On Sept. 15, 2008, the Wall Street investment bank Lehman Bros. filed for bankruptcy and world financial markets locked up, revealing and causing systemic mortgage-related damage that ultimately cost millions their houses and jobs.
Over the last 10 years, the financial crisis has been well-documented in movies, either through major plot points or more subtle thematic elements. Here is a list of the 10 best movies about the crisis — how it happened, how it affected people, and how it felt to live through it.
10. Warrior. (2011) Foreclosure and the developing "gig" economy figure prominently in Gavin O'Connor's movie about a high school teacher (Joel Edgerton) driven to edge of financial ruin by medical bills, taking a few low-grade MMA fights to make ends meet. This "side hustle" costs him his job, so he enters a tournament with a $5 million winner-take-all prize put up by a hedge fund swell. He has to fight his brother (Tom Hardy) for it, an apt metaphor for life after the meltdown. Honorable mention: The Hunger Games.
>> READ MORE: 'Warrior' pits brother against brother
9. Up in the Air. (2009). One industry thrived in the aftermath of the crisis: lay-off consultants. George Clooney is a downsizer-for-hire who jets from city to city (literally looking down on people), telling folks they've been laid off. At some point in Jason Reitman's film, you realize the people playing the furloughed workers are actual, unemployed victims of the Great Recession. Honorable mention: The Company Men.
>> READ MORE: Loner layoff expert meets his match
8. Enron, the Smartest Guys in the Room (2005). Wait a minute — 2005, isn't that three years before the crisis? Yes, but Alex Gibney's documentary about the collapse of a crooked, politically connected Texas energy company was a warning (unheeded) that opaque financial schemes and lax regulation were a disease infecting crucial markets. Enron evolved from a power company into a financial firm that placed wagers on energy markets, often fraudulently. Its stock was ultimately exposed as worthless, but not until Enron had used its pumped-up market value to buy perfectly good utilities — effectively converting the legitimate stock holdings of many utility workers (their life savings) into worthless paper.
7. Queen of Versailles (2012). At the height of the easy-money mortgage movement, a Florida couple attempt to build the world's largest home, a project that collapsed as the economy tanked, leaving a ruin that served as a fitting monument to an age of excess. Lauren Greenfield's documentary also touches on something overlooked — the way the boom/bust was fueled to a large degree by McMansion building.
6. 99 Homes (2014). In Ramin Bahrani's film, a Florida construction worker (Andrew Garfield) facing eviction goes to work for the guy (Michael Shannon) whose job is to throw people out of their homes. Tough-minded morality tale, also a look at the gritty (and sometimes shady) little industries that grew up around the prolonged period of eviction, foreclosure, and repossession.
>> READ MORE: '99 Homes' takes the housing bubble and bursts it
5. Drag Me to Hell (2009). Curiously, there weren't many exploitation movies made after the meltdown, but Sam Raimi came through with a horror flick about a loan officer (Alison Lohman) who angles for promotion by aggressively foreclosing on an old woman and who is hit with a curse. Spoiler alert: She is literally dragged to hell, providing a spectacle of accountability missing from real life.
4. Hell or High Water (2016). The movie that took anti-bank sentiment to Oscar-nominated levels. Texas brothers (Chris Pine, Ben Foster) decide to steal money from the bank about to foreclose on their ranch. Pine has a nice monologue about the tenacious, generational nature of poverty, Gil Birmingham another about the changing nature of land confiscation in the West.
3. Inside Job (2010). The Jeffrey Lurie-produced documentary, directed by Charles Ferguson, won an Oscar for its shrewd examination of the crisis. Ferguson opens the movie in Iceland, also brought low by bank-fueled real estate mischief, thereby doing an end run around arguments that our mortgage crisis was all the result of U.S. government policy. Honorable mention: American Casino (2009), a documentary focused on predatory lending practices in Baltimore, and how those mortgages were eagerly swept up by Wall Street.
2. The Big Short (2015). Adam McKay, drawing from Michael Lewis' book, dives bravely into the complexity of the Wall Street financial instruments so crucial to the collapse, and comes out with a lucid piece of entertainment about money men (Steve Carell, Christian Bale, Brad Pitt) who saw the catastrophe coming and placed bets accordingly. By taking the insider point of view of the investors (Lewis himself is a former bond trader), it became a capitalist critique of a self-corrupted system. In Wall Street's purportedly efficient world of swaps, derivatives, insurance, and structured investment vehicles, everything was horribly mispriced. Honorable mention: Margin Call.