A 2015 comedy/drama set during the mid-2000's as several people in the financial industry begin to realize that the housing market is unstable, and that they can make big bucks by betting against it. Based on Michael Lewis' non-fiction book of the same title, The Big Short is directed by Adam McKay and features an All-Star Cast (Steve Carell, Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt, Marisa Tomei, Karen Gillan and Melissa Leo).
The film was critically acclaimed on release and nominated for 5 Academy Awards: Best Picture, Director, Supporting Actor (Bale), Adapted Screenplay (which it won) and Film Editing.
- Adaptation Name Change: Many of the names were changed in the movie including Baum, Vennett, Shipley, Geller and Rickert. Of the central characters, Michael Burry and Baum's employees all kept their real names. Their real names are in the original book and their roles and behavioral traits don't change so it's very easy to associate the person with the character.
- Aesop Amnesia: Played for Drama. At the end of the movie, it's revealed that nobody responsible for the crisis went to jail and the big banks have gone right back to selling CDOs.
- Aluminum Christmas Trees: Some may not believe that chefs will take meats that don't sell and convert them into stews or pies, days later. This practice is quite common, as restaurants have razor thin margins and need to maximize the shelf life of every single ingredient in their kitchens. Of course, Anthony Bourdain is the person explaining this, and he has never been shy over making frank comments about his own industry.
- Ambiguous Disorder: Michael Burry is portrayed as quirky, isolates himself from his employees, and having very awkward social skills. He communicates to his investors in very blunt e-mails and is insolent with his co-financier in a face-to-face conversation. The epilogue mentions that after his child is diagnosed with Aspergers, he feels he might have it too.
- Anti-Hero: The closest the story gets that anyone the audience can root for are Baum and Rickert, two jaded financial experts who both realize what's about to happen and are horrified about it. And even they aren't the good guys because they're using the looming crisis to make profits (and they know it). Averted by Vennet, who openly admits he's not the hero of the story.
- Artistic License History: The film is kind enough to acknowledge when the events portrayed deviate from what really happened.
- Asian and Nerdy: Vennett invokes this trope in a very crass fashion with his numbers guy.Vennett: His name is Yang! He doesn't even speak English!
"Yang": [to the audience] Actually, my name is Jiang, and I do speak English.
- At Least I Admit It: Vennet is a smarmy douche, and never once pretends to be anything else. He openly tells his clients that he plans to rip them off in the endgame. He reminds the audience that he is decidedly not the hero of the film.
- Atomic F-Bomb: Burry ambles out of his office, calmly writes on the whiteboard that his fund is now running at -11% and dropping, shuffles back to his desk and shouts a huge one of these.
- The Atoner: Implied to be Ben Rickert's motivation for helping Shipley and Geller.
- Attention Deficit... Ooh, Shiny!: Assumed on the part of the audience, so the movie explains most of its concepts via on-screen text and cameos, including Australian actress Margot Robbie sipping champagne in a bubble bath. Justified in-universe:Jared Vennett: Mortgage-backed securities, subprime loans, tranches its pretty confusing, right? Does it make you feel bored? Or stupid? Well, its supposed to. Wall Street loves to use confusing terms to make you think only they can do what they do. Or even better, for you to just leave them the fuck alone.
- Awful Truth: Even after investing heavily in the collapse of the economy, Baum doesn't realize until witnessing firsthand, late in the game, just how corrupt, stupid and deeply screwed the entire financial system is.
- The Bad Guy Wins: A Foregone Conclusion for anyone who remembers the aftermath of the financial crisis of 2007-2009. Sure, a lot of fat cats lost their money and some firms like Lehman Brothers went under, but the ending of the film leaves no doubt about it - the banking industry got out of the crash entirely regulation-free, shifting the blame to the poor, immigrants, and even teachers, while offering CDOs years later, repackaged as "bespoke tranche opportunities."
- Beauty Inversion: Most of the cast are played with unflattering haircuts and realistically uneven skin tone. Bale and Carell are especially notable in that regard. Those who aren't, like Gosling, have what appear to be badly dyed black hairnote and fake tans.
- Big Brother Is Watching: According to Ben Rickert. Shipley and Geller have to use 14 different phone numbers to call him.Jamie Shipley: OK, let's try number 2 out of 14.
Ben Rickert: [answering phone] Ben Rickert.
Jamie Shipley: Ben, why do you do that, man? I mean, you're a retired trader, OK, no one is listening to your calls.
Ben Rickert: The NSA has a $52 billion budget and the ability to monitor tens of millions of calls a second. You think they're not using it?
- Black-and-Gray Morality: While the banks are undeniably the villains of the movie, the protagonists are all making money off of their arrogance and stupidity and most of them are only doing it for that reason.Jared Vennett: I never said I was the hero of this story.
- Ben Rickert calls out his teammates about it when the two start dancing over the deals they made.Ben Rickert: Do you realize what you've done? You've bet against the American economy.
- Explicitly stated by the S&P officer, who points out that the main reason Baum's group want them to rate the CDOs more accurately (to identify them as junk, instead of AAA-secure) is because they stand to make a huge amount of money when the CDOs collapse.Mark Baum: That doesn't make us wrong.
S&P Officer: No, it just makes you a hypocrite.
- Ben Rickert calls out his teammates about it when the two start dancing over the deals they made.
- Breaking the Fourth Wall:
- Ryan Gosling's Jared Vennett breaks it frequently, sometimes in the middle of a scene. Other characters do as well, although not quite as much.
- There are a series of celebrity cameos that directly address the audience in a series of self-contained cutaway scenes to help explain some of the complicated financial concepts shown in the film. See Info Dump.
- When Vennett is making his pitch to Baum, he stresses in a racist way that his math expert is the best because he's Chinese and won a Chinese national math competition. In fact, he's so good, he doesn't speak English. "Yang" then turns to the camera and, in English, says his name is actually Jiang, that Vennett thinks stressing not speaking English makes Jiang "more authentic", and that he only placed 2nd in the competition.
- Honestly this movie is a great study on diegesis, blending in the above-mentioned celebrity cameos with the scene going on, and using asides in the middle of dialogue to explain something or make a quick joke.
- Brutal Honesty:
- Vennett is completely up front about how much a greedy scuzbucket he is, which is why Baum actually believes him when Vennett sells his pitch about the subprime mortgage bubble.
- Baum himself is honest about how he views the insanely corrupt banking industry the further he goes into this mess. It leads to his caustic Take That! speech about the financial sector's short-sightedness right at the moment when Bear Sterns collapses.
- Bunny-Ears Lawyer:
- Burry, the constantly drumming, monologuing, and shorts-wearing financial investment genius.
- Ben as well. A retired investor with connections everywhere. He also happens to be a paranoid survivalist who hates Wall Street.
- Baum is portrayed as this early on, coming in late and dominating a support group session and verbally abusing everyone around him, but over the course of the film, we begin to realize that his attitude comes from his disdain of the financial system and bottled-up feelings concerning his brother's suicide.
- Cassandra Truth:
- The four main characters - Burry and Baum in particular - are basically trying to warn everybody that the entire financial system is sitting on a subprime mortgage bomb. No one in a position to do anything about it notices or even cares... until it's too late.
- Some of the people responsible for the oversight - like the SEC and the ratings agencies - actively fight any attempt to burst the subprime bubble, which only makes the oncoming collapse of banks like Lehman Brothers worse.
- Cheaters Never Prosper: Explicitly stated by Baum at one point.Mark Baum: And what bothers me isnt that fraud is not nice, or that fraud is mean. Its that for fifteen thousand years, fraud and short-sighted thinking has never, ever worked. Not once. How the hell did we all forget that?
- Cluster F-Bomb: There is a LOT of F-word cursing in this movie.
- Contrived Coincidence: Subverted. Shipley and Geller find a copy of Vennett's short pitch in the lobby of the JP Morgan Chase building. Then they break the fourth wall to explain this didn't actually happen, they found out about the short pitch in a much more roundabout way, but this made for a better story. Baum, on the other hand, really did learn about Burry's trade from a wrong number.
- Creator Cameo: The real Michael Burry can be seen in the background of Scion Capital when Lawrence Field storms in to confront the film's Michael Burry.
- Creepy Souvenir: Maybe not creepy at first glance, but from every bank that Burry visited to bet against their mortgage bonds, he asked for or just pocketed one of the banks' monogrammed coffee mugs. Since Burry was certain he was right, in his mind he was taking a keepsake from every one of the banks that he knew would go under; in effect, a piece of what would soon be their corpses.
- The Cuckoolander Was Right: Michael Burry earns skepticism, derision, and rebellion from his mentor and his investors for shorting the housing market, but he refuses all attempts to pull out and is eventually proven correct when the bubble bursts.Dear Lawrence,
Your profits totaling $489 million from Scion Capital have been deposited into your account.
