I love to watch documentaries to learn more about a variety of different topics. There are many kinds of documentary films that are typically informative and entertaining. They range from following one individual’s experience to addressing a broad swath of social ills. Here is my list of the best money documentaries to learn how money works.
Documentaries to Learn How Money Works
There are a few good documentaries out there that help explain personal finance concepts. Not surprisingly, in this age of digital streaming, many of these are about hyper-modern issues such as cryptocurrency. While they may touch on individual lives and/or social issues, their overall benefit is in teaching the viewer the basic concepts of specific aspects of finance.
This film provides a basic understanding of the negative impact credit cards can have on your life. I’m fairly comfortable with my knowledge about credit cards and debt. Nevertheless, it provided a good refresher.
Maxed Out provides insight into the ways debt affects individuals. In contrast, Life and Debt explores how debt affects countries. If you are interested in international debt lending, then watch this film.
This was one of the first documentary movies that I ever watched about cryptocurrency. It provided me with a solid foundation for a better understanding of what this modern money is all about.
If you feel like sometimes you get in your own way when it comes to investing your money, then you might want to learn more about market psychology. David Dreman is the person to teach you. His theories often go against the norm, which is precisely why you may learn something new from this documentary.
People today are hungry for connection. Time banking is a unique approach to connecting neighbors with one another. It’s a cashless network of trading services with one another. If you’re interested in learning more about this unique approach to reducing dependence on money, then this documentary will teach you all that you need to know.
This PBS documentary provides insightful information to people who want to learn more about the financial aspect of retirement.
Documentaries About the History of Money
There are some films like the above that showcase specific techniques for personal finance. However, I often learn the most about personal finance from movies that provide a broad overview of the history of money. Some are general, whereas others are about specific niches.
Almost all of the documentaries I’ve seen about the history of money have a negative tone. This is the exception. It posits the question of whether a modern financial crisis can also be a beautiful opportunity. It looks at the history of money through this lens.
This film puts today’s issues into better perspective for me. This film examines 500 years of financial history around the world. It does a particularly good job of illuminating the early days of the modern banking system.
This is a powerful examination of the history of poverty in developing nations. It looks back across time and examines the inequity of power and money.
One of the aspects of money that I personally have had the most trouble understanding is the financial value of art. It’s a complex issue, which this documentary addressed in depth. It explores a comprehensive history of the relationship between these two fundamental aspects of society. While I can’t say that I have any better knowledge of how to invest in art myself, after viewing the film, I do have a better understanding of the complexity of this unique niche of finance.
This is a 4-hour PBS Frontline investigation into banking and the Wall Stree bailout. Arguably, this is one of the money documentaries that could fall into the category of “socio-cultural.” However, its broad overview of the history of modern finance makes it particularly educational. If you find yourself sometimes baffled by Wall Street investing and want to learn more about how we got where we are today then check this one out.
I think the Frontline, as mentioned earlier documentary covers this same topic really well. However, Inside Job is the more popular documentary about it.
Socio-Cultural Money Documentaries
Some of my favorite money documentaries are those that look at socio-cultural issues through the lens of finance. We all know that money plays a huge role in everything from politics to prison reform, not to mention issues related explicitly to poverty and the income gap. It’s not the only issue, but it’s an issue that can’t be ignored. Here are the best of these documentaries:
This is one of my favorite movies about our societal fascination with wealth as well as the consumerism that results from it. Filmmaker Lauren Greenfield has done a number of projects about money and culture over the years. This is a culmination of that work. It’s an in-depth investigation into many aspects of what she’s studied before, touching on the intersection of money with body image and the beauty industry, workaholism, and, as Amazon Studios describes it in the YouTube trailer: “the human costs of capitalism, narcissism, and greed.”
No mention of Generation Wealth should go without also highlighting one of Greenfield’s most powerful earlier works: Kids + Money. She interviews Los Angeles teens, ranging from the super-rich to those living in poverty, about the way that money affects their lives. It’s a short film, scarcely longer than half an hour. Yet, it is so powerful. Juxtaposing these different statements creates an overarching view of how money affects the trajectories of life for American kids.
This film is the antidote to Generation Wealth. It addresses similar issues of consumption. However, it does so through the lens of people who have chosen to forego that in favor of a minimalist lifestyle.
If you’re interested in money’s impact on society, then you’ve probably already read this popular book. Have you seen the film? It applies economic theories to an examination of various aspects of our culture in a way that is accessible even if you don’t generally feel comfortable discussing economics.
If you are interested in learning more about the intersection of health care and money, then this is one of the money documentaries you’ll want to see. It digs into the various practices that pharmaceutical companies use to gain immense profits, potentially at the cost of individual health.
If you’re fascinated by the role that money plays in 21st-century American politics, then you might want to watch this documentary. As described on the film’s website it is “a deep dive into the Republicans’ dark operation, Crosscheck” investigating “the billionaires behind this voting scam” including “top GOP donors, the billionaire known as “The Vulture” and the Koch brothers.” The film definitely comes from a particular perspective. In fact, they say on the site that the aim to “expose the darkest plans of the uber-rich to steal America’s democracy.” However, regardless of your political views, it shows some interesting information about the role money may play in elections today.
Documentaries About Individuals and Their Money
People and their money are so fascinating. Many of us love the opportunity to learn more about how very wealthy people acquire and spend their money. At the other extreme, we may be intrigued to see stories about people who live with as little as possible. Here are the best money documentaries about individuals:
James Simons is a mathematician and code-breaker. He’s also a billionaire investor, thanks in no small part to his unique use of algorithms to assist him in improving his investments. This documentary explores his career.
Yale and Harvard graduate and attorney Marc Dreier had a decent life. He wanted an even more lavish one. He ended up embezzling more than $400 million. This documentary is a discussion about the choices that lead him to that point, filmed as he awaits sentencing. This is one of those money documentaries that shows us the dark side of greed at an individual level.
Documentaries about Steve Jobs
There are so many different documentaries about the wealthy Apple founder. Watching several of them provides an interesting overview of his life. There’s no escaping that his money is a part of that life. Billion Dollar Hippy is probably the one that addresses that aspect most directly.
Remember The Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous? If you loved it, then this documentary is for you.
This slightly older (2003) documentary is almost a foreshadowing of the two aforementioned Greenfield films. It’s a look at the lives about one dozen heirs to a fortune. It’s also autobiographical; the documentarian is an heir to the Johnson and Johnson fortune. He’s exploring the experience of feeling silenced about his wealth. It’s a side of rich life we don’t often see examined. Notably, he followed this documentary with another called The One Percent.
Are there any money documentaries that I’ve missed and must check out? Let me know in the comments below!