Everybody needs money. That’s why they call it money.

Money is a touchy thing, which may explain why movies don’t get too serious about it. Coming down off a marathon session of Planet Money podcasts made it feel like it was high time to look at the movies that get it right. Or at least “get it right” in the view from our apple stand. Here’s a brief history of onscreen finance, dating from the dawn of cinema to 9/11. What did we miss? Leave your suggestions in the comments box.

A Corner in Wheat (D.W. Griffith, 1909)

One of the film pioneer’s most daring experiments in montage shows how a financier’s machinations leads to devastation on the farm and starvation on the breadline. The boss chokes on his own grain; the downbeat ending sticks in the craw.

Dr. Mabuse, Der Spieler/Dr. Mabuse, The Gambler (Fritz Lang, 1922)

The villainous Mabuse exists to show how all our institutions are forms of control. His manipulation of the German stock market is indistinguishable from his gambling, just as his eventual madness is indistinguishable from the cold-eyed rationalism of the 20th century.

American Madness (Frank Capra, 1932)

Sneer at the “Capra-corn” if you must. But his best films provided working class audiences with explanations of how our nation’s institutions should work–and vividly illustrated the ensuing catastrophes when they didn’t. This run on Walter Huston‘s bank is so indelible that Capra re-created the sequence for It’s a Wonderful Life a decade and a half later.

L’Eclisse/Eclipse (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1962)

The people in Antonioni’s movies are always emptier than a Bernie Madoffhedge fund. (Albeit a lot prettier.) So Vittoria’s attraction to the trader Piero can’t come to any good. Antonioni films the enigmatic action like he’s watching animals at the zoo.

Trading Places (John Landis, 1983)

Eddie Murphy‘s homeless hustler and Dan Aykroyd‘s Wall St. scion do the prince and the pauper thing, then pull off a scam to get back at the coots who engineered their swap. Tucked into this superb class comedy is one of the best onscreen lessons in futures markets and short selling.

I Love $ (Johan van der Keuken, 1986)

van der Keuken’s look at First and Third World financial systems imagines money as blood and the stock market as an alternate universe where reality and morality can be radically re-aligned. Down on the street, it’s the have-nots who ultimately feel the pinch as capital trickles down and floods of debt rise.

Wall Street (Oliver Stone, 1987)

Sure, the arc of Charlie Sheen‘s attraction and disgust with the world of ’80s wheeling/dealing is predictable as a treasury bill. The combination of slimy hair, suspenders and Michael Douglas make this the most 1980s of 1980s films.

Boiler Room (Ben Younger, 2000)

Giovanni Ribisi discovers the joys of getting rich at a stock chop-shop. Then he snaps up a conscience at a discount. The morality tale is fleshed out with plenty of memorable details … such as the feverish salesmen whiling away the downtime in Long Island McMansions where the only furniture are plasma screens and Playstations. Apologies for the Ben Affleck content:

American Psycho (Mary Harron, 2000)

Wall Street’s mortar of narcissism and greed finds its Rushmore in Patrick Bateman, an Alain Delon with better cutlery and worse taste in music. Bateman pushes the phrase “making a killing” to its extreme. Like its hero, this film is all surface–never brighter than in the business card scene.

The 25th Hour (Spike Lee, 2002)

Post-9/11 trauma suffuses every scene of this film, which laments a New York that won’t be the same when we get back. Ed Norton rounds up his pals for one last blow-out before he goes to jail. Barry Pepper‘s Red Bull-quaffing whiz kid shows how Tom Wolfe’s Masters of the Universe haven’t moved on much.

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