Our recent trip to the movies for a private Corvil screening of ‘The Hummingbird Project’ got us thinking about other films that have tried to make big screen entertainment out of stock market storylines. All made before the concept of sub-millisecond trading became mainstream enough to fuel the plotline that drives ‘Hummingbird’, they rely on older dramatic tropes, usually characters enthralled by power and wealth.
In the hands of some of Hollywood’s finest directors, stories that risk becoming crushingly bombastic are shot through with lashings of black humor or feature enough roguish characters to make them irresistible. For those working with modern trading technology, the movies’ use technology brings an additional level of humorous acknowledgement of how much, and how quickly, trading execution has changed.
Here are six of the most entertaining:
Michaels Douglas delivering the Gordon Gekko ‘greed is good’ speech is one of the iconic moment of eighties cinema. Director Oliver Stone neatly encapsulates a time when Ronald Reagan on one side of the Atlantic and Margaret Thatcher on the other, pursued free market economics and deregulation. Still, it’s hard not to enjoy the bravado of Douglas and marvel at the power of big suspenders and gelled-back hair. It stands up well, much better than the baggy 2010 sequel, ‘Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps’.
A rollercoaster ride of ‘sex and drugs and penny stocks’, Martin Scorsese turns the true story of corrupt stockbroker Jordan Belfort into a no-holds barred account of excessive consumption, unencumbered by any moral ambiguity. Leonardo DiCaprio throws himself nose first into the lead role as the aggressive ‘pump and dump’ trader who never lets a little thing like fraud slow him down. The humor is black and the characters relentlessly unlikeable, but the slick direction and excellent lead performances make it hard to look away.
An excellent and dramatic exploration of capitalism and greed, this low-budget gem plays out over 24-hours on the cusp of the markets going south in 2007. Excessive leverage will see an investment bank go bankrupt unless the selling floor can offload its entire stock after the bell rings. This time there are characters wrestling with the moral ambiguity of what they’re doing; conveyed with crackling dialogue and eye-catching performances from Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons, Demi Moore and a pre-scandal Kevin Spacey. If you want to be reminded of how far trading technology has evolved, look out for the plot point that hinges on someone sharing a memory stick.
Three parallel storylines draw on a real life group of investors who bet against the property mortgage market in 2007 and make a killing. A fast-paced, black comedy it’s given a touch of class by an army of Hollywood A-listers like Ryan Gosling and Christian Bale. There are also celebrity cameos in jokey attempts to explain stock market jargon and the subprime scam. The film is amusing and horrifying at the same time; no mean feat with what is essentially a story about short selling.
A non-nonsense drama that avoids the high-octane satire of other movies in this list, Boiler Room plays it straight and is interested in digging down into the motives for corruption rather than blindly embracing it. A stockbroker trainee joins a brokerage firm to impress his father but soon succumbs to the promise of quick wealth, albeit illegally. Here too cutting-edge technology takes center stage – a floppy disc containing incriminating evidence! Strong story and a fine cast, including Vin Diesel, Giovanni Ribisi, and Ben Affleck.
How dark do you like your satire? An important question to consider before reading the Brett Easton Ellis novel from 1991 or watching the film adaptation from 2000. Christian Bale plays a highflying investment banker who conceals his other life as a psychopath. His excesses make ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ look like a Disney movie, but even more disturbing is the contrast between his proclivity for extreme acts of violence and the normalcy of his pop music tastes – a fondness for Phil Collins and Huey Lewis.