When Greed Became Good On 'Wall Street' Brokers who walk around saying "greed is good" have Oliver Stone and Stanley Weiser to thank for the mantra. Twenty-one years ago, they paired up to make the movie Wall Street. Weiser says he sometimes wonders if he is not to blame, just a little, for the mess we are in now.
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When Greed Became Good On 'Wall Street'

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When Greed Became Good On 'Wall Street'

When Greed Became Good On 'Wall Street'

When Greed Became Good On 'Wall Street'

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/95785273/95787162" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Michael Douglas played Gordon Gekko, a ruthless and incredibly wealthy corporate raider, in the movie Wall Street. Over the years people have told screenwriter Stanley Weiser that they try to emulate Gekko, which Weiser says is missing the point. Courtesy 20th Century Fox hide caption

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Courtesy 20th Century Fox

There are days when Weiser wonders whether the movie Wall Street is, in some small way, partly to blame for the current crisis. Courtesy 20th Century Fox hide caption

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Courtesy 20th Century Fox

"Greed is good."

That has become a mantra of sorts on Wall Street, thanks to Oliver Stone and Stanley Weiser. Twenty-one years ago, the two paired up to make the film Wall Street, starring Michael Douglas and Charlie Sheen. Lately, the themes they explored are feeling uncomfortably familiar.

"In 1989 Newsweek said the greed decade is over, the 'Gordon Gekkos' of the world are all gone," says screenwriter Weiser. But it's clear, he continues, that there's still plenty of greed on Wall Street.

The iconic movie almost never happened.

"It was just a fluke," says Weiser. Oliver Stone had asked him to write a movie about the quiz show scandals of the 1950s. But then he started noticing all the interesting stories in the business section of the newspaper. "There were a lot of insider trading scandals that had come to light," says Weiser, "and he knew that was the more important issue — he told me to go off and work on that instead."

At that point, Weiser knew little about the financial world. So he went to Wall Street and spent time with brokers and read up on all the big players. Out of his research, he created the character of Gordon Gekko, a ruthless and incredibly wealthy corporate raider.

In the film, Gekko, played by Douglas, takes the young trader Bud Fox, played by Sheen, under his wing. In one scene Fox asks, "How much is enough?"

"It's not a question of enough, pal," is Gekko's swift reply. "It's a zero sum game; somebody wins, somebody loses. Money itself isn't lost or made; it's simply transferred."

Watching Wall Street in 2008, the film seems quite dated; there are huge '80s hairdos, cheesy music and mobile phones the size of Long Island. But writer Weiser sees parallels between the corporate takeovers in his movie and the subprime mortgages lurking behind the current financial crisis.

"They were looking for ways [to make] more, more, more and junk bonds were dead and corporate takeovers were dead and derivatives were going the wrong way, so it's like people have to come up with some kind of new Ponzi scheme."

There are days when Weiser wonders if his words, in some small way, are partly to blame.

"Over the years," he says, "I would run into people who would tell me how much that movie meant to them, but it meant to them for the wrong reasons." He says a lot of real-life Wall Street players have told him they emulate the Gordon Gekko character. "I realized at that point that I succeeded with the movie," he says, "but I also failed by sending the wrong message."

Weiser says those who see Gekko as a hero are missing the point — in the end, greed got everyone in trouble. Greed sends people to prison. Greed ruins people's lives.

But greed, it would seem, also entertains. Variety reports that 20th Century Fox is planning a Wall Street sequel that focuses on the life of Gekko after he gets out of prison.