Most people do not realize the impact that the actuarial profession has on all facets of our everyday lives. Actuaries' prominence in creating financial products and services, as well as the insurance and pension industries, is of course well known. However, actuaries also play an integral part in such fields as accounting, computer programming, economics, mathematics, statistics, and even criminal sentencing guidelines. Also well known is the traditional stereotype of an actuary, as typified by the old and amusing joke:
"How do you describe an extroverted actuary?" The answer: "He/she looks at your shoes instead of their own."
Considering their understated role in a variety of professions as well as the common stereotype, it is not surprising that actuaries are not well represented in movies. Whether it is one of the main or even secondary characters playing an actuary or their profession directly related to actuarial science, compiling a list of films is tough at best. After much effort, I was able to identify and compile my own personal list of the top five actuaries in film:
5. The Billion Dollar Bubble (1978)
I am going to go back a bit in time for this one. This movie recounted one of the biggest scandals, at the time, in insurance and stock market history - the Equity Funding Corporation of America Fraud. The cast is excellent and James Woods does a bang-up job in portraying Art Lewis, a key player in the scam, who was of course an actuary. Funny how this film still seems relevant today with movies such as The Wolf of Wall Street killing it at the box office. It is well worth watching, and since most of you probably haven't seen it, take the time and watch it!
4. Tron (1982)
A bit of a stretch here, as well as an unintended salute to my own geekiness, to come in at number 4. The character Ram was originally an actuarial program who was working for a "big insurance company." He was created by the fictitious company Encom which is directly related to the evil Master Control Program. Interesting how the evil Program and the insurance company are intertwined. Are insurance companies evil? I don't believe so but it's certainly up for debate. What is the definition of a computer? An actuary with a heart. Thanks to ActuarialJokes.com for that one (yes, there is such a thing).
3. About Schmidt (2002)
I am sure many people know and remember Jack Nicholson and his character's profession in this excellent film. He does a wonderful job portraying Warren Schmidt, an actuary for (yes - would you believe it?) an insurance company, who is retiring after a long career. His adventures after retirement make for an excellent story although his hot tub scene with a semi-nude Kathy Bates did make me a bit uncomfortable and squirm in my seat as I created a "clothing mandatory" sign for my own hot tub (sorry Kathy).
2. Along Came Polly (2004)
A close second. Ben Stiller is hilarious as the hapless Reuben Feffer, a risk assessment expert, although it is never explicitly stated that he is an actuary but it sure sounds like one to me so this comes in at number 2 on the list. Also - if you didn't find Alec Baldwin, who play's Ben's boss, side-splittingly funny (when is he not?) especially during the scene where gives the toast, well then shame on you.
1. Fight Club (1999)
How could this movie not top the list? Edward Norton is simply stellar in this film and in the role of "The Narrator," an office worker whose job is based on the assessment of risk associated with car accidents for an unnamed insurance company. Like Ben Stiller's character in Along Came Polly, it is never actually stated that he is an actuary but that sure sounds like one to me. If you don't agree well then too bad for you. Maybe Tyler Durden will challenge you to a fight... If so, be sure to remember the first rule of fight club.
Honorable Mention - Escape Clause (1996)
This one went directly to video so it technically doesn't qualify for the list. Also - it is flat out awful. It is however a thriller, if you can call it that, about an insurance actuary and it does star the always under-performing Andrew McCarthy (except for Less Than Zero - I have a soft spot in my heart for that film) and Paul Sorvino. So, if it is down to cleaning out the garage or getting your gums scraped then maybe this movie is for you!
So - there it is! A mighty list of memorable films. And yes I am sure you noticed the running theme of actuaries related to the insurance industry. I would implore Hollywood and film makers everywhere to please make a movie starring an actuary in a role other than that of an insurance actuary but I am sure my plea will be ignored. Also, if you didn't embrace and wholeheartedly agree with my list above then go out and make one for yourself.