SHOWDOWN: Boiler Room vs. The Wolf of Wall Street

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When I took Economics, we had a competition to see who could invest in stocks the best. Of course, the money wasn’t real, we just used a simulation. The leaderboards showed such promising returns that I decided to invest for real. However, I didn’t have enough money to invest in blue chip stocks like in the simulation, so I invested in penny stocks, which turned out to be a bad decision. In the last week, I remembered this experience and decided to watch two movies about the stock market: The Wolf of Wall Street, which I had seen before, and Boiler Room, which I had not seen before.

Before I begin, I feel like I need to give a history lesson. In 1989, Jordan Belfort opened Stratton Oakmont, a brokerage house that pushed penny stocks in large quantities so that the brokers would gain a larger commission. With this strategy, Stratton Oakmont defrauded almost all of its investors and made its employees rich. The reason I bring this up is because both of these movies are based on Stratton Oakmont is some way or another.

Boiler Room is only inspired by the story of Stratton, and instead tells the story of Seth Davis (played by Giovanni Ribisi,) a college dropout who becomes a trainee at a Stratton-esque brokerage firm in order to gain the respect of his father (oh, and also to get filthy rich.) Soon, he finds out that the firm is actually really, really corrupt and sells stocks for companies that don’t even exist.

The Wolf of Wall Street, on the other hand, is the “true” story of Stratton Oakmont as seen from creation to downfall through the eyes of Jordan Belfort (played by Leonardo DiCaprio.) The almost 3 hour running time is populated mostly with drug-fueled interactions between both his friend/colleague Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill) and his second wife Naomi (Margot Robbie.)

The most stark difference in these two films is the production. Boiler Room was made on a $7M budget and directed by Ben Younger, who had not directed a film before. The biggest name attached to the movie is Ben Affleck, who appears in a collection of scenes that seem as if they were all filmed on the same day. In contrast, The Wolf of Wall Street was made on a $100M budget and directed by the acclaimed Martin Scorcese, with many bankable names showing up throughout the film. Yes, I know that budget doesn’t mean that a movie will be good, but in this case, it definitely shows. In The Wolf of Wall Street, all of the locations feel vibrant and lively, from the party boats to the office spaces, which is accentuated by the performances of DiCaprio and Hill. In Boiler Room, every single location and performance feels dull and lifeless, even the outside scenes. This results in the film feeling completely foreign, even though it supposedly takes place only a half an hour from where I live.

Let me give Boiler Room a bit of credit: It at least tries to have a sense of morality, even if it does seem forced. At a few points in the movie, it shows the life of a customer named Harry Reynard, who entrusts a heavy sum of money with the firm. The money is lost and his wife and kids leave him. This is more than can be said about The Wolf of Wall Street, which not only refuses to show anyone defrauded by Stratton Oakmont, but also treats those in the firm as the undisputed protagonists.
If I had to choose a film to win this showdown, I would choose The Wolf of Wall Street in a heartbeat because, even though it’s almost an hour longer than Boiler Room, it manages to be infinitely more engaging.

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