Top 5 Finance and Money Movies for My Generation

Cover of

Cover of The Secret of My Success

I’ve already exposed my hidden geekiness by relating personal finance to classical fiction. Now, it’s time to prove that I own more than one financial calculator (and know how to use them) by admitting that personal finance sways my interest in movies as well.

No sane production company would ever make a movie resembling the articles on personal finance blogs. “The Five Ways to be Frugal at the Movies,” although a great personal finance read, would not likely make any money at the theater. (Unless they are trying to sell naps). However, production companies did make a number of “coming of financial age” movies that appealed to Generation X. In my opinion, movies made over the last twenty years simply don’t relate like they used to.

5. The Secret of My Success

Perhaps my love of this Michael J. Fox classic is tied to an obsession with Fox’s role as Alex Keaton in Family Ties. Fox’s role as Brantley Foster was almost a mirror image of the Alex Keaton I grew up watching on Family Ties. Both had a suit-wearing, briefcase-toting and financially-obsessed Michael J. Fox doing what Fox did best: playing the boy adapting to make it in a man’s world.

Synopsis: The Secret of My Success is all about a recent college grad trying to crack the immovable corporate finance door. When his managerial dreams crash him a menial job in the mail room, he creates an alter ego and moonlights as an impostor corporate executive. Will Fox save the company before he’s exposed as nothing more than an interoffice mail boy?

Personal Finance Lessons: Hostile takeovers, equity financing rules, career dos/don’ts and corporate finance. What’s not to love? I’m in corporate finance today thanks to Michael J. Fox.

4. Working Girl

Harrison Ford is trying to close a merger between two industry conglomerates. You must be outside the Gen X-er bubble if you don’t love this 80’s movie. All it’s missing is the Millennium Falcon.

Synopsis: Secretary Tess McGill (played by Melanie Griffith) is trying to break the “glass ceiling” by posing as her boss and negotiating a major deal between two industry giants. With the help of Jack Trainer (played by Han Solo, a.k.a.  Harrison Ford) Tess must put her skills at office politics and business negotiating to the test.

Personal Finance Lessons: Career changes and movement, college for working adults and selling and negotiating techniques. Working Girl solidified my desire to be anything but a secretary. They have it tough.

3. Big

Featuring Tom Hanks, Big is all about making toys, marketing toys, working for a toy company and playing with toys.

Synopsis: Josh is turned into an adult by a magic wish machine. With no more than a Jr. High education, Josh must now land a job, find an apartment and succeed in a career years before he’s ready. Will he launch the next generation of toys for the Millennials, or find himself in a van down by the river?

Personal Finance Lessons: Interview techniques, marketing and product development, where not to rent. And toys… lots of toys.

2. Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead

Released in 1991, Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead missed the boat in being an official 80’s movie. However, most of the stars are 80’s icons like Christina Applegate and David Duchovny. Plus, this movie bleeds money geekiness and probably should have been released two years earlier.

Synopsis: After the evil long-term babysitter passes from natural causes, the eldest sister is forced to take up a career in fashion to avoid having the family’s summer ruined. With no experience and no idea how to manage personal finances, the kids stumble along learning responsibility and finance in the process.

Personal Finance Lessons: This probably could be shown in a personal finance class: debt management, career lessons, budgeting and even frugality. The movie, however, is more of an example of “what not to do” if you want to know how to hide a body.

1. Ghostbusters

(Warning: Reading this section may permanently alter your perception of the movie. I apologize in advance for doing this to you)

I was hoping to startle you with number one pick. Perhaps you are wondering how in the world Ghostbusters is possibly related to personal finance? Few movies in any decade so perfectly capture the struggles of entrepreneurs trying to start up a business built around an innovative, radical business idea. The Ghostbusters movie takes you from business idea creation, through product testing and development, commercialization (including effective pricing strategies), rapid business growth, hiring your first employees and grooming them for succession, media promotion and finally: consumer product acceptance. It even depicts how government regulation can impede business creation. It’s ghost-slaying meets SNL meets Steve Jobs.

Synopsis: It’s a story about three guys with a dream to catch ghosts, and one ghost that would destroy the world. The rest of the movie is about Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd being Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd.

Personal Finance Lessons: What to do if someone asks you if you are a god, how marshmallow advertising could lead to the destruction of the world and see above for all the real-world entrepreneurial lessons that can be learned.

What movies have intrigued you with regards to personal finance and why?

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8 comments for “Top 5 Finance and Money Movies for My Generation

  1. October 20, 2011 at 6:08 pm

    I love your number one. Great round up as well. I really like this themed round up thing you got going. Keep up the good work.

    • Shaun Fowler
      October 22, 2011 at 11:51 am

      Thanks Corey! Any favorite money movies?

  2. October 22, 2011 at 5:38 am

    I only saw the last one!

    • Shaun Fowler
      October 22, 2011 at 11:52 am

      Most are from the 80’s.

  3. October 22, 2011 at 12:08 pm

    These movies seem more like an entreprenueral flare except #5 which is my favorite finance/money movie of all time. The Secret of My Success is the best business movie ever! I remember watching it growing up, and that movie made me want to be a business major in college more than anything else. It is what got me started in money and finance as weird as that sounds!

    • Shaun Fowler
      October 22, 2011 at 9:19 pm

      And here I thought I was the only one inspired by Michael J Fox.

      I think that each had a different angle on money. Don’t tell mom the babysitter’s dead was mostly about personal finance (even though there is a bit of innovation in there at the end). Ghostbusters was definitely entrepreneurial. Big was more about product design and marketing.Working girl? M&A. Secret of My Success, corporate management.

  4. November 3, 2011 at 1:04 pm

    I freaking love these movies!!! I saw Big on my first date in 1988 and how stoked am I that someone else has seen The Secret of My Success?

    St. Elmo’s Fire has some good financial lessons. So does Say Anything. You should do a part 2!!!

    • Shaun Fowler
      November 3, 2011 at 11:34 pm

      Jana – actually, I was thinking of a series and doing kind of like a movie review on business themed movies and talk about things you can learn and things that are unrealistic.

      Hank Coleman said he was also very inspired by Michael J Fox and his m&a prowess.

      Thanks for stopping by!

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