The 2010s witnessed a growing trend in finance and Wall Street-focused films, notably with the commercial and critical successes of "The Wolf of Wall Street" in 2013 and "The Big Short" in 2015. But the most recent addition to this genre, 2023's "Dumb Money," fails to achieve the same level of recognition.
This raises the question: Have audiences grown tired of this kind of movie?
Films denoting the history of Wall Street have existed for decades, but Martin Scorsese's "The Wolf of Wall Street" stood out and rekindled interest in the genre due to its vulgar, uncensored approach.
The movie tells of the rise and fall of Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio), a corrupt stockbroker who engages in a lavish, overindulgent lifestyle. Despite some fans' admiration for Belfort's character, he is more of a villain than a hero in this movie.
Through DiCaprio's amazing performance and Scorsese's exceptional direction, the movie portrays Belfort as a tragic figure who constantly makes bad choices because he is fueled by his greed and selfishness. The film mostly focuses on Belfort and his similarly-minded colleagues, but it can be seen as a broader critique of the financiers who prosper at the expense of the working class.
"The Wolf of Wall Street" is known for its raunchiness and over-the-top style when exploring Belfort's life of excess. Director Adam McKay explores similar ideas in a starker format in "The Big Short."
Despite the film's quick editing and humor, "The Big Short" maintains a more grounded and realistic tone as it chronicles the events leading up to and after the Great Recession in 2008.
The film features a star-studded ensemble cast, including Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling, Steve Carell and Brad Pitt, portraying a group of morally ambiguous investors and hedge fund managers.
Unlike the characters in "The Wolf of Wall Street," the characters in this film contemplate the ethical and moral implications of profiting during an economic crisis while middle and lower-class individuals suffer.
While this film's nuance can be appreciated, it occasionally feels disingenuous and manipulative, especially as many characters ultimately go through with their questionable actions. Nevertheless, the movie remains significant, simplifying complex financial concepts in a comprehensible way and highlighting the ongoing issues that continue to plague Wall Street.
While I thought "The Big Short" didn't criticize its characters enough, "Dumb Money" distinguishes itself with an unrelenting scrutiny of those in high positions and a greater narrative focus on those on the bottom.
The movie recounts the story of everyday people, including retail workers and college students, who form an online community to bolster a plummeting Gamestop stock during the pandemic.
It's surprising to see that "Dumb Money" didn't resonate with people as much as its predecessors. Instead of the larger-than-life characters of "The Big Short" and "The Wolf of Wall Street," it centers on Keith Gill (Paul Dano), a relatable protagonist who spearheads the GameStop movement in an attempt to support his family.
Upon reflection, many of the issues in "Dumb Money" stem from its striking similarities to its predecessors in the genre, especially in its plot. In all of these movies, a group of underdogs band together upon discovering a stock market loophole or exploit, amassing wealth at the expense of their morals and relationships.
Throughout their runtime, all of these movies criticize the inherent flaws in the American capitalist system. Despite presenting its story from a different perspective, "Dumb Money" echoes the same themes on the dangers of capitalism without necessarily contributing anything new to the conversation.
The genre has become somewhat formulaic and predictable, and unless there's an element of mystery or some other unique twist involved, audiences seem inclined to pass on it.
Still, as shown through the popularity of recent movies and shows like "White Lotus" and "Glass Onion," there is still a clear interest in this type of movie, but it just needs to be presented differently.
For example, "Parasite," a 2019 South Korean film, resonated with American audiences due to its unique approach to conveying ideas about wealth disparity and social inequality within the framework of a thriller.
Despite disappointments like "Dumb Money," the popularity of financial movies continues to rise, provided filmmakers are willing to explore fresh perspectives and arguments about capitalism rather than repeating the same ones.