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Best Wall Street Films to Watch

by Frank White 6 years ago in list / movie review / wall street / celebrities
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From 'Trading Places' to 'Boiler Room', this ultimate list of the best Wall Street films to watch will put you on the trading floor and into the madness.

Not available in stores, this nearly 50-hour program includes 25 required viewing classes, and it's free. This guide to the top Wall Street films is not just entertaining, it is educational. From 1981's Rollover to its younger brother Wall Street The Movie, and even the late 90's Pi, these movies explore the complex world of finance. From Danny DeVito in Other People's Money to Eddie Murphy in Trading Places, Wall Street has always relied on its sense of humor to get through the tough times. Some of my favorite picks are Barbarians at the Gate, Working Girl, and the timeless American Psycho. Forget the MBA and watch these 25 films.

Rollover is a 1981 film starring Jane Fonda as Lee Winters. Winters is the widow of the Chairman and primary stockholder of Winterchem Enterprises, a chemical company. She is attempting to obtain financing of the purchase of a processing plant in Spain while trying to determine why her husband was murdered. Her late husband had apparently discovered some damning information about an Account Number 21214, a secret lush fund involving asset transfers. Hubbell Smith, played by Kris Kristofferson, takes over as president of Borough National Bank to investigate its financial status and discovers that it is insolvent. Smith becomes involved both romantically and financially with Winters and discover the true nature of account 212214. The ensuing controversy leads to a large group of investors pulling their money out of every bank in America. The film ends with scenes of panic and rioting as people discover that their money is now worthless. The economic crisis paralyzes the world, but also unites the world in common cause by spilling over boundaries between east and west blocs and between developing and industrialized nations. In the closing scene, Borough National is shown empty of workers, the lights off, the desks and machines covered. Only Smith remains. Winters joins him. When Smith tells her that he's looking for a way to start anew, she offers to become his partner.

Trading Places is a modern-day spin on Mark Twain's The Prince and The Pauper. The comedy, which also resembles Twain's The Million Pound Bank Note in ways, follows the story of Louis Winthorpe III. Winthorpe, played by Dan Aykroyd, is a successful Philadelphia commodity broker with a mansion, manservant, and girlfriend to match. Billy Ray Valentine, played by Eddie Murphy, is a hustling beggar. Winthorpe’s employers, the elderly Duke brothers, make a bet that by switching the lifestyles of the two, Billy Ray will turn over a new leaf and Winthorpe will take to a life of crime. Winthorpe finds himself suddenly and unco mprehendingly with no job, no home, and nobody willing to help him except for a new acquaintance, glamorous hooker Ophelia, played by Jamie Lee Curtis. The film earned over $90 million during its run in the United States, finishing as the fourth highest earning film and the second highest earning R-rated film in 1983. Denholm Elliot, who played Coleman in the film, and Jamie Lee Curtis won the British awards for Best Actor in a Supporting Role and Best Actress in a Supporting Role, respectively, at the 37th British Academy Film Awards. The film itself was nominated for several awards including Best Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy, at the 41st Golden Globe Awards.

The 1987 movie Wall Street follows Bud Fox, played by Charlie Sheen, who is a Wall Street stockbroker in early 1980's New York with a strong desire to get to the top. Working for his firm during the day, he spends his spare time working an on angle with the high-powered, extremely successful (but ruthless and greedy) broker Gordon Gekko, played by Michael Douglas. When Fox finally meets him, Gekko takes the youth under his wing and explains his philosophy that “Greed is Good.” After taking this advice and beginning to work closely with Gekko, Fox finds himself swept into a world of “yuppies,” shady business deals, the “good life,” fast money, and fast women-something which is at odds with his family and the blue-collared way he was brought up. The character of Gordon Gekko is said to have been inspired by several people, including Dennis Levine, Ivan Boesky, Carl Icahn, Asher Edelman, Michael Ovitz, Michael Milken, and director Oliver Stone himself. The character of Sir Lawrence Wildman was modeled after Sir James Goldsmith, a British financier and corporate raider. When casting Gekko, the studio had originally hoped to get Warren Beatty for the role, but he was not interested. The film received rave reviews among established film critics, and Douglas won an Academy Award for Best Actor. Wall Street is still considered one of Oliver Stone's best pictures, and has proven influential in inspiring people to work on Wall Street. A sequel titled Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps was released in 2010.

