Wall Street and Hollywood might seem worlds apart, but when it comes to movies, the two go together perfectly.
Although there are no high-profile movies about Wall Street at this year’s Oscars, plenty have been nominated in the past, and quite a few have taken home the coveted gold statue. From “Wall Street” to modern-day classics like “The Big Short” and “The Wolf of Wall Street,” some of the most widely praised films of the last half century have all had one theme in common: money.
So in honor of the upcoming 90th Academy Awards ceremony, here are 15 of the best movies about Wall Street, business, corruption and corporate greed.
1. ‘Wall Street’ (1987)
By uttering the now infamous line, “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good,” the lead character in “Wall Street,” Gordon Gekko, played by Academy Award winner Michael Douglas, epitomized the wealthy and unscrupulous corporate raiders who conducted business deals with Wall Street stockbrokers during the 1980s.
The film has been viewed by many critics as the archetype of ’80s excess, wealth and power. Ironically, it also inspired a new generation of stockbrokers to join the Wall Street rat race.
2. ‘Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps’ (2010)
In this sequel to “Wall Street,” Douglas returned to the role of Gordon Gekko ― this time joined by Shia LaBeouf and Carey Mulligan. Released from prison, Gekko gets close to his daughter’s (Mulligan) fiance, Jake (LeBeouf), an idealistic, young investment banker. But Gekko proves jail doesn’t work miracles; he’s still the same manipulative, greedy man he’s always been.
It might not have garnered any Oscar buzz, but Douglas did nab a Golden Globe nomination in 2011 for best supporting actor for this role. And, the film grossed nearly $135 million worldwide.
3. ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ (2013)
Although “The Wolf of Wall Street” didn’t help secure Leonardo DiCaprio an Oscar win, it’s still regarded as a great film. The academy nominated it for five Oscars in 2014, and it earned $392 million worldwide on a $100 million budget, making it one of the year’s biggest box office hits.
Based on a true story, the film is a cautionary tale about Wall Street greed. DiCaprio stars as Jordan Belfort, a stockbroker from humble beginnings who scams investors out of their millions. It’s crude and shocking but also enlightening and funny. If you don’t get easily offended ― and don’t mind sitting for three hours ― it’s worth a watch.
4. ‘Boiler Room’ (2000)
“Boiler Room” follows the story of a trainee stockbroker with a small-time brokerage firm who eventually helps the FBI take down his employers for the firm’s illegal operations.
The film depicts the pump-and-dump scheme of stockbrokers who create an artificial demand in the stock of expired or fake companies, as well as the attractive and profitable commissions brokers can make on fraudulent business deals.
Ben Affleck, who portrays one the of founders of the brokerage firm, gives a memorable, rousing speech about how the trainees can make their first million dollars in three years if they stick with the program, a goal many young stockbrokers hoped to achieve at the start of the new millennium.
5. ‘Arbitrage’ (2012)
Starring Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon and Brit Marling, “Arbitrage” is a thrilling drama about a hedge fund manager who seems to live a glamorous and easy life. But when his daughter (Marling) asks why he’s selling the company, it becomes apparent that something is amiss. And after a devastating car accident, things start to fall apart.
Described as a “fairy tale masquerading as a tragedy” by The New York Times, “Arbitrage” was nominated for one Golden Globe.
6. ‘The Company Men’ (2010)
Ben Affleck, Kevin Costner, Tommy Lee Jones and Chris Cooper star in “The Company Men,” a movie that’s probably one of the most relatable films on this list. The film follows three men as they try to survive the unemployment line after the company they work for decides to consolidate and downsize.
Notable film critic Roger Ebert wrote that although the film did have its downsides, its stars were convincing and the film was well-crafted.
7. ‘Catch Me If You Can’ (2002)
This Steven Spielberg film based on a true story stars DiCaprio as Frank Abagnale Jr., who successfully forged millions of dollars worth of checks and posed as a Pan Am pilot, a doctor and a lawyer before his 19th birthday.
Tom Hanks plays the dogged FBI agent who eventually catches Abagnale in France. Hanks’ character works out a deal for Abagnale to serve his 12-year prison sentence helping the FBI catch other check forgers.
8. ‘Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room’ (2005)
Who can forget the big scandal that forced the huge corporation Enron to declare bankruptcy in 2001 ― the biggest bankruptcy in U.S. history at the time? Nominated for an Oscar, “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room” tells the story of Enron’s corrupt business habits that left investors and employees with nothing.
9. ‘Limitless’ (2011)
Don’t you wish you could just take a pill and instantly become a Wall Street wiz? That’s what happens to Eddie, played by Bradley Cooper, in “Limitless.”
But Eddie isn’t an investment banker or a stockbroker; he’s a struggling writer with a serious case of writer’s block. However, when he takes the black-market drug NZT ― think Adderall on steroids ― he’s able to tap into unbelievable brainpower and do the impossible.
“Limitless” made a respectable $162 million worldwide and inspired the television spinoff show of the same name which lasted only one season.
10. ‘Trading Places’ (1983)
This classic ’80s comedy stars Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd, who are manipulated into switching lives. Louis (Aykroyd) is a rich man who works at a commodity brokerage firm. He’s living the good life, complete with a mansion and a British butler. Meanwhile, Billy Ray (Murphy) is an average hustler who resorts to begging on the streets. But when the Duke brothers, who own the brokerage firm, make a bet to see what would happen if Louis and Billy Ray’s circumstances were reversed, Billy Ray finds out what it’s like to live in a mansion, and Louis finds himself in jail.
11. ‘Margin Call’ (2011)
“Margin Call” takes place over a 24-hour period at a Wall Street investment bank that is experiencing the initial stages of financial collapse during the 2007-2008 U.S. financial crisis. The movie examines the greed and investment fraud present in many Wall Street firms right before the financial crisis that brought the U.S. economy into the Great Recession.
In subsequent years, it was discovered several investment banks like the one depicted in “Margin Call” ignored the protests of risk management officers looking to avoid a volatile plummet of the stock market and proceeded instead to sell worthless mortgage-backed securities and toxic assets.
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12. ‘Freakonomics’ (2010)
Oscar-winner Alex Gibney, who also directed the “Enron” documentary,” directed this interesting and insightful film. In “Freakonomics,” based on the book by journalist Stephen Dubner and economist Steven Levitt, viewers learn a very valuable lesson: Incentives are everything. As Levitt says in the documentary, “Incentives matter. And if you can figure out what people’s incentives are, you have a good chance of guessing how they’re going to behave.”
13. ‘Food, Inc.’ (2008)
In this documentary, filmmaker Robert Kenner exposes the U.S.’s multibillion-dollar food industry, which is controlled by only a handful of big corporations. Calling out the shocking ways food is processed and produced in the U.S., the film claims to have “changed the way millions of Americans eat.”
But viewers will not only learn that the delicious chicken they had at dinner was likely grown in a factory, they’ll see the devastating economic effects big business has had on other players in the food industry, including farmers who’ve had to declare bankruptcy.
14. ‘The Pursuit of Happyness’ (2006)
Get your tissues ready. Will Smith and his son, Jaden Smith, star in this emotional biopic about a poor, single father struggling to care for his son. From getting evicted to sleeping in a subway bathroom, Chris (Will Smith) and his son face unimaginable hardships, but things start to look up when Chris lands a job as an intern at a brokerage firm. His memorable performance earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Actor.
15. ‘The Big Short’ (2015)
No one wants to relive the huge financial crisis of 2007-2008, but this film is a must-watch. Nominated for five Oscars — and winning one for Best Adapted Screenplay — “The Big Short” stars some of the highest-grossing actors of all time, including Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling and Brad Pitt.
This dramatic comedy, co-written and directed by Adam McKay, is based on author Michael Lewis’ non-fiction best-seller about hedge fund manager Michael Burry (played by Bale). Burry, along with three other Wall Street outsiders, accurately predict the collapse of the U.S. housing market ― and cash in on the financial tragedy big time.
Amanda Garcia contributed to the reporting for this article.