Best Stock Market Movies Of All Time: The world of finance is high drama. In a single day, the stock market can make you laugh, cry, and celebrate in a way that little else can.
Hollywood tries to get on that scene, but they don’t always get it right. To film a movie about the stock market or fully appreciate one, you have to understand the ins and outs of finance.
Half the traders on Wall Street only have a tenuous grasp on the subject and the people in the movie industry have even less of an understanding of the way it all works. That said, there are a few movies that get it right.
Whether you are looking for a way to fill in a day when the markets are closed or you are trying to understand the financial industry better, these films portray some of the truths about “Wall Street” – for better or worse.
#10 The Wolf of Wall Street
If you are looking for a movie about the dark side of Wall Street and the brokers who party there, The Wolf of Wall Street should be on your Watchlist.
It is an outlandish tale of crime and corruption, parties and excess – it is also all true. The movie is based on the life of Jordan Belfort, a trader who rose through the ranks.
Belfort got his start in 1987 when he started as a broker for Rothschild. Our protagonist gets to see the sex and drugs that were all-too-common amongst high level stockbrokers and he is groomed for the hard sell (see quote above).
Then, Black Monday hits and Belfort is downsized. He finds work at a penny stock boiler room on Long Island. Through aggressive pitching, Belfort makes a mint.
Then, he and his neighbor Donny Azoff form their own company – Stratford-Oakmont. Together, they grow rapidly, hitting 20 agents, then 250 in short succession. This movie is about the rise and fall of Belfort.
#9 Barbarians at the Gate
Barbarians at the Gate is another true story about excess and big players. This one is a docudrama that was made for television, but don’t let that dissuade you. It has all the polish of a Hollywood movie and James Garner stars.
The movie centers around F Ross Johnson. He went from being a paperboy to becoming the CEO of RJR Nabisco. When the shareholders turn on Johnson, he attempts to buy the company.
This risky play could have worked but Johnson faces competition after a bidding war erupts. Watch this movie to see the difference between a corporate takeover and a hostile takeover delivered with laughs.
#8 Too Big to Fail
If you have ever wanted to learn about the events that set off the Great Recession of 2008, Too Big to Fail is a good movie to watch. It examines the events of March to October that year, centering on the Treasury Secretary at the time – Henry Paulson.
“The depression may have started because of a stock market crash, but what hit the general economy was a disruption of credit.
Average citizens unable to borrow money, to do anything. To buy a home, start a business, stock their shelves.
Credit has the ability to build a modern economy, but lack of credit has the ability to destroy it, swiftly and absolutely. If we do not act, boldly and immediately, we will replay the depression of the 1930s, only this time it will be far, far worse.” – Ben Bernanke, Federal Reserve chair
Too Big to Fail starts with Richard Fuld’s efforts to rescue Lehman Brothers and builds from there. You will see conversations between Paulson, Bernanke, and the president of the New York Fed, Tim Geithner.
The movie also dramatizes some of the back-channel negotiations that happened around that time, including Warren Buffett. The movie illustrates how and why the bailout happened.
#7 American Psycho
American Psycho is technically a horror movie.
It is about a psychopath who kills people and sometimes eats them. However, it is also a film that people who work or play in the finance industry are sure to enjoy.
It follows a stockbroker who seems to have it all. He worked hard to amass his own fortune by becoming a stockbroker – and he works hard to maintain that life by fitting in with his colleagues and the image of a successful businessperson.
Granted, he snaps along the way but it’s an entertaining ride as long as you don’t mind gore and violence.
Patrick Bateman is the star of American Psycho and he is living the American dream. He is 27, lives in an expensive building, and earns a mint. Bateman also works hard to look the part – dieting, exercising, and grooming himself until he is just a shell of a person. He looks to fill the void with sex, drugs, and eventually killing.
#6 Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room
Enron has become a punchline to so many jokes, but there is a real story there. If you want to understand what happened, watch Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room. This documentary details what Enron did wrong and how it contributed to its destruction.
When the movie starts, Enron has $65 billion in assets. In less than a month, it was all gone, and the corporation was bankrupt.