Working Girl is a 1988 romantic comedy written by Kevin Wade, directed by Mike Nichols, and starring Harrison Ford, Melanie Griffith, and Sigourney Weaver. The film follows Tess McGill, played by Griffith, who has long dreamed of an executive position, but is given a job as a secretary instead. Her new boss, played by Sigourney Weaver, encourages McGill to share her ideas, but is not receptive once they are actually voiced. When McGill's boss breaks her leg, she discovers that her boss had devised plans the pass off her ideas as her own. In her boss’ absence, McGill makes plans to push the merger. Melanie Griffith is an American actress. She is the daughter of actress Tippi Hedren and former stage actor Peter Griffit. She rose to prominence for her role in Brian De Palma’s Body Double in 1984, which earned her a National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Supporting Actress. Griffith’s subsequent performance in Something Wild garnered critical acclaim. She was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress and won a Golden Globe for her performance in Working Girl. Griffith's daughter is Dakota Johnson, star of the recent film 50 Shades Of Grey.

Paul Guilfoyle’s Dealers tells the tale of the London branch of Whitney Paine, a major American investment bank, as it is in the midst of a crisis. After the loss of $100 million, one of their leading traders, Tony Eisner, played by Simon Slater, commits suicide while seated at his place in the board room. Despite the high stakes, many of the firm’s staff are eager to step into Tony’s now-vacated shoes and get credit for saving the company. Daniel Pascoe, played by Paul McGann, the leading trader at the firm, is convinced that he’s first in line for the assignment, but the firm imports Anna Schuman, played by Rebecca De Mornay, a new trader from America. Daniel is enraged and makes a point of trying to dig up as much dirt on Anna as he can, but things are going to take another turn.

The Bonfire of the Vanities is a comedy-drama film based Tom Wolfe’s novel of the same title. It follows Sherman McCoy, played by Tom Hanks, a Wall Street investor who makes millions while enjoying the good life and sexual favors of Southern belle gold digger Maria Ruskin, played by Melanie Griffith. Sherman and Maria are driving back to Maria's apartment from JFK airport when they take a wrong turn on the expressway and the two find themselves in the "war-zone" of the South Bronx. When they are threatened by two black youths, Maria guns the engine, running over one of the teenagers and putting him in a coma. The two drive away and decide not to report the accident to the police. Bruce Willis' Peter Fallow uses the hit-and-run case as a rallying point for the black community, and a heated trial ensues. The trial results in the exposure of the underhanded and self-righteous motives of the involved politicians. The film was taglined as "An outrageous story of greed, lust and vanity in America." The film also stars Kim Cattrall, and Saul Rubinek, and Morgan Freeman.

A corporate raider, played by Danny DeVito, threatens a hostile take-over of a “mom and pop” company in the 1991 film Other People’s Money. The patriarch of the company enlists the help of his wife’s daughter, played by Penelope Ann Miller, who is a lawyer, to try and protect the company. The raider is enamored of her, and enjoys the thrust and parry of legal maneuvering as he tries to win her heart. Danny DeVito is an American actor, producer and director who first gained prominence for his portrayal of taxi dispatcher Louie De Palma on Taxi. This role earned him a Golden Globe and an Emmy. He went on to become a major film star, known for his roles in films such as One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Terms of Endearment, Romancing the Stone, Twins, Batman Returns, Get Shorty, and L.A. Confidential and for his voiceover work in films such asSpace Jam, Hercules, and The Lorax. DeVito also co-founded Jersey Films with Michael Shamberg.

