A project of the
Institute for Policy Studies

Films on Inequality

Where to Invade Next (2016)
Directed by Michael Moore51brxcml5l

With humor and wit, Moore leads us on a tour of nations that have lessons to share about how to reduce inequality and provide a dignified life for all. Stops along the way include a chat with Italian factory owners proud of their pro-labor policies and a look at Iceland, where bankers responsible for the 2008 financial crisis actually found themselves sent to the slammer, unlike their peers in the United States.

The Divide (2015)
Directed by Katharine Round

The Divide tells the story of seven individuals striving for a better life in the modern-day US and UK — where the top 0.1 percent owns as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent. Based on the book The Spirit Level by Richard G. Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, the documentary reveals how extreme divides between rich and poor impact virtually every aspect of our lives.

Inequality for All (2013)
Directed by Jacob Kornbluth, featuring Robert Reich

Narrated by former Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich, this documentary examines the widening income inequality in the United States and explores what effects this increasing gap has not only on the U.S. economy but also American democracy. At the heart of the film is a simple question: What is a good society and what role does the widening income gap play in the deterioration of the nation’s economic health?

Pride (2014)
Directed by Matthew Warchus, featuring Bill Nighypride

British Prime Minister Maggie Thatcher took power in 1979 and almost immediately set about slashing taxes on the wealthy, cutting spending on social programs, and attacking the labor unions. Welsh miners would later strike to fight back, and their struggle drew support a band of gay Londoners. This uplifting and at times humorous film tells the tale of their unusual alliance.

Elysium (2013)
Directed by Neill Blomkamp, featuring Matt Damon, Jodie Foster

In the year 2159, the ultra-rich live aboard a luxurious space station called Elysium, and the rest of humanity lives a hardscrabble existence in Earth’s ruins. His life hanging in the balance, a man named Max (Matt Damon) agrees to undertake a dangerous mission that could create a truly equal society, but Secretary Delacourt (Jodie Foster) vows to preserve the pampered lifestyle of Elysium’s citizens, no matter what the cost.

The Great Gatsby (2013)
Directed by Baz Luhrmann, featuring Leonardo DiCaprio

The economic inequality that figures so centrally in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel has inspired contemporary scholars to coin the phrase “Great Gatsby curve” to describe the relationship between inequality and intergenerational social immobility. Whether this 2013 film version does these themes justice may be debatable. But if you don’t like this cinematic take on Fitzgerald’s masterwork, you can check out the 1949 and 1974 versions.

Trading Places (1983)
Directed by John Landis, featuring Eddie Murphy, Dan Aykroydmv5bmtc0odg5njywnv5bml5banbnxkftztcwmdu5mzy0mq-_v1_sx640_sy720_

Upper-crust executive Louis Winthorpe III (Dan Aykroyd) and down-and-out hustler Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy) are the unknowing victims of a cynical bet by wealthy futures brokers Mortimer (Don Ameche) and Randolph Duke (Ralph Bellamy). The Duke brothers frame Winthorpe for a crime he didn’t commit, then install the street-smart Valentine in his position. Winthorpe and Valentine eventually uncover the scheme and set out to turn the tables.

Margin Call (2011)
Directed by J. C. Chandor, featuring Kevin Spacey and Jeremy Irons

The story of the beginnings of the 2007-2008 financial crisis, as seen through a 36-hour period at a large Wall Street investment bank. Jeremy Irons plays an obscenely wealthy and out of touch CEO, a character based largely on Lehman’s Dick Fuld. Told the firm is drowning in toxic mortgage-backed securities, he orders Kevin Spacey’s character to dump the junk on unsuspecting parties.

Dark Days (2000)
Directed by Marc Singer

This documentary follows a community of homeless people living in a train tunnel beneath Manhattan. The film depicts a way of life that’s unimaginable to the well-heeled New Yorkers walking the streets above.

Harlan County USA (1976)
Directed by Barbara Kopple

This documentary focuses on labor tensions in the coal-mining industry of rural Kentucky. In 1973, after workers at the Brookside Mine form a union, the mine owners refuse to negotiate a fair contract, then hire armed goons to escort replacement scabs onto the site after workers strike, setting off a prolonged and sometimes violent conflict. This film won Kopple the Oscar for best documentary in 1977.

