Up in the Air (Rex features/Shutterstock)

    ‘You’re fired!’: the best movies where characters get the chop

    30 June 2020

    Firing has never been more popular – from Keir Starmer’s lightning bolt dismissal of Rebecca Long-Bailey from the Shadow Cabinet to the growing list of celebrities who have lost jobs due to problematic comments or actions unearthed from their past. Here, we take a look at movies where getting the boot drives (or at least aids) the plot.

    Many protagonists rebound from being ‘let go’, but others not so much – as we shall see.

    Batman Begins (2005), Amazon (To rent or buy)

    The first picture in Christopher Nolan’s ground-breaking trilogy saw a satisfying piece of symmetric sacking.

    In Bruce Wayne’s absence, ambitious WE CEO William Earle (the late Rutger Hauer) has fired the already demoted science boffin Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman).

    But when young Bruce returns to take control of Wayne Enterprises, Earle finds that the tables have swiftly been turned:

    Wanted (2008) – Amazon Prime

    Another comic book adaptation, this secret assassin society story finds Wesley Gibson (James McAvoy) discover his inheritance and pre-empt his sacking with a broadside against his nasty boss Janice (Lorna Scott).

    Oh, and administer some payback to ostensible best buddy Barry (Chris Pratt) who’s been carrying on with Wesley’s unfaithful girlfriend Cathy (Kristen Hager).

    Burn After Reading (2008), Amazon (To rent or buy)

    The Coen brothers’ spy farce is a mite too pleased with itself, but contains a memorable scene where John Malkovich’s querulous CIA Analyst Ozzie Cox is being side-lined by The Company:

    At a breezy 97 minutes the picture doesn’t overstay its welcome and the Coen’s stellar contact book provides a top-notch cast that also includes George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Richard Jenkins, and J.K. Simmons.

    The mid-to late 1990s saw a spate of movies dealing with the subject, here’s a few that are definitely worth checking out.

    Wolf (1994), iTunes (To rent or buy)

    With the help of an uncredited Elaine May (Heaven Can Wait, Primary Colors), the script to Wolf elevates what could have been a by-the-numbers werewolf picture into sharp workplace satire.

    After being bitten by a wolf in the woods of Vermont, publisher Will Randall (Jack Nicholson) finds his mojo returning.

    To the detriment of former mentee Stewart (James Spader) who’s been both bedding Randall’s wife Charlotte (Kate Nelligan) and conniving to take his job.

    Nice chap.

    Jerry Maguire (1996), iTunes (To rent or buy)

    Rather a marmite experience if you’re not a Tom Cruise fan, with the actor playing the titular character, a rather bumptious sports agent who finds himself on the outs with his employers.

    Colleague Bob Sugar (Jay Mohr) brings the hammer down on Jerry in this brief scene above.

    And this being Cruise, he uses the power of positive thinking to set himself up on his own.

    Office Space (1999), iTunes (To rent or buy)

    Mike Judge’s Office Space has long been accorded the status of cult classic.

    A workplace comedy where downtrodden employees fight back, aided by a half-completed confidence boosting hypnotism session and a scheme to skim cash from the company using a plot device cheerfully pilfered from Superman III (1983).

    Here we see business consultants The Bobs (John C McGinley and Paul Willson) discuss downsizing Initech with the supremely annoying VP Bill Lumbergh (Gary Cole) and colleague Portwood (Joe Bays).

    For other 90s pictures with some classic scenes of employees being canned see also Leaving Las Vegas(1996), Fight Club and American Beauty (both 1999).

    Returning to the 2000s/2010s for our final trio of movies.

    In Good Company (2004), Amazon (To rent or buy)

    Paul Weitz (American Pie, About a Boy) wrote and directed this comedy-drama on the theme of young bucks hustling for the jobs of their elders, in this case Topher Grace and Dennis Quaid.

    As you may expect, things don’t quite work out the way you may think, with the characters emerging as far more nuanced than you would expect from the writer of Nutty Professor II: The Klumps.

    In Good Company boasts a great cast that also includes Scarlett Johansson, Clark Gregg, Selma Blair, Phillip Baker Hall, and Malcolm McDowell.

    Everything Must Go (2010), Amazon (To rent or buy)

    An atypical role for funny man Will Ferrell and one that most probably accounted for its box office failure.

    Adapted from a 1978 Ray Carver short story (‘Why Don’t You Dance?’), Ferrell stars as an alcoholic salesman fired for a presumed drunken incident with a female fellow employee, who then slashes his boss’s car tires.

    Not a smart move.

    Locked out of his house by his exasperated soon-to-be-ex-wife, Ferrell lives on his front lawn and proceeds to hold a yard sale, all the while attempting to reassess his life.

    So not exactly a wacky romp in the vein of Anchorman (2004), Stepbrothers (2008) and his current Netflix movie Eurovision: The Story of Fire Saga (2020).

    Up in The Air (2009), iTunes (To rent or buy)

    Perhaps the St Peters of movies about sacking staff, virtually entire movie is dedicated to George Clooney’s role as a Ryan Bingham, a ‘corporate downsizer’ with a special line in patter to console his unlucky quarry.

    Clooney’s character is not without empathy and he is pretty successful in getting those up for the chop to accept their fate, although his main preoccupation is the goal of accumulating ten million air miles through his flights criss-crossing the US.

    A bittersweet tale, one which may become painful viewing during the next few months of likely Covid 19 fuelled unemployment.

    Honourable mentions must go to earlier movies that fall outside the range of this piece, including the classic Glengarry Glen Ross (1992), Falling Down (1993), and the original Fun with Dick and Jane (1977).