The 10 Best Movies About Money
If there’s one subject to which filmmakers keep returning, again and again, it’s money. Whether it’s various financial crises that have devastated the economic world, clever ways people have found to make money against the odds, or just greed and ambition overtaking a flawed hero, money may be the root of all evil, but it’s also the root of some seriously great storytelling in the world of cinema.
You might think that second mortgage loans aren’t a particularly sexy thing to base a movie around (although they can be a great idea if you’re a homeowner), but money can be a great device for storytelling in cinema. Here, in no particular order, are the 10 best movies about money.
Ocean’s Eleven (dir. Steven Soderbergh, 2001)
Steven Soderbergh knows his way around a finger-snapping, briefcase-clicking heist movie, and Ocean’s Eleven proves it. His star-studded cast wind their way around some witty dialogue and a joyfully convoluted plot, keeping you guessing for the movie’s entire runtime.
What a cast it is, too; George Clooney, Matt Damon, Julia Roberts, and Brad Pitt are just a few of the constellations of stars this movie has to offer. Ocean’s Eleven may not be a particularly groundbreaking movie, but it’s great fun nonetheless.
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Moneyball (dir. Bennett Miller, 2011)
Moneyball maybe Bennett Miller’s movie, but it belongs just as much to co-writer Aaron Sorkin, who built the fast-talking script alongside Steven Zaillian. At its core, it’s a movie about baseball statistics; schlubby Brad Pitt must turn his team’s fortunes around, with the help of economist Jonah Hill.
Both turn in excellent performances here, and the movie manages to find a way to make its core number-crunching exciting on a cinematic level, which is no mean feat.
Wall Street (dir. Oliver Stone, 1987)
“Greed, for lack of a better word, is good.” So goes the infamous quote from Oliver Stone’s 1987 cautionary tale Wall Street, which many real-life stockbrokers somehow misinterpreted as a rallying cry to join the legions of financial sharks on the titular exchange. Granted, Wall Street doesn’t savage its subjects quite as much as future finance movies would, but Michael Douglas and Charlie Sheen’s journey through the underbelly of insider trading nonetheless stands the test of time.
Hustlers (dir. Lorene Scafaria, 2019)
Hustlers feature a star-confirming performance from Jennifer Lopez, who plays the no-nonsense matriarch in the amicable strip club Moves. As things go south with the club, Lopez’s Ramona turns to more underhanded ways to get money from clients, bringing Constance Wu’s Destiny along with her. What follows is a whirlwind trip through vice, sleaze, and female friendship, a tale of women doing what they can to survive and thrive in a male-dominated world.
The Big Short (dir. Adam McKay, 2015)
In this 2015 movie about the 2007 financial crash, McKay brings his characteristic visual extravagance to a story ultimately about greed and overreach.
The ensemble cast is in fine form here; Christian Bale rubs shoulders with Ryan Gosling, Margot Robbie, and the ever-reliable Steve Carell in a story that somehow manages to be compelling despite largely being about men sitting in offices. The moral message isn’t lost on this movie, but first and foremost, it’s just a great watch.
Double Indemnity (dir. Billy Wilder, 1944)
Let’s go back in time a little and revisit one of the classics. Double Indemnity is a formative text for the noir fiction genre; its hero, Walter Neff, is led astray by the stunning Phyllis Dietrichson and tricked into helping her concoct a life insurance scam involving her husband.
The gender politics of Double Indemnity haven’t held up too well over time, but the story is full of complex twists and turns, and many of the noir genre’s staples can be found here, too.
Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (dir. Alex Gibney, 2005)
Alex Gibney is a leading light of documentary filmmaking, and Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room demonstrates why. Gibney’s look at the 2001 fall of the mighty Enron Corporation examines the complex web of financial fraud and backstabbing that brought Enron down.
It takes the template set by the 2003 book and leaps off it to uncover some shocking truths about the way in which the corporate world works. If you want to feel angry with rich people, watch this movie.
Joy (dir. David O. Russell, 2015)
We might be cheating a little by including Joy, as it’s not, strictly speaking, a great movie. However, we do think this underrated 2015 offering from Silver Linings Playbook director David O. Russell deserves to be revisited.
Jennifer Lawrence is in characteristically sparkling form as the titular Joy Mangano, an entrepreneur whose inventions are picked up by the shopping channel QVC and proceed to turn Mangano’s fortunes around. It’s a satisfying watch, albeit a little slow.
The Muppet Christmas Carol (dir. Brian Henson, 1992)
Yes, really. The Muppet Christmas Carol is a retelling of a classic Charles Dickens story that’s all about money, and how being too miserly can result in serious problems.
It tells the story in a fairly straight-faced way, with the ever-game Michael Caine turning in an affable performance as Ebenezer Scrooge alongside the Henson company’s reliably brilliant Muppets. If you only ever watch one movie version of A Christmas Carol, make it this one.
American Psycho (dir. Mary Harron, 2000)
There are so many quotable lines from this movie that you’ve almost certainly heard several of them before. “Let’s see Paul Allen’s card”. The whole spiel about Huey Lewis and the News. Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale)’s an impassioned plea to his lawyer to take him seriously, only to be rebuffed in a way that casts the entire movie’s narrative in an ambiguous light.
This takedown of 1980s corporate excess wouldn’t work without Bale’s squeaky-clean performance, but the surrounding cast (including Jared Leto and Willem Dafoe) should be commended as well.