Money. Power. Greed. Corruption.
These are some of the core elements that often appear in movies about the stock market. It’s no surprise that films about the stock market – the professions, people, and events around making (and losing) astronomical amounts of money make great stories.
Whether you’re looking for a thrilling, edge-of-your-seat drama or educating yourself about a specific aspect of the stock market, you’ll find something on this list that speaks to you.
1. Inside Job (2010)
Inside Job is an award-winning documentary that aims to explain what caused the financial collapse of 2008. While there are plenty of movies about this topic, it sets this movie apart because it breaks the story into five parts – How We Got Here, The Bubble, The Crisis, Accountability, and Where We Are Now.
The approach to historical events often creates a singular narrative around the event. While Inside Job does follow a chronological pattern and creates a cohesive narrative, the sectioning off of each aspect of the 2008 financial crisis allows for a more in-depth and comprehensive look at all the many factors that led up to, happened during, and resulted from, the economic collapse of 2008.
You may notice that this list contains quite a few movies based on scams and fraud, and there are two good reasons for that. The first is that only by learning about past mistakes can we avoid making them again in the future. The second is that these stories make great movies.
This is undoubtedly the case for Academy Award nominee Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room. This movie is a must-watch for any trader or investor interested in learning more about one of the largest scams in history.
Glengarry Glen Ross is the fictional story of a group of real estate salesmen working for a less than scrupulous company. The company puts the salespeople under incredible pressure to sell, and we watch as this pressure takes its toll on the men.
This cult classic contains many quotable lines and a great speech by Alec Baldwin. The acting is also solid, with a stellar cast including Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, Alec Baldwin, and Kevin Spacey. While Glengarry Glen Ross may focus less on the more technical aspects of the markets, it’s an excellent portrayal of the pressure put on salespeople and the power of greed.
Do you know how and why the housing market collapsed in 2008? If not, or if you do, but you enjoy watching good movies, The Big Short is a must-watch.
The collapse of the housing market in 2008 was complicated, and even as it happened, few people truly understood what was going on. This movie manages to break down incredibly complex subjects in very entertaining ways. It also doesn’t hurt that the film has an all-star cast, including Christian Bale, Steve Carrell, and Ryan Gosling, who give stellar performances.
Warren Buffett is a legend that every trader and investor should know. With a net worth shy of $80 billion, he is one of the most successful investors of all time and one of the wealthiest people on the planet. Perhaps even more boggling than his incredible success level is his reserved, often quite frugal lifestyle.
The documentary, Becoming Warren Buffet, takes us behind the scenes of this incredibly successful investor. What makes the documentary immensely enjoyable is that it focuses on both Buffett’s life and career, making it informative and entertaining.
The last few movies we’ve looked at have all been documentaries, so we’ll now move on to something a bit lighter – Trading Places. While Trading Places may not be the most informative movie on the list, it’s not without its value, including useful insights on short-selling basics.
In this comedy, starring Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd, a homeless man (Murphy) is thrown into the world of finance. Mayhem ensues when Murphy begins tricking the more experienced financiers and rises through their ranks. If you’re interested in a stock market-based movie but want something a bit lighter, this comedic classic is an excellent choice.
When you trade on margin (borrowed money), a margin call is when your margin account falls too low, causing you to be overleveraged. When this occurs, your broker will require that you deposit more money or more securities in your account. Margin Call shows us what happens when a company becomes overleveraged, not just a person but a company.
Margin Call is loosely based on a true story and takes place on the eve of the 2008 financial crisis. What sets this movie apart is that it’s both an informative, realistic look at Wall Street in 2008 and a fast-paced, thrilling drama, with excellent performances given by Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, and Jeremy Irons.
One of the more famous Wall Street movies, The Wolf of Wall Street, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, is based on the life of Jordan Belfort, a real-life financier who began his career selling penny stocks and eventually worked his way into the upper echelons of Wall Street.
This Martin Scorsese film highlights the greed, drugs, and money that existed in Wall Street’s top tiers in the 1980s and 1990s. For those looking to learn more about over-the-counter brokerage firms and pump-and-dump schemes (with a hefty dose of drama added in), The Wolf of Wall Street is a great choice.
Easily the most famous of all stock market movies, Wall Street is the fictional account of Wall Street tycoon Gordon Gekko, played by Michael Douglas. Gekko teaches a young stockbroker named Bud Fox, played by Charlie Sheen, about Wall Street’s less than ethical ways.
“Greed — for lack of a better word — is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms — greed for life, for money, for love, and knowledge — has marked the upward surge of mankind. And greed — you mark my words — will not only save Teldar Paper but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA.” – Gordon Gekko.
Regardless if you believe “Greed is good”, I can soundly say that the movie is.
Based on the book by Bryan Burrough and John Heylar, Barbarians at the Gate is about the leveraged buyout (LBO) of RJR Nabisco, led by its CEO, Ross Johnson. While LBOs (a way for a public company to go private) are no longer in vogue, they had quite a moment in the 1980s, and it’s useful for any investor or trader to understand.
