A stockbroker named Bud Fox (Sheen) wants to become top of the world. He becomes involved with his idol, Gordon Gekko (Douglas), a ruthless Wall Street player who has a conflict with Bud's father, Carl (Martin Sheen).
It received a sequel in 2010, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.
Not to be confused with the actual Wall Street. ...there is no such article on that here yet or The Wolf of Wall Street which deals with similar subject matter but is far more line-crossing and vulgar than the film itself.
"Tropes, for lack of a better word, are good. Tropes work."
- Affably Evil/Faux Affably Evil: Gekko zig-zags between the two. Yes, he's a surprisingly genial sort for somebody so ruthless and avaricious. But on the other hand, he will act like your best friend while plotting your ruin. How much of his "niceness" is sincere and how much is an act is left deliberately ambiguous.
- Alliterative Name: Gordon Gekko.
- Ambition Is Evil: Gekko famously asserts, "Greed, for a lack of a better word, is good." In a World... where money is power, greed is ambition.
- Animal Motifs: Gekko frequently calls under-performing stocks "dogs."
- Arch-Enemy: Bud Fox was Gekko's former protege, until Gekko manipulates Fox into helping him bankrupt his father's company.
- Armor-Piercing Response:Bud Fox: How do you live with yourself?
Carl Fox: I don't go to bed with no whore, and I don't wake up next to no whore. That's how I live with myself. I don't know how you do it.
- Artistic License Economics: A justified use of the trope, as the way Gekko makes money is indeed a zero sum game. While absolute wealth and value can be increased, relative wealth is pretty much constant. If you embrace the concept of the the positional good as Gekko seems to, then you only advance by getting ahead of others. Only so many people can be in the 1%, only one guy can be the richest. If wealth is a measuring stick for status and control, you don't want "enough", you want more than everyone else. Whether the economics are flawed or not depends on whether you accept that concept or not.
- Artistic License Law:
- As the movie takes place a couple years before it was filmed, it means that several of the actions shown were technically not illegal during the film's time frame, despite Bud's fears of losing his Series 7 license or worse. In fact, Gekko most likely didn't break the law at all, but Bud definitely broke the law by disclosing confidential information from his client (Gekko) to a competitor (Wildman) and using that information to cost his client millions. Also, Bud does Janitor Impersonation Infiltration to search Roger's law firm's records and make copies of them for Gekko.
- When Gekko asks Fox to follow Lawrence Wildman around, Fox complains that he could lose his Series 7 license and/or go to jail. In reality, there's nothing illegal about following someone around and noting that he ate lunch in a restaurant with others, as this is all publicly observable information. It would only be illegal if Fox harassed Wildman in some way, and Fox tries not to be noticed by Wildman or anyone with him. The first illegal act Fox actually commits is searching Roger's law firm's records (under the ruse of co-owning the cleaning company) and making copies of them for Gekko.
- Carl tells Bud that Bluestar Airlines is about to settle a lawsuit and the stock should soar on this news. In reality, Carl would be in deep legal trouble as well, as he disclosed the settlement to Bud before it became public knowledge.
- The Abyss Gazes Also:Lou Mannheim: Bud... Bud I like you. Just remember something. Man looks in the abyss, there's nothing staring back at him. At that moment, man finds his character. And that is what keeps him out of the abyss.
Bud: I think I understand.
- Better Than Sex: Gekko relates that when he made an $800,000 profit on his first business real-estate purchase, he thought making all that money was "better than sex," but years later, he only sees it as a day's pay.
- Big Applesauce: Wall Street and its sequel are set in and around the financial district in Manhattan.
- Big Bad: Gordon Gekko, who is an unscrupulous corporate raider and an Evil Mentor to Bud Fox.
- Bittersweet Ending: Bud saves the airline, but is facing a jail term. Likewise, the airline workers have staved off unemployment, but are facing wage cutbacks. But the sequel reveals that once Bud does his stint, he takes up the job at Bluestar that Wildman offered him, proceeds to turn it into one of the most successful airlines in the country, and retires a rich man.
