The almighty dollar — it's the driving force behind countless great characters and typically decides whether or not a movie gets made. With cinema serving as a powerful tool for conveying societal values, it's only fitting that capitalism would get a proper exploration through a wide variety of movies. For better or worse, the free market system has shaped our society and found its way onto the silver screen in all kinds of forms. Be it documentary, comedy, drama, or a blend of the three, here are eight films that give us a unique perspective on how capitalism shapes the world around us.
8. 'The Corporation'
The world was forever changed in 1886 when corporations in America were granted the same legal rights as citizens. This documentary aims to explain what this has meant for the world's biggest corporations and what it could suggest for their futures. The Corporation is an astounding, informative documentary that explores shady business practices by some of the world's most powerful institutions. While released in 2003, the film still holds up as a relevant examination of the special treatment we allow for corporations. Carefully researched and cleverly presented, this is one of the top documentaries when it comes to cold-blooded capitalism.
7. 'The Big Short'
When Adam McKay sat down to adapt a book about the financial collapse of 2008, a problem seemed to present itself: How do we get people to watch a movie about the housing market? Through sheer artistry and careful attention to style, McKay ended up creating one of the most important films in recent years — an electric work of cinema that explained how our financial institutions failed us. #TheBigShort takes great care in explaining one of the world's most devastating financial situations, and it boasts a dynamite cast including: Christian Bale, Brad Pitt, Ryan Gosling, and many others, who drive home a sensational, informative film that we so desperately needed to see.
6. 'Boiler Room'
If you've ever wondered what sort of sinister dealings happen in the financial market behind closed doors, this is the film for you. #BoilerRoom is a stimulating drama in which its protagonist will seemingly do whatever it takes to come out fabulously wealthy. Tense, heartbreaking, and eerily convincing, this is a film that attempts to convey the ruthless nature of the stock trading business. Along the same vein as Wolf of Wall Street, Boiler Room depicts the fast-talking, predatory nature of the financial industry without pulling punches. With noteworthy performances from both Vin Diesel and Ben Affleck, this film will erase any trust you had left in the system.
5. 'Good Bye Lenin!'
Leave it to Germany to create such a darkly hilarious exploration of the transition towards a free market system. Good Bye Lenin! tells the story of Alex (played by Daniel Brühl), a young man whose mother falls into a coma right before the collapse of Communism. She emerges unaware of the incredible change that has befallen her beloved nation. Fearing such a shock could trigger her delicate condition, Alex is forced to fool his mother into believing that Communism still exists in East Germany while also embracing Western values that have flooded into the country. Not only is the movie endlessly entertaining, but it provides a powerful depiction of one of history's most fascinating transitions.
4. 'Modern Times'
While capitalism has spread and developed for hundreds of years, filmmakers have been taking jabs at the free market since they could first wield a camera. Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times is a silent masterpiece in which Chaplin's iconic character "The Tramp" faces off against big business and industry. Forced to work in a factory to support himself and the woman he loves, the film's protagonist learns to step outside the hardships of industrial labor and find beauty in the simpler things. Personal, powerful, and endlessly hilarious, Modern Times is a must-watch for silent film enthusiasts.
3. 'The Wolf Of Wall Street'
The latest collaboration between #DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese, The Wolf of Wall Street received heaps of criticism upon its release. At first glance, the film is a glorification of irresponsible business practices and an extravagant style of living. Every scene in the roughly three-hour film is packed with colorful scenarios, language, and a philosophy of excess that will leave you ready for a nap by the time the credits finally roll. However, Scorsese takes this lavish approach to point out the reckless, hollow nature of his protagonist and to ultimately condemn those who center their lives around wealth. The film is clever, well-acted, and simply barrels of fun.
2. 'Roger & Me'
It's tempting to claim that Capitalism: A Love Story is Michael Moore's best exploration of the free market in America (a subject he often explores), but it's his first film that packs the strongest emotional punch. Roger & Me explores the closing of a significant General Motors plant in Moore's home town of Flint, Michigan (Yes, the very same). Moore introduces us to his assertive, journalistic style as a documentarian, confronting big names and desperately seeking answers while his home town is left suffering. A disturbing but strangely inspiring film, Roger & Me is a must-see critique of big business practices.
1. 'Wall Street'
"Greed is good!" Michael Douglas exclaims to thunderous applause in one of the most famous speeches in film history. #WallStreet is perhaps the highest peak of director Oliver Stone's career. The film explores some of the most underhanded practices that financiers will take in pursuit of fabulous wealth, with Douglas's character embodying the sleaziest of them all. Written, acted, and directed to perfection, Wall Street is an American classic that condemns the greedy excesses of capitalism while also presenting an exciting story of deceit and intrigue that holds up astoundingly well today.
For better or worse, capitalism isn't going anywhere any time soon, so we might as well enjoy the terrific works of cinema it has inspired. Whether they seek to inform or entertain, these films demonstrate the consequences that big business can have on the world around us, so cozy up and enjoy! (Just don't pirate them.)
What films come to mind when you think of capitalism? Leave a comment below!