Directed by Oliver Stone, a young stock broker tries to make money with help from a corporate raider and takes advantage of his father’s knowledge of an airline union.
Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen) comes to a busy and crowded office where employees buy and sell stocks. Old-timer Lou Mannheim (Hal Holbrook) says Nixon going off the gold standard was a big mistake. He recommends a stock with a new drug and urges the young men to stick to the fundamentals. They start at 9:30; it is 1985. Employees start talking on telephones. Bud makes a quick sale and tells a customer they are in the biggest bull market of our time. He asks for five minutes to explain opportunities in the international debt market.
At 3:50 they are trying to close deals before the close at 4. Bud has to hand the phone to his supervisor Lynch (James Karen) who talks to the client. After hanging up he tells Bud that he is closing the account, but Bud says the client is lying. The supervisor doubts this and says someone has to pay. Bud tells his colleague Marvin (John C. McGinley) that the client reneged on him, and Bud has to pay $7,000 to cover his losses. Marvin says it could have been worse if it was his money and laughs, but he gives Bud $100.
Bud calls Gordon Gekko and tells Marvin why he is so important. Bud asks Natalie (Leslie Lyles) to marry him and to get him through to Gekko. She says Gekko only deals with investment bankers, but she says she will tell him he called.
Bud goes into a coffee shop and talks with his father Carl Fox (Martin Sheen) who admits he is out of date. He orders a beer for Bud and says he is getting bags under his eyes. Bud tells him what happened, and Carl reminds him he wanted him to be a doctor or do something better than selling. Carl says he put him through NYU. Last year Bud made $50,000, and Carl says he still has debt from student loans. Bud explains his expenses are high in New York City including $15,000 in rent. Carl asks him to come home and live without paying rent. Carl says he made only $47,000 last year; but Carl says his dad lives in Queens, and he has to live in Manhattan. Bud asks to borrow $300, and Carl says he does not have that much on him. Bud says not in here. Bud asks his dad about his work, and Carl explains that he is working for the union and that he knew what caused an accident. He says they will compete with big airlines. Bud advises him to hold on to his stock, but Carl asks what stock. Bud asks if Carl is sure about the FAA announcement. Carl becomes suspicious of Bud’s mischievous look.
Bud gets out of bed in his shorts and sits at a desk. Then a naked woman gets out of bed and walks by. On his computer Bud notices that it is Gekko’s birthday on May 6.
Bud goes to an office, and the secretary says to send him in. He tells Natalie that he has a birthday present for Gekko—Cuban cigars. She checks, comes back, and tells him to wait outside. Later she tells him he has five minutes and takes him into Gekko’s large office. Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) is on the phone and hangs up. He says it is a kid who wants to be a player. Gekko on the phone talks to an advisor about his policy of seeking 35% in order to block mergers and find out if books are cooked. He declines to take time off for lunch which he says is for women. He hangs up, and Bud introduces himself. Gekko takes his blood pressure and explains why he does it. Bud says he read about him, and he thinks he is a genius and would like to work with him. Gekko asks what company he is with and talks to him about that company. Bud recommends a company for investment, but Gekko calls it a dog. Gekko takes a call and gets upset about a turkey; he orders the person to dilute them. He hangs up and gives orders to his secretary. Bud says he has a deal that finances itself. Gekko asks him to tell him something he doesn’t know as he shreds a document. Bud mentions Bluestar Airlines as a comer with eighty medium-body jets. Gekko says he does not like the unions. Bud says there was a crash last year, and they got a favorable ruling on the lawsuit that the plaintiffs don’t even know about yet. Gekko asks how he knows, and Bud says he just knows. Bud suggests he grab it. Alex (François Giroday) approaches and tells Gekko about a big deal he just pulled off, and Gekko congratulates him. Gekko asks Bud for his card, and Bud gives him one. Gekko says he considers a hundred deals a day and chooses one. He thanks Bud for the cigars and turns away to return to giving instructions to his associates. Bud goes out.
Marvin asks Bud if Gekko saw him, and Bud says he saw through him. He repeats what Gekko said about a stock being a dog. Bud’s supervisor Lynch asks him why he is three hours late and urges him to make code calls. Marvin says he has Knicks tickets and suggests they cruise for broads. Bud mentions Mannheim, and Marvin calls him a loser because he lost his equity in 1971 and is still working there in his sixties. Bud says that sex with Cindy was like reading the Wall Street Journal. Bud gets a call from Gekko to buy 20,000 shares of Bluestar. Bud says he will not regret it, hangs up, and shouts in joy.
Outside Bud reads the news article about how Bluestar was exonerated after the crash.
In a restaurant Bud joins Gekko at a table. Gekko shows him a miniature television. Bud says the stock is going up, and Gekko asks if Bud bought some for himself; but Bud says that would not be legal. Gekko says no one will blow the whistle on him. He hands Bud a check for $1,000,000 to put in his account and asks if it is legal. Gekko talks to friends and then asks for the tab. He tells Bud to buy a decent suit and tells him where to buy it. Gekko says he does not like losses. If Bud does well, he will get perquisites. He tells the waiter to take care of his friend and goes out.
In his apartment Bud is at the computer and answers the door. Lisa introduces herself as a friend of Gordon’s. She realizes that Gordon did not tell him and tells him to get dressed because they are going out.
Lisa and Bud get in a limousine, and he asks where they are going. She says wherever he wants. She suggests they could drive around for a while to work up an appetite. She sniffs a drug and offers him some, and he sniffs it too. She says Gordon called him talented and asks what he likes. Bud talks about a stock while she works at getting him excited and drops her head.
At work Bud is watching Terafly (TFY) go down from 13 to 10. He feels terrible, and the market closes.
Bud plays racket-ball with Gekko and is more winded. In the steam room Gekko tells Bud how he rose in business. Bud says they took a loss on Terafly and asks for $100,000. Gekko says his dad must not be a union representative in that company, and Bud asks how he knew about his dad. Gekko says information is the most valuable commodity. Bud agrees. As they are getting dressed, Gekko says he bets on sure things and advises him to read Sun-zi’s The Art of War. Battles are won before they begin. Gekko says fund managers are sheep who get slaughtered. Gekko says he has been in this business since 1969. He says to keep on fighting. A man says hello to Gekko, who disappoints him by telling him nothing. Gekko says he has twenty brokers analyzing charts and does not need another one. Gekko says he will see him later, and Bud asks for another chance. Gekko tells him to start getting him information. He says he will show him his charts.
In the limo they see TV and talk about the British raider Larry Wildman whom Bud has heard of. Gekko says he was involved in a deal that was taken from under him. He points out a building he bought and sold, making $800,000. He says now that is a day’s pay. Gekko had a mole in the Wildman’s organization, but he got fired. Now Wildman is in town for a big deal. Gekko asks Bud to find out where he goes and what he does. Bud says he could lose his license. Gekko gives examples of inside information including what Bud learned from his father. Gekko says they may have trouble doing business together. Bud asks about hard work, but Gekko says he stayed up late analyzing and asks what it got him. Gekko tells him to wake up and get inside. He talks about getting more than $50 million and owning one’s own jet, being a player. He says Bud got in his office and asks if he has what it takes to stay. Gekko has his chauffeur drop Bud off and says he is late. Bud gets out and taps on the window. He tells Gekko that he has him.
Bud gets in an elevator and sees Larry Wildman (Terence Stamp) who gets out while Bud stays in.
Bud goes to a restaurant but is told he needs a reservation.
Wildman goes in his car to an airport and gets on a plane. Bud follows him and tells an airport worker that he was supposed to give Wildman something and asks where he is going. The worker tells him Erie, Pennsylvania.
Bud on the phone tells Gekko what Wildman did. Gekko asks about Erie, and Bud says he may be buying Anacott Steel stock. Gekko tells him to buy the stock in blocks. When it reaches fifty, he is to call the Wall Street Chronicle and tell them that Blue Horseshoe loves that steel stock and then tell his friends about it.
Gekko hangs up and orders a man to buy the steel stock with off-shore accounts.
