'The Big Short': How popular are movies about Wall Street?

'The Big Short' stars Brad Pitt, Christian Bale, Steve Carell, and Ryan Gosling as people who anticipated the 2008 economic crisis. The film is based on the book of the same name by 'Moneyball' author Michael Lewis.

Paramount Pictures/YouTube
'The Big Short' stars Ryan Gosling.

A new movie based on Michael Lewis’s book “The Big Short," about the lead-up to the 2008 economic crisis will be released this December.

The film stars Brad Pitt, Christian Bale, Steve Carell, and Ryan Gosling as people from various walks of life who all realized the problems on Wall Street before the events of 2008 occurred. Mr. Bale portrays Michael Burry, a doctor who analyzed the bond market, while Mr. Pitt portrays Ben Hockett, who worked with others to created a hedge fund and decided to go against the thinking of Wall Street when making financial decisions. Mr. Carell plays Steve Eisman, a hedge-fund manager who bet against subprime mortgages when making decisions with his money. Meanwhile, Mr. Gosling portrays Greg Lippmann, a trader. 

The fact that “Short” will be released on Dec. 25 means it will be a contender in the Oscar race. The movie is directed by Adam McKay, who moviegoers most likely know best from the comedies “Anchorman” and “Step Brothers.” Films based on Mr. Lewis’s books have been Oscar favorites in the past. Actress Sandra Bullock won an Oscar for Best Actress for her work in the 2009 movie “The Blind Side,” which was based on the book of the same name by Lewis, and the author’s work “Moneyball” was turned into a 2011 film that was nominated for best picture and best adapted screenplay, with Pitt earning a nod for best actor and Jonah Hill receiving a best supporting actor nomination for his “Moneyball” role.

Wall Street and its workers have been subject to diverse portrayals by Hollywood in recent years. One of the most critically acclaimed and highest-grossing was the 2013 movie “The Wolf of Wall Street,” which was based on the memoir by former stockbrocker Jordan Belfort. Mr. Belfort pled guilty to crimes including manipulation of the stock market. 

The film, which was directed by Martin Scorsese and received an Oscar nomination for Best Picture, among other nods, included plenty of scenes depicting the excesses of Wall Street. One movie critic wrote that the film is “essentially a celebration of sharkdom. The victims of Belfort’s chicanery are barely dealt with,” while another reviewer felt that “the movie’s benumbed by its own parade of bad behavior … screenwriter Terence Winter intends Belfort's story to be an increasingly galling cautionary tale, but without the overt finger-wagging that would bring in the bring-down.” 

Meanwhile, a "Wall Street" sequel was released in 2010 but got little notice or positive results at the box office. Original star Michael Douglas returned to star alongside Shia LaBoeuf and Carey Mulligan in the film "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps." But the film didn’t perform as well as it could have at the box office, showing an apparent lack of interest from audiences. As for how the film portrayed Wall Street denizens, one critic wrote that “the best parts of this unfocused … sequel are the moments when the bad people take center stage” and another found that “the film’s urgency evaporates … the more concerned it grows with finger-pointing.” 

Early clips of “The Big Short” make no effort to hide what side those behind the movie are on. A trailer has a woman telling Carell's and Pitt’s characters, “I’m sure the world’s banks have more incentive than greed.” “You’re wrong,” Carell’s character replies. 

It remains to be seen whether moviegoers and Oscar voters will respond well to the movie when it comes out this winter.

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