10 Fascinating Documentaries About the One Percent


Timeshare mogul David Siegel and his wife Jackie have rich people problems. The couple set out to construct a mansion inspired by the royal palace of Versailles — complete with two tennis courts and a baseball field, three pools, two movie theaters, a bowling alley, a ballroom, and other mind boggling amenities. Everything came to a screeching halt, though, when the financial crisis and real estate bubble squashed their self-indulgent endeavor. (Recent reports indicate the Siegels refinanced and construction is starting again.) Lauren Greenfield’s movie The Queen of Versailles — which won the 2012 Directing Award at Sundance — opens in theaters this Friday. See what other documentaries about the One Percent are worth your time after the jump. Leave us your recommendations below.

Born Rich

Heir to the Johnson & Johnson empire Jamie Johnson directed the 2003 documentary Born Rich about the experience of growing up in one of the wealthiest families in the world. He interviews his friends and peers about their own experiences, including Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka; Josiah Cheston Hornblower, of the Vanderbilt and Whitney families; and Michael Bloomberg’s daughter Georgina. Although you may approach the film not wanting to listen to cocky talking heads with dollar signs in their eyes, the fascinating movie proves not all of these children feel the way you think they do about their riches.

The One Percent

Johnson & Johnson heir Jamie Johnson continued to expose the growing wealth gap in his second documentary, 2006’s aptly titled The One Percent. The filmmaker talks to Steve Forbes, Italian baron Cody Franchetti, Bill Gates Sr., his own parents, and many more proving why placing so much money in the hands of a few isn’t good for America. Johnson perseveres with tough questions, but also allows several subjects to expose their own evils and greed.

The Fabulous Life of Billion Dollar Wall Street Ballers

Try watching this 2007 TV doc without your blood pressure rising. It might be impossible. If you’ve ever wondered how Wall Street high rollers lived, behold their jumbo jets, million dollar matchmaking madams, outrageous billionaire bachelor pads, and the other ways Brokers burn money. Follow the YouTube links to watch the frustrating documentary online.

The Money Masters

William T. Still’s 1996 critique of the United States Federal Reserve System is a very long three and a half hour watch, but the film thoroughly tries to trace the origins of our nation’s skewed wealth and power structure. If you fell asleep during your economics classes in school, this may not be the right type of doc for you — but it does back up its message with interesting historical and mathematical facts. Click through the videos to watch the entire documentary online.

Kids + Money

Queen of Versailles filmmaker Lauren Greenfield’s 2008 award-winning doc Kids + Money shows the effects of consumer culture on a group of teens in Los Angeles. The desperation and material obsession on display is frightening, but the director also shines a light on how these commercial values have affected teens whose families are barely getting by, paycheck to paycheck. Though not a movie literally aimed at Wall Street and big money managers, the film exposes how the actions of the One Percent are shaping young consumers’ relationships to money.

Steve Jobs: Billion Dollar Hippy

Since the passing of Apple CEO Steve Jobs there have been many arguments about whether or not the college drop out who became a billionaire was a true member of the One Percent club. Some have called Jobs “a One Percenter, Gordon Gekko in turtleneck,” while others have stated that the innovative tech leader was always part of the “lunatic fringe.” Steve Jobs: Billion Dollar Hippy also discusses the contradictions of the longhaired kid in a suburban garage who later reigned supreme. Watch the full documentary above.

Super Rich: The Greed Game

BBC News business editor Robert Peston narrates this 2008 documentary directed by John O’Kane that exposes how the new super-rich are making their fortunes and why everyone else is picking up the bill for it. Learn how hedge-fund traders, private equity firms, and investment bankers make their money. This is an eye-opening look at their greedy pursuits.

Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room

Houston energy corporation Enron’s massive financial scandal that defrauded investors so they could sell their dead stock and get rich rocked the world. And that’s just the tip of a very large iceberg. Director Alex Gibney’s 2005 Oscar-nominated documentary is like watching a riveting legal thriller that’s ultimately more terrifying because the arrogance and abusive practices are real. You don’t have to understand the web of financial complexities discussed to comprehend Enron’s corruption.

The Madoff Affair

Although the “disastrously distracting” and “thuddingly literal-minded” film Chasing Madoff is the latest expose on former One Percenter star Bernie Madoff, you’re probably better off watching Frontline’s 2009 documentary The Maddoff Affair. The film unravels the story behind the first global Ponzi scheme, in which Madoff brokered selfish, criminal deals while thousands of investors (sometimes entire families) handed over their life savings. Watch the entire film above.

Inside Job

Critic Roger Ebert called Charles Ferguson’s 2010 film Inside Job “an angry, well-argued documentary about how the American financial industry set out deliberately to defraud the ordinary American investor.” In other words, you will get Hulk-level angry watching it. Seek out this film to learn the reasons behind our current economic crisis and how these “Masters of the Universe” bankrupt us for massive private gains, igniting widespread loss.