Tax Law Movies - Oscars

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In celebration of the Oscars we wanted to share with you our nominations for best movie featuring tax or tax law.

The Firm (1993)

Tom Cruise plays a young graduate tax lawyer assigned to be mentored by an older, but not necessarily wiser, Gene Hackman. The movie features some genuine restructuring for legitimate clients but most of the activity shows the firm being an extension of a mob family and its efforts to launder money. The use of a Caribbean Island tax haven makes a more visually appealing background than sitting in an office drawing diagrams on a whiteboard. At the end, the charges are laid for "mail fraud" instead of a conspiracy to defraud the IRS because mail fraud is easier to prove!

Strange Bedfellows (2004)

Paul Hogan is no stranger to tax controversy. This movie may have simply been a pre-emptive strike at the vendetta that the ATO was soon to launch against him. Paul Hogan appeared with Michael Caton (The Castle) in a movie which had as its main plot pretext, taking advantage of a new tax benefit for homosexual couples. The movie attempts to extract laughs from the usual "gay clichés" and ends with the usual homily about treating all people with respect. We suspect that the story of Hogan's Project Wickenby adventures would make a far more exciting film.

On the Basis of Sex (2018)

This is a biopic of the United States Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg highlighting episodes of her life from entry into Harvard Law School and ending with the announcement of her victory in a ground breaking tax case (followed by a final appearance of the Justice herself walking up the stairs towards the Supreme Court). Having been unable to secure employment as commercial lawyer, Ruth takes on a position as an academic and specialises in sex discrimination matters. Her husband, Martin, who does practice tax law finds a tax law case which enables females to claim a deduction for engaging a carer of a parent but does not enable a male to do so. Ruth Bader Ginsburg is able to persuade the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals (in Moritz) that radical social change is necessary and the community now accepts gender based discrimination is outdated thinking of an earlier time. The film echoes the sentiment that the merit of a society is measured best by the way in which it taxes its citizens.

The Producers (1967)

This is a very, very funny satire written and directed by Mel Brooks (and was remade with a new cast in 2005). Zero Mostel plays an old time Harvey Weinstein who is down on his luck both with ladies and tax cash flow. His new accountant, played by Gene Wilder, suggests that a new production which flops could bring about the required financial result. (For those of us still old enough to remember, this evokes memories of the former Division 10BA). What could be worse than going to see a production called "Springtime for Hitler"? Answer, when the production is so bad it becomes a hit!....and doesn't achieve its intended commercial purpose. The main protagonists then end up imprisoned after a jury finds them "incredibly guilty".

The Young Philadelphians (1959)

Paul Newman plays a young tax lawyer who must have inspired many others to follow in his footsteps. He is able to win a client by having a bet with the lawyer then acting for her that he could find a legitimate way for her to save money on tax. The solution was found by looking at the various US state differences in taxation of dividends and donations and observing that the client would save significant tax by organising for the donations to be paid by the company rather than out of personal after-tax dividends. Of course, because tax lawyers can do anything, Paul Newman then defends his best friend from a charge of murder. All in all, this movie is must see movie viewing.

The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

This movie is based on a Stephen King story. The tax lawyer in question is actually a banker played by Tim Robbins. Tim's character has falsely been accused of a double murder and the film is based upon his elaborate escape plan. However, the scenes involving Tim Robbins giving tax advice to the prison guards, and then the long line of guards from Shawshank and other gaols waiting to see him with their tax returns for review (usually of whether they can claim deductions for various items) remains an enduring memory.

The Descendants (2011)

George Clooney stars as a trust and estate planning lawyer in the movie based on a book by Kaui Hart Hemmings. George is the sole trustee of a trust which owns substantial beachfront land in Hawaii. The trust is reaching the end of its perpetuity period. As with all tax lawyers though, this means that the trust will come to an end. George sorts these issues out with his usual suave demeanour. We question whether there is a fundamental flaw in the plot and casting, being that the bounds of credibility are stretched by suggesting that George's wife would ever have had an affair where she cheated on him.

There are a number of other movies that contain references to tax or lawyers who practise in estates and taxes – did you have any favourites that didn't make our list?


Geoff Stein


TaxAlice EdgarGeoff Stein