The unpredictability of the economy and the finance world makes for a great setting for cinema. Movies are the perfect media to dramatise and add more thrill to the already stressful finance sector. Over the years, several movies have successfully captured the risks and adrenaline rush that come along with dealing with finances. Although these movies may include some amplification of real-life instances, more often than not, the dramatisation creates a sense of exhilaration and thrill.
Here’s a list of some of the best finance movies of all time that have been enjoyed not only by people in the finance sector but also in other arenas. These films were both critically and commercially successful.
The Big Short (2015)
Duration: 130 minutes.
Starring: Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling and Brad Pitt.
Genre: Biographical crime comedy-drama.
Based on the 2010 book of the same name, this movie captures the financial crisis of 2007-08 triggered by the United States housing bubble. This was a real estate crisis where the housing prices peaked before dropping rapidly, resulting in the largest price drop in history. And “The Big Short” captures the essence of this crisis in a shockingly truthful way.
Particularly appreciated for its use of unconventional techniques to explain financial concepts in layman’s terms, several characters break the fourth wall to elucidate to the audience concepts such as subprime mortgages and synthetic collateralized debt obligations throughout the movie. It was critically acclaimed for very little dramatisation or fakery. Critics found it both entertaining and engaging while also being terrifying at the same time.
Wall Street (1987)
Duration: 126 minutes.
Starring: Charlie Sheen, Michael Douglas and Daryl Hannah.
Genre: Crime, drama.
Persistently cited as one of the best finance movies ever, “Wall Street” remains a true classic even after more than three decades since its release. It is a thrilling movie about the dream of a young stockbroker who is willing to do anything to reach the top of the ladder. In his struggle to achieve his dream, he becomes involved in insider trading of information taken through a ruthless, greedy corporate raider who takes the youth under his wing.
Even though there have been several films of this genre before, the intensity, entertainment and ruthlessness of “Wall Street” are absolutely unparalleled. The dialogues of this film have been quoted so many times that they have gone down in history as legendary. For instance, one such line is Gordon Gekko’s iconic quote:
“Greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit.”
American Psycho (2000)
Duration: 101 minutes.
Starring: Christian Bale, Justin Theroux, Josh Lucas, Bill Sage.
Genre: Crime, Drama, Horror.
Directed by Mary Harron, “American Psycho” is based on the 1991 book of the same name and follows the life of a New York-based investment banker who hides his alternate psychopathic ego from his co-workers and friends. Although considered more of a crime and horror movie, it is still apt as a Wall Street film.
Christian Bale has befittingly portrayed “Patrick Bateman”, a successful investment banker on the outside and a psychotic serial killer on the inside. Throughout the film, Bateman commits countless murders merely out of spite or annoyance, only to achieve a pyrrhic victory towards the climax of the film. A must-watch for all film enthusiasts, this movie appropriately captures the crux of investment banking: the surreal world that is inhabited by the financial industry’s elite class, and the utter disconnect they have with reality.
The Wolf Of Wall Street (2013)
Duration: 180 minutes.
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Matthew McConaughey.
Genre: Biography, Comedy, Crime.
Based on Jordan Belfort’s 2007 memoir of the same name, “The Wolf of Wall Street” is an epic American film that recounts Belfort’s career as a stockbroker in New York City and how his firm engaged in unrestrained corruption and fraud on Wall Street, ultimately leading to his downfall. Considered one of DiCaprio’s most thrilling movies, it avidly captures the finances and the crime scene that took place at Belfort’s firm. The movie follows the main character’s ascent to wealth and power after being appointed as a Wall Street stockbroker. Praised for its accurate depiction and groundbreaking acting, it is often considered one of the best finance movies.
Boiler Room (2000)
Duration: 120 minutes.
Starring: Giovanni Ribisi, Vin Diesel, Nia Long, and Nicky Katt.
Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller.
