`The Big Short' Tries to Make 2008 Financial Crisis Fun to Watch

Hollywood is trying a new way to get film fans interested in the 2008 financial crisis, turning the worst market collapse since the Great Depression into a tragicomedy.

The film version of Michael Lewis’s book “The Big Short” brings together Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling and Brad Pitt, some of Hollywood’s hottest actors, as outsiders who saw the crisis coming and made hundreds of millions of dollars from complex investments. The Paramount Pictures film, opening Friday in limited release, is already vying for industry awards and could produce $75 million in ticket sales during its run in North American theaters, according to researcher Exhibitor Relations Co. That would make the picture one of the biggest ever about financial markets.
Bale in ’The Big Short’
Bale in ’The Big Short’
Photographer: Jaap Buitendijk/Paramount/Courtesy Everett Collection
Nearly a decade after the bursting housing bubble led to the collapse of Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers, there have been a few attempts to bring the crisis to the big screen. “The Big Short” uses comedy to explain financial-market events that cost millions of jobs and tanked the world’s biggest economy. Celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain appears in one cutaway interview likening securitization to unsold fish filets that end up in stew.

“There really haven’t been that many attempts, especially in the comedy vein, it is refreshing to see,” said Jeff Bock, senior box office analyst at Exhibitor Relations. “I think audiences will respond. It could be a good size hit for Paramount.”

The studio, a division of Viacom Inc., declined to comment.

“The Big Short” tells the story of investors who believe the U.S. housing market is about to crash and try to profit from it. For the filmmakers, the challenge was to explain how opaque markets and complex financial instruments hid excessive speculation in real estate and mortgages. The picture is directed by Adam McKay, whose credits include the “Anchorman” films and “Talladega Nights.” Prior works by Lewis, a Bloomberg View columnist, include “The Blind Side” and “Moneyball,” which also became films.

“It was about the qualities in these people that led them to make the smart bets, that was what interested me,” Lewis said in a Bloomberg interview in October.

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