Accountants usually only make the headlines or have their stories told on the big screen for the misdeeds in which they have played a part.

These four films bring to light some of the darkest examples of greed and corruption and show how important ethics are to maintaining a financial system that is constantly hanging in the balance.

"In Debt We Trust: America Before the Bubble Bursts"

Debt has become a way of life for Americans, and this 2006 documentary is a wake-up call to a younger generation that cannot stop living life in the red. The film digs deep into the economic and political policies responsible for transforming the U.S. economy from reliance on manufacturing to dependence upon consumerism and debt.

Key Takeaways

  • "In Debt We Trust" explains how we all got so deep in debt.
  • "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room" explores the biggest fraud of modern times.
  • "Unraveled" shows how Wall Street's smartest got conned.
  • The hero in "The Shawshank Redemption" exposes corruption in the prison system.

At the time of the film's release, it was estimated that Americans owed more than $10 trillion of consumer debt. (By late 2019, it had grown to about $14 trillion.) "In Debt We Trust" exposes and explains a system operating on borrowed money and borrowed time, and informs us that it is only a matter of time before the whole system collapses.

The film takes a critical look at the long-term effects of wide-scale debt abuse, such as the increasing inequality in wealth between the few mega-rich and the rest of us.

"Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room"

Arguably the most shocking display of corporate corruption in modern times, the scandal that led to the fall of the Enron Corporation is the subject of the documentary "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room." 

Before a smart reception blew the whistle, Marc Dreier swindled some of New York's most experienced investors.

The filmmakers assemble a wealth of video footage from congressional hearing testimony and feature candid interviews with Enron executives Mike Muckleroy and Sherron Watkins, who blew the whistle on the company’s many illegal schemes.

The stories of what Enron traders were doing behind the scenes to keep their jobs and make money at any cost are truly revolting.

The most shocking material in the film involves the fact that Enron cynically and deliberately created the phony California energy crisis of 2000-2001. There was no shortage of power in California. Enron shut down between 30% and 50% of California's energy industry at one time or another—up to 76% at one point—just to drive the price of electricity nine times higher.

"Unraveled"

Bernie Madoff grabbed bigger headlines for his giant Ponzi scheme, but Marc Dreier's massive fraud—which netted $380 million from the hedge funds of New York's most prominent investors—makes quite an entertaining film.

Through interviews with Dreier in his Manhattan penthouse, where he was under house arrest at the time of filming, we learn about his elaborate scheme in great detail.

Dreier headed a 238-person law firm, yet he was the only person there who understood the financial details of the company's deals. Through forgeries and impersonations, Dreier swindled some of Manhattan's most experienced investors, until a savvy receptionist blew the whistle on him.

"The Shawshank Redemption"

You can find "The Shawshank Redemption" showing on cable just about every day of the year because it is a great movie. The movie's hero, Andy Dufresne, is not just another accountant in prison. He proves that knowing obscure tax loopholes can actually save your life and maybe even help you escape from prison.

After being wrongfully sentenced to life in prison for murdering his wife and her lover, Andy learns to get extra protection from the prison guards by preparing their tax returns. After his eventual escape from the Shawshank prison, he implicates the corrupt warden for years of illegal bookkeeping.