Five films for MBA students interested in finance

Many students pursue an MBA before a career in finance, and for good reason. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projected steady growth in positions for financial managers through 2024, earning a median annual wage of almost $118,000. Graduates of online MBA programs come away with the knowledge of quantitative tools and strategic decision-making they will need to flourish in careers like these.

If you think finance may be right for you, queue up a few films for a fun evening that will also let you dip into some of the most pressing issues in the field. The ups and downs in the world of investments have inspired gripping Hollywood blockbusters and thoughtful documentaries alike. Pop some popcorn and enjoy movies that demonstrate how rewarding and exciting a future in finance can be.

1. The Pursuit of Happyness

Based on the memoir of the same title by stockbroker, entrepreneur and motivational speaker Chris Gardner, this 2006 film focuses on the power of perseverance in business and in life. Will Smith plays Gardner, a salesman of bone-density scanners who is confronted by serious financial challenges and a crumbling marriage to the mother of his son.

Even as Gardner’s personal situation worsens, he embarks upon an unpaid training program at stock brokerage Dean Witter Reynolds in the hopes of eventually landing a permanent position. Learning the ropes of finance offers the protagonist the potential to build a better future for himself and his son, assuming he can land a job. Gardner faces the adversity of raising his son alone and struggles with homelessness, but he remains determined to pursue his goals.

Understanding the importance of maintaining a professional appearance and building relationships, Gardner strives to hide his difficult living situation from his superiors. He makes the most of the limited hours he can work despite his responsibilities as a single parent.

The film demonstrates the possibilities the world of finance can offer a capable, hard-working individual. The real Gardner found lasting rewards in the field. In addition to his work as a businessman, author and speaker, he has devoted himself to philanthropy, offering a leg up to others dealing with difficult circumstances like his own.

2. Wall Street

This 1987 classic from director and co-writer Oliver Stone is best known for the villainous performance of Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko. The amoral and charismatic character is a corporate raider who draws on insider information to maximize his personal wealth. The film follows the story of Bud Fox, played by Charlie Sheen, a young stockbroker who longs to work with Gekko and emulate his career.

Wall Street is a movie that defined its era, but it still has plenty to teach anyone with an interest in finance. Gekko is an unethical businessman who causes harm to the people involved in his ventures. He appeals to others by breaking down complex issues of economics and business into simple terms anyone can understand while constantly exuding confidence. However, his illegal actions and lack of concern for the human consequences of his actions leads to his downfall and arrest.

Gekko’s fall shows that ethics are a vital aspect of building a lasting career in finance. A company’s greatest asset is a positive reputation, and organizations that fail to meet their social responsibilities will struggle to attract customers, investors and quality employees. That’s why ethical practices are a pillar of the Villanova MBA program, emphasized in both coursework and hands-on projects.

The story also demonstrates why real-life corporations have developed methods to prevent hostile takeovers. Companies like Netflix and Yahoo! have fended off bids for ownership with shareholder rights plans. Under these policies, if a shareholder buys more than a set percentage of stock, shares are discounted for other investors, stopping someone like Gekko from seizing control. Other businesses have relied on measures such as limiting the right of a shareholder to call special meetings requiring a supermajority when voting on a merger or removing a director.

3. Margin Call

For those involved in finance, a margin is the collateral deposited with a broker or exchange to cover the credit risk when someone borrows cash to buy securities. The value of securities used as collateral may later drop due to market factors. When the account falls below a set maintenance value, the broker issues a margin call, requiring the investor to deposit additional cash or sell securities to make up the difference.

The 2011 drama Margin Call draws on this concept as a way to understand the causes of the 2008 global financial crisis. An ensemble cast, including Kevin Spacey, Demi Moore, Paul Bettany and Jeremy Irons, portrays how a Wall Street investment bank reacts to the news of its impending downfall. The organization is excessively leveraged, like many institutions that were caught in the crisis, and an analysis of market volatility offers a grim outlook.

Individuals at all levels of the organization take drastic measures to save the business and their own careers. That includes mass layoffs and frantically selling off assets even if it means damaging the firm’s relationships.

As the film shows, many people and companies trying to do what’s best for their own interests can lead to a crisis. Finance professionals have a responsibility to consider the consequences of their actions and prioritize the needs of their clients. Planning only for short-term profits can ultimately damage careers and the economy as a whole.

4. Steve Jobs

There is perhaps no name more widely known in any field of business than Steve Jobs. The Apple cofounder was known for his drive to innovate and develop a compelling brand. The 2015 film starring Michael Fassbender offers a peek into the personality behind Apple, offering both inspiration and caution for anyone considering investments in technology.

The screenplay focuses on three major product launches: the Macintosh in 1984, the NeXt Computer in 1988 and the iMac in 1998. Jobs exhibits his brilliance as a thinker and businessperson but also his difficulties with considering the feelings of others and maintaining his personal life. He focuses on his own creative vision to the exclusion of all else, leading to strain with his business partners, family and investors.

For those who are taking on leadership roles, Jobs is a positive example in many ways. He shows how a commitment to quality work, creative thinking and constant progress can lead to success. As portrayed in the film, however, he also shows the danger of forgetting about the human element of business. Considering the needs of your colleagues can be just as important as your own goals.

5. The Big Short

This 2015 film dramatizes the accounts of the financial crisis provided by Michael Lewis in his nonfiction book of the same title. Hedge-fund manager Michael Burry, played by Christian Bale, spots the instability in the housing market and develops the idea of a credit default swap market, pinning his profits to the failures of mortgage-backed securities.

As the movie shows, any idea for making money in finance will quickly attract interest from people willing to take a risk. Ryan Gosling, Steve Carell and Brad Pitt all play fictionalized versions of figures in Lewis’s book who took advantage of Burry’s ideas.

Injecting humor into the story of the housing bubble, the film also serves as a primer in the relevant financial products. Celebrities like Margot Robbie, Anthony Bourdain and Selena Gomez offer clear explanations of concepts such as subprime mortgages and collateralized debt obligations. Director and co-writer Adam McKay cautions against the unscrupulous use of these products while educating a wider audience who may have been affected by the housing crisis without ever comprehending why.

An MBA and your career

If you’re ready to be more than a spectator in the world of finance, an MBA can be a major step forward. Villanova University’s Online MBA program offers a specialization in finance, developing the skills and knowledge necessary to take a leadership role in the field. Visit the program page to learn about the curriculum and how to apply.