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Top 10 most satisfying demises of 'the boss' in movies


It's tough at the top. And it's a long fall we can all enjoy...

It's tough at the top. And it's a long fall which we can all enjoy...

A good boss is a genuine treasure not only for his or her staff, but for the whole company. A leader, an innovator, a constant source of encouragement; demanding much, but leading always by example; not making promises they can't keep, and encouraging good work from his or her subordinates by being a true and genuine inspiration; giving credit and advancement to those members of the team that have made the boss look good. I hope you have had such a boss at some point in your working life. I did, once, and I shall never forget him.

And then there are the bosses that most of us get, most of the time.

The stealers of ideas; the ferocious saboteurs of those underlings who threaten to be better at their job than they are; the early-departers who haven't seen the rush-hour in years; the credit-sequesterers; the ones who view the turnover of their disillusioned staff as 'collateral damage' on the ladder to success; the most enthusiastic practitioners of passive-aggressive corporate culture, hiding ruthlessness and selfishness behind that brand of fake workplace egalitarianism that anyone who has ever seen Office Space will recognise all too well.

Here then, for your catharsis and edification - and just for a bit of cracking good fun - are the most satisfying moments in movies where karma caught up with the 'undeserving boss'...

N.B. Obviously a list like this will contain spoilers, so be warned...

10: L.A. Confidential (1997)

James Cromwell about to get his just desserts in 'LA Confidential' (1997)

When crooked 1950s LAPD captain Dudley Smith (James Cromwell) relies on his corrupting influence to get straight-laced cop Edmond Exley (Guy Pearce) to join him in a life of murder and extortion, he's obviously seen a little too much of his own bad character in his young protegé than there really is. Yet we witness a horrible pause where Pearce stands at the moral crossroads between easy-street and death row...

But fuck it, Exley shoots the crooked, murdering son-of-a-bitch anyway - and finds to his amazement that the LAPD decide it's more politically expedient to shower him with honours than send him to The Chair. Hurrah!

9: Working Girl (1988)

Sigourney Weaver hasn't got a leg to stand on in 'Working Girl' (1988)

Menial underling Tess McGill (Melanie Griffith) seems to have lucked into the employ of an encouraging and female-friendly boss in Katherine Parker (Sigourney Weaver), always 'open to new ideas' even from the lowest source, and promising that such contributions will advance Griffiths' career. However when Parker asks Tess to house-sit after she gets stranded in Europe via a skiing accident, our heroine discovers that her all-smiling boss was just about to pass off one of Griffiths' brilliant business ideas as her own.

So she assumes Parker's identity, developing both business and pleasure with high-powered hunk Jack Trainer (Harrison Ford) - until Parker returns on crutches at the last minute and exposes her as 'a mere secretary'.

Luckily Weaver subsequently lets a snide remark reveal to Ford her true nature, and he tells the conniving b**** to "get your bony ass out of my sight". Tess gets her man, a real career, and is a hell of a lot nicer to her own secretary. Awww.

And Weaver is history for underestimating the 'hired help' yet again.

8: The Dead Zone (1983)

Martin Sheen sinks lower than lizard-lint in 'The Dead Zone' (1983)

When schoolteacher Johnny Smith (Christopher Walken) wakes from a five-year coma with unwanted psychic powers, a handshake with popular and powerful presidential candidate Greg Stillson (Martin Sheen) reveals to him that he is in front of the man who is going to 'press the button' almost as soon as he's in the White House. After a lot of soul-searching, Smith finds he has no moral choice left except to assassinate Stillson and let posterity do what it will to his own reputation, in order to save the world from nuclear holocaust.

Sadly, the assassination goes wrong, but Stillson reveals his true lizard-like nature under threat of the bullets by shielding himself with an infant (right in front of a snap-happy press photographer) scuppering his chances of ever becoming the prez. Smith bites it, but then Stillson himself ends up eating his own gun too, a ruined man. Saving us from the worst boss in the history of mankind.

