One can argue, rather easily, the reason we are in such a financial mess today is greed. There are, of course, different dimensions to this greed. Whether it be deregulation, or approving mortgages to people at astronomical interest rates that had no money, well, pick your poison. So, perhaps, while we try to kill time while waiting in the unemployment line together, we can find some solace in remembering some of the greediest characters from motion pictures and their eventual comeuppance.
5. Michael Brantley (Tom Everett Scott)
- Boiler Room
A poor man's Gorden Gekko if there ever was one. In fact, trusted members of his management act out scenes from Wall Street
while watching it on television. Unfortunately, not being able to steal money the (a-hem) legal way, Brantley has set up a two-bit brokerage house on Long Island designed solely to drive up the price of gutted companies, which produces a windfall of money for his firm, but leaves the investor at a total loss.
Based on real-life organizations that were set up during the economic boom of the late 1990's (those were the days) to take advantage of investors who were looking to be a "part of the action," Brantley is the focal point of an entire organization of thieves that are all doing well personally, so they do not want to know too much about what they are doing or selling.
Eventually, Seth (Giovanni Ribisi
), contracts a case of a bad conscience and brings down the entire organization after being contacted himself by the F.B.I. Our first lesson that greed does not pay.
4. Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman)
There had to be at least one evil-genius super-villain on this list and no one fits the bill quite like Mr. Luthor. Not in possession of an actual super power himself, his greed and genius drives the sinister plans that he hatches against the world. In the 1978 film Superman
, Luthor purchases miles and miles of land in the Nevada desert. Now, a simple real estate transaction may not seem
like an act of greed all by itself. But, when one realizes Luthor has developed a plan to divert a nuclear missile to California in an effort to detach our thirty-first state into the Pacific ocean, anointing Luthor's Nevada property the new, highly valuable, west coast ... well, that seems to qualify on the greed scale.
Luthor actually gets away with this, which proves that sometimes greed does pay off. Oh wait, never mind ... Superman just flew counter to the Earth's rotation at the speed of light, therefore reversing time and thwarting Luthor's plan. No, that is certainly not a cop out on an otherwise fantastic movie. No, really, great ending ... Superman should just do that every time he loses (taking a deep breath).
3. Mortimer Duke (Don Ameche)
- Trading Places
One half of the infamous Duke & Duke brothers who infamously bet one dollar on the outcome that involved turning a socialite, Louis (Dan Aykroyd
), into a criminal and, conversely, at the same time, rehabilitate a criminal, Billy Ray (Eddie Murphy
). This act alone would classify the both of them as diabolical, certainly, but would it justify a label of greedy? Perhaps not.
What entrenches Mortimer Duke on this list is the act of trying to corner the market of frozen concentrated orange juice. Mortimer, and his brother Randolph (Ralph Bellamy
), pay to have an early report delivered to them that forecasts how the weather affected the orange supply, thus allowing them to have insider information and investing accordingly in the futures market.
Of course, their plan did not work because Louis and Billy Ray -- having discovered the plot against them -- conspired against the Duke brothers by stealing the original report and giving them a bogus projection. The Duke brothers thought -- because of the forged report -- there would be a short supply of oranges, thereby increasing demand. They bought as much of the futures stock as they could before the official report was announced. When it was at its highest amount Billy Ray and Louis sold frozen concentrated orange juice contracts -- even though they did not own any at the time, in the futures market this is not required, this is merely a promise to sell at that price -- right before the announcement.
Of course, there was no shortage in the orange crop and the price tanked. When it reached its lowest point Louis and Billy Ray bought the contracts they had promised to sell at the high point. This effectively made both of them millionaires in the matter of minutes and bankrupted the Duke brothers.
You may ask:
Why Mortimer Duke and not Randolph? When they realized they were both broke, this caused Randolph to have a heart attack. As Randolph lay dying on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, all Mortimer could care to think about was how to get those machines back on.
2. Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas)
- Wall Street
When one compiles a list such as this there is a tendency to try to avoid the obvious. It is quite difficult to not include a character who is best known for the line, "greed, for lack of a better word, is good," in a list of greedy movie characters, no?
Gordon Gekko is the poster boy for what every average American thinks is the essence of what went wrong in our current economic downturn. Of course, it is much more complicated than that, but, it is fun to hate him and people like him, nevertheless.
Gekko -- already a very wealthy man -- eventually went to prison because he always had to have the edge in any transaction he made, which, of course, usually meant insider trading. The good news is that while the rest of us eat our ramen noodles this evening, it looks
like Mr. Gekko will re-enter all of our lives in the sequel Money Never Sleeps
. Boy, is he in for a surprise.
1. Jimmy Conway (Robert De Niro)
We can all agree Gorden Gekko was one greedy bastard, but, he never killed anyone over money (as far as we know) like Conway did.
After the bold Lufthansa Heist -- which, in real life, at the time was the largest cash robbery in the United States -- Jimmy methodically, one-by-one, "whacked" everyone that had anything to do with the crime as opposed to actually paying them their earned percentage of the over five million dollars stolen. Come on now: If there was ever a definition of greed, that has
to be as close as it gets.
If there was anything good to come out of Jimmy's killing spree -- who is based on real life gangster Jimmy Burke -- it was the beautiful ... that's right, beautiful ... montage of Conway's victims as their bodies were discovered, set to the end of Laya
by Derek and the Dominoes. Pure greed at its grizzly, yet, poignant core.
Story by Mike Ryan
Starpulse contributing writer