If you're tired of hearing about the financial misdeeds of Bernie Madoff, greedy AIG executives, and unscrupulous mortgage lenders, then it's time you got away from it all by watching a few movies about the financial misdeeds of fictional characters like Gordon Gekko. Here are five films that make rigging the financial system seem much more glamorous than our current day crooks do.
1. Wall Street (1987)
Pitting the hard-charging and ambitious financial up-and-comer Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen) against his hard working and dedicated father Carl (Martin Sheen) and set against a backdrop of corporate greed, institutionally ingrained dishonesty, and 1980s decadence, this movie tells us everything we need to know about how the game is played. It's interesting to note that Michael Douglas's "Greed is Good" speech was inspired by an address from Wall Street trader Ivan Boesky. Months after making the address, Boesky had to pay a $100 million fine to the SEC for insider trading.
2. Boiler Room (2000)
Giovanni Ribisi, looking all of 12 years old, plays Ben Younger, a new associate at a very shady brokerage firm. By the end of the film, he comes to realize that his and his partners' hard sales techniques and disregard for proper portfolio diversification have real world consequences. Set against a backdrop of fast money and "irrational exuberance," Boiler Room makes every broker look like a crook, and every ordinary citizen look like an easy mark. I have a feeling that this one has been on Jon Stewart's viewing list for a while.
3. Rogue Trader (1999)
Based on the true story of British trader Nick Leeson (played charmingly by Ewan McGregor), this film tells the account of how a single man, in way over his head and without any supervision from the home office, bankrupted one of Britain's oldest and most trusted institutions, Barings Bank. Through a series of bad trades, fraud, and greed, Leeson, from his perch at the Singapore International Monetary Exchange, cost his company more than a billion dollars in the mid "˜90s. This is a must see if you prefer short straddles and naked calls over car chases and sex scenes.
4. Barbarians at the Gate (1993)
This made-for-TV movie captures the insanity that surrounded the leveraged buyout of RJR Nabisco. Contrasting sharply from the slick, coiffed tyrants of Oliver Stone's Wall Street, these characters seem more like real people "“ no less greedy, but real people all the same. James Garner plays the wonderfully off-kilter CEO F. Ross Johnson, and Jonathan Pryce plays venture capitalist Henry Kravis. From all reports, this film stays pretty close to real events while still being immensely entertaining.
5. Trading Places (1983)
There may be no better villains in movie history than the Duke brothers, played exquisitely by Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche. Still the funniest movie ever made about commodities trading.