Inspiring Innovation Films: a Top Ten List

I got the question from a high level executive earlier this week: What are the best innovation films? He was looking for clips he might use in innovation education. This article intends to be a great place to start in finding appropriate clips — and maybe a way to find a bit of inspiration when your innovation energy is lagging.

It’s a great idea. Film clips engage, inspire, and teach. It’s logical to illustrate innovation teaching points with film clips because nearly every film is a transformative story that roughly parallels innovation process. Screenwriters are taught to write stories where the plot arc emphasizes transformational change in an active visual way. Directors love scripts with scenes that show how change happens. Why? Because that change action engages audience in several ways — emotionally, visually, and with sound. It’s very whole brained and it’s how people learn. In making innovation teaching points, appropriate video clips are a refreshing alternative to dry case studies, PowerPoint slide dumps, or lectures. Film clips can also be useful as stimuli for idea generation. But what films and what clips within those film?

This list isn’t about the best films in a cinematic sense. It’s more about the potential for instructive innovation clips. There is also an Honorable Mention list. But first…

If you’re an innovation educator seeking to use film clips, you might want to check out The Marketing Teacher — this is a great source for legal film clip usage. Otherwise YouTube has most of the clips I mention below.  I’m sure I’ve overlooked deserving films — so please add your comments so we don’t miss a hidden gem. Here we go:

Top Ten Innovation Films

(1)  Moneyball

This is my favorite innovation film. It would be hard to imagine a better vehicle to teach all aspects of innovation. It’s nominally about baseball, but really, it’s about implementation of an innovative way to do something. It has all the typical steps of innovation: drastic need, lack of resources, a breakthrough concept, bold steps, team building, resistance to change, enrollment in the project, depths of despair and ultimately triumph. The initial meeting with the old scouts is what every innovator with a vision has faced. Fave clip might be the mid-season meeting where innovator hero Billy Beane convinces the team owner to stay the course on the new approach. Or, a clip with the late, great, Philip Seymour Hoffman playing a very innovation-resistant passive-aggressive team manager. Hard to go wrong.

(2)  Mad Men

Okay, it’s not a movie. Still, there are so many lessons related to innovation in this series you could write a book about it. Every single episode contains complex creative challenges and innovative solutions. In a way it perpetrates some of the mythology around creativity, so, there are negative examples — such as all the drinking and drug usage. The main character Don Draper is forever dissing research and doing things from the gut (which is not always wrong). The scene of the writer who has a genius idea late at night, starts drinking, doesn’t write the idea down — and then the next morning completely can’t remember.  That’s my “one clip” suggestion. Draper’s presentation to Kodak is a great example of an incredible idea pitch.

(3) Tucker, the Man and His Dream

Preston Tucker’s story is brought to life in this memorable film. Tucker was a visionary entrepreneur and engineer. The most powerful innovation clip might be the compelling original design/vision of his cool new car. The drawing alone gets people motivated to join the team. The scene where Tucker talks to Howard Hughes is also powerful — two innovators talking solutions and connecting dots.

(4)  The Aviator

Howard Hughes was an incredible innovator and this film shows his unique quest for perfection. My favorite innovation scene is where he’s talking to engineers and demanding that an entire plane be rebuilt with recessed rivets. A very unreasonable and expensive request — because he sought truly breakthrough results. Hughes spared no expense to achieve perfection. Also interesting is where he talks about putting 13 film cameras in the sky to capture planes dogfighting (the Hollywood mogul he’s talking to thinks he’s nuts) but he creates the best ever aviation film. This illustrates going against conventional thinking. Sadly, it also shows the darkside of a highly creative personality.

(5) The Pursuit of Happyness

This is a film about persistence, a key trait for an innovator. Will Smith plays a down on his luck black man dodging homelessness and jail while desperately trying to provide for his young son. He ultimately finds a way to succeed and it’s incredibly uplifting. Based on a true story. Here’s a great clip on how he innovates cold calling.

(6)  Jobs

The movie is not as good as the book Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, but there are many moments in the film that are highly instructive for innovators. I particularly enjoyed when Jobs takes over the MacIntosh team. He walks into a room and in minutes has changed the direction of a moribund team (a leadership clip). An early scene where his boss is dressing him down is also classic — every innovator I know has been frustrated by a boss who doesn’t begin to get “the vision.” Here’s a clip about him firing a guy because he doesn’t get the need for fonts (perfection and sticking to the vision). The guy he fired was being reasonable. Being unreasonable is where innovation happens.

(7) Envy

There is a scene early in this film where the two main characters played by Jack Black and Ben Stiller are in an invention discussion — this is the clip to use.  It illustrates allowing divergence to be truly wild. As it turns out the wild idea actually is made to work. Here’s the clip where they demo the idea the first time.

(8)  Apollo 13

There is an amazing creative problem solving sequence around finding a fix for the air filtration challenge as the space capsule returns to earth. Remember the phrase “Houston we have a problem”? Thankfully NASA found a solution.

(9)  The Social Network

This film is a portrait of a start-up and there are numerous clips that could be used in an innovation course. The best scene to use might be the one where Zuckerberg has the initial idea for the product. FB was not invented in a vacuum, it stemmed from a real life human need. And we all know innovative products must fill some need.

(10)  Lorenzo’s Oil

Sometimes a person outside a given field of expertise brings a needed fresh perspective — whether the insiders like it or not! That’s what this very realistic true-story film is all about. The parents of an afflicted boy search for a solution in spite of consistent push back from doctors who say nothing can be done. The scene I’d use in a course or workshop would be the scene where the Nick Nolte character — who is not a doctor — hypothesizes at a white board. It’s classic “what if” thinking.

Honorable Mentions

  • Hudsucker Proxy. This film was mentioned by several innovation friends. I’m not so familiar but apparently the “sap” character portrayed by Tim Robbins unexpectedly invents something from nothing.
  • Seinfeld. The Kramer character in particular. Famous for wacky ideas and inventions including the coffee table book that is an actual coffee table. Also for the concept of reversal George’s trick of doing the opposite of what he thinks he should do. Use the search term “Kramer Inventions” on YouTube for a boatload of fun clips.
  • Green Acres. Mr. Haney is the ultimate goofball entrepreneur. Various clips would be great for illustrating how to make “out there” ideas workable.
  • Julie and Julia the film about the blogger who re-created Julia Child’s recipes daily for a year. It illustrates finding a personal path, creating a brand, persistence and creative discipline. It never hurts to see Amy Adams either!
  • Night Shift. It’s not profound but we get a lovely comic glimpse of how an Idea Man thinks, and records, ideas. It’s Michael Keaton’s first scene in the film and it’s hysterical. The point from an innovation perspsective is that  idea men (and women) need to always be thinking creatively — and record their ideas.
  • Star Wars. The classic “do or not do” scene with Luke and Yoda is a great illustration of making a commitment to success, it’s also about access to intuition.
  • CaddyShack. Ty (Chevy Chase) says to the caddy “be the ball Danny”. This is about being present. It’s funny, but “not thinking” is often a short cut to what your mind is really telling you.
  • The Internship. Two aging salesmen decide to join the digital age. They defy convention but end up winning the big prize. Some great points here about determination, desire, the role of outsiders and team building.
  • Spy Kids. Apparently they get super creative, I’ve not seen it, but anything Joe  Miguuez suggests is worth checking out.
  • The new Lego Movie would be worth checking out if only because it’s a highly creative premise for a film.
  • Mission Impossible. Particularly the old TV series. They always had some wonderfully creative solutions to complex challenges.
  • Twelve Angry Men. Has some great scenes related to problem clarification, convergence and tolerance for ambiguity.
  • Raiders of the  Lost Ark. The scene where Harrison Ford is confronted with an Arab swordsman is a lovely example of problem reframing.
  • Big. The premise of Big is that a young boy wishes to be all grown up and he gets his wish. A scene I like in this film is where executives are trying to invent a toy. They over-complicate things and the boy/man shoots holes in a toy that is simply not much fun. The classic clip, which demonstrates the need for an element of play, is here.
  • Caine’s Arcade. This is a video documentary but well worth it. Nine year old Caine builds an arcade parlor using common materials at hand. His ability to invent home-made games and what he does on a shoestring is outrageously cool.

image credit:

Thanks for ideas and suggestions: David Horth, Carolyn Blakeslee, Doug Stevenson, Paulette Rosch, Andy Scheurer, Kate Hammer, Indy Neogy, Gail Leicht, Steve Thacker, Ed Cohen, Paul Hobcraft, Rustin Wolfe, David Strange, Deb Giampoli, Jim Campbell, Dave Markey, Anne Steiner Manning, Sarah Miller Caldicott, Karen Van Wagenen, Ralph Kerle, Bruce Waltuck, Mark D’Alessio, Jeffrey David Zacko-Smith, Randy Haykin, Marco Marsan, Tom Stickley, and Chris Hauri.

Gregg Fraley




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  1. Braden Kelley on February 14, 2014 at 10:15 am

    I would add Chitty Chitty Bang Bang to the list. It’s all about invention and its challenges. The war against the status quo.

    Here is my article on Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’s relevance for innovators and a great video clip from the movie.

    Keep innovating!


  2. Gregg Fraley on February 14, 2014 at 5:29 pm

    Completely forgot about Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, but that’s spot on. It reminds me of Flubber as well.

    thanks Braden!


  3. Ron Henderson on February 14, 2014 at 8:46 pm

    I think Ocean’s Eleven, Catch me if you can, Now you see me, and Leverage ( TV Series, but Mad Men made it ) would also qualify. Admittedly these are about heists and cons, but they make you think in a different way … The movies mentioned are great, but touching stories about innovative people and the ideas they had may not encourage you to think about things from a different or unfamiliar perspective.

  4. Nikhil ghode on February 15, 2014 at 1:58 am

    Atlas Shrugged series is also good option.
    What you say guys?

    Nikhil Ghode

  5. kaye on February 15, 2014 at 5:00 am

    You forgot to mention women’s inspiration roles… or you don’t think they count?


  6. Lendo Soral on February 15, 2014 at 5:28 am

    Great list! I was expecting to see “Pirates of Sillicon Valley” though.

  7. Sanjay Doshi on February 15, 2014 at 7:43 am

    Dick Van Dyke acted brilliantly in chitty chitty bang bang . Believe he has written a wonderful book about his life as well . His book was launched by President Obama , if I am right !

  8. Gregg Fraley on February 15, 2014 at 2:40 pm

    Great ideas here. Ocean’s Eleven demonstrated a lot of creative thinking, as did Catch Me If You Can. Good point about women in the list…there are not so many, and Yes, of course they count. However…women play a huge role in Mad Men, which is #2, and, Lorenzo’s Oil #10 has a woman star in Susan Sarandon. Julie and Julia in the Honorable Mentions list features two women innovators, and Seinfeld featured the great Julie Louis-Dreyfus. What movies or clips would you suggest Kaye?

  9. Eric P. Rose, NPDP, MBA on February 23, 2014 at 11:05 am

    I suggest, “Flash of Genius” about the invention of the intermittent windshield wiper, it’s theft by the auto industry, and the inventor’s ultimate triumph. More at,
    Best regards,
    Eric P. Rose, NPDP, MBA

  10. M.A. Porter on February 25, 2014 at 8:47 am

    My choice of movie about innovation is “Dinner with Schmucks” with Steve Carrell, not because it is inspiring, but because there is something real about the absurdity of it.

  11. H Ramos on March 19, 2014 at 1:05 pm

    Good Bye Lenin is also a good movie about how to use creative thinking.

  12. Rikus Grobler on December 7, 2017 at 12:47 am

    I know this is an old post, but I only got to read it now. In my view the film that absolutely showcases the main issue of innovation, namely fear of change, the best, is The Croods. In the film the patriarch of a family of cave dwellers have to transform from the “old ways” into accepting the new and different, and in the end innovates to save his family. It is a wonderful film about transformation and innovation played out in the context of prehistoric man – where innovation actually begun.

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