The Ethical Economics
Study Center


Many movies have been made about business and economic issues. Curiously, many Hollywood movies are more likely to portray business activities as villainous rather than honorable. Of course there are some exceptions. There is a regularity worth noting: when business activities are decried, they are invariably violating one or more of the ethical principles highlighted here. These businesses are acting greedily, which is not consistent with ethical capitalism. In contrast, when businesses are portrayed as honorable, they comply with the principles of ethical capitalism.

This page will highlight some of the movies that offer commentary about ethical behavior in business or economic activities.

Click on the links below for an overview of each movie.



Wall Street (1987)

This is clearly an anti-business movie by filmmaker Oliver Stone. However, the now-famous "Greed is Good" speech was effective enough to inspire many pro-market advocates despite the fact the the main character Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) goes to prison at the end.



Wall Street

Wall Street - Money Never Sleeps (2010)

This Wall Street sequel was made shortly after the world financial crisis of 2008 cast doubt on the merits of the free market capitalist system. Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) returns after many years in prison and reflects on his "Greed is Good" mantra.


Wall Street - Money Never Sleeps

The Founder (2016)

This movie about the founding of the McDonalds restaurant chain offers a good demonstration of how innovative business ideas come together to create a successful multinational enterprise. While mostly showing why business success creates benefits for society, the movie also deals with several ethical lapses worthy of consideration.


The Founder

It's a Wonderful Life (1946)

This movie is an American classic that ranks as one of the best of all time. It shows the journey of George Bailey (James Stewart) towards the realization that small-town values are the key to success and happiness. Those small town values are in line with the notion of ethical capitalism, which are continually contrasted in the movie by the behavior of George's nemesis, Mr. Potter (Lionel Barrymore).


It's a Wonderful Life

Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)

Alec Baldwin appears as a sales motivator, informing a group of realtors that they must compete in a sales contest where the losers will be fired. Baldwin's motivational speech to ABC (Always Be Closing) inspires business practices that are certainly in line with many peoples' expectations of business but which also clearly cross ethical boundaries. The movie should make viewers queasy about the lengths salespeople will go to make a profit.



Glengarry Glen Ross

Executive Suite (1954)

This is one of the best business ethics movies I have ever come across. Watch it to learn why a company run by the protagonist McDonald Walling (William Holden) offers a guide to honorable and ethical business practices and why a company run by any of the other characters is much less appealing.



Executive Suite

The Rainmaker (1997)

This movie highlights the role that the legal profession plays in helping to sustain economic rents, in this case rents made possible by an insurance fraud. It also explains why many lawyers are sometimes viewed as corrupt, or dishonest, and thus the subject of many stereotypical lawyer jokes. Superior legal expertise is often used by businesses to sustain a superior economic position. This movie depicts the triumph of the underdog over the monied business interests.



The Rainmaker