By Lacey Filipich BEng(Hons) MAICD Cert Gov (NFP)

Money and movies: two of my favourite things. I was reminded of this when I found myself glued to SBS when ‘Margin Call’ was on, even though I had to hold my eyelids open.

Films about money and the people who covet it are fascinating to me. It’s an addiction, even more so than reading (and I read around 100 books a year). I’m hanging out to watch ‘The Big Short’.

So here it is, my list of money movies worth watching. If the heat is getting to you, put on the air con and pop one of these on your chosen device. You can claim it’s educational 🙂

Movies about the stock market and associated shenanigans

Tales of crazy parties, insane spending habits and spectacularly irresponsible business conduct abound whenever Wall Street is mentioned. If the movies tell even a fraction of the truth, hell will have to freeze over before I give a trader any of my money. Still, it’s entertaining watching and gives you some idea of the importance of perception in stock markets. It also shows you who the real winners are in almost every case: the guys at the top of the pile in the trading firms. Here are six films to watch if you’re as interested in Wall Street and financial crises as I am:

Margin Call

This fictional tale about a Wall Street firm that effectively triggers the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) has as stellar cast and a gripping plot. Aside from the anti-climax end, I found it enthralling. If you were wondering how the ‘fire sale’ effect of a market downturn starts, here is one plausible answer.

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Wall Street

This classic is all about ethics versus greed and at what price comes a clear conscience. This is the film that created Gordon Gekko, who became a fictional poster-child for all the evils of Wall Street.

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

23 years later, Gordon Gekko returns to the screen in time for the Global Financial Crisis (GFC). Again it’s a question of ethics and how the absence of them can lead to fabulous gains in the short term, but perhaps not the long term. I liked this one even better than the original.

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The Wolf of Wall Street

This film is based on the true story of Jordan Belfort. If you take nothing else away from this film, take the lesson that the best salesman is not necessarily the guy with your best interests at heart when it comes to stocks. Also, don’t do drugs.

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Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room

Gobsmacked. That’s the best way to describe me after this film. When you look at Enron’s spectacular rise and fall in sequence, it’s hard to fathom how these guys got away with what they have. This documentary is brilliantly done and presents the timeline of what went wrong in a manner even I can understand.

Fun with Dick and Jane

Not a fan of documentaries? Skip ‘The Smartest Guys in the Room’ and watch this comedy with Jim Carrey and Tea Leoni instead. It hits the pertinent points of the case and it’s even more memorable through the eyes of the title couple. Alec Baldwin as the Enron chief is awesome. I just wish this ending had happened in real life.

Movies that remind us why we shouldn’t get into (too much) debt

Debt: it’s everywhere, from the mini-debt in your pocket (your credit card) to the million-dollar-plus mortgages people have leapt into during the recent boom. These films are a timely reminder of the trap of debt – be prepared to be uncomfortable.

Three Dollars

This film really hits home in the current Australian context, and not just because I’m a chemical engineer like the main character, Eddie. Having taken on a large mortgage and stretched himself to capacity, Eddie loses his job and decides to keep it a secret from his young family. This works until the repo team shows up. It’s uncomfortable viewing, mainly because it could so easily happen to anyone who took their borrowing to maximum capacity in good times and is now looking down the barrel of a redundancy.

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The cult classic Fargo (the movie, not the TV series) teaches us about debt? You bet. The whole thing begins because one used car salesman can’t pay back his borrowings. Hilarity ensues – if somewhat darkly. Yes, I just found a way to make watching Fargo educational. You’re welcome.

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Movies that demonstrate money is no guarantee of happiness

Spike Milligan once said:

‘All I ask is a chance to prove that money can’t make me happy.’

If you’re not expecting a windfall any time soon so you too can prove the issue, you can instead watch these films and pay attention to the wealthy characters. Do they look happy to you? No, they don’t. Now I’m not saying money made them unhappy – I expect they’d have been unhappy if they were poor too. The point is simply that money couldn’t fix their problems. It’s no coincidence that most of them end up miserable and/or dead.

The Departed

Jack Nicholson’s a joy to watch any time, but this is without doubt my favourite film of his. Perhaps it’s just that money earned through crime will bring you to a bad end…

Layer Cake

Another example of crime and money bringing misery. Daniel Craig’s character is a model financial citizen in every other way.


The old classic Al Pacino film. Like ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’, this is a great one for your older kids to watch if you’d like them to avoid drugs.

No Country for Old Men

Even stumbling across money can be deadly. Aside from being a fabulous film with excellent acting and memorable characters, Llewellyn’s lucky find brings trouble to a whole bunch of people. I still think I’d have taken the money too.

There Will Be Blood

Daniel Day Lewis’ character rises literally from a hole in the ground to fabulous wealth. He seems to grow more cantankerous, but with this character I imagine that would happen with or without the money.

Catch Me If You Can

Based on the early life of master forger Frank Abagnale, this story is brilliantly told. Even more amazing is the real Frank Abagnale, who I was fortunate to see speak at SXSW 2012. He still works in fraud detection for the FBI. He has been forbidden to financially profit from any of the work based on his escapades – he wasn’t even allowed to speak to Spielberg to confirm what was true and what wasn’t.

And just for fun…


A cautionary tale for anyone with an estate worth inheriting. I can’t say too much as I’ll probably ruin the joke. This is one of the few in this list suitable for children.



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Lacey Filipich is the co-founder and director of Money School. She helps parents raise financially savvy kids and helps adults get on top of their finances. Connect with her on LinkedIn and follow the Money School Facebook page to learn more.

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