A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Big Short is based on the bestselling book by Michael Lewis. It follows the story of several investors (played by Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, and Brad Pitt) who were among the first to spot warning signs in the real estate market that triggered the global financial meltdown of 2008. By betting against the housing market, they managed to reap huge gains as the economy crumbled, leaving millions out of work and homeless -- which might make some viewers feel pretty conflicted about rooting for them. There's some raucous drinking, plenty of strong language (mainly "f--k" and "s--t"), and glimpses of topless strippers/exotic dancers in this finance-themed dramedy, which is best suited for adults and older teens.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
The years leading up to the global financial meltdown of 2008 were filled with financial exuberance, as Wall Street firms made billions trading bonds made up of residential mortgages. A handful of investors smelled something amiss, eventually realizing it was all a house of cards that would inevitably crumble. Their bets against these bonds, THE BIG SHORT, eventually paid off hugely -- but only when the entire U.S. economy fell apart, leaving millions homeless and unemployed. Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, and Brad Pitt star as the skeptical investors, all based on real people who were featured in Michael Lewis' best-selling book of the same name.
Is it any good?
The Big Short is a flashy, quick-witted, and, yes, entertaining film about the housing and banking collapse. But it might just be a little too entertaining, a little too funny for a film that’s so sobering. You laugh at all the asides -- and they are funny, though perhaps not all of them were necessary -- and then feel terrible for laughing. (Though we really did enjoy the celebrity-cameo-filled footnotes that explained the dizzying banking and investment maneuvers and products that basically undid the economy.)
Then again, nervous laughter may just be an appropriate response to a movie about how a small group of outsiders identified a weakness in a system high on arrogance and avarice -- a system that, unfortunately, had such weight that, when it toppled, it took so many innocent and not-so-innocent souls with it. Ultimately, The Big Short is whip smart, supported by a script that manages to educate while it amuses. And then there's the powerhouse cast, led by a brilliant Bale as a doctor-turned-hedge-fund-manager who has an ease with numbers and an unease with people.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about greed. Why were so many banks and bankers so eager to keep selling the mortgage bonds that they must have suspected were flawed? Did the huge profits make everything seem acceptable?
How does the film explain very complex financial concepts? Did you learn anything new about Wall Street? Do you think this was an effective way to give viewers a sense of what was happening?
How does this based-on-a-true-story film compare to other movies set in the financial world, including the ones that are all fiction (Wall Street) and others that are also based on real events (The Wolf of Wall Street)? How accurate do you think The Big Short is to what actually happened? Why might filmmakers change some facts?
How is drinking portrayed? Is it glamorized? Do characters face any consequences?
- In theaters: December 11, 2015
- On DVD or streaming: March 15, 2016
- Cast: Brad Pitt, Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling, Steve Carell
- Director: Adam McKay
- Studio: Paramount Pictures
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: History
- Run time: 130 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: pervasive language and some sexuality/nudity
- Awards/Honors: Academy Award
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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