Martin Scorsese is the latest in a line of top directors to be inspired by the tense, high-stakes world of trading, where millions of pounds can be won or lost on a single deal. The release of Scorsese’s latest film, The Wolf of Wall Street starring Leonardo DiCaprio, is being eagerly anticipated around the world.
To celebrate, we’ve chosen five of our favourite trader films of all time. It was a tough choice, with some exceptionally strong contenders not making the top five, so we expect that some of you might disagree with our final choices. In the end, though, these are the five trader films that stood out for us as ‘must-watches’.
No list of trader films could be complete without mentioning Oliver Stone’s Wall Street (1987). Michael Douglas won an Academy Award for his portrayal of the ruthless and amoral corporate raider Gordon Gekko.
Gekko’s quote that ‘greed, for lack of a better word, is good,’ became famous as summarising the 80s boom-time ethos.
The film’s story undermines its own most famous line though, as it highlights the corruption and redemption of idealistic young stockbroker Bud Fox, played by Charlie Sheen. Desperate for Gekko’s approval, Fox is drawn deeper and deeper into his mentor’s world of murky deals and limitless greed.
Released in 1987, Wall Street is still one of the most highly-regarded trading films, with a 78% average review score on Rotten Tomatoes.
In 2010, Douglas revived his Gordon Gekko character for a sequel, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. Inspired by the 2008 global banking crisis, the sequel shows Gekko struggling to repair relationships with his family after being released from prison.
It received very mixed reviews from both critics and film enthusiasts alike, but it still had one of the best openings of any of Stone’s films.
The Wolf of Wall Street
Praised by MTV for giving them “Goodfellas flashbacks”, Scorsese returns to exploring an amoral subculture. This time the subject is boiler room stockbroking instead of organised crime, although by the end of The Wolf of Wall Street some people in the audience, like the main characters, may struggle to find the line between the two.
Based on the memoir by Jordan Belfort, it’s another twisted version of the all-American rags-to-riches tale. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Belfort, who first sets up his boiler room trading company, Stratton Oakmont, in an abandoned auto workshop.
The film tracks his firm’s rise to the centre of New York’s financial district and Belfort’s own lavish lifestyle, followed by his seemingly inevitable downfall.
In real life, Belfort served 22 months in a US federal prison for his role in so-called ‘pump and dump’ schemes, where buyers were duped into purchasing essentially worthless stocks in expired or fake companies.
Another must-see trader film, Boiler Room (2000), is also based on Belfort’s rise and fall. A brilliantly tense thriller, it follows ambitious college drop-out Seth Davis, played by Giovanni Ribsi, as he wrestles with the consequences of being a boiler room trader.
His new career initially gives him the financial status and parental approval he so craves, but the tension begins to build as Davis realises the devastating consequences his actions have on a duped investor. As he gets deeper enmeshed in his firm’s illegal deals, Davis finds that instead of making his father proud, his choices lead to being disowned.
Despite some critics feeling that the film was let down by its ending, it remains one of the defining portrayals of the financial world’s underbelly.
In 1995, real-life rogue trader Nick Leeson’s losses drove Barings Bank to bankruptcy. Based on Leeson’s memoir, Rogue Trader (1998) explains just how he was able to gamble away over £800 million trading on the markets without his bosses in London noticing.
When Singapore-based Leeson realised he could no longer cover up his losses, he tried to escape prosecution by fleeing with his wife.
Rogue Trader received mixed reviews, but Ewan McGregor’s performance as Leeson stands out as a particularly strong portrayal of a man caught in a trap of his own making.
This screwball comedy is acclaimed by Business Insider as ‘the greatest Wall Street movie ever made’. It centres around a ‘prince and the pauper’ scenario, when two wealthy brothers, Randolph and Mortimer Duke, decide to conduct an experiment to swap the positions of two people at opposite ends of the social scale.
They systemically destroy the life of their privileged Managing Director, played by Dan Ackroyd, while raising up Eddie Murphy’s homeless hustler to take his place.
The film was an exceptional success, becoming one of the highest grossing films of 1983, and has an 88% average review score on Rotten Tomatoes. Trading Places is also notable for featuring actors who went on to become some of the most well-known faces on screen in the 1980s, including Murphy, Ackroyd and Jamie Lee Curtis.
YouTube links for Five Top Trader Films You Need to Watch:
The Wolf of Wall Street: