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Ten Movie Offices Worse Than Yours

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If things aren’t always hunky-dory in your workplace – and heck, mice made off with our printer last week –spare a thought for the wage-slaves of movieland. They do the thankless tasks while enduring sociopathic bosses who think lunch is for wimps, ideas are for stealing and butts are for kissing, not sitting. They’ll probably need you to “go ahead and come in on Saturday” too. Here’s ten companies that won’t appear on any Great Places To Work list. Warning: contains weirdly high levels of Kevin Spacey.

Sector: Insurance
Boss: Jeff Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray)
Employee: CC Baxter (Jack Lemmon)

A sweet-and-sour masterpiece with five o’clock shadow on its face and a resignation note jammed in its pocket, The Apartment shows what working at Billy Wilder’s Sterling Cooper might have been like (clue: not fun). A corporate monster drawn by the master’s acidic pen, Sheldrake (MacMurray) treats Jack Lemmon’s luckless CC Baxter not just as his personal schleb but as his personal pimp, availing himself of Baxter’s apartment for his flings while the poor man shivers on a park bench. Lift operator Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine) – one of the fling-ees – fares little better. In fact, we’re not sure what they’re ‘consolidating’ at Consolidated Life but it sure as heck isn’t happy points. You get the feeling Wilder wouldn’t have enjoyed a desk job.

HR warning:

Sector: General corporate
Boss: Chad (Aaron Eckhart)
Employee: Christine (Stacy Edwards)

Even in this rogue’s gallery of hateful offices, this one is particularly gruesome: the mean Surallan to the others’ milder Nick Hewers. In fairness, getting fired is a happier fate than being stuck in the same boardroom as misogynistic scumbags Chad (Eckhart) and Howard (Malloy) for any length of time. This is the sad fate of deaf PA Stacy Edwards, who’s bullied, tormented and emotionally trussed-up by their sexist scheming. The archly manipulative Chad – Aaron Eckhart warming up nicely for Two-Face – is the shithead-in-chief, a man whose repellent values are matched only by the wilful ignorance of his workplace. Neil LaBute has lots of things to say here about work, sexism and insecurity, and none of them would make you want to skip to your desk.

HR warning:

Sector: Cinema
Boss: Buddy Ackerman (Kevin Spacey)
Employee: Guy (Frank Whaley)

Despite the film's title, getting into paddling pool with a pair of underfed hammerheads is infinitely preferable to answering the phone for movie mogul Buddy Ackerman (Spacey). This incisor-sharp satire of working (mal)practices is a busman’s holiday for any employment lawyer, showing the dark side of the movie business and some interesting new uses for a pad of A4. “Do not apologise,” blasts Ackerman at his long-suffering PA, “it’s a sign of weakness”. Other signs of weakness involve screening Buddy’s calls, not screening Buddy’s calls, taking lunch (“Buddy doesn’t believe in lunch”), bringing coffee with Sweet 'n' Low instead of Equal… in fact, everything. The second act sees roles reverse like a Bret Easton Ellis version of The Servant. Still pretty ugly, though.

HR warning:

Sector: Software
Boss: Bill Lumbergh (Gary Cole)
Employee: Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston)

We could all learn a thing or two from Ron Livingston’s deeply relaxed software engineer Peter Gibbons. After a hypotherapy session goes awry he’s left in a trance-like state that helps him rise above all the sanitised cubicles, Hawaiian shirt days, missing staplers and endless TPS reports – when he bothers to show up at all. “Looks like you’ve been missing a lot of work lately,” notes a consultant of white-collar schleb Peter Gibbons’ timesheets. “I wouldn’t say I’ve been missing it, Bob,” Gibbons zens back. He’s the lucky one, though. Workmates Samir Nagheenanajar, Milton Waddams and Michael Bolton (“no relation”) still have to cope with the hellish Bill Lumbergh (Cole) and his weekend working schedules. "Yeah. Mmm... kay?"

HR warning:

Sector: Fashion publishing
Boss: Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep)
Employee: Andrea Sachs (Anne Hathaway)

Fashion publishing’s capo di capi Anna Wintour got gently parodied in this high-heeled rom-com – although we’d hope for her staff’s sake she’s a bit nicer than Miranda Priestly. Meryl Streep’s editor-in-chief is cattier than Garfield’s litter tray (albeit more fragrant) and rules her magazine, Runway, with a manicured fist and a sunglasses collection that would shame an African dictator. She’s even got a nasty senior assistant (Emily Blunt) to play Salacious Crumb to her Jabba. What saves Runway from Room 101 of movie hellpits is the calming presence of Stanley Tucci (because who doesn’t want to work with Stanley Tucci?) and the fact that Priestly might just be a big softy after all.

HR warning:

Sector: Chemicals
Boss: Bobby Pellitt (Colin Farrell)
Employee: Kurt Buckman (Jason Sudeikis)

The clue is in the title here. None of the three workplaces on display in this gleefully un-PC comedy would pass muster in any sensible HR test, with levels of sexual harassment that would have even Benny Hill fast-forward-running to the nearest employment lawyer. Kevin Spacey – a reliably nasty employer in an array of movies – repeats the trick here, but Colin Farrell’s cokehead lunatic steals the movie with a display of corporate chicanery so shameless, so egregious, he’d get a promotion at Barclays. When he’s not snorted Bolivia’s finest, he’s planning to deluge the place with toxic waste as part of his get-rich-quick management strategy. Terrible office, terrible man, amazing hairpiece.

HR warning:

Sector: Insurance
Boss: Gilbert Huph (Wallace Shaun)
Employee: Bob Parr (Craig T. Nelson)

Leaving the superhero life behind is tough going, but it’s even tougher when you work at a corporate Sarlacc pit like Insuricare. Bob Parr – aka Mr. Incredible – trudges wearily into its Metroville headquarters every day, cram himself into an office far too small to accommodate his super-bulk, deal with the endless nitpicking of bureaucratic boss Gilbert Huph and put up with the tedium of the insurance business, all while trying not to sharpen his pencils into oblivion. None of this, needless to say, ends particularly well. Huph finds himself in traction, Insuricare ends up with a shortage of pencils and Bob ends up on the dole queue.

HR warning:

Sector: “Consolidated Companies”
Boss: Franklin Hart, Jr. (Dabney Coleman)
Employees: Violet Newstead (Lily Tomlin), Judy Bernly (Jane Fonda), Doralee Rhodes (Dolly Parton)

Here’s an Instagram snapshot of ’80s workplace hell, a place where the Filofaxes are well-thumbed, the carpet is shagpiled and the fax machines are usually emitting a bird-exploding screech. Harold And Maude writer Colin Higgins pens a terrifying a velour-carpeted citadel of maleness into which Dolly Parton ventures as the new PA to executive Franklin Hart (Coleman). Unfortunately he turns out to be a chauvinist dinosaur prone to saying things like “clients prefer to deal with men when it comes to figures” who hails from the bottom-pinching school of staff appraisal. Parton and co resorts to kidnapping and minor torture to turn the tables, and who can blame them?

HR warning:

Sector: Real estate
Boss: John Williamson (Kevin Spacey)
Employee: Shelley "The Machine" Levene (Jack Lemmon)

If David Mamet nailed the unique hell of an unforgiving office in his ‘80s play, his acid big-screen adaptation raised (i.e. lowered) the bar for workplace bastardry. Only closers survive in John Williamson’s (Spacey, again) real-estate office, which is bad news for Shelley Levene (Lemmon). Lemmon’s pitcher was once known as ‘the Machine’ but he’s now on a streak so cold it’d make Scrat shiver. Williamson preys on weakness like a vulture and when he’s too busy picking his teeth, he calls in head-office honcho Alec Baldwin to storm in and say things like “third prize, you're fired!” to gee up the troops. The office swear jar could bail out Greece and Spain and have change left over for a cup of coffee. Except, of course, “coffee is for closers”.

HR warning:

Sector: Mergers & Acquisitions
Boss: Katharine Parker (Sigourney Weaver)
Employee: Tess McGill (Melanie Griffith)

A hymnal to Wall Street from the time when people were still writing hymns about it, Working Girl is the rags-to-extreme-riches tale of stockbroker’s PA Tess McGill (Griffiths) and her attempts to make it in investment banking. OK, so Griffinomics involves buying companies, getting it on with Harrison Ford and using enough hairspray to blast a hole in the Ozone Layer, but heck, she’s a whole bunch nicer that her boo-hiss boss Katharine Parker (Weaver). Anything goes at a place which tolerates ideas being stolen, women getting sleazed over (Kevin Spacey, again) and backs stabbed, all in the name of baron greenback. On a positive note, no-one seems to be selling mortgage-backed securities here.

HR warning: