In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section The Finance Film

  • Introduction
  • Anthologies
  • Overviews
  • Theorizing Representation and Social Relevance
  • Rhetoric of Finance Documentaries
  • Screening the Financial Crisis and the Great Recession
  • Critique of Contemporary Capitalism
  • Gender Issues
  • Banker Figures
  • Finance Film Genres
  • Oliver Stone’s Wall Street (1987)
  • The Pre-2008 Era
  • Teaching Finance and Business Ethics with Film

Cinema and Media Studies The Finance Film
Constantin Parvulescu
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 August 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0299


Cinematic representation of finance, financiers and financialization goes back to the early days of cinema in both Europe and the United States. Banks and stock markets, together with their growing power as well as the effects of speculation and securitization on everyday lives, have been the object of documentary and feature film reflection under all political regimes of the 20th and 21st centuries, including capitalist, Bolshevik, communist, socialist, and fascist. A staple of Soviet cinema montage is the intercutting between images of manual labor and speculation to suggest exploitation—as in Vsevolod Pudovkin’s The End of St. Petersburg (1927), which contrasts hectic activity on the stock market with the trench warfare fought by the Russian commoner during World War I. The German communist interwar documentary classic Kuhle Wampe (1932) with its indicative subtitle “To Whom Does the World Belong?” was made as a response to the 1929–1934 world economic crisis. Nazi anti-Semitic propaganda films feature evil bankers corrupting the honest way of life of gentiles. American capitalism’s Hollywood also reacted early. Buster Keaton’s first feature film lead role was of a blue-blood broker in The Saphead (1920), while D. W. Griffith presented stock exchange speculation in a one-reeler as early as 1909 (A Corner in Wheat). As the American film industry developed, several other such films were produced, marking landmark moments in humanity’s affair with capitalism in the 20th century. The Grapes of Wrath (1940) served as a paean to the Great Depression (1929–1939); It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) testified to the start of the postwar economic boom; Wall Street (1987) heralded the era of deregulation, while American Psycho (2000) marked the rise of the yuppie. After 2008, countless features and documentaries engaged in explaining the derivative and subprime mortgage scams that led to the crash and the subsequent Big Bailout of 2008, which engendered the Great Recession (2008–2014). With its roots in literature (the finance novel) and the visual arts, recent film production has put finance and financialization on the map of academic film research and legitimized the use of the concept of finance film and of its subdivision, the Wall Street film. The finance film has served scholars in their efforts to investigate the representation of finance-related economic and social situations on film and write its history as well as academics delving into the industry’s ethos, political influence, organization, emotional culture, and sustainability. This article is thus interdisciplinary. For reasons of space and relevance, however, it is limited to materials written in English that analyze European and North American productions.


Finance film is a recent field of inquiry and so literature in English devoted to finance film has been mainly disseminated through journal articles and book chapters. So far, no finance film monographs exist. Edited collections that incorporate chapters on finance film are concerned with topics that only intersect with the cinematic representation of finance and financialization. They deal with the screening of economic crises, capitalist work relations, and gender dynamics as well as with the work of film auteurs such as Oliver Stone. The only anthology fully dedicated to finance film is Parvulescu 2018. It was preceded by collections with broader concerns, such as recessionary cultures (Boyle and Mrozowski 2013); efforts to understand money and finance in the public sphere (Murdock and Gripsrud 2015); documentary representations of post-ideological transnational configurations of power (van Munster and Sylvest 2015); studies that rethink feminist popular culture (Negra and Tasker 2014), as well as a special journal issue, Gabrysiak and Powrie 2015. Articles on finance film in these collections are discussed in the thematic sections of this article. This section includes works that deal only with the way anthologies contextualize finance film.

  • Boyle, Kirk, and Daniel Mrozowski, eds. The Great Recession in Fiction, Film, and Television: Twenty-First-Century Bust Culture: Twenty-First Century Bust Culture. Lanham, MD: Lexington, 2013.

    Introduces finance film as a response to recessionary times in the 21st century, in particular as the product of “bust culture,” a concept that critically refers to post-2008 crash mass consumption culture, capitalizing on the Great Recession’s climate of scarcity and anxiety.

  • Gabrysiak, Diane, and Phil Powrie. Special Issue: Money: Now You See It, Now You Don’t. Studies in French Cinema 15.3 (2015).

    DOI: 10.1080/14715880.2015.1077031

    Includes articles on representation of money in French cinema in both English and French, citing films from the entire 20th century.

  • Murdock, Graham, and Jostein Gripsrud, eds. Money Talks: Media, Markets, Crisis. Bristol. UK: Intellect Books, 2015.

    Addresses finance film as representation of issues of money and capital, among other representations that range from investors’ “bankspeak” to reactions of news media and citizens.

  • Negra, Diane, and Yvonne Tasker, eds. Gendering the Recession: Media and Culture in an Age of Austerity. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2014.

    Comparative study of a wide range of media texts and formats, among them finance films, with the purpose of mapping, in the era of the Great Recession, the way popular culture finds new forms of naturalizing gender inequality, as well as the way this naturalization impacts feminist discourse.

  • Parvulescu, Constantin, ed. Global Finance on Screen: From Wall Street to Side Street. London: Routledge, 2018.

    Contributors draw on a concern-based definition of finance film and provides an interdisciplinary perspective, both European and North American, on features and documentaries; includes overviews of their main topics and rhetoric as well as conceptualizations, close readings, and filmmaker’s reflections.

  • van Munster, Rens, and Casper Sylvest, eds. Documenting World Politics: A Critical Companion to IR and Non-fiction Film. London: Routledge, 2015.

    Places the finance documentary film in a broader conversation concerned with understanding and assessing the ways in which the documentary genre envisions global politics, intervenes in global affairs, and generates original modes of concern.

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