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"There are three ways to make a living in this business; be first, be smarter, or cheat. Now, I don't cheat. And, although I like to think we have some pretty smart people in this building, it sure is a hell of a lot easier to just be first."
John Tuld

A 2011 drama film set at a Wall Street investment bank during the financial crisis of 2007–10, written and directed by J.C. Chandor and featuring an All-Star Cast.

Sam Rogers (Kevin Spacey) is one of the senior executives at an unnamed investment firm in New York City. After the firm fires a number of employees on their trading floor, their former head of the Risk Management department, Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci), attempts to warn his bosses regarding a project he is working on, but to no avail. As he is leaving the building, Dale gives his project to analyst Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto) and warns him to "be careful". Sullivan subsequently analyzes Dale's project and discovers that the firm's holdings are excessively leveraged, and will doom the firm if their market value goes down.

During a high-stakes meeting with senior company executives, including the firm's CEO John Tuld (Jeremy Irons) and head of trading Will Emerson (Paul Bettany), Rogers and Sullivan reveal the impact of Dale's findings, and they subsequently realize that they will need to sell off the now-toxic company assets in order to save the firm.

Got a Spiritual Successor in the HBO movie Too Big to Fail which depicted the actual consequences of what Lehman Brothers did.


  • Affably Evil: John Tuld is ruthless as all hell, but good lord is he likable and it's genuine.
  • Amicable Exes: Sam and his ex-wife are civil to one another but, while she's sympathetic towards him, she pointedly leaves as soon as possible and makes clear that she wants him off her property as soon as he's done burying his dog. The property became hers because of a somewhat messy and one-sided divorce.
  • Apathy Killed the Cat: Averted. Partly due to the respect he has for him, Peter can't help but check the USB stick Eric left for him just before being escorted out the premises. He soon discovers the firm's long exceeded the historical volatility levels of its mortgage-backed securities.
  • Armor-Piercing Response: Sam emphatically tells Tuld his plan to sell off the toxic assets will not only mean no-one will trust the firm again, but no-one will even trust the market. Tuld points out that if they don't sell the toxic assets there probably won't be a firm to save. Sam repeatedly tells him they can, but at what cost?
    Sam: You will never sell anything to those people ever again.
    Tuld: I understand.
    Sam: Do you?
    Tuld: Do you? This is IT! I'm telling you, this is it!
  • Artistic License – Economics: In-Universe. The top executives of the bank don't understand the products they sell. Which unfortunately is realistic.
    Will Emerson: I don't even know what it is that you guys do.
    Sam Rogers: I can't read that, explain it to me in English.
    John Tuld: Maybe you could tell me what you think is going on here. And please, speak as you might to a young child. Or a golden retriever. It wasn't brains that got me here, I can assure you of that.
    • It should be noted that all of them realize the problem once it is explained in English, they simply didn't understand the intricacies of the model that was used. Though the last character listed, the CEO, is the slowest to realize it, although that's because he thinks it is in his interest to play dumb at that moment.
  • Artistic License – History: Eric Dale's math about how much time his bridge connecting Moundsville, WV and Dilles Bottom, OH is seemingly based on the assumption that without it the people using it would have had to drive either to Wheeling or New Martinsville, WV to cross the Ohio River. In reality, the two communities were connected by a ferry prior to the bridge's construction, and the nearby Bellaire Bridge provided crossing (albeit with a toll) over the Ohio River as well.
  • Based on a True Story: The events are based on the real-life build up to the 2008 financial crisis and Goldman Sachs narrowly avoiding collapse (which is what happened to the Lehman Brothers, who failed to sell off their toxic assets first). See also No Celebrities Were Harmed below.
  • Black-and-Grey Morality: Numerous people point out on several occasions that their actions are about to result in financial meltdown. Numerous other characters point out that if they don't act, someone else will do it first and ruin them.
  • Boisterous Weakling: Sarah tries to threaten Jared Cohen by telling him that if he tries to force her out, she'll take him with her — to which Jared scoffs. In the end, she's forced to be senior management's sacrificial lamb and has to impotently spend a day locked away with no idea if the company will screw her over her exit package. Largely justified because it's strongly implied that she had Eric Dale fired after he warned her a year before that their holdings were over-leveraged; firing him would let her claim ignorance and try to avoid becoming the scapegoat.
  • Book Ends: Both principal days the film takes place over end with mass layoffs, but for differing reasons — penny-pinching on the Thursday and the impending financial collapse on the Friday, the latter triggers Sam to seriously consider quitting the firm, though he is swayed to stay on for a further 24 months by Tuld.
  • But for Me, It Was Tuesday: Tuld holds this attitude at the end of the film when Rogers confronts him in the restaurant. Rogers is sick to his stomach, refuses to eat, and is contemplating quitting the firm due to his own actions instigating the fire sale. In contrast, Tuld continues to sit and eat his meal comfortably, and pointedly tells Rogers that what happened is no different from a variety of fire sales and market crashes that have happened throughout the last several hundred years, even stating all of them by year to demonstrate how comparatively common it is. He also implies that he lost far more in 1987 ("Black Tuesday") than he did during the events of the film's storyline.
  • Cardboard Box of Unemployment: At the beginning and end of this film, layoffs are prefaced by HR walking in with stacks of boxes to give to those whose jobs are being cut.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Sam's dog, who we learn is terminally ill very early in the film. After a brief scene where he holds her shortly thereafter, she reappears only in the final scene, where he buries her in the front yard of the house he lost to his ex-wife.
  • Chromosome Casting: With the exception of Sarah Robertson, the HR team, and a very brief appearance of Sam's ex-wife at the end, every speaking role in the film is played by a male. Truth in Television, as the worlds of banking and finance are dominated by men - and at the time the film was made this was even more the case than it is now.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: All over the place. Not surprising since much of the film revolves meetings discussing extremely high stakes under considerable time pressure.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Most of the firm's senior managers, with the exception of Sam Rogers, who warns his boss and colleagues that the mass selloff they have planned to save the firm will destroy any credibility of the firm and anyone acting on its behalf have accumulated in the market. After it succeeds, he asks the company's CEO if he can leave the firm.
  • Credits Gag: The end credits make reference to a "Jeremy Irons Visa Miracle Team", referring to a number of participants in in the film's production who were able to secure a work Visa for Irons to enter the U.S. and film his scenes in New York.
  • Deal with the Devil:
    • The firm can save itself only if it engages in deceptive business practices on a massive scale for one trading day, causing large ripple effects around the entire market and costing it its hard-earned credibility and the trust of its customers.
    • Sam Rogers is the most morally conflicted of the firm's senior management because of the damage that initiating the recession will do to their reputation. Nevertheless, he's effectively bribed into going along with it by CEO John Tuld, then finds himself forced into staying on with the firm even after offering his resignation because he still really needs the money.
  • Death Glare:
    • While it's only visible for a moment, one of the unnamed executives in the emergency meeting flashes a rather dirty look at the back of Sarah Robertson's head upon hearing that Eric Dale was let go and rendered incommunicado hours before the meeting.
    • Jared Cohen gives a more subdued one in the earlier meeting to Sarah for the same reason, although it's more a stare of disbelief at her actions.
    • Tuld gives an aside glance at both Jared and Sarah after it looks like Peter might feel intimidated by the two of them while he's giving the briefing.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: It's very strongly implied by Will and Eric that Sarah Robertson either engineered Eric's firing or used the layoffs as cover to get rid of him, because he tried to warn management that their holdings had become over-leveraged on her watch.
  • Driven to Suicide:
    • Toyed with by Will just before Tuld arrives, as he basically dangles over the railing at the top of the building for fun.
    • Also a semi-serious concern with freshly-fired and unreachable Eric Dale. He's fine and implies that he's been missing because he knows what is about to happen despite his efforts.
