You don’t have to be an active investor to enjoy a good Wall Street movie. Most don’t require more than a basic understanding of trading. In fact, it helps sometimes if you suspend some of your investment strategies and wealth-building theories for a couple of hours.
Stock market documentaries can benefit from an open mind as well. Often they don’t just tell a story but also hold a few lessons — even lessons of what not to do.
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- Best Wall Street and stock market fiction movies
- 1. Wall Street (1987)
- 2. Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010)
- 3. Trading Places (1983)
- 4. The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
- 5. Boiler Room (2000)
- 6. Margin Call (2011)
- 6. The Big Short (2015)
- Best Wall Street and stock market documentaries
- 1. Floored (2009)
- 2. Trader (1987)
- 3. Warren Buffett: The World's Greatest Money Maker (2009)
Best Wall Street and stock market fiction movies
1. Wall Street (1987)
“Greed is good.” ~ Gordon Gekko
Michael Douglas’s portrayal of Gordon Gekko leaves us with an impression of Wall Street that’s difficult to shake, setting a new mold for Hollywood’s Wall Street tycoon. All who follow in similar roles in later movies somehow still remind of the slicked-back well-dressed corporate raider.
You don’t need to be an expert stock trader to understand the plot of Wall Street. It’s a time-tested story, with a stock market backdrop and Oliver Stone’s flair for mixing grit and glimmer to pull us into each scene. An all-star cast includes Martin Sheen and Charlie Sheen, father and son both in real life and in the movie, Daryl Hannah, Hal Holbrook, and Michael Douglas, of course.
Charlie Sheen plays Bud Fox, the ambitious protege of Gordon Gekko — until Gekko makes a play for the airline at which Fox’s father is a union leader. Then it turns into a game of financial survival and both sides are all in.
2. Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010)
The original Wall Street movie was so well-known that it’s a bit surprising that the studio waited until 2010 to make a sequel. Like many sequels, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps doesn’t pack the same punch as the original — and can be a little tougher to follow — but that doesn’t keep the movie from being fun to watch.
Michael Douglas is back as Gordon Gekko, just released from prison, penniless and ostracized. Shia LeBoeuf enters the story as Gecko’s future son-in-law, to be married to Gekko’s daughter, played by Carey Mulligan. Much of the story centers around a stock market and economy in turmoil — and wouldn’t you know it, Gekko finds a way to play economic disaster to his advantage as well.
3. Trading Places (1983)
In Trading Places, Eddie Murphy, as Billy Ray Valentine, has a way of making complicated things simple to understand.
Murphy’s character approaches trading with a streetwise perspective and a keen understanding of human nature that often seems to escape the more learned investors, most of whom are from old money.
The movie’s premise takes a street hustler, Murphy, and drops him into a life of privilege as the result of a bet between rich men that questioned the role of favorable or unfavorable circumstance in a man’s success in life, a question more poignant than the movie’s light-hearted approach suggests.
“That man is a product of a poor environment. There’s nothing wrong with him, I can prove it.” – Mortimer Duke, Trading Places
4. The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
A remake of its 1929 namesake, The Wolf of Wall Street spins the yarn of Jordan Belfort, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, a young man who sees how a local broker sells stocks and knows he can do it better. He goes on to build his own firm, and excess is a key component of the movie, riding alongside cunning, daring, and yes, the exhilaration of risk.
There are limits to how far you can push an enterprise that sells worthless stocks, as DiCaprio’s character learns, finding himself in the crosshairs of federal authorities. Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, and Matthew McConaughey help to round out the cast in the well-acted movie that pulls you in from the first scenes, immersing you in a movie premise so absurdly far removed from the lives most of us live that you can’t help but watch.
5. Boiler Room (2000)
You won’t learn anything about how Wall Street works when you watch Boiler Room, but you’ll learn why buying stocks from a broker who calls you out of the blue to pitch you on the next big thing might not be a great idea.
The movie focuses on an investment firm on Long Island, a high-pressure sales force that doesn’t take no for an answer as they sell stocks of companies that may or may not exist.
Ben Affleck, Vin Diesel, and Giovanni Ribisi star in this high-octane stock-selling flick that finds the primal side of the business and the male gender, telling its tale through this snarling wolf pack of brokers who wear Italian suits, drive expensive cars, and leap into fistfights with anyone who doesn’t belong to the pack.
