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As 2021 dawned few would have predicted one of the year’s big news stories would involve an ailing video game retailer, an “evil empire” of Wall Street investment funds, and a scrappy rebel alliance of independent investors rallying on the internet forum Reddit (best known for sharing Game of Thrones conspiracies and Marvel movie gossip). Or that Hollywood would soon be forging ahead with plans for a big-screen retelling of the tale - one based on an as-yet-unwritten page-turner by Ben Mezrich, whose Accidental Billionaires was the inspiration for Aaron Sorkin’s The Social Network.
But here we are: all collectively trying to wrap our heads around what’s going on with GameStop - and, latterly, with US cinema chain AMC, the beneficiary of a follow-on campaign of grass-roots investment. The short and incredibly simplistic explanation is that a group of predatory hedge funds gambled heavily on GameStop’s shares tanking as the company struggled to overcome the decline in physical video game sales (increasingly downloaded directly to consoles).
However, their plan to pick over the bones of the company was stopped in its tracks by a ragtag group of insurgents who had come together on the Reddit forum WallStreetBets. Believing predictions of GameStop’s imminent demise hugely exaggerated, these activists starting buying up shares in vast quantities. They were able to do so in large part due to an app called Robinhood, founded with the intention of “disrupting” the stock market.
And so the market price soared and the Wall Street “bros” and their bets came humiliatingly unstuck. Their funds lost billions and the underdogs on Reddit made a mint. All the mints, in fact: one investor, YouTube market tipster Keith Gill, is reportedly up $35 million on a $755,000 investment made in GameStop last summer. Meanwhile, GameStop chief executive George Sherman has seen the worth of his 3.4 per cent stake in the firm climb $500 million.
Even if it’s hard to wrap your head around the financials, it’s easy to appreciate the Star Wars-style arc of the story. A scrappy band of outsiders takes on the Wall Street Death Star – and wins spectacularly. Plus, there's a walk-on part by Tesla founder Elon Musk, who tweeted his support for Gill and his fellow upstarts. And by investor Michael Burry, famously portrayed by Christian Bale in movie The Big Short.
Indeed, The Big Short is the example MGM will be looking towards as it sets about bringing this Reddit-to-riches story to the screen. Adam McKay’s Oscar-nominated 2015 hit captured the lunacy of the American housing bubble, explaining concepts such as “short-selling” – likewise the nub of the GameStop drama – and credit default swaps via cameos from celebs such as Margot Robbie and the late Anthony Bourdain. The effect was to cut through the Wall Street verbiage and communicate the sheer madness of the US sub-prime lending crisis.
A GameStop movie would have to do much the same by delivering the story with a wink and a side-serving of cartoonish glee. Fortunately, and just like The Big Short, it features a ready-made cast of larger-than-life figures. Who, though, would portray them in a film version of their lives? Here are some suggestions. And yes, we’re aware how white and male the cast is, which tells its own story about the narrow horizons of the American financial sector - regardless of whether the players are Wall Street bigwigs or angry renegades ranting in their basements.
Keith Gill, aka Roaring Kitty: Benedict Cumberbatch
The 34-year-old WallStreetBets investor is a Boston financial advisor who describes himself as “just a dad in the suburbs”. His YouTube channel is a hyperactive mix of Vlogger speak and Wall Street jargon. But who could play this mix of savant, high-stakes gambler, and regular dude from the burbs?
That’s three different characters at once, really. And few actors are better at flitting between personas than Sherlock Holmes, aka Doctor Strange, aka Patrick Melrose – aka Benedict Cumberbatch.
Yes, he’s English rather than Bostonian. But Americans are notoriously awful at the New England accent anyway, so it isn’t as if Cumberbatch could make any more of a mess of it. And few actors can do full-steam jittery as effectively. Plus, as anyone who has seen him as Doctor Strange will attest, he’s a master of delivering arcane dialogue.
Ryan Cohen: Tom Hardy
Activist investor Cohen has reaped a 1,700 per cent return from his GameStop punt and is now a paper billionaire. The 35-year-old favours a stylish goatee and is the founder of pet supplies start-up Chewy. Did someone say goatee and intense? There really is only one candidate - and it’s another British actor. Tom Hardy already knows a lot about storming the American ramparts while communicating in indecipherable lingo, having portrayed Bane in The Dark Knight Rises in 2012. An underdog billionaire who got rich betting on a retail chain that sells second-hand PS3 games and Funkopop models could be the role he was born to play.
Elon Musk: Robert Downey Jr
The eccentric Tesla founder is not a central figure to this story. But he put in the mother of all cameos when tweeting “Gamestonk” and linking to the Reddit forum where the GameStop investments were being discussed. This was seen as an endorsement of the WallStreetBets strategy and poured further fuel on the mania.
The driving force behind Tesla and the SpaceX space exploration company, Musk has been described as the “real life Iron Man”. He even had a cameo as himself in Iron Man 2. Granted, Robert Downey Jr is arguably a decade too long in the tooth to play the 49-year-old. But who better to slip beneath the skin of a maverick who has been variously forced to deny claims that he sent tweets while stoned and who recently had a child – named “X Æ A-12” – with larger-than-life pop star Grimes?
Andrew Left, the Bounty Hunter of Wall Street: Mads Mikkelsen
The 50-year-old short-seller and so-called “Bounty Hunter of Wall Street” was one of the first investors to take a stance against GameStop. Last week his investment vehicle, Citron Research, said it has closed its position following “undisclosed losses”.
It’s unclear just how much he is in the red for, though combined losses for those “shorting” on GameStop are estimated at over $40.1 billion. To outsiders, Left and his fellow establishment investors look very much like the baddies of the piece, then.
And because Hollywood prefers to cast non-Americans as villains, they will inevitably look across the Atlantic. Who better than Mads Mikkelsen, who will have just come off playing wicked wizard Grindelwald in the latest Fantastic Beasts? A story about Wall Street eating itself alive would also appeal to the actor who initially broke through as Hannibal Lecter in Hannibal.
Steve Cohen: Bryan Cranston
The owner of the New York Mets baseball team likewise suffered a pummelling after betting against GameStop via his Point72 Asset Management company. The son of a piano teacher and dressmaker from Long Island, he climbed his way from unglamorous beginnings to the pinnacle of Wall Street - amassing one of the world’s largest private art collections along the way. Having played someone who similarly ascends from a humble background to become lord of all they survey (albeit as a meth dealer rather than a financial trader), Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston presents an obvious choice.
Michael Burry: Christian Bale
“Unnatural, insane” is how veteran investor Burry described the GameStop share frenzy. Having initially invested in the company, Murray has now seemingly exited the picture. As for who would portray him on screen – the answer is straightforward, as Bale already played Burry as a heavy-metal obsessed financial wizard in The Big Short.