Dr. Bayer’s Best Money Movies: Wall Street Psychology at Its Finest
The Sting  Great film which utilizes artistic and clever deception tactics to hit an enemy where it really hurts, in his wallet, with the added touch that the “victim” will always wonder about what really happened. The interplay between the real and the surreal will keep true Wall Street players on their finger tips.
Trading Places Well heeled commodities brokers, Duke and Duke, set out to investigate the age old nature/nurture dilemma: is environment or genetics more important in determining success. The experiment blows up in their face as they are outfoxed by their victims. The Duke’s lack of virtue, and their underestimation of the power and resourcefulness of seemingly lesser mortals provides interesting lessons for us all.
Wall Street  “Greed is good.” The original! Money lust, seduction, power and control manias, betrayal, inside information, rape and pillage tactics, and the obsessive need to be rich at nearly any cost color this intriguing portrait of Wall Street “Masters of the Universe.”
Other Peoples Money  Corporate raiding at its most entertaining only to be ‘corrupted’ by the possibility of romance. Sentiment poses a threat to the “love of money.” The lust for cash and the opportunity to splinter a business purely for profit, and seeming shareholder value, ultimately fails as the company innovates and reinvents itself just in the nick of time.
Glengarry Glen Ross  Winning/Surviving at any cost. “No room for losers, only for closers.” ‘Success’ trumps all. Honor, dignity, and virtue aren’t even in the picture. One can only ‘eat what they kill.’ Deception, trickery, and sabotage lurk under the floorboards. Who can be trusted? Dictum Meum Pactum (My Word is My Bond) has no home here.
Barbarians at the Gate  A leveraged buyout (LBO) classic. RJR’s clever CEO attempts to sidestep shareholder wrath by trying to buy the company himself. Others get wind of the obscene possible profits, and a wild bidding war, coupled with massive manipulations and general insanity, amps up nearly beyond human imagination. Another interesting feature of the film involves the mind-blowing misuse of corporate (and shareholder) monies used to indulge upper management to a point that might even startle the aristocracies of the ancient world. The excess is stratospheric.
Casino  Power, control, brutality (even murder), insatiable money hunger, feudal mob rituals, brazen elimination of competition, betrayal, abuse of friendship and trust, sex drugs & rock ‘n’ roll: “Casino” has it all.
Jerry McGuire  Moral epiphanies can be ‘bothersome’ in a world riddled with money-madness. Assessing one’s life and exploring deep existential issues can become a priority regardless of one’s net-worth. Self worth, when all is said and done, can be the great equalizer. Overcoming humiliation and growth, to heretofore unreachable heights, enable Jerry McGuire to really “show me the money.”
Rogue Trader  “Ya just gotta invest in your people.” If not, you run the risk of “enabling” disaster beyond imagination. Companies get what they pay for, usually. One can become intoxicated, seduced, charmed, and addicted to money. At those junctures compliance and fiduciary issues can become superfluous thorns in one’s rapidly deteriorating psyche.
Boiler Room  Fast tracking success frequently leads to ‘accidents.’ Gifted sales people come along ‘once in a lifetime’ in sales-driven companies. Easy money can compromise and distort value/belief systems. To be truly successful in the financial sector, one must have a moral base. Money can corrupt, seduce, distort. Virtue, honor, and dignity are priceless. And if one doesn’t build their Gyroscope in order to survive in the stormy seas Wall Street generates, then one is vulnerable to spiritual bankruptcy.
American Psycho  Tons of money, power, excess, elitism, arrogance, racism, ‘label mania,’ obsessive need for status, chronic ‘one-ups-manship’ ad nauseum poignantly color this juicy psychological thriller. “Is anything ever enough?” What is real, what is surreal, what is fantasy, what is truth? Why does this even matter? Will the ‘real’ Patrick Bateman please stand up? Does Patrick Bateman really exist? If he does in fact exist, will he ever achieve harmony and inner peace? Is he remotely interested in these states of being?
The Pursuit of Happyness  As Faulkner claimed, one must know when to “slay their darlings.” The virtue and integrity of a product is not enough. It has to be commercially viable otherwise the ‘white elephant can rear its ugly trunk.’ One must learn when and why they must cut their losses. However, one of the beauties of life is that we can reinvent ourselves. Talent is talent, and it can transcend many barriers. Being determined to be successful is a burning desire that probably cannot be taught. We are born with it, or without it.
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps  Good traders and wheeler-dealers capitalize on “bubbles.” As long as there’s movement, significant money can be made. And even the seemingly most corrupt of us can get another chance in the game of life. What has true value: money, legacy, juicy or glorious possessions? How do we define our self importance and our true value? How does loyalty, trust, and human connection fit for us in life? Revenge, competition, betrayal, deception, money-mania all have outstanding roles to play in this terrific film. Even a Gecko can achieve some modicum of redemption. And with that the world can be a safer place.
Margin Call  Loosely modeled after the Lehman debacle, this movie yields terrific insight into the phenomenon of money lust in concert with powerful, all too human, foibles including: denial, betrayal, rationalization, seduction, exploitation, and deception. Perhaps the movie’s most succinct core concept is captured by the idiomatic expression “It’s every man for himself, and the devil take the hindmost.” Portfolio values are predicted by the firm’s risk management “experts” to be depressed beyond even their wildest imaginings, and sexy “math models.” The firm’s Executive Committee had been warned a year before. Is Risk Management an oxymoron, or a non sequitur on the Street, or on any street for that matter? Another hard core construct portrayed so well in this film is the fact that people can, and will do anything for money, especially ‘big’ money.