Glengarry Glen Ross is a 1992 movie adapted from a 1982 play by the same title. The film follows salesmen Shelley Levene, Ricky Roma, Dave Moss, and George Aaronow of a New York real estate office. The team is given a strong incentive by Blake, played by Alec Baldwin, to succeed in a sales contest. The prizes? First prize is a Cadillac Eldorado, second prize is a set of steak knives, third prize is the sack. There is no room for losers in this dramatically masculine world. Only “closers” will get the good sales leads, and Blake instructs the team on their ABCs-Always Be Closing. There is a lot of pressure to succeed, and a robbery is committed which has unforeseen consequences for all the characters. The play and film are named after the two real estate developments that the salesmen are selling, Glengarry Highlands and Glen Ross Farms. The play Glengarry Glen Ross by David Mamet won the Pulitzer Prize in 1984. It opened on Broadway on March 25, 1984 and closed on February 17, 1985. Five years later, the film was picked-up for production. The film stars Al Pacino as Ricky Roma, Ed Harris as Dave Moss, and Kevin Spacey as John Williamson. All actors took significant pay cuts during the making of the film due to the modest production budget. The film, as well as the play, was well known for its overuse of profanities, and the cast jokingly called it "Death of a Fucking Salesman" on set.

Barbarians at the Gate is a film based on a book of the same title about the leveraged buyout of RJR Nabisco. The film follows CEO of RJR Nabisco F. Ross Johnson, played by James Garner, and his rival Henry Kravis, played by Jonathan Pryce. Johnson's bid for the company is opposed by two of the pioneers of the leveraged buyout, Kravis and his cousin George R. Roberts. Kravis feels betrayed when, after Johnson initially discusses doing the LBO with Kravis, he instead takes the potentially enormous deal to another firm, American Express’ former Shearson Lehman Hutton division. Ted Forstmann and his Forstmann Little buyout firm also play a prominent role. After Kravis and Johnson are unable to reconcile their differences, a bidding war ensues, which Kravis ultimately wins. Although not covered in the film, an unfortunate side effect of the greatly increased buyout price is the creation of an initially unforeseen and distinctly troubling level of debt for the company.

The Associate is a 1996 film starring Whoopi Goldberg as Laurel Ayres, a smart and single woman trying to make it up the Wall Street corporate ladder. The film is a remake of the 1979 French film L'Associé, which in turn was based on Jenaro Prieto's 1928 novel El Socio. Ayres gets passed over for a promotion for no other reason than that she is a woman. Outraged that her less smart and sexist male coworker Frank has become her new boss, she quits and tries to start her own company. These plans are roadblocked when she realizes that the male dominated world of Wall Street is not interested in taking an African American woman seriously. In response, she creates Robert S. Cutty, a fictional white male, so that she may be judged on her own merits. As Cutty gets credit for Ayres' great ideas, competing firms and tabloid journalists try to bring the wealthy and elusive Cutty into the public and on their side. This forces Ayres to get her best friend to create an effective disguise, modeled after Marlon Brando, to try to fool the naysayers. When that fails, she decides to kill Cutty, but ends up being charged with his murder. Frank uncovers the ruse and decides to take credit for the now-famous Cutty. The film ends with Ayres donning the Cutty disguise one last time to accept Cutty's awards and unmasking herself to teach the male-dominated industry the evils of racial and sexual discrimination.

Pi is a 1998 American surrealist psychological thriller film written and directed by Darren Aronofsky. The film, which was Aronofsky’s directorial debut, earned Aronofsky the Directing Award at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival, the Independent Spirit Award for Best First Screenplay, and the Gotham Open Palm Award. The title refers to the mathematical constant pi. Like most of Aronofsky's films, Pi centers on a protagonist whose obsessive pursuit of ideals leads to severely self-destructive behavior. Max Cohen, played by Sean Gullette, is Pi’s unreliable narrator and protagonist. Unemployed and living a dreary apartment in Chinatown in New York City, Max is a number theorist who believes that everything in nature can be understood through numbers. Max also suffers from cluster headaches, extreme paranoia, hallucinations, and social anxiety disorder. Max begins making stock predictions based on the calculations of Euclind, his computer.