- The Cynic: Baum and Vinny's final phone conversation shows two different sides of this; Baum discovering that the banks might have known exactly what they were doing puts him into a Heroic BSoD, and he sounds almost broken-hearted when he tells Vinny "they just didn't care." Vinny responds with "Yeah, 'cos they're fucking crooks" as if it's obvious that they wouldn't, but he then naively states that there'll be loads of people going to jail and more regulation to make sure it doesn't happen again, to which Baum bets that they'll blame immigrants and poor people, and then the system keep right on going. From this, it seems that Vinny is more cynical about individual people but hopeful about the system's ability to course-correct after an obvious failure, while Baum was the opposite.
- Despair Event Horizon: Baum is already a cynic who dislikes Wall Street in general, and he's grieving for his brother but it's only in Vegas when he sees how corrupt and how dangerous the banks are that he truly lapses into a Heroic BSoD.
- Dining in the Buff: Margot Robbie explains the intricacies of subprime mortgages while sipping champagne in a bubble bath.
- Does Not Like Shoes: Michael Burry is seen plenty of times walking around Scion office barefoot. His doubters use this to mock him, among his other weird traits. "So Mike Burry, who gets his hair cut at Supercuts, and doesnt wear shoes, knows more than Alan Greenspan." ...Go figure, he sort of did...
- Does This Remind You of Anything?:
- The S&P officer is wearing very dark glasses from an optometrist appointment, severely restricting her vision, while she explains to Baum that her firm saw nothing wrong with the sub-prime mortgage bonds. She later admits that they give the bonds high ratings, without even looking at them, in exchange for the bank doing business with them, because if they don't, another ratings agency (like Moody's) will.
- Immediately after explaining to Jamie how the SEC doesn't really do much to regulate the banks, Evie literally gets into bed with a banker (at least partially motivated by hopes of getting a job when she leaves the SEC).
- Downer Ending: A Foregone Conclusion, given the real-life economic crisis that followed the housing collapse. The national and worldwide economies collapsed, many homeowners lost their homes, and unemployment rates spiked.
- Burry alienates almost everyone who he was doing business with, although since he gladly walks away from it all, it qualifies as more of a Bittersweet Ending for him. Baum and his associates profit immensely from the credit default swaps, but he is clearly heartbroken by his decision to go through with it. Shipley and Geller make millions but are horrified that no one in the media seems to care about the fraud that has taken place. Lastly, Vennett makes millions in bonuses after the bank profited from the swaps he sold and openly does not care about how the rest of the world was affected by the crash.
- We even see what happens to some of the minor characters and it isn't good. One of Burry's employees is shown in his new job, stocking shelves at a convenience store. The two mortgage brokers who Baum meets in Florida are now unemployed, shown trudging through a job fair looking for work. Saddest of all, the man who was renting the Florida house (whose landlord hadn't paid his mortgage) with his wife and young children is shown living out of a van.
- Dramatically Missing the Point:
- The Downer Ending, specifically Burry's part of it. He offers to explain to the government how he foresaw the crash. They audited him four times instead.
- In the Q&A between Bruce Miller and Mark Baum, Miller cheerfully says that everything is fine and that he would happily buy shares in Bear Stearns. In the audience, Danny and Porter are monitoring Bear Stearns's share price on Danny's phone. As Miller speaks, and then Baum, Danny starts to get message after message about how the share price is dropping, until it becomes clear that it's going through the floor. At the end of the Q&A, Miller is told that Bear Stearns's share price has plummeted, and is asked if he'd still consider buying shares in it. He insists that he would. At that point, almost everyone in the audience, who had come to hear him be reassuring, looks at him like he's a total idiot, and they all get up and leave as quickly as they can so they can unload their now-worthless shares.
- Driven to Suicide: Mark Baum's brother, before the events of the film. The details aren't made specific, but it's suggested that it had to do with financial troubles. Mark is understandably haunted by it.
- Enraged by Idiocy: Mark Baum has no tolerance for anything he suspects is bullshit.
- Establishing Character Moment:
- Vennet starts his lemony narration, then appears in the flashback scene talking to the camera and assuring us how cool he is.
- Mark Burry is introduced sitting in his office, waving drumsticks around and giving a lengthy Info Dump about mortgage defaults during The Great Depression. We then find out he's actually conducting a job interview with a very bewildered analyst, to whom he gives the job, demands a list of thousands of mortgages, and then starts rocking out in front of his spreadsheets.
- Mark Baum angrily storms into his therapy meeting and interrupts the group whilst berating an immoral banker.
- "Eureka!" Moment: Several characters experience one, although Baum's is most notable: He realizes the extent of what's going on, and the full impact it will have on the global economy after briefly talking to Wing Chau in Las Vegas.Mark Baum: I want to short every piece of paper he's touched.
- Fanservice: There's a reason Margot Robbie delivers a succinct lecture on mortgages while taking a bubble bath.
- The Film of the Book: The third of Michael Lewis' books to be adapted to a film, after The Blind Side and 2011's Moneyball.
- Foregone Conclusion: In case you didn't know, there's going to be a global financial collapse in 2008.
- Four-Man Band: Baum and his team fit this. Although instead of a pervert trope, Vinnie fits a more traditional The Lancer role with Porter as The Smart Guy and Danny as the Butt-Monkey.
- Four-Philosophy Ensemble:
- Cynic: Vennett
- Realist: Shipley and Geller
- Apathetic: Burry and Rickert
- Conflicted: Baum
- Hanlon's Razor: Played with; for most of the film, Baum assumes the crisis is down to idiots who are too short-sighted to realise what they're causing and this certainly applies to many of the (mostly low- or mid-level) people he meets. The mortgage brokers bear this out; when the stripper tells Baum they told her she could always refinance, Baum at first says they're liars (which they'd already proven in other areas), before admitting that in this particular case they probably are honestly wrong, which is proven by the "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue showing them looking for work. After the bailout, however, Baum realises that the upper-echelons of the banks might have predicted exactly what would happen every step of the way, and is put into a Heroic BSoD at discovering how heartlessly selfish and greedy people can be.
- HeelFace Door-Slam: After they realize they were proven right, Shipley and Geller go to the press to tell their story, as a form of atonement. The journalist they talk to refuses to publish what they know, on the grounds that no bank would verify their information and would burn bridges.
- Heel Realization: When Rickert spells out the consequences of what's about to happen with housing and the entire economy, Shipley and Geller suddenly feel like bad guys when they realize how much the collapse they'll be profiting will harm millions of ordinary people.
- Here We Go Again!:
- Dr. Burry is now betting against water, which means he's predicted another shortage in the future.
- The Miami estate agents are seen at the end of the film at a seminar detailing how to turn the economic crisis to their advantage - typically done by buying foreclosed or repossessed homes at knock-down prices and renting them out. Many of the companies doing this have profited immensely from the huge increase in the rental market as well as creating Rental Backed Securities.
- The banks as of 2015 have repackaged CDOs, which means that another economic slowdown is imminent.
- Heroic BSoD: Baum is put into an escalating one throughout the film, starting after realising just how corrupt and stupid they are during the meeting in Vegas, and another after the bailout, when he realises that his assumption that the crisis was caused by stupidity rather than malice might have been wrong, and that the higher-ups in the banks might have known exactly what a disaster they were causing and just didn't care.
- Hookers and Blow: The bankers in the '80s are shown enjoying their new wealth and status by partying with strippers.
- Ignore the Fanservice: Baum questions a stripper about her mortgage situation while she's giving him a private (topless) dance, and maintains eye contact throughout. He does eventually ask her to stop moving, showing he was not simply oblivious.
- Ignored Expert: The epilogue reveals Burry tried to contact the government several times so he could explain how he foresaw the collapse and how it could've been avoided. Instead, they audited him four times and had the FBI interrogate him.
- Info Dump: Done in a unique way: Rather than fill the audience in on complex financial things through traditional in-universe exposition, the film introduces celebrities to explain it, generally via less-complicated metaphors. We get Margot Robbie explaining mortgage bonds in a bubblebath, Anthony Bourdain using unsold fish to illustrate how banks handle unsold bonds, and Richard Thaler and Selena Gomez at a blackjack table illustrating how synthetic CDOs work.
- Inherent in the System: The main characters realize that with the way the regulation and banking system is set up, it was a matter of when, not if, a crash would happen. Things such as sales commissions and ratings agencies being private entities only lead to the people working in the industry doing their jobs as they pertain to their self-interest.
- Insane Troll Logic: The logic behind Collateralized Debt Obligations (CDOs) are as follows: a bunch of unsold low rated BBB, BB, and B bonds that didn't sell because investors considered them too risky are packaged into a new investment. Because the bonds have different risk levels, the ratings agencies consider them a diversified investment and grant them a high A level rating. Some are rated AAA even though it is, at its core, individual low rated bonds.
- Ironic Echo: Early on, Shipley and Gellar can't even get past the lobby of the big banks to get into the coveted trading floors to make deals. The security at Lehman Brothers keeps telling them to leave. By the end, when the economy does crash, the two are able to sneak their way past the helpless guards at Lehman Brothers to get inside the now-vacant trading floor to see for themselves how bad it got.
- Jerk with a Heart of Jerk: The two mortgage guys Baum and co. meet in Florida. At first they seem to just be sleazy, then they're revealed to be knowingly corrupt.
- Karma Houdini:
- Double Subverted. Vennet says that Baum became worried that the bankers whose recklessness crashed the system would escape punishment. Fortunately, Vennet informs us, the government stepped in and prosecuted the bankers, and rewrote the regulations in order to prevent another collapse. Except, that's a lie. Instead, he says, the banks used their influence with Congress to kill common-sense regulations and push blame onto poor people, immigrants, and teachers, and only a single banker was prosecuted out of all the big-shots who were guilty of fraud.
- Made poignant in a scripted version of the scene where Vennet shows off his bonus check. He got $47 million after making $20 billion for the bank through the swaps he sold. He then mentions his two bosses got $50 million in bonuses after they lost the bank $30 billion.
- Though subverted with the two sleazy mortgage guys from Florida. The end of the film shows them attending a job fair while appearing very defeated.
- The Lancer: Vinnie, to Baum.
- Large Ham: Vennett indulges in this when Vinnie and Baum agree to deal with him.
- Layman's Terms: Whenever some complicated financial concept comes up, a celebrity appears to explain it in terms we can understand. Subprime loans = loans unlikely to be paid back = shit. CDO = package of subprime loans = pile of leftover food that a chef throws into a pot and serves as a fresh meal. Synthetic CDO = chain of increasingly large bets on subprime loans.
- Lemony Narrator: Vennett narrates the story in the third person while constantly Breaking the Fourth Wall, dropping opinions, hanging lampshades, and generally messing with the audience.
- Let Me Get This Straight...: Happens quite a bit, mostly when Baum, Geller or Shipley are finding out something about the banks attitude towards what's going on that they don't believe is possible. It's almost to the point of a Running Gag.
- A Lighter Shade of Black: The protagonists may be Anti-Heroes profiting off of an economic crisis, but what keeps them more sympathetic than the bankers they oppose is the fact that they had no hand in the events that led up to this point. Shipley and Geller actually try to warn the people what's going to happen once Rickert clues them in, to no avail.
- Manchild: A lot of the supposed financial experts act in a very childish way. Examples include; the Florida mortgage brokers who act like high-school Jerk Jocks, playfully punching each other while in a room with experienced and serious hedge-fund managers, the various bankers at the shooting range in Vegas, who engage in over-the-top frat-boy cheers and chestbumps while supposedly entertaining clients, and the woman at Standard & Poors, whose petulant Just Following Orders justification prompts Baum to incredulously ask her if she's four. Lampshaded at the end when Geller and Shipley walk inside a (deserted) Wall Street office, and comment that they were expecting to find adults.
- Million-to-One Chance: Baum and Vennett only end up in business together due to a wrong-number phone call on Vennett's part.
- Morally Bankrupt Banker: Far too many to list.
- My God, What Have I Done?: Ben Rickert chews out Shipley and Geller for celebrating their deals when he reminds them what will happen when it all goes tits up as they hope — people will lose everything. The two immediately have this reaction, and start trying to warn their families and the media about the upcoming market collapse.Rickert: Do you realize what you've done? You're betting against the American economy! If we're right, people lose homes. People lose jobs. People lose retirement savings, people lose pensions. You know what I hate about fucking banking? It reduces people to numbers. Here's a number — every 1% unemployment goes up, 40,000 people die, did you know that?
- Nice to the Waiter:
- Zigzagged in the case of Baum, and it depends a lot on his mood; while openly contemptuous of bankers and people he thinks should know better/be better (and willing to be an inconsiderate Jerkass in general), he is perfectly polite and respectful to the stripper he is questioning about her mortgages, considering her an innocent victim. However, he lashes out at a waitress who interrupts him during a tense conversation with his colleagues, though this is more due to simply losing his temper than because he sees her as an inferior.
- Averted with Vennett who repeatedly berates his PA.
- No Social Skills:
- Burry, by his own admission. He has trouble interacting with his co-workers and investors, is awkward in one-on-one interactions with his employees, and met his wife on match.com.
- Baum, to a lesser extent. He has trouble keeping his opinion to himself, and as his Establishing Character Moment shows, doesn't seem to get or respect the rules of a therapy group.
- Not Distracted by the Sexy: Whilst investigating the housing market in Florida, Baum attends a strip joint to talk to talk to strippers who have been sold bad mortgages by predatory brokers. Baum is pointedly only interested in talking about finance to the stripper giving him a private dance.
- "Not Making This Up" Disclaimer:
- One of the fourth wall moments is used to mention how unbelievable but actually true it was that Baum was lecturing about the failures of the subprime mortgage market against a Bear Sterns investor as a run on Bear Sterns' stock occurred. This contrasts the earlier Contrived Coincidence of Geller and Shipley finding a copy of Vennett's pitch in the lobby of the J.P. Morgan Chase building, where the movie admits that it was made up for dramatic effect and quickly details the complicated actual events.
- Another occurs when Baum interrupts the keynote address at an investors' convention to tell him that that there is a zero percent chance that things will not get worse, then gets interrupted by a call on his cell phone and walks out before the speaker can respond. Vennett assures the audience that it actually happened.
- Obliviously Evil:
- Shipley and Geller don't really understand the implications of the economic collapse they plan to profit off of until Rickert gives them a brutal reality check.
- None of the on-screen people we see contributing to the crisis seem to fully realise what they're doing; yes, they know they are variously ripping-off ordinary people, passing their own gambling risk off to other businesses and using dishonest ratings to make it all work, but they all seem to think they're engaging in harmless book-cooking rather than catastrophically undermining the global economy. Baum works on this assumption throughout (and his "The Reason You Suck" Speech below assumes stupidity rather than malice), but he broken-heartedly revises his opinion after the bailout.
- Oh, Crap!:
- All the main characters get this in 2007 when mortgages begin to fail as expected... but the bonds they're shorting that are made up of these failing mortgages continue to go up in value. This, they all eventually realize, is because all the banks are lying about what's going on, and continuing to prop-up their CDOs' values, despite the obvious fact mortgage defaults are increasing. This delays the eventual meltdown for longer than any of them are prepared to deal with, as they have to pay fees back to the banks who under-wrote the credit default swaps they purchased, which they have yet to pay off (but which, obviously, eventually they do).
- Burry's fund in particular is hit hard, as it is managed by him alone, and he begins to need to layoff employees as his fund moves into the red. He later uses his fiduciary power as fund manager to stop people from withdrawing their money entirely, which leads to his e-mailbox and phone blowing up, and then eventually to investor lawsuits. note
- The man in Florida has one when he realizes the people from Baum's team that he was talking to were saying his landlord is behind on the mortgage payments for the house he's renting. The members of Baum's team interviewing him have one as well when they ask for the occupant of the house (based on the paperwork they have), and the man says the "person" they're asking for is his landlord's dog.
- Not counting Baum's earlier "Eureka!" Moment in Vegas, Baum and his team have a collective one when they discover that Morgan Stanley, which underwrites their investment group, is just as deep into the toxic CDOs as the other banks, and they could potentially lose everything if the bank goes under — they realize in a sense they've been betting against themselves.
- All of the bankers Burry met with in 2005 have a big one in 2008 when they realize the Bunny-Ears Lawyer wasn't insane, but predicted their current crisis. Goldman Sachs in particular gets a comeuppance moment.
- After being lectured by Rickert, Shipley and Geller realize the real world implications of what they're predicting. Geller is so shaken he calls his mother to warn her to save her money, and the two decide to try to warn the media - which isn't interested.
- As the crisis begins, Rickert eventually sells off Shipley and Geller's holdings for a large payday, but not as large as they wanted. He ultimately sells most of them to overseas banks, because the crisis hasn't caught up to them (yet).
- On a meta level, Burry (as told in the epilogue) now only investing in water resources could trigger this for audiences: he saw one crash coming...
- Similarly, the epilogue notes that banks have already started repackaging subprime mortgages under a different name, which probably sent a chill down the spine of everyone watching.
- Baum and the stripper he interviews share an Oh, Crap! moment when he tells her that her monthly mortgage payments are likely to go up at least 200%, and she reveals that she has five houses and a condo, all of which have been refinanced.
- Only Sane Man: Most of the lead characters, who are surrounded by so many others in the banking industry blinded by their own greed to realize how crazy their subprime shell game had become. Even Burry and Rickert, with their personal quirks, are perfectly rational about what the hell is going on.
- Only the Leads Get a Happy Ending: And the leads fully realize this, creating the film's Downer Ending.
- Pet the Dog:
- Burry works past his No Social Skills to give some advice to a young employee before he leaves the office.
- Vennett is upfront about the fact he only cares about making money for himself, but when Baum tells him he wants to buy more swaps from him after meeting with the Morgan Stanley CDO manager, Vennett warns him that doing so could result in Baum's fund going bankrupt from having to pay the collateral calls until the bonds collapse.
- Platonic Prostitution: Or a platonic strip club. Baum talks to a stripper about her mortgage situation and eventually asks her to stop the stripping and talk to him more about her finances, promising to still pay her.
- Precision F-Strike:
- In a movie full of swearing, Vinnie drops a beautifully executed one of these.[Mark is on the phone to Vinnie, while the guys from Morgan Stanley's risk assessment team are in the adjoining office to Vinnie's.]
