For Your Viewing Pleasure

Stefan, over at The Millennial Budget, stopped by recently to pass along his thanks for bringing Big Men, the latest SavvyRecommendation, to his attention. He also asked about other suggestions that were available on Netflix. While there are only a handful available on Netflix – they are all available on one steaming platform or another, check the links – I thought I would share most of the movies and documentaries I have recommended over the last three years.

Each of these films is related to personal finance/the economy in one way or another. You’ve got poverty, capitalism, the mortgage crisis, payday loans, title loans, the demise of unions, the demise of manufacturing, income inequality, wealth inequality, and a whole lot more. Grab some popcorn and enjoy!


Spent: Looking For Change (YouTube) – Sponsored by American Express and narrated by Tyler Perry, this short (39 minutes) documentary is a film about everyday Americans shut out of the finance system most of us take for granted. Many of these Americans turn to pawn shops, check cashing services, and use payday and title loans to meet basic financial needs.

Two American Families (PBS) – This series follows two American families over a 21-year period, documenting their struggles in a changing American economy. While I highly recommend that viewers take the time to watch each individual segment, the final segment in the series, Two American Families, does provide a recap of events from the first three segments in the series. Check here for links to the individual episodes in the series.

99 Homes (Amazon) – A timely thriller about a single father who is evicted from his home and his only chance to win it back is to go to work for the charismatic and ruthless businessman who evicted him in the first place.

San Francisco 2.0 (HBO Go) – This documentary looks at how the technology boom – and the resultant extraordinary incomes – has impacted this historically progressive city, talking to various industry representatives, politicians and longtime residents hoping to maintain their place and not be left behind.

We the Economy (Netflix) – In this documentary series, Paul G. Allen – the Microsoft co-founder – and Morgan Spurlock – of Super Size Me fame, have partnered through their production entities, Vulcan Productions and Cinelan respectively, to produce 20 short films. Each film focuses on a specific aspect of the economy and at 5 – 10 minutes each, they are easily digested.

We All Fall Down: The American Mortgage Crisis (SnagFilms) – This informative documentary chronicles the history of America’s mortgage finance system, from its origins in the 1930s, when the federal government first made available long-term, fixed-rate loans to new American homeowners, to its current state of crisis, after an excess of risky mortgage financing led to the system’s collapse, which in turn triggered a wider economic recession.

The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant (HBO Go) – The plant, which opened in 1981, and churned out an average of 280,000 small trucks and SUVs a year, closed two days before Christmas in 2008. As a result, 2,500 workers and 200 management staff were left without jobs. Moreover, the closing also triggers the loss of thousands of related jobs and businesses.

Paycheck to Paycheck: The Life & Times of Katrina Gilbert (HBO Go) – Filmed over the course of one year in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the film Katrina Gilbert, a 30-year-old mother of three who works as a certified nursing assistant in an extended-care facility while striving to address her own health-care issues. Overworked, underpaid, uninsured and lacking support, she chooses daily between purchasing her own medication and paying for the needs of her three children, which often leaves her struggling to make ends meet.

A Place at the Table (Netflix) – As noted on the film’s website, 50 Million Americans – 1 in 4 children – don’t know where their next meal is coming from. This documentary tells the powerful stories of three such Americans, who maintain their dignity even as they struggle just to eat. In a riveting journey that will change forever how you think about the hungry, A Place at the Table shows how the issue could be solved forever, once the American public decides – as they have in the past – that ending hunger is in the best interests of us all.

Inequality for All (Amazon) – This documentary follows Robert Reich, a former U.S. Labor Secretary under President Bill Clinton, as he looks to raise awareness of the country’s widening economic gap. Mr. Reich notes that we are currently in the biggest economic slump since the Great Depression.

In Debt We Trust (YouTube) – While a large number of Americans carry a certain amount of personal debt, very few are really aware of just how common and widespread the debt crisis has become. This documentary takes an in-depth look at the relationship Americans have with their credit cards and discusses how shopping, and rabid consumerism, has replaced the factory as America’s dominant economic engine.

