In this article I list the best documentaries explaining big business problems and frauds. All of these documentaries or docuseries have a strong relation to business and economy, although some of them also feature some of our most pressing problems such social inequality and unethical use of personal data.
However, for the most entrepreneurial-minded they also represent great business opportunities. Social entrepreneurship, sustainable food production as well as fraud prevention and fraud detection are just a few to mention.
I have embedded the official trailer of each documentary. If there are any other great similar documentaries that I haven’t listed here, please let me know in the comments.
Do you know where your food comes from? Do you know what’s in your food? Do you know how it was made?
This is one of my favorite docuseries I have ever watched. It goes really deep into the global food industry, individual companies and even individual persons who have suffered as part of the supply chains or as a customer. There are currently two seasons of episodes available that focus on several different types of foods including fish, avocados and wine, among others.
2. The Great Hack
“Data is the most valuable asset on Earth.” And it’s kind of creepy when your own data is used as a weapon against yourself.
This documentary deals with how Cambridge Analytica alongside some tech giants such as Facebook collected and used people’s personal data in an unethical way to influence their voting behavior with focus on the US presidential elections in 2016. It follows the journey of a few whistle blowers and “data activists” who realized the unethical development and wanted to put a stop on it.
3. The Social Dilemma
Like The Great Hack, it deals with users’ data from social media. Yet, its focus is more on tech companies’ business models in terms of how they shape our minds, make money with targeted advertising and cause our addiction to the virtual world and delusion of reality. It features lots of big names from Silicon Valley companies such as Pinterest, Facebook and Google.
This is a really eye-opening documentary. However, it’s good to keep in mind that there are more opinions than just that of the people featured in the film. Here’s how Facebook responded to the film: “Rather than offer a nuanced look at technology, it gives a distorted view of how social media platforms work to create a convenient scapegoat for what are difficult and complex societal problems.“
4. A New Capitalism
While many of these documentaries listed here focus on the USA, this one deals with other big countries such as Brazil, India and Mexico. It explains how capitalism has caused social inequality and how entrepreneurs are tackling this problem. A must watch for all social entrepreneurs.
5. The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley
It’s quite amazing when someone is able to build a unicorn company. It’s even more amazing when someone builds a company that is valued at over $9 billion – based on a product that is literally a lie.
Elizabeth Holmes was supposed to be the new Steve Jobs. She built Theranos, a now-defunct health tech company that claimed to have invented a blood testing technology that would revolutionize the whole industry. The documentary follows this fraudulent journey, Elizabeth Holmes and her colleagues who at some point started to wonder how all that was possible.
6. Dirty Money
It’s unbelievable how greedy some people become. And it’s incredible what that greed causes them to do. You would think that these stories about politicians who cause a huge debt for their country but use the money to throw parties and build their own wealth don’t happen anymore. But no.
Dirty Money is a docuseries that goes very deep into the fraudulent practices of governments and corporations scandals. The episodes from two seasons feature Volkswagen’s diesel scandal, the laundering and illegal mining behind gold trade, and Wells Fargo’s unethical and ruthless practices that fueled its growth into one of the biggest banks of the world.
Minimalism doesn’t mean you give up everything you own but that you own only what really matters and makes you happy. Key is to keep asking yourself whether those things are really important to you or not. Do they add great value to your life? Do you really need them? Minimalism relates strongly to anti-consumerism, sharing economy and the Mari Kondo -like organizing, and even to bricolage that I’ve written an article about.
The documentary describes how the hundreds, and even thousands of ads we see every day encourage us to consume things. They teach us from early on how life is about buying and owning things. Fortunately, many people have awoken and realized this. Some of them are spreading the word.
8. Betting on Zero
This is a really interesting (and shocking!) documentary from which we can learn a lot about pyramid schemes and questionable financial investment tactics including shorting and lobbying.
It follows the story of Herbalife and the investor billionaire Bill Ackman, who bets on the collapse of the company. He expects Herbalife to go down due to their unethical business practices, especially the pyramid scheme, and takes a billion dollar short position (borrowing and selling shares before actually buying them for a lower price).
9. Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room
We all know the Enron scandal. Or we’ve all at least heard of it. This documentary explains what happened exactly and how Enron became a well-known example of willful corporate accounting fraud and corruption. Enron has been cited as the biggest audit failure of all times, and it led to Enron’s bankruptcy and dissolution of its biggest audit advisor Arthur Andersen.
10. FYRE: The Greatest Party That Never Happened
Talking about business problems and frauds. And glamorous parties with supermodels, luxurious lodgings, champagne, sunshine and the finest cuisine. That was all promised, and all that was missing.
The party actually took place, after all. But it’s kind of hilarious how someone promises a luxury music festival, the party of the decade, in the Bahamas, takes people’s money, and delivers such a crappy event that it ends up being the subject of a whole documentary. There’s a lot to be learnt from this film; how to promote and organize events, how to treat people, how to do business. And how not to. Although this is very entertaining, the saddest aspect is that the people who suffered the most, were the local Bahamians.
These are in my opinion the 10 best documentaries to watch if you are interested in big business problems and financial frauds. Or business opportunities.
Finally, some honorable mentions include Saving Capitalism, American Factory, Food Inc., Sour Grapes and Madden: The Steve Madden Story. Of course, there are also many other documentaries that talk about our current problems and some of the biggest frauds but that are maybe less related to business and economy.
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