This weekend’s new release of ‘Money Monster’ is just the latest example of Hollywood, an industry based almost solely on a foundation of greed and excess, hypocritically preaching about the dangers of money corrupting. Some of the films that result from this are better than others. Here are our picks for the best movies about money, finance or business.
For this week’s Roundtable, I must go with the real-life events of the collapse and corruption of Enron, as told in the 2005 documentary, ‘Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room‘, directed by Alex Gibney. The movie is based on a best-selling book of the same name, and explains how executives at the company manipulated the market for their own profits. They were not only involved in, but in fact were primarily responsible for California’s energy crisis in 2001 and 2002. Despite the seriousness of the crimes here and the occasionally complex manner in which the market was manipulated, Gibney’s documentary is highly watchable, very entertaining, and occasionally humorous. It’s a great examination of corporate greed at its worst, and is still just as relevant over a decade after its release.
Thomas Crown is the happy version of Charles Foster Kane. Both men possess incredible wealth, but where Kane’s fortune came from a stroke of luck that essentially robbed him of his childhood, Thomas Crown is a self-made man who, we assume, got through his childhood just fine, made several fortunes in business and finance, and is now bored. But he still enjoys what he has.
The 1999 version of ‘The Thomas Crown Affair‘ (which I believe is far better than the original) is first and foremost a celebration of money, the lifestyle it affords people, the trappings it can obtain, and the places it can take them. Skycrapers and townhouses in New York, tropical vacation homes in Martinique, cars, planes, boats… all are present and enjoyed by the film’s main players. But as with Charles Foster Kane, it’s the things money can’t buy that seem to be the most entrancing for Thomas Crown: adventure, priceless art, lusty romance. The film revels in those pursuits as well. In short, Thomas Crown has and strives for classic pleasures.
This film should be handed out to anyone in the tech industry when their shares vest. Life is too short to spend your money on folding bikes and Bluetooth earbuds before creating another pointless app.
I recently revisited the comedy epic ‘It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World‘ via the 182 minute cut. On the whole, I think it’s an enduring classic centered around getting rich quick on the edge of the law. Of course, in the pursuit of the hidden loot, countless laws are broken with an escalating disregard, but it’s all chalked up to the competition to find the money first, and in some cases, emotion arising from unfair play. My favorite scene is towards the beginning, when the initial group discusses how best to fairly divide the shares of the still to be located stash. That specific accord to which the various parties and “cars” of people can’t agree on in a meaningful way is almost like a monkey’s paw. That disagreeable greed leads to more and more parties being involved before the film’s crazy climax.
When I think about money, I think of Wall Street. And when I think of Wall Street, I don’t think about movies like ‘Wall Street’ or ‘Boiler Room’. Instead – no joke – ‘Die Hard with a Vengeance‘ comes to mind. The original ‘Die Hard’ is an absolute classic. ‘Die Hard 2’ was a forgettable sequel. But the third ‘Die Hard’ showed up with a vengeance, making us forget the sins of the second. Not only did it pull off what the first one got right, but it turned it into a successful buddy movie. On top of that, it kept its villainy within the family. The Simon Says game of the first half of the movie is a perfect diversion for the heist to rob the Federal Reserve, which is just off Wall Street. This connection may seem like a stretch to you, but that’s just how my nerdy mind works.
Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)
Snicker if you want, but I’ve learned quite a few lessons about business from ‘Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory‘. Willy Wonka refuses to coast on previous successes. Instead, he’s relentlessly driven to innovate and diversify. Regardless of how hotly in demand a product of yours may be now, that’s no guarantee of future staying power, hence the need for experiments like three-course dinner gum. Wonka’s push for impoverished kids to get their money’s worth from an everlasting gobstopper isn’t all that different than investing in emerging markets. He’s building goodwill, expanding his future customer base and, sure, shoving the competition out of his way. The Golden Ticket promotion shows that there’s more to marketing and PR than the usual carpet-bombing of TV, print, online and transit/outdoor ads.
Wonka is aware of the competition’s mercenary tactics and accordingly embraces an Apple-like culture of secrecy, but his company doesn’t live or die on its bottom line. He values honesty and integrity, which are essential for positive morale in the workplace, a sense of trust and communication among employees, and in relationships with suppliers, retailers, and customers alike. Wonka knows and understands his chocolate factory’s target demographic. He intimately knows and loves the products he puts his name on. Heck, the guy even has the perfect exit strategy.
The Archer Daniels Midland Company lysine price fixing scandal of the 1990s hardly sounds like the sort of subject that would make a compelling movie. How many people even understand what lysine is in the first place, much less care how it’s priced? Nonetheless, I first heard about the true story from an episode of NPR’s ‘This American Life’ and was riveted. Not only was the extent of the company’s corruption completely, shamelessly outrageous, the details of how it was uncovered by a corporate whistleblower named Mark Whitacre were even more fascinating. You see, Whitacre fancied himself a morally righteous do-gooder hero as he acted as an undercover FBI mole for three years – all the while he simultaneously engaged in serious crimes of his own, including fraud, money laundering and embezzlement.
Steven Soderbergh eventually made a movie of this story, called ‘The Informant!‘ (exclamation mark intended), and played it as a deadpan black comedy. A pudgy and mustachioed Matt Damon plays Whitacre as a friendly, good-natured nerd who happens to be completely delusional. He narrates the movie with a hilarious internal monologue that constantly drifts to random tangents as the details of the company’s crimes (and his own) grow increasingly absurd. It’s a great movie that was criminally overlooked during its release in 2009.
What are some of your favorite movies about money and business? We haven’t even touched on some big titles like ‘Wall Street’, ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ or ‘Glengarry Glen Ross’.