The Big Short is a 2015 American biographical comedy-drama film directed and co-written by Adam McKay. It is based on the 2010 book of the same name by Michael Lewis, about the financial crisis of 2007–2010 brought on by the build-up of the housing market and credit bubble. The film stars Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, and Brad Pitt. Distributed by Paramount Pictures, the film began a limited release in the US on December 11, 2015, followed by a wide release on December 23, 2015.
The movie follows the simultaneous stories of three groups of people who discovered the groundwork for the financial crisis of 2007–2010 and manage to enormously profit from it.
In 2005, eccentric hedge fund manager Michael Burry (Christian Bale) discovers that the U.S. housing market is extremely unstable, being based on subprime loans that are high risk and providing fewer and fewer returns. Predicting that the market will collapse sometime in the second quarter of 2007, he realizes that he can profit from this situation by creating a credit default swap market, allowing him to bet against the housing market; he visits numerous banks with this idea, and the banks, believing that the housing market is secure, accept his proposal. This earns the ire of Burry’s clients who believe that he is wasting their money and demand that he stop his activities, but he refuses. As the predicted time of the collapse approaches, his investors lose their confidence and consider pulling their money out, but Burry puts a moratorium on withdrawals, much to his investors’ anger. However, the market collapses just as he predicted and he produces 489% profits from the plan.
Investor Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling) hears of Burry’s actions from one of the bankers he dealt with, and soon realizes that Burry’s predictions are true. He decides to put his own stake in the credit default swap market. A misplaced phone call alerts trader Mark Baum (Steve Carell) to his plans, and Baum is convinced to join Vennett. The two discover that the impending market collapse is being further perpetuated by the sale of collateralized debt obligations (CDOs), groups of poor loans that are packaged together and incorrectly given AAA ratings due to conflicts of interest and dishonesty of the rating agencies. When Baum attends the American Securitization Forum in Las Vegas, he interviews a businessman who has created synthetic CDOs, making what is described as a chain of increasingly large bets on the faulty loans; Baum realizes, much to his horror, that the scale of the fraud will cause a complete collapse of the economy. Baum’s business partners convince him to go through with the credit default swaps, profiting from the situation at the banks’ expense.
Eager young investors Charlie Geller (John Magaro) and Jamie Shipley (Finn Wittrock) discover a flyer by Vennett and also decide to become involved in the credit default swaps. Since they are too inexperienced to pull off the trades necessary to profit from the situation, they enlist the aid of retired banker Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt). The three visit the mortgage securities forum in Las Vegas, where they manage to successfully make the deals. Shipley and Geller are initially ecstatic, but Rickert realizes that they are essentially celebrating an impending economic collapse and soon-to-be-lost lives, much to his disgust and their horror. The two profit immensely, but are left with their faith in the system broken.
In an epilogue, Burry semi-retires and invests only in water, Baum refuses to say “I told you so” to the world and continues his career, Rickert returns to his retirement, and Shipley and Geller unsuccessfully attempt to sue the ratings companies and eventually split apart. Almost nobody involved in the creation of the CDO bubble is arrested, and CDOs are soon sold again; the film calls these “bespoke opportunity tranches,” though in reality they are also sometimes referred to as a “Bespoke CDO” or “Single-tranche CDO.”
- Christian Bale as Michael Burry
- Steve Carell as Mark Baum (based on Steve Eisman)
- Ryan Gosling as Jared Vennett (based on Greg Lippmann)
- Brad Pitt as Ben Rickert (based on Ben Hockett)
- Melissa Leo as Georgia Hale
- Hamish Linklater as Porter Collins
- John Magaro as Charlie Geller (based on Charlie Ledley)
- Rafe Spall as Danny Moses
- Jeremy Strong as Vinny Daniel
- Marisa Tomei as Cynthia Baum (based on Valerie Feigen)
- Finn Wittrock as Jamie Shipley (based on Jamie Mai)
- Stanley Wong as Ted Jiang (based on Eugene Xu)
- Byron Mann as Wing Chau
- Tracy Letts as Lawrence Fields
- Karen Gillan as Evie
- Max Greenfield as Mortgage Broker
- Margot Robbie as Herself
- Selena Gomez as Herself
- Richard Thaler as Himself
- Anthony Bourdain as Himself
In 2013, Paramount acquired the rights to the 2010 book The Big Short: Inside The Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis, to develop it into a film, which Brad Pitt‘s Plan B Entertainment would produce. On March 24, 2014, Adam McKay was set to write and direct the film, about the housing and credit bubble.
On January 13, 2015, Variety reported that Brad Pitt, Christian Bale, and Ryan Gosling were set to star in the film, with Pitt producing the film along with Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner. Plan B Entertainment would finance, with Paramount handling the distribution rights. Before this, Pitt had already starred in the adaptation of the author’s Moneyball, for which he was nominated for an Oscar. On January 14, it was announced that Steve Carell would also star. On April 21, 2015, more cast was revealed by Deadline, including Melissa Leo, Marisa Tomei, Tracy Letts, Hamish Linklater, John Magaro, Byron Mann, Rafe Spall, Jeremy Strong, and Finn Wittrock. Charles Randolph wrote the initial draft. Max Greenfield joined the ensemble cast of the film on April 23, 2015. Karen Gillan tweeted about her involvement in the film on May 8, 2015.
Principal photography on the film began on March 18, 2015 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Christian Bale was spotted on the set on March 23, 2015. On March 25, filming was taking place on General De Gaulle Boulevard in the Algiers section of New Orleans. On May 8, Gillan confirmed she was shooting her scenes. Selena Gomez was spotted on set for a cameo May 11, 2015. On May 20, 2015, filming took place on Mercer, between the Prince Street and Spring Street in Manhattan, New York City. On May 22, the production crew recreated the offices of failed investment firm Lehman Brothers in the lobby of the New York State Department of Financial Services in Manhattan. An assistant counsel for the Department of Financial Services played one of the extras in the scene.
As of December 31, 2015, The Big Short has grossed $24 million in North America and $1.5 million in other territories for a worldwide total of $25.5 million, against a budget of $28 million.
The film was released in eight theaters in Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and Chicago on December 11, 2015 and earned $705,527 (an average of $88,191 per theater). It set the record for the best ever per-screen gross for a film opening in eight locations, breaking the previous record held by Memoirs of a Geisha ($85,313 per theater), and the second biggest theater average of 2015 behind the $130,000 four screen debut of Steve Jobs.
The film had its wide release on Wednesday December 23, 2015 and grossed $2.3 million on its first day. In its opening weekend it grossed $10.5 million, finishing 6th at the box office.
The Big Short has received positive reviews from critics. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a rating of 87%, based on 163 reviews, with an average rating of 7.8/10. The website’s consensus reads, “The Big Short approaches a serious, complicated subject with an impressive attention to detail – and manages to deliver a well-acted, scathingly funny indictment of its real-life villains in the bargain.” On Metacritic, the film has a score of 81 out of 100, based on 44 critics, indicating “universal acclaim”. Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of “A–” on an A+ to F scale.
IGN gave the film a score of 8.6/10, praising its “energetic direction” and making “a complicated tale palpable for the layperson even as it triggers outrage at the fatcats who helped cause it.” The New York Times‘s “UpShot” series stated The Big Short offered the “strongest film explanation of the global financial crisis.”