While stocks, bonds, treasuries, mutual funds, and any other financial system might seem boring to the average person, Hollywood always finds a way to bring market drama to the masses.
Tinseltown has had decades of high finance stories to mine for box office success – especially in the past 40 years when New York City stockbrokers became popular archetypes.
These films have also inspired hundreds of men and women to join the finance world. We compiled a list of the best stock market movies to help inspire you and learn more.
Let’s start with the one you are probably thinking of right now. So slick your hair back, fire up the Bloomberg terminal, and get ready.
Wall Street (1987)
Oliver Stone’s takedown of unfettered capitalism in the wild stock market days of the 1980s may have unintentionally created a generation of brokers who took the movie’s lessons in a different direction.
“Greed, for lack of a better word, is good,” says Michael Douglas’ Gordon Gekko during the movie’s climax.
In the film, Douglas’ Gekko is a ruthless corporate raider whose Pied Piper tactics manage to reel in young trader Bud Fox, played by Charlie Sheen.
What follows is 126 minutes of drama and scheming as Fox attempts to out Gekko’s scheme to put an airline out of business and raid its pension fund.
The film was a massive success upon release, winning Douglas an Academy Award for Best Actor.
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010)
Even 23 years later, Oliver Stone never gave up on the idea of a sequel to Wall Street. Set in the days of the 2007-2008 stock market collapse and Great Recession, Stone brings Michael Douglas’ Gordon Gekko back to New York City.
Gekko returns after a lengthy prison sentence for his crimes in the previous film. It appears Gekko is a reformed man, releasing a book called Is Greed Good? and spends his time predicting a severe market downfall due to the failing subprime mortgage market.
But once again, the slimy Gekko’s methods attract the attention of a young trader named Jacob Moore. Moore is a pawn at first to help Gekko repair his relationship with Moore’s fiance, who happens to be Gekko’s estranged daughter.
What follows is another whiplashing run through business, finance, betrayal, and making amends.
While the film did not achieve the same mainstream success as its predecessor, Money Never Sleeps proves that a character like Gekko is too good to be put away.
The Big Short (2015)
Another film made in the years post-Great Recession, The Big Short takes a comedic look at the 2007-2008 financial crisis. The film is based on the book, The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine.
Starring Christian Bale, Steve Carrell, Ryan Gosling, and Brad Pitt, this fourth-wall-breaking film attempts to take a disturbing subject, poke fun at it, and deliver a powerful message.
Bale plays the real-life Michael Burry, an eccentric hedge fund manager who sees the crisis coming as early as 2005. While he is dismissed as a crackpot and even sued for his moves, Burry turns out correct when his bets against the housing market increase the value of his firm by 489 percent.
Carrell, Gosling, and Pitt play other financiers who made money from the crisis.
Director Adam McKay, known for goofy comedies such as Anchorman and Talladega Nights, manages to squeeze laughs out of the crisis to successful results. The film was a critical darling and earned an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay.
The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
There is something about 1980s excess that brings the greatest actors and directors together. Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio took the story of notorious stock trader Jordan Belfort and turned it into an Oscar-nominated, critically acclaimed film.
DiCaprio plays Belfort during his early days on Wall Street. After losing his job during Black Monday, Belfort joins a penny stock firm and makes enough money to attract the attention of other brokers.
With friend Donnie Azoff, played by Jonah Hill, Belfort opens firm Stratton Oakmont and becomes richer than his wildest dreams. Unfortunately, that wild lifestyle enchants and corrupts Belfort to the point where he becomes the subject of an FBI and SEC investigation.
DiCaprio and Hill’s acting, paired with Scorsese’s directing, make this a stock market classic and one of the best films of the past 20 years, according to many critics.
Boiler Room (2000)
A cult classic by many stock market film watchers, this 2000 flick starring many young actors at the time has the pulse of Oliver Stone’s Wall Street coursing through its veins.
In the film, a young Giovanni Ribisi plays a 19-year-old college dropout seeking ways to make money quickly. He’s soon drawn into the dark world of pump and dump stock trading.
The brokers portrayed in the film routinely quote lines from Wall Street and pledge to live their lives as Gordon Gekko did in the Stone film.
The scheme soon draws the attention of the SEC and the FBI, with Ribisi’s character having a crisis of ethics after a man who trusted him loses his life savings.
The film received high praise for its acting and the environment of the stock firm’s offices.
Trading Places (1983)
No one has made a funnier stock market comedy than the team of director John Landis, Dan Aykroyd, and Eddie Murphy.
The film is the story of Aykroyd’s Louis Winthorpe III and Murphy’s Billy Ray Valentine being forced against their will to switch lives on a bet. The bet between stock market brothers Randolph and Mortimer Duke involves using the pair in a social experiment. The bet’s bounty? One dollar.
Valentine soon figures out the bet and scheme between the brothers and vows to correct it with Winthorpe’s help.
The partnership between Valentine and Winthorpe leads them to discover another plot from the Duke Brothers involving commodities trading and frozen concentrated orange juice.
The film’s climactic scene in the commodities pit is memorable for its perfect portrayal of the chaos of a normal day in trading.
Margin Call (2012)
Yet another film framed in the days of the 2007-2008 financial crisis, Margin Call looks at the crisis from the banking side of it.
Zachary Quinto plays a risk management associate gifted with a financial model that shows the banking system is about to be turned upside down due to overexposure to subprime mortgage loans.
Quinto, alongside Stanley Tucci, Simon Baker, and Kevin Spacey, all deal with the aftermath of what happens when overexposure threatens lives and careers.
Critics loved this film, delivering praise for helping it explain the financial crisis to those who may not have understood the underlying issues.
The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)
While The Pursuit of Happyness is less about the stock market, it is about how a man can shine when given the opportunity.
Will Smith plays Chris Gardner, a real-life subject who is down on his luck as a single father when we first meet him in the film.
Gardner struggles in life trying to locate the career that will provide for him and his son. Eventually, he is allowed to become an unpaid intern stockbroker at Dean Witter.
He eventually excels in the role and scores high on his stockbroker licensing exam. His work impresses his superiors, and he receives a fully-paid position at the company.
The real-life Gardner becomes a multi-millionaire after opening a brokerage firm.
Smith got high praise for his work on this film, earning a pair of Academy Awards and a Golden Globe nomination.
Money Monster (2016)
The stock market can be a dark place for the average investor – especially if they decide to invest their entire life savings.
Money Monster is a tense thriller starring George Clooney and Julia Roberts. Fellow actor Jodie Foster directs. The film tells the story of a man who invests everything he has in one company based on a stock tip from Clooney’s bombastic character, TV host Lee Gates.
The stock tanks and company leaders blame a computer glitch. The man, played by Jack O’Connell, takes matters into his own hands and takes Gates hostage on his live TV show.
The movie takes viewers on a roller coaster ride to discover the truth behind the stock’s collapse and ultimately, how anyone can be a pawn in business.
Clooney’s Gates is an obvious nod to CNBC’s Jim Cramer, who has paired bombast and showmanship with the stock market on Mad Money for several years.
The film was a commercial success, earning $93.3 million in box office receipts.
The best stock market movies are the ones that can emulate the overall chaotic atmosphere of the stock market and pair it with drama that can easily explain complex financial information.
These listed films have received praise over the years for delivering in those areas and giving us some of the most quotable film dialogue in history.
Greed may not always be good, but these films will go down as landmark pieces of cinema history.