Two thumbs up: Industry-themed movies worth a watch

Two thumbs up: Industry-themed movies worth a watch

March 27, 2024
Chief editor Tom Wilk argues that the Oscars should reward more movies about industry.

The Academy Awards wrapped up in March, and the editors of Plant Services and New Equipment Digest had movies about the industrial workplace on our minds. Turns out there’s fewer than we thought, as least when it comes to films that rely on plant or industrial work to drive the central plot.

Some that came to mind which focus explicitly on plant life are Norma Rae (1979), about the effort by one woman to improve working conditions in a North Carolina cotton mill; Gung Ho (1986), a comedy about the takeover of an American car plant by a Japanese corporation, and the ensuing clash of working cultures between Japanese management and American frontline workers; and The Company Men (2010), which looks at the way stereotypes about white collar and blue collar work can get in the way of productivity.

As for documentaries, The Last Truck (2009) documents the closing of a General Motors assembly plant in Moraine, OH during the Great Recession, and the movie captures the anxiety and dread that so many of us remember from that time. Amazingly, American Factory (2019) showcases the re-opening of that exact factory, but this time under the ownership of a Chinese glass manufacturer. The latter film is famous for the high degree of access to the plant and its workers, and captures many of the tensions that emerge when local workforces adjust to competing in a more global economy.

For our Oscars Extravaganza podcast though, the editors chose the following four movies for discussion:

  • Apollo 13 (1995) – a story of three engineers trapped in a machine that is failing in unexpected ways, and their race to get home before it fails completely
  • Ex Machina (2014) – a tale of a robot that turns the Turing Test back on its creators to achieve not only sentience but freedom
  • Extract (2009) – a Mike Judge comedy told from the perspective of a plant owner who is as fed up with the daily grind as his employees are
  • Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971) – the story of an OSHA workplace nightmare, presented in the form of a light-hearted musical (plus one terrifying boat ride).

Which industrial- or maintenance-centered movies left an impression on you? Email me with your thoughts, and we’ll do a sequel to the podcast later this year.

Listen to the podcast episode below

About the Author

Thomas Wilk | editor in chief

Thomas Wilk joined Plant Services as editor in chief in 2014. Previously, Wilk was content strategist / mobile media manager at Panduit. Prior to Panduit, Tom was lead editor for Battelle Memorial Institute's Environmental Restoration team, and taught business and technical writing at Ohio State University for eight years. Tom holds a BA from the University of Illinois and an MA from Ohio State University

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