Popular culture has a far greater impact on our belief systems and personal philosophies than you might expect. An afternoon with a tub of popcorn and the latest summer blockbuster can affect your view of money — without you even realizing it.
Here are four huge summer blockbusters from the last 30 years, and the unconscious lessons they can teach us about finance.
The Story: Three parapsychology researchers lose their academic funding, so they decide to go into business hunting down ghosts. After becoming local heroes, they hire a fourth ghostbuster just before a supernatural (and environmental) disaster of biblical proportions unleashes the world’s most unexpected movie monster.
The Money Lesson: Know your worth.
The first ghost that our heroes manage to bust is a “focused, non-terminal, repeating phantasm” that had been haunting a swank hotel. When they demanded $5,000 (which would be closer to $12,000 in today’s money) from the manager, he balks at the price.
Despite the fact that the ghostbusters had just been discussing their lack of money prior to arriving at the hotel, Bill Murray’s Peter Venkman is unperturbed and says they will simply put the ghost back where they found it. The manager relents, making it clear that knowing your worth and being prepared to walk away rather than accept anything less is an important part of doing business.
The additional (not-so-positive) money lesson: Don’t ignore regulations when starting a business.
Other than Zuul, Gozer, and the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man, the main antagonist in the film is Walter Peck, an inspector from the EPA who is (rightly) concerned about the nuclear-powered ghost containment unit the ghostbusters have set up in the center of New York City.
Since the ghostbusters never bothered to get the proper permits for their unusual business, the containment unit is shut down, mass chaos ensues, and New York suffers millions of dollars in damages.
Jurassic Park (1993)
The Story: Multi-millionaire John Hammond funds dinosaur cloning in order to create a theme park. He invites his two grandchildren, some paleontologists, and a mathematician to tour the park before opening. The dinosaurs escape and several members of Hammond’s staff are devoured.
The Money Lesson: Always have a fully-fleshed out backup plan.
There are several unanticipated reasons why Jurassic Park’s inaugural weekend is a disaster — including storms and higher-than-expected intelligence among the Velociraptors — but the main problem was IT expert Dennis Nedry’s treachery in shutting down the computer system in order to sell some dinosaur embryos to a competitor.
Hammond’s big mistake was not that he trusted Nedry; it was that he had no backup plan should his computer professional fall ill, quit, or be eaten by a Dilophosaurus.
In business and in personal finance, it’s important to have alternate arrangements already set up so that if any one portion of a plan fails, you can still recover. Many people will often make a similar mistake to Hammond’s by taking on debt that they can only afford if they continue to earn their current salary.
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)
The Story: Half-dead pirates sailing on the ship the Black Pearl seek out the last piece of a cursed treasure that has left them unable to live or die.
The Money Lesson: Greed blinds you to life’s real pleasures.
The pirates on the Black Pearl are no longer truly alive, which means they cannot have their thirst quenched or their hunger sated, and they cannot feel “the wind on [their faces], nor the spray of the sea.”
Captain Barbossa longs for the crisp apples that he loved in life, even though before stealing the treasure he might not have realized how important such a small pleasure was to him. The greed for treasure made the pirates literally dead inside.
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
The Story: In an apocalyptic future, Imperator Furiosa helps the captive wives of an evil tyrant to escape.
The Money Lesson: The only way to win is to be prepared to lose everything.
(Spoiler alert.) The protagonists have an advantage over the villain Immortan Joe because they would rather die than return to slavery. In particular, at one point the pregnant wife Splendid places herself as a human shield between Joe and Furiosa, knowing that Joe does not want to harm the child she is carrying.
In investing, it pays to have a similar attitude about the money you invest. If you can afford to lose the money you are investing, then you are more likely to make rational decisions for it. Splendid knew Joe would not shoot her, so she was rationally able to use what she had to protect herself and her allies.
What other favorite blockbuster films have you gathered money lessons from?