“Boiler Room” shows the pump-and-dump scheme over a decade before the “Wolf of Wall Street” emerged. Pump-and-dump is a fraudulent scheme where cheap and worthless goods are sold at highly inflated prices using aggressive sales techniques on unassuming clients, or even by spreading false information. Based on a similar theme, this movie follows the early adulthood of Seth Davis, who joins the firm with only one ambition: to make his father proud. As he passionately begins to ascend the ladder of success, Davis starts to realise that the firm may not be as sincere as they portray.
Although the movie received a mixed critical response, it performed well at the box office. Critics had similar opinions that the ending was a bit disappointingly tidy, but the sharp writing and brisk pacing made the wait worthwhile. Over time, the movie and its portrayal of the lowest rung of the financial world ladder have evolved into one of the best finance movies.
Trading Places (1983)
Duration: 116 minutes.
Starring: Eddie Murphy, Dan Aykroyd, Ralph Bellamy, Don Ameche.
Somewhat of a spin on the rather conventional finance movies, “Trading Places” incorporates comedy into its genre as opposed to the usual staid crime ones. An upper-class commodities broker and a poor street hustler are inadvertently made the subjects of a tortuous bet in which they are made to swap their lives to test how each of them will adapt to the circumstances. The aftermath of the bet and their realisations are what ensure the comedic events of the movie.
Although the actual finance scenes pale into insignificance as the characters attune themselves to their new lives, the film culminates in a fast-paced futuristic trading showdown that accurately depicts real-life trading sessions. This film was a box office success and is considered one of the best finance movies ever under the genre of comedy.
Margin Call (2011)
Duration: 109 minutes.
Starring: Zachary Quinto, Stanley Tucci, Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany.
Genre: Drama, Thriller.
Fast-paced and tightly wound, “Margin Call” takes place over a small course of 24 hours at a large investment bank located on Wall Street and recounts the early stages of the financial crisis of 2007-08. Set against the backdrop of a financial catastrophe waiting to be unleashed, the principal focus is on the actions taken by a group of employees during the subsequent collapse.
Perhaps the most technically accurate film, it accentuates the risks of trading complex derivative instruments, something that the banks themselves failed to understand accurately. A thrilling dark romance of capital, numbers, money and the seductive temptation of power, “Margin Call” is often cited as one of the best finance movies of all time.
Several other movies like “Inside Job”, “Too Big To Fail”, “The Company Men”, “Becoming Warren Buffett”, and others, are also popular in this genre. A movie that accurately depicts the hustle and pace of the finance sector, the stress of making decisions under a deadline and the responsibility of credits and money can be termed as an adequate portrayal. Furthermore, the ability to grip the audience’s attention over the duration of the movie without wearing out the laymen makes it one of the best finance movies.
Q1. What are some other finance movies?
Ans: “Rogue Trader”, “Capitalism: A Love Story”, “Working Girl”, “Other People’s Money” and “Arbitrage” are some of the other popular films cited as the best finance movies of all time.
Q2. Which finance movies are based on actual events?
Ans: “Margin Call”, “The Wolf of the Wall Street”, “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” and “The Queen of Versailles” are some of the movies based on actual events.
Q3. Are there any movies about the life and career of Bernie Madoff?
Ans: Bernard Madoff was the mastermind behind the fraudulent and largest Ponzi scheme in history, costing around $64.8 billion. A Ponzi scheme is a type of fraud where one lures in the investors and pays off their profits by means of the funds received from the more recent investors, creating a chain of funding without any actual legitimate business activity. Madoff has been the subject of movies like “The Wizard of Lies” and “Madoff: The Monster of Wall Street” which depict his financial career.
Q4. Which are the best finance movies one can watch to know about the Enron Scandal?
Ans: The Enron Scandal was an accounting scandal concerning the American energy company, Enron corporation. “The Crooked E: The Unshredded Truth About Enron” is an informative CBS TV movie, “The Smartest Guys in the Room” is also a popular movie based on a book written by Fortune magazine reporters Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind.
Q5. Which movie is based on the market crash?
Ans: “The Big Short”, “Too Big to Fail”, “Citizen Kane” and “Reaching for the Moon” are some of the movies based on the market crash.
Have we missed any of your favourite finance movies? Let us know in the comment section below!
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