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There are few businesses more ruthless than finance, at least if the movies are to be believed. Movies about the stock market tend to focus on the brutal capitalists responsible for moving money around, and often find themselves incredibly rich as a result. While there have been a few movies about plucky underdogs in this world, for the most part, movies about Wall Street and the stock market focus on the kinds of characters who occupy the upper echelons of society.
In honor of Dumb Money, which just hit theaters and is one of the aforementioned underdog stories about regular people trying to prove that the stock market is not just for the ultra-wealthy, we’ve put together a list of the very best stock market movies in Hollywood history.
The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Based on the true story of Jordan Belfort (who had opinions about the whole GameStop thing), The Wolf of Wall Street is about a man who scams his way to the top of the financial industry. In defrauding his investors, both regular people and wealthy multimillionaires, out of millions of dollars, Belfort manages to become insanely wealthy himself from a very young age.
From moment one, The Wolf of Wall Street is a bacchanalia of excess, and that excess extends all the way to its nearly three-hour runtime. In spite of that incredible scope, though, the movie is compelling all the way through thanks to one of Leonardo DiCaprio’s best performances, and the direction of Martin Scorsese, working at the peak of his Goodfellas-esque form. Add in a hilarious supporting turn from Jonah Hill and the first Margot Robbie performance many of us had ever seen, and The Wolf of Wall Street quickly becomes one of the best movies about the excesses of American greed.
Boiler Room (2000)
One of the best movies ever made about what it’s like to be a young financier striving to make money quickly, Boiler Room follows a group of “stock jocks” who are doing everything they can to make sales quickly. Like so many great stock market movies, though, the kids working at this firm aren’t necessarily on the right side of the law.
Featuring a crackerjack cast that includes a young Vin Diesel (in one of his best movies), alongside Giovanni Ribisi, Ben Affleck, and Nia Long, Boiler Room is a tense thriller set in the world of high finance. It’s the kind of movie that features plenty of jargon you may not understand, but manages to get its points across about working in finance with complete clarity. These are not good people, even if the money they earn may seem pretty sweet.
Wall Street (1987)
Perhaps the ultimate movie about the moral dilemmas of working on Wall Street, Wall Street tells the story of a young stock trader who comes under the mentorship of Gordon Gecko, an unscrupulous corporate raider.
The personal compromises this young man has to make, and the judgment he faces from his father as a result, make up the bulk of the movie’s plot. What most people walked away from the movie thinking about, though, was Michael Douglas’s uncompromising central performance, which ultimately earned him an Academy Award for Best Actor.
The Big Short (2015)
The first “serious” movie of Adam McKay’s directorial career, The Big Short tells the story of the 2008 financial housing crisis from the perspective of the few people who saw the crisis coming, and made a fortune off of betting that it would happen. The movie is based on a true story and nonfiction book of the same name, and features a sprawling cast of characters, who all get brought in on the scheme to short the housing market.
Thanks to great central performances from Steve Carrell, Ryan Gosling, and Brad Pitt, among others, The Big Short makes fairly complex financial machinations feel relatively straightforward. Of course, it also helps the movie is incredibly light on its feet, and seems to have a real sense of outrage about the financial crisis, and the fact that virtually no one was held accountable in its aftermath.
Trading Places (1983)
One of the great comedies of the 1980s, Trading Places tells the story of a stock broker and homeless man who switch lives as part of a social experiment being orchestrated by two wealthy brothers. The experiment is designed to prove that there is nothing inherently different about the two men except for the opportunities they’ve been given.
In addition to being a pretty smart social critique, Trading Places is also uproariously funny, featuring wonderful central performances from Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy (this isn't his favorite movie, by the way). The movie climaxes on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, which is part of the reason it qualifies for this list. It’s really a movie about the trappings of wealth more generally, but one that makes that point in large part by taking a close look at the inner workings of the finance industry.
Margin Call (2011)
Another movie about the 2008 financial crisis, Margin Call tells the story of an investment firm that discovers the crisis just hours before its worst day, and realizes that they have to begin selling their stocks in order to keep the firm liquid. The movie takes place over the course of a single night, and follows a sprawling ensemble as they orchestrate late night meetings in order to determine what their course of action should be.
Margin Call is a look inside the lives of those in the finance industry, and manages to be a trenchant commentary on how they can behave with such little regard for their own morality. It’s not the most cheery movie on this list, but Margin Call is another great example of how, anchored by great performances from a broad ensemble, a movie can make even the most complicated financial lingo sound approachable.
And those are just some of the best stock market movies to check out. Dumb Money is playing in some theaters now, and will be available in even more when its wide replace takes place on September 29, 2023.