FINANCE MOVIES

Here are a few films available with finance, economics, business, or investments as key themes. (One note for sensitive ears: Most of these films contain plenty of adult language.) If you know of others I missed and would be good additions to the list, let me know.

Equity – Women investment bankers. Really. A so-so story of a tech IPO and the scheming and politics of making the deal. It would have been great to have something more informative exploring the role of women on Wall Street, since this has been a men’s club forever. Unfortunately, everything about this film is a Santa Monica screenwriter’s version of Wall Street and investment banking. But hey, that’s really all we’re ever going to get. One redeeming feature, however, is the protagonist. She’s not the comic book character she might have been. (Her US attorney friend is.) So it’s worth a watch for that. The IPO deal is a silly thing.  IMDB

Rogue Trader – About a young British trader in Singapore, Nick Leeson, who racks up losses that eventually bring down Britain’s oldest investment bank, Barings. The story is based on Leeson’s own account of his real-life devastation of Barings Bank in 1995. IMDB

Too Big to Fail – Based on the thick book by journalist Andrew Ross Sorkin, this details the behind-the-scenes story of Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson working to save the US financial system as Lehman, Morgan Stanley, Merrill Lynch, AIG, and others crumbled under the pressure of the recent housing crisis. IMDB

Boiler Room – One of my favorites, with an early conference room speech by Ben Affleck that is a classic for brokerage training programs. The film tells the story of a trading operation that is fraudulent – a ponzi scheme, essentially. Someone had clearly read Michael Lewis’ first book, Liar’s Poker, when piecing together details. Though Lewis writes about bond traders, his anecdotes come alive here for stock traders. IMDB

The Wolf of Wall Street – The recent big movie with Leonardo DiCaprio. Boiler Room was inspired by this guy’s life (the main character, Jordan Belfort), and I probably still like BR better. But this film brought a lot of attention to Wall Street of the 1980s. IMDB

Bonfire of the Vanities – Not as good as Tom Wolfe’s book, but still a wonderful glimpse of the life of a bond trader in 1980s Wall Street. It was the 1980s when bond traders were “masters of the universe,” and the sexy players that stock traders later became in the 1990s and 2000s. (The film came out in 1990, but the book was published and a best seller in 1987.) It is a (young) Tom Hanks movie, with Bruce Willis as the investigating journalist. Two scenes are worth viewing: (1) the opening sequence is almost five minutes of an extended shot with no editing as director Brian De Palma demonstrated the potential of the steady cam, a mostly new device then; and (2) a scene where Hank’s wife, played by Kim Cattrall, explains to their daughter what a bond trader is. IMDB

Arbitrage – A 2012 film with Richard Gere and Susan Sarandon. It is meant as a serious drama imitating some of the excess and corruption from the 2007-2008 financial crises. It’s actually a pretty lame film. IMDB

Floored – This documentary ought to appeal to all of you Chicago/Region citizens. It’s a look “behind the curtain” at the trading floors at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and Chicago Board of Trade. Really interesting, narrowly smart people woking their butts off in what is a dying profession. I admire them, but there is a serious lesson here about diversifying your skill set. IMDB

Other People’s Money – From 1991, staring Dany DeVito. It really is a 1980s style of story and film, but very entertaining. DeVito’s character has a moment when he gives one of those philosophical speeches screenwriters love. IMDB

Rollover – One of those ridiculous plots that nevertheless make great drama for Hollywood films. It was a big release, with Jane Fonda, Kris Kristofferson, and Hume Cronyn – all huge stars of the time. Directed by Alan Pakula, one of the “serious” directors of the 1970s. IMDB

Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room – A documentary with some good details about the Enron fraud and disaster. IMDB

Inside Job – An Academy Award-winning (2011) documentary on the financial crisis of 2007-2009. IMDB

Dealers – For years, this ranked as one of the lousiest movies I had ever seen. (Here are others to consider: The Philadelphia ExperimentFeeling Minnesota, and almost anything else with Keanu, minus the Matrix series after a couple of cocktails.) The context involves investment banking in London, and of course, the obligatory bad trade and scandal insiders want to cover up. It stars Rebecca de Mornay (forever frozen as Lana in Risky Business), and is just plain awful. 25 years later, however, it might be entertaining. IMDB

Barbarians at the Gate – Rooted in the leverage buyout craze of the 1980s, this HBO film’s story line is built around the real-life take over of RJR Nabisco. It’s based on a book by the same name, which itself was derived from a series of Wall Street Journal articles. IMDB

Margin Call – A late 2011 film about the very early moments of the 2008 financial crisis. This is a good story, with some technical details finance students should be able to piece together (but I suspect more casual viewers will not). And it has a pretty big cast: Kevin Spacey, Demi Moore, Jeremy Irons, and the guy playing the new Spock in Star Trek. IMDB

Trading Places – A well-crafted comedy with Eddie Murphy and Dan Akroyd built partly around a scam in the futures market. There’s a moment when the scam is fully explained. It’s worth critically thinking about that to see if Hollywood screenwriters set something up that makes any economic sense. IMDB

Wall Street – The original with Michael Douglas and Charlie Sheen. It was a good film, deeply rooted in its time. IMDB

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps – The 2010 version with Michael Douglas and Shia LeBeouf. Not as well received as the original (because it really is not so good), and the James Bond-sounding title is probably a clue. IMDB

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