The best films about financial scandals to watch right now

From 'Equity' and 'The Big Short', to Robert de Niro's 'The Wizard of Lies', here are the best money-grabbing features to watch tonight...

With the final run of Succession on the cards, we’ve been looking back at our favourite big-player, big-money, big-screen features. Remember when Devils came to fame during those early pandemic months? If you are yet to tune in, it’s a financial thriller series that follows a successful banker on track to become vice-CEO; but then, after a scandal involving his wife dashes his promising career prospects, his life goes into a tailspin. We’ve also refreshed the memory with the non-stop A-list appearances in The Big Short, the biographical comedy-drama about the 2007-08 economic crash.

It’s safe to say that the world of high-rollers is a hard-hitting, all-pressure environment at the best of times – scandal is rife and the stakes are large, and the cash is undeniably filthy.

If you want a taste of the money-grabbing mayhem, read on for the best thrillers, dramas and black comedies about financial scandals…

Billion Dollar Downfall: The Dealmaker (2023)

Watch it on: BBC iPlayer

What it’s about: Magnate Arif Naqvi charged himself with being the pioneer for ‘impact investing’ – the act of accruing wealth while doing good at the same time. His company, Abraaj, bolstered businesses, injected money into developing economies, and helped create hospitals. He was a man who came across big names, such as Bill Gates, as well as big destinations, such as the White House.

But, the private-equity venture tanked, with accusations of racketeering and fraud that may land Naqvi just under 300 years in cuffs. With house arrest footage, as well as testaments from the major players involved, this 60-minute piece is a lesson in whether money and ethics can tango cleanly.

WeWork: Or the Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn (2021)

Watch it on: Apple TV

What it’s about: Adam Neumann’s vision of WeWork was a community ideal, a workspace utopia for the everyday person, big thinkers and massive dreamers, one whose appeal turbocharged the brand to the global imagination and sent its value to orbit… until it didn’t.

This watchable doc charts the rise and eventual fall of the office-space company, with particular focus, of course, on its cultish co-founder Adam Neumann (who’s labelled as a “hippie-messianic leader” in the plot text), his fall from grace, and the mess he is now associated with creating. Drawing upon interviews with experts, journalists, former staff and members of the community, it’s a modern-day tulip parable.

The Wolf Of Wall Street (2013)

Watch it on: Prime Video

What it’s about: If you’re looking for a rip-roaring ride through the world of finance — with laughs and gasps in equal measure — then this one really takes the banking biscuit. Nominated for five Oscars, Scorsese’s biographical black-comedy burst onto the cinema scene ten years ago; and it is still a marquee pop-culture reference today.

Whether it’s the shocking narrative based on real-life events (as you’ll know, Jordan Belfort was a stockbroker in New York City, whose unbridled fraud and corruption at his Wall Street firm eventually proved to be his undoing), its Guinness World Record for the most F-bombs in a film, that fish scene, or Matthew McConaughey’s chest-thudding — this is one that cinephiles won’t be done talking about for a long, long time.

The Big Short (2015)

Watch it on: Prime Video

What it’s about: This is another biographical comedy-drama; but based on the 2010 book, The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine. Depicting how the 2007-08 financial crisis was triggered by the United States housing bubble, the film pushed the envelope on movie-making, with its signature quirk of characters breaking the fourth wall.

It initially feels jarring, being addressed directly by the characters on screen. But, rather quickly, it’s a blessing — as actors from Ryan Gosling to Brad Pitt, and famed names such as Anthony Bourdain, spell out tricky concepts, like collateralised debt obligations, in layman’s terms. Margot Robbie even pops up in a bath to explain subprime mortgages.

The Wizard of Lies (2017)

Watch it on: Prime Video

What it’s about: Wall Street really does have a lot to answer for. Here, another film set on that infamous New York City thoroughfare; in this case, a biopic centred on the life of Bernard Madoff. Founded in the 1960s, Madoff’s company eventually became one of the biggest investment funds around. His career and reputation grew with it, until a discovery in 2008.

