Netflix and Drill—Exploring Heroes in Oil and Gas-Related Films

The oil and gas industry is frequently featured in Hollywood films and TV series creating strong emotional reactions such as an iconic west Texas landscape with pump jacks as far as the eye can see, a rowdy band of colorful personalities with untamed appetites for adventure, and the stunning visuals provided by offshore platforms and drilling vessels.

Friends watching movies together at home
From thrilling heroes to scheming villains, the oil and gas industry's roles in cinema run as deep as a drill bit.
demaerre/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Why Oil and Gas Related-Characters Are So Popular

If a drilling rig (land or offshore) or pump jack were to run for office or get an X (Twitter) handle, it would have close to 100% name or face ID because almost everyone knows what they are, even if personal feelings are mixed and/or they have no idea how oil and gas production and development works. Because this emotional connection is quickly established, it becomes easy for writers to explain and develop characters that the audience either resonates with or despises.

Hollywood has long used the collective popular culture mental image of the oil and gas industry to establish field workers and wildcat drillers as mavericks, adventurers, rugged “salt of the earth” types, or down-on-their luck folks who can’t be tamed by civil society and strike out a living “in the patch.”

Another easy plot device is the “get rich overnight” trope where a person becomes fantastically wealthy after oil is found on their property.

An additional character development shortcut to creating a credible multinational conglomerate (or tycoon) is to mention a diversified portfolio (real estate, heavy industry, consumer goods, energy, etc.), which is usually done by having a “stroll” through the CEO’s office with models of active projects.

Developing a Top 10

Whether or not the writing is lazy or the technical portrayal of the industry is sound, we believe that some famous heroes deserve a special mention.

Therefore, let’s proceed in a lighthearted fashion to “Netflix and Drill” through our personal Top 10 heroes list in movies/shows where the oil and gas industry features prominently in the setting, plot, or character arcs. Please note that we used our editorial discretion to restrict the list to fictionalized accounts.

 The Good Guys

1. Armageddon (1998): Because nothing screams "saving the world" like a ragtag bunch of offshore drillers launching into space to avert an asteroid disaster. Just ignore the physics (how do they achieve weight on bit and clear cuttings in space?) and questionable offshore safety practices—these roughnecks are ready to rock and roll.

2. Die Hard (1988): A CEO who was calm under fire and knew how to host a Christmas party at Nakatomi Plaza. Nakatomi’s oil portfolio was great (based on the “oh look, we saw a scale model of an oil/gas-related facility on the table, so that must mean this corporation is into everything”), but his luck … not so much.
3. Annie (1982): Daddy Warbucks proves that it's not just oil gushing—profit and philanthropy can both flow in harmony (courtesy of the “stroll through the office and see an oil rig” trope).
4. Swordfish (2001): The protagonist was living the pump jack life (on a court-mandated time out from all things electronic) before returning to freelance computer shenanigans. Our friend Stanley (Hugh Jackman) was just simply too far ahead of his time for the world to appreciate the digital transformation he was aiming for.
5. The Core (2003): It’s hard to drill a deep hole without knowing something about drilling holes, so we are just going to wing it here and assume that the oil and gas industry helped in some way. PS: Can we get some of that unobtanium and laser combination and do away with trips to change out bits forever?
6. The Beverly Hillbillies (1993): When black gold strikes and a bunch of hillbillies hit the jackpot, it's social mobility at its finest (courtesy of the tried and true “get rich overnight” plot device) once those lease payments and royalty checks start rolling in.
7. Hellfighters (1968): John Wayne leads an international team of oil well firefighters, highlighting the heroic efforts of those who risk their lives to control blazing oil wells.  Hard to tell what’s hotter, a wild well or John Wayne in his element.

8. Local Hero (1983): An endearing Scottish film featuring all the great elements we come to expect: expat travel, negotiation tactics, land redevelopment, license to operate, romantic intrigue, and more in this highly refined classic.

9. There Will Be Blood (2007): Daniel Day-Lewis delivers an impassioned performance as an oilman with a thirst for wealth, a penchant for directional drilling, right of capture, and drinking milkshakes.

10. The Rig (2010): The recipe here is simple. First, start way offshore in the North Sea on a drilling rig (cool visual trope). Next, introduce a bunch of supernatural “nonreservoir” effects to spice things up.


From thrilling heroes to scheming villains, the oil and gas industry's roles in cinema run as deep as a drill bit. These characters remind us that even in fiction, black gold can spark more than just engines—it sparks controversy and imagination alike.