Finance and accounting aren’t industries that immediately make you think of gripping entertainment, but Hollywood has treated us all to some enthralling tales on the big screen played out over the backdrop of the financial industry. The following films represent some of the best we have seen in recent memory and provide thought provoking messages, pure action, and grandiose visions of unimaginable wealth. Let’s get to it!
No. 5: The Accountant
Director Gavin O’Connor’s The Accountant stars Ben Affleck as Christian Wolff, a numbers and mathematics savant that plies his trade with some of the most dangerous criminals around the globe. It’s a curious proposition, and through flashbacks, the viewer learns that it’s Wolff’s militaristic father that inspired his proclivity for sharpshooting and living life on the edge. While the plot is far from air-tight, a capable cast pushes the story forward and presents all the financial drama expected, with Wolff uncooking the books for shady enterprises accompanied by Dana (Anna Kendrick), as he is hunted by the Treasury Department. The film ends with a bang, as executive Lamar Blackburn’s (John Lithgow) estate is raided by Brax (Jon Bernthal). The Accountant, while not bringing anything novel to the party, is a fun and fast trip through the shady side of fancy financial footwork, and rewards with action what it doesn’t with plot.
Best scene: My favorite scene is one that has no action, and is the first clip in this compilation. The viewer begins to see the awkward tension between Wolff and Dana in a comical and innocent conversation about career choices.
No. 4: Moneyball
Bennet Miller’s Moneyball may not jump out as a financial film, but it’s the courageous and frankly wild decisions of Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) on a cash-strapped Oakland Athletics Major League Baseball budget that will leave viewers in awe. It’s not often we are treated to a financial thriller that’s more engaging than it is pricey, or a sports movie that doesn’t descend to some truly mind-numbing tropes, but that’s exactly the power of Moneyball: it’s intelligence and message. General Manager Beane, fresh off a trip to the 2002 World Series, is tasked with rebuilding that Oakland team after its three biggest stars departed to higher paying pastures. He visits opposing general managers, shopping for players in the bargain bin with the hopes they play like All-Stars. Introduce Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), a Yale economics graduate that flips player judgement on its head through statistics. Beane, desperate to succeed, puts all of his eggs in Brand’s proverbial basket, and sets a new American League record with a 20-game winning streak. The stress and size of the task define Pitt’s performance, and while the side story of his familial struggles is never as engaging as the boardroom wheeling and dealing, it becomes clear that Beane was never in it for the money, he’s in it to win.
Best scene: More than a few to choose from here, but the most symbolic is definitely this battle of philosophies in the scout room. Beane can barely control his temper while the elderly scouts talk about “good looking faces” and players’ “ugly girlfriends”.
No. 3: The Big Short
Adam McKay’s The Big Short dives deep into the story of the financial meltdown of 2008. The film follows a variety of characters in the investment and banking industries as each navigates the impending collapse a bit differently. McKay employs Margot Robbie and Selena Gomez to break the fourth wall to explain the dizzyingly dry terminology such as ‘sub-prime’ and casts Christian Bale, Steve Carrell, and Brad Pitt in fictional roles that just somehow feel more like the actors themselves than the characters they play. None of these things are bad; in fact, the film confidently communicates its message of systemic inequities in the American financial landscape. This is a film that makes you question just how 2008 was possible, which is an astounding achievement, considering it seems the most recent financial crash is somewhat forgotten today.
Best scene: What else could it be, other than Brad Pitt and Christian Bale proving all the haters wrong? Witness their success in the midst of one of the greatest financial collapses in history.
No. 2: American Psycho
Mary Harron directs American Psycho, a film that explores the hedonism stereotypically associated with the financial industry. Christian Bale plays the repulsive but enthralling Patrick Bateman, and it’s Bale’s performance that makes Bateman’s descent into madness all the more fascinating. This layered story brings more than plenty for the viewer to unpack, probably over multiple screenings, but most of all asks questions of reality versus fantasy: was Bateman so morally bankrupt that he actually killed throughout the film, or was it all just a mirage of his own mind? Or, does the truth lay somewhere in the middle, where Bateman clearly fantasizes about murder, but only performs the action in reality a single time? Of course, I am asking these questions as well, and many viewings later, making the film’s provocative nature an impressive feat.
Best scene: The infamous and prideful business card exchange! No other scene encapsulates this film, and its main character, so eloquently.
No.1: Wolf of Wall Street
Martin Scorcese’s Wolf of Wall Street is three hours of intoxicating excess, completed with a polished and fun performance from Leonardo DiCaprio playing notorious stockbroker Jordan Belfort. The film details the story of Belfort’s unlikely rise with his fraudulent Stratton Oakmont brokerage firm running pump-and-dump schemes to manipulate stock prices in their favor. Belfort enjoys fast cars, wild parties, and a lavish lifestyle before it all comes crashing down in a legal battle with the SEC. The film practically begs the viewer to determine Belfort’s guilt in addition to our collective guilt as a society: how did a man like this come to be? And perhaps more importantly, why are we so moved by the story? Wolf of Wall Street may not go down as Scorcese’s best, but it might be his most honest film.
Best scene: Selling garbage to garbage men! There’s a host of compelling scenes throughout this three hour epic, but the turning point is Belfort first trying his hand at penny stocks.
What do you think of our list? Did we leave something out? Get at us on Twitter @SiegfriedGroup to share your thoughts!