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10 Best Movies About Finance & The Stock Market

July 03, 2017

5 min read

Wall Street and the stock market see more than their share of drama. No wonder Hollywood has found so much fodder for great films in the tales of high finance from downtown New York City.

Here are the top 10 films about the stock market you shouldn’t miss–or maybe that you should watch again.

10) Other People’s Money

This film tells the story of “Larry the Liquidator” (Danny DeVito), a corporate raider who decides to take over a cable company through a hostile takeover.

How is this movie related to the financial world?

A hostile takeover is an attempt to take over a company, without the approval of the company’s board of directors. Hostile takeovers were popular in the 80s and 90s.

9) Too Big to Fail

“Too Big To Fail” offers a look at the 2008 financial crisis, focusing on the bailout of investment bank Bear Stearns, the demise of its competitor Lehman Brothers, and how defaults on mortgage-backed securities spread the crisis from Wall Street to Main Street.

How is this movie related to the financial world?

Based on a true story, “Too Big to Fail” depicts the mechanics and policies that the U.S. Federal Reserve was forced to implement in 2008 in order to halt the sell-off in the U.S. financial markets.

8) Margin Call

“Margin Call” tells the story of key players at a financial firm who discover they are in danger of bankruptcy due to their big position in mortgage-backed securities (MBS), one type of derivative that led to the 2008 financial crisis.  The story develops by showing the drastic measures the firm plans to implement in order to control the losses of their worthless investments before the market figures out they are no good.

How is this movie related to the financial world?

Mortgage-backed securities, among other collateralized debt instruments, are some of the main investments that caused the 2008 financial crisis.

7) Rogue Trader

This film is based on the true story of derivatives broker Nick Leeson (Ewan McGregor), who drove England’s 233 year old bank, Barings Bank, into bankruptcy in 1995.

How is this movie related to the financial world?

Leeson’s reckless trading and false accounting led to the collapse of one of the UK’s oldest and most iconic banks. After causing the bank losses of nearly $1.5 billion dollars, Leeson was convicted for fraud and forgery and sent to prison in Singapore.

6) Barbarians at the Gate

This movie follows the true story of former RJR Nabisco CEO F. Ross Johnson (played by James Garner), who tries to buy Nabisco through a leveraged buyout (LBO). He wants to make a fortune while putting thousands of employees out of work by gaining control of the firm.

How is this movie related to the financial world?

A leveraged buyout (LBO) is the acquisition of a company by its management using debt or other financing. The Nabisco leveraged buyout is one of the most famous LBOs in history.

5) Boiler Room

“Boiler Room” is the story of a college dropout (Giovanni Ribisi) who sells stocks of fake or closed companies for a fraudulent investment firm.

How is this movie related to the financial world?

In business, a “boiler room” refers to an investment or brokerage boutique selling dubious investments (often questionable penny stocks) over the phone.

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) monitors these scams closely, but over the counter penny stocks are not thoroughly regulated as much stocks traded in big exchanges like Nasdaq or NYSE.

4) Equity

This film tells the story of Naomi Bishop (Anna Gunn), an investment banker working towards landing a big tech IPO deal for her investment bank while at the same time getting entangled by her boyfriend into insider trading.

How is this movie related to the financial world?

The movie gives insight into some of the nuance of investment banking, particularly when a banker  brings a company public through an initial public offering, or IPO.

3) The Wolf of Wall Street

This film is based on the real life of former stock broker Jordan Belfort (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) who makes a fortune defrauding wealthy investors by selling them worthless penny stocks while being pursued by the FBI and the Securities and Exchange Commision (SEC).

How is this movie related to the financial world?

Belfort made millions of dollars by running a “penny stock boiler room”, profiting from investors through a scheme known as “pump-and-dump.” A pump-and-dump scheme is the fraudulent practice of encouraging investors  to buy investments (in this case penny stocks) in a company in order to inflate the price artificially. The broker then sells those investments for a profit.

Penny stocks are not well-regulated, and sometimes they can be over-hyped by fraudulent brokers who want to run the price up so they can sell for a big profit, while buyers lose their investment when the selling starts.

2) Wall Street

A stockbroker (Charlie Sheen) allows his mentor (Michael Douglas) to lure him into corporate raiding by providing him insider information. His scheming threatens his father’s (Martin Sheen) ability to make a living by honest investing.

How is this movie related to the financial world?

Corporate raiding refers to the act of buying enough shares to give the investor influence over the board of directors and management decisions. Acting on insider information is illegal in all well-established financial markets.

1) The Big Short

“The Big Short” tells the story of four groups of investors who saw an  opportunity to profit by betting against the real estate market using financial derivative products known as credit default swaps.

How is this movie related to the financial world?

Investors can often profit from the failure, or downside, of different type of investments by entering into credit default swap contracts (CDS). Credit Default Swaps act in a similar way to an investor purchasing insurance on an investment and receiving a payment if the investment fails to meet certain criteria, such as failing to pay interest on debt. Credit Default Swap contracts are used every day by major investment banks and institutional investors.

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By Clare Edgerton

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