Wall St. crooks get a screen test – and this time pull in big audiences

Mon Feb 8, 2016 1:15pm EST
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By David Gaffen and Jennifer Ablan

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Wall Street villains are having their big moment on both television and the big screen.

With the 2008-2009 financial crisis and the accompanying Great Recession not only fresh in many people’s minds but still having an impact on many lives, stories about greed on Wall Street and concern about growing income inequality are resonating well beyond a niche audience.

This is being reflected in the battle to be the next U.S. president, particularly as Hillary Clinton defends herself from accusations she will be soft on Wall Street because of the money she has received from bankers and hedge fund managers.

The atmosphere has created an opening for a boomlet of movies and television shows about Wall Street - including two television films about disgraced financier Bernard Madoff. One of those, starring Richard Dreyfuss, aired last week on ABC.

Those Madoff films come as Showtime recently premiered its show "Billions," about a hedge fund manager under investigation for alleged insider trading, and as "The Big Short" stands as a top contender for the Oscar for Best Picture, when the awards are given out on Feb. 28.

And many of these movies and programs seem to have wider appeal than in the past, with sizable audiences being pulled in. While clearly a few movies like Oliver Stone’s 1987 “Wall Street,” and the raucous 1983 comedy “Trading Places” were very successful, there have also been many failures in the past 30 years, including TV series that were dropped before the end of their first season.

Almost all of the shows and movies that are resonating have a “law and order” theme, usually Wall Street bad boys being chased down by the FBI. The good-vs-evil themes are similar in many ways to the tales of gangsters and corrupt officials that have been a Hollywood mainstay in the past.

"Our collective fascination with money and power has only risen in this post-financial crisis world," said Andrew Ross Sorkin, who is co-anchor of CNBC's Squawk Box and co-creator of "Billions."   Continued...

Cast members (L-R) Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling, Marisa Tomei and Steve Carell pose at the premiere of "The Big Short" during the closing night of AFI Fest 2015 in Hollywood, California November 12, 2015. The movie opens in the U.S. on December 23.  REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni