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Horrible bosses on film and television

By Emily Christianson, Patrick Kevin Day, Denise Martin, Rebecca Snavely, Todd Martens and Jevon Phillips

The trio of employees in “Horrible Bosses” takes the term “disgruntled” to a whole new level when they plot to murder their managers, but they aren’t the first underlings to deal with psychos, man-eaters or jerks. TV and movies are full of examples of abusive bosses and put-upon employees. Here are a few of our favorites.

Above: Colin Farrell, left, and Jason Sudeikis in a scene from “Horrible Bosses.”  (John P. Johnson / Warner Bros.)
‘Office Space’
The evil boss: Bill Lumbergh (Gary Cole, left)

The miserable employee: Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston)

The vile task: Listening to Bill drone on about memos and having to work weekends.

Why he doesn’t quit: He gets caught in a relaxed and hypnotized state and therefore doesn’t care anymore. (Van Redin / 20th Century Fox)
‘Mad Men’
The evil boss: Don Draper (Jon Hamm)

The miserable employee: Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss)

The vile task: First Peggy had lecherous junior account executive Pete Campbell to deal with at Sterling Cooper, but now that she’s a copywriter for Don Draper at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, things aren’t much better. Don doesn’t cut her any slack and even made her work all night on her birthday.

Why she doesn’t quit: Peggy’s driven to succeed -- and it’s paid off. She started as an assistant and now she’s a copywriter.  (Michael Yarish / AMC)
‘Nine to Five’
The evil boss: Franklin Hart Jr. (Dabney Coleman)

The miserable employees Doralee Rhodes (Dolly Parton, left), Violet Newstead (Lily Tomlin) and Judy Brenly (Jane Fonda )

The vile task: Where to begin? Doralee, Violet and Judy are disrespected daily. Franklin Hart is an incompetent leader, especially compared to Violet, and he spends his days making unwanted and inappropriate advances toward Doralee, even going so far as to lie about having an affair with her. Violet is soon passed over for a promotion, with Franklin stealing her ideas and telling her a man could do her job better.

Why they don’t quit: Gotta make a livin’. And the women have to try to pull off a crazy scheme that involves rat poison.  (20th Century Fox)
The evil boss: Janice (Lorna Scott)

The miserable employee: Wesley Gibson (James McAvoy)

The vile task: Dealing with abusive yapping, stapler snapping and her office birthday party.

Why he doesn’t quit: Oh, he does, in a big way. Once he finally gains a little self-esteem (and some superhuman powers), Wesley snaps in an expletive-ridden rant directed at his boss.  (Universal)
‘The Simpsons’
The evil boss: Montgomery Burns (voiced by Harry Shearer)

The (not so) miserable employee: Waylon Smithers Jr. (also voiced by Harry Shearer)

The vile task: Harboring an unrequited flame for his boss, performing unpleasant disciplinary tasks at the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant, working without hope of promotion or heightened compensation.

Why he doesn’t quit: As a “Burns-sexual,” Smithers has a love for Mr. Burns that knows no bounds. (20th Century Fox)
‘The Office’
The evil boss: Michael Scott ( Steve Carell)

The miserable employee: Pam Beesley Halpert (Jenna Fischer, right)

The vile task: Having to listen to regurgitated comedy routines, enduring degrading comments, providing moral support to emotionally stunted boss.

Why she doesn’t quit: She did quit (and later returned to work in sales) and funny enough, her replacement Erin (Ellie Kemper) seemed to actually enjoy Michael’s antics, before he left too.  (Justin Lubin / NBC Universal)
‘Working Girl’
The evil boss: Katharine Parker (Sigourney Weaver)

The miserable employee: Tess McGill (Melanie Griffith)

The vile task: Putting up with a two-faced superior who acts like a friend, while stealing ideas and passing them off as her own.

Why she doesn’t quit: She wants to get even. Instead of quitting she steals back her idea, pretends to be her boss and eventually proves to her colleagues that Katharine is a liar.

Photo: Tess with friend and lover Jack Trainer (Harrison Ford) from Dewey Stone, who falls for her story about being an executive.  (20th Century Fox)
The evil boss: Capt. Zapp Brannigan (Billy West)

Miserable employee: Lt. Kif Kroker, above (Maurice LaMarche)

The vile task: Being subservient to an arrogant, incompetent human, who also happens to later sleep with the girl he, in essence, marries. (It was technically after his death and resurrection, but that’s not the point.)

Why he doesn’t quit: Kif believes bigger things are waiting for him, and he doesn’t like conflict. In the end he does defy Zapp and escape with his girl through a wormhole. (Fox)
The evil boss: E. Edward Grey (James Spader)

The (not so) miserable employee: Lee Holloway (Maggie Gyllenhaal)

The vile task: Assuming the submissive position in a sadomasochistic relationship with her boss. Must crawl on all fours, wear shackles and endure beatings during the work day.

Why she doesn’t quit: One woman’s pain is another woman’s pleasure, so who’s to say Holloway’s abuse isn’t appreciated?  (Bruce Birmelin / Lionsgate Films)
‘The Rachel Zoe Project’
The evil boss: Stylist to the stars Rachel Zoe

The miserable employee: Brad Goreski, above

The vile task: Having to wait a year to get a position and still be the whipping boy. Duties include helping Zoe raid vintage stores and sorting racks of clothes by length and color.

Why he doesn’t quit: Goreski parted ways with Zoe in fall 2010 to try his hand at being a stylist on his own. Now, he has his own Bravo reality show in the works.  (Evans Vestal Ward / Bravo)
‘The Devil Wears Prada’
The evil boss: Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep)

The miserable employee: Andy Sachs (Anne Hathaway, above)

The vile task: Enduring stilettos, pencil skirts, Starbucks runs and scathing criticism from a boss who makes Cruella De Vil look weak.

Why she doesn’t quit: She quit, but not before almost losing herself and her boyfriend to her frenzied, fashion-focused lifestyle.  (20th Century Fox)
‘Ugly Betty’
The evil boss: Mode magazine editor in chief Daniel Meade (Eric Mabius, left) and ambitious editrix Wilhelmina Slater ( Vanessa Williams)

The miserable employee: Betty Suarez (America Ferrera, right)

The vile task: At one point, Betty had to recover a watch Daniel left at the apartment of one of his past week’s conquests; she knocked on every door until she found the right person.

Why she doesn’t quit: Daniel needs her, and eventually her devotion pays off and she gets a promotion.  (Michael Desmond / ABC)
‘Swimming With Sharks’
The evil boss: Buddy Ackerman ( Kevin Spacey, right)

The miserable employee: Guy (Frank Whaley)

The vile task: Buddy very publicly subjects Guy to menial and humiliating tasks, and the verbal abuse is the worst. Example: “You are nothing! If you were in my toilet I wouldn’t bother flushing it. My bathmat means more to me than you!”

Why he doesn’t quit: He didn’t have to quit, he just snaps. Guy takes Buddy hostage and beats him often, yelling at him and administering multiple paper cuts. It all works out in the end.  (Trimark Pictures)
‘Melrose Place’
The evil boss: Amanda Woodward (Heather Locklear, above)

The miserable employee: Alison Parker (Courtney Thorne-Smith)

The vile task: Withstanding a boss who is too close for comfort. Amanda dated Alison’s roommate Billy and later bought their apartment complex.

Why she doesn’t quit: Ambition. She quickly moved up the ranks and landed at the top as president of D&D Advertising, but some sneaky maneuvering by Amanda eventually got her bumped from the company.  (Wayne Stambler / Fox)
‘America’s Sweethearts’
The evil boss: Gwen (Catherine Zeta-Jones)

The miserable employee: Her sister, Kiki Harrison (Julia Roberts, left, with Billy Crystal)

The vile task: Managing her beautiful movie star sister’s public image and trying to reunite her with her movie star boyfriend while contending with her plus-size body, poor self-image and growing feelings of love for the boyfriend.

Why she doesn’t quit: Sisters never quit, no matter how much they don’t get along.  (Melinda Sue Gordon / Revolution Studios)