As it turned out, his firm had spent the past 16 years becoming the biggest pyramid scheme in the history of finance. Needless to say, multi-billion dollar losses abounded, and Madoff got 150 years behind bars. As is always the case with the legendary actor, Robert De Niro captures the fall from grace with a gripping intensity.

The Informant! (2009)

Watch it on: Prime Video

What it’s about: Biopics seem to be all the rage in the financial film genre; but maybe that’s because there have been some fascinating individuals involved. In the dark-humoured The Informant!, Matt Damon stars as Mark Whitacre: a real-life up-and-coming staffer at American corporation Archer Daniels Midland.

As it turns out, the company is routinely fixing the price of lysine (this is, of course, the famous price-fixing conspiracy of the 1990s) and Whitacre ultimately pulls back the curtain for the FBI, for whom he undertakes an undercover investigation. And, at the risk of stating the obvious, it’s not an easy job. Thankfully, Matt Damon’s tour-de-force performance will keep you engaged until the credits start rolling…

Equity (2016)

Watch it on: Prime Video

What it’s about: From comedy to thriller in one bank-rolled swoop. Equity is another suspenseful watch, this time centred around insider trading.

In this film, senior investment banker Naomi Bishop is hired to handle the IPO for social-networking platform Cachet. But, it turns out that her boyfriend (who works at the same firm) is being investigated on suspicion of the cabal. Moreover, on learning that Cachet is hackable, Naomi continues trying to sell the shares to investors — not a good idea. The result? A tense, off-your-seat exploration of the inner sanctums of (dodgy, dodgy) private equity.

The Laundromat (2019)

Watch it on: Netflix

What it’s about: Remember the Panama Papers scandal? Well, here’s a sliver of unique insight into one of the biggest global business bust-ups of all time.

As you might have guessed from the title, money laundering is at the heart of The Laundromat, which tells three separate stories of people around the world directly affected by the practices of the law firm Mossack Fonseca. Director Steven Soderbergh has the film narrated by Jürgen Mossack (Gary Oldman) and Ramón Fonseca (Antonio Banderas), the two company founders, and the wider cast features a big-budget ensemble of Meryl Streep, David Schwimmer, Sharon Stone, Jeffrey Wright and James Cromwell.

Wall Street (1987)

Watch it on: Prime Video

What it’s about: Younger generations may be more familiar with the sequel (2010’s Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps); but nothing beats the original.

Legend has it that director and co-writer Oliver Stone dedicated the film to his father, Lou, who worked as a stockbroker during the Great Depression, and the film is a deep exploration of that big-digits world. At its heart is young stockbroker Bud Fox, who becomes embroiled in financial corruption in his bid for career success. The film plunges viewers into the iniquitous dens of 1980s New York, where we meet Michael Douglas’ inimitable, iconic Gordon Gekko.

Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005)

Watch it on: Apple TV

What it’s about: And, finally, this slick, smart documentary charts the 2001 disintegration of the Enron Corporation, and the subsequent scandal it entailed. It guides viewers through the details of the amoral practices that led to the collapse of the energy-and-commodities firm — shell companies, fraud and embezzlement — and exposes the fallout.

If anyone’s looking for unique insight into one of the largest business crimes in history, this is the one for you. Its ‘cast’ includes multiple former Enron executives and traders, as well as whistleblower Sherron Watkins. It really is the real deal.

Inside Job (2010)

Watch it on: Apple TV

What it’s about: Split into five chapters, Charles Ferguson’s documentary (narrated by Matt Damon) scales the late-Noughties financial collapse that buffeted the US economy and sent the housing market on a tornado of a ride.

This all-encompassing look at the causes that led to the disaster – banking practices, changes in policy – are examined via interviews with politicians, journalists, academics, and those in the financial know, bouncing across various key locations, such as the US, Iceland, England and China. As Ferguson says, the film is a look at “the systemic corruption of the United States by the financial services industry and the consequences of that systemic corruption.”

Want more screentime? Here’s what to watch on Netflix in March 2023…,

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