work-life boundaries.
Tyrannical, demanding, and completely self-absorbed, these bosses only care for themselves, money, or success (basically, all three intertwined). Their subordinates are left to quit or survive the dog-eat-dog rollercoaster ride. Their behavior is tolerated (or even celebrated) because of their success.
In movies, these movie bosses often either experience some life-altering revelation or get their long overdue comeuppance, much to the satisfaction of the audience. But in real life, things would likely come with a more gradual fall from grace as workers increasingly demand better work-life balance, employee benefits packages, and mental health care.
The Backstabber Boss
- Katharine Parker (Sigourney Weaver) in Working Girl
Backstabber bosses are often MIA when the work is getting done, but always there to take the credit when it is complete. They send passive aggressive emails, blame company policy for unpopular decisions, throw their employees under the bus, and avoid taking responsibility when expectations are not met.
No one wants to work with someone they can’t trust and steals their ideas. When dealing with this type of boss, your company’s recruiting and onboarding processes better be running quickly and smoothly because high turnover is inevitable.
The Unqualified Boss
- Bobby Pellit (Colin Farrell) in Horrible Bosses
- Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) in The Social Network
Perhaps the most frustrating of all bosses—and one that is far too relatable for many. The unqualified boss comes in two forms: the ones who rise to the top with no effort and the ones who can’t handle all that comes with being top dog.
With no discernible skills, industry knowledge, or leadership ability, the first type got their positions of power through lying and cheating, the Peter Principle, or some unfortunate –ism (nepotism, sexism, racism, etc.).
The second version of this boss may have been a good employee at a lower level, or even a founder of the company, but just doesn’t have what it takes to be boss when they get to the top. Being the boss is a hard job that requires a variety of skills, so not everyone is cut out for it.
While very much a real occurrence, bosses like this in real life can redeem themselves through continuous learning and adapting to workplace changes. Everyone can improve themselves in the workplace, even a bad boss.
The Micromanager Boss
- Bill Lumbergh (Gary Cole) in Office Space
Ummm… yeah. If you can get that report to me by this afternoon, that would be great.
At work, there is not much more frustrating than minimal direction, unclear expectations, and micromanaging requests. Employees can’t work efficiently if they are constantly looking over their shoulder or having to give needless updates.
Employees need flexibility and to be encouraged to accomplish things on their own. HR technology with employee self-service features not only empowers employees, it frees up your HR team from having to handle countless requests and endless paperwork.
The Toxic Boss
- Franklin Hart, Jr. (Dabney Coleman) in 9 to 5
- John Milton (Al Pacino) in The Devil’s Advocate
The fastest and easiest way for your office to turn into a toxic work environment is when the boss not only allows it, but perpetuates it. Whether it’s by being “sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot” or the devil himself, workplace toxicity comes in many forms—none of which are productive.
The best way to ensure everyone at your company has the opportunity to voice their feedback on teammates and managers through anonymous performance evaluations. With performance management software, HR can better understand where toxic issues are happening and create an actionable plan for how to combat the behavior.