Movies Make Investing...Interesting?
Let's face it: investing can be really, really boring. Part of setting this site up was me wanting to make investing a little bit more fun for everyone, and to maybe introduce a little swearing and sex jokes into the equation. However, Hollywood has also taken their swings at investing, making the formerly secretive world of investing, investment banking and buying stocks online in your mom's basement pretty interesting.
Today, let's look at the five best investing movies Hollywood has ever produced. For this list, I'll be looking at these movies from not only a pure entertainment value, but also the circumstances around the movie that brought it to even higher prominence. Let's start with number five:
5. Margin Call (2011)
Margin Call is one that I held off on watching until actually pretty recently because there's another movie on this list that covers the 2008 financial crisis so well that I didn't want to taint it with anything else. However, this movie is pretty good!
The movie stars Zachary Quinto, Kevin Spacy, Paul Bettany in his post-Jarvis but pre-Vision form, Demi Moore in like two scenes and the easiest check Jeremy Irons has ever made.
Margin Call covers the 2008 financial crisis from the perspective of a large, fictional Wall Street investment bank, including the panic that sets in when rocket scientist-turned risk management associate (what the fuck?) Zachary Quinto discovers that the investment firm is balanced on a knife's edge, and the housing crash is the push needed to send it over.
Despite the all-star cast that also includes Penn Badgley ten years before You, the movie only cost $3.5 million to make. It also only grossed $19.5 million which I guess makes it a success, but it's definitely the smallest movie on this list.
4. Trading Places (1983)
This is a weird one. Trading Places was the accidental hit of the 1980's, starring a pretty famous Dan Aykroyd and a not-yet-famous Eddie Murphy after Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder were unavailable. It centers around a commodities trader and a street hustler who swap lives, and hilarity ensues.
Trading Places is pretty notable for a few reasons. First, it was one of the highest grossing movies of the 1980's, making $120 million in 1983 money ($338 million adjusted for inflation). It rocketed Murphy to stardom, and he never looked back. However, in investing circles, this movie has an everlasting legacy.
One of the plot devices used in the movie is insider trading in the commodities market, which wasn't actually illegal in 1983. However, in 2010, Congress passed a finance-overhaul law banning the use of insider information in commodities trading, and this movie was cited in arguments and testimony prior to the passing of the law by then Commodity Futures Trading Commission chief and now head of the American Securities and Exchange Commission, Gary Gensler. The law is now referred to as the "Eddie Murphy Rule."
3. Wall Street (1987)
Having Wall Street third on this list is nearly a crime, and it's one of the reasons I fell in love with investing in my younger years, but it has to be knocked down for two reasons:
Daryl Hannah puts in one of the worst acting performances in history in this movie, and;
The 2010 sequel, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, is so awful that it tarnishes the legacy of the first one
The movie obviously leans heavily on investing lore and culture (yeah no shit), but goes deeper than I thought at first glance. The director, Oliver Stone, noted that this movie is essentially a love letter to his father, a stock broker during the Great Depression, and I'm not sure how to feel about that because it focuses on a horrible guy doing horrible stuff, but yeah sure OK.
Michael Douglas's iconic Gordon Gekko character is also based on then-Wall Street legend and the somehow still alive Carl Icahn, who I covered in my recent piece on the greatest stock trade of all time. It also includes Charlie Sheen, fresh off his star-making performance in Platoon, and he crushes it. The movie is awesome, and one hell of a lesson in insider trading, leaking stories to the press and doing cocaine in limos.
2. Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Speaking of doing lots of drugs and illegal stock trading, we have the penultimate entry in this list: The Wolf of Wall Street.
Based on the autobiographical account of Jordan Belfort himself, the movie stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Belfort and Jonah Hill as "Donnie Azoff," but was actually real life stock broker Danny Porush. It also features one of the biggest heat check performances of all time, with Matthew McConaughey in three minutes of the movie and completely stealing the show. Finally, it's the introduction of Margot Robbie into our lives for which I am eternally grateful.
This is 100% the least approachable movie on this list. It's three hours long, covers very complex financial topics like pump-and-dumps and IPO's (shout out to the Steve Madden Company who took a ricochet shot in this one) and features Martin Scorsese's trademark feeling of having run a marathon when you're done with the movie.
Despite the movie focusing on one of the biggest financial scams in recent memory, the legacy of the movie is actually much greater than that. The movie basically had a blank check in production because it was financed by a man named Jho Low.
Low is a Malaysian businessman who ingratiated himself inside elite American circles of celebrities and power-brokers shortly before opening his own investment fund. Turns out, the money Low was playing with was stolen from the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) fund, and the producers of the movie were brought into a larger investigation by both the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission and the U.S Department of Justice. The producers at Red Granite Pictures, the production company behind The Wolf of Wall Street, paid $60 million to the U.S government in exchange for no admission of fault.
Everyone associated with the movie left with a bit more tarnished reputation than they arrived with, and the litigation around the movie even prompted Belfort himself to sue Red Granite for $300 million and to claim he never would have sold the rights to that company had he known, which is hilarious because that would be like the 400th worst thing he would have ever done.
1. The Big Short (2015)
Here it is. The king. The mac daddy of investing movies. The Big Short is...perfect. Led by director Adam McKay and starring Christian Bale, Brad Pitt, Steve Carell and Ryan Gosling in the key roles, it tells the story of the 2008 financial crisis from various viewpoints: an established hedge fund with an enigmatic manager (Bale), an institutional bond trader looking to strike oil (Gosling), an investment fund weirdo (Carell) and an ex-Wall Street hermit doomsday prepper (Pitt).
Unlike its mirror image movie, Margin Call, The Big Short is based on real people. Everyone portrayed in the movie is directly based on a major player behind the scenes of the financial crisis, as established in Michael Lewis's book of the same name.
So I mentioned that The Wolf of Wall Street is the least approachable movie on this list, but theoretically, it should be this one. This movie dives deep into the world of collateralized debt obligations, mortgage-backed securities and the definition of "subprime credit." However, that's where McKay comes in.
Each horrible, boring, complex topic is explained in an incredibly relatable way, and by a random celebrity. Whether it's Selena Gomez explaining synthetic CDO's at a poker table or Anthony Bourdain (RIP) explaining the underlying securities using fish and stew.
Since it's a real world movie based on a horrifying time in the world, it also doesn't end...let's say "happily ever after." It lays out that bankers were totally fine after this. One single fall-guy went to jail, the banks got bailed out and big bonuses were doled out in the years following the crash.
The most interesting character coming out of this is Dr. Michael Burry, who Bale portrays in the movie. Burry was basically a blogger who got picked up by a hedge fund and eventually opened his own, Scion Capital, which led to the events portrayed in The Big Short. Burry, though, is now a lightning rod on social media, popping up on Twitter every few months to declare that the end is nigh. So far, he's struck out every single time except one: 2008.
So this is it. This is the all-time definitive list of investing movies from top to bottom. What do you think? What would you add? Any you'd remove? Let me know in the comments below, and don't forget to get your FREE stock valued up to $200 from my friends over at Robinhood. Thanks for reading, and I'll see you next time!