If you ask my husband, he’ll tell you I’m not a movie buff.  While not entirely accurate, I admit to being selective with my film choices- I don’t like to waste time on movies that don’t capture my interests, which sometimes do not align with his.  Over the years, I’ve watched my fair share of films, sometimes eagerly, sometimes reluctantly.  I believe in extracting lessons from every aspect of my life that demands my time, especially when it comes to gaining financial wisdom.  With small children around these days, our household’s movie selection tends to lean towards kid-friendly films.  However, I’ve learned that even cartoons can offer valuable lessons if you’re willing to look for them.  So, let’s delve into some movies and documentaries that I believe can teach us lessons in personal finance, investing, and business.  I focused on this century’s films because I have not seen many movies made before 2000!

Coco (2017)

In true toddler-mom style, let’s begin with a delightful cartoon and explore the financial insights we can garner from the movie “Coco.”  While it may not seem like a movie that offers lessons on money management, it imparts a profound message.  “Coco” tells the story of Miguel, a young boy passionate about music that clashes with his family’s generations-old ban on the art form.  Instead of following in the footsteps of his family’s shoemaking business, Miguel chooses to pursue his musical dreams.  Through a journey to the Land of the Dead, he learns some hard truths about his family and his idol, Ernesto de la Cruz, who turns out to be different than imagined.

The primary financial lesson I gleaned from this enchanting movie is the importance of valuing relationships over material wealth, which resonates deeply with me.  No matter how lofty my ambitions or goals may be, I never want to lose sight of my family, who are my motivation for financial independence.  Miguel realizes that it’s not riches or fame that matter most, but the love and support of his family.  While this may not be a conventional money lesson, this perspective is valuable as we navigate the journey of entrepreneurship and financial independence.

Hustle (2022)

This Adam Sandler movie is top-tier, and since it is about basketball, my husband didn’t have to drag me to watch it.  It tells the story of a basketball scout who discovers a remarkable talent in another country and, against his General Manager’s wishes, brings him to the U.S. for NBA combine tryouts.  Despite the player’s excellence, he fails to make an impression during the initial meeting, leading to a directive for Adam Sandler’s character to send him back home.  Defying the team’s decision, and at the cost of his personal finances and family stability, he continues to support the player, allowing him to train and practice with NBA players in the U.S.

The financial lesson I extracted from this film centers on the virtue of perseverance and hard work for the things you genuinely believe in.  It emphasizes the fact that diligence and consistency yield dividends.  My brief journey as a business owner has taught me that while you often need to spend money to make money, nothing will materialize if you aren’t steadfast.  I appreciate this movie’s subtle message about perseverance and relentless effort eventually leading to achievement.  It also illustrates how sometimes, what others deem the “wrong” choice could be the very thing that leads to your success.

Reptile (2023)

The most recent movie my husband coaxed me into watching turned out to be a delightful surprise.  It wasn’t directly about money but rather a captivating murder mystery.  Since this movie is a recent release, I must issue a SPOILER ALERT.  Justin Timberlake stars in the film as a real estate agent who co-owns a brokerage with his mother.  The story unfolds as his girlfriend is brutally murdered during a property showing, leading to a quest to uncover the perpetrator.

The financial lesson from this movie is straightforward: engaging in illegal activities is not a viable path to wealth.  While numerous legitimate ways to generate income exist, beware those that can lead to legal consequences.  Aim to work diligently, investing in real estate or other ventures you are passionate about, but do so ethically and sensibly – qualities noticeably absent in the movie.  Choosing reputable partners, maintaining high ethical standards, and staying on the right path pay off in the long run.  Taking shortcuts or engaging in illicit activities is not worth the risk.

Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened (2019)

This documentary earned its place on the list for multiple reasons.  The Fyre Festival was promoted as a high-end experience that ultimately never transpired.  The most immediate lesson from this documentary is a classic one: be wary of offers that appear too good to be true.  In the case of the Fyre Festival, both attendees and investors suffered financial losses due to a lack of due diligence.

Another critical lesson, which can be viewed from two perspectives, pertains to the power of social media and influence marketing.  On the positive side, when used effectively, these tools can garner significant attention for your events and products, potentially boosting profits.  However, as exemplified in this scenario, the downside is the need for skepticism.  Not everything shared on social media, even by influencers, necessarily represents reality.

Furthermore, this documentary illustrates the perils of entrepreneurial ventures and the importance of maintaining ethical standards in business operations.  An additional key takeaway is the ramifications of poor financial management.  The festival organizers mismanaged investor funds and failed to fulfill their promises to investors and attendees.  This is a classic example of both fiscal irresponsibility and unethical conduct- both of which we, as entrepreneurs, should strive to avoid.

