Money, even for those who don’t work in finance, is still a part of everyday life. Every time we buy food, pay bills or go to work, we deal with it. Because money permeates so much of what we do and what motivates us to be both very good and sometimes very bad, it makes a great movie subject. Here are some of our favorite films about the supposed root of all evil, taking a look at greed, generosity and everything in between.
Addressing greed, crime and business, these films take a hard look at how humans interact with money.
- Wall Street (1987): This Oliver Stone classic comes with the tag line, "greed is good" and that’s just what values the film reflects with its corrupt, money-hungry characters caught up in the 80’s ideal excesses.
- Boiler Room (2000): This modern twist on a film noir follows Seth Davis as he attempts to get a legitimate job and please his father after dropping out of college and running an illegal casino. What he doesn’t realize is that the stock brokerage where he finds work is far from legal and may just ruin his life.
- Glengarry Glen Ross (1992): This feature film adaptation of a David Mamet play documents the lives of four desperate Chicago agents who will do anything to sell some less-than-desirable real estate to prospective buyers.
- There Will Be Blood (2007): Daniel Day Lewis’ portrayal of the ruthless oil baron Daniel Plainview won him an Oscar (among numerous other awards), and there perhaps hasn’t been a better or colder portrayal of a driven businessman on film. Despite the character’s success in the film, he remains lonely and isolated from all those around him, even his adopted son, showing that money truly can’t buy happiness.
- Barbarians at the Gate (1993): Based on the book of the same name, this movie takes a look at the real life events that occurred during the buyout of Nabisco. Viewers will see businessmen fight it out for the rights to the company, slowly bidding up into the billions, creating a large shadow of debt for whomever ends up with the company.
- American Psycho (2000): American Psycho isn’t about money per se, but the serial killer at the center, Patrick Bateman, will go to any ends to maintain his yuppie Wall Street lifestyle – even murdering business rivals. The film skewers materialism, narcissism, greed and the often shallow nature of American consumerism.
- Pi (1998): Pi follows a brilliant young mathematician who is working on a formula that would help him to understand the natural world. While making stock predictions, he stumbles upon a mysterious 216 digit number that could be the answer he’s looking for, but other groups, stockbrokers and religious theorists want the discovery — and are willing to do anything to get it.
- Indecent Proposal (1993): What would you do for money? That’s the question this classic film asks, as a man offers a married couple one million dollars for just one night with the wife. While they need the money, the realities of getting it may just drive them apart.
- Casino (1995): Where there is money, there is crime and that’s just what viewers will find in this gangster film from Martin Scorsese. Enforcers help make sure that the mafia gets its cut of casino profits.
Money can sometimes make us act foolishly and these movies explore its comic side in society.
- The Money Pit (1986): If you’ve ever purchased real estate, you know how much money needs gets poured into a home to keep it looking nice. In this film, a young couple finds a home they love but that happens to be in great need of repair. They sink every last penny into the project, which presents them with disaster after disaster in this humorous take on homeownership.
- It’s a Wonderful Life (1946): This uplifting Christmas classic starts off sad with a downtrodden George Bailey wanting to kill himself over the failure of his bank and loan caused by misplaced money stolen by greedy, cold businessman Henry Potter. Yet with the help of a guardian angel, he learns powerful lessons about friendship, generosity and the value of life.
- Trading Places (1983): When a homeless man and a Wall Street power broker change places (unwillingly) hijinks ensue. While the film takes a humorous look at how each is ill-equipped to live the life of the other, it also offers real lessons on the value of life over that of money.
- Brewster’s Millions (1985): When a young man inherits millions from a rich uncle, he is required to spend $30 million in 30 days to inherit the full fortune. The catch is that he can’t spend anything on himself, must help others and gain nothing from every penny he spends.
- Jerry McGuire (1996): Sports agents are pretty money-driven in their profession — and they have to be — but in this film we see one who has grown tired of the drama. After suffering a nervous breakdown, Jerry McGuire writes a memo detailing how dishonest he finds the industry, causing him to lose him job and follow a path that ultimately leads to a much more fulfilling career.
- Other People’s Money (1991): Starring Danny DeVito as a corporate liquidator who sets his sights on a wire and cable company run by a straight shooting, old-fashioned businessman played by Gregory Peck. In the end, DeVito’s character has to decide which he loves more, the businessman’s daughter whom he has fallen for, or money.
Get a window into the real-life financial troubles going on in the world through these documentary films.
- Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005): When Enron went under in 2001, it took millions in employee retirement and benefits with it, while the guys at the top made off with everything. Viewers of the film will see the systematic accounting fraud which caused this collapse and the long-ranging effects it had on employees and their loved ones.
- Capitalism: A Love Story (2009): Whether you love him or hate him, Michael Moore brings up some interesting issues in this film, an indictment of the current capitalist system and the financial crisis that’s still going on.
- Maxed Out (2006): Credit cards allow us to buy a wide range of things without carrying around a load of cash, but they come with some pretty hefty financial strings attached. In this film, viewers will see just how credit card debt is hurting the average American and what predatory and abusive practices in the credit card industry are doing to hurt consumers.
- In Debt We Trust (2006): Another hard look at debt, this film shows the major economic changes that have occurred over the past few decades both for the average person and our nation as a whole.
- The Ascent of Money (2008): In this award-winning PBS movie series, viewers will learn about the long history of banking, money and credit from the Middle Ages up to the present day.