Top 10 trading movies

August 3, 2012 06:17 AM

The announcement of the closing of the ICE Futures U.S. trading floor made us remember the movie “Trading Places,” which was filmed on the old New York trading floor at the World Trade Center. Soon we began naming some of our favorite trading movies, a list of course that kept expanding. So here - pared down from a much longer list - are 10 of our favorite movies that either focus on or have trading, finance and global markets as part of the theme. We’ll begin with a couple of our favorite documentaries, and then move into fiction. Some honorable trading floor scene mentions not included here are “What Happens in Vegas” and “A Good Year,” which have stories not centered around the markets. Surely there are more movies, and if you have suggestions, please note them in the comments section. 


10) Inside Job (2010)

The first movie on our list earned the 2010 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature for its searing examination of the events and personalities surrounding the 2008 financial crisis. Through interviews with politicians, journalists and financial industry leaders, director Charles Ferguson charts the history of U.S. financial regulation, or lack thereof, and even manages to make credit-default swaps understandable.


9) Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005)

There’s been no shortage of financial catastrophes over the last decade, but Enron is one of those select scandals that endures in the public consciousness more than 10 years after the fact. This documentary, based on an acclaimed book by two Fortune reporters, follows the rise and fall of the energy company and the high-rolling executives who drove it to its demise.


8) Wall Street I & II (1987 & 2010)

Iconic may be too strong of a word, but Gordon Gekko has become nearly synonymous with greed. In one of his most memorable roles, Michael Douglas plays the ruthless Gekko who only has one goal: Make as much money as possible. When nothing else matters, trading on inside information is just one more tool to be utilized. In the sequal, we see just how much family means to Gordon after he is released from prison.


7) Barbarians at the Gate (1993)

A classic mergers and acquisitions movie, “Barbarians at the Gate” tells the real-life story of the leveraged buyout of RJR Nabisco Inc. in 1988. With the company’s new smokeless cigarette primed to flop, CEO F. Ross Johnson, played by James Garner, decides to take the company private, with unexpected and humorous results.


6) Working Girl (1986)

Melanie Griffith spices up the Street in this classic comedy about a Staten Island secretary who takes advantage of her boss’s absence to rise through the ranks of an investment bank. The smart screenplay, paired with award-winning performances from the likes of Griffith, Joan Cusack and Sigourney Weaver, earned the film a Best Picture nomination at the 61st Academy Awards.


5) Boiler Room (2000)

Released at the tail end of the dot-com bubble, this drama may have been a precursor of problems to come in the financial world. In it, a young and ambitious college dropout goes to work in the “boiler room” of a stock brokerage, only to find himself enmeshed in the firm’s culture of corruption. “Boiler Room” is a fast-paced, profanity-laden look at the consequences of greed and hubris in the financial world.


4) Margin Call (2011)

 Watching this feature film debut from director J.C. Chandor, the audience becomes the metaphorical fly on the wall to the collapse of an investment bank. When a junior analyst discovers a problem with the firm’s finances, the bank’s senior employees spend a tense 36 hours deciding its future.

Chandor, whose father was a Merrill Lynch executive, deftly explores the ethical and moral dilemmas confronting each character, from the brash traders to the charismatic but sinister CEO. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to be working with a star-studded cast including Jeremy Irons, Kevin Spacey, Stanley Tucci and Paul Bettany.


3) Rogue Trader (1999)

They say truth is stranger than fiction, and that adage certainly applies in the case of Nick Leeson, the 20-something trader who brought down Britain’s oldest investment bank. Leeson lost $1.4 billion—more than the entire trading capital of Barings Bank—through unauthorized futures trading on the Singapore exchange. In this 1999 dramatization, Ewan McGregor portrays Leeson during his meteoric rise and dramatic downfall.


2) Too Big to Fail (2011)

This HBO movie chronicles the beginning of the financial crisis, notably the decision to let Lehman Brothers fail in 2008. Half the fun here is seeing financial industry leaders portrayed by a panoply of Hollywood stars, including James Woods as Lehman CEO Dick Fuld, Paul Giamatti as Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and Ed Asner as Berkshire Hathaway leader Warren Buffett.


1) Trading Places (1983)

After so many stories of regulatory mishaps and greedy financiers, Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy bring some much-needed comic relief to our list. Aykroyd, a successful broker, and Murphy, a street hustler, unwittingly trade places as the result of a social experiment by the villainous Duke brothers. While often disputed, many people believe that the inspiration for the film came from the real-life social experiment of trading partners William Eckhardt and Richard Dennis. The two Chicago traders set out to settle a dispute over whether successful trading could be taught. The Turtles, as they dubbed their students, went on to successful trading careers. 

 The film wasn’t just a commercial and critical success—in 2010 testimony before Congress, CFTC chairman Gary Gensler proposed the “Eddie Murphy rule,” banning trading on non-public information from government sources.


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