  • Downer Ending: A Foregone Conclusion due to the actual 2008 economic crisis. The firm's plan works and the toxic assets are distributed throughout the economy, but they've ruined their own reputation for it and heavily contributed to the wider crisis. The film's most sympathetic characters are either unemployed, or unable to escape the corruption of the firm; Peter, Eric, and Sam all make large financial gains at the cost of a severe guilty conscience for being unable to stop it, while Word of God confirms that Seth was fired during the final round of post-movie layoffs and Peter (despite wanting to resign) ultimately remained and was promoted. To top it all off, the people most responsible neither suffer any real consequences nor learn anything. Near the end, Tuld comments "there's going to be a lot of money to be made coming out of all this."
  • Evil Brit: John Tuld. He's the most ruthless person in the film by a country mile. Will Emerson has his moments but is fundamentally nicer.
  • Exact Words:
    • Tuld claims "It wasn't brains that got me here, I can assure you of that." but that doesn't mean he isn't smart, it just means it isn't the main reason he's in charge.
    • During the fire sale, Will constantly opens his pitch to the other traders with "My loss is your gain." As he's selling toxic assets, they've gained his loss.
    • "No loose ends," as Cohen states more than once for Sam's benefit and the rest of the executive team. After the fire sale is completed, Cohen gives Sam this exact same response while justifying how other traders will be let go by HR.
  • Extremely Short Timespan:
    • The movie starts Thursday afternoon and ends Friday at 5 (except for an epilogue which is probably Friday night).
    • The fire-sale itself which everything hinges on takes place inside a handful of minutes, is told only from Will's POV and is pretty much free of actual suspense.
  • Firing Day: Eric Dale is brutally dismissed: his company phone is turned off, his access to the office building is revoked, and he's escorted out by security the moment that his desk is cleared out. Then the firm realizes that he had crucial information and tries to contact him.
  • The Fixer: The minor character Carmelo is this for Tuld; when the latter finds Eric has been dismissed and is incommunicado, he immediately orders Carmelo to find and bring him back, which to which he responds with a blunt "It's done." He ultimately brings Eric back by more or less paying him three million dollars to sit in a room without speaking a word to anyone outside the company for most of a day.
  • From Bad to Worse: What drives the initial disbelief and panic is the discovery of projected losses exceeding the market capitalization of the firm. When Tuld chairs the senior meeting he and Peter Sullivan, from different directions, arrive at that figure being a better-case scenario.
  • Glasses Pull: Used via Rule of Symbolism. As Rogers delivers his speech about the coming sale (and what it will do to their reputations) just prior to the fire sale, his tone indicates that he's toeing the company line. Towards the end, he pulls his glasses off and his tone changes, becoming much more frank and pointed while explaining how it will impact them. He concludes the speech by putting his glasses back on and transitioning back into the same cold corporate-speak demeanor.
  • Good with Numbers:
    • Most of Eric's post-firing lines revolve around random ad-hoc calculations he's constantly doing in his head, including the number of hours saved by users of his bridge in Ohio/West Virginia, and the amount of money he's making per hour to sit at the firm's headquarters.
    • There's also Peter, a literal rocket scientist who switched careers because "it's all just numbers really, just changing what you're adding up." Though his brilliance is a little more off-screen.
  • Have You Told Anyone Else?: This gets asked to Peter several times about his calculations (mostly because Sarah is trying to shift the blame away from herself since Eric Dale specifically warned her of the over-leveraging a full year before the film's events). The answer is always that Eric Dale started them. This being a more grounded story, no one actually tries to murder anyone, but Tuld does send a goon to give Eric An Offer You Can't Refuse (again using non-lethal threats).
  • History Repeats: Tuld points out that financial crises have been around for as long as finance... and that there's always money to be made coming out of them in a speech that essentially puts a sugar-coating on Humans Are Bastards. Likely the reason Tuld rebukes Sam's concerns about their reputation repeatedly. He's proven correct.
    Tuld: So you think we might have put a few people out of business today, that it's all for naught. You've been doing that every day for almost forty years, Sam. And if this is all for naught then so is everything out there. It's just money; it's made up. Pieces of paper with pictures on it so we don't have to kill each other just to get something to eat. It's not wrong. And it's certainly no different today than it's ever been. 1637, 1797, 1819, 37, 57, 84, 1901, 07, 29, 1937, 1974, 1987 — Jesus, didn't that fuck up me up good — 92, 97, 2000 and whatever we want to call this. It's all just the same thing over and over; we can't help ourselves. And you and I can't control it, or stop it, or even slow it. Or even ever-so-slightly alter it. We just react. And we make a lot money if we get it right. And we get left by the side of the road if we get it wrong. And there have always been and there always will be the same percentage of winners and losers, happy foxes and sad sacks, fat cats and starving dogs in this world. Yeah, there may be more of us today than there's ever been... but the percentages... they stay exactly the same.
  • Honor Before Reason: This is the core of Tuld and Sam's confrontation. Sam, despite understanding the nature and scale of the threat, abhors the idea of selling assets the firm knows to be worth little if anything of face value to trusting buyers. Tuld's position is that what he wants Sam to do is his necessary job, Sam's job has always been to enter advantageous deals for the firm and that there is no honor among Wall Street. See also History Repeats above.
    • Will Emerson is bribed by Cohen with Sam's job if Sam refuses to go ahead with the selloffs. Will angrily rebukes him before going to find Eric.
  • Humans Are Bastards: Emerson deconstructs this to Seth, pointing out that people scream equality and fairness all the time, but it's actually the last thing they want when the economy crashes and they're living way beyond their means to afford their huge mortgaged houses and expensive cars.
  • I Did What I Had to Do: A frequent justification invoked before and after the sell-off.
    • Will Emerson even goes on a rant about this and how the average American was just as much to blame as they were.
    Will Emerson: Jesus, Seth. Listen, if you really wanna do this with your life you have to believe you're necessary and you are. People wanna live like this in their cars and big fuckin' houses they can't even pay for, then you're necessary. The only reason that they all get to continue living like kings is cause we got our fingers on the scales in their favor. I take my hand off and then the whole world gets really fuckin' fair really fuckin' quickly and nobody actually wants that. They say they do, but they don't. They want what we have to give them but they also wanna, you know, play innocent and pretend they have no idea where it came from. Well, that's more hypocrisy than I'm willing to swallow, so fuck 'em. Fuck normal people.
    You know, the funny thing is, tomorrow if all of this goes tits up they're gonna crucify us for being too reckless, but if we're wrong and everything gets back on track? Well then, the same people are gonna laugh 'til they piss their pants cause we're gonna all look like the biggest pussies God ever let through the door.
  • Infodump: The meeting with the executives and department heads serves as one for the audience, with Peter providing a simplified explanation of the company's problems, the risk model used to calculate these problems, and how boned the company is likely to be if they sit on their hands.
  • Intelligence Equals Isolation: Peter Sullivan, a Ph.D. in (literally) rocket science, stays in all evening to look over the file his boss gave him just before being laid off while his coworkers and new boss go out to nightclubs.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Will Emerson is a prick regarding how regular people's attitudes towards money are a massive contributor to the impending financial meltdown, yet he genuinely cares about his co-workers (especially Sam and Eric) and wants them to make the best of the situation they can get. After taxes and his mortgage, his next listed expense is sending money home to support his parents, to the tune of $150,000 per year (12% of his take-home pay).
  • Jerkass Has a Point:
    • Cohen and Tuld's instinct to unload everything is fundamentally correct. Cohen might just be in over his head and scared but Tuld explains to Rogers in detail that he understands how damaging it will be for the firm — but that if the firm does nothing it will no longer exist, as he fully expects several others will not. In that case, reputation would not exactly be worth much. Tuld, as the firm's CEO, also has ultimate responsibility to the shareholders of his firm, not any of their competitors. See No Celebrities Were Harmed on him being more John Thain than Dick Fuld, and the Spiritual Successor Too Big to Fail where John Thain defects from a US government/Wall Street huddle during "Lehman Weekend" to ensure the survival of his firm and shareholders via merger.
    • At one point Will Emerson goes on a rant where he correctly points out that it wasn't just the finance industry's recklessness that created the situation. It was also caused by the general public trying to live outside of their regular income and relying on the investment firms to make the additional money and subprime loans they needed to afford frivolous luxuries like fancy cars and houses bigger than they needed. If the world was actually "fair", they wouldn't be able to have access to those goods because they're really not within ordinary people's means.
  • Karma Houdini: Tuld gets away scot-free, retaining his position as CEO and learning nothing from the crisis, while only one of the executives responsible for the catastrophe is fired as The Scapegoat for the company's failings. It's left to the floor traders to take the majority of the fall, though there exists an implication that the firm has screwed itself over in the long run by destroying its reputation.
  • Kick the Dog: The firings at the start proceed this way — each employee gets called into a private office, given a soulless, cookie-cutter corporate spiel about the necessity of their firing, before being stripped of their phone, email, and access to the building and physically escorted off the premises the moment their desks are cleared out.
  • Layman's Terms: Almost all of the executives don't understand the nitty-gritty details of their own trade portfolio, nor of the risk models the valuations are based on, so Peter frequently provides simple explanations. Doubles as an Infodump for the audience.
  • Mass "Oh, Crap!": The entire executive management team (including the Risk Assessment department), and later, the traders themselves, get this reaction when they read Sullivan's augmented report regarding the severity of the coming correction, and what they'll have to do in order to save the firm.
  • Malaproper: Tuld refers to being very late in realizing the problem as "spilt milk under the bridge" it might be a deliberate play on Tuld's part, since he does spend the first half of the meeting Obfuscating Stupidity to be more approachable and gather information.
  • Misplaced-Names Poster: See above: pictures of eight actors, above their names (plus one). The only name in the right place is that of Simon Baker.
  • Money, Dear Boy: In-universe, Sullivan admits to Jared Cohen that he transitioned from a promising career as a scientist with a doctorate in rocket propulsion to an investment broker because "the pay was better".
  • Morton's Fork: The investment bank has two options to recuperate its staggering losses, it can either go into bankruptcy, or it can sell off the toxic assets it's acquired to save itself. The ruthless Tuld pursues the latter, but Sam warns him of the consequences - the market will be ruined, and their relationships with their customers, other banks and the government, permanently wrecked.
  • Mood Lighting: Much of the film has a bluish tint to it to amplify the tension. This is justified due to the nighttime setting and the only available lighting being the fluorescent lights and the glow of the computer screens.
  • Naïve Newcomer:
    • Peter Sullivan has worked in finance for a short time and he is amazed to hear how much the top management make.
    • Seth is also a relative greenhorn far lower on the payscale, yet he has a more callous attitude towards some.
  • Never My Fault: Sarah tries hard to play this card, with no success. She fires Eric in order to get him out of the company before shit hits the fan, since he let her know of the coming storm and with him gone she can try to claim ignorance. However, Eric gave his work to Peter, who learned the truth and informed his bosses. Even during the first meeting with Cohen, she starts to drill Peter on his background and asking him how much of the report is his work. She's trying to build the impression that Peter did all the heavy lifting and his findings are news to her, but Peter is having none of it and keeps reinforcing that all his findings were simply built on Eric's work...which Sarah knew all about.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed:
    • The name of John Tuld, the fictional bank's president, sounds a lot like Dick Fuld, the real-life president of Lehman Brothers, which went through an experience similar to the one depicted without the happy ending.
    • John Tuld may also be based on John Thain, CEO of Merrill Lynch. Like the company in this film, Merrill Lynch underwent a massive sell of mortgage-based CDOs prior to the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008, reducing its toxic assets and putting it in a position to be acquired by Bank of America.
    • Sarah Robertson may be based on Erin Callan, Lehman's CFO, who also passed on concerns about the firm's position from her subordinates but was forced to take the fall anyway.
    • Also has shades of No Communities Were Harmed. The firm remains unnamed, but is a sort of combination of Lehman Bros, Bear Stearns, and Goldman Sachs. Indeed, when the original script was still unproduced, the film's Blacklist logline was "the last 24 hours of Lehman Brothers."
  • Noodle Incident: Apparently Will did something to piss off a trader at Deutsche Bank in the past, though exactly what it was is never elaborated on during their brief conversation.
  • No-Nonsense Nemesis: Tuld is this in spades especially to the more ethically upstanding Sam. He's relentlessly pragmatic in initiating a market crash.
  • An Offer You Can't Refuse: Tuld gets his fixer Carmello to blackmail Eric Dale to keep him quiet after his firing the day before, threatening to have his severance taken away. Eric begrudgingly does what they ask because of the insane reward on offer if he plays ball.
  • Oh, Crap!: The second act of the film is essentially a long string of Oh Craps progressing higher up the pecking order until they reach the CEO.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Will Emerson and John Tuld both speak with Mid-Atlantic accents that travel back-and-forth across the pond. Will is especially notable as he uses a New York accent when speaking casually but switches to English when being formal. This is Truth in Television in finance as many English bankers moved to New York in the 80s and 90s and started picking up the local lingo without completely shedding their native accents.
  • Only in It for the Money: Pretty much everyone. Peter outright says that he gave up a career in the field he studied because they money's better in finance. By the end of the film, Sam is completely burned out and disgusted at what the firm has become but he's compelled to stay because he desperately needs the money.
  • Pet the Dog:
    • Sam's dog has cancer and his ex-wife allows him to bury it in their former yard.
    • The success of the climactic fire sale will lead to layoffs and tattered reputations, so the firm offers multi-million-dollar bonuses to traders who succeed in unloading their toxic assets.
  • Poor Communication Kills: The firm can't reach Eric in part because his company phone was turned off. By the firm itself, no less.
  • Pragmatic Villainy:
    • After the sale Sam asks John if they're going to keep Peter, to which John replies that Peter is being promoted.
    • Eric is dragged into the office on the day of the fire sale and paid $176,471 an hour (equating to about $1.5 million based on an 8.5 hour day) to do absolutely nothing.
  • Precision F-Strike: During the fire sale, Will tries to sell some of the toxic assets to a Deutsche Bank trader. The Deutsche trader angrily responds with "Fuck you, you Limey bastard," reveals that word of the firm's tactic is out, and hangs up.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: Everybody in the movie is proven to work for a firm with dirty practices, although only Jared Cohen, Sarah Robertson, and John Tuld come close to any actual villainy.
  • Pyrrhic Victory: Even if the bank survives, they've ruined their relationships with their customer base and fellow traders, and screwed the market.
  • Reasonable Authority Figures: Peter's reception by the many different levels of bosses he meets is limited to well-justified concern of if he got an "eight-trillion dollar equation" right. It goes remarkably smoothly considering he's telling said bosses the world is going to end, the firm may not survive, and everyone is going to lose millions (in Tuld's case, implied to be hundreds of millions) and/or their jobs.
  • Rich in Dollars, Poor in Sense: A minor subplot covers how people making millions can end up being strapped for cash. Sam is implied to have been cleaned out after his divorce and desperately needs to rebuild his wealth, trapping him in Tuld's grasp for the time being. Eric, meanwhile, is paying off an expensive New York brownstone and putting kids through private schools and has to set his pride aside to make sure he receives his severance package. Will even explains that it's incredibly easy to learn how to spend large sums of money,
  • Right Hand Versus Left Hand: When Eric Dale is laid off in the opening scene, he holds the key to what is about to happen. Though his associate is able to finish his work, throughout the movie the firm is now looking for him but can't find him because when he was laid off they turned off his cell phone.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: Although not based upon any specific bank, the situation was common. However, some reviewers thought the actions of the bank were a justifiable way of protecting their stockholders but most viewed the bank's actions as unethical and even criminal. And in a strange coincidence, the film was released right around the same time the Occupy Wall Street protests started.
