Brantley Foster (Michael J. Fox) is a recent graduate of Kansas State University who moves to New York City where he has landed a entry level job as a financier. Upon arriving, he discovers that the company for which he is supposed to work has been taken over by a rival corporation. As a result, Brantley is laid off before he even starts working.
After several unsuccessful attempts to get another job, mostly because he is either overqualified or underqualified and has little experience, Brantley ends up working in the mailroom of the Pemrose Corporation, which is directed by his uncle, Howard Prescott (Richard Jordan), the CEO. Pemrose was founded by Howard's father-in-law; Howard received presidency of the company by marrying his boss's daughter, Vera Pemrose (Margaret Whitton).
Upon inspecting company reports, Brantley realizes that Howard and most of his fellow "suits" (executives) are making ineffective or detrimental decisions. After Brantley notices an empty office in the building due to one of Howard's frequent firings, he uses his access to the mailroom and his understanding of company processes to create the identity of Carlton Whitfield, a new executive. Brantley then assumes this role.
While handling two jobs (switching between casual wear and business suits in the elevator), Brantley also falls head-over-heels for Christy Wills (Helen Slater), a fellow financial wizard who recently graduated from Harvard. Brantley meets Vera after driving her home in a company limo (at his employer's request). Vera persuades Brantley to stay for a swim and seduces him by stripping off his swimsuit and having an underwater kiss before she rips off her swimsuit and ultimately swims naked with him. Upon seeing Howard arriving, Brantley and Vera realize they are related (albeit not by blood). Vera only seduced Brantley to get back at her husband for having an affair with a woman in his office. Brantley then gets changed as fast as he can and leaves the mansion without being seen by Howard.
Howard, without Brantley's knowledge, is having an affair with Christy. When Howard asks her to spy on Carlton Whitfield, Christy falls head-over-heels for "Whitfield", not knowing he is actually Brantley. The Pemrose Corporation is preparing to merge with the infamous Davenport Corporation. If Davenport Corporation merges with Pemrose and everyone gets fired. Howard, unaware that Whitfield and Brantley are one and the same person, suspects "Whitfield" is a spy for corporate raider Donald Davenport (Fred Gwynne).
In the end, Brantley and Vera raise enough cash, bonds, and stocks to wrest ownership of the Pemrose Corporation from Howard, and to proceed with a hostile takeover bid of Davenport's Corporation. Vera, already contemptuous of Howard for his counter-productive business practices, which were driving her father's empire into the ground, learns that Howard has been cheating on her to boot. She promptly replaces him with Brantley, with Jean, Christy and Melrose at his side. While security guards escort Howard and his aide, Art Thomas (Gerry Bamman), from the Pemrose Building, Brantley and Christy start planning their future together, personal as well as professional.
The soundtrack was released on LP and cassette tape on April 10, 1987. Seven of the 10 tracks were produced, and either written or co-written, by David Foster, who also scored the film and has three tracks of his own on the album.
Not all of the songs featured in the film are included on the soundtrack, or, at least not in the same version. The film version of the song "The Secret of My Success" is slightly different, and also features a mini-instrumental version. The film version of "I Burn for You" does not feature vocals, whereas the soundtrack version does. The "Restless Heart" track from the film has a different title ("Something I Gotta Do"), and different lyrics than the soundtrack version.
Popular songs "Walking on Sunshine" by Katrina & The Waves and "Oh Yeah" by Yello are heard in the film but do not appear on the soundtrack.
The soundtrack peaked at #131 on the Billboard 200.
The theme from the picture "The Secret of My Success", performed by Night Ranger, was one of the songs that competed for the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song in 1988. The winner in question was "(I've Had) The Time of My Life", the central theme from Dirty Dancing, performed by Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes.Track listing
- "The Secret of My Success" (performed by Night Ranger)
- "Sometimes the Good Guys Finish First" (performed by Pat Benatar)
- "I Burn for You" (performed by Danny Peck and Nancy Shanks)
- "Riskin' a Romance" (performed by Bananarama)
- "Gazebo" (performed by David Foster)
- "The Price of Love" (performed by Roger Daltrey)
- "Water Fountain" (performed by David Foster)
- "Don't Ask the Reason Why" (performed by Restless Heart)
- "3 Themes" (performed by David Foster)
- "Heaven and the Heartaches" (performed by Taxxi)
The film received a mixed response from critics. Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times wrote, "The Secret of My Success seems trapped in some kind of time warp, as if the screenplay had been in a drawer since the 1950s and nobody bothered to update it." He concluded "Fox provides a fairly desperate center for the film. It could not have been much fun for him to follow the movie's arbitrary shifts of mood, from sitcom to slapstick, from sex farce to boardroom brawls."
However, Vincent Canby, writing in the New York Times, felt it was "close to inspired when the ambitious Brantley finds himself leading two lives", although he noted that "Hanging over The Secret of My Success is the long shadow of Frank Loesser's classic musical How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying."
The film holds a 58% "rotten" rating at website Rotten Tomatoes.
The film opened on April 10, 1987, and debuted at number one at the box office, taking $7.8 million in its opening weekend. It stayed at No. 1 for 5 weeks, and was in the top ten films for 2 months. It grossed $66,995,000 in the US, becoming the 7th highest-grossing film in the United States for the year 1987, and outgrossing such films as RoboCop, Predator, Lethal Weapon and Dirty Dancing. The film went on to gross an additional $44,001,000 worldwide, giving it a total of $110,996,879. Additionally, the film made US$29,856,000 through video rentals.