For many meeting professionals and planners right now, social distancing policies and governmental stay-at-home orders have checklists and Excel spreadsheets running a little low. Enter a gaggle of reliable, grab-the-popcorn movies that will remind you of the good ‘ole days. From insurance conferences and pharmaceutical launches to trade shows and conventions—across genres like romantic comedy, drama and thriller—these films offer plenty of meetings ideas to keep planners thinking outside of the box for when (yes, when!) conferences are back up and running post-coronavirus outbreak.
Warning: Some movie clips have questionable language and scenes. Proceed with caution before clicking to watch.
1. “Old School” (2003)
Luke Wilson (who plays Mitch “The Godfather” Martin) opens the movie at a Real Estate Lawyers of America conference. The scene is complete with keynote speakers, name badges and attendees trying to sneak off and catch earlier flights. There’s even a nod to two free drink tickets for the meet-and-greet later. To top it off, the Marriott logo is featured prominently on a wall banner. Can you say “keynote sponsorship?” Later, Martin joins a fraternity, so there’s a moment where SMERF planners can picture planning a fraternity reunion or conference with the crazy boys of Lambda Epsilon Omega.
2. “The Big Short” (2015)
Featuring a cast of Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling and Brad Pitt, this film—which is a dramatic retelling of America's 2008 recession—is a fit for financial event planners. Watch for the American Securitization Forum in Caesars Palace Las Vegas Hotel and Casino in the movie. If only Pitt and Gosling could attend your next conference. #Amirite
3. “Up in the Air” (2009)
From conferences to conventions—including a capturing speech by Ryan Bingham (George Clooney)—this movie is a must for meeting profs who love putting on conferences and travel for a living. The pro-packing moment and airport scenes are some of our favorites. This pick is for planners who live by Bingham’s words “To know me is to fly with me.”
4. “Jerry Maguire” (1996)
This classic romance film starring Tom Cruise kicks off with Cruise at the fictional company's annual business conference. It’s where he writes the infamous “mission statement” but even more relatable for meeting planners and conference organizers is the NFL Draft trade show floor he walks through. That, or even the scene where his fiancé, Avery, is putting folders on every spot before the event begins.
5. “Draft Day” (2014)
Speaking of the NFL Draft, Kevin Costner—Mr. Sports Movie—plays a fictional general manager in the throes of football’s largest events. This year’s draft will be a made-for-TV event, so watching this will be a great way to look ahead to business as usual down the road when planning large gatherings. We can’t help but chuckle at the reference to “some walkie-talkied individual” as a way to refer to the events staff.
6. “Love and Other Drugs” (2010)
After attending a Pfizer training program, Jake Gyllenhaal’s character goes to work for the company and tries to get doctors to prescribe several drugs to patients. After Gyllenhaal’s character meets Anne Hathaway, (Maggie Murdock) he asks her to go to a Chicago medical conference with him. (How romantic!) She ends up at a Parkinson's discussion group across the street and is moved by the people and their stories. After the convention, Murdock tells Randall how much she loves him. (Awwwww.)
7. “Cedar Rapids” (2011)
At an insurance industry convention in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Ed Helms (who plays insurance agent Tim Lippe) stays in a junior suite in the conference hotel, attends the opening reception with obnoxious attendees (cue John C. Reilly with a name badge) and meets fellow insurance agents who end up having a scavenger hunt put on by the meeting planner (teambuilding anyone?).
8. “Comic-Con: Episode IV - A Fans Hope” (2012)
Documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock interviews geek icons Stan Lee and Joss Whedon in this look at one of the country’s biggest pop-culture gatherings. Remember that Comic-Con is essentially one giant product launch, (corporate planners!) especially as used by Marvel.
9. “Galaxy Quest” (1999)
For better or worse, “Star Trek” conventions set the standard for specialty meeting planners. While “Trekkies” is a good documentary focused on the famous events, “Galaxy Quest” is a sci-fi classic movie spoofing the convention/geekdom culture in a loving way. The film is bookended with a pitch-perfect convention and sandwiched in is action true to “Star Trek” and its relatives. The cast is tough to beat: Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Richman, Tony Shaloub and Sam Rockwell. (Start this YouTube clip at 1:12 in to get the convention vibe—and wow entrance—you’re seeking.)
10. “FYRE” (2019)
You saw the real-life planners of the biggest event disaster of recent memory at Connect in Louisville—now re-watch the nightmare play out. From transportation and lodging don’ts to incredible messaging and marketing do’s… every planner can get something out of this cautionary tale. Wouldn’t it be nice to quarantined on a remote island though? (Not this one, of course.)
11. “The Manchurian Candidate” (1962 and 2004)
Before coronavirus, the presidential election was going to be the biggest news event of the year. Before we elect a leader, there are always political conventions. While we don’t know if those will go virtual or not, the action leading up to the conventions in both versions of the film is taut and accurately shows the high-stakes nature of the events. The Denzel Washington version is not bad, but the Frank Sinatra movie is the real keeper. (Angela Lansbury co-stars and looks almost as she does now!) If you go to the 2:08 mark, you can see how a political gathering may have been done almost 60 years ago.