Have you heard of the quote “money never sleeps”? It does—in the world of Gordon Gekko, villainous financier, corporate raider, and greed personified. Learn more about where he came from with these Wall Street movies.
In New York City, Wall Street serves as the epicenter of significant financial activities, featuring a renowned stock exchange where shares of companies are bought and sold. Over time, it has transformed from a mere physical location into a potent symbol of intense financial activity, signifying affluence and influence.
In pop culture, it’s known for endless money, big business, and high-stakes gambles. Skyscrapers, crowds, and flashing screens show it as a place where money rules. While it’s a real place with people working there, in movies and TV, Wall Street symbolizes the world of money and its pursuit.
Since the Great Depression, scores of filmmakers have brought stories about the financial world into the big screen, with numerous movies set on Wall Street. If you like to watch movies with a financial theme, this article is for you: a carefully curated list of the most excellent movies about this well-known, albeit notorious, American financial center.
1. Wall Street (1987)
Arguably one of the best movies, if not the best, about Wall Street, the 1987 movie “Wall Street” is about a young man named Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen) who dreams of making it big in the stock market. He crosses paths with Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas), a wealthy and influential figure who mentors him on how to make money, rarely through legal means.
The movie explores the tough choices between doing what’s right and pursuing wealth. Douglas, portraying Gekko, also delivers the famous line: “Greed is good.”
2. Boiler Room (2000)
“Boiler Room,” released in 1983, follows the journey of a young man named Seth Davis. Seth’s ambition is to make an honest living, leading him to join a stock-selling company. However, he quickly discovers that the company’s integrity is lacking.
The movie sheds light on the challenges of selling and the unethical practices that can occur in such businesses. Notably, it features renowned actors like Vin Diesel and Ben Affleck. What sets “Boiler Room” apart from other films is its exploration of people’s tough choices in pursuit of money.
3. Trading Places (1983)
The 1983 comedy “Trading Places” is about two rich individuals who, curious about what makes people successful, arrange for a wealthy man (Dan Aykroyd) and a less affluent man (Eddie Murphy) to exchange their lives. Through humorous and challenging situations, they gain insight into each other’s experiences and the disparity between wealth and poverty.
“Trending Places” mixes humor with profound messages about wealth and fairness. Aykroyd and Murphy’s great acting makes the story memorable, making it not just a laugh-out-loud film but also a thoughtful take on society’s disparity of wealth.
4. American Psycho (2000)
In 2000, filmmaker Mary Harron gave the world a movie quite different from the rest. “American Psycho” featured Christian Bale playing the lead, a character named Patrick Bateman. On the outside, Patrick had it all: a high-paying job on Wall Street and a lavish lifestyle. However, that isn’t all; Patrick led a double life as a serial killer.
The movie isn’t just about the murders, though. It’s a deep dive into a man’s mind, showing how being too focused on money and luxury can lead to dark places—it’s a mix of thrills and lessons on life’s priorities. The story is based on a famous book written by Bret Easton Ellis.
5. Inside Job (2010)
“Inside Job,” a 2010 film by Charles Ferguson, explains the 2008 global financial crisis. This crisis made many lose jobs and homes, the worst money problem since the 1930s. The movie features experts and politicians, with Matt Damon narrating.
What makes it unique is that it makes complex financial situations easy to understand. Unlike other films, it doesn’t hold back on blaming the big shots. Matt Damon narrates, but the real stars are the people telling the truth.
6. Margin Call (2011)
Have you heard about the challenges faced by banks in 2008? “Margin Call,” released in 2011, delves deep into this critical moment. The movie revolves around a major Wall Street bank during a catastrophic day. Notable actors like Jeremy Irons, Demi Moore, and Kevin Spacey take on pivotal roles, portraying individuals who uncover some suddenly worthless assets.
Instead of coming clean, the bank attempts to deceive others into purchasing these worthless assets by insisting they’re still valuable. It’s a film that showcases people making poor choices and reminds them of the importance of doing what’s right.
7. The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
When discussing Wall Street, we usually picture wealthy individuals and luxurious lifestyles. “The Wolf of Wall Street,” directed by Martin Scorsese and released in 2013 by Paramount Pictures, depicts exactly this.
The film revolves around a character named Jordan Belfort, who discovers ways to amass a fortune, but not through ethical means. Jordan indulges in extravagant purchases like high-end cars and engages in unethical activities. Leonardo DiCaprio, the lead actor, delivers an exceptional performance as Jordan in this movie.
Amidst all the revelry and wealth depicted in the film, there’s a crucial message: exercising caution and refraining from engaging in unethical practices solely to pursue wealth.
8. The Big Short (2015)
“The Big Short,” directed by Adam McKay in 2015, delves into the financial crisis that rocked the world in 2007-2008. Unlike traditional Wall Street movies, this tragicomic drama takes a unique approach by blending a sharp sense of humor with a critical examination of corrupt politicians and banks.
McKay’s storytelling combines goofy comedy with biting satire moments, making it informative and entertaining. Academy Award-nominated for Best Writing, the film is an adaptation of Michael Lewis’s book. It features an ensemble cast that includes Steve Carell, Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling, and Brad Pitt.
“The Big Short” stands out for its ability to simplify complex financial concepts, making it accessible to a broad audience while shedding light on the causes and consequences of the crisis.
9. Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005)
Have you ever heard of a massive company suddenly crashing down? That’s what happened with Enron. The movie tells us how Enron, once a powerful company, was brought to its knees. At first, many people thought Enron was doing great things and making ample money, but secretly, they were reporting their profits based on accounting practices that were legal then but since have been banned.