7: The Sixth Day (2000)

Tony Goldwyn gets f****d over by himself in 'The 6th Day' (2000)

Death means very little in Roger Spottiswoode's under-rated SF actioner. Whenever one of the trigger-happy henchmen of evil corporate boss Michael Drucker (Tony Goldwyn) gets shot, he just injects their DNA into one of the generic clone bodies his company is illegally manufacturing, re-installs their memory-patterns (which they have to back-up regularly in case their nefarious duties get them killed) and hey-presto, they're literally 'born-again'.

Billionaire Drucker is a merciless and heartless pragmatist who comes a cropper when he himself is mortally injured by Arnold Schwarzenegger towards the film's finale. His only hope of continuing life is to be 're-born' himself. At which point, he gets a nasty taste of the medicine he has been dishing out to others for years...

Ultimately all versions of Drucker are happily eliminated by Arnie & Arnie (our hero has been cloned by accident).

6: Nine to Five (1980)

Dabney Coleman wonders if it's a dream or a nightmare in Nine To Five (1980)

This was the movie that arguably ended the 'sexist 70s', with put-upon office workers Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda and Dolly Parton finally revolting against boss Dabney Coleman and his cheese-eating grin, unstoppable lechery and idea-stealing. A series of inventive fantasies about how the trio would like to dispose of Coleman culminate in a horrifying scenario where they mistakenly believe to have accidentally slipped him some rat-poison. Hearing of the scheme, Coleman's power over the office drudges threatens to be so overwhelming that they are forced to kidnap him - in the meantime making some very beneficial changes to the miserable office-routine that existed under his reign...

Yes, Working Girl (see #9) did take a fair bit from Nine To Five, but this was a more fantasy-like and cathartic movie for office drones, since it depicted the death and torment of a terrible boss over and over again in imaginative new ways - before the Coleman character is finally shipped off to Brazil to be kidnapped by tribal natives and never seen again...

5: The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

Bob Gunton gives it up at the end of 'The Shawshank Redemption' (1994)

Prison warden Samuel Norton (Bob Gunton) may start out as a civil servant in his capacity as the most ruthless and corrupt overseer ever to exploit and torture the inmates of Stephen King's fictitious New England penitentiary, but he soon becomes a boss and businessman in the literal sense. Norton's 'out-working' scheme, wherein his unpaid prison workers can undercut any local contractors, makes him a rich man both through bribes and contracts.

What a pity for him that he put his financial future - and very liberty - into the hands of numerical wiz-kid prisoner Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins), whom he systematically oppresses and exploits. Norton even has a new inmate killed who may have been capable of proving Dufresne's innocence. Nothing is going to upset this gravy train.

Except that Dufresne has been tunnelling through his cell wall with a rock-hammer for nearly two decades, and the next thing he does after escaping and stealing all of Norton's illegal gains is to post evidence of his tormentor's murderous and corrupt history to the authorities. Soon the police are banging on Norton's door; when it looks like he's going to have to swap his Shawshank office for a Shawshank cell, Norton eats his gun, never knowing - as Morgan Freeman's narrative so delightfully points out - how a downtrodden little inmate like Dufresne ever got the better of him.

4: Total Recall (1990)

An eye-watering end for Ronny Cox in 'Total Recall' (1990)

Paul Verhoeven hates authority and loves genial country-singer and occasional actor Ronny Cox, so this is the first of two Verhoeven entries that will see Cox meet his end as a 'boss-from-hell' - and this is by far the grisliest of the two.

There's no passive-aggression in Martian colony-emperor Vilos Cohaagen (Cox). He doesn't care how many of the colony's inmates get mutated in horrible ways because of his corner-cutting on radiation shielding; all he cares about is that the Martian rebels die, whether at the hands of his henchmen (led by Michael Ironside) or by starving them of oxygen. In fact Cohaagen is hiding the secret of an ancient terraforming machine left on Mars millions of years ago that could change the poisonous atmosphere to an Earth-like one; in the end, he who controls the oxygen controls the Martian economy.

Delicious irony then that Cohaagen is thrown out of the alien-machine's ignition chamber during a struggle with Arnold Schwarzenegger to prevent our hero turning the life-saving machine on. Though Rob Bottin's make-up effects aren't an accurate reflection of what sudden exposure to Martian air would be like, it certainly makes for a visceral spectacle. This would have to be reserved for the very worst of bosses...

3: Changing Lanes (2002)

Ben Affleck says Bollocks to Pollack in 'Changing Lanes' (2002)

Your murderers, they come with smiles...

A complete change of tone from Total Recall's ruthless pragmatism, as up-and-coming lawyer Gavin Banek (Ben Affleck) is led by a chance car-accident with estranged father Doyle Gibson (Samuel L. Jackson) into a ruthless game of cat-and-mouse that ultimately reveals the complete treachery of the law firm co-run by his boss and future father-in-law (Sydney Pollack). As with #10, our hero has to struggle with his conscience between the potential for either an affluent or a worthwhile life - and since he's a bit of a selfish son-of-a-bitch himself, it's a long journey.

There are few films where the closing 'action' is a simple conversation that blows the viewer away, but since Affleck's spiritual voyage has been so long, harrowing and life-transforming, Changing Lanes is able to close with such a scene...

2: Trading Places (1983)

Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche take a hit in the wallet in 'Trading Places' (1983)

If you gave a marginalised homeless man (Eddie Murphy) the opportunities and privileges of a rich Ivy-league ne'er do well (Dan Aykroyd), would he do just as well in the role? Is it character or opportunity that breeds success, nature or nurture...?

It's not just the old-school racism that makes the Duke brothers' (Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche) wager so despicable in John Landis's 1983 comedy hit; it's not even the Nazi-like inhumanity of choosing 'one of their own' as part of the experiment; more than anything, it's the fact that these two old billionaire codgers were prepared to ruin two lives for a bet valuing one dollar.

At the conclusion of Trading Places, when Aykroyd and Murphy finally settle their differences in order to take the Duke Brothers to the cleaners at the stock-market (with the help of amiable hooker Jamie Lee Curtis), the age of the 'yuppie horror story' had begun; the second half of the 1980s was starting early; and downtrodden desk-jockeys everywhere cheered.

1: Robocop (1987)

Ronny Cox meets yet another painful firing scenario in 'Robocop' (1987)

By the time Robocop emerged, the 'yuppie' movie was an active and marketable trend; while the American dream had never seemed so open to all, economic realities meant that there was plenty of potential to hook the 'blue-collar backlash' in cinemas.

Paul Verhoeven brought the 'working man' the biggest cheer of the decade when evil and murderously ambitious OCP executive Dick Jones (Ronny Cox again - and he's such a nice guy in real life) gets his come-uppance from much-abused police-cyborg Peter Weller, due to a software loophole that Jones had not anticipated when he had 'Robocop' programmed never to harm him...

Not included:
The entrapment of Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) in Wall Street (1987) - because it was such a weak ending to the movie.

Office Space
(1999) - sad to say, none of the bosses actually died in the fire at the end of the movie, and insurance would have covered the damage.

Swimming With Sharks
(1994) - because ultimately boss-from-hell Kevin Spacey is right, in a cynical and sad way, and even his tormenting underling Frank Whaley comes to admit it.

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#1 Brilliant... Gabriel_Ruzin 2010-11-26 02:44
Not kidding you - the first two instances I thought of immediately were the Duke Brothers and Dick Jones. Loved the list, mate.
#2 There are no 'good' bosses Carl S 2011-06-08 18:43
My addition:

On the Waterfront - While it would have been nice to see Terry Malloy finish his working over of Johnny Friendly, it was more profound and satisfying to see Friendly utterly humiliated in front of and by the very people he bullied.

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