- Broken Pedestal: Bud's attitude to Gekko after he intentionally plans to drive his father's cherished company into bankruptcy.
- Caught on Tape: Bud secretly wore a Hidden Wire to record Gekko's own crimes as part of his deal with the SEC.
- Corrupt Corporate Executive: Gekko. The guy's New Era Speech even exemplifies his MO: "Greed, for lack of a better word, is good."
- Deal with the Devil: Bud does a deal with Gekko, but it comes with a high cost.
- Delayed Wire:
- Bud tells Gekko that Bluestar Airlines is about to settle a lawsuit and the stock should soar on this news when Gekko is interviewing him for a high-level Wall Street role. Bud is desperate to impress Gekko and passes it off as his "research". In reality, this is considered insider trading, since Bud knows it because his father works for the airline. Of course, Gordon then finds out - and doesn't care - as insider trading, cornering the markets, and manipulating the financial press are all in Gordon's bag of tricks.
- In real life, Bud's father Carl would be in deep legal trouble as well, as he disclosed the settlement to Bud before the information was released. Disclosing inside corporate information, even to family or personal friends, before it becomes public is illegal, as this can cause others to seek personal gains or profits.
- The Determinator: Bud is definitely persistent in trying to work his way up the world of finance.
- Engineered Public Confession: Bud is secretly wearing a Hidden Wire to record Gekko's own crimes as part of his deal with the SEC to get a lighter sentence, during their final confrontation.
- Everyone Has Standards:
- If you were to go by the earlier scenes in the movie, you would think that none of Bud's coworkers have any semblance of morality. However, towards the end of the movie, when they all find out about Bud's involvement in securities fraud, everyone gives him a cold stare.
- An earlier draft of the script reveals that even Wildman drew the line between corporate raiding and insider trading.
- Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: When Gekko invokes a Not So Different speech to Darien in an earlier draft of the script, she responds that he's incapable of understanding that money can't buy everything, especially love. Gekko thinks that she's leaving him to become on her own, but doesn't realize that she's actually leaving him for Bud.
- Evil and Cynical Mentor: Gordon Gekko to Bud Fox. In this case, it's the student who pushes for the mentor's advice. As soon as Bud makes himself useful to Gekko's financial schemes, Gekko takes him under his wing and gives him the life he always wanted while teaching him to be driven solely by greed and use illegal means if necessary to ensure his profits.
- Fanservice Extra: The naked girl seen getting out of Bud Fox's bed. Suzen Murakoshi is credited as "Girl in Bed".
- Fatal Flaw:
- Bud Fox is too wide-eyed about Gekko's schemes, as Gekko is solely driven by greed and wants him to obtain information by any means necessary, even if it's illegal. Bud also wanted to be like Gekko, but doesn't realize the costs of having such a lifestyle until it was too late.
- Greed. Being a Corrupt Corporate Executive, Gekko is solely driven by greed as he uses Bud to obtain information by any means necessary to make a quick profit. His New Era Speech even exemplifies his MO: "Greed, for lack of a better word, is good." It ultimately costs him his career, family and reputation, as shown in the sequel.
- Fiction 500: Gekko is regarded as a ruthless corporate raider whom protagonist Bud Fox idolizes. Partway through the movie he confronts his rival, Larry Wildman, who during a tense negotiation tells Gekko, "I could break you, mate. In two pieces over my knees. You know it. I know it. I could buy you six times over. I could dump the stock just to burn your arse!"
- Forgotten Friend, New Foe: When Bud gets promoted:Lynch: The minute I laid eyes on you, I knew you had what it took.
Lynch: The minute I laid eyes on you, I knew you were no good.
- When Bud's insider trading is exposed:
- Good Hair, Evil Hair: Gekko has the slicked-back variety, indicating his status as a Corrupt Corporate Executive.
- Greed: The premise of the film. Gekko's "greed is good" quote solidifies it.
- Ham-to-Ham Combat: The confrontation between both Sheens. Martin even said "the size of your WALLET!" was inspired by another ham, George C. Scott, in The Hustler.
- Hidden Wire: Bud uses a hidden wire during his final confrontation with Gekko, in a successful attempt to provoke him into confessing his complicity in Fox's insider trading and Gekko's own criminal behavior.
- Hollywood Law:
- While several actions noted as bad would count as immoral, the fact that the movie takes place a couple years before it was filmed means that several of the actions shown were not actually illegal during the film's time frame, despite Bud Fox's fears of losing his Series 7 license or worse. In fact, Gekko most likely didn't break the law at all, but Bud definitely broke the law by disclosing confidential information from his client (Gekko) to a competitor (Wildman) and using that information to cost his client millions.
- It's a bit of a stretch for this trope perhaps, but in the final shot, Bud is shown walking up the courthouse steps in Lower Manhattan's Foley Square, presumably to his sentencing. However, he's walking up the steps of the New York County Supreme Court buildingi.e., state court, when the insider-trading charges he would be allocating to within are strictly federal, and so he should have been walking up the steps of the Thurgood Marshall U.S. Courthouse next door.
- Honor Before Reason: Carl doesn't like Gekko or the proposed restructuring plan for Bluestar at all and believes Bud is being used and Gekko wants to destroy the company; nevertheless, he agrees to take the proposal to the workers at his union because he believes the employees have a right to know about and consider it.
- Ironic Echo:
- Early in the movie, Gordon advises against getting emotional about stock. Later in the movie, Bud repeats this back to Gordon.
- Also, when Bud gets promoted, his boss Lynch praises him for his success. Near the end, Lynch gives him a Death Glare, contemptuously commenting about Bud's involvement in securities fraud.
- ISO-Standard Urban Groceries: Darien comes to Bud's apartment carrying the typical bag.
- It Amused Me:Bud: Why do you need to wreck this company?
Gekko: Because it's wreckable, alright?
- It's Cuban: Sleazy, amoral executive Gekko enjoys smoking contraband Cuban cigars. It takes Bud giving him a box of cigars to be granted an interview.
- Janitor Impersonation Infiltration: Bud buys shares in a cleaning company to copy confidential documents at Roger's law firm for Gekko.
- Meaningful Name: The name "Bud Fox" can be interpreted as "Small/New (flower bud) and Crafty/Sneaky (like a fox)".
- Bud's name also sounds very similar to the phrase "b_tt f_cks", which is what Bud does to Gekko in the last quarter of the film, and what The SEC does to Bud in the end.
- My God, What Have I Done?: When Bud learns that Gekko plans to drive Bluestar Airlines into bankruptcy (and leave his father and the entire Bluestar staff unemployed), he is angered by Gekko's deceit, and racked with the guilt of being an accessory to Bluestar's destruction. Bud chooses his father over his mentor and resolves to disrupt Gekko's plans by concocting a plan to drive up Bluestar's stock before manipulating it back down.
- Naïve Newcomer: At first, Gordon Gekko dismisses Bud Fox as naive about the stock exchange.
- Names to Run Away from Really Fast: No one with the last name Gekko is likely to be an upstanding guy.
- New Era Speech: Three words: "Greed is good."
- Nice Job Fixing It, Villain!: Good luck, Gordon. You unknowingly spilled the beans on your own crimes and sealed your own fate to a long prison sentence, thanks to a Hidden Wire Bud was wearing during your final confrontation with him.
- No Historical Figures Were Harmed:
- Gekko was loosely based on Michael Milken, the junk-bond king and Ivan Boesky, a corporate raider.
- Bud Fox was partially based on Dennis Levine, a merger-and-acquisition specialist at Drexel Burnham Lambert who spent much of his career obtaining insider information.
- Sir Larry Wildman was based on the Anglo-French billionaire James Goldsmith.