Even the Rain (2010)220px-eventherain
Directed by Icíar Bollaín, Gael García Bernal

This Spanish drama follows two filmmakers who travel to Bolivia to shoot a film depicting Christopher Columbus’s conquest but find themselves in the middle of a protest over water privatization. Based on the real-life uprising that erupted in 2000 after the U.S.-based Bechtel corporation took over the water system of the city of Cochabamba and immediately jacked up rates beyond what poor Bolivians could afford.

Citizen Kane (1941)
Directed by and starring Orson Welles

Welles plays Charles Foster Kane, who starts out as an idealistic journalist but turns into a ruthless pursuer of money and power. Kane’s immense private mountain estate, “Xanadu,” is on par with some of the abodes of modern-day billionaires. (Think Oracle CEO Larry Ellison’s private island off Hawaii) Isolated in splendor, Kane finds that extreme wealth is no guarantee of happiness. Kane is believed to be based in part on based in part on publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst, who banned the film from being mentioned by any of his newspapers. 

Salt of the Earth (1954)
Directed by Herbert J. Biberman

At New Mexico’s Empire Zinc mine, Mexican-American workers protest the unsafe working conditions and unequal wages they face compared to their Anglo counterparts. 1954poster

The Grapes of Wrath (1940)
Directed by John Ford, featuring Henry Fonda

Based on the John Steinbeck novel, the Grapes of Wrath tells the story of an Oklahoma family whose farm is seized by a bank during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. Seeking work and opportunity, they set off for California and eventually become migrant workers, facing many hardships along the way.

Man’s Castle (1933)
Directed by Frank Borzage, featuring Spencer Tracy

In this Depression-era drama, the gruff and homeless Bill (Spencer Tracy) decides to help out the beautiful, destitute Trina (Loretta Young). They set up house together in a shantytown, but he longs to get out of New York City and hit the open road.

Gandhi (1982)
Directed by Richard Attenborough, featuring Ben Kingsley

This acclaimed biographical drama presents major events in the life of Mohandas Gandhi (Ben Kingsley), the Indian leader who stood up against British rule over his country. Dedicated to the concept of nonviolent resistance, Gandhi is initially dismissed by English officials, but eventually his passive protests move India towards independence.

Bananas! (2009)bananas
Directed by Fredrik Gertten, featuring Byron Rosales Romero, Juan J. Dominguez, Duane Miller, Rick McKnigh

This documentary tells the story of a ground-breaking lawsuit filed on behalf of 12 Nicaraguan banana workers against Dole Food over the global corporation’s use of a banned pesticide that company officials knew could cause sterility.

Park Avenue: Money, Power and the American Dream (2012)
Directed by Alex Gibney

In “Park Avenue: Money Power and the American Dream,” Alex Gibney shows how income disparity has accelerated sharply over the last 40 years. As of 2010, the 400 richest Americans controlled more wealth than the bottom 50 percent of the populace — 150 million people.  In the film, Gibney explains why he believes upward mobility is increasingly out of reach for the poor.

Snowpiercer (2013)
Directed by Bong Joon-ho, reaturing Chris Evans

The globe-spanning Snowpiercer train holds the last remnants of humanity after an attempt at climate engineering to stop global warming has unintentionally created a new ice age.  Evans stars as a member of the lower-class tail section passengers as they lead a revolution against the elite at the front of the train.

Capitalism: A Love Story (2009)
Directed by Michael Moore

Traveling from the Heartland to Wall Street to the halls of Congress, Moore delves into the price the country pays for corporate greed.

Changing Lanes (2002)220px-changing_lanes_poster
Directed by Roger Michell, featuring Ben Affleck and Samuel L. Jackson

A wealthy young white Wall Street lawyer collides with a car driven by a middle-aged black man who is rushing to a hearing to try to regain custody of his children. After the black man refuses to accept a blank check in exchange for not filing an insurance claim, the lawyer leaves him stranded and he misses his chance to tell a family court judge about a house he is buying for his wife and children. Efforts to seek revenge ensue.

Catching the Sun (2015)
Directed by Shalini Kantayya

This documentary follows the stories of entrepreneurs and unemployed workers in the United States and China who are seeking to capitalize on solar energy and break up the oil industry’s concentrated wealth and power.

Sullivan’s Travels (1941)
Directed by Preston Sturges, featuring Veronica Lake

A wealthy Hollywood comedy director goes undercover as a penniless man to gain insights for a serious movie about poverty.

The Big Short (2015)
Directed by Adam McKay, featuring Brad Pitt, Christian Bale, and Steve Carell

A comedy drama about a handful of wealthy traders who made a killing by betting on the housing collapse of 2007-08.