Best Movies and Documentaries about Trading and the Stock Market

I just started a new job at a leading, Fortune 500, Software and IT services company dedicated to the financial services industry. For a newbie like me, there is a lot to learn, so I thought it would not hurt to get impregnated by all the most significant movies and documentaries out there on trading and the stock markets…
Yup, all of them. If possible. It is going to take me quite some time, as I have identified close to 50 different films, I will update this post with new reviews as I move on…

Trader – Paul Tudor Jones – (PBS (?), documentary, 1987)

Set in the 1980s, this one-hour documentary portrays the daily work of the American, now-billionaire, hedge fund manager Paul Tudor Jones. It does a great job at depicting the extreme speeds at which trading operates at a time where paper and phones where common place and computers still in their infancy. It shows a realistic vision of the energy (and violence) of the trading room, and distillates a few pieces of trading wisdom from Jones. In this documentary, Jones also predicts the upcoming 1987 crisis, pointing out the cyclic nature of the markets.
My favourite quote: see picture above 🙂

Wall Street (Oliver Stone, 1987)

THE movie that defines the genre. Certainly one of Michael Douglas’ most career-defining role, Gordon Gecko is probably one of the smartest and most ruthless wall street trader ever depicted. Bud Fox (played by Charlie Sheen), a yet small time broker in an in an investment bank is attracted into the ambitious, wealthy and dangerous world of Gecko. A big learning curve lies ahead of Fox, as some crucial information gets in his possession through family confidence. If there were only one movie, it would have to be this one.

My favourite quote: “We’re all just one trade away from humility.” (Marv)
But surely, one of the most memorable quote from this movie is from Gecko himself: “The point is ladies and gentlemen that greed, for lack of a better word, is good.”

Rogue Trader (James Dearden, Nick Leeson, 1999)

Mostly shot in Singapore, this film starring Ewan Mc Gregor is based on the true story of Nick Leeson, a british derivatives trader who lead the centuries old Barings Bank to bankruptcy, having traded on the bank’s own account, taking excessively high risk position on Nikkei contracts, after years of seemingly profit making arbitrage between Singapore’s SIMEX and the Tokyo market. There is not much intrigue to the scenario, as you start pretty much with the end in mind, but it does a good job to define some basics on the functioning of the high risk high rewards derivative markets. Mc Gregor portrays rather well an ambitious, nice young guy who slowly sinks in increasingly deeper shit. It is also interesting to see what Singapore looked like 15 years ago: the central business districts holds many more skyscrapers today…

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (Oliver Stone, 2010)

20 years have past and the disgraced Gordon Gecko is back. His future son-in-law happens to be a prop trader  and he’s thrilled to get to know the ‘legend’. His fascination for who appears to be a seemingly wiser man, still a visionary will soon drive him into complications, because Gecko just can’t help being Gecko. Although some serious writing has been put into creating a decent follow-up to the original story, and an overall good casting, Money never sleep does not manage to recreate an intrigue as thrilling as the original story. It is a real pleasure though, to see Douglas back into Gecko’s shoes. Some lines are pretty good too.
My favourite quote: “It’s not about the money. It’s about the game between people.” (Gecko)

Le Capital (Costa-Gavras, 2012)

A young banker is designated by his dying mentor to take over the direction of a large french bank. As soon as he embarks on this challenge, he realizes that something is fishy and plays candid while trying to figure out the chess play of internal colleagues, american bankers that predate on his bank, and the strange character of a supermodel that tries to seduce him. It is a not-so-bad plot, yet I thought the movie did not deliver much. The director tries to show he has done some research on the financial industry and tries hard to create a financial intrigue that his worth 90 minutes of the viewer’s time, but the movie is impregnated by his leftist views. While the point about the greed of the system’s player is not questionable and is worth repeating, it dampens the movie convincing ability, because of overly simplistic views. The avorted love story does not bring much to the story either.
This movie has not found his genre between engaged documentary, drama, thriller and entertainment which makes it quite half-baked in every possible direction
My favourite quote: “Money is a dog that does not ask for patting, it just asks for its ball to be thrown always further, so that he can return endlessly.”

Margin Call (J.C Changor, 2011)

Lead by an all-star cast (Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons, Zachary Quintos, Simon Baker, Catherine Zeta-Jones, …), Margin Call shows the intricate relationships inside an investment bank that goes into a heavy restructuring followed by a critical business situation, sparkled by the discovery by a young risk manager of the amount of toxicity in a firm’s portfolio. Having packed junk bonds into very profitable financial compounds, the entire firm is on jeopardy and the firm’s management has to deal with the situation overnight.