Rogue Trader is a 1999 drama film following the ambitious Nick Leeson, played byEwan McGregor. Leeson is determined to rise in the world and be more than a simple bank clerk in the film. When his employers, Barings Bank, offer him the opportunity to go to Jakarta to sort out a problem that nobody else wants, he seizes it quickly. In Jakarta he meets and marries Lisa, played by Anna Friel, and together they go to Singapore when the bank offers him the job of setting up their future options trading operation. The bank allows Nick to operate both the floor trading and the back office facilities and force him to employ cheap, unskilled staff to save money. His first year of trading is a big success and he makes large profits for the bank, despite the fact that he has illegally broken trading rules and secretly covered up losses. Given more freedom, even more money, and continuing unchecked, Nick starts to make losses and again attempts to trade out of them. However, this time he comes unstuck as his illegal trading generates even bigger losses. Nick completely loses control when his unborn child dies, and gambles without restraint with other people's money. This leads inevitably to a complete financial meltdown and the bankruptcy of the bank.

Boiler Room was released in 2000 and follows the life of Seth Davis, played by Giovanni Ribisi. Davis has recently dropped out of Queens College but desperately wants to please his harsh father., a federal judge played by Ron Rifkin. At his father’s insistence, Davis closes a casino he operates in his own house, mostly for college students. Thinking he’ll please dad, he takes a job at J.T. Marlin, a small brokerage house an hour from Manhattan, where trainees make cold calls to lists of well-paid men, and then apply high-pressure tactics to sell initial public offerings exclusive to the firm. He finds that he’s terrific at sales. Once training is over, the pay is phenomenal, and Seth starts to wonder why. Curiosity leads him to ethical dilemmas. Davis resolves to bring down J.T. Marlin when he starts having to deal with encounters with the Feds. His father resolves to help, and soon Davis has gotten him into legal trouble as well. The film received relatively good reviews, but was criticized for having a "disappointingly tidy" ending. When it was released on DVD, it included an alternate ending. The film also starsVin Diesel as Chris Varick, Nia Long as Abbie Halpert, Nicky Katt as Greg Weinstein, and Scott Caan as Richie O'Flaherty.

American Psycho is a 2000 psychological horror black comedy film following the life of Patrick Bateman. Played by Christian Bale, Bateman is handsome, well educated, and intelligent. He is twenty-seven and living his own American dream. He works by day on Wall Street, earning a fortune to complement the one he was born with. At night he descends into madness, as he experiments with fear and violence. The film also stars Reese Witherspoon, Chloe Sevigny, and Justin Theroux.

Trillion Dollar Bet is a 2000 NOVA documentary film reporting on the rise and fall of hedge fund Long-Term Capital Management between the years of 1994 and 1998. LTCM was founded by former vice-chairman and head of bond trading at Salomon John Meriwether, and partners Robert Merton and Myron Scholes, who won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1997. They were also the co-authors of the Black-Scholes-Merton model. This model was used by the firm to "eliminate risk" entirely on their positions. The Black-Scholes model is used by option traders to price options. LTCM was a huge player in fixed-income and statistical arbitrage, and had a gang of former Salomon arbitrage traders as partners. The company made big money at first, but when its models failed to hedge against unforeseen volatility and a "global flight to liquidity" during the 1997 East Asian and 1998 Russian financial crises, its massively leveraged portfolio collapsed. The Fed organized a $3.62 billion rescue of LTCM with large banks that had existing claims against the company because they thought that LTCM was too-big-to-liquidate its positions in the market, which would destabilize the financial system and put bank portfolios at risk.

The Family Man is a 2000 American romantic comedy film starring Nicolas Cage and Téa Leoni and directed by Brett Ratner. Cage's production company, Saturn Films, helped produce the film. The film focuses on Jack Campbell, a man who sees what could have been had he made a different decision 13 years prior. Cage plays Campbell, a single, wealthy Wall Street executive living the good life in New York City. He is in the midst of putting together a multi-billion dollar merger and has ordered an emergency meeting on Christmas Day to ensure its success. In his office, on Christmas Eve, he is surprised to hear that his former girlfriend, Kate, tried to call him after many years. After reminiscing a bit, he walks into a convenience store where a lottery contestant, Cash, barges in saying that he has a winning ticket worth $238. The store clerk thinks Cash is lying and refuses to give him his winnings. Cash pulls out a gun and is about to shoot the clerk before Jack offers to buy the ticket from him for $200, effectively averting disaster. Jack and Cash settle their business deal outside. Jack offers to help Cash. In return, Cash questions Jack, asking him if he is missing anything in his life. Jack assures him he has everything he needs. The two part company, but not before Cash cryptically tells Jack that actions have consequence and that Jack has brought whatever is coming on himself. Jack returns to his penthouse and sleeps through the night alone.

