Top 10 Best Wall Street Movies (To Spice Up Your Finance World)

Dive into the captivating world of finance through the lens of Hollywood. Finance movies have a unique way of weaving tragedy, comedy, innovation, catastrophe, and redemption into their narratives.

While they often depict financial professionals in a less-than-flattering light, these films offer a riveting exploration of excess, risk-taking, and, of course, greed. They are essential viewing for anyone in or considering a career in the financial industry.

In no particular order, we present the top 10 best Wall Street movies. Each film delves into financial and stock market storylines while capturing the real-world resonance of events ripped from the headlines.

Key Takeaways:

  • Exploring finance through books and movies can enhance your understanding of financial products, services, and industry dynamics.
  • Wall Street movies provide valuable insights for those seeking careers in finance.
  • Many finance movies offer both entertainment and education.
  • Movies in our selection include “The Big Short,” adapted from Michael Lewis’s bestseller about the 2007-2008 financial crisis
  • and “Margin Call,” a gripping portrayal of a Wall Street investment banking firm during the early days of the 2007-2008 financial crisis and its impending collapse.
Top 10Best Wall Street Movies
1️⃣Wall Street (1987)
2️⃣Margin Call (2011)
3️⃣Boiler Room (2000)
4️⃣The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
5️⃣Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005)
6️⃣Rogue Trader (1999)
7️⃣Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)
8️⃣American Psycho (2000)
9️⃣Barbarians at the Gate (1993)
πŸ”ŸThe Big Short (2015)

1. Wall Street (1987)

A must-see for every finance professional, Oliver Stone’s classic “Wall Street” left countless college graduates reciting the iconic phrase, “Blue Horseshoe loves Anacott Steel,” as they rushed to their Series 7 exams.

Initially crafted to expose the excess and indulgence linked to finance, “Wall Street” still wields influence as a recruitment tool for traders, brokers, analysts, and bankers nearly three decades after its release.

While the movie aims to caution us about the perils of insider trading, let’s admit itβ€”who wouldn’t want to step into the shoes of Bud Fox or even Gordon Gekko and embrace their inner greed? After all, it was Gekko who famously declared, “Greed is good.”

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2. Margin Call (2011)

Arguably the most financially accurate movie on our list, “Margin Call” unfolds within a 24-hour timeframe in the life of a Wall Street firm teetering on the edge of catastrophe (reminiscent of some major bulge bracket banks).

“Margin Call” doesn’t shy away from condemning the reckless risks taken by large banks leading up to the 2008 financial crisis. It shines a spotlight on the trading of complex derivative instruments, which even investment banks struggled to comprehend fully.

One poignant scene in the film features two central characters discussing the impending catastrophe that will not only engulf their firm but also the entire unsuspecting financial community of companies and investors.

Meanwhile, a janitor remains blissfully unaware of the impending turmoil.

3. Boiler Room (2000)

While “Barbarians at the Gate” unfolds in the opulent world of corporate boardrooms, “Boiler Room” takes us to the lowest rung of the financial ladder: the pump and dump scheme.

This term refers to unscrupulous firms artificially inflating a security’s price with deceptive, sometimes false statements. They then unload their own holdings, leaving investors with worthless stock.

While “Boiler Room” is a work of fiction, pump-and-dump schemes are all too real, as are the financial hardships they inflict on unsuspecting victims.

The movie serves as a cautionary tale for novice stock market investors, urging them to stick with transparent, reputable companies and invest based on solid fundamentals. Viewers will undoubtedly remember the age-old adage: “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

4. The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

In this 2013 biopic directed by Martin Scorsese, we follow the captivating journey of Jordan Belfort, a notorious stock scammer. The film boasts outstanding performances by Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill.

“The Wolf of Wall Street” draws inspiration from real-life events, shedding light on the infamous Stratton Oakmont, an over-the-counter brokerage firm. It unveils a pump and dump scheme that played a role in the IPOs of several major public companies in the late 1980s and 1990s.

5. Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005)

Despite the events occurring over 20 years ago, “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room” remains a shocking documentary. It draws from extensive video footage, congressional hearings, and interviews with Enron executive Mike Muckleroy and whistle-blower

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Sherron Watkins to assert that Enron, far from being a stellar energy corporation, was essentially a long-running con game.

The film unveils the California energy crisis of 2001 as a sham orchestrated by Enron traders, who are caught on tape urging plant managers to manipulate plant shutdowns for “repairs.”

This deception resulted in the shutdown of a significant portion of California’s energy industry and the manipulation of electricity prices.

6. Rogue Trader (1999)

“Rogue Trader” recounts the true story of Nick Leeson, a trader who single-handedly led to the insolvency of Barings Bank, the world’s second-oldest merchant bank.

