Top 15 trading movies: 2013 edition

August 29, 2013 08:37 AM

To celebrate the 30th anniversary of “Trading Places,” the quintessential trading movie, now even more poignant with the closure of the trading floor, we are launching of our own movie and video player service, Alpha TV. And on Sept. 6, Alpha TV will host the World Wide Web premiere of the director’s cut of “FLOORED.”  

A year ago we put together a top 10 trading movies list, but decided we left off some lesser known gems. Therefore, our 2013 list has been expanded to 15 movies. These movies are a combination of documentaries, docudramas and fiction, but all have a strong tie to trading or events that affected the markets significantly. Although we have taken reader comments into consideration, there probably are others that we’ve missed. Please put your suggestions in the comments section below. So relax and take in the shows. Now all we need is the popcorn.

Honorable Mention) Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

OK, so probably more than 99% of this movie has absolutely nothing to do with trading, but the guys at Attain Capital explained why this movie belongs here when they said, “in the 90s, and early last decade – when you told someone you worked in the futures trading pits in Chicago, and they looked at you like you were an alien, the only way to explain what you did for a living was to say: ‘you know that scene in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” where they are doing all those crazy hand signals through the glass at the guys in the colorful coats? I’m one of those guys in those coats.’”

15) Cancel Crash (2012)

Released on the 25th anniversary of Black Monday, “Cancel Crash” is a documentary that follows the story of how traders, especially a group of market makers at the Chicago Board Options Exchange, dealt with the Friday before Black Monday, the infamous day itself and what followed on Terrible Tuesday when the markets were in chaos with exchanges shutting down. One exchange remained open: the Chicago Board of Trade and its Major Market Index (MMI) contract. Within the story is a fascinating retelling of how, while most traders had to sit on the sidelines that Tuesday, one market maker went over to trade the MMI deciding the thing to do when markets closed was to buy. His actions may have cancelled the crash. (You’ll be able to see it on Alpha TV in October).

14) Pi (1998)

This psychological thriller follows the story of Max Cohen, a number theorist, as he begins making stock predictions based on the calculations of his computer, which he names Euclid. Although not well known, “Pi” received high praise from critics when it was released, and continues to keep audiences in suspense today. One commenter said he empathized with the lead character the longer he traded upstairs by himself.

13) 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, Harrison Ford, Joan Cusack and Sigourney Weaver, earned the film a Best Picture nomination at the 61st Academy Awards.

12) The Pit (2010)

Filmmaker Johanna Lee worked on the floor of the New York Board of Trade (NYBOT) for six months, then spent the next four years following traders “where streetwise Brooklyn guys become multi-millionaires and Ivy League hot shots try to make it big.” She captures many of the characters – both good and bad - who traded on the NYBOT floor, following their story as the exchange was bought by the Intercontinental Exchange and eventually shuttered. Considering that “Trading Places” was filmed on the New York Commodity Exchange floor, this is an especially poignant epitaph to the wonder of the trading floor.

11) Inside Job (2010)

This movie 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.

10) Barbarians at the Gate (1993)

A classic mergers and acquisitions docudrama, “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.

9) Floored

“In 1997, 10,000 people traded on the floors…Today, about 10% remain.” So begins James Allen Smith’s movie, which follows traders at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange as they faced the sea change that was electronic trading. Allen, who was one of those people fascinated by the floor through "Ferris Bueller’s Day Off," captures the pathos, poignancy and frustration as new and old floor traders adapted, or not, to the new way of life sweeping their world. Watch for the World Wide Web premiere of the official director’s cut here at Futures on Sept. 6.

8) 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, Demi Moore and Paul Bettany. In a twist of irony, JP Morgan’s London Whale drama had eerily similar story lines, especially with the casualty of the one executive played by Moore.

7) 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.

6) 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.

5) 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.

4) Too Big to Fail (2011)

This HBO docudrama 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, William Hurt as Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Ed Asner as Berkshire Hathaway leader Warren Buffett.

3) 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 sequel, we see just how much family means to Gordon after he is released from prison.

2) Trader (1987)

Showing Paul Tudor Jones predicting the 1987 crash, this hour-long documentary originally was aired on television in 1987 on PBS. Although it was released on video, very few copies exist after Jones requested it be removed from circulation in 1990, according to the movie’s director, Michael Glyn. It occasionally has surfaced online, but usually is quickly removed because of copyright violations.

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.


Now that you've seen this year's list, check out last year's Top 10 Trading Movies. Then, let us know if you agree with our revised list or if we left your favorite movie off the list.

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