Today marks the 30th anniversary of the release of Oliver Stone’s film Wall Street. But three decades on, we need to see the film as it was intended and not as something aspirational.
The film was intended to be a cautionary tale on the dangers of unchecked ambition and greed. Instead, it became a siren call to the amoral and greedy.
Upon its release in 1987 it wasn’t a huge box office hit, having a poor opening weekend. It became a word of mouth slow-burner but still only ended up taking $43.8 million at the box office – about a quarter of that taken by Three Men and a Baby – but it’s effect on society was something that the people involved had never intended.
Douglas has said he would be more than happy if he never had “one more drunken Wall Street broker come up to me and say, ‘You’re the man!” as Douglas, unlike many, was aware that he was the bad guy in the film. He got his comeuppance at the end, but that seemingly didn’t deter people from following his character into a career in Wall Street.
“I can’t tell you how many young people have come up to me in these years and said, ‘I went to Wall Street because of that movie.’” Stone told the New York Times. Again, people either missing the message of the film or choosing not to see it as dollar signs were blurring their vision.
The film’s screenwriter Stanley Weiser told the Los Angeles Times that he was regularly approached by people who told him, “The movie changed my life. Once I saw it I knew that I wanted to get into such and such business. I wanted to be like Gordon Gekko”. He went on to add, “if director Oliver Stone and I had a nickel for every time someone uttered the words ‘greed is good’ we could have bought up the remains of Lehman Brothers.”
The film also had a profound effect on how people already in the industry dressed. For a start, it helped to bring back suspenders to the forefront of fashion. Costume designer Ellen Mirojnick says she got a call from the fashion editor at the Los Angeles Times, who told her Los Angeleans were slicking their hair back and wearing suspenders. She said: “Gordon was a villain — who knew people would want to dress like the villain?”
Even now, we have seen people walking out of financial institutions in London, New York and Hong Kong with a look that has more than a hint of Gecko about it. We’ve seen it in the last 12 months. Blue with white contrast collars and cuffs and slicked back hair is still apparent in the industry.
Rogue elements and unchecked practices in the banking industry tanked the economy in 2008 and we’re still feeling the effects of that now. We probably will be for years to come.The spiritual sons of Gordon Gecko got their revenge on us all. Bankers have become the villains of our current malaise, but again we shrug and look to blame others, somehow seeing the world of high-finance as something aspirational.
It’s a great film, worth re-watching on its 30th anniversary, not least of all for the performance of the amoral Gordon Gecko – a role which won Douglas the best actor award at the Oscars. But let’s drop the idea that there was anything about him to aspire to – either career wise or (now the ’80s have passed) sartorially.