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.

TUTORIAL: Investing 101

Margin Call
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, 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, 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
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 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.

Related Articles
  1. Professionals

    5 Traits the Worst Financial Advisors Share

    Learn how the worst financial advisers tend to share common traits, including greed, arrogance, ignorance and being difficult to reach when times are tough.
  2. Investing Basics

    The Economics Behind Marathons

    Marathons are growing in popularity at a record pace. Entry into these events commands a hefty price, but it's nothing compared to the organizational costs.
  3. Retirement

    Why Some Celebs Say 'No Inheritance for My Kids'

    To some of the super rich, inherited wealth is not the ultimate gift, it's a burden. Here's how their children—as well as charities—stand to benefit.
  4. Investing

    Kevin O'Leary Biography

    Kevin O'Leary is a television personality, businessman and investor from Canada. A brash public personality with a net worth of roughly $300 million, he is considered to be the Canada’s answer ...
  5. Entrepreneurship

    7 Top-Earning Child Stars

    These seven top-earning child stars earned millions through different parts of the entertainment industry, including television, film and music.
  6. Investing

    How Exactly Do Movies Make Money?

    As the saying goes, "nobody knows anything" in Hollywood. But the film industry knows it can't rely on ticket sales alone to drive revenue.
  7. Entrepreneurship

    8 Top-Earning Country Singers

    These eight country singers have built careers singing about men and women who’ve done them wrong, and they’ve shared their heartache to the tune of millions of dollars.
  8. Investing

    Movie Vs. TV Industry: Which Is Most Profitable?

    Which entertainment sector is more profitable: movies or TV? Let’s take a look. You might be surprised by the results.
  9. Personal Finance

    5 Tips for Vintage Car Collecting

    Old autos. There’s just something about all that shiny metal that captivates our attention.
  10. Personal Finance

    6 Tips for Investing in Antiques

    Historically, antiques are highly appreciating assets, but be prepared for a long-term investment.
  1. What are the reasons that cause investment bankers to fail in their careers?

    The main cause of investment bankers failing in their careers is underwriting assets without understanding their true values, ... Read Full Answer >>
  2. What is the difference between systemic risk and systematic risk?

    Systemic risk is generally used in reference to an event that can trigger a collapse in a certain industry or economy, whereas ... Read Full Answer >>
  3. What is the "squawk box scandal"?

    In 2002 and 2003, t he day traders at Watley Group seemed to have an uncanny knack at predicting the movements of institutional ... Read Full Answer >>
  4. Are professionals, such as financial planners and brokers, liable for the advice ...

    In the U.S., the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) does its best to protect investors from being cheated. To do so, ... Read Full Answer >>
  5. What are some common and useful retirement planner designations? Are they expensive ...

    Some common retirement planner designations are: Chartered Retirement Plans Specialist (CRPS) designation from the College ... Read Full Answer >>
  6. What does the saying "What's good for Wall Street is bad for Main Street" mean?

    Let's start by defining the terms "Wall Street" and "Main Street". Wall Street, in its broadest sense, refers to the financial ... Read Full Answer >>

You May Also Like

Hot Definitions
  1. Purchasing Power

    The value of a currency expressed in terms of the amount of goods or services that one unit of money can buy. Purchasing ...
  2. Real Estate Investment Trust - REIT

    A REIT is a type of security that invests in real estate through property or mortgages and often trades on major exchanges ...
  3. Section 1231 Property

    A tax term relating to depreciable business property that has been held for over a year. Section 1231 property includes buildings, ...
  4. Term Deposit

    A deposit held at a financial institution that has a fixed term, and guarantees return of principal.
  5. Zero-Sum Game

    A situation in which one person’s gain is equivalent to another’s loss, so that the net change in wealth or benefit is zero. ...
  6. Capitalization Rate

    The rate of return on a real estate investment property based on the income that the property is expected to generate.
Trading Center
You are using adblocking software

Want access to all of Investopedia? Add us to your “whitelist”
so you'll never miss a feature!