- The Oner: A great piece of acting by Sheen, as Bud is arrested for the insider trading he did during his time with Gekko, and slowly breaks down as he's handcuffed and led out of the office.
- Opposed Mentors: Bud has to choose between his father, a blue-collar machinist who lives an honest lifestyle, and Gekko, a Corrupt Corporate Executive solely motivated by Greed.
- Original Position Fallacy: Gordon proudly supports the idea of "survival of the fittest", but only as long as he's the fittest. He's driven into a Villainous Breakdown when Bud beats him at his own game and cheats him out of his control of Bluestar.
- Perp Walk: Bud, after he's arrested for insider trading.
- The Place: Wall Street, as a metonym for the securities and financial services industry.
- Pop-Star Composer: Stewart Copeland.
- Present-Day Past: The film, released in late 1987, has an opening title saying the movie takes place in 1985. Yet within a minutes a character makes a reference to the Challenger disaster, which happened in early 1986. This was the result of adding the "1985" title after most of the film had been completed, as a way of setting it before the insider-trading scandals that had unfolded over the time the film was made.
- Punctuated Pounding: "I took you in. [hits Bud a 2nd time] A NOBODY! [hits him again] I opened the doors for you! I showed you how the system works! The value of information, how to get it! Fulham Oil, Brant Resources, Geodynamics. And this is how you fucking pay me back, you cockroach! [hits him a 4th time, but the force of the hit knocks Bud into the ground.] I GAVE YOU DARIEN! I GAVE YOU YOUR MANHOOD, I GAVE YOU EVERYTHING!"
- Reality Ensues: While Bud was angered that Gekko used him, Bud should have realized that he definitely broke the law by disclosing confidential information about his client (Gekko) to a competitor (Wildman), and using that info to manipulate the markets and cost his client millions.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: During their final confrontation, Gekko gives Bud a harsh one:Gordon Gekko: [smugly] Hiya, Buddy.
Bud Fox: Gordon.Gekko: [still smug] You sandbagged me on Bluestar, huh? [chuckles again] I guess you think you taught the teacher a lesson, that the tail can wag the dog, huh? [crushes his cigarette with his foot] Well, let me clue you in, pal. The ice is melting right underneath your feet. [suddenly punches Bud and grabs him by the collar] Did you think you could've gotten this far this fast with anybody else, huh? You think you'd be out there dicking someone like Darien? No. You'd be cold-calling widows and dentists trying to buy 20 shares of some fucking dog-shit stock. I took you in. [hits Bud a 2nd time] A NOBODY! [hits him again] I opened the doors for you. I showed you how the system works. The value of information, how to get it! Fulham Oil, Brant Resources, Geodynamics. And this is how you fucking pay me back, you cockroach![knocks Bud into the ground.] I GAVE YOU DARIEN! I GAVE YOU YOUR MANHOOD, I GAVE YOU EVERYTHING! [calms down, then tosses a handkerchief to Bud to clean off the blood on his lip] You could have been one of the great ones, Buddy. I look at you, and I see myself. Why?
- Satellite Love Interest: Darien Taylor.
- Screw the Money, I Have Rules!:Bud Fox: What I see is a jealous old machinist who can't stand the fact that his son has become more successful than he has!
Carl Fox: What you see is a guy who never measured a man's success by the size of his WALLET!
- Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: The entire plot seems to play off this trope, specifically when Gekko tells Bud to do favors for him which would violate securities laws.
- Self-Made Man: While at a social club, Gekko mentions to Bud that he was "a City College boy who bought his way in, and now all these Ivy league schmucks are sucking [his] kneecaps."
- Smug Snake: Subverted. Gordon Gekko is clearly in love with himself, but also remembers to Pet the Dog on occasion.
- Status Cell Phone: Gordon has an extravagant, top-of-the-the-line, and brick-sized cell phone.
