Given a theme as dramatic and consequential as America’s financial collapse, many filmmakers have risen to the challenge of going behind the headlines to tell important stories and make critical points that need to be shared if we’re to learn anything from the crisis. Below are some of those important movies and documentaries. Please share your own favorite financial-themed films in the comments below.
Margin Call (2011)
Margin Call, directed by J.C. Chandor, focuses on crises of conscience — and lack thereof — behind investment banking and the financial meltdown. Chandor’s original screenplay is up for an Academy Award.
Too Big To Fail (2011)
Based on the Andrew Ross Sorkin book of the same name, Too Big To Fail provides a dramatized account of the closed-door wheelings and dealings of government officials and banking executives in the fall of 2008 that left Lehman Brothers bankrupt, AIG a ward of the state, and the American taxpayer footing the bill for a $700 billion bailout. At one point the head of PR for the Treasury (played by Cynthia Nixon) asks “What should I tell the press?” providing a perfect opportunity for a primer on how the mortgage meltdown dominoed into the crisis at hand.
Inside Job (2010)
Charles Ferguson’s Inside Job, winner of the 2011 Academy Award for Best Documentary feature, takes a hard look at the 2008 financial crisis, featuring challenging interviews with the bankers, politicians, global leaders, academics and journalists who witnessed the crisis — and its origins — up close. Matt Damon narrates the film.
Frontline: The Warning (2009)
The Warning tells the story of Brooksley Born, who headed the Commodity Futures Trading Commission in the late 1990’s. Born foresaw the economic disaster and tried to encourage greater oversight and regulation to keep it at bay, but encountered opposition from financial titans with enormous power and influence who lobbied hard to keep the market free from government intervention. Though nobody listened to Born, we all now know how that worked out.
The Flaw (2010)
David Singleton’s visually-arresting documentary kicks off with a clip of former Federal Reserve Bank Chairman Alan Greenspan testifying before Congress in October 2008. He tells Congressman Harry Waxman (D-CA) that he “found a flaw” in the model that defines how the world works. And with that, a stream of engaging economists, journalists, Wall Street bankers and traders go on to “Monday morning quarterback” the financial crisis, pointing out warning signs that were missed and analyzing the demise of 1990s stock market and 2000s real estate bubbles.
Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005)
Based on expert reporting by Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room is Alex Gibney’s eye-opening case study of Enron’s 1985 rise and 2001 demise, one of the biggest criminal financial scandals in U.S. history. It’s a remarkable story, well revealed by the filmmakers through in-depth interviews, personality profiles, and key TV footage, of how American business gets done, gets compromised, gets corrupted, gets covered up, and — sometimes — gets prosecuted.