Money lessons from 2021 Oscar best picture nominees



Elissa Suh

Elissa Suh

Senior Editor & Disability Insurance Expert

Elissa Suh is a senior editor and disability insurance expert at Policygenius, where she also covers wills, trusts, and advance planning. Her work has appeared in MarketWatch, CNBC, PBS, Inverse, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and more.

Published February 7, 2020 | 5 min read

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Updated Jan. 4, 2021: Nine movies were up for the best picture award at the Academy Awards in 2021. They run the gamut from biopics to period pieces and include a children’s satire and a superhero movie. But no matter the genre or theme, each of these films contains a useful money lesson.

‘Ford v. Ferrari’

The Ford GT40 sports car was the result of a rivalry between Henry Ford II and Enzo Ferrari. Ford intended to buy Ferrari, but at the last minute Enzo Ferrari backed out after discovering he’d lose control over his beloved auto racing division. He wound up cutting a deal with Fiat a few years later, that let him retain 10% of the company.

While you may not be in a position to consider any mergers or acquisitions — or you may not even own a business at all — the movie teaches us the importance of negotiating. You can’t know everything about a potential business partner or employer, but you can learn how to negotiate, which can save you from shouting obscenities, like Ford did, if a deal doesn’t go your way.

‘Marriage Story’

The movie follows two individuals, in the midst of divorce, squabbling over a custody agreement for their adorable son and how to divide up their limited assets.

While they might have their differences, both spouses care deeply about their son. If they created a trust beforehand, they could have rest assured in their son’s financial future, even if their own personal lives were to go up in flames.

If this fictional couple had a life insurance policy, they’d surely argue over that, too. Major life changes may warrant a financial checkup so make sure to update your life insurance policy after divorce.

‘Jojo Rabbit’

Spoiler alert: When young Jojo’s mom dies two-thirds of the way into the movie, he becomes a potential orphan — his dad is fighting in the war and no other family members are around. If this were to happen in the present day, a guardian would be appointed by the court to look after Jojo. If you have minor children, write a will to name a guardian for them.


This origin story examines how Arthur, an ordinary man, became the titular villain in the Batman universe. The movie highlights the issue of income inequality, which is often considered a zero-sum game. Some argue a wealth tax provide relief.

‘Little Women’

The March family is of modest means and are trying to get by during wartime. Yet, the matriarch Marmee continuously practices generosity and instills this virtue into her four daughters. For example, she persuades them to donate their Christmas breakfast to less fortunate neighbors. Teaching your kids how to give is an invaluable lesson they’ll remember through their lives and it will help them to better manage their money in the future.


In this South Korean thriller and international hit, members of a destitute family infiltrate the home and lives of a very affluent one. ‘Parasite’ is one big movie metaphor about the divide between the rich and the poor overflowing with money lessons — including whether health insurance covers emergency room visits, if you can claim the family who lives in your basement as dependents on a tax return, or how to save thousands on utilities by not falling prey to a random stranger controlling your lights or any other utility scams.

But arguably the movie’s most significant character isn’t a person, but the rich family’s mansion. Without spoiling any more, suffice it to say that you should get homeowners insurance. If someone sustains an injury on your property you’re protected through liability coverage in your homeowners policy. And if a stranger damages your belongings during your kid’s tasteful last-minute birthday party? The insurer might pay out through personal property coverage.

Flood insurance, however, is extra, but if you’ve watched the movie then you know how necessary it can be.

‘The Irishman’

In ‘The Irishman’ visual effects were used to make Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci look younger in service of the story, which follows the life of mob hitman Frank Sheeran. While imperfect, this digital deaging is certainly the most successful example in cinema thus far.

Appearing younger always has its benefits, but you should never lie about your age or anything else when filling out paperwork — especially on a life insurance insurance application.

'Once Upon A Time ... in Hollywood'

Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth, as an actor and a stuntman, respectively, are struggling with their careers. As they grow older, they may find it increasingly difficult to come by the roles they once used to get with ease. This is a lesson on why you should save for retirement, no matter how rich you are (or aren’t) and regardless of what stage of your career you’re in.

Rick and Cliff probably don’t have 401(k)s, since their employers may change frequently. But, they can contribute independently to an IRA or Roth IRA.


During WWI, two British soldiers must cross enemy lines to deliver an important letter to a colonel calling off a doomed attack. It may seem flippant to find a financial lesson in a movie focused on soldiers risking their lives to save an entire battalion, so take this opportunity to familiarize yourself with how life insurance works for military personnel. Active duty military members have to take extra considerations when applying for life insurance, since those who face combat are typically declined. Additionally, the military provides life insurance for veterans, but the coverage may not be enough.

Image: Aaron Sollner (Getty)