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Top Movies No Risk Manager/Insurance Professional Should Miss

By Marcus Covas

Very few films portray risk and insurance professionals in a positive light. While some films outright bash the insurance industry as a whole (The Rainmaker, etc.), others show the insurance professional as morally bankrupt or shallow. In some films, the main characters are trying to breakout of an oppressive lifestyle that is symbolized in their corporate careers in insurance.

Take last year’s Truman Show for example, where Jim Carey’s character finds out that his whole existence is a sham created for a television show. Everything in his world is deceivingly perfect, including his wife, friends, house and, of course, his job as an insurance clerk. Truman wants nothing more than to break out of his constructed, false-faced world to see what life is really about.

A similar take on the insurance profession is seen in Fight Club, where the main character (Edward Norton) is an insurance professional who is sick of his dead-end, white-collar corporate career. Is this the way Hollywood should portray the insurance profession? We think not.

The simple fact is risk managers and insurance professionals lack solid role models in the entertainment industry. Nevertheless, plenty of films have delved deep into the principles of risk and insurance management, offering lessons, guidance and a form of entertainment that only those in the industry can truly appreciate.

The Towering Inferno (1974)
This film deals with some basic risk management principles, such as controlling fire losses, building construction and design and personnel exposures. The deadly mix in this film: a newly constructed building without functioning water sprinklers, faulty electrical wiring causing a short circuit, a party on the top floor, an inept fire department and O. J. Simpson’s bad acting.

Philadelphia (1993)
In the early 90s, an explosion of EPL-related cases hit the dockets, and suddenly Hollywood became obsessed with employment-litigation films. The most important film from this genre was Philadelphia, the story of a gay attorney who sues his employer, an old-school Philadelphia law firm, for wrongful termination. Though the firm claims Tom Hanks’ character is terminated for incompetence, it is clear that his AIDS affliction is the real reason behind the dismissal.

The Apartment (1960)
This Oscar winning film is a classic, if not stereotypical, portrait of the patriarchal corporate world—the insurance industry in particular. How does an insurance clerk get ahead in a company with 30,000 employees? Simple, lend out your apartment to the bigwigs so that they have a secret place to bring their mistresses. The film was made in a different era (tinges of sexual harassment), but the cynical view of corporate America is still relevant today.

Killdozer (1974)
While working on a small Pacific Island construction project, a work crew finds a large blue meteorite that won’t budge, even with the assistance of a large Caterpillar bulldozer. Suddenly, a blue light emits from the meteorite, which turns the Cat into Killdozer: an unstoppable construction-worker-crushing and structure-collapsing monster. A must see movie for risk and insurance professionals involved with owner-controlled insurance projects (OCIPs).

The Thomas Crown Affair (1999)
Who says insurance isn’t sexy? Rene Russo’s character is an insurance claim investigator who is hot on the trail of a multi-millionaire (Pierce Brosnan) she suspects in the theft of a Monet painting from a museum. Will she stick to her ethics as an insurance investigator and pin him for the crime, or will she listen to her heart and fall for the man she is investigating? Now if they could only make a movie about underwriting that is this sexy.

Deliverance (1972)
Canoeing down a river, four city men are faced with an unusually harsh realm where both nature and unfriendly locals conspire against them. The film begins with the main character (Burt Reynolds) saying, “Insurance? I never been insured in my life. There’s no risk.” Famous last words for a character that is headed up the creek without a paddle. Certain scenes become a metaphor for what can happen to a company that does not take the fundamental steps of risk management.

Disclosure (1994)
A nineties twist on the nineties phenomenon of sexual harassment litigation. Michael Douglas’ character expects to get a promotion, but instead the job goes to a woman (Demi Moore) from another plant who he just happened to have an affair with in his bachelor days. When he rejects her attempts to rekindle the relationship, his workload suddenly becomes impossible to handle. He decides to file sexual harassment charges. Hope the company carries EPL insurance.

Lloyd’s of London (1936)
Behind every great insurance company, there is a compelling love story—at least according to this film—which is loosely based on the historical facts of the people behind Lloyd’s of London. Blake is in love with an aristocratic woman whose husband seriously injures him. Sounds like Titanic, without the ship.

The Andromeda Strain (1971)
Aside from the important lessons learned in this movie about protecting the health of employees from alien viruses, there are some fundamental risk management tenets illustrated in the way the scientists operate. One scientist says, “I’ve planned our work in three stages. One: detection. The first step is to confirm that an organism is present. Two: characterization. How is it structured? How does it work? And three: control. How to contain—and exterminate.” These steps mirror aspects of the risk management process, such as identifying and analyzing a loss exposure, implementing a risk management technique and controlling the potential loss.

Accidents Will Happen (1938)
Film about a young claim adjuster who has interesting work, but low pay, much to the chagrin of wife Nona, who spells marriage with a dollar sign. Eric’s investigative successes cause big trouble for an organized insurance-fraud gang, who see his wife’s venality as the perfect wedge to topple him. If you want to see a film that paints a positive picture of an insurance professional, this is the one. 

riskVue | The webzine for risk management professionals
November 1999

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