The corporation was a house of cards. The deception that grew the business and the culture that allowed it to continue started with the actions of COO Jeff Skilling and CEO Kenneth Lay.
The movie explains how the deregulation of the energy industry played into it, as did accounting practices that became increasingly liberal to point that the company’s books were effectively cooked. Consider a lesson in what NOT to do.
#5 Margin Call
The Great Recession gets a lot of attention for the impact it had on the economy, but the effects of that financial crisis were not limited to banks and homeowners.
Margin Call looks at what it was like to work in an investment bank in 2008.
Margin Call takes a fictional look at what would have happened to an investment bank that was over-leveraged when the recession hit.
A risk management employee at the investment bank is laid off while he is working on an important piece of analysis.
That person hands off his research to another employee to finish the calculations. The final analysis reveals that the investment bank will soon owe more than its market cap because it was invested heavily in mortgage-backed securities – the very investments that were tanking as the markets crashed.
This movie is a cynical look at the goings on within investment banks, but it shows what can happen and does happen when you don’t look ahead.
#4 The Big Short
If you ever wondered why no one seemed to notice how the US mortgage market could tank so spectacularly, watch The Big Short.
It explains in detail how it happened, who wasn’t paying attention, and why you should never blindly invest in a bundle of securities. The movie is based on the book of the same name by Michael Lewis and centers on real people.
The Big Short focuses on Michael Burry. He is a physician who became a hedge fun manager at Scion Capital.
Think of him as a savant with numbers and patterns. He researched the heck out of different potential investments and in doing so, discovered an opportunity in betting against the housing industry.
Burry started shorting mortgage-backed securities when he realized that many financial institutions were bundling subprime mortgages with better investments and giving the whole bundle a rating that it didn’t deserve.
In other words, he spotted the bubble and bet that it would burst. Other investors notice what Burry is doing and follow suit. Whether you call these men geniuses, opportunists, or both, The Big Short explains how and why the housing market tanked.
#3 Inside Job
For another look at the 2008 financial crisis, check out Inside Job. It is a documentary full of interviews and research that covers the role politics play in the financial markets. It also covers derivatives, salaries, and investment rating practices.
“Why should a financial engineer be paid four times to 100 times more than a real engineer? A real engineer builds bridges. A financial engineer builds dreams. And, you know, when those dreams turn out to be nightmares, other people pay for it.”
Inside Job covers how the Great Recession happened and explores how it impacted other places in the world.
#2 Wall Street
Wall Street is one of the first movies to take a close look at the stock market. It takes place in the 80’s and centers on two fictional characters: Gordon Gekko and Bud Fox.
The movie is meant to be a criticism against stock traders, but the message was a little lost in translation. While you can watch it and get the feeling that honor and integrity matter most, you can also look at it as a movie with a message – always do your research.
#1 Boiler Room
Boiler Room is a movie for anyone in sales. Whether you sell stocks or toothbrushes, this film explains how to close a deal. It’s a little heavy-handed in its approach, but it isn’t wrong. When you are in sales, your job is to close the deal.
“There is no such thing as a no sale call. A sale is made on every call you make. Either you sell the client some stock or he sells you a reason he can’t. Either way a sale is made, the only question is who is gonna close? You or him?”
Boiler Room focuses on a college dropout who makes ends meet by running a bookie business. After his father disapproves, the protagonist finds work as a trainee stockbroker at JT Marlin. While the firm isn’t exactly legitimate, he learns the power of the hard sell.
Best Stock Market Movies Of All Time
Stock market movies take their own takes on Wall Street.
From psychopaths to government buyouts, Wall Street can look very different depending on your vantage point. Whether trading stocks is a world of gray areas for you to exploit or a challenge to figure out, movies on the world of finance can be appreciated by investors in a way that laypeople just don’t get.
The stock market movies on our list feature inside jokes, insights, and witty observations – and they are just a click away. Enjoy!
The author has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Financhill has a disclosure policy. This post may contain affiliate links or links from our sponsors.