- The Social Darwinist: Gordon Gekko's philosophy is Social Darwinism of the economic kind. Several of his quotes are "It's a Zero Sum game, somebody wins, somebody loses" or "In my book you either do it right or you get eliminated." His entire "Greed is good" speech is of The Social Darwinist nature. However, he only applies this trope to companies: weak people don't die, they just don't succeed in business, which is a fairly basic tenet of capitalism. Of course, he's more than willing to under-handed ways to win if he can't succeed on pure talent (although, given his character, he'd probably just attribute that to his intellectual superiority).Gekko: The public's out there throwing darts at a board, sport. I don't throw darts at a board. I bet on sure things. Read Sun Tzu, The Art of War. "Every battle is won before it's ever fought." Think about it. You're not as smart as I thought you were, Buddy boy. Ever wonder why fund managers can't beat the S&P 500? Because they're sheep and sheep get slaughtered. I have been in the business since '69. Most of these Harvard MBA types, they don't add up to dog shit. Gimme guys who are poor, smart and hungry. And no feelings. You win some, you lose some, but you keep on fighting. And if you need a friend, get a dog. It's trench warfare out there, pal.
- The Sociopath: Gekko is a clear example, as he not only serves as an Evil Mentor to Bud Fox, but also uses him into obtaining information via illegal means. Beneath that facade, he is actually driven by self-interest and greed, has no qualms about using Bud as a means to ensure his profits and shows no remorse when he intentionally plans to drive Bluestar Airlines into bankruptcy.
- Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Gordon is inspired by several corporate raiders during the 1980s, and in fact the famous speech was based on one given by Ivan Boesky, who like Gordon, got arrested for his financial activities.
- Victory Is Boring: After winning the takeover battle, Gordon complains about how difficult it has been to turn around Teldar even after he's fired most of the management. For that reason, he initially rebuffs Bud's suggestion at buying BlueStar.
- Villain with Good Publicity: Gekko presents himself to the world as a successful businessman and investor, but is actually a Corrupt Corporate Executive solely driven by Greed.
- Villainous Breakdown: Near the climax, Gekko dumps his remaining interest in Bluestar, only to learn on the evening news that Wildman bought them at a lower price and will become its new majority shareholder. Realizing Bud engineered the entire scheme, he physically assaults his former protege, berating his ingratitude for several of their illegal business transactions (including Bluestar itself).
- White Anglo-Saxon Protestant: Gekko tells Bud that he bought himself a seat on the board of the Bronx Zoo because, "One thing you gotta learn about WASPs: They love animals, but can't stand people."
- White-Collar Crime: Much of the film revolves around Bud trying to be like Gekko, who's actually a Corrupt Corporate Executive and commits insider trading to make a quick buck. Although insider trading is not illegal per se and rules regarding it can vary significantly by jurisdiction, it's only unlawful if done for the sake of personal gain. Trading conducted by corporate insiders or significant shareholders must be reported to regulators, usually within a few business days of the trade. Insiders in the US are required to file a Form 3 with the SEC if they decide to make a trade for the 1st time, while Form 4 is used for subsequent transactions, and Form 5 is a summary of all trades made throughout a company's fiscal year, as well as transactions previously not mentioned on a Form 4 submission.
- Wicked Cultured: Gekko wears trend-setting, custom-made clothes, collects art, and dates an interior decorator.
- Wide-Eyed Idealist: Gekko initially dismisses Bud for being naive about the stock market.
- You Remind Me of X:Gekko: You could have been one of the great ones, Buddy. I look at you, and I see myself. Why?
Bud Fox: [getting up] I don't know. I guess I realized that I'm just Bud Fox.
- You Said You Would Let Them Go: Bud says to Gordon once he realizes who Gordon truly is: "You told me you were going to turn Bluestar around, not upside down. You used me." Or, to put it another way (since the sale of Bluestar will cause Bud's father's union workers to be fired), "You said you would let them stay!"
- Yuppie: Arguably the Trope Codifier with Fox and the other twenty-something yuppies working as drones to Gekko who's an older yuppie around 40.