5 Movies That Teach You Lessons About Money

Al Pacini

Wall Street (1987)

Following the global economic meltdown that many economies are still dragging their way out of, this 30 year old movie is still as relevant today as it was when it got released.

It tells a story about a young stockbroker, played by Charlie Sheen, who is working his way through the ranks on – you guessed it – Wall Street. As he aspires for success and all its trappings, he meets a highly successful corporate raider played by Michael Douglas who seems to embody the lifestyle that he feels he deserves.

The thing is though, the affluence that has attracted the young man may not have come from wholly ethical or even legal means. It doesn’t take long before our protagonist is sucked into shady corporate deals and the consequences are …. well, you’ll have to watch the movie.

In his well-deserved Oscar award winning role, Michael Douglas delivers one of the most iconic and memorable lines in modern movies history, referring to greed as being a good thing. “Greed is right, greed works”. It’s a scene you have to watch to appreciate.

Money Lesson: In a line (and several others) delivered by the father of Charlie Sheen’s character, played by his real life father, Martin Sheen (who is a union leader in one of the corporate takeover targets), we get the flip side of the argument for accumulating money. We are told, “Money’s only something you need in case you don’t die tomorrow.” …. and that its pursuit just for the sake of it will lead down a path of ultimate destruction.

Scarface (1983)

I was way too young when I saw this movie the first time but somehow, the message came through loud and clear. Depicting the violence and deadly consequences of even the suspicion of disloyalty in the cocaine trafficking business of the 1980s, this movie tells the story of Tony Montana; a small time, petty criminal who emigrates to the U.S from Cuba.

Through luck, street smarts, a well-developed ego and cold blooded murder, Tony (played by Al Pacino) takes over a cocaine distribution cartel in Miami Florida and we watch his life spiral out of control. In a montage that depicts how the American drug epidemic produced mountains of cash that was then laundered through institutional banks which eventually found its way to the Bolivian overlords.

Money Lesson: There are many lessons that I’ve walked away with after watching this movie over a dozen times over the years and many of them are rather cliché: “Easy come, easy go”, “Mo money, mo problems” and “(The love of) money is the root of all evil”.

The one lesson that sticks however (and it probably shouldn’t be the one that a lifelong Baptist boy should be admitting to), is that even if you come from the lowest of positions, you can still rise to the top if you follow some basic rule. The movie is a real rags to riches story of an uneducated hoodlum, someone most likely released from jail in Cuba (although not explicitly confirmed in the movie), who then rose to be a multi-millionaire in the capital of capitalism.

The Dark Night Rises (2012)

An epic depiction of the true ethos of the DC Comics character Batman / Bruce Wayne. A man who has dispensed with the playboy, larger than life charade that was his trademark and also to some extent, cover for his nocturnal activities.

In the movie, we see billionaire Bruce Wayne, in the twilight of his crime fighting days, turned into a shadow of his former self. Reclusive and angry at the world over the death of his childhood sweetheart, Rachel Dawes, Bruce Wayne is a man with all the money that a man couldn’t spend in a lifetime. Yet he is emotionally crippled by a lifetime of grief starting from watching his parents being brutally murdered in his presence at the age of 10. As the movie progresses, we discover the depth of his resolve do even die for his beloved city, Gotham and leave all his richest behind.

This installment of the trilogy won’t be remembered necessarily for its action sequences or a villainous performance that rivals that of Heath Ledger’s but it will be remembered (in my opinion anyway) as a befitting homage by the Nolan brothers’ to send off one of the most misunderstood comic book heroes both in cinematography and screenplay.

Money Lesson: Bruce Wayne inherited an empire but knew no real peace in his heart. Money doesn’t buy happiness and as much as you insist that it’s better to cry inside a BMW than it is on a bicycle, those who know, including Bruce Wayne, will trade in all their money in a heartbeat to know real joy and peace.

The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)

Wow! Have you ever been broke? Well, not as broke as Chris Gardner. If you haven’t had to sell your own blood for money, then you haven’t been as broke as Chris Gardner. If you are reading this right now on your phone, on a comfortable bed or in a chair sheltered from the rain, you don’t have it as bad as Chris Gardner did back in 1981.

This true story about a man who suffered one setback after another is a heart wrenching tale of survival in the face of impossible odds. In the movie, Chris (played by Will Smith) and his son had to spend the night in a public toilet because he couldn’t afford the monthly rent. I researched the story further and it turns out that although the movie made it look like a one-time thing, in reality, they slept in that public toilet every night for slightly more than two weeks. The movie also depicted his son as a 5 year old while in real-life, he was barely two.

He had to look after a toddler as a single parent while maintaining a full-time internship and being homeless.

Money Lesson: Watching this movie reminded me to be thankful for the life that I have been given. Chris has eventually become a multi-millionaire and if he can make it given his odds, anyone can.

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

Another movie about Wall Street and this is also based on a true story. It is a biopic starring Leo DiCaprio as Jordan Belfort. Belfort by the way was a stockbroker who started his own firm in his 20s. He and his partner manipulated the stock market to inflate prices of shares and then dump his personal stake thus making a fortune for himself and leaving his investors who trusted him out of pocket.

Money Lesson: If you are ever going to be successful in business, you need to get off your behind and sell. Hit the streets, pick up the phone or stand belly to belly with the person from whom you want to part from his money. Belfort and his team had an aggressive sales technique and defrauded his customers which of course I am not recommending that you do.

The lesson here however is that, if you are in business, no matter how well laid out your business plan is, or how perfect your financial models are, or even how beautiful your office is, at the end of the day, if you are not selling your product, service or yourself, your business will not succeed. Selling is what brings success.

Insurance distribution professional, passionate about personal financial management. Host blogger at www.talkingmoney.com.ng.
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