Money in Movies

Financial PlanningPosted on June 28th, 20182 Comments

Written By: Lauren Stansell, CFP®

Watching movies – it’s something we’ve all done and likely continue to do periodically (if not frequently). Whether watching at a drive-in theater, in the park on a summer night, at a movie theater with comfy lounge chairs, or from the comfort of your own home, movies can be a great way to spend a couple hours. And whether you prefer to watch movies alone, with your special someone, with your family, or with total strangers, movies have a unique way of bringing us together in support of or defense against a certain character or outcome.

All movies have some common characteristics –

  • Characters: Humans, robots, aliens, animals, money (yes, we said money and we’ll return to this later), and more.
  • A Plot: Straightforward, boring, thrilling, full of twists and turns, etc.
  • A Beginning, Middle, and End: And sometimes a cliffhanger that leaves you anxiously awaiting the next movie in the series.
  • And the Ending Credits: Usually with a great song you try to remember to look up and add to your playlist.

Most of these characteristics become clear as we watch the movie; the good guy achieves a goal, the bad guy perishes, the fish finds his son – it all seems to become clear as the movie unfolds. For a more complex movie, however, identifying these characteristics requires turning to the reviews to interpret hidden meanings, hidden characters, and hidden messages. Similar to the selective attention experiment done in this video, sometimes we don’t even realize everything that is happening.

With all this in mind, let’s return to the idea that money can play a role in a movie. Just like in life, money is everywhere in the cinematic universe! In some movies, money is obvious and unavoidable. For example, anyone who has watched Wolf of Wallstreet knows that money was the ultimate character in that film. For other movies, it isn’t quite as clear that money plays a role, but just like in life and relationships, it may show up as an underlying driver, motivator, or issue and is only discovered to be so upon deeper reflection.

Today, we’re sharing a list of movies that have money as a character and we include a brief note with our thoughts about the role money plays. We’ve also included links to the IMDB page for the movie if you’d like to read more about it. And now, we want your input! What movies have you seen where money was a character? Did money play an obvious role? Or was it hidden in the relationships and discussions throughout the movie? Take a look at our list and let us know what you think!

  • A Christmas Carol
    • Scrooge measures all things in terms of money, thus severing his human connection to those around him. When he learns again to connect with the world through his own humanity, he is freed from the bonds of soulless money worship (and learns to Live Big).
  • It’s a Wonderful Life
    • A massive financial loss due to theft by a money-grubbing business rival causes a man to despair that his life has any meaning or value. An angel shows him that his value to the world could never be measured by money and ultimately his many friends come to his rescue by sharing their own money.
  • The Shawshank Redemption
    • Banker goes to jail after being unjustly convicted of murdering his wife and her lover.  Uses his money skills to help fellow inmates and ultimately engineers his escape by using those same money skills to leverage the greed of the evil prison warden.
  • Jerry Maguire
    • Ambitious sports agent allows his humanity out for an instant and it gets him fired, forcing him to form his own firm and pin his hopes of financial survival, let alone success, on his one remaining client. Most famous line in the movie: “Show me the money!” Rod Tidwell (Cuba Gooding Jr.)
  • Pursuit of Happyness
    • Man keeps swinging for the fences in his pursuit of money and success (and “happyness”) and is thus always teetering on the precipice of ruin, eventually spending time homeless with his young son. Somehow he pieces together the resources to complete an unpaid internship which leads to success as a stock broker.
  • Office Space
    • Money becomes a character after the unhappy employees create and implement a plan to put a bug that allows them to steal $300,000 from their employer
  • Limitless
    • Money helps the main character reach his highest highs and his lowest lows.
  • Ocean’s Eleven
    • Money is the apple of the characters’ collective eye; it’s being lusted after, hunted, and chased.
  • Wall Street
    • Thinking that money is the sole measure of success in life, a young man comes under the spell of someone who has made money his god and abandoned all moral structures in his worship of Mammon. The young man eventually recovers his moral compass and helps bring down the evil money master. The most famous line in the movie: “Greed is good” (“Greed, in all of its forms — greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge — has marked the upward surge of mankind”).
  • Citizen Kane
    • In his last moment, a man who has spent his entire life in pursuit of money and the power that goes with it thinks only of his lost boyhood snow sled.
  • The Italian Job
    • Money is being lusted after and used as a tool to extract revenge.
  • Double Indemnity
    • The pursuit of money leads an unhappy wife and fast-talking insurance salesman to plot a murder. At first fooling themselves that they’re doing it for love, money comes between them with disastrous results.
  • Trading Places
    • For their amusement, two brothers run an unethical experiment to determine whether financial success is a matter of nature or nurture.  The two men whose lives are manipulated as part of the experiment eventually bring the brothers down by preying on their greed.
  • The Sting
    • In order to avenge the murder of a mutual friend, two men invent a financial sting to rob the man responsible, using his greed and avarice against him.
  • The Hustler
    • Small time pool shark pursues money as a way to heal his emotional wounds, though intuitively knowing that it offers no real redemption, he ultimately fears winning as much as losing.
  • Slumdog Millionaire
    • Money provided freedom.
  • Rounders
    • Money is the cause of a character’s downfall, and, later, his savior.
  • Boiler Room
    • Money played greed; it incentivized decisions that made one side rich and the other side worse off.
  • Fast 5
    • Money is the focus of the movie’s plot; the characters plan a bank heist and literally drag a vault of money across Brazil during the final scenes.
  • The Big Short (Submitted by Mike K)
    • A group of investors bet against the US mortgage market and discover how flawed and corrupt the market is.
  • For a Few Dollars More (Submitted by Mike K)
    • Two bounty hunters with the same intentions team up to track down a Western outlaw.

2 Responses to “Money in Movies”

  1. Michael Kelly says:

    Hey Lauren: how about adding “The Big Short” and “For a Few Dollars More”? Mike Kelly

  2. Lauren Stansell says:

    Mike,

    Thank you for your great suggestions! We have added your movies to the list.

    Best,
    Lauren

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