The financial industry, in all its forms, makes for great cinema. Tragedy, comedy, ingenuity, catastrophe, and redemption are all present in the these finance films that have become cult classics.
Let’s start from number 10.
10. The Big Short (2015)
The movie is based on the nonfiction book “The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine” written by Michael Lewis. The movie follows a few very savvy traders as they become aware – before anyone else – of the housing bubble that triggered the great financial crash of 2007-2008.
The movie is known for its clever way to break down sophisticated financial instruments in Lemans terms. For example, in one scene, Selena Gomez explains what a synthetic CDO is while playing at a poker table, or Margot Robbie explains mortgage-backed bonds in a tub with champagne.
9. Barbarians at the Gates (1993)
This movie from 1993 focuses on the leveraged buyout (LBO) of the infamous American company ‘RJR Nabisco’. While the movie does take some creative liberties in portraying this real-life event, audiences will be shocked and amused at the incompetence and greed of the key characters, including the Nabisco’s CEO F. Ross Johnson. The movie also explains entertainingly the behind-the-scenes negotiations and skullduggery around this famous LBO.
8. American Psycho (2000)
In this violent and thought-provoking thrill, Christian Bale plays a wealthy investment banker with a dark secret. The movie is based on the Bret Easton Ellis novel. Truth be told, there is very little actual finance in this movie, however, American Psycho does shed light on the surreal world inhabited by elite of the finance industry, and the utter disconnect they have among themselves and with reality.
7. Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)
This is one of the most quotable movies in the world. Period. This adaptation of a David Mamet play, focuses on a team of downtrodden real estate salesmen whose morals have been utterly eroded after years of working for their ‘unethical’ company. This movie highlights the greed and underhanded tactics that salespersons may be exposed to, as well as the pressure exerted on them by their superiors.
While the entire cast is top-notch, Alec Baldwin’s “motivational speech” steals the show. Let’s just say, everyone knows the “ABC” and “AIDA” of sales.
6. Rogue Trader (1999)
This movie shows the story of Nick Leeson, a trader who single-handedly brought down the Barings Bank, the world’s second-oldest merchant bank. The rising star on the Singapore trading floor, Leeson blew up as quickly as he rose, hiding enormous losses from his superiors in carefully hidden accounts, eventually leading to the largest failed trade on a short straddle position on the Japan’s Nikkei, which ends up experiencing a large sigma move.
The movie is very entertaining, and shows the importance of risk management and financial oversight.
5. Trading Places (1983)
This movie features Eddie Murphy as a streetwise con artist who gets tricked into becoming the manager of a commodities trading firm. In reality he is unwittingly replacing his successor, an executive played by Dan Aykroyd.
The final 15 minutes of the movie has a very accurate depiction of a frenzied trading session in the orange juice futures pits. Without revealing the details, this scene alone is worth watching the movie (or at least this scene, just Google it).
4. The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
If you haven’t seen this Scorsese movie about the rise and fall of a famous stock scammer, Jordan Belfort, then you are missing out on some of the best performances of Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill’s careers.
The Wolf of Wall Street is based on real-life events (although some parts are dramatized), around the infamous Stratton Oakmont, an over-the-counter brokerage firm, and a pump-and-dump scheme that helped to IPO several large public companies during the late 80s and 90s (including the shoe company Steven Madden Ltd.)
3. Boiler Room (2000)
While other movies take place in the glitz and glamor of a corporate boardroom, Boiler Room is set in the absolute lowest rung of the financial ladder: the pump and dump schem. The movie is a work of fiction, however, the pump-and-dump activities that it shows are straight from what happened in reality in 90s.
Boiler Room serves as a warning for those starting to invest in the stock market, to stick to transparent, solid companies based on sound fundamentals, and to always follow the adage: “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”
2. Margin Call (2011)
The most financially accurate movie on this list is probably Margin Call. The movie takes place over the span of only 24 hours in the life of a Wall Street firm on the brink of disaster.
Margin Call does little to hide its contempt for the reckless risk-taking by some of the largest banks in the run-up to the 2008 financial crisis while traded complex derivative instruments they barely understood. The movie has some very memorable scenes, including one where the two main characters talk about the impending catastrophe that will soon be unleashed upon their bank and the unsuspecting world, while a janitor stands between them, completely oblivious to what is going on.
1. Wall Street (1987)
The number 1 finance movie every professional must see is the Oliver Stone classic that got thousands of college graduates to utter the immortal phrase “Blue Horseshoe loves Anacott Steel” as they rushed to their Series 7 exams.
The movie originally aimed to show the excess and hedonism associated with finance. However, ironically, after its release it was used more as a recruiting tool for traders, brokers, analysts, and bankers by Wall Street firms. In a way, it had an opposite effect.
Although the movie serves to warn us about the dangers and perils of insider trading, let’s face it, who wouldn’t want to be Bud Fox or even Gordon Gekko and indulge a bit in our greedy side? Every person in Wall Street knows the Gordon Gekko speech “Greed is good.”
What is your favorite finance movie?