The Bank is a 2001 Australian thriller/drama film starring David Wenham and Anthony LaPaglia. It follows the story of Jim Doyle, played by David Wenham, a maverick mathematician who has devised a formula to predict the fluctuations of the stock market. When he joins O'Reilly's fold, he must first prove his loyalty to the "greed is good” ethos. Reviews of The Bank were mixed. 36 professional reviews on Rotten Tomatoes scored The Bank at 65%, but “top critic” reviews scored it 45%. Australian film review site Urban Cinefile's three reviewers summarized the film as "favorable." The New York Times concluded "As far-fetched as the movie is ... conveys an engaging zest for upper-crust mischief. The two stories come together in the hurtling final lap as Wayne confronts Simon in his country house while Jim puts his perfected program into operation. The upshot is a whopper of an ending that is as silly as it is satisfying." The New York Post gave the film 1.5/4 stars, stating "Despite a crafty premise and a clever kink in the tale that almost saves it, Connolly isn't dexterous enough to achieve the Hitchockian level of suspense the movie needs." The Los Angeles Times stated "Connolly might well have constructed a brisker, more exciting picture with more vivid and involving characters. As it is, the film takes too long to become truly compelling."

The Corporation is a 2003 film written by University of British Columbia law professor Joel Bakan, and directed by Mark Achbar and Jennifer Abbott. The film takes an in-depth psychological examination of the organization model through various case studies. Since the late 18th century American legal decision that the business corporation organizational model is legally a person, this model has become a dominant economic, political and social force around the globe. What the film illustrates from the study is that in behavior, this type of “person” typically acts like a dangerously destructive psychopath without conscience. Furthermore, we see the profound threat this psychopath has for our world and our future, but also how the people with courage, intelligence and determination can do to stop it. Bakan wrote the book, The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power, during the filming of the documentary.

Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room is based on the best-selling book of the same name. This 2005 American documentary was inspired by the findings of Fortune reporters Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind, as they studied one of the largest business scandals in the entirety of American history.

The film examines the 2001 collapse of the Enron Corporation, which resulted in criminal trials for several of the company's top executives during the ensuing Enron scandal; it also shows the involvement of the Enron traders in the California electricity crisis.

The Pursuit of Happyness shows that first impressions can make all the difference. Disadvantaged by his limited work hours, and knowing that maximizing his client contacts and profits is the only way to earn the broker position, Gardner develops a number of ways to make phone sales calls more efficiently, including reaching out to potential high value customers, defying protocol. One sympathetic prospect who is a top-level pension fund manager even takes him and his son to a San Francisco 49ersgame. Regardless of his challenges, he never reveals his lowly circumstances to his colleagues, even going so far as to lend one of his bosses five dollars for cab fare, a sum that he cannot afford. Concluding his internship, Gardner is called into a meeting with his managers. One of them notes he is wearing a new shirt. Gardner explains it is his last day and thought to dress for the occasion. The manager smiles and says he should wear it again tomorrow, letting him know he has won the coveted full-time position. Fighting back tears, Gardner shakes hands with them, then rushes to his son's daycare to embrace Christopher. They walk down the street, joking with each other and are passed by a man in a business suit (the real Chris Gardner in a cameo appearance). The epilogue reveals that Gardner went on to form his own multi-million dollar brokerage firm.

Corporate cinemaholics will love the reality show Wall Street Warriors. Wall Street Warriors is a documentary and reality TV series that details the lives of various Wall Street entrepreneurs. A MOJO HD channel original series, each episode is 30 minutes long and shot in high definition video. Currently two seasons have aired and a third season is in production. MOJO HD recently announced that the show would be going dark in December, 2008 and left viewers uncertain as to which network would air the current season of the series. On February 18, 2009 the opening scenes surfaced on the web for the Wall Street Warriors Season 3. Even though it was a very brief video it seems to have been made during the peak of the October 2008 stock market turmoil.

