The origins of the cliché that "everyone loves a villain" are not entirely clear, but it is clear that Hollywood loves portraying Wall Street's internal betrayal as well as the duping of Main Street on the big screen. The latest vintage of films are dedicated to recounting the financial debacle that occurred between 2007 and 2009, but tales of greed, excess and betrayal have been common themes over the years. Below are four films that are especially entertaining in lending insight into Wall Street's more extreme side.
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This latest Wall Street caper was released on October 21, and follows a current string of films dedicated to recounting the credit crisis. According to online movie authority IMDb.com, the film "revolves around the key people at an investment bank over a 24-hour period during the early stages of the financial crisis." Related films include "Too Big to Fail," that covered late 2008 and the period in which Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers ceased to exist, as well as "Inside Job" that, according to Netflix, set out to chronicle "deep-rooted corruption that led to the global economic meltdown of 2008." (These indicators can illuminate the depth and severity of problems in the credit markets. For more, see 5 Signs Of A Credit Crisis.)
Oliver Stone's Wall Street
The quintessential Wall Street movie was released in 1987 by Oliver Stone and aptly entitled "Wall Street." In it, and again according to IMDb.com, Charlie Sheen played a "young and impatient stockbroker … willing to do anything to get to the top, including trading on illegal inside information taken through a ruthless and greedy corporate raider who takes the youth under his wing."
The antagonist corporate raider was played by Michael Douglas and the character in question was none other than Gordon Gekko, who has become one of the greatest Wall Street villains ever on the silver screen. Now-famous quotes offered by the fictional Gekko since 1987, include the mention that "greed, for lack of a better word, is good" and that "if you need a friend, get a dog."
Douglas was able to reprise his role as Gekko 23 years later in Stone's follow-up to the original. "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps" caught up with Gekko after a stint in prison for insider trading, and saw him rebuild his empire at the hands of the credit crisis in 2008. Charlie Sheen made a brief cameo in the second film but the primary protégé in this film was Shia LaBeouf.
Boiler Room was released in 2000, and caught Wall Street in the midst of greed and excess related to the build-up of the dot-com bubble. Movie rating website Metacritic.com describes the film as "a riveting expose of one of the biggest and most lucrative scams in American history - and a dramatic look at a generation obsessed with the speed of wealth and success." (For related reading, see 5 Successful Companies That Survived The Dotcom Bubble.)
Starring Giovanni Ribisi and Vin Diesel, the movie followed a group of budding stock brokers using high-pressure sales tactics to dupe wealthy investors into buying stocks of now-defunct firms. Ribisi plays Seth Davis who ends up breaking the law to appease his boss and pursue his millions in commissions, but ends up helping the FBI bring down the fictional brokerage firm JT Marlin.
The Bottom Line
As with most Hollywood films, the main purpose of Wall Street flicks is to entertain and drive ticket sales. Of course, there are always instances where real life is as sensational as the worlds that directors and producers create through their camera lenses. For the most part, as with any other profession, the vast majority of individuals are ethical and law-abiding citizens that prefer an honest paycheck over striking it rich by any means possible.