What happens when the juggernaut industry known as Hollywood turns the lens on the larger world of power and profit? In this series, Matthew Pejkovic explores how the focus of the business movie has evolved over the years, from media moguls and corporate raiders to working girls and Gen-Y geeks — larger-than-life characters inspired by (and inspiring) real-world counterparts.
Wall Street (1987)
The big daddy of films dealing with business ethics and excess, Wall Street was not only a damnation of the financial sector; it also became an unintentional recruitment video for inspiring stock traders everywhere.
Directed by cinema provocateur Oliver Stone (who made the film as a tribute to his father, a stockbroker during the Great Depression), Wall Street starred a pre-goddess Charlie Sheen as Bud Fox, an ambitious stockbroker who falls under the wing of cutthroat corporate raider Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas).
Stock market corruption, insider trading and father-son dynamics all follow, but it would be Douglas’ infectiously sleazy turn as Gekko that would stay in the minds of the public and critics, with Douglas winning an Oscar for his villainous portrayal of greed made flesh.
Inspiration for Gekko was found in Ivan Boesky, an American stock trader who by 1986 had amassed a fortune of $200 million by betting on corporate takeovers, sometimes a few days before a corporation would even announce a takeover. Such brazen behaviour brought about an investigation and Boesky was jailed for insider trading.
Boesky also inspired Stone to write the infamous “greed is good” speech, delivered effortlessly by Douglas. It was at the University of California in Berkeley where Boesky said: “I think greed is healthy. You can be greedy and still feel good about yourself.”
Although Wall Street was Stone’s attempt at saying the opposite, the film — and especially Gekko — are now seen as inspiration by stockbrokers who can recite the film from beginning to end.
“Wall Street became a cult phenomenon on business school campuses,” said Ken Moelis, one of Wall Street’s best known dealmakers in an interview to Financial Times. “After they joined the industry, these kids told me that they watched it so many times I thought they knew more about Gordon Gekko than their families.”
Wall Street Trailer
Matthew Pejkovic is a freelance film journalist located in Sydney. He writes for various print and online publications including FilmInk and The Retiree. He also runs his own website, Matt’s Movie Reviews.net, and you can follow him on Twitter via @mpejko.