6. Margin Call (2011)
Inspired by real events, Margin Call speaks to the financial crisis of 2008-2009, drawing a grim picture of the personalities who brought the world to the brink. The movie doesn’t pretend to follow the real events of the financial meltdown of 2008, instead, it suggests that it might have looked like this on the inside had you been a fly on the wall.
There aren’t any feel-good moments in the movie. Still, the movie is instructive and more than once will make you question who was really at fault for the housing crisis and the ensuing economic collapse.
“There are three ways to make a living in this business: be first, be smarter, or cheat.”
Margin Call (2011) – Senior Partners Emergency Meeting
6. The Big Short (2015)
In the months leading up to 2008’s economic panic, a handful of outsiders saw the white-crested top and ominous shadow of the tsunami headed our way. Don’t we all wish we could have predicted it?
At any rate, these outsiders worked out a scheme to bet against the system with the big banks as their targets.
Based on the book by Michael Lewis, The Big Short somehow manages to make us think — as well as laugh — as the world’s financial system is at its precipice.
Best Wall Street and stock market documentaries
1. Floored (2009)
“If you want a friend, get a dog. You don’t have friends in the pit.” – Floored
They’re often rude and crude and they sometimes punch each other in the face, but they’re real and their grit and primal instincts draw you in as they spin their tales of six-figure losses in a day or seven-figure gains in a week. Until 1997, when computer trading arrived, up to 100,000 men and women barked, shouted, screamed, and jostled on the trading floors of Chicago’s trading exchanges.
The city of Chicago, a hub of transportation, became a center for futures trading related to livestock, agricultural products, and anything else that flowed through on railroads, roadways, or by a river. Later trading introduced energy trading, metals, and currencies, as well as stocks and bonds. Arguably, the pits made Chicago one of the country’s leading banking centers as well.
This documentary takes you down into the energized pits with the barkers. As the story unfolds, you’ll also learn of the devastation that comes from being on the wrong end of a trade during a market swoon and the quieting of the trading floor as computer trading becomes the primary way trades are made. This film will leave you in awe of the gladiatorial energy these traders bring to the battle every day — and at the same time saddened, wondering what becomes blood warriors when the war goes digital.
2. Trader (1987)
In 1987 the stock market crashed, ultimately taking nearly 23 percent of its value from investors. It was the single largest one-day percentage decline in history.
Soft spoken and mild-mannered until he needs to make a trade, stock market prognosticator Paul Tudor Jones predicts the 1987 stock market crash with the help of Peter, a young statistician who works by his side. The pair draw parallels between the markets dynamics in the late 1920’s and the market in 1987 before the crash, finding over a 90% correlation in data points — even as the market rallied bullishly on bad news.
Paul is a futures trader and one of the most successful index traders in America, heading up Tudor investment corporation, an investment management company with clients around the world
In an early-morning overseas forex trade Paul nets $100,000, the average home price in 1985. In another trade, starting pre-market Paul acquires stock futures worth nearly $90 million in the span of 10 minutes, while simultaneously selling into the market to keep the price from rising too quickly before he fully builds his position. Putting on his lucky sneakers, Paul watches as the market moves down and sideways. Forced to exit the position as the market continues its downward trend, Paul loses $6 million on the speculative trade.
Railing against the perception that Wall Street traders are defined by greed, Paul commits 10% of his firm’s profits to charities, primarily the “I Have a Dream” foundation, further pledging to pay the college tuition for underprivileged kids in Brooklyn associated with the group — provided that they graduate high school. While the trading dynamics are captivating, Paul’s compassion is sincere and heart-warming, proving once again that none of us are easily defined as stereotypes would have us believe.
3. Warren Buffett: The World's Greatest Money Maker (2009)
Get ready to learn a few things. Where the fiction movies in our list are better described as entertainment than education, this BBC documentary takes you inside the life and thought processes of the world’s most successful investor. Famous for longer than many traders have been trading (or even alive, in some cases) Warren Buffett explains one of his many golden rules: Invest, don’t speculate.
Still living in the home he bought over 50 years ago for $31,000 and driving a vehicle that he acquired inexpensively because it had prior hail damage, the down-to-earth Oracle of Omaha helps us all to remember that money isn’t everything. This fascinating portrayal departs from other movies and documentaries on our list by leaving the viewer inspired, invigorated with a new and childlike sense that anything is possible, as long as you’re patient and study every situation carefully.