Editor’s note: Be sure to check out 8 Great Business Documentaries to Watch on Netflix and The Worst Business Documentaries on Netflix Right Now.
It’s getting colder outside than Gordon Gekko’s heart, which means it’s time to start holing up indoors with a nice cup of cocoa and good old Netflix Inc. (NFLX) streaming. Or Hulu Plus, or Amazon (AMZN) Prime. But probably Netflix.
At Equities.com the only thing we love more than impatience is watching movies about Wall Street. So we went through and picked out our favorite financial movies that are currently available to Watch Instantly on Netflix. So if your idea of a good time is watching movies about the financial sector – which it should be! – check out one of these five flicks:
1) Margin Call
A latter-day classic, Margin Call might have been modeled after the 2008 financial crisis, but the story’s twists and turns would be right at home at any point in late capitalism. The movie, which takes place in a single 24-hour period, centers on a fictional investment bank that has learned that the highly leveraged toxic assets they hold could self-destruct at any moment, becoming worthless and taking down the entire company – and possibly the entire financial system.
While the exact situation is certainly directly inspired by the mortgage-backed securities fiasco, the basic dilemma – how unethical people will act when facing ruin – are as old as capitalism itself.
2) The Pit
The type of deals most traders make these days would be nearly unrecognized by the traders of yore: people hunched over computers, sitting in silence, occasionally tapping buttons. But just a couple decades ago, trading was a completely different kind of animal: fast-paced, loud, and just an absolute frenzy. To be sure, this type of trading still exists, and has a place on the New York Stock Exchange and the Chicago Commodities Exchange. But it’s a dying art, one explored thoroughly in the 2010 documentary The Pit.
Like Margin Call, The Pit shows the two sides of “raw capitalism”: the soaring highs of success, but also how everything can disappear as instantly as you can watch this movie on Netflix.
3) Hank: Five Years from the Brink
One of the hardest pills to swallow in the midst of the 2008 collapse was the fact that Wall Street needed even more money. Right after a series of bets went south, the fact that the financial institution was to be trusted with any more money, let alone taxpayer money, let alone one trillion dollars, seemed patently absurd. But if it was not for the bailout, the country would have been mired in something even worse.
It fell on Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson to sell this toughest of sells to the American public after the meltdown, and Hank: Five Years From the Brink tells the story of how he persuaded everyone to go along with this plan that (almost certainly) saved the economy form economic collapse.
Anyone looking for holiday cheer, however, will be sorely disappointed to learn Paulson expects that another crash is inevitable. Bah humbug.
4) The Flaw
Another doc that touches on the 2008 crisis (it was a pretty big story, after all), The Flaw looks not just at the upper echelons of the financial crisis, as Hank and Margin Call do, but also digs into how the meltdown affected the rest of the American public and the world at large.
In interviews with economists, homeowners, bankers, journalists, and others deeply affected by the crisis, The Flaw provides a somewhat humorous, cynical, but still entertaining take on how a great, gaping flaw in the system was exploited by a few key people at the top, and how that “flaw” ultimately affected the entire world.
5) Trading Places
Trading Places is one of the best movies ever made about the financial markets (in this case, not Wall Street per se but the Chicago Commodity Exchange), and it’s a Christmas movie to boot. It’s the story of a street hustler and a commodities broker switching places. And of course, the movie takes no time at all to parallel high-class thieves (unscrupulous brokers) and low-class thieves (bookies), and how the latter get punished while the former are often rewarded handsomely. The ultimate connection between the two worlds is cemented in a very memorable scene where the Duke brothers explain commodities trading to a young Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy), with Valentine calling it like he sees it.
That is to say nothing of the rest of the film – which is funny in almost every line – to the great ending, which (spoiler) brings together the intricacies of a commodity trading floor with an underlying turnaround a person with no understanding of investing can follow.
Also, drunk Dan Akroyd in a Santa Costume. Merry Christmas!