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TARIK KIZILKAYA/istockphoto

Brutal Corporate Fails You Can Watch on TV

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young woman watching television
TARIK KIZILKAYA/istockphoto

Business Casualties

There's something deeply satisfying about watching a corporation or business venture fail, especially when it's due to the greedy founder getting caught in lies that took advantage of the little guy. But even when a company flounders for reasons beyond their control, there's usually something to be learned from the failure — maybe a reflection on American values or a hard look at industry norms. If you're looking for some primo summer streaming content, here are a dozen corporate downfall documentaries and biopics.


Related: These Companies Had to Pay Massive Sums to Settle Lawsuits Against Them


Abercrombie & Fitch
Abercrombie & Fitch by Choo Yut Shing (CC BY-NC-SA)

'White Hot: The Rise & Fall of Abercrombie & Fitch' (2022)

Where to watch: Netflix

In the world of the late 1990s Abercrombie & Fitch advertising, "all-American" meant white, clean-cut, and chiseled. This documentary film explores how that troubling image wasn't just limited to branding, but also led to discrimination lawsuits, hostile workplaces, and T-shirts with racist slogans for sale. Critics call the film "a reflection on what we, as a society, allowed to happen."


Related: Companies and People Who Lost Their Worth in the Past Decade


The Dropout
Hulu

'The Dropout' (2022)

Where to watch: Hulu

"The Dropout" is an eight-episode miniseries based on the wildly popular podcast of the same name about the rise and fall of Elizabeth Holmes and her company Theranos. She amazingly built an entire health care company around claims of a revolutionary blood testing system, and convinced venture capitalists, billionaires, and government officials to give her millions to do it. An investigative journalism piece eventually brought her lies crashing down, and she was convicted of criminal fraud. Critics say that while the show is a little uneven at first, actress Amanda Seyfried captures Holmes' essence well. 


Related: The Most Notorious Corporate Scammers in U.S. History


Downfall: The Case Against Boeing on Netflix
Netflix

'Downfall: The Case Against Boeing' (2022)

Where to watch: Netflix

Though Boeing isn't exactly a failed company, it was rocked with a scandal that cost hundreds of lives after two 737 Max jets fell out of the sky in 2018 and 2019. The crash's fault was eventually revealed to be a flawed design of an anti-stall system that the company failed to test or train pilots on properly. "Downfall" presents the "facts with a cold, furious clarity"  that suits the subject and contextualizes the company's culpability in the larger context of corporate greed.

Bad Vegan: Fame. Fraud. Fugitives.
Netflix

'Bad Vegan: Fame. Fraud. Fugitives.' (2022)

Where to watch: Netflix

Truth really is stranger than fiction in this documentary about the owner of a vegan restaurant in New York who married a con artist who convinced her to steal millions of dollars from her employees and business so he could, among other things, make her dog immortal — no joke. It's a four-episode docuseries that tells the story through the restaurant owner's eyes and doesn't focus on the fraudster, allowing the viewer to determine just how sympathetic they want to be.


Related: Famous CEOs Who Ended Up Behind Bars


Woodstock 99: Peace, Love, and Rage
HBO

'Woodstock 99: Peace, Love, and Rage' (2021)

Where to watch: HBO Max

The first installment of the six-part documentary series "Music Box," "Woodstock 99" is a feature-length film that looks back at the disaster of the 1999 Woodstock music festival. Blinded by peace-and-love nostalgia of the original fest, the version festival turned into a violent event riddled with rioting and sexual assault. Some critics have problems with how the filmmaker decided to tell the story, but generally find it a promising start to the series.


LuLaRich
Amazon

'LuLaRich' (2021)

Where to watch: Amazon Prime Video

"LuLaRich" is a four-part docuseries that investigates LuLaRoe, the multilevel marketing scheme company that sells colorful women's clothing, especially patterned leggings. It follows company founders Mark and DeAnne Stidham through the cultlike way they run their company, all the way through lawsuits filed alleging false and deceptive business practices. The series has a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes thanks to the way it portrays "hard truths about the ways in which capitalism preys on struggling mothers."


WeWork: Or the Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn
Hulu

'WeWork: Or the Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn' (2021)

Where to watch: Hulu

After the stock market crash of 2008, people who used to have corporate jobs began to work differently as self-employed, gig-economy workers. WeWork and its founder, Adam Neumann, took advantage by creating trendy coworking spaces that individuals and small businesses could rent short term. At one point, the company was valued at $47 billion, but it was all a sham. Though it has a 76% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, some critics argue “Unicorn” could have gone further to criticize the larger issues of work culture. 


Fyre: The Greatest Festival That Never Happened
Netflix

'Fyre: The Greatest Festival That Never Happened'' (2019)

Where to watch: Netflix

Watching a swindle play out on screen is deeply satisfying, maybe because we figure we'd never fall for the scam. But notoriously, plenty of people were convinced to go to a 2017 island festival in the Bahamas that was promised to be lux but went viral for being a scam run by a con artist. Everyone agrees that the podcasts, articles, and documentaries about the festival, including this one, are the best thing to come out of the fraudulent festival. 


Too Funny to Fail
Hulu

'Too Funny to Fail' (2017)

Where to watch: Hulu

The notorious sketch comedy "The Dana Carvey Show" ran for only seven of its 10 planned episodes in 1996. Featuring young comedians before they got big such as Steve Carell and Stephen Colbert and controversial subject matter, the show is now considered ahead of its time. "Too Funny to Fail" is a "sprightly and hilarious" film about the show's demise, and hits a rare note in which a documentary is just as funny as its subject matter.

The Wizard of Lies
HBO

'The Wizard of Lies' (2017)

Where to watch: HBO Max

"The Wizard of Lies" isn't a documentary, but a biopic of the fall of Bernie Madoff and his family. Robert De Niro stars as Madoff, and his "subtle, fascinating performance" really carries the film. (Michelle Pfeiffer plays Madoff's wife, and gives an inspiring performance.) The film takes place almost entirely after Madoff has been arrested, though flashbacks show the depth of just how much the Madoff family fell apart through the largest Ponzi scheme in history. 

Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room
Hulu

'Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room' (2005)

Where to watch: Hulu and Kanopy

Based on the bestselling 2003 book of the same name, "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room" examines the scandal and infamous 2001 collapse of Enron, the energy, commodities, and services company where “innovation” was just a synonym for $74 billion in fraud. With archival footage and new interviews. this was widely heralded by critics as "deft, entertaining and infuriating" and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary for its brutal portrayal of corporate corruption.


Startup.com
Amazon

'Startup.com' (2001)

Where to watch: Amazon Prime Video

"Startup.com" is about the internet bubble burst as seen through the lens of one would-be website firm. When filming started in 1999, the plan was to follow two friends as they tried to make their dot-com, govWorks.com. Once the bubble burst, it went in a sadder direction. The friendship between the two founders is touching, which is what makes their pain "palpable and saddening" as their dream falls apart.


Related: High-Profile CEOs Who Left Their Companies