 

While I thought the plot interesting and the cast brilliant, the movie does not deliver as much as expected on the excitement or suspense. The analogy between’s Spacey’s sick dog and the firm/system is nicely found, but it does not save the whole movie, which lacks a bit in substance.
My favourite quotes:
(Head of Trading Will Emerson, driving his cabriolet and smoking a cigarette, to his passenger, the young analyst Seth) 
“(..) They want what we have to give them but they also wanna, you know, play innocent and pretend they have no idea where it came from. Well, thats more hypocrisy than I’m willing to swallow, so fuck em. Fuck normal people. You know, the funny thing is, tomorrow if all of this goes tits up they’re gonna crucify us for being too reckless but if we’re wrong, and everything gets back on track? Well then, the same people are gonna laugh till they piss their pants cause we’re gonna all look like the biggest pussies God ever let through the door. “
(John Tuld, Chairman of the Board)

“So, what you’re telling me, is that the music is about to stop, and we’re going to be left holding the biggest bag of odorous excrement ever assembled in the history of capitalism.”

Inside Job (Charles Ferguson, 2010)

A documentary narrated by Matt Damon on the global financial crisis of 2008, Inside Job presents the mechanisms that lead to the disastrous consequences of people losing their jobs and homes, and nearly resulted in a global financial collapse. A good amount of research was clearly put into the topic, although I found the narration style sometimes unclear, I thought, hesitating between a very serious fact checking and explanation, and an opinionated manifesto denunciating the true responsible of the crisis. Through analysis and interviews, it does a great job at showing the extent of the reach of the deregulation doctrines that pervaded and corrupted politics, regulation, and academia, leading to a gigantic, uncontrollable systemic time bomb.

Boiler Room

Seth Davis is a college dropout running an illegal casino from his rented apartment until he is hired as a trainee stock broker of a suburban investment firm, that he’s certainly aggressive when it comes to closing a deal (by the way, a few references are made to two movies on this list: the legendary Wall Street, and the no less remarkable Glengarry Glen Ross). Seth soon starts to excel as the stock selling game whilst a few chance encounters lead him to question the legality of the firms activities. 

Vaguely related to finance & stock market

As I watched movies advised in other lists made online, I ended up watching things that were more or less related to my focus topic… Well, here they are, and some make for an interesting watch.

Glengarry Glen Ross (James Foley, 1992)

This movie is more about sales than trading, and it is a delight to watch. One of the first scenes with Alec Baldwin in the role of Blake, a full-on manager coming from the city to motivate his troops to sell real estate is just pure gold. His intervention and the challenge he sets for his subodrinates immediately creates a sheer tension between the protagonists. It’s either the Cadillac, a set of knifes, or the sack. Lead by an all-star cast, with Al Pacino and Kevin Spacey, Glengarry Glenn Ross efficiently portrays the relationships and rivalry of men with different ambitions and strengths, in their masculine “closers” environment.

My favourite quote:  
“Blake: I’m going anyway. Let’s talk about something important. Put. That coffee. Down. Coffee’s for closers only. You think I’m fucking with you? I am not fucking with you. I’m here from downtown. I’m here from Mitch and Murray. And I’m here on a mission of mercy. Your name’s Levine? You call yourself a salesman you son of a bitch?
Dave Moss: I don’t gotta sit here and listen to this shit.”

Owning Mahowney 

I stumbled upon this film about a very average banking joe, only thing is, he has a big gambling problem. Starring the great, late, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Owning Mahowney is definitely more about addiction than about finance, as it shows this regular banker, trusted by his direct colleagues, having a second live between his town and Atlantic City, where he spends increasing amounts of money “borrowed” from his client, after forging loans for them to collect cash… While you won’t learn a thin
g about the financial market, I found Hoffman’s performance in the lead character shockingly good, having completely embodied a shy, nervous, american WASP on the road to perdition, in complete denial.

e-Dreams

This is a documentary about the rise and fall of late internet startup kozmo.com, that specialized in under-one-hour carrier delivery service  in New York. It shows the humble start from the team, the big ambition and boldness of his founder, the psychological dimension of the changes that come with success, and the, temproray, rise to fame. The big bubble will finally crush the company.

 

A rather good depiction of the startup mentality and big hopes of the beginning of the century, and a footage worth watching, a good dose of realism, for all the startup ecosystem fan boys out there.

Pi 

The first full length by Darren Aronofsky, the director of Black Swan. It is quite a disturbing movie, in black and white, about an obsessional mathematician who believes numbers are everything and that everything can be modeled by numbers. As he is working non-stop to decode the secret of the stock market, using his brain (affected by the horrible headaches he suffers from regularly), and a computer he built himself, he meets a fellow jewish mathematician who tells him that the Torah has a strong innate number logic. The protagonist starts to see number conspiring everywhere and becomes paranoiac in his quest for truth, his drug consumption not helping, until total madness.

 

Upcoming Reviews

Trading Places
A Beautiful Mind
The Million Pound Note (Gregory Peck, 1954)
Groundhog Day

Million Dollar Traders

Rounders
Silver Bears
Something Ventured
The Bank Job
The Family Man
The Smartest Guys in the Room
The Wolf of Wall Street
Ugly Americans
The Scam
Matchstick Men
Freefall
Barbarians at the gate
Working girl
Too Big to Fail

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