The Pursuit of Happyness (Amazon) – This biographical drama introduces us to Chris Gardner and his bout of homelessness. As Gardner struggles to make ends meet, he loses his wife, loses his house, and loses any financial security he might have had. Forced to live out in the streets with his son, he becomes desperate to find a job, any job.

The Game (Amazon) – irected by David Fincher, this thriller stars Michael Douglas as Nicholas Van Orton, a Scrooge-like San Francisco investment banker focused only on his money and advancing his business. On his 48th birthday – coincidentally the same the age at which his father committed suicide – his younger brother (Sean Penn) arrives to present him with an odd present, a gift certificate to play a game courtesy of CRS (Consumer Recreation Services).

Detropia (Netflix) – With its vivid, painterly palette and haunting score, Detropia sculpts a dreamlike collage of a grand city teetering on the brink of dissolution. These soulful pragmatists and stalwart philosophers strive to make ends meet and make sense of it all, refusing to abandon hope or resistance. Their grit and pluck embody the spirit of the Motor City as it struggles to survive post-industrial America and begins to envision a radically different future.

Money, Power and Wall Street (PBS) – Broken down into four parts, this four-hour FRONTLINE investigation tells the inside story of the origins of the 2008 financial meltdown and the battle to save the global economy. The films explore key decisions, missed opportunities, and the unprecedented moves by the government and banking leaders that have affected the fortunes of millions of people.

Hard Times: Lost on Long Island (HBO Go) – The makers of this documentary note that while the Great Recession officially ended in the summer of 2009, for 25 million unemployed and underemployed Americans, the impacts are still being felt. Filmed primarily on Long Island – the birthplace of the post-WWII suburban American Dream – this short (54 minutes) HBO Film documents the challenges and frustrations facing several unemployed or under-employed people who are trying to land new jobs and make ends meet in the face of increasingly daunting odds.

Blogger-in-Chief here at RetirementSavvy and author of Sin City Greed, Cream City Hustle and RENDEZVOUS WITH RETIREMENT: A Guide to Getting Fiscally Fit.


  1. Thanks for the mention James! I actually watched 2 of the films you told me about. Even though it is not on this list you provided here today, I watched the entire Enron scandal which was very intriguing to see from an accountant’s perspective. Looking forward to seeing some more from this list!

    • Good stuff, my friend. Enjoy. Looking forward to getting your feedback on some of the others. As I noted in a reply to Larry, I enjoyed each of the films recommended, however, if I had to narrow it down to four, I would say definitely check out Spent: Looking for Change, Two American Families, The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant and Paycheck to Paycheck: The Life & Times of Katrina Gilbert.

    • Here is one I have viewed on Netflix but never got around to recommending … Hank: Five Years from the Brink. From IMDB: For three weeks in September 2008, one person was charged with preventing the collapse of the global economy. No one understood the financial markets better than Hank Paulson, the former CEO of Goldman Sachs. In Hank: Five Years from the Brink, Paulson tells the complete story of how he persuaded banks, Congress and presidential candidates to sign off on nearly $1 trillion in bailouts – even as he found the behavior that led to the crisis, and the bailouts themselves, morally reprehensible.

      • Will probably watch one tonight. I try to read at least one hour a night or watch documentaries like these. They are fun, interesting, and help expand my knowledge.

  2. I haven’t seen any of these, so I appreciate you sharing. Always looking for new video content to watch, so I’ll have to check out a few of them. Thanks again!

  3. The Pursuit of Happyness is one of my all time favorite movies. You have a lot of titles that I haven’t heard of before so I will have to check them out! One of the titles in the financial category that I enjoyed was Inside Job.

    • The Pursuit of Happyness and Inside Job … great movie and documentary respectively. I enjoyed each of the films recommended, however, if I had to narrow it down to four, I would say definitely check out Spent: Looking for Change, Two American Families, The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant and Paycheck to Paycheck: The Life & Times of Katrina Gilbert.

      Looking forward to your thoughts once you’ve had a chance to see some, my friend.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *