Movies aren’t just fun distractions. The good ones can pass on wonderful wisdom about our own lives. The great ones can change the way we exist from day to day, including the way we spend our cash.
Here are 10 major Hollywood movies and the money lessons they’ve taught us about good old greenbacks. Spoiler alerts and wonderful wisdom ahead!
1. The Money Pit
What’s more surprising than the fact that this 1986 movie starring Tom Hanks and Shelley Long is nearly 30 years old, is the fact that Steven Spielberg produced the box office smash. The main characters become the victims of scammers who con them into buying a house that starts to fall apart the second they move in. Due to the large and increasing amounts of money it takes to repair the home, the residence is dubbed a “money pit”.
Lesson learned: Don’t fall for slick stories from desperate home sellers, and make sure to estimate your real remodeling expenses prior to signing any contracts or getting any work done on your McMansion. Like a quote from the movie states, “Just because they showed up to collect the money is no guarantee that they’ll show up to do the work.”
2. The Wolf of Wall Street
If there is one thing I learned from experiencing the thrilling body of work that is The Wolf of Wall Street is that men like stuff. Fancy stuff. The kind of Ferrari 458 Speciale cars and “ocean kitchen” fish tanks that they lust over on Fatal Dose. In this 2013 film based on the true story of Jordan Belfort, a man who parlays his selling skills into a new wife and wild life as a wealthy stockbroker, we learn that women like stuff, too. However, coveting all that cash doesn’t pan out as planned.
“You show me a pay stub, I’ll quit my job right now,” Donnie Azoff tells Jordan, proving all that glitters isn’t gold when you don’t truly investigate the source of the riches–and whether or not it lines up with sleeping well at night.
Lesson learned: Lying to achieve lots of money and buying copious amounts of drugs with our riches isn’t the way to go. Gaining funds by any means necessary is what led Jordan straight to prison and divorce court.
The 2011 comedy starring Kristen Wiig was hilarious, and also quite unique in the way that it showed how income levels can bond or break apart friends. As the film opens, (after that kooky scene with Jon Hamms’ lusty Lothario persona) main character Annie hangs out with her best friend Lillian–played by Maya Rudolph–and they share in the camaraderie of being broke by getting kicked out of their bootcamp class.
When Lillian’s impending wedding brings a wealthy woman named Helen into her life, who attempts to buy her friendship away from Annie, the true test of how people might react to “friends with financial benefits” comes to light.
“Help me, I’m poor,” Annie admits during a memorable scene on the plane.
Lessons learned: The monetary morals uncovered in Bridesmaids are threefold: Don’t let folks buy your love; don’t go crazy trying to purchase expensive decorations you can’t afford when cute, affordable wedding fare sits at our fingertips; and never let a disparity in salaries cause you to drop your bestie. After all, Oprah and Gayle figured it out.
The work of brilliance that is Casino, a feature film directed by Martin Scorsese, puts forth a plethora of gems about money–not the least of which being that you should never marry for wealth, only for love.
The 1995 movie was based on the non-fiction book by Nicholas Pileggi, whose Sam “Ace” Rothstein counterpart was played by Robert DeNiro. When Ace proposes marriage to a Las Vegas hustler, Ginger McKenna (Sharon Stone), she honestly confesses that she’s not the marrying kind.
“You’ve got the wrong girl, Sam.” Ginger’s intended should have listened. Instead of accepting the truth that she just doesn’t love him, Sam urges her to “learn to love,” and promises to take care of her monetarily.
Lesson learned: That fiasco of a marriage-for-the-money taught us that the heart may want what the heart wants, but nuptials shouldn’t become business deals.
5. The Great Gatsby
When I used to read reviews about the classic 1925 novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby, I didn’t understand all the hoopla. It wasn’t until I soaked up the 2013 movie of the same name starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire that I truly began to realize the exquisite nature of the storyline.
Once again, here was a millionaire–Jay Gatsby–at the center of the Roaring Twenties, a time of revelry before the stock market crash of 1929.
“The truth is I’m penniless,” Gatsby had previously confessed to Daisy via letter, and her rejection of him made the main character vow to win both massive amounts of wealth and the woman he loved.
Lessons learned: In addition to teachings about Gatsby not being able to pay for the affections of the woman named Daisy that he loved and lost twice in his life, we also realize that when times are good, it’s best to save for a rainy economy. Plus, that all-important line about having plenty of friends when you’re rich is also apropos.
6. Sunset Boulevard
In the classic Sunset Boulevard, on-screen Hollywood writer, Joe Gillis, is a starving artist down to his last nickels–literally–when he meets the older and wealthier Norma Desmond.
“Waiting, waiting for the gravy train” is how Joe describes his status with all the other writers hanging out at Schwab’s Drug Store looking for their big breaks.
After Norma dangles herself, plus her dilapidating mansion and career, in front of his face, Joe takes the bait. However, he shouldn’t have fallen for the trap because it would end up being the same place of his death. When he tries to leave to spend his life with the woman he really loves, Norma shoots him dead.
Lesson learned: If you sell your soul to hang out with someone you normally wouldn’t befriend just because they have money, be prepared for them to exert unnatural (and perhaps nefarious) control over your life.
7. The Passion of the Christ
In The Passion of the Christ, Judas Iscariot receives 30 pieces of silver in order to tell enemies the whereabouts of Jesus, but he didn’t realize that blood money was the worst kind of money around. When Judas tried to give it back, the church leaders wouldn’t take it because, ironically, they reasoned that they couldn’t have blood money in their coffers.
“I have sinned, betrayed innocent blood,” the one doomed to destruction realized, but it was too late.
Lesson learned: A life is worth much more than money.
8. It Could Happen to You
The romantic 1994 dramady, It Could Happen to You, featured Nicolas Cage as Charlie Lang and Bridget Fonda as Yvonne Biasai–a cop and waitress, respectively–who end up falling in love after winning a lottery jackpot together.
The complications arise when Charlie’s wife Muriel (played with annoying brilliance by Rosie Perez) goes crazy spending the bulk of the funds as Charlie and Yvonne have fun doling it out through more altruistic means.
Lessons learned: Money doesn’t make you. Getting lots of money only magnifies who you already are inside. Money amplified Charlie and Yvonne’s giving spirits while it also brought out the ugliness of greed in Muriel’s philosophy.
The 2011 film Moneyball, starring Brad Pitt as the Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane, reminds us that gaining income can be a matter of changing the way we think after he uses scant resources and a computer-based algorithm to put together a successful team.
Lesson learned: Money is mental. Billy shows us that thinking differently about baseball statistics, or any aspect of our lives, can truly bring wealth and riches because our paradigm isn’t like others. It works because he approached the game along with his business partner in a manner that no one was accomplishing at that time.
10. 12 Years a Slave
The greed of the slave masters as displayed in12 Years a Slave, the 2013 film based on the real-life 1853 book of the same name, is what stands out as the biggest monetary lesson learned therein. In the shadows of the Capital Building, free man Solomon Northrup is kept in a slave pen until he is transported south near New Orleans, where he suffers unspeakable horrors along with the other slaves, all because the slave masters want to enjoy the income that their fieldhands and servants provide through hours and hours of hard labor. In the end there is proof that taking advantage of others for your own material gain does not pay.
Lesson learned: Greed is bad. Very bad.
Featured photo credit: 12 Years a Slave 02/newstatesman.com via newstatesman.com