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Looking to invest your time in some Wall Street films? Hollywood has produced no shortage of excellent ones, including biting satires of capitalism and movies that revel in the schadenfreude of seeing corrupt businessmen get what’s coming to them. With a new entry in this subgenre hitting theaters, let's take a look back at some of the best movies ever made about Wall Street.
To the moon! "I, Tonya" director Craig Gillespie tackles very recent events with this hilarious new dramedy about the 2021 GameStop short squeeze, in which retail traders backed the company en masse to the chagrin of hedge funds who bet against it. The film follows numerous characters who are tied up in the saga, including financial analyst Keith Gill (Paul Dano) and several of his followers around the country, played by America Ferrera, Anthony Ramos, Myha'la Herrold and Talia Ryder. Gillespie's most impressive accomplishment is using skillful editing to ensure these actors never feel like they're in different movies despite not sharing a single scene. Their stories are smoothly intertwined, underlining how the individual investors are all part of a larger battle against the Wall Street elite and are driven by solidarity with those they don't know. The movie also manages to make countless scenes of people looking at computers and phones exciting. It perhaps relies a bit too heavily on real footage for a non-documentary, and not all of its characters are equally well-served. But "Dumb Money" is still an energetic and inspiring dramatization of this crazy true story that makes the case for bringing it to the screen so soon.
Who would have thought a goofy Eddie Murphy comedy might have a tangible impact on financial laws? One of the films that helped make Murphy a major star, 1983's "Trading Places" sees two rich businessmen debate whether a person's social status is a product of their genes or their environmental circumstances. So they put the question to the test, scheming to have a poor man, played by Murphy, and a wealthy man, played by Dan Aykroyd, switch places. Hilarity ensues until the two join forces to get back at the businessmen with a plot of their own, bankrupting them by driving the price of frozen concentrated orange juice futures up after obtaining a government report. Years later, Commodity Futures Trading Commission chief Gary Gensler pointed out in 2010 congressional testimony that using misappropriated government information for profit like the characters do in the movie "actually is not illegal." But as The Atlantic notes, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act was enacted later that year, and a section targeting this kind of insider trading is known as the "Eddie Murphy Rule." Now that's cultural impact.
You like Huey Lewis and the News? You'll never listen to them the same way again after watching Mary Harron’s darkly funny "American Psycho," one of the all-time great satires of Wall Street. Christian Bale stars as Patrick Bateman, an investment banker who's secretly a brutal serial killer, and he delivers an utterly chilling performance. But the movie really shines thanks to its sharp skewering of the vapid nature of Bateman and his colleagues' lives and their obsession with material things. Look no further than the iconic, absurd scene where they competitively compare business cards that look virtually identical. The Wall Street yuppies use the same credit cards, dress the same way, and go to the same barber, and their conformity is taken to such an extreme that they're easily confused for one another. It's a twisted American classic and a videotape you won't want to return.
If you ever wanted to watch two hours of people slowly realizing just how screwed they are, "Margin Call" is the movie for you. The 2011 film takes place at a Wall Street investment bank in 2008 and depicts the chaos that unfolds after an employee makes a horrifying discovery: A model reveals that the entire institution is at risk of imminent collapse. What follows is an anxiety-inducing 24 hours as character after character processes the gravity of this information, and they must decide whether to compromise their morals by selling bad assets to save the bank while knowingly harming countless people in the process. The film is like a slow-motion car crash showing what happens when Wall Street's careless behavior comes back to bite it — or, more accurately, comes back to bite everyone else. It's also a reminder that Ted Mosby was right that nothing good happens after 2 a.m.
Could there be a more quintessentially '80s movie moment than Michael Douglas' Gordon Gekko declaring that greed is good? The actor delivers the performance of his career, which won him an Academy Award, in this 1987 Oliver Stone classic. Charlie Sheen stars as Bud Fox, a junior stockbroker who worships financier Gordon Gekko and manages to work his way into his orbit. But the unethical Gekko is like the devil on Bud’s shoulder, leading him down a dark path into insider trading that corrupts everything around him and has disastrous consequences. The film is a crucial text to understanding the unrestrained greed that characterized the 1980s, and Martin Sheen sneakily delivers one of his best performances as Bud's father, the movie’s voice of reason. "Wall Street," for lack of a better word, is good.
'The Wolf of Wall Street'
If you took Oliver Stone's "Wall Street" and injected it with several pounds of cocaine, you'd get Martin Scorsese's unhinged 2013 masterpiece "The Wolf of Wall Street." Leonardo DiCaprio stars as a stockbroker, Jordan Belfort, who increasingly loses his soul as he rises through the world of Wall Street. Scorsese depicts his climb and spectacular fall, portraying the debauchery of Belfort's lifestyle in a shockingly graphic fashion and showing viewers things they’ll immediately wish to unsee. It's the "Goodfellas" of Wall Street movies and just as addictively watchable, featuring the performance that probably should have won DiCaprio the Oscar. A sequence involving quaaludes is also perhaps the funniest single scene in a Scorsese movie. In the end, "The Wolf of Wall Street" also chastises the audience that would still buy what Belfort is selling despite everything he did, a point only strengthened by the fact that certain viewers have inexplicably come away from the film seeing him as a hero.
'The Big Short'
Adam McKay has a tendency to talk down to his audience. But unlike with his films "Vice" and "Don't Look Up," this was a strength in "The Big Short," in which he breaks down complicated financial concepts in an easy-to-understand and highly entertaining fashion. The film takes place in the lead-up to the 2008 financial crisis and centers on a group of real people who saw the disaster coming, allowing them to make a fortune by betting against the big banks. Along the way, McKay brings in A-listers like Margot Robbie and Selena Gomez to break the fourth wall and explain terms like mortgage-backed securities, which is genuinely educational while effectively parodying America's inclination to pay more attention to what a celebrity has to say than an expert in the field. Monologues about collateralized debt obligations have never been so fun.