Business Movie Review: Wall Street (1987)

Wall Street – 1987

by Mark Gilman (Paletz Advisor Staff)

If you ever wanted a visual blueprint of the excessiveness of the ’80s, it was the movie “Wall Street.”  You remember the 80’s.  The decade of corporate tycoons and takeover specialists like T. Boone Pickens and Carl Icahn raided unsuspecting traditional businesses.  It was the decade defined by “Wall Street’s” Gordon Gecko (Michael Douglas), who proudly said at a stockholders’ meeting, “greed is good.”  

The ’80s was such an excessive, free-spending decade that people lost their way.  Insider trading became a normalized thing, as did the sacrifice of families and friendships to get ahead.  “Wall Street” is a cautionary tale that no one heeded. Too many became Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen), a character who tossed aside morals, his own family and relationships to get ahead (I won’t even bother getting into how this character mirrored Charlie’s personal life going forward).  I know people who admired both Bud and Gordon, again, missing the entire point of what director Oliver Stone was trying to convey in the movie.  

Both Douglas and Sheen captivatingly chewed up the scenery (ala Pacino in “Scarface,” another over-the-top tale of excess) to show the outlandishness of their financial desires. Who saw “Wall Street” and wasn’t rooting for Bud Fox to “make it.” We admired his aggressiveness, arrogance, and willingness to sacrifice his entire life to get ahead.  He also threw his own father under the bus and lied and cheated his way to using a federal wiretap as his only way of avoiding lengthy jail time.  As we saw in the second installment of Wall Street years later, Gordon had learned nothing even after leaving jail.  Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the real-life Gordon Gekkos of the ’80s, who lost everything in the financial crashes between 1987 and 1992. 

I was one of those in the 80s who thought the Gekko way was the highway to financial success. Aggressiveness certainly has its place, but it doesn’t mean you must abandon your values. We’re all evolving and trying to succeed. Being an advisor doesn’t mean I have cornered to market on wisdom. And being a husband and father has put me on the path to navigating this work-life balance like you are. I’m going through this work-life balance journey like you are and trying to succeed.  

How many people do you know who were successful financially in the 80s and are on their 2nd or 3rd spouses?  Greed may have temporarily been “good” for business, but it wasn’t on the home front.  Kids grew up without fathers – and wives, tired of holding down a job and home simultaneously – fled.  Many business leaders who abandoned personal ethics also came from the 80s without much to be proud of, personally or ultimately, in their bank accounts. 

“Wall Street” is a cautionary tale that too many people didn’t get until it was too late.  Watching it now after going through two housing crises, the great recession and a global pandemic, is a much different “entertainment” experience than it was back in 1987.