Philosophy and ethics are concepts that have been at the forefront of many stories. Going back to fairy tales created around 6th century B.C., each story had an important moral theme that was designed to educate and inspire a certain way of thinking. Moral dilemmas can pose interesting questions about humanity and present complex problems that have no clear answer. They can also test our ability to stick to what we value, even in high-pressure situations. Movies can dramatize these dilemmas and make us empathize with the characters to ask, what would we do? Here are the 10 best movies about moral dilemmas.
When we think of moral dilemmas, we usually think of life and death scenarios. Who is responsible for determining who has the right to live? This is an idea that 12 Angry Men explores throughout the film. The movie is about a jury, in a New York City murder trial, that is frustrated by a single member whose skeptical caution forces them to more carefully consider the evidence before jumping to a hasty verdict. Although taking place all in only a couple locations, 12 Angry Men tells a dynamic story that stands the test of time.
Moral of the Story: Human life is invaluable and ending it should always be carefully considered.
Prisoners tells a particularly dark story. The movie deals with a grim subject matter and has a bleak atmosphere. However, the movie is also extremely compelling with many twists and turns. Prisoners is about a father who takes matters into his own hands when his daughter and her friend go missing. Directed By Denis Villeneuve, the star-studded cast of Jake Gyllenhaal, Hugh Jackman, Viola Davis, and Terrance Howard give emotionally brutal performances in their respective roles.
Moral of the Story: We are all prisoners in some way: physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually.
There aren’t a lot of events that raise questions about morality more than World War II. The Holocaust is one of the worst atrocities in history and the fallout from it is still felt today. The Nuremberg Trials put the Nazi leaders responsible for such atrocities on trial for crimes against humanity. Judgement at Nuremberg is a movie that depicts the trials. It centers around an American court in occupied Germany that tries four Nazis judged for war crimes in 1948. Judgement at Nuremberg dramatizes the events thoughtfully and explores complex questions without giving easy answers.
Moral of the Story: We all have a duty of moral responsibility in any position we take on.
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Survival can put us in direct confrontation with our moral values. What are we willing to do to survive? Circle puts this question to the test by placing human beings in an impossible scenario. The 2005 movie is about fifty strangers who awake in a dark room as captives faced with imminent executions and are forced to choose the one person among them who deserves to live. Circle is a thrill ride from the beginning to end and leaves absolutely no time for you to catch your breathe.
Moral of the Story: Where does morality fit in our efforts to survive?
This film provides a cynical look at the world of LA in 1930. It has a fascinating story and strong characters. The movie is about a private detective who exposes an adulterer in 1930s Los Angeles and finds himself caught up in a web of deceit, corruption, and murder. Chinatown is a great homage to classic film noir and has a dark ending that may leave viewers surprised. However, morality is at the core of this tale and it captures the unjust situations that arise in life.
Moral of the Story: People in positions of power are never what they seem to be, and their true nature can easily be harmful to the people beneath them.
Although smoking cigarettes is seen as a terrible habit to have now, back in the 50’s it was a common way to relieve stress. Big Tobacco spent a lot of time and energy fighting the negative press that came out about smoking, even though a lot of them knew the truth behind them. Thank You For Smoking is a satirical comedy that follows the machinations of Big Tobacco’s chief spokesman who constantly spins on behalf of cigarette companies while trying to remain a role model for his 12-year old son. The movie is a smart critique on the media and the moral dilemmas figures in the media have when they blatantly deceive others.
Moral of the Story: Approach information presented in the media with skepticism as everyone in our media culture is spinning the facts to their own advantage.
A moral dilemma is when a difficult choice has to be made and every outcome breaks your moral values. Sophie’s Choice depicts one of the worst moral dilemmas a person can make. The film is about a young writer who becomes friends with a neighborly couple in his new NYC apartment. As the writer gets closer to the couple, he sees their relationship unravel to a dangerous state. Sophie’s Choice may not be as thrilling as other movies on this list, but Meryl Streep’s performance is one of the best in her career.
Moral of the Story: A true moral dilemma has no right answer.
Ben Affleck’s directorial debut provides a cynical look at humanity by putting morality in direct conflict with legality. The law is not always right and alternatively, our moral compass is not all-knowing. The movie is about two Boston private detectives who investigate a little girl’s kidnapping, which ultimately turns into a crisis both professionally and personally. Gone Baby Gone is a tough movie to watch, but the questions posed about morality make it one of the best movies about morality.
Moral of the Story: It’s the things you don’t choose that make you who you are.
How far would you go to protect someone you love? Many of us would risk everything. However, sometimes as much as we want to help the ones closest to us, we can’t. Mother is a South Korean movie about a mother who desperately searches for the killer that framed her son for a girl’s horrific murder. Mother puts the audience in scenarios that puts our morals against our self interests. Particularly for parents, Mother may be distressing to watch.
Moral of the Story: The love we hold for the ones closest to us can blind us.
War is full of moral ambiguity and ethically questionable scenarios that push people to their limits. Eye in the Sky captures the internal and external debates that go on in modern warfare. The film follows Col. Katherine Powell, a military officer in command of an operation to capture terrorists in Kenya and sees her mission escalate when a girl enters the kill zone triggering an international dispute over the implications of modern warfare. Eye In The Sky is a masterclass of building suspense. The movie spends most of its time depicting characters watching screens and contemplating, and yet, Eye of the Sky stays thrilling all-throughout.
Moral of the Story: War always has morally ambiguous scenarios and human life is always at stake.
Morality is a topic that appeals to our humanity. The best stories are the ones that make us question what the right thing to do would be and it’s always dramatic when characters have no other option but to choose. The best quality that movies about moral dilemmas have is that the debates sparked by them will continue long after the film has ended.
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