A rising star on the Singapore trading floor, Leeson’s rapid ascent was followed by a spectacular fall. He concealed massive losses in carefully hidden accounts, ultimately culminating in a catastrophic failed trade involving a short straddle position on the Nikkei.

While the movie provides entertainment, it is Leeson’s story that offers a valuable lesson in risk management and financial oversight.

7. Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)

This acclaimed cinematic adaptation of a David Mamet play centers on a team of downtrodden real estate salesmen who have lost their moral compass after years of working for an unscrupulous company.

The movie exposes the greed and underhanded tactics that can plague individuals in financial product sales roles. It highlights the relentless pressure imposed on salespeople by their superiors to meet sales targets.

Alec Baldwin’s motivational speech in the film stands out, revealing both the best and worst aspects of working in the financial industry under immense stress.

8. American Psycho (2000)

Christian Bale stars in this violent and thought-provoking film adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’s novel, set against the backdrop of finance. Bale portrays a wealthy investment banker harboring a dark and deadly secret.

While finance is not the central theme, “American Psycho” offers a glimpse into the surreal world inhabited by the financial elite and their profound detachment from reality.

9. Barbarians at the Gate (1993)

A 1993 TV movie, “Barbarians at the Gate,” revolves around the leveraged buyout (LBO) of RJR Nabisco, based on the 1989 book of the same name by Bryan Burrough and John Helyar.

While the movie takes some creative liberties in depicting this real-life event, it sheds light on the incompetence and greed of Nabisco’s CEO, F. Ross Johnson, as well as the behind-the-scenes wheeling and dealing in this iconic LBO.

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10. The Big Short (2015)

In this adaptation of Michael Lewis’s nonfiction book, “The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine,” the movie follows a group of astute traders who are ahead of the curve in recognizing the housing bubble that triggered the 2007-2008 financial crisis.

What sets this film apart is its clever presentation of complex financial instruments. For instance, it enlists Selena Gomez to explain synthetic CDOs at a poker table and Margot Robbie to demystify mortgage-backed bonds in a bathtub filled with champagne.

☞ Best Wall Street Movies FAQ

Any Movies About Bernie Madoff?

Bernie Madoff, the investment manager responsible for a massive Ponzi scheme that defrauded unsuspecting investors of over $64 billion (including director Steven Spielberg and actor Kevin Bacon), passed away in jail in 2021.

There have been both theatrical and documentary films that shed light on his infamous story:

  • The Madoff Affair (2009): This documentary featured on PBS’s show, Frontline, delves into the Madoff scandal.
  • Chasing Madoff (2011): Based on the book by Harry Markopolos, who tirelessly investigated Madoff for a decade and attempted to prompt the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to take action against him, this documentary unravels the Madoff deception.
  • Madoff (2016): This TV mini-series, adapted from Ben Robbins’ book, “The Madoff Chronicles,” provides a dramatized portrayal of the Madoff saga.
  • The Wizard of Lies (2017): An HBO film starring Robert DeNiro and Michelle Pfeiffer, “The Wizard of Lies” offers a compelling look at Bernie Madoff’s life of deceit.

Any Movies About Bitcoin?

Indeed, there have been films that touch upon the subject of Bitcoin, although there are currently more documentaries than fictional movies. Consider checking out:

  • Crypto (2019): This crime thriller delves into money laundering involving cryptocurrency, offering a captivating narrative around this digital financial realm.

Additionally, stay tuned for upcoming projects from FTX, beginning with one based on Michael Lewis’s forthcoming book about Sam Blankman-Fried. Michael Lewis, known for “The Big Short” and “Moneyball,” promises intriguing insights into the world of finance and technology.

Any More Finance Movies?

If you’re eager to explore additional Wall Street-inspired movies, consider these alternatives:

  • Working Girl (1987): Featuring Melanie Griffith, Harrison Ford, and Sigourney Weaver, this film navigates the corporate world with humor and intrigue.
  • Bonfire of the Vanities (1990): Adapted from Tom Wolfe’s novel and starring Bruce Willis, Tom Hanks, and Melanie Griffith, this movie unravels the complexities of ambition and excess in the world of finance.
  • Arbitrage (2012): Headlined by Richard Gere, this film delves into the high-stakes world of finance, where moral boundaries blur in the pursuit of wealth and success.

☞ Final thoughts

These movies are essential viewing for anyone considering a career in finance. But even if finance isn’t your intended path, these films offer a glimpse into the unpredictable and occasionally bizarre realm of finance.

As the adage goes, “truth is stranger than fiction.” The events depicted in these movies, such as the 2007-2008 financial crisis, the downfall of Enron, and the Madoff scandal, underscore that real-life stories can often outdo even the most imaginative Hollywood narratives.

Sources
  1. Cambridge University Press
  2. Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA)

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Pavlos Written by:

Hey β€” It’s Pavlos. Just another human sharing my thoughts on all things money. Nothing more, nothing less.