White-collar crime films often give way to the financial sector. The criminals are hoarded off to the monotonous offices where crooks dress in suits to act as if they are above the law. While the definition of the crime is non-violent, the violence is felt elsewhere. Like, in recent years, the financial crisis of 2008 has been the subject of many films, told in a serious glib nature as intended or with satiric undertones like that of Adam McKay in The Big Short.
The offenses depicted in white collar crime films are not victimless, and most of the movies here take the gravity of the egomaniacs running amok with corruption with serious weight. These films’ essences boil down to corporate, paperwork thrillers where the devil of the crime lies in the details. These are the best white-collar crime movies, ranked.
10/10 Putney Swope
Told with a fit of political anger and a clear detest of the Madison Avenue elite of the 1960s, Putney Swope is Robert Downey Sr.’s clear-eyed satire of the financial world. Told in a peculiar rhythm, like a series of sketches ironing out all the political mishaps and double standards of crooks in suits, Downey Sr. points his finger at the racist establishment with dark comedic guile. The film ends on a glib note: all idealism succumbs to the powers of corrupt institutions.
9/10 Boiler Room
The low-end version of a film like Glengarry Glenn Ross from a fiery young director in Ben Younger, where a bunch of cocky, stuck-up white guys in their 20s tries to make a name for themselves as they attempt to outsell each other in their scumbag ways. Boiler Room takes a great ensemble, including a hilariously braggadocio turn from Vin Diesel as he makes cold calls seem like a high ceremony. The film centers on people trying to find a right in a world that isn’t what it seems. Focusing on the corrupt nature of investment firms, everyone involved is nearly destined to rot. The back end of the cast includes names like Ben Affleck, Scott Caan, Jamie Kennedy, and Barry Pepper. Ensuring rousing, funny, and quotable speeches from scene to scene as the exertion of lowed financial schemes come into place.
8/10 Margin Call
Making the language of the financial elite — which may be a foreign language itself — into compelling dialogue surrounding the economic collapse of the criminals who chose to exploit the laws many can barely comprehend, gives J.C. Chandor’s Margin Call all of its power. Championing the sly, dark prowess of actors like Jeremy Irons and Kevin Spacey, Chandor keeps the film tight as we weave from cold office to dark corridors, creating a fictionalized look at the 2008 financial crisis. Showing the cold heart of the private sector that sunk this country into a recession.
7/10 Wall Street
Oliver Stone’s cautionary tale of unbridled ambition in the financial sector is a warning to anyone who thinks they can get out of the money game clean. “Greed is good,” uttered Michael Douglas’ infamous Gordon Gekko, whose greasy, conniving charisma lures the young Charlie Sheen into a world he thinks he is ready to inhabit. Wall Street is a great white-collar crime film because of its depiction and indictment of the business sector, but also because Stone has a fine eye for 80s decadence and financial excess.
The aching humanity of Mike Nichols’ work is his natural ability to make terrain unfamiliar feel lived in and relatable. From the domesticity of the house where three union workers live — a sensational ensemble of Cher, Kurt Russell, and Meryl Streep — and see their life upended when they discover the dangers of being exposed to radiation. Based on the true story of Margaret Silkwood, played with a southern delicacy by thetransformative Meryl Streep, who was killed after exposing the corrupt practices of the plutonium factory where she worked for several years. Nichols’ deft balance of dread and terror mixed with romantics make the film an absolute knockout. Silkwood is a film with a cynic edge that gets right under your skin.
5/10 The Wolf of Wall Street
When tackling the most corrupt people, Martin Scorsese decided the only way to do it would be a farce. Teaming up again with his superstar muse, Scorsese surrounded Leonardo DiCaprio with an ensemble that could match his high energy with improvisational comedy. So, there was no better option in the supporting role than Jonah Hill. The team-up of DiCaprio and Hill as the two scam artists that ripped off millions of Americans as they rose their way to the top of the Wall Street ladder was despicable, but always watchable. Scorsese always knows how to lean into how appealing and fun a gangster lifestyle is, but always reminds his audience the bad guys never make it out on top. Showing the insatiable taste for greed, The Wolf of Wall Street depicts the crimes in New York high-rises for what it is.
4/10 The Big Short
The first film that would set the studio comedy innovator down the drain of more serious work, The Big Short is Adam McKay’s delicately balanced film of satire and seriousness about the crude nature of the financial sector that would cause the downfall of the housing market. Understanding the grimace and pain caused to so many families, McKay explains the rules of loans to us like we’re five, getting big-time celebrities like Margot Robbie to break the fourth wall during narrative beats that may have been confusing. Also, pulling great work from a varied ensemble of actors where the strengths of comedy and drama meet beautifully. Ranging from a grungy, tech-savant played by Brad Pitt or the bullish Steve Carrell, the film weaves its messages in an entertaining, non-preachy glee.
3/10 All The Presidents Men
Directed by 1970s paranoid-conspiracy auteur Alan Pakula and the lens of legendary cinematographer Gordon Willis, the two created a sophisticated visual language to enamor and compliment the material already rife with institutional suspicion. Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman play the two journalists who become entangled in one of the biggest corruption scandals in political history. The pair slowly realize the immensity of the Watergate Hotel robbery as it pertains to President Richard Nixon and his corruptible cabinet as they’ve engaged in highly illegal activity. They gain information from the mysterious “Deep Throat” and uncover what it means for the country. It’s an exhilarating piece of procedural, but All The President’s Men highlights how important the work of journalists is amidst a white-collar chief scandal.
2/10 Catch Me if You Can
Steven Spielberg’s only collaboration with the young stud Leonardo DiCaprio and his forever muse, Tom Hanks, Catch Me If You Can is the wildly entertaining romp of a con artist who uses his wits to rebel against a system he felt betrayed by. DiCaprio stars as real-life scam artist Frank Abagnale Jr., a young hustler who discovers how easy it is to defraud public banks through check fraud. Spielberg brings his elegant Hollywood romantics to show Abagnale as a reaction to the dynamic of his family disappearing. Spielberg also shows the painstaking detail and craftsmanship it took to cover his tracks, eventually becoming a pilot for Pan-Am. Catch Me If You Can is a great white-collar crime film and a subtle depiction of a lonely young man.
1/10 Michael Clayton
George Clooney proved why he was one of the most beloved superstars in the early part of the century with his leading performance in Michael Clayton. Broken by the hardship of working in corporate law, which strained relationships with his family, we find Clayton in the middle of a conspiracy, working as a corporate fixer. The poisoning of farmers by a huge billion-dollar firm is a bit of background noise that instead foregrounds Clooney attempting to save his soul as he navigates the pressures of being the arm of a cold, calculating machine. Equally compelling are Tom Wilkinson as the man Clooney fails to protect and Tilda Swinton (who won the Oscar) as the lawyer who knows no bounds to achieve her goals. But what stands out the most is Tony Gilroy’s god-level script, woven tightly to perfection.