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Accountants in the movies. By Rob Lewis

4th Mar 2008
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Clapper boardThose that consider accountancy insufficiently glamorous as a profession may be surprised to know that this profession has appeared in the movies at least 26 times since 1971. Here's a quick break-down of bean counters on the big screen:

Carnal Knowledge (1971)
Jack Nicholson plays a deeply dysfunctional certified public accountant in this racy and frankly depressing movie, which bagged two Oscars.

Save the Tiger (1973)
A man-in-crisis movie, similar to Network or Falling Down. Jack Lemmon played the 50 year-old central character, Harry Stoner, and won a Best Actor Oscar for it. Comedian Jack Gilford played Stoner’s accountant, often acting as his moral compass, although Gilford is somewhat shady himself.

Same Time Next Year (1978)
A romantic comedy about infidelity, starring Alan Alda (aka Hawkeye Pierce from M*A*S*H) as a neurotic and guilt-ridden accountant in the starring role. Regarded by several critics as an unmitigated disaster but nominated for four Oscars nevertheless.

Highpoint (1982)
Christopher Plummer is a businessman who rips off both the mafia and the CIA and then frames unemployed accountant Louis Kinney, played by famed thespian boozer Richard Harris. Tongue-in-cheek thriller with notable MGB GT chase scene and the highest stunt fall ever (1170 feet).

Hannah and her Sisters (1986)
Woody Allen movie starring Michael Caine as an accountant, financial planner, and husband of starring lady Mia Farrow, who plays the Hannah of the title.

Moonstruck (1987)
A romantic comedy considered by Bravo viewers to be on the 100 funniest movies of all time, this is the film where Cher plays a cool and rational accountant only to get swept off her feet by... well, that would give away the ending, actually.

The Untouchables (1987)
He may be diminutive, spectacled, and mild-mannered, but actor Charles Martin Smith plays one mean shotgun-wielding accountant in this famous gang-busting film. Shame about Sean Connery’s Irish accent.

Midnight Run (1988)
Nominated for two Golden Globes, this well-liked buddy film sees Robert De Niro (fresh from The Untouchables) as a bounty hunter who has to bring in an accountant who embezzled $15 million from the mafia. Former talk show host Charles Grodin plays the annoying but guileful accountant.

Lethal Weapon II (1989)
Franchise duo Murtaugh (Danny Glover) and Riggs (Michael Gibson) are assigned to protect money laundering accountant Leo Getz, brought to life by an incredibly talkative Joe Pesci, who uses a high-pitched nasal whine throughout.

Look Who’s Talking (1989)
Kirstie Alley (her off Cheers) plays an accountant and single mother who gives birth to a small baby boy, whose thoughts are narrated by Bruce Willis. John Travolta is the cabbie-driving father figure. Considered funny and sweet by some. It was followed by Look Who’s Talking Too in 1990, and unbelievably, Look Who’s Talking Now in 1993, although Bruce Willis had found better things to do by that point.

She-Devil (1989)
Rosanne Barr plays a woman scorned when her accountant husband (Ed Begley Jr) is seduced by a trash fiction author (Meryl Streep). Based on a novel by less trashy fiction author Fay Weldon, who had scripted a BBC version three years earlier.

'The Crimson Permanent Insurance', Monty Python’s Meaning of Life (1983)
A bunch of elderly clerks and accountants turn their office block into a pirate ship and sail off to fight the Very Big Corporation of America’s skyscraper by firing filing cabinets at it. Has been a popular daydream for many desk-bound employees ever since. Ripped off by the Halifax for their dire 2004 “We are saving” advert.

The Hot Spot (1990)
Classic small town nineties noir directed by Dennis Hopper, starring Don Johnson (of Miami Vice fame), Virginia Madsen (recently in wine flick Sideways) and Oscar winner Jennifer Connelly as the accountant/love interest – naturally. Commercial flop. Based on novel by obscure but top notch crime writer Charles Williams.

Strike it Rich (1990)
Comedy in which Robert Lindsay plays a stereotypically bland accountant who starts spending beyond his means after marrying the attractive Cary (Molly Ringwald, for whom the film was probably written). And what do accountants do when they want money fast? Play roulette! In this movie, anyway. Adaptation of Graham Greene novel Loser Takes All.

