Movie Trivia: Wall Street

It’s been 23 years since Michael Douglas proclaimed that “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good.” Gordon Gekko was back last week with Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, so we thought it would be a good time to revisit the original and see if the sequel stacks up.

Greed is Good

It’s been ranked #57 on the American Film Institute’s “100 Years… 100 Movie Quotes” list (it comes in right after “A boy’s best friend is his mother” from Psycho) and no doubt became the mantra for many a broker back in the excess of the ‘80s. But the quote wasn’t really even a Gordon Gekko original. “I wrote the line based on reading a speech by Ivan Boesky. He said, ‘Greed is right,’ and it stuck with me,” Oliver Stone said. The actual line from Boesky’s speech at Berkeley in 1986 was “I think greed is healthy. You can be greedy and still feel good about yourself." Boesky was involved in major insider trading scandals in the mid-‘80s. The real line from the movie, by the way, is "Greed, for lack of a better word, is good," but it typically gets shortened when people quote it.

Speaking of Money…

The movie didn’t really do that great when it opened. It was fine, opening at $4.1 million the first weekend, but Throw Momma From the Train was more popular that weekend, raking in $7.3 million. Wall Street was really more of a slow burn – it went on to gross $43.8 million and saw a surge in popularity a couple of years after its release. The sequel isn’t doing bad, but it’s unlikely to see the success the original did. Money Never Sleeps opened at $19 million, but it also opened on three times more screens than the original did.

Trading Cast Members

It’s hard to imagine anyone but Michael Douglas in such an iconic role now, but when actors were being considered, the studio was rallying hard for Warren Beatty. Beatty passed, so Oliver Stone requested Richard Gere. Gere wasn’t interested in playing a selfish stockbroker either. He was warned that Michael Douglas was more of a producer than an actor but decided to take a chance on him as Gordon Gekko anyway. Daryl Hannah disliked her role as Bud Fox’s social-climbing girlfriend, Darien Taylor. Stone thought the materialistic character conflicted too much with Hannah’s idealistic views and says now he should have recast her in favor of Sean Young instead of trying to make it work. Her lack of commitment to the performance showed – although Michael Douglas won a Best Actor Oscar for his role, Hannah had to be content with a Worst Supporting Actress Razzie. Hannah has said that she and Stone had a terrible working relationship and has reportedly never seen the film. Charlie Sheen got to pick the actor who played his morally-sound father in the film. He nixed Jack Lemmon in favor of his real-life dad, of course. The father-son duo parodied themselves a few years later in Hot Shots: Part Deux, when they pass each other on a boat and simultaneously yell out, “I loved you in Wall Street!”

Loose Change

The sequel takes its name from a line from the original movie: in one scene, Gordon Gekko calls Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen) early in the morning. When Bud sleepily answers the phone, Gekko says, “Money never sleeps.” Shia LaBeouf really got into preparing for his role. He did intense research into trading, including investing and trading money with different firms – reportedly up to $1,000,000. And when chatting with stockbrokers and traders, he discovered that a large percentage of them got into the business after seeing the original Wall Street. In exchange for their help with research, LaBeouf would promise to introduce them to Michael Douglas, who may be harboring a little contempt for people who apparently missed the point of the movie: he has said he would be OK if he never had “one more drunken Wall Street broker come up to me and say, ‘You’re the man!’” The original movie brought suspenders back to the forefront of fashion. Costume designer Ellen Mirojnick, who designed for the new movie as well, remembers getting a call from the fashion editor at the Los Angeles Times, who told her Los Angeleans were slicking their hair back and wearing suspenders. “Gordon was a villain — who knew people would want to dress like the villain?” Oliver Stone had some personal inspiration to make the movie – his dad, Lou Stone, was a broker at a Hayden Stone (which was no relation – his dad wasn’t a partner) at the height of the Great Depression. His dad later complained that businessmen were always mocked or parodied in films, so after his father’s death in 1985, Stone decided to make a movie he would have liked (though he had been mulling the idea for the film around since at least 1981). In fact, he named Hal Holbrook’s character in honor of his dad. So… Gordon Gekko: savvy businessman or selfish villain? What’s your take?

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Gordon Gekko is a socialist's straw man; a caricature of the greedy capitalist, so in the mind of the writer it is not a question of savvy businessman or selfish villain. The two are synonymous in this view.
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"It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest." -- Adam Smith

"Deep down, everyone is a Ferengi." -- 284th Rule of Acquisition
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