Movies That Are on the Money
Five great films with smart things to say about dough
(MONEY Magazine) – You won't get rich watching movies, but you can learn some valuable financial lessons. After all, money--coveting it, stealing it, losing it--has propelled the plots of countless films over the past century. And while we can't recommend any actionable advice you might glean from a heist flick, a fair number of movies say something profound about the role of personal finance in our lives. So, in the spirit of the Oscars, here are MONEY's Best Pictures.
Best Preparation for Buying Real Estate Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948; NOT RATED) Jim Blandings (Cary Grant) and his family can't take three steps in their Manhattan digs without bumping into one another. They seek salvation in a charming Connecticut cottage that a real estate agent shows them, but the purchase isn't as blissful as hoped. (Your first clue: The title mentions building a home, not buying.)
• LESSON LEARNED The stupidest thing you can do is fall in love with a home; your wallet, and marriage, will be better off if you realize you're making a business deal. (A contradictory lesson--that even if you get fleeced on a house, it still feels like a bargain if you love your new home--feels tacked on.)
Best Reason to Ignore All Hot Investment Ideas Boiler Room (2000; R) In classic investment scams, con artists prey on their victims' dreams of above-average returns and their fear of missing the boat. In this foulmouthed illustration of exactly how such rip-offs are executed, up-and-coming salesman Seth (Giovanni Ribisi) learns the ropes at a corrupt brokerage. The highlight is a scene in which veteran broker Chris (Vin Diesel) reels in a hapless customer over the phone while his officemates gather to watch the master at work.
• LESSON LEARNED Assume that the nice young man calling you with a stock tip is trying to rob you blind.
Best Reason to Live Within Your Means Melvin and Howard (1980; R) Melvin Dummar (Paul Le Mat) is an ambitious, hard-working and likable guy. But he keeps buying the accoutrements of the American Dream--a boat, for example--before he's made the money to pay for them. His life is a string of repossessions and money-rooted estrangements from wife Lynda (Mary Steenburgen). "We're not poor," he protests. "Broke, maybe." And then, one day, the will of billionaire Howard Hughes turns up, naming Melvin as a beneficiary. Based, believe it or not, on a true story.
• LESSON LEARNED Good fortune may rescue you from hard times. But don't bet on it.
Best Tool for Scaring Yourself out of Early Retirement Lost in America (1985; R) It's an everyday fantasy: to have enough money to quit your job and just bum around. After working out the financials on a legal pad, David Howard (Albert Brooks) convinces his wife Linda (Julie Hagerty) that they can chuck it all and live in a Winnebago. And they can--for a few hours. David's obsession with their "nest egg" climaxes in a hilarious tirade in which he forbids Linda to say any part of the term in any context. "The bird lives in a round stick," he rants. "And you have things over easy with toast."
• LESSON LEARNED The daily rat race sure beats not having any money.
Best Starting Point for a Family Talk About Money Millions (2004; PG) Seven-year-old Damian (Alex Etel) has a richly populated fantasy life, one in which Saint Peter, Saint Clare and Saint Francis pop by to chat. So when a real bag of cash falls out of the sky, Damian assumes that God sent it so he can give it to the poor. Other people--like his nine-year-old brother, who wants to invest in real estate--have different ideas about where the money should go.
• LESSON LEARNED Money creates one kind of pleasure when you spend it on yourself and another when you spend it on someone else.