Nickel and Dime (1991)
Buddy comedy in which a heir tracer who hasn’t paid his taxes for eight years teams up with a by-the-book certified public accountant played by an actor called Wallace Shawn. I know very little about this one.

Oscar (1991)
Critically-loathed comedy set in the 1930s in which Sylvester Stallone plays a gangster who wants to go straight. A young good-natured accountant wants to marry Stallone’s daughter, but it turns out she isn’t Stallone’s daughter, although in the end he does end up marrying Stallone’s daughter, albeit unknowingly. Lost Paramount at least $35 million.

Dave (1993)
Kevin Kline plays Dave, a man who happens to look exactly like the US President, and who is taken on by the White House to conceal the fact the real President has had a stroke. With the help of his old accountant friend he rewrites the national budget to help the homeless. Dave’s friend is played by Charles Grodin (his second appearance in this list).

Amateur (1994)
Accountancy, Murder, Amnesia, Torture, Ecstasy, Understanding, Redemption – that’s what the poster said, anyway. Sounds strange? It is. While this arthouse movie is actually about an ex-nun who writes pornography, Damian Young plays a very odd-looking accountant who staggers haplessly throughout the film as the world throws custard pies at him.

Exotica (1994)
Risqué Canadian movie that sees Bruce Greenwood auditing the books of a corrupt strip-club owner, but who is easily manipulated because of his obsession for one of the dancers. Probably quite unpleasant.

Circle of Friends (1995)
Set in fifties Ireland, if I’m correct this weepie romance has Alan Cumming playing a fairly slimy type who does the books for his father’s company. Minnie Driver plays a woman who’s supposed to marry him.

Love Affair (1995)
Remake of straightforward 1939 romance movie of the same name, with Warren Beatty and Annette Bening in it. Harold Ramis, the geeky one from Ghostbusters, plays another stereotypical nerdy accountant.

Nick of Time (1995)
At last, a film with a male accountant hero who is neither corrupt, dysfunctional or ridiculous! Guess what? It flopped. Johnny Depp naturally jumped at the chance to play a widowed accountant who takes on two kidnappers in this experimental “real-time” movie.

Bound (1996)
Another noir thriller with another money laundering accountant, who loses the $2 million he’s looking after for the mob when his wife leaves him for a lesbian ex-con. Style over substance, or so I’m told.

Zero Effect (1998)
Haven’t seen this although it sounds like my cup of tea. Bill Pullman is the reclusive Daryl Zero, “the world’s most private detective”, and Ben Stiller plays his sidekick. Strictly speaking, there is no accountant in this movie, but Zero pretends to be one to unravel the mystery.

The Dinner Game (1998)
Very French movie about a publisher and his friends who all attend a weekly dinner party every Wednesday – the only stipulation is that they each bring an idiot. The one with the most outstanding idiot wins. When the wealthy Pierre finds – guess who? - an accountant who makes matchstick models, he feels convinced he will win. Not a flattering portrayal of the profession.

The Accountant (2001)
This comedy short by independent writer and director Ray Kinnon actually won an Oscar, as well as being voted top movie in three different film festivals. McKinnon also stars as the heavy-drinking, paranoid accountant who is summoned to a Georgia farm to keep the bailiffs away. Predictably, he turns out to be a lunatic.

So there you have it. Conclusive proof that in over 30 years of film history, male accountants have always been portrayed as corrupt, stupid, and/or dysfunctional – and when they haven't, the film flops (if you’re a female accountant, however, you’re alright). Dave is a notable exception here, but that said, the accountant in this movie is hardly even a supporting actor and more of a big bit part.

I read recently that in 1997 KPMG signed a movie deal, for less than $20,000 a film, to appear as a company in six international releases. They were:

Tomorrow Never Dies (don’t remember that)

Shooting Fish (12 seconds’ worth of promotion as the sponsors of a horse race)

The Sea Change (partially set in KPMG’s Salisbury Square offices)

Wag The Dog (Dustin Hoffman hands a KPMG mug to Robert De Niro)

The Gingerbread Man (various KPMG corporate gifts)

It’s reported that KPMG has negotiated further film deals since. It’s unknown if the other Big Four firms have followed suit.

For anyone interested in accountancy films prior to 1971, the archives have an old piece here that actually goes all the way back (unbelievably) to 1915.

So come on: who’ve we missed? This can’t be a complete list. I have my suspicions about Vesper Lynd...


Replies (9)

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By User deleted
28th Feb 2009 10:25

The Firm (1993)
Not exactly accountants, but Tom Cruise and Gene Hackman are tax lawyers, who even manage a joke about the difference between tax evasion and tax avoidance.

Brighton Accountant

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By marcschweppe
06th Mar 2008 12:18

Two movies still missing
Impressive list of movies here by Rob Lewis, but I do believe two movies are still missing. One of them is already indicated by himself at the end of his story: Casino Royale, the latest Bondmovie, introducing not only Daniel Craig but also Eva Green as the beautiful accountant Vesper Lynd, who is supposed to keep an eye on Bond's expensive game of poker to protect the millions of the British government he is playing with. She dies in the end though.

Another important and recent movie is the 2005 blockbuster Hitch, with Will Smith as 'New York's greatest matchmaker', who succesfully introduces Kevin James, playing accountant Kevin Brennaman, to his gorgeous client societygirl Allegra Cole (played by supermodel Amber Valletta, a Cameron Diaz-lookalike). Note the AICPA-coffeecup held by Brennaman during his first scene. During the movie he seems to be more of a tax adviser than an accountant though. Personally, I thought Eva Mendes was the most impressive of them all...

Reply to a previous comment: no, the person played by Tim Robbins in The Shawshank Redemption was not an accountant, but a banker.

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By J Lessels
06th Mar 2008 10:50

Accountants and the mafia

What about "The Accountant" 1989 starring Alfred Molina.?

Alfred Molina plays a tall chartered accountant in Edgware, London who is busy planning for his son's bar mitzvah, worrying about clients who either pass away or dump him because he is too honest and trying to help a friend collect a business debt. This last matter, the 3,000 pounds owed to his friend, a paper merchant, gets Molina's character into all sorts of trouble, since he becomes a target of criminals. This seldom shown movie is loaded with idiosyncratic details, including information on British tax dodges that may or may not be authentic.

Contains the classic line "the whole point of a cash deal is that you get the cash".

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By mgh
05th Mar 2008 18:48

Party animals
"Vinz Clortho at first goes unnoticed as he waits in the bedroom of Louis Tully's apartment where a party is being held to celebrate Louis's fourth year as an accountant..."

Fourth year as an accountant? Who would want to go to that kind of party?

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By jford
05th Mar 2008 17:11

Shallow Grave
1994 debut for Christopher Eccleston playing an accountant who becomes rather mad.

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By AnonymousUser
05th Mar 2008 16:17

Accountants in the movies
There was a very good BBC TV film made around 1990 starring Alfred Molina called "The Accountant" in which he played a typical hard working and harrassed sole-practicioner based in north London. It's worth digging out if its available on VHS or DVD.

Of course, the character Leopold Bloom in Mel Brook's film "The Producers" is an accountant (who is scared of his own shadow). That film was made in 1968 but a remake was done taking into account changes made as a result of the hugely successful Broadway version. Bloom is still an accountant - this time played by Matthew Broderick.

And isn't the Tim Robbins' character in "The Shawshank Redemption" an accountant too?

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By AnonymousUser
05th Mar 2008 16:14

Greatest film accountant
But the greatest of all was Leo Bloom (Gene Wilder) in The Producers.
Presumably pre 1971, though.

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By User deleted
05th Mar 2008 13:11

26 times in 37 years. Wow. Apparently that makes it glamourous. Bar tenders must have the most glamourous occupation in the world.

How do we nominate this for the non story of 2008?

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05th Mar 2008 13:03

Louis Tulley aka "the gate keeper" was a CPA in this film played by Rick Morranis.

"Vinz Clortho at first goes unnoticed as he waits in the bedroom of Louis Tully's apartment where a party is being held to celebrate Louis's fourth year as an accountant; but then the minion becomes impatient and crashes the party. Louis flees into Central Park.

Who you gonna call ?

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