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’.
I’d say Brian De Palma’s remake of ‘Scarface’ is probably the most entertaining depiction of the excessiveness and materialism of the 80’s. Watching this guy become more miserable as he accumulates every trophy of success is just a blast thanks to Stone’s writing, De Palma’s direction, and Pacino’s performance.
But if you want one that is straight up (not explicitly illegal) business, I’ll go with Kurosawa’s ‘The Bad Sleep Well’.
The documentary “Inside Job” was an amazing accout of the 2008 financial crisis and it’s perpetrators
“The Wolf of Wall Street” is admittedly overlong and needlessly vulgar in some spots but also entertaining as hell.
“Dead Presidents” the Hughes brothers second best movie (Menace to Society being first), and a great period piece focusing on the alienation and disenfranchisement of vietnam vets returning from war.
It’s a travesty that Glengarry Glen Ross isn’t available on blu here yet.
CSM you are so right about Glengarry Glen Ross. A fantastic movie that should have been released on blu-ray years ago!
At this point, if they ever do release it, I’m kind of hoping for an all out 4k remaster.
I’m gonna have to go with Fargo. Whole cast is great and a dude gets run through a wood chipper. And for what?
“So that was Mrs. Lundegaard on the floor in there. And I guess that was your accomplice in the wood chipper. And those three people in Brainerd. And for what? For a little bit of money. There’s more to life than a little money, you know. Don’tcha know that? And here ya are, and it’s a beautiful day. Well. I just don’t understand it.”
Catch Me If You Can
I’m surprised nobody has mentioned Wall Street yet. Classic Michael Douglas and Charlie Sheen when Sheen was sane. Great movie and a even better sign of the times with Michael’s brick of a cell phone.
LUKE HICKMAN – “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’”
When I saw the topic, the first movie to pop in my mind was Twins. I haven’t seen it in years, but this was one of my favorites growing up, and if I remember right, had to deal with drug money.
This lead me to think of Kindergarten Cop and onto Three Men and A Baby.
However, I have been caught off guard before, and reread the opening and closing paragraphs, and realize that this deals with money and business and corruption, not just money and corruption. I am surprised no one has mentioned it, but the entire Jurassic Park series is exactly that – dangerous park is set to open, corrupt company and lawyers want to gouge the public since they have unique product, rival company pays employee to conduct corporate espionage, the company then tries to do anything possible to save some of their investment, followed by them finally opening a new park and creating genetically modified hybrids and research into weapons of war.
Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery is also a great movie, as it deals with an evil entity that has transformed itself into a legitiment business empire.
Sticking with spy movies and business empires, there is James Bond in Tomorrow Never Dies (one of my favorite Bond films).
Now, this is not too much of a stretch on the topic, and I think after I say it, Josh will at least go “Of course!” The movie is…. DUNE! Stay with me on this – the spice melange is the most valuable substance in the universe, and is only found on the planet Arrakis. Melange is what holds the empire together – it is what allows interstellar space travel, it extends life, and in high potent quantities, can allow the user to have visions and open up other mental powers. As such, religions have grown around its use. House Harkonnen has been over spice production for generations, however, Emperor Shaddam IV of House Corrino feels threatened by House Atreides, and he cannot come right out and crush them, so he places House Atreides in control of spice production, to at a later time be attacked by the Harkonnen’s with the assistance of the Emperor’s troops. Paul Atreides not only conqours the Harkonnens and the Corrinos, but has learned how the spice is made, and treaten’s its destruction, in effect overthrowing House Corrino. However, Paul eventually goes mad and wonders out into the desert to die, and his sister Alia takes over until his children are of age. However, then Alia becomes corrupt and paranoid. So, while the movie may not deal with cash money, it does deal with wealth, riches, business and power and an extremely valuable substance.