What typically happens in these scenarios is that the noble leader refuses to make a decision to sacrifice one life for 8000 or 1000 lives for 2 million, and then the hero comes along and somehow manages to save all of them. The hero of course only just barely had enough time to do so because the noble leader wasn't willing to say that 1 person is less valuable than 8000 and stalled the necessary decision.
Now, I can see this kind of reaction making sense in scenarios of negotiating with criminals, because of course you don't want a bunch of criminals to take 100 people hostage and then ask for the prime minister or their least favourite contestant on Canadian Idol to be offed.
However, in these movies it is often a decision of resources. We can survive this [natural catastrophe/accident of your choice] if only we [action of your choice that will inevitably kill someone innocent].
What bothers me is the mathematical inconsistency. Apparently, we claim that all people are equally valuable. If that is true, then the logical conclusion is that 100 people are more valuable than 1. If we say we cannot decide whether we should sacrifice one to save 100, then we are saying that potentially one could be worth more than another.
So, in conclusion, if I ever get to be a Navy General, and you're stuck in that section of the u-boat I need to shut off hermeneutically to contain a fire, expect to die.
Unless, of course, I like you. Then it gets much more complicated.
Thankfully, I don't like too many people. I would make an excellent Navy general.