The financial sector, in all of its forms, makes for excellent filmmaking. Tragedy, comedy, cleverness, catastrophe, and redemption have all appeared in Hollywood’s various finance films over the years. While the majority of the films show financial professionals in a negative light, the incredible stories of excess, risk-taking, and, of course, greed all make for captivating cinema and are mandatory viewing for anybody considering or now employed in the industry.
The Big Short (2015)
Based on Michael Lewis’ nonfiction book The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine, this film follows a group of clever traders as they become aware of the housing bubble that precipitated the financial crisis in 2007-2008 before anybody else.
The film is noted for its inventive approach to explaining complex financial products, such as having Selena Gomez explain synthetic CDOs at a poker table or Margot Robbie teach mortgage-backed bonds in a bathtub filled with champagne.
Barbarians at the Gates (1993)
A widely forgotten 1993 TV movie about RJR Nabisco’s leveraged takeover (LBO). While the film takes certain liberties in depicting this true story, audiences will be startled and amused by Nabisco CEO F. Ross Johnson’s incompetence and greed, as well as the behind-the-scenes machinations and skulduggery surrounding this famous LBO.
American Psycho (2000)
Christian Bale plays a wealthy investment banker with a terrible secret in the film adaptation of the Bret Easton Ellis novel, which is a violent and thought-provoking thriller set in the backdrop of finance. While there is very little actual finance in this film, it does throw light on the strange world that finance’s top-class inhabits, as well as the absolute disconnect they have with one another and with reality.
The Rogue Trader (1999)
The story of Nick Leeson, a trader who single-handedly brought Barings Bank, the world’s second-oldest merchant bank, to its knees. Leeson, a rising star on the Singapore trading floor, blew up as swiftly as he rose, concealing massive losses in well-hidden accounts from his superiors, finally culminating in the mother of all bad bets on a short straddle position on the Nikkei, which experienced a huge sigma move.
While the film is enjoyable in and of itself, Leeson’s story serves as a valuable lesson in risk management and financial supervision.
The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
You’re missing out on some of Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill’s best performances if you haven’t watched this Scorsese-directed movie about the rise and fall of a famous stock scammer, Jordan Belfort.
The Wolf of Wall Street, like Barbarians’ pump and dump, is based on true events (albeit with a lot of dramatic licenses) surrounding the infamous Stratton Oakmont, an over-the-counter brokerage firm, and a pump-and-dump scheme that helped IPO several large public companies in the late 1980s and 1990s.
Margin Call (2011)
Margin Call, perhaps the most financially accurate film on the list, depicts a 24-hour period in the life of a Wall Street corporation on the verge of collapse (modeled closely after some of the large bulge brackets).
Margin Call makes little attempt to hide its disdain for some of the world’s largest banks’ excessive risk-taking in the run-up to the 2008 financial crisis, such as trading complicated derivative contracts they barely understood. In one particularly moving scene in the film, two main characters discuss the impending disaster that will soon befall their bank and the unsuspecting financial landscape, while a janitor stands between them, completely oblivious to what is happening.