This month brings the release of another Hollywood movie taking up the well-worn, populist stereotype of “Wall Street guys” put in their place by ordinary people who don’t seem to have as much wealth and power.
“Hustlers” is getting a lot of buzz ahead of its Sept. 13 release, thanks in part to its cast, which includes Jennifer Lopez, Cardi B, and Constance Wu, and because it’s based on a true story detailed in a popular magazine article called “The Hustlers at Scores,” by Jessica Pressler.
Oh, and also likely because it involves strippers.
As we wait for another version of a story that’s pretty familiar to movie watchers — marginalized people give the obnoxious wealthy class their comeuppance; in this case, strippers stealing from Wall Street bankers — let’s take a look at a few other great Wall Street movies.
The Icon: "Wall Street" 1987
The title should be a giveaway that this is quintessential movie about American capital markets, though Wall Streeters probably don’t think so, since its underlying indictment of 1980s capitalist excess and greed doesn't exactly portray fund culture in the best light.
Michael Douglas’ Gordon Gekko came to symbolize that excess as he tutored Charlie Sheen’s young broker, Bud Fox, proclaiming in the movie's most famous line: "Greed is good ... greed works, greed is right."
The film was directed and co-written by Oliver Stone, whose father Lou was a stockbroker during the Great Depression.
Best Comedy about Commodities Futures: "Trading Places," 1983
This is "Hustlers" if you replace the marginalized and manipulated strippers with a marginalized and manipulated homeless guy, who gets back at the manipulators, a couple of Wall Street tycoons who use him in a social experiment.
Eddie Murphy is street hustler Billy Ray Valentine, who eventually outwits the two commodities tycoons with the help of another witless victim in their scheme, commodities broker Louis Winthorpe III, played by Dan Akroyd. This classic is probably the only one ever made that involves the trading of orange juice futures.
Best Movie About The Housing Bubble: "The Big Short," 2015
"The Big Short" is a great film because it comes out of great writing, a book by Michael Lewis that linked the housing bubble to the Great Recession of the late 2000s. The film's genius comes in linking the pieces of the buildup to the crash, and its clever ways of explaining how complicated financial instruments like mortgaged-backed securities work.
The Other 2008 Financial Crisis Movie: "Margin Call," 2011
The drama of the financial meltdown is boiled down into the hours leading up to the realization that the bubble was bursting at one fictional firm as it tries to sell off its toxic assets before the crash.
The film is a tense and dramatic tick tock, and also notable for its star-studded cast that includes several Hollywood heavy hitters of the era: Kevin Spacey, Demi Moore and Jeremy Irons. New Yorker film critic David Denby said "Margin Call" is "easily the best Wall Street movie ever made."
Most Morally Ambiguous Wall Street Thriller: "Arbitrage," 2012
This thriller involves a hedge fund manager who goes through the film piling one bad decision on another in handling his company's finances, his relationships and a woman's death. How the main character, played by Richard Gere, responds to a series of events propels this thriller forward, and again, it's a look at the moral ambiguity that sometimes weaves in and out of multimillion dollar decisions. As the film's tagline says, "there's a thin line between getting rich and getting caught."
The Original: "The Wolf of Wall Street," 1929
The timing of this film is, in hindsight, pretty spooky. The movie, in which a ruthless broker sells copper short and ruins his friends' finances, came out in February 1929. The stock market, of course, crashed in October of that year, starting the Great Depression and ruining many more people's finances.
You can read about the film, but the silent version of it can't be seen. It's been lost, except for a very short clip.
The Most Profane: "The Wolf of Wall Street," 2013
This was not a re-make of the 1929 movie. This Martin Scorsese-directed Leonardo DiCaprio film depicted a far more depraved Wall Street scene than the 1920s copper baron probably would have imagined.
There's monkeys in the office, cocaine, guns, boats, tossing people at targets, Matthew McConaughey .... And swearing. There's no citation for it, but Wikipedia claims this movie set a Guinness World record for most instances of swearing in a film.
A Wall Street Woman Amid all the Bros: "The Wheeler Dealers," 1963
How weird that to find an investment movie where one of the heroes is a woman you have to go back to the year JFK was killed.
In 1963's "The Wheeler Dealers," Lee Remick plays the lone female stock broker at a big firm until she's fired, but then manages to help unravel a complicated fraud. Women feature in some of these other movies - Gere's character's daughter in "Arbitrage" is important, and Jamie Lee Curtis helps put the Duke Bros in their place in "Trading Places," but Remick's character here is central to the story.
"The Wheeler Dealers," however, was passed off as a romantic comedy, co-starring James Garner, presumably to sell it to people who wouldn't go see a movie that was openly about a smart, powerful woman in early 1960s America. But the movie gets huge points for being ahead of its time. It also gets huge points because the company central to the fraud in the film is called "Universal Widgets."
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