The most sinister fictional corporations on film

Shady as hell and open for business, these companies run the gamut from nefarious to just plain evil.

Identicals (2015)
Identicals (2015)

It’s rare that you’ll see a positive portrayal of the corporation at the movies. Often, the giant, faceless conglomerate serves more antagonistic purposes; it’s the multinational putting profit before people, a syndicate always seeking to consolidate or expand its power. Simon Pummell’s sci-fi thriller Identicals presents a world in which human beings have become pawns to an identity-swapping organisation named Brand New-U, a fictional corporation like so many that have come before in cinema: manipulative, elusive and ultimately deeply sinister.

The Company – Seconds (1966)

Seconds (1966)

In John Frankenheimer’s jet-black satire of a very 60s middle-class malaise (TV’s Mad Men may have taken inspiration from Frankenheimer and screenwriter Lewis John Carlino’s lifestyle mix of glamour and existential terror), corporations can fix your mid-life crisis for you wholesale. Or at least that’s what Seconds’ mysterious outfit The Company promises Arthur Hamilton (John Randolph), by faking his death and giving him a brand new life as a California playboy. Unfortunately, there are no refunds. Also, should Hamilton express dissatisfaction, The Company will kill him and use his corpse to stage the next client/poor sap’s death.

Soylent Corporation – Soylent Green (1973)

Soylent Green (1973)

The future is exhausted in Richard Fleischer’s sci-fi classic Soylent Green, with aggressive overpopulation resulting in an over-crowded and near-famished world. Thankfully the Soylent Corporation, which in 2022 controls half the world’s food supply, manages to sustain the populace weekly by sharing out newfangled superfood Soylent Green. The catch, as Charlton Heston’s detective Frank Thorn discovers, is that Soylent – faced with resources dwindling globally – has been making its most popular foodstuff out of human bodies, and not the marginally more appealing plankton as advertised.

Parallax Corp – The Parallax View (1974)

The Parallax View (1974) poster

The organisation making trouble for reporter Warren Beatty in Alan J. Pakula’s The Parallax View may appear outwardly mundane, fronted as it is by suited men installed in drab LA office buildings. But like a Hashishin for the 20th century, Parallax Corp actually deals in death for the elite, attracting unstable individuals with promises of personal glory before brainwashing them to perform hits on key political figures. Pakula’s film never makes clear how Parallax chooses its targets, but it appears the group has influencing the global order high on its list of priorities.

Weyland-Yutani – Alien/Aliens/Alien 3 (1979/1986/1992)

Aliens (1986)

In the interstellar age, it’s not extra-terrestrial apex predators we’ll have to fear most, argues the Alien franchise, but man; more specifically, the corporate man. There are risks that come with working for Weyland-Yutani, namely that the company traps blue-collar types on starships with homicidal aliens, or sends space-troopers to almost certain death combatting dozens of acid-blooded beasties. And it’s all for the sake of profit, with slimy execs like Paul Reiser’s Carter Burke concerned about the annual turnover more than the welfare of Weyland employees.

Omni Consumer Products – RoboCop (1987)

Robocop (1987)

In RoboCop’s dystopian near-future, the multinational conglomerate is in the final stages of claiming ownership of every facet of American life. Omni Consumer Products already runs the media, the police and space travel in the USA of tomorrow. Now the group’s board has eyes on privatising an entire city, and isn’t afraid to use underhand tactics – like hiring criminals to kill anybody acting as a stumbling block – to make its dream of owning Detroit and making all its citizens into Omni shareholders a reality.

U-North – Michael Clayton (2007)

Michael Clayton (2007)

In Michael Clayton, Tony Gilroy imagines the modern corporation as so blandly evil, the execs organise hits like they’re ordering takeout. On the surface, U-North is an unthreatening, eco-friendly agrochemical company, but behind the scenes it poisons its customers and murders anyone who attempts to take knowledge of its misdeeds public. U-North is so fiercely protective of its reputation that not even the King of Hollywood himself, George Clooney (playing a legal fixer spontaneously growing a conscience), is spared an assassination attempt or two.

Lendl Global – The Other Guys (2010)

The Other Guys (2010)

Before he tackled the subject of corporate greed directly – and with a straighter face – in 2016’s Oscar-winning The Big Short, Adam McKay hammered the corporatocracy through allegory. In The Other Guys, the fictional, bailout-hoovering mega-corp Lendl Global is a vampiric representative of all the real outfits responsible for the 2008 financial crash. It’s a firm with an amusingly sinister jingle (“Lendl Global, we’re in everything”), and that puts complete incompetents like Steve Coogan’s Sir David Ershon in charge to commit financial hijinks – like ripping off the NYPD in order to pay for an ill-advised Chechen version of Dora the Explorer.

The Octan Corporation – The Lego Movie (2014)

The Lego Movie (2014)

Probably no one expected an animated comedy based on a popular children’s toy to excoriate the modern corporation better than any recent film, but such is Phil Lord and Christopher Miller’s surprisingly fathoms-deep The Lego Movie. In it, the Octan Corporation has infiltrated all walks of Bricksburg life, from coffee chains and construction to energy and surveillance. Octan’s music and TV stations meanwhile blast nothing but sugary entertainment, designed to keep workers docile and unconcerned that Octan CEO (and Bricksburg president) Lord Business is plotting to wipe everyone out.

Identicals, backed by the BFI Film Fund, is available now on VOD and DVD.

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