Brick-sized cellphones, suits with suspenders, a normal-looking Charlie Sheen — so much has changed since Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street” arrived in theaters 30 years ago. The film, which returns for a limited theatrical engagement beginning Sept. 24, is more than just a time capsule, though. The story of a young stockbroker, Bud Fox (Sheen), seduced by an amoral power-monger named Gordon Gekko (Oscar-winning Michael Douglas), “Wall Street” is a virtually timeless fable of ambition, corruption and greed.
The rich irony of Stone’s film, of course, is that Gekko was received by many viewers not as villain but as hero. Not only did Gekko become a fashion icon thanks to his distinctive contrast-collar shirts (by costume designer Ellen Mirojnick and tailor Alex Kabbaz), he wound up inspiring countless would-be millionaires to join Wall Street. Douglas has said fans often approach him to cite Gekko as their reason for entering the world of finance — something neither the actor nor the filmmakers ever intended.
“We wanted to capture the hyper-materialism of the culture,” said Stanley Weiser, Stone’s co-writer, in a 2010 Vanity Fair article. “That was always the intent of the movie. Not to make Gordon Gekko a hero.”
“Wall Street” is so well-known that it’s become a kind of folk tale, endlessly cited and quoted by moviegoers. (Gekko never precisely said “Greed is good,” but that became his catchphrase, and it’s still instantly recognizable even today.) Still, there may be a few things about the film that may surprise even its fans. Here are six things you might not know about “Wall Street”:
Michael Douglas wasn’t the first choice to play Gordon Gekko.
“I was warned by everyone in Hollywood that Michael couldn’t act,” director Oliver Stone told Newsweek in 1987. Stone reportedly first considered two other major stars: Warren Beatty, whose last major project was the historical drama “Reds” (1981), and Richard Gere, still a hot ticket thanks to his 1982 hit romance “An Officer and a Gentleman,” but both passed. As it turned out, Douglas delivered the performance of a lifetime as the slick-haired, suspender-clad Gekko, and won the Oscar for best actor.
Darryl Hannah hated making the movie.
Hannah, an environmental activist and committed vegan, reportedly had a difficult time connecting with her character, Darien, a status-conscious interior decorator, and didn’t care much for Stone himself. Meanwhile, Sean Young, already cast as Gekko’s wife, kept lobbying for Hannah’s part. In a 2005 interview with the Hollywood Reporter, Stone recalled, “It got to a place where I said, ‘I’ve had enough!’ He ousted Young from the set but kept Hannah in her role. Nearly 20 years later, Hannah still couldn’t bring herself to watch the film. “I haven’t seen it,” she told WENN news service in 2005. “I didn’t want to relive that experience.”
Charlie Sheen helped his father get an important role.
The minor character of Carl Fox, Bud’s blue-collar father, is a major part of the movie’s moral message. Carl is based on Stone’s stockbroker father, Lou, and represents the values of hard work and honesty. When it came time to cast the role, Stone left the decision up to Charlie Sheen and gave him a choice between his real-life dad, Martin, or the legendary Jack Lemmon. The son chose the father, and their scenes together — often marked by tenderness and regret — give the movie its emotional heartbeat.
The screenplay contains an historical error.
Though released in 1987, “Wall Street” was set two years earlier, in 1985, when news was breaking about several financial industry scandals (one involving Stone’s friend Owen Morrissey, a Bridgehampton resident who dealt in commodities). Rewinding the film to 1985, however, led to an anachronism that appeared within the film’s opening 10 minutes. “Gekko’s beautiful,” says a sarcastic broker (John C. McGinley). “Thirty seconds after the Challenger blew up, he’s on the phone selling NASA stocks short.” The Challenger disaster, however, did not occur until the following year, 1986.
The movie came out immediately after 1987’s Black Monday.
With uncanny timing, “Wall Street” was released Dec. 11, just two months after the Oct. 19 stock market crash that started in Hong Kong before spreading to Europe and the United States. That gave an eerie prescience to the film’s finger-wagging tone, but Stone took no credit for clairvoyance. “People accused me of being a genius,” he told Vanity Fair in 2010. “I didn’t predict the stock-market crash. I had no idea.”
Reviews were mixed.
Though “Wall Street” quickly became a hit and now stands as a populist classic, critics often saw it as a simplistic story with a too-obvious moral. “ ‘Wall Street’ isn’t a movie to make one think,” wrote The New York Times, “it simply confirms what we all know we should think.” The Los Angeles Times called it “the ‘Reefer Madness’ of the brokerage world.” One thing critics agreed on, however, was Douglas’ performance. “Suddenly the lite romantic lead has become a virile dynamo,” wrote The Washington Post. “He’s cocky as a test pilot, amoral as a vampire and fanatic as the ayatollah.”
POWER, CORRUPTION AND LIES
Every few years or so, “Wall Street” serves as inspiration to another story of money, power and slippery morals. Here are five movies that followed in the footsteps of the 1987 original.
BOILER ROOM (2000) Ben Younger’s drama focuses on a group of young brokers — played by Ben Affleck, Vin Diesel, Giovanni Ribisi and others — who love to quote “Wall Street” and peddle nonexistent stock. It was inspired partly by the Melville-based brokerage firm Sterling Foster.
MARGIN CALL (2011) This re-creation of the 2007-08 financial crisis featured Zachary Quinto as a young analyst who sounds the alarm on the pending financial collapse: Jeremy Irons plays the CEO who puts his company’s survival ahead of the country’s economic health.
THE WOLF OF WALL STREET (2013) Martin Scorsese’s biopic features Leonardo DiCaprio as Jordan Belfort, who founded the highflying brokerage firm Stratton Oakmont, based in Lake Success, but was eventually indicted on securities fraud and money laundering. The film was nominated for five Oscars, including best picture.
THE BIG SHORT (2015) Steve Carell, Christian Bale, John Magaro and Finn Witrock play financiers who not only spotted the ’08 economic collapse coming, they bet big on it. Directed and co-written by Adam McKay from Michael Lewis’ nonfiction book.
EQUITY (2016) A female-centric twist on “Wall Street,” starring Anna Gunn as Naomi Bishop, a slightly kinder and gentler Gekko who is trying to lead the IPO of a flashy tech company called Cachet. The cast and principal crew, including writer Amy Fox and director Meera Menon, are almost all women.
— RAFER GUZMÁN
WHAT “Wall Street” screens Sept. 24 and 27, at 2 and 7 p.m. at Stony Brook 17, 2196 Nesconset Hwy.
INFO Tickets are $12.50. Go to fathomevents.com