Ethical dilemmas in movies

What ethical dilemmas do movies provoke? Delve into thought-provoking scenarios and moral complexities on screen.

Accountants are legally empowered to manage the financial obligations of organisations, and they’re given privileged access to confidential and sensitive financial data. This information is used to form opinions and advice, and affects decision-making in all areas, from profits to recruitment to capital expenditure.

This means that being a professional accountant comes with many responsibilities. You need a good ethical compass; one that can steer you through difficult decisions, or avoid easy, but less-than-legal paths. We all love movies, but what messages about ethics and morality do they spread? How does Hollywood (Tinseltown, La-La Land, etc) measure up?

We look at how three movies put their characters through significant moral and ethical dilemmas. What would you do in each situation?


On its 120-year journey to a distant colony, a spaceship carrying thousands of passengers, all asleep in suspended animation pods, suffers a malfunction and passenger Jim (Chris Pratt) is awakened 90 years too early.

After enjoying the novelty of having an entire spaceship and all its luxuries to himself for a while, Jim grows increasingly lonely and depressed – completely devoid of human company. He faces an entire life alone. After wrestling with his conscience, he awakens fellow passenger Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence).

Should Jim have done this? Would you? Aurora has no say in Jim’s decision, one that radically alters her life and means she will not get the chance to live in the colony she’d chosen to move to, but to live the rest of her life on a spaceship with only one other person, a stranger who decided to deny her chosen future, for company.

The Passengers dilemma in business: Blaming a mistake you made on an innocent colleague; pressuring a colleague into doing something they don’t want to do.

Saving Private Ryan

During the Allied invasion of Normandy on 6 June 1944, eight men are sent on a very dangerous mission into enemy territory to save the life of one soldier, Private James Ryan. The reason they are sent is to bring him home to America and to his mother, who has just found out that all of Private Ryan’s three brothers have died in the war. The US military believe they can’t allow Ryan to die and for his mother to lose all of her sons to the war.

Is it right to risk the lives of eight men to save the life of one? What would you do?

The Saving Private Ryan dilemma in business: Striving for a specific outcome, even if the chances of achieving it are slim and putting the integrity and careers of your colleagues/team members at risk. In accountancy this can lead to financial fraud, when people manipulate information to suit a desired outcome or hide a problem.

forest and clouds in the sky


On the surface, it should be easy to say that it’s definitely unethical to do this. Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a thief with the rare ability to enter people's dreams and steal their secrets from their subconscious. His skill has made him a hot commodity in the world of corporate espionage, but it has also cost him a great deal. Cobb is offered a chance to redeem himself when he is given a seemingly impossible task: plant an idea in someone's mind.

Now, whether it’s stealing people’s secrets or implanting ideas in someone’s mind, it’s a no-brainer that this is morally and ethically on shaky ground. But what if you could use this as a force for good, perhaps by preventing crime or by getting someone powerful to do something for the common good? Would you do it?

The Inception dilemma in business: If you found or were passed sensitive information about a competitor, what would you do?

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Ethics and Professional Skills module (EPSM)

ACCA’s Ethics and Professional Skills module has been designed with input from employers to provide students with the ethical and professional skills the modern finance professional needs.

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