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Wall St. Meets Hollywood: 9 Biggest Grossing Business Movies

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Hollywood’s fascination with banking and Wall Street can be traced back decades and includes some of the most popular films made.

At least as far back as 1933, bankers have been central to some movie plots. “American Madness” of that year depicts a banker who refuses to shut off the loan spigot despite pressure from his board of directors.

The director of that film, Frank Capra, returned to the subject in the holiday favorite “It’s a Wonderful Life.” That film ends (spoiler alert!) with a town coming together to save the local bank run by Jimmy Stewart. (Imagine that happening, even in a movie, today.)

The definition of a business film can be in the eye of the viewer. Even “The Godfather” is often cited as offering great business advice. (We hope those who follow it leave out the killing of business partners.)

(Related on ThinkAdvisor:  Top 10 Movies for Great Financial Advice)

We got to wondering how more recent movies about Wall Street have fared at the box office. We put together a list of some of our favorites of the last 25 years or so and arranged them according to box office gross adjusted for 2015 dollars. (Box office figures come from Box Office Mojo.)

The films range from comedies to dramas, and include some of the biggest stars and directors.

American Psycho film poster.

9. American Psycho (2000)

Box Office Adjusted Gross: $20.6 million ($15 million)

The Takeaway: The movie was based on the book of the same name by Bret Easton Ellis, who was quoted as saying the work was not a good fit for film.

Vin Diesel in Boiler Room

8. Boiler Room (2000)

Box Office Adjusted Gross: $23.2 million ($16.9 million)

The Takeaway: The movie was based on the life of Jordan Belfort, the inspiration for “The Wolf of Wall Street.”

Other People’s Money

7. Other People’s Money (1991)

Box Office Adjusted Gross: $44.7 million ($25.7 million)

The Takeaway: Danny DeVito takes a star turn as a corporate raider in Gregory Peck’s last major role.

The Big Short

6. The Big Short (2015)

Box Office Adjusted Gross: $68 million ($68 million)

The Takeaway: The comedy based on a nonfiction book explains and exposes the trading of credit default swaps, and more, that helped fuel the 2008 crash. The Big Short won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay.

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

5. Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010)

Box Office Adjusted Gross: $56.7 million ($52.4 million)

The Takeaway: The critic’s were mixed on the sequel, but the return of Gordon Gekko after a stint in prison did okay at the box office.

Wall Street

4. Wall Street (1987)

Box Office Adjusted Gross: $91.4 million ($43.8 million)

The Takeaway: If nothing else, the movie will be remembered for Gordon Gekko’s “greed is good” mantra, which became an article of faith among many.

The Wolf of Wall Street

3. The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

Box Office Adjusted Gross: $118.9 million ($116.9 million)

The Takeaway: The year after Martin Scorsese’s movie hit the nation’s screens, the New Yorker meditated on its lasting power, noting that it portrays the age of transparency perfectly. No thought is left unexpressed by Leonardo DiCaprio’s lead character.

Working Girl

2. Working Girl (1988)

Box Office Adjusted Gross: $127.8 million ($63.8 million)

The Takeaway: A quarter century after the movie was released, Forbes ran a list of lessons from it. Our fave concerned the heroine’s vow to not spend her life getting nowhere following rules she didn’t help set up. A little rule breaking, the writer concludes, isn’t a bad thing.

Trading Places

1. Trading Places (1983)

Box Office Adjusted Gross: $215.1 million ($90.4 million)

The Takeaway: “Trading Places” apparently had more impact on the real world than the average Hollywood flick. The plot of the movie inspired the head of the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission to tell Congress in 2010 that a new rule was needed to ban insider trading of the kind in the film. Gary Gensler’s “Eddie Murphy Rule” joined the Volcker Rule in the lexicon. The Wall Street Journal reported that Gensler maintained a straight face during his testimony.

– Related on ThinkAdvisor:  Top 10 Movies for Great Financial Advice