The Big Short (2015)

The financial lessons in this movie are more explicit than some of the others mentioned.  For those unfamiliar, it delves into the financial and real estate crisis of 2008.  A central theme throughout the film is the risk of not understanding the intricacies of your investments.  The individuals highlighted in the movie discerned that major banks were excessively leveraging mortgage bonds, and if delinquency rates rose, these bonds would fail.  The funds that identified this began shorting these mortgage bonds, an uncommon strategy given the housing market’s historical consistency.  The implicit lesson is the importance of conducting your own research and not relying solely on others’ opinions or credit ratings.  Those who profited handsomely during the financial crisis, while others declared bankruptcy, did so because they conducted their research and were willing to make unconventional bets that larger corporations scoffed at.

The overarching lesson in this movie underscores the need to be prepared for market downturns.  It illustrates the significance of diversifying your investments to navigate market volatility.  This is presented by the characters who shorted the bonds but concentrated their investments in one bank.  When that bank faced potential collapse, their bet would have been wiped out if they hadn’t swiftly diversified their mortgage bonds.  It’s a powerful reminder to maintain an emergency fund and thoroughly understand the risks associated with your investments.

UP (2009)

This cherished animated film is a heartwarming watch and conceals an important financial lesson amidst its delightful story.  The movie revolves around a couple, Ellie and Carl, who meet as children, fall in love, and get married.  They have a longstanding dream of taking a vacation to Paradise Falls.  Although diligent savers, they frequently dip into their vacation funds to cover unexpected expenses.  This illustrates the critical distinction between an emergency fund and savings earmarked for a specific purpose. The two should not be conflated.  An emergency fund should be established and reserved solely for unforeseen circumstances.

The movie poignantly demonstrates the consequences of this financial oversight.  When Ellie and Carl finally accumulate enough savings for their trip to Paradise Falls, Ellie falls ill and passes away.  Ultimately, Carl journeys to Paradise Falls with a newfound friend in her memory, but he misses out on sharing that experience with his wife.  

Limitless (2011)

This movie offers an accessible and engaging viewing experience.  It revolves around a cognition-enhancing drug and its impact on Eddie, a struggling author’s life.  Feeling like his life is going nowhere, Eddie accepts a pill from a friend that promises to help him turn things around.  Subsequently, he becomes addicted to the drug, and the film follows his life as he grows increasingly dependent on the substance while attempting to refine it.  Under the influence of the drug, Eddie’s cognitive abilities amplify, and he starts earning significant profits in the stock market.

There are a few lessons to be learned from this movie.  One is the importance of not letting the pursuit of financial success overshadow your overall well-being.  Eddie becomes so obsessed with accumulating wealth that he neglects his health and personal relationships.  It’s a reminder to maintain a balance and stay grounded on your journey towards financial independence.  Another pivotal lesson is the danger of overleveraging.  Eddie takes a $100,000 loan from a loan shark to capitalize on what he believes to be a lucrative investment opportunity.  However, he struggles to repay the loan on time, underscoring the critical importance of responsible borrowing.  While it may seem like common sense to avoid borrowing money you can’t reliably repay, this movie illustrates the significant impact financial decisions can have on your life if not managed with care.

The Social Network (2010)

This movie unfolds the narrative of the inception of Facebook by Mark Zuckerberg and the subsequent legal challenges that arose following its establishment.  Several important financial lessons emerge from this movie, beginning with the critical importance of contracts.  Initially, the concept for Facebook was reportedly pitched to Mark by two brothers at Harvard, who appointed Mark as the lead computer coder for their project.  They had email exchanges but lacked a formal legal agreement.  Mark allegedly stole their idea and created “The Facebook.” The second partner who reportedly felt betrayed by Mark was his co-founder, who initially financed the creation of Facebook.  As Mark expanded Facebook, he involved other investors and had his co-founder sign contracts that seemingly guaranteed him a certain ownership percentage.  However, his co-founder didn’t consult his attorneys before signing these contracts, which allowed for the dilution of his ownership when new investors were brought in, a loophole that could have been identified with legal review.

Another lesson revolved around the fragility of trust in business partnerships.  Trust can quickly erode when money is at stake, and you certainly want to avoid finding yourself on the losing end of such a situation.  It’s a crucial reminder to choose trustworthy partners and maintain open communication in business relationships.  This ties into the final takeaway from this movie: entrepreneurship can be high risk, but it can also yield substantial returns.  The film illustrates the rapid growth of Facebook but also highlights the risks associated with this growth, as it found itself mired in legal disputes almost from the outset.

Conclusion

The next time you settle in for a movie, whether by choice or because you’re accompanying someone (as often happens to me), consider watching it through the lens of an investor.  Aim to extract a financial lesson from the narrative.  While reading books and educating yourself on various topics is valuable, taking proactive steps to act is the most effective way to learn.  Moreover, valuable lessons can be gleaned from our day-to-day lives.  You don’t necessarily have to sit in a classroom or invest a fortune in mentorships or courses.  By consistently taking action and engaging in conversations about business and finance with the people around you, you’ll be astonished by the knowledge and insights you can gain from their experiences.  I hope this article has provided some food for thought, or at the very least, a list of movies that won’t feel like a complete waste of time.  I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!