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Iconic money movies made for coronavirus binge watching

Key Points
  • Americans are running low on new streaming content to binge watch.
  • Iconic Hollywood money movies can provide a bit of entertainment and financial education.

Stay at home orders caused by the coronavirus have left a huge portion of the American public stuck inside, and streaming has surged as a result, with platforms like Netflix and Disney+ seeing millions of subscriber gains in a matter of a few months. The economic shock caused by Covid-19 highlights the issue of financial literacy and the importance of financial education in emerging from this crisis. If you've already binged all of your favorites and are looking for something new to watch with a financial angle, here are some suggestions. 

Trading Places (1983) 

Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy in a scene from Trading Places.
Source: Paramount Pictures | YouTube

We have all by now heard of the nature versus nurture theory: is it heredity genes or the environment a person grows up in that determines their character and level of success? The Duke brothers, who run a commodities brokerage firm, decide to run an experiment, switching the circumstances of their blue blood executive (Dan Aykroyd) and a down on his luck con man (Eddie Murphy). Murphy excels as a commodities trader while Aykroyd's life begins to fall apart and he is forced to live on the streets. Eventually, the two met and decide to seek revenge on the Duke brothers. 

This movie was so influential that a rule in the post-financial crisis Dodd-Frank Act name-dropped Murphy. Under the Eddie Murphy rule or, Section 786 of the Dodd-Frank Act, it became illegal to trade on insider information in the commodities market.

Money lesson: Don't be intimidated by the language of finance. Eddie Murphy's character is able to quickly learn the language of finance by relating to subjects he already understands, like gambling. Also, it's fine to have no interest in becoming an expert in the world of commodities trading, but this film is an enjoyable way to at least learn a little. 

Moneyball (2011)

Brad Pitt in 'Moneyball'
Source: Sony Pictures

Billy Beane is general manager of the Oakland A's, one of Major League Baseball's worst teams. Operating with a budget that the Yankees spent on one player, Beane, played by Brad Pitt, has to find a way to propel his team to success.

Because Beane cannot attract star players he has to work within his budget to find discounted players that other teams overlook. The 2002 Oakland A's did not win the World Series, but they did win 20 consecutive games, a modern record that stood until 2017, when the Cleveland Indians won 22 straight. The A's did become one of the more successful teams in the MLB during Beane's tenure as GM (he is now executive vice president of baseball operations), and the team remains a contender today. 

The data analytics revolution that Beane embraced early has spread through the MLB, and all of professional sports, as well as the corporate world. 

Money lesson: Work with what you have and stay within your budget. Creating a budget may seem confusing, but it can't be harder than managing a professional sports team. Here is how to build a budget to fit any lifestyle and here is how to build a budget if you don't have a steady income. 

Wall Street (1987)

Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko in the 1987 Oliver Stone film, "Wall Street."
Source: Twentieth Century Fox

Perhaps you've heard the saying "greed is good," made famous by Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko in this classic Oliver Stone take on the 1980s financial world. News flash, greed is bad. But enamored by the lifestyle of Wall Street elites like Gekko, Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen) begins stretching the line between financial edge and criminal activity. The young, hungry Fox offers inside information to Gekko, who exploits the second-rate trader into committing more insider trading. Enough is never enough.  

Money lesson: Greed isn't good, obviously. Similar to the lesson from Moneyball, operate within your means. Overspending which leads to the accumulation of debt is a 'money disorder'. Brad Klontz, the author of "Mind Over Money" and co-founder of the Financial Psychology Institute, says that money disorders is an umbrella term for recurring and self-defeating issues that people have with money.

The Money Pit (1986)

Shelley Long sits in bed with Tom Hanks in a scene from the film 'The Money Pit', 1986.
Universal | Getty Images

When young couple Walter and Anna (played by Tom Hanks and Shelley Long) are evicted from their sublet, they need to find a new roof over their head. Through a friend, they learn of a million-dollar mansion on the market for a measly $200,000. Obviously, the young couple buys the mansion and end up in over their heads. If only they had done their due diligence. When deals seem too good to be true, they usually are.

Money lesson: This movie is a great example of making an emotional decision versus a rational one. And if you are a first-time homebuyer, do your due diligence and avoid these mistakes.  

The Big Short  (2015)

Steve Carell is seen on the set of 'The Big Short' on May 20, 2015 in New York City.
Ignat | Bauer-Griffin | Getty Images

The last global recession was not caused by a global pandemic. It was caused, at least partially, by irresponsible Wall Street bankers and government officials who willingly ignored the warning signs in pursuit of profits. "The Big Short," starring Steve Carell and adapted from the Michael Lewis book, illustrates how one hedge fund manager discovered a market of subprime mortgages destined to implode.

"The Inside Job," narrated by Matt Damon, is a documentary that provides insight into the actors that caused the financial crash of 2008. Interviews with politicians and bankers alike reveal in five parts how the global finance sector was brought to its knees. If you're looking for an escape this is not the film for you. You only end up angry.

Money lesson: The 2008 financial crisis was avoidable, as are many other money problems large and small.

Bridesmaids (2011)

A still from the movie "Bridesmaids."
Source: Universal Studios

You might be scratching your head at this choice but there is a lot to learned from best friends Annie (Kristen Wiig) and Lillian (Maya Rudolph). Annie is broke. Her business recently shuttered and she has no financial support other than herself. Lillian, on the other hand, is recently engaged and belongs to a country club. When Lillian asks Annie to be her maid of honor, Annie is overwhelmed by the responsibility. Things get worse for Annie when she meets Lillian's successful friends and feels pressured to present a lifestyle she cannot afford

In an attempt to hide her brokenness, Annie makes some ill-advised decisions: lunch at a B-rated Portuguese restaurant, ugly bridesmaid dresses, and the infamous plane scene. Thomas Henske, a certified financial planner with New York-based Lenox Advisors, says movies like "Bridesmaids" illustrate how a reluctance to talk about finances openly, especially with people we trust, can have disastrous consequences. 

Money lesson: Talking about money is like going to the dentist: no wants to do it. But going to the dentist prevents cavities and promotes better health. Talking about money may seem awkward at first but not talking about it could be far worse. 

The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)

Will Smith meeting Chris Gardner at premiere for "Pursuit of Happyness," the film in which Smith played Gardner, who rose from homelessness to financial success.
E. Charbonnea | WireImage for Sony Pictures-Los Angeles | Getty Images

Not all of these movies are appropriate for young children, "Bridesmaids" included. But Henske has several suggestions that are good for the kids and deal with issues such as poverty, greed, business succession and inheritance ("Charlie and Chocolate Factory"), as well as the inspirational "The Pursuit of Happyness."

"The Pursuit of Happyness," released in 2006, chronicles the life of Chris Gardner, who went from being a homeless single father to a successful entrepreneur and millionaire. Through hard work, charm and knowledge, Gardner is able to land a job at one of the most prestigious firms in San Francisco. 

The most important thing is not just to watch these films but to have a conversation afterward. Henske suggests that talking about the themes of these movies, whether it is entrepreneurship, or inheritance, or that fact that money cannot buy everything, can help children understand a complicated topic. 

Money lesson: Make sure you understand your investments. Gardner spent most of his wealth in the beginning of the movie investing in medical technology that was heralded as the next medical advancement. The problem was none of the doctors needed the machine. 

Invest in yourself and relationships. Gardner was already smart but he had to learn how to become a stockbroker. He spent hours reading books. When he was not reading Gardner invested in relationships. In the famous Rubik's Cube scene, Gardner is able to impress a fellow broker by solving a Rubik's Cube before the cab ride is over. 

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Disclosure: NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns.