Looking for some super-watchable investment movies to bone up on investing and finance? Grab the popcorn and munch along to these classic films that feature Wall Street, finance, stock markets, scams, and money. Enjoy, while learning a lot along the way. I’ve watched and enjoyed all of these (sometimes two or three times). Here are 11 films to keep you learning about money:
1. Rogue Trader (1999)
It’s the story of investment broker Nick Leeson (played by Ewan McGregor), who singlehandedly caused the 1995 collapse of Barings Bank in Britain in 1995 by making high-risk, fraudulent trades. Big investment bets by Leeson in the derivatives market coupled with a lack of oversight by management, a poor regulatory environment and the unforeseen event of the Kobe earthquake, led to Leeson losing $1.3 billion, and ultimately the bankruptcy of Barings.
2. Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005)
This is a documentary about Enron corporation, its faulty and corrupt business practices, and how they led to its fall. It was a con game orchestrated by Board members Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling almost from the start, and the movie explores how one of the largest companies in the U.S., disintegrated almost overnight—and how it managed to fool regulators with fake holdings and off-the-books accounting. The movie also details how Enron manufactured a California Energy crisis that saw the company purposefully shut down up to 50% of the state’s energy grid on a whim. The movie includes several interviews from key employees as well as a narrative from the central whistleblower in the case.
3. Too Big to Fail (2011)
The film chronicles the financial meltdown of 2008 and centres on Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson. Many big-name actors portray the financial titans of the time. The movie offers a close look behind the scenes, between late March and mid-October, 2008: we follow Richard Fuld’s benighted attempt to save Lehman Brothers; conversations among Hank Paulson (the Secretary of the Treasury), Ben Bernanke (chair of the Federal Reserve), and Tim Geithner (president of the New York Fed) as they seek a private solution for Lehman; and, back-channel negotiations among Paulson, Warren Buffet, investment bankers, a British regulator, and members of Congress as almost all work to save the U.S. economy.
4. Trading Places (1983)
A story about a bet by two cold-hearted millionaires, Trading Places focuses on two brothers—Duke and Duke—and their long-time dispute over whether it’s a person’s environment or heredity that determines how well they will do in life. To put their theories to the test they involve two other men, Billy Ray Valentine, a street hustler, and businessman Louis Winthorpe. They want to see, if the tables are turned (meaning Billy Ray gets the good life while Winthorpe loses his job and plunges into poverty), what the results would be. Watch for the iconic final scene which takes place on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange as Valentine actually shorts orange juice futures in order to break the Duke Brothers—and succeeds.
5. Wall Street (1987)
The film tells the story of Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen), a young stockbroker who becomes involved with Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas), a wealthy and unscrupulous corporate raider. Bud Fox will do anything to get rich—including trading on illegal inside information obtained from a ruthless and greedy corporate raider who takes the youth under his wing.
6. The Big Short (2015)
It’s a movie that follows the lives of a small number of investors who bet the U.S. housing bubble of the mid-2000s was about to pop. The movie has a lot of technical terms and jargon from the world of economics, and despite the obvious effort to explain things—including talking directly to the audience while looking into the camera, as well as cameo appearances from movies stars like Margot Robbie and Selina Gomez—fully understanding the ins-and-outs of what’s happening is a challenge. Better to watch this movie at home where you can pause or rewind to understand what’s happening more fully. It needs some patience but you’ll learn a lot about high finance without even realizing it.
7. Quicksilver (1986)
It tells the tale of a young stock trader, who, after a bad day on the market, during which he manages to lose a fortune for his company as well as his parents’ savings, abandons professional life, and takes a job as a bicycle courier. He uncovers a sinister web of murder and intrigue but eventually returns to the markets.
8.The China Hustle (2018)
From the producers of Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, The China Hustle is a Wall Street heist story about a still-unfolding financial crime so big, it has the power to affect all of us. Small investors frantically look for new alternatives for high-return investments in the global markets and find a goldmine in China. But when one investor discovers a massive fraud ring, everything else is called into question.
9. The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
If you haven’t seen this Scorsese biopic outlining the rise and fall of famous stock scammer, Jordan Belfort, then you are missing out on some of the best performances by actors Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill. The movie is based on real-life events around Stratton Oakmont, an over-the-counter brokerage firm, as well as the pump and dump schemes of the late 80s and 90s.
10. Margin call (2011)
A movie that takes place over the span of 24 hours in the life of a Wall Street firm on the brink of disaster. The film calls out the reckless risks taken by some of the largest banks in the run-up to the 2008 financial crisis, such as trading complex derivative they themselves barely understood. A great scene features two main characters talking amongst themselves about the impending catastrophe that will soon hit their bank and the unsuspecting financial landscape, while a janitor stands between them, completely oblivious to what is going on.
11. Freakonomics (2010)
An interesting collection of filmed documentaries exploring human nature and that how we explain the world around us. It’s based on the 2005 book Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by economist Steven D. Levitt and writer Stephen J. Dubner. The subjects include the role a person’s name has for their success in life and why there is so much cheating in an honour-bound sports like sumo wrestling.
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