Business Ethics in Film

Ethics on FilmAs September approaches, many of us are thinking about the start of school. Those of us who teach Business Ethics are thinking about how to ease our students into the topic without throwing them into deep philosophical waters right off the bat.

One way to do that is through film. Regular readers will know that I occasionally review movies here (both documentaries and fiction). Now I’ve set up a special page, on my EthicsWeb Bookstore, with links some of my reviews, along with Amazon links to let you buy the DVDs. Here it is: Ethics on Film.

My list is far from complete — I’ve kept the list minimal, sticking to movies I’ve reviewed on this blog or used in the classroom. So I’ve left out classics like Wall Street, for example). But if you have suggestions (especially for films that you’ve used successfully to foster discussion of business ethics) let me know.

7 comments so far

  1. southwerk on

    Professor MacDonald,
    I use “The Apartment” with Jack Lemon.
    “Cinema Paradiso”
    and the original “Sabrina.”

  2. southwerk on

    Or this –

    James Pilant

    No one ever asked my why I used those films in class. I’ve always wanted to tell somebody.

  3. Tim Ragan on

    Chris — good list. I teach an introductory class in “Business & Society” which is more general that just business ethics, however ethics is certainly a major theme running throughout.

    My list of films (including a number of ones you mentioned in your blog) is:

    The Corporation
    The Take
    Food Inc.
    Darwin’s Nightmare
    An Unreasonable Man
    Wall Street
    The Insider
    Barbarians at the Gates
    Enron: Smartest Guys in the Room
    Flash of Genius
    Wall Mart: High cost of low price

    Always on the lookout for more great business movies!

    Tim Ragan

  4. Fahir on

    I’m not sure if you didn’t include on purpose, but you reviewed A Decent Factory too, here:

    I also collected a list some time ago, but was not able to update for a while:

    • Chris MacDonald on


      Thanks for reminding me. A Decent Factory isn’t exciting, but I thought it was very good.


  5. Mike on

    I like “Network”, myself–although I usually pare it down to two essential speeches. Everyone knows the “I’m mad as hell” speech, but there are two more which, IMO, are much more interesting.

    Speech one: “Edward George Ruddy died today” (, which deals with the nature and place of the media within society. It also raises interesting questions regarding personal responsibility for consumption and the effects of conformity.

    Speech two: “You have meddled with the primal forces of nature” (, which concerns itself with the ascent of corporations as a major geopolitical force, and argues that nations and cultures have become irrelevant in the face of multinational commerce.

    Discussion questions I’ve used: (this was for a first-year class, so I’m admittedly skirting the edges here)

    1) The first speech castigates the audience for becoming too receptive to cultural and social information and cues from the media, to such a point where we reflect the media rather than the other way around. To what extent are recent developments in this field (i.e: the ascent of the blogger-journalist, the frequent inclusion of tweets and facebook posts into newscasts, and so on) aligning themselves with this outlook? Are we becoming more independent from our media, or are we only becoming further subsumed within it?

    2) The first speech describes the media–including the news media–as a “travelling group of performers”, as being “in the boredom-killing business”, and as being unrealistic and untruthful in reporting facts for the sake of boosting ratings. Is this an accurate description? What are the ethics of this state of affairs? Who ultimately bears the responsibility for it? (Are advertisers corrupting the medium? Are shareholders and programmers too eager to pander at the expense of integrity and honesty? Is the audience to blame for allowing this business model of “anti-truth” to succeed?)

    3) The second speech suggests that a “college of corporations” has trumped the nations and cultures of the world. To what extent is this depiction accurate? Is the corporate tail wagging the governmental dog, or do governments and nations still have the upper hand?

    4) The second speech argues that “the world is a business”, and has been since the dawn of time. How much truth is there to this idea? Is there a moral or ethical judgment here? (Is “business” inherently bad or undesirable, demonstrative of greed and selfishness? Is it a good thing, allowing for resilience and resourcefulness?)

    5) Is Howard Beale right to suggest that, by blocking the sale of a large television network, we create a bulwark against the perceived advancement of dehumanizing capitalism, or is the Executive right to argue that capitalism is inevitable, invasive and inescapable?

    6) Both Howard Beale and the Executive have arguably behaved unethically in this situation, Mr. Beale by introducing strong elements of editorial and commentary into what he himself insists ought to be an unbiased and clear-headed news program, and the Executive by, in turn, leaning on the presenter of such a news program with the goal of persuading him to tilt and bias his coverage. Are either of them in the right, and to what degree? (It’s easy to go “Oh, gosh, corporations are evil! Beale is obviously right!” It’s much more difficult–although still very possible–to craft an argument defending the Executive’s behaviour.)

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