Michael Moore's Capitalism, A Love Story has revealed a deep dark secret to the public - so-called Dead Peasant Insurance, the practice of companies taking out secret life insurance policies on their low-level employees, with the benefits paid out to the company upon the employee's death, even if they no longer work at the company. Corporate-owned life insurance (COLI), is life insurance on employees' lives that is owned by the employer, with benefits payable either to the employer or directly to the employee's families. Pejorative names for the practice include janitor's insurance and dead peasants insurance. When the employer is a bank, the insurance is known as a bank owned life insurance (BOLI).

What exactly is a Quant? Quants: The Alchemist Of Wall Street offers insight into the role of a Quant and how they function within the Wall Street world. This documentary is a story about greed, fear and randomness from the insides of Wall Street and offers some insight into the question: "what is a quant?" and gives a rare glimpse into this arcane corner of Wall Street and global financial markets. The documentary features Paul Wilmott, Emanuel Derman, Matthew Goldstein and Mike Osinski. Quants are the math wizards and computer programmers in the engine room of our global financial system who designed the financial products that almost crashed Wall Street. The credit crunch has shown how the global financial system has become increasingly dependent on mathematical models trying to quantify human and economic behavior. Now the quants are at the heart of yet another technological revolution in finance: trading at the speed of light. What are the risks of treating the economy and its markets as a complex machine? Will we be able to keep control of this model-based financial system, or have we created a monster?

Corey's Johnson's The Last Days of Lehman Brothers is a British television film first broadcast to cinemaholics on BBC Two and BBC HD on Wednesday 9 September 2009. Filmed in London, it was written by Craig Warner and directed by Michael Samuels. It was shown as part of the BBC's "Aftershock" season, a selection of programs marking the first anniversary of the collapse of the American investment bank Lehman Brothers. It featured James Cromwell, Ben Daniels, Corey Johnson, Michael Landes and James Bolam. The Last Day of Lehman Brothers summarizes the events that occurred over the weekend preceding Monday, 15 September 2008, when Lehman declared bankruptcy. Some of the story is narrated by the fictional character "Zach", a Lehman employee often taking orders directly from Dick Fuld. Zach often breaks the Fourth wall, talking directly to the viewer. Investment bank Lehman Brothers is in trouble after a turbulent six months in which their real estate investments have lost billions of dollars, causing steep drops in Lehman's stock. Lehman's boss, Dick Fuld, played by Corey Johnson, who brought the firm through other crises, is himself growing desperate. Fuld's plan to spin off the company's bad assets into a separate company does not satisfy investors, and Lehman stock drops by 75% in one week. Fuld's only remaining solution is to have Lehman acquired. Both Bank of America and Barclay Bank are interested in purchasing the firm but are dissuaded because so much of Lehman's assets are "toxic," worthless.

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is the sequel to Oliver Stone's 1987 popular movie Wall Street. It follows the actions of Wall Street trader Gordon Gekko, played by Michael Douglas, after his release from prison. The movie revolves around the 1008 financial crisis. Gekko is trying to repair his relationship with his daughter now that he is a free man by collaborating with her fiance Jacob, played by Shia Lebouf. In return, Gekko vows to help Jacob get revenge on the man he blames for the death of his mentor. The unique nature of this movie and its predecessor lies in the fact that in this instance life imitates art. The original movie dealt with a fictional airline by the name of Bluestar Airline which was bankrupted by Gordan Gekko. In reality a company named Blue Star Jets was in fact started in 2001 by real-life businessmen Ricky Sitomer and Todd Rome. The character of Gordon Gekko is said to have been inspiried by several people, including Dennis Levine, Ivan Boesky, Carl Icahn, Asher Edelman, Michael Ovitz,Michael Milken, and Stone himself. The movie received mixed reviews, with critics stating that the acting was good but the sequel was unnecessary.

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About the author

Frank White

New Yorker in his forties. His counsel is sought by many, offered to few. Traveled the world in search of answers, but found more questions.

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