  • Rule of Symbolism: Sam's dog, which represents his eroding conscience. The dog is mentioned as getting worse and worse throughout the events of the film, and by the time the firm has sold off the toxic assets and closed for the day, it has died. The final scene shows Sam burying the dog in his ex-wife's backyard, with the sound of Sam digging the grave playing over the credits.
  • Rule of Three: The page quote.
  • Running Gag: "How much did _____ make last year?"
  • Running Gagged: Seth and Peter's running gag of wondering aloud how much money various people made the previous year is brought to an abrupt end after the meeting of the firm's Senior Partners. Seth wonders how much money their CEO, John Tuld, made, but Peter, who has by this point realized the damage the company is about to do to the world economy, tells him to stop.
  • The Scapegoat: Sarah is more or less selected by Tuld to take the fall for the management's collective screwup, with the promise of a better severance package if she complies. It's somewhat justified by her terrible handling of Eric and Never My Fault antics, though it's noted that her future career prospects are likely to be bleak.
    John Tuld: Sarah, I need a head to feed to the traders on the floor.
  • Scenery Porn: Many views of the Midtown Manhattan skyline from office windows, building roofs and helicopters.
  • Speech-Centric Work: It's a rare moment in the film where someone isn't talking.
  • A Storm Is Coming: Emerson, explaining that he saves a bit of his money for a rainy day, uses the metaphor to describe the crisis that is about to go down.
  • Tag Along Kid: Seth is the most junior member of the company seen during the movie. He's present for a good portion of the film simply because he happened to be there when Peter reveals the extent of the crisis. Otherwise, he has very little influence over the plot.
  • Take a Third Option: Defied by Tuld; see the page quote. The magnitude of the disaster proves to be so great that, coupled with the risks of one of their competitors figuring it out before they do, there's only one option open and it must be executed instantly.
  • Throw the Dog a Bone: Directly invoked by Sam to the executive committee, knowing full well the traders on the floor are going to be collateral damage in the financial crisis. They're being told to liquidate the bank while selling assets to their business partners which will most assuredly come back to later bite them in the ass when the buyers realize what they're selling them is worthless. So as both compensation and severance, any trader who gets rid of 93% or more toxic assets will receive a bonus of 1.4 million dollars and a further 1.3 million, each, if the entire floor reaches that target. Judging by Cohen's demeanour towards Sam at closing it is likely that the floor succeeded.
  • Tranquil Fury: Tuld's body language during the senior partners' meeting makes clear he's furious that the situation has gotten so out of hand. Instead of raging, however, he calmly puts forward a strategy that will burn the MBS market to the ground.
  • Uncomfortable Elevator Moment: Jared Cohen and Sarah Robertson have a tense discussion in the elevator about the coming mass sell-off of the bank's toxic assets with a dispassionate cleaning lady standing in between them.
  • Wham Line:
    • Pete Sullivan explaining the problem to John Tuld about having the firm's assets stay on the books:
    "...if those assets decrease by just twenty five percent, and remain on our books, that loss would be greater than the current market capitalization of this entire company."
    • Jared Cohen's flat response to the page quote from John Tuld that sets the fire sale in motion:
    "Sell it all. Today."
  • Villain Protagonist: Most of the main characters qualify to some extent apart from Eric Dale, Peter Sullivan, Seth Bregman and Sam Rogers who along with several other characters question the morality of what they are doing, and yet do not actually do anything to stop it and end up mostly eye-witnesses rather than active participants to the firm's politics. This is exemplified by a discussion between two of the most sympathetic characters:
    Peter Sullivan: Are you sure it's the only... er, the right thing to do?
    Sam Rogers: For who?
    Peter Sullivan: I'm not sure.
    Sam Rogers: Neither am I.
  • You Have GOT to Be Kidding Me!: Both Cohen and Tuld have this reaction when informed that Eric Dale, who laid the groundwork for Peter to figure out what was going on and is fully aware of how bad the situation is, has been fired on Sarah's orders. Cohen in particular gives Sarah a look of cold contempt mingled with disbelief. When Tuld tells Sarah towards the end that she's going to be fired, it's pretty clear that her handling of Eric played a major role in the decision.