The 8 Best Finance Movies
Watch and enjoy the drama as it unfolds on the big screen
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What do you think of when you think of finance? Does it bring to mind complicated math equations peppered with incomprehensible variables? What about shady backroom deals made by old men in sleek suits? And how about lavish lifestyles, filled with the best comforts of the world, both legal and otherwise? Maybe even… murder?
These films have it all, whether you’re looking for something that will keep you on the edge of your seat, make you jealous for a crazier life or even teach you a thing or two about the wonky and complicated equations that form the backbone of the world of finance. Read on to see our favorite finance movies to watch today.
Best Classic: Wall Street
This 1987 film, which popularized the phrase “greed is good,” is an undisputed finance classic for a reason. The movie tells the story of a corporate tycoon with few morals to speak of, named Gordon Gekko (played by Michael Douglas), who takes a young stockbroker, Bud Fox (played by Charlie Sheen), under his wing – but only because Fox agreed to help him with tips that qualify as insider trading. What many people don’t know is that the producer Oliver Stone’s father was a stockbroker during the Great Depression, and he made the movie in tribute to him. The menacing tycoon combines the attributes of all the most unscrupulous businesspersons in a cautionary tale for the ages. As you’ll see in the climax of the film, however, this unrestrained greed threatens to impact the people Fox cares about the most.
Best Thriller: American Psycho
You know the stereotype: Every banker and financier is a greedy psychopath who cares about no one but themselves. While that stereotype is clearly not true, in this movie, it certainly is. This movie has it all, and sometimes that means it has too much: vicious murder, a greedy psychopath, sex, unrequited love, torture and plenty of suspense. It’s not for everyone, but if you’re craving a thrilling finance film, this is definitely your best bet.
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Best Comedy: Trading Places
This movie is not only hilarious but illustrates a surprisingly accurate, albeit dramatic, example of a commonly misunderstood topic: short selling. In the film’s dramatic climax, Eddie Murphy, who plays a young homeless man who is thrust into the world of finance through circumstances outside of his understanding, manages to trick experienced financiers – and chaos ensues. After seeing a wealthy Louis Winthorpe III (played by Dan Aykroyd) in a confrontation with the homeless Billy Ray Valentine (Murphy), the commodities brokers Randolph and Mortimer Duke decide to put nature vs. nurture to the test – by helping Valentine rise through the ranks of the finance world.
Best for Understanding The Housing Bubble: The Big Short
Speaking of short selling, it sometimes has much more dramatic and devastating consequences than it did for the orange juice commodities traders in Trading Places. In real life, a massive short-sell took place before the collapse of the housing bubble in 2008: a large and powerful group of investment firms chose to bet against the American people and their homes. While this movie has plenty of Hollywood-level drama, it also will help you intimately understand the collapse of the housing market – and how we can keep it from happening in the future.
Best Drama: Margin Call
In finance, a margin call usually is not good news for an investor. If you borrow money from a broker to make an investment, he or she will often require you to comply with a certain maintenance margin or the maximum percentage of the equity in the investment. It’s easy at the beginning: If the maintenance margin is 30 percent and you want to make a $150,000 investment, you’ll have to pony up $50,000 of your own money. If the value of the investment falls, you’re in trouble – because you’ll have to pay money to meet the maintenance margin once more. For example, if the value of the investment falls to $100,000 but you owe your broker $50,000, you’ll have to pay him or her $20,000 to make up the difference.
Imagine this scenario on a massive level, and you’ll be close to the plot of Margin Call. If a firm is overleveraged, a big drop in the market could cripple not just one investor, but an entire company – and that’s what’s about to happen to the company featured in Margin Call. The entire film will be sure to keep you on the edge of your seat.
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Best Documentary: Inside Job
This informative, gripping and award-winning 2010 documentary by Charles Ferguson wants to make sure you understand that the 2008 financial collapse was caused by deep and serious corruption in the finance sector. It’s broken into five sections: How We Got Here, which explains this systemic corruption, The Bubble (2001–2007), which explains the technical aspects of the housing bubble, The Crisis, which explains what happened once banks started to panic, Accountability, which explains how the U.S. tried to force these institutions to face their wrongdoing, and finally a section on Where We Are Now.
Best Focused On One Company: Barbarians at the Gate
When you hear “Nabisco,” you probably think delicious snack foods, not finance. This movie, which explains the once mighty company’s downfall, just might change that. In 1998, Ross Johnson, CEO of RJR Nabisco, tries to take the company private through a buyout, in order to avoid having to disclose the fact that their company was in serious financial trouble. Unfortunately, for Johnson, his co-investors are not too happy about his plan and take steps to find other bidders for the company. The title comes from a quip by an investor who tried to stop raiders from taking over the company through a leveraged buyout: "We need to push the barbarians back from the city gates."
Craziest Film: Wolf Of Wall Street
There’s no way to describe Wolf Of Wall Street other than insane. This film showcases greed, drugs and a lavish lifestyle in the most extreme and ridiculous ways. Even so, it’s a fun film that might leave you craving, if only for a moment, such an otherworldly lifestyle. The film takes you on a crazy ride through the true story of Jordan Belfort, who worked his way up from selling penny stocks to the big boy’s club of high finance – and then everything came crashing down, taking those he loved down with him.