Mark Baum: All right. Could you go in there, very calmly and very politely, tell them to fuck off.
[He hangs up and goes into the other office. The risk assessment guys look up at him.]
Vinnie: Uh, gentlemen? I spoke with Mark Baum. He says to fuck off.
- Margot Robbie's explanation of mortgage-backed securities and subprime loans ends with one, as she is enjoying champagne in a bubblebath:Robbie: Got it? Good. [sips champagne] Now fuck off.
- In a movie full of swearing, Vinnie drops a beautifully executed one of these.
- Present-Day Past: Mostly averted. The cell phones and other electronics match 2005 when the film's main plot begins, but advertisements on billboards and on screens, as well as the celebrity cameos, are very clearly from 2015. No attention was paid to making sure the background vehicles were period appropriate, as numerous cars seen were of a later manufacture than the scene's setting.
- Properly Paranoid: Ben Rickert doesn't want anyone to be able to know where he is at any given time and makes it as difficult as possible to contact him (even having multiple phone numbers). He's also positive that the NSA is monitoring phone conversations for certain keywords and phrases and tells Charlie and Jamie to watch what they say. Later on in the epilogue, Dr. Burry gets investigated by the FBI multiple times when he simply offers to tell Congress how he knew the crash was coming, proving Ben wasn't that paranoid.
- Reasonable Authority Figure: Mark Baum is one as he's willing to listen to Vennett's pitch that has been rejected by just about every other fund in the city, but also do some investigating of his own just to make sure he's correct.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech:
- Mark Baum gives one directed towards the fraudulent banking system (and fraud itself) during his debate with still-bullish investor Bruce Miller.Mark Baum: And what bothers me isn't that fraud is "not nice," or that fraud is "mean." It's that for fifteen thousand years, fraud and short-sighted thinking has never, ever worked. Not once. How the hell did we all forget that?
- Rickert gives one to Geller and Shipley for celebrating a particularly lucrative deal they've made, pointing out that the huge payday they're banking on is going to come at the expense of people's homes, jobs, savings, lives, and the entire American economy.Ben Rickert: You know what I hate about fucking banking? It reduces people to numbers. Here's a number- every 1% unemployment goes up, 40,000 people die. Did you know that?
- Mark Baum gives one directed towards the fraudulent banking system (and fraud itself) during his debate with still-bullish investor Bruce Miller.
- Refuge in Audacity: Several of the characters in the movie flaunt this attitude, proud of how much money they're making for essentially selling shoddy goods.Mark Baum: I don't get it. Why are they confessing?
Danny Moses: They're not confessing.
Porter Collins: They're bragging.
- Right Hand vs. Left Hand: Once the collapse started showing up, and learning about which individual bonds were imploding, Baum realizes that some of the shorts they bought looped back around to be paid out by his own financial group. The dread on his face is clear and he says "All this time I've been wondering who I'm shorting against..."
- Rotating Protagonist: The film follows three groups of people: Michael Burry and Scion Capital; Vennett, Baum, and Baum's employees; Shipley, Geller, and Rickert. All three storylines are completely self-contained; none of the three groups ever appear onscreen together. The actions of the characters are spurred on by learning second-hand about the actions of the others, with Burry at the top of the pyramid (ex. Vennett's part in the story starts when he sees a guy talking about the deal he just made with Burry). Shipley and Geller do share a brief crossover with Baum and co.; they walk out of frame at the conference in a shot that continues with Baum and co. walking into frame.
- Rule of Symbolism: Baum's friend at the ratings agency is literally almost blind.
- Selective Obliviousness: Seen repeatedly throughout most people involved in the housing and financial markets throughout the film. Even when data of a looming apocalypse is laid out in front of them they refuse to believe it.
- Sexposition: Downplayed - the film sometimes uses Fanservice while trying to explain an economic concept to the audience, like with the Dining in the Buff scene and the stripper.
- Screw the Money, I Have Rules!: Ben Rickert was a successful financial trader before he quit after becoming disillusioned with the markets and the people who work them. Charlie and Jamie eventually come around to share his opinions after realizing that their immense profit came with the suffering of millions of people.
- Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: Or want money. Or don't get paid enough to care about the rules. The SEC agent Shipley and Geller meet in Vegas is happy to hobnob with bankers to try to get a cushy job instead of investigating them. And Georgia, the S&P executive, doesn't crack down on the bankers because if she did they'd just go to S&P's competition instead.
- Shout-Out: When Baum is just beginning to understand the magnitude of the impending disaster during dinner with Wing Chau, Vennett says he looks like the bad guy from Dune.