The movie has chats with two journalists, Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind. They dug deep to find out the truth about Enron. Plus, there are interviews with folks who used to work there. They share memories of their time at Enron, from its good days in 1985 to the sad ending in 2001 when the company closed its doors.
10. Barbarians at the Gate (1993)
Imagine a huge company and many rich people trying to buy it all at once. That’s the story of “Barbarians at the Gate.” This TV film, directed by Glen Jordan, is about a company named RJR Nabisco and the race in 1988 to buy it. The movie’s main character is F. Ross Johnson, played by James Garner. He’s the head of the company, and he’s right in the middle of all this action.
The title, “Barbarians at the Gate,” is a fun way to say that these business people were ready to fight hard, like wild warriors, to get what they wanted. It’s a peek into how these big business deals happen but told in a way that makes you want to grab some popcorn and watch the drama unfold.
11. Quants: the Alchemist of Wall Street (2010)
“Quants” have extraordinary mathematical and computer skills and help decide how stocks are bought and sold. The movie gives us a peek into their world. It takes us deep into the hidden parts of Wall Street, where big money moves happen.
While the Quants are smart, the movie shows they can only sometimes get things right. Sometimes, their choices can cause major problems, like market crashes. It’s an eye-opener, especially if you’ve ever wondered about the brains behind the stock market’s ups and downs.
12. Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)
“Glengarry Glen Ross,” although set outside of Wall Street, offers a gripping exploration of the cutthroat world of salesmanship and the ruthless pursuit of success.
The film, released in 1992, boasts a stellar ensemble cast featuring Jack Lemmon, Kevin Spacey, Ed Harris, and Alec Baldwin, who delivers an unforgettable Oscar-worthy speech in his brief but impactful appearance.
The story revolves around real estate sales associates vying for the elusive top spot, driven by the promise of bonuses and luxury cars. The film provides a compelling insight into the relentless pursuit of success, making it a timeless classic that explores the high-stakes world of sales and ambition.
13. Rogue Trader (1999)
“Rogue Trader” is a throwback to the late 90s and tells the true story of Nick Leeson. He was an investment broker at a big-name bank in England. The movie shows how just one person messing up can create the downfall of a whole organization.
Nick was eager to make a quick buck but played it too risky. When things began to slip, instead of fixing them, he panicked and made things worse. The film teaches that one bad decision can shake the banking world. It’s all about playing it safe and thinking twice before jumping in.
14. Billions (2016)
The next one isn’t a movie but follows the same theme as the previously mentioned movies. Have you heard of the TV show “Billions”? It airs on Showtime, and it’s fascinating. The main protagonist is Bobby Axelrod, played by the actor Damian Lewis.
The show is like a thrilling game of cat and mouse with another character, played by Paul Giamatti, making it his life mission to catch Bobby mess up to get him in trouble while Bobby always manages to come out on top. The TV show is a hit because it keeps you on your toes, constantly guessing what’s next.
15. Arbitrage (2012)
“Arbitrage” is a story about a wealthy man, Robert Miller, portrayed by Richard Gere. Robert has amassed significant wealth as a business owner but now wishes to sell his business. However, there’s a twist. He’s harboring secrets, the type that could lead to serious consequences. The movie follows his efforts to safeguard those secrets and complete his significant sale without getting apprehended.
If you enjoy movies that keep you guessing, “Arbitrage” is great.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) – Wall Street Movies
Is There Any Movie Related to the Stock Market?
Yes, there are several movies related to the stock market. One of the most iconic is “Wall Street” (1987), directed by Oliver Stone, which explores the world of high finance and corporate greed. Some other films and documentaries touch upon the stock market, trading, and the financial industry, offering various perspectives on this intriguing subject.
How Many Wall Street Movies Are There?
Several movies revolve around Wall Street and its financial world, but some of the most popular and critically acclaimed ones are: “Wall Street” (1987), “The Wolf of Wall Street” (2013), and “The Big Short” (2015). However, the most famous Wall Street movie might differ based on individual tastes and cultural backgrounds.
Which Wall Street Film Is Better?
Whether Wall Street film is better is subjective and depends on personal preferences. The original “Wall Street” (1987) is often considered a classic for its portrayal of the ruthless stockbroker Gordon Gekko, played by Michael Douglas, and its iconic “Greed is Good” speech.
What Is the Wall Street Movie Based On?
The “Wall Street” movie, released in 1987, is loosely based on the real-world financial events and culture of the 1980s. It draws inspiration from various stock market scandals and figures of that era, including Ivan Boesky and Michael Milken.
The character Gordon Gekko, portrayed by Michael Douglas, is a charismatic but morally corrupt corporate raider, and he is often seen as an amalgamation of several real-life financial figures from that time.
Conclusion – Wall Street Movies
What’s your favorite movie about Wall Street?
These movies, many of them based on real characters and true stories, serve to document the struggles and challenges facing those in the business and financial sector. They are also our era’s cautionary tales about money and greed that often illustrate that “what goes around comes around.”
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Founder of Spark Nomad, Radical FIRE, Journalist
- Expertise: Personal finance and travel content
- Education: Bachelor of Economics at Radboud University, Master in Finance at Radboud University, Minor in Economics at Chapman University.
- Over 200 articles, essays, and short stories published across the web.
Experience: Marjolein Dilven is a journalist and founder of Spark Nomad, a travel platform, and Radical FIRE, a personal finance platform. Marjolein has a finance and economics background with a master’s in Finance. She has quit her job to travel the world, documenting her travels on Spark Nomad to help people plan their travels. Marjolein Dilven has written for publications like MSN, Associated Press, CNBC, Town News syndicate, and more.