Suppose you’re looking to gain a more comprehensive understanding of LBOs and their impact on companies, employees, and shareholders. It may be worth reading the book, but if you’re looking for something a bit less of a time commitment (the book is 592 pages), the movie is both informative and enjoyable.
The China Hustle is about investors in the U.S. who want to take advantage of China’s massive growth. So Chinese companies, including many scam companies, found ways to bypass the typical stock exchange rules in the U.S. while still being listed on these exchanges.
This documentary will keep you on the edge of your seat from the dramatic opening line to the disturbing “conclusion”. If you want a documentary that’s not just another take on historical events but has an impact on the market today, you need to watch The China Hustle.
Capitalism: A Love Story was directed by the well-known documentary filmmaker Michael Moore. While, as a whole, Wall Street often leans to the right, Moore usually has a take that’s far more to the left, which is precisely why Capitalism: A Love Story is included on this list.
If you want to become a successful trader or investor (as well as an educated person in any other subject), you’ll need to familiarize yourself with various opinions and perspectives. Capitalism: A Love Story is a thought-provoking film that considers the implications of many aspects of capitalism not often addressed in other stock market films and books.
This crime drama follows fictional hedge fund manager Robert Miller, played by Richard Gere. Miller is the classic rich scumbag – he has an affair, cooks his company’s books, and when he finds himself in a situation that could lead to his arrest, he covers up his involvement.
You won’t become an expert on hedge funds by watching this movie; there’s little in the film about hedge fund management, but it’s a great movie if you’re looking for something fun, fast-paced, and dramatic that takes place in the world of finance.
Elizabeth Holmes became the youngest self-made female billionaire when she founded the biotech company, Theranos. She claimed Theranos had the technology to conduct hundreds of blood tests with only a finger prick. The only problem? It was a lie.
Not surprisingly, the story of the years-long fraud has already led to multiple adaptations, including the New York Times bestseller Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou. A film adaptation starring Jennifer Lawrence is slated for release in 2021. Until that time, this documentary is a fascinating look at, among many other things, how a company built on a lie could be valued at $10 billion.
Anyone who lived through the 2008 financial crisis will remember hearing the term “too big to fail” often used. The too big to fail theory is that certain corporations, typically financial institutions, are so large and interconnected that allowing them to fall would have catastrophic consequences throughout the economy. The documentary film Too Big to Fail, based on the book of the same name by Andrew Ross Sorkin, won multiple awards, including three Golden Globe nominations.
More and more trading occurs electronically, but pushing a button will never give traders the same adrenaline rush as a trading floor.
Floored, directed by James Allen Smith, follows a few traders on the Chicago Board of Operations exchange floor. The movie’s emphasis is more on capturing the excitement and intensity of a trading floor than on giving viewers an in-depth, comprehensive knowledge of floor trading. That being said, the documentary is informative, especially for those who came of age after the heyday of chaotic trading floors. Still, for a documentary, it’s also quite accessible and entertaining. The character studies and emphasis on the characters’ traits, situations, and emotions make it an appealing option even for those who are not traders or investors.
Most of the movies on this list, and most films about the stock market and finance, show the glitz and glamour at the top. But, like any industry, the bottom of the ladder is a very different place to be. Boiler Room is one of the few stock market movies that shows an aspect of the industry that isn’t all corner offices and boardrooms. While the film is fictional, the moral it shares, “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is”, is all too real. Any trader who questions the value of transparency and fundamentals should watch this movie.
If you’re looking for a fast-paced thriller, you may be better served looking elsewhere, but if you’re looking for a fresh, informative take on one of the defining aspects of our society and our lives, this movie is well worth watching.
The next movie on our list also deals with fraud. It tells the story of one of the most infamous fraud cases of all time and the rise and fall of the man behind it – Bernie Madoff.
This documentary is a fascinating look at how and why it took ten years for security analysts to expose Madoff’s Ponzi scheme for what it was finally. This is a great movie if you’re interested in understanding how some people have managed to get away with fraud for such extended periods or how exactly Ponzi schemes work. It’s also helpful if you’re merely interested in learning more about the infamous Bernie Madoff.
Unfortunately, a few of the films did not have a Metacritic or Rotten Tomatoes review.
This Emmy-winning documentary shows us how money has transformed the world. The Ascent of Money is a movie no trader or investor should miss because it provides a far broader perspective than we usually see. Often, we learn about the singular aspects of a subject. While this can certainly be useful and informative, every profitable trader must also have the ability to consider the larger picture. And Ascent of Money is nothing if not a consideration of the bigger picture – including how money transformed from a way to buy goods to a critical aspect of society.
This hour-long documentary about Paul Tudor Jones II is a lesser-known option than many on this list, but it’s worth watching for a few reasons. Trader is a fascinating look at one of the world’s most successful hedge fund managers. Jones is now 66 years old, but the movie was made in 1987 when he was only in his early thirties. And this is perhaps one of the most exciting aspects of the film. Trader was filmed shortly before the 1987 stock market crash. Over thirty years after its filming, watching the movie means viewers already know what will happen to the markets and many traders.
While you most likely won’t increase your annual returns or Sharpe ratio by watching these movies, you may learn a thing or two, and you’ll be entertained.
So, grab some popcorn, sit back, and enjoy!