- Small Role, Big Impact: Lewis Ranieri (Rudy Eisenzopf) only appears in a flashback scene in the first few minutes of the film. However, because he was the person who first suggested the idea of mortgage-backed securities in 1977, he is responsible for the inflation and eventual bursting of the housing bubble that drives the actions of every major character in the rest of the film. Jared Vennett even observes in his opening narration that most people have never heard of Ranieri, and yet he has had a greater impact on our lives than the social media revolution.note
- Smug Snake:
- Vennett. He's a sleazy, tanned, over-slick guy, but not a Jerk with a Heart of Jerk like other characters because he is at least honest and upfront with people.Vennett: I never said I was the hero of this story.
- The two mortgage brokers in Florida talking to Baum and his team are only too happy to explain how they're getting rich fleecing their clients with terrible mortgages.Baum: I don't get it. Why are they confessing?
Moses: They're not confessing.
Collins: They're bragging.
- Wing Chau, the inventor of "synthetic CDOs" whom Mark meets in Las Vegas. When Baum expresses disbelief at how he's created the "atomic bomb" of banking, Chau smirks and taunts him by asking how their net worths compare.Chau: You think I'm a parasite, don't you, Mr. Baum? Yet apparently society values me very much.
- Vennett. He's a sleazy, tanned, over-slick guy, but not a Jerk with a Heart of Jerk like other characters because he is at least honest and upfront with people.
- Soundtrack Dissonance:
- Spiritual Successor: Essentially, it's a Docudrama version of The Other Guys, which was made by the same director. Alternatively, it's an Adaptation Expansion of that film's Creative Closing Credits.
- Stunned Silence:
- Baum and his associates are left speechless after Vennett explains how utterly broken the sub-prime housing market it, and the impending bubble that's about to burst and take the entire US housing market with it.
- After Baun discovers that his own bank is about to suffer losses that leave even his most pessimistic worries in the dust, he just gapes mutely for a few seconds.
- That Didn't Happen: The S&P officer admits that they rate the mortgage bonds very high — sight unseen — so the banks won't go to Moody's for their credit score.Georgia: ...and I never said that.
- They Call Me MISTER Tibbs!:Executive: So Mike Burry, a guy who gets his hair cut at Supercuts and doesn't wear shoes, knows more than Alan Greenspan and Mike Paulsen.
Mike Burry: Doctor Mike Burry. Yes, he does.
- Time Passes Montage: Two are used to mark moving from the 70s to the 2000s using a series of stills and clips of the intervening decades, and a shorter one to mark the mid-2000s.
- Two Scenes, One Dialogue: Geller, on a phone conference with Shipley and Rickert — the latter of which is trying to hang up for a colonic appointment — suggests they buy more swaps after figuring out that they're going to make a huge profit off of the housing collapse. Shipley disagrees loudly. Meanwhile, Vennett returns to Front Point and expects his payout. Both Front Point and Shipley start screaming variations of "No" and obscenities, leading to this blink-and-you'll-miss-it joke:Rickert: No seriously, a colonic once a year.
Vinny, screaming obscenities at Vennett: Ass!
- The same scenes' crosstalk leads both parties to go to the American Securitization Forum in Las Vegas.
- Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Lewis Ranieri. The mortgage-backed securities he invented were originally filled with AAA-rated mortgages that were virtually guaranteed to return a profit and remain solvent. Then when the banks ran out of AAA mortgages to put into securities, they started filling them with sub-prime mortgages...note
- Visual Pun: The transition scene at the end of the Las Vegas convention ends with a shot overlooking a highway with a giant billboard of Martin Short; literally, a "Big Short".
- The Watson: Baum and his team take this role when talking to Vennett about the possibility of shorting the mortgage bonds.
- What the Hell, Hero?: A very effective one from Rickert, who becomes furious when Shipley and Geller start loudly celebrating their shorts, pointing out that if they're right, people are going to die. They are very shaken.Rickert: If we're right, people lose homes. People lose jobs. People lose retirement savings, people lose pensions. You know what I hate about fucking banking? It reduces people to numbers. Here's a number — every 1% unemployment goes up, 40,000 people die, did you know that?... Just don't fucking dance.
- Wham Line: It's a Foregone Conclusion for the audience that there's going to be a total disaster, and most of the protagonists are aware of it and in a position to profit from it, but Baum discovering the extent of his own bank's projected losses leaves him lost for words.Cathy: The long exposure is... fifteen billion.
- "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: The movie ends with text describing the eventual fates of the main characters.
- Xanatos Gambit: Vennett's entire deal. His plan doesn't hinge on the housing bubble actually collapsing, only on someone buying into his conviction that it will. As soon as Frontpoint Partners is in, he has already won regardless of how the situation turns out.