+4 votes
asked ago in General Economics Questions by (1.2k points)
I would like to compile a list of movies that have some economic issue as an important theme, handle it reasonably correctly, and convey useful insights especially for teaching. My own favorites include two old British comedies, "I'm All Right, Jack" (modern industrial work and labor-management relations) and "The Man In The White Suit" (technological progress, obsolescence and employment); I would like to hear others' selections with brief stories or explanations.
commented ago by (170 points)
For the financial crisis, "The Big Short".  Also, I used the opening monologue from "The Wolf of Wall Street" for a class, to demonstrate that maybe diminishing marginal utility of money is not always a given.  The Jordan Belfort character rants about how pissed he was that he only made $49 million the year he turned 26, $3 million shy of $ 1 million a week.  So maybe that three million would have added more to his utility than to mine.  Although, come to think of it, probably not...
commented ago by (1.2k points)
Thanks, John. The monologue can be a good starting point for multiple "teaching ideas" following up on your statement. You can distinguish between contexts in which non-diminishing utility of money may make cardinal sense (e.g. risk-taking  behavior) and where it makes ordinal sense as non-diminishing marginal rate of substitution between time and money (i.e. willingness to make more effort for that extra 3 million). And the question of interpersonal comparisons of utility brings in yet another dimension: if you had that 3 million, should you be willing to give it to Belfort?  :-)

6 Answers

0 votes
answered ago by (5.8k points)
There are some suggestions (which I can't vouch for) at Game theory in film, http://www.gametheory.net/popular/film.html
commented ago by (1.2k points)
edited ago by
Thanks, Al. I've checked that out, but would like to get suggestions from a wider spectrum of economists. Also, I would like to hear about movies with broader economics themes, not just strategy or game theory, for example environmental, public policy and normative issues.  Would really love to have your personal picks. "Grapes of Wrath"? "You Can't Take It With You"? "The Informant"?  - Avi
commented ago by (680 points)
Golden Balls, the British TV show, is also great for teaching the Prisoner's Dilemma!
+1 vote
answered ago by (160 points)
There is a relatively new movie based on a Harlan Ellison short story(Repent, Harlequin) called "In Time".  The movie is about time being used instead of a fiat currency.  There is a lot of scarcity and opportunity cost examples.  It is fun and the students I share it with seem to enjoy it.
commented ago by (1.2k points)
Thank you, Mark. I did not know of this one. Will check it out. - Avi
commented ago by (150 points)
The film's core: "time is money". People who do not have time, live on slums running against time to save time. Paid through time, borrow through time, steal and kill for time. People who have loads of time can live longer, longer than 100 years. Interesting move.
+1 vote
answered ago by (970 points)
I've found the movie version of "Too Big to Fail" to be nice for Money & Banking.  It has an impressive cast, including Paul Giamatti as Ben Bernanke.
commented ago by (1.2k points)
Thanks, Bill. I did not know this one, and will check it out. Is it better than "Inside Job," which also had an impressive cast, with many of our friends appearing as themselves  :-)  ?
commented ago by (970 points)
Its been a long time since I saw "Inside Job", so my memory of it is a bit vague, but I don't remember liking it as much.   The "Too Big to Fail" movie is a dramatization rather than a documentary.  It is largely focused on Hank Paulson, and I think it could be criticized for not being critical enough of him and other policymakers, but overall I felt it was well done.
+1 vote
answered ago by (320 points)
For the financial crisis, I like "Inside Job" and, from a fiction perspective, "Margin Call".  Really, if you haven't seen "Margin Call", you need to.  The final speech by Jeremy Irons is priceless.

On a completely different note, check out "Hudsucker Proxy" by the Coens.  The segment on the pricing of the hula hoop is classic.

Finally, for something rather out there, "The Return of Martin Guerre" has more economics (transition to capitalism) than most people initially notice.  You can think about it as "how a landless peasant acquires land in a society with no market it in -- where land is allocated through kinship".  (Become a kin.)
commented ago by (1.2k points)
Many thanks, Peter. I had seen  these but had not recognized the economic aspects of Martin Guerre. Will try to watch it again. BTW on the issue of pricing, the scene about bargaining in "Life of Brian" is also brilliant.
+1 vote
answered ago by (430 points)
In Merchant of Venice (which has been filmed several times);

Antonio “My ventures are not in one bottom trusted / Nor to one place; nor is my whole estate / Upon the fortune of this present year: / Therefore my merchandise makes me not sad.”

by the way, Man in a White Suit comes to the London stage soon.
commented ago by (1.2k points)
Thank you. And the play has more interesting economics and law than simply diversification - contracts, credibility, ...

 I saw the stage revival announcement. Brave actors, trying to follow Alec Guinness and Joan Greenwood. But will catch that if I am in London this Fall.
+1 vote
answered ago by (150 points)
commented ago by (1.2k points)
Thanks. Come to think of it, "You've Got Mail" has a related theme mixed with the romantic comedy that is its main theme.