EDITORIAL: Movies that epitomize the American Dream (Parts 1 & 2)

Over where my blog movie reviews get published on Examiner.com, I was presented with an editorial project opportunity dealing with the topic of the "American Dream."  The suggested angles pertained to how the American Dream presently relates in the many real-life sections (Home, Job, Finance, Parenting, Education, etc.) that Examiner.com reports on.  You know me.  When I heard the topic, I immediately thought about the many movies that embody the spirit of the American Dream.  It was an angle in the entertainment realm of Examiner.com that I thought wasn't touched on, so I took it upon myself to gather a few angles myself.  From the immigrants of Coming to America to the self-made man of Citizen Kane, you'll see that more movies than you think end up embodying the American Dream.  So many, in fact, that I had to break this editorial into sections.  Enjoy!


The United States of America has long been labeled as a land of opportunity, where a man has the chance to be something great and do something great.  This country is known for its ingenuity and the men and women who brought their genius to the world, thanks to the democracy and freedom they worked in.  Some did it for the money and others did it for the betterment of society.  Either way, they made that version of the American Dream come true.  Here are some movies that have shown real and fictional examples of ever-striving self-made men:

Citizen Kane (1941)-- Frequently recognized as the greatest American film ever made, Citizen Kane is Hollywood's best example of the self-made man.  It too is arguably the best interpretation of the American Dream in any form, above any of the other movies you will see on this or any of my editorial parts in this series.  It starts and ends with this Orson Welles classic of a Hearst-like newspaper magnate.  If you've never seen it, make it a point to do so.  (trailer)

Tucker: The Man and His Dream (1988)-- While nowhere near Charles Foster Kane, director Francis Ford Coppola and star Jeff Bridges review the true story of Preston Tucker and his challenging of the Big Three automakers with his own car line.  (trailer)

Flash of Genius (2008)-- Staying in the car department, Greg Kinnear plays the inventor of intermittent wipers and his legal battle against Ford for credit of his innovation.  (trailer)

Forrest Gump (1994)-- Where Citizen Kane shows a man completely driven to American success, Forrest Gump plays a man who is incredibly successful almost by sheer coincidence and accident, yet equally regarded as an American classic.  (trailer)

The Aviator (2004)-- Director Martin Scorsese has several movies that fit this editorial project and here's the first.  The story of Howard Hughes's rise as an innovator and filmmaker to aviation pioneer is a perfect fit here.  Includes a great grown-up performance by Leonardo DiCaprio as well.  (trailer)

Giant (1956)-- Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor, and James Dean pre-date TV's Dallas by 25 years for its rich impact of the oil industry in Texas (and a not-to-subtle racism of Mexican Americans).  (trailer)

There Will Be Blood (2007)-- Far more sinister than Giant, but rooting even earlier in American's oil boom, is Daniel Day-Lewis's Oscar-winning portrayal of one turn-of-the-century man's ruthless drive for wealth above previous poverty.  (trailer)


While the idea of the self-made man is commonly all about business and financial success, not all stories of financial success and the quest for promised American riches surround genuine self-made men.  Some have to achieve the American Dream by beating the system, climbing the corporate ladder, or, in some cases, stepping on the backs of others and other not-so-nice ways.  These movies are a step under those in Part 1, but just as well-matched in their own way.

The Sting (1973)-- I have a "rising power" crime category coming later in this editorial special, but the crafty con men of The Sting aren't out to rule the world.  Paul Newman, Robert Redford, and their nose flicks just want some embarrassing revenge and money for their trouble.  You could loosely throw Ocean's 11 (and its lesser sequels) in here too as an honorable mention.  (trailer)

The Pursuit of Happyness (2004)-- The dramatized true story of Chris Spencer and the determination by which Will Smith plays him tells not only a great father story, but a very good corporate ladder story.  It's a great modern example of the American Dream, right there in a layer under the self-made men mentioned earlier.  (trailer)

Wall Street (1987) and Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010)-- "Greed is good" chimes Michael Douglas as the ruthless Gordon Gecko.  Despite his methods and fall, the man achieved what he was looking for and is the chief example of the 1980s dream of financial success.  (trailer)

Cocktail (1988)-- All the poor guy wants to do is open a bar, despite his night classes off the heels of Wall Street from the year before.  I guess it helps that he's Tom Cruise and he follows "Coughlin's Law."  (trailer)

Working Girl (1988)-- Same year as Cocktail and follows Melanie Griffith's inspired secretary.  The whole decade of the 1980s should thank Wall Street and can pretty much occupy their own category.  (trailer)

The Secret of My Success (1987)-- See what I mean?  (trailer)

Pretty Woman (1990)-- The excess of the 80s even carried over into this well-loved Hollywood fairy tale that opened the 1990s.  Prostitution or not, it's a perfect movie for the American Dream.  (trailer)

Office Space (1999)-- However, the greed of that decade gave way to monotony, cubicles, and computers in the 90s.  This comedy of defiance to the daily grind completely fits this theme, even on its smaller scale.  (trailer)

Boiler Room (2000)-- The internet age got its own Wall Street with the underrated Boiler Room starring Giovanni Ribisi, Ben Afflect, and Vin Diesel and showing how Wall Street was Grandpa driving his Cadillac compared to the young movers-and-shakers of today's information age.  (trailer)

The Social Network (2010)-- However, neither Charles Foster Kane, Gordon Gecko, Vivian Ward, Peter Gibbons, or anyone else in or out of any movie could have envisioned what computers and the infant idea of social media would turn into.  Bordering on self-made man territory, the rough and friendship-tearing journey Mark Zuckerberg takes to create Facebook fits this theme to a T.  Funny how the youngest billionaire in the world's history developed a generation-defining invention all to reconnect with an ex-flame.  That cold final scene could be the "Rosebud" for a new century.  (trailer)

NEXT PARTS: The American Dream through rising power and the American Dream created by immigrants and pioneers.