I’m Out! Six Movie Scenes of Guys Audaciously Quitting Their Jobs
By Brad Pike
Two summers ago a new American folk hero was born. Jet Blue flight attendant Steven Slater famously quit his job by telling off a passenger via the plane’s PA system, popping open a beer, and deploying the emergency chute. As the aircraft was taxiing, he slid away to freedom. Slater was a revered celebrity by the time he hit the runway. He racked up interviews on CNN, Good Morning America, and topped Time magazine’s list of people enjoying their 15 minutes of fame.
That this guy was touted as a brave champion and not an irresponsible maniac raised a huge red flag on behalf of American cubicle warriors everywhere – we are a disgruntled workforce! Whether it’s readily admitted or not, people harbor twisted fantasies of how audaciously they’ll quit their jobs; the exact monologue they’ll use against their selfish, short-tempered supervisors and the fabulous exit they’ll interrupt the office goings on with.
Bryce Snodgrass from Koldcast’s new TV-MA workplace comedy Lunch Break fantasizes about rampaging through his office with a chainsaw, but instead continues to numb himself with vodka soaked tampons. To make work just a little more interesting, Snodgrass starts a cushy side business hocking the crude sedative.
Click to play Episode 1 of Lunch Break, “Toxic Shock”
Like Bryce, you can choose to stupefy the pain of morning commutes and departmental meetings with homemade drugs, or you can vicariously enjoy quitting through life’s funhouse mirror, the movies! We found scenes from six cinematic gems that show how insane quittin’ time can get.
500 Days of Summer
Joseph Gordon Levitt’s character Tom Hansen, having been dumped by Zooey Deschanel (that lady who needs advanced technology to tell if it’s raining outside), begins a downward spiral of depression involving alcohol and junk food. When he does finally return to work writing greeting cards, a woman presenting inspirational cat cards causes him to snap. He then begins The Rant, the hallmark of all great quitting scenes, in which he explores how clichés and sentimentality in the media have deluded us to the point where we can no longer cope with harsh emotional realities.
Following a sexual awakening during a cheerleading performance, Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) has the most spectacular midlife crisis ever, and he starts it by quitting his job at an advertising agency. Stage one: he writes a letter to his boss, elucidating his on-the-job masturbatory habits, his low job satisfaction, and his lack of respect for his boss. The boss is, needless to say, disenchanted. But he’s further dismayed by stage 2: Lester blackmails him for one year salary and benefits by threatening to share information about an editorial director using company money for prostitutes and then threatens to hit him with a sexual harassment lawsuit.
This scene might be the only example of something positive resulting from a middle-aged man’s obsessive sexual fantasies about a teenager other than the emotionally cathartic television masterpiece To Catch a Predator. Still, I can’t stand that line at the end: “No, I’m just an ordinary guy with nothing to lose.” How about you dial back the melodrama, Keyser Söze.
Ed Norton essentially has the same scene as Kevin Spacey in American Beauty but manages to top it in every conceivable way. First, he blackmails his boss, but when that doesn’t work, he performs a strange and terrifying beat down… on himself. Through it all, his boss stares dumbfounded until employees file in to see the ruckus, at which point, the genius of Norton’s strategy is revealed. Unlike Spacey, not only does he get a year’s salary out of the deal, he gets computers, fax machines, and all manner of office equipment for his terrorist organization.
Technically, Jerry Maguire was fired after writing a scathingly critical letter regarding his sports agency (note to self: letters to employers are often followed by termination), but it has all the elements of a great quitting scene: a meltdown, a rant, and the sense of a psyche poised on the edge of madness. One might even glimpse glimmers of Tom Cruise’s future real-life nosedive into Crazytown.
His declaration that the fish will be coming with him always kills me, particularly because it seems like Cameron Crowe’s subtle jab at Renee Zellweger’s uniquely fishy facial features. Maybe I’m reading too much into it.
Joe Versus the Volcano
This is by far my favorite quitting scene and one of my favorite movies as well. After discovering he’s dying of a rare brain cloud, Joe Banks (Tom Hanks) decides to quit his job and make the most of his remaining six months of life. Hanks gives a perfectly paced, nuanced performance, starting with throwing his hat in the trash, then crumpling a piece of paper, then banging a fake arm on his boss’s desk, all building up to a beautifully written monologue that borders on poetry. His realization of his own mortality lends him a newfound detachment from his environment, which he explores with childlike inquisitiveness. He’s not even so much angry as astonished that he wasted four precious years of his life at such a meaningless soul-sucking office.
A small note: I remember when I watched it as a child, I never understood the line, “For three hundred bucks a week, I lived in this sink; this used rubber.” I thought he meant an old tire.
The scene where Scarface quits his job at a burger joint is a fifteen second cinematic haiku and demonstrated to millions of disgruntled fast food employees exactly how to execute a resignation—quick, direct, and unencumbered by civility. Following a series of curses, it’s punctuated by an old man being told, “Not you, you’re cool,” and then the burger patty tossed at a customer’s head provides a decisive period. A masterpiece of comedic timing. Rotten Tomatoes gave this movie 29%, but, after careful analysis, my roommate and I give it 86%.
Ariel Nishli contributed to this story.
Brad Pikeis a writer and standup in Chicago. He also writes for Thought Catalog. Twitter: brad_pike