Bud buys the stock. The ANC stock is going up and hits 50. Bud tells Marvin to put his best customers on it. Mannheim says it is not a good company anymore. He asks Bud what he knows and warns him there are no shortcuts. Bud advises him it is a winner. Bud tells others about the Anacott Steel stock. He calls the Chronicle and gives the message. Many people start buying the stock. At the close news reports that Anacott Steel went up five points on heavy trading.
At night Bud goes to Gekko’s house with papers for him to sign. Bud meets his wife Kate Gekko (Sean Young) who offers him a drink. Gekko introduces Bud to several people including Darien Taylor (Darryl Hannah). Gekko tells Bud to stick around for the fun. Bud asks Darien about a painting, and she tells him how much they paid for it. She says Gordon is a very astute collector. Bud confirms that she is a decorator. He says he lives on the upper westside and invites her to a private dinner. She implies she may have a previous engagement, and he tells her to break it. Kate asks Bud if he is staying for dinner, but Bud says he has work to do. Sam Ruspoli says Darien is speaking to strangers again, and Bud is introduced to him. As Bud is walking away, Darien tells him to call her for an estimate. Kate welcomes Wildman to the party, and Gekko says he looks great. Gekko points out Bud as one of his gang and suggests they go upstairs.
Gekko shows Wildman his gun collection. Wildman says Gekko is getting a free ride on his deal, taking money he could use to modernize the firm. Wildman says they are talking about lives and jobs. Gekko cites cases when Wildman laid off workers. Wildman says he could buy him six times over and could dump the stock to burn his ass. He is announcing a tender offer at 65 tomorrow, and he expects Gekko’s commitment. Gekko says he can have the company, and he asks Bud what is the worth of the stock. Bud says the breakdown indicates it is worth 80. Gekko suggests 72, and Wildman calls him a pirate. Gekko excuses himself and walks away, and Wildman says 71. Gekko says 71.50, and Wildman says done and goodnight and leaves. Gekko tells Bud that Wildman was right that he had to sell. Bud quotes Sun-zi on strategy, and Gekko is pleased.
Bud gets a call from Gekko who is walking on a beach and tells him he wired him $800,000 in Hong Kong gold to play with because he did well. He asks him to get new information to astonish him. He tells Bud that Darien’s boyfriend may be leaving her soon. Gekko enjoys seeing the sunrise and tells Bud he will make him rich; this is his wake-up call to go to work.
Bud goes to the office of Roger Barnes (James Spader) and notices he is moving up in the world. Roger asks Bud if he still has a sexy French woman, but Bud says she asked the wrong questions. They are college buddies and chat. Bud says he knows a man who can help him make money. He recommends a paper stock. He asks Roger about a foods merger and asks what is going on; but Roger says that is illegal. Bud asks who is listening. Roger asks what is in it for him, and Bud promises him big money. Bud says no one gets hurt and tells him to think about it. Bud suggests a beer, but Roger says he is too busy. Roger walks him out.
Bud on the street sees a truck in the maintenance business, and in an office he asks a man about office space. He asks him if he wants working capital and a partner. Bud says he is an expert at identifying undervalued assets in that business. Later Bud finds papers in the files and copies some information.
Bud calls Gekko and gives Gekko a tip on an electronic company.
Bud drinks at a bar and talks with a friend.
While drinking wine with Darien he offers to take her company public.
Bud is wearing a maintenance uniform at night in an office, and a secretary asks if she can help him. He asks a question and leaves.
Bud goes to Bluestar and sees his dad working on a plane. Carl takes a break and says the fare war is killing them; management is laying off workers. Bud says he has a new client and things are really working. Carl is surprised by the $5,000 Bud gives him, and Bud persuades him to keep it. Bud suggests dinner but says his week is booked.
Bud sits at a table with Gekko by a pool. Gekko plays with his son, and his attorney Harold Salt (Saul Rubinek) tells Bud to open an account for Gekko and wire the money to an account in the Cayman Islands. Gekko says they are going to make a lot of money.
Darien comes out of the ocean in a wetsuit, and dressed Bud hands her a towel. She is happy and asks how his conference went with Gordon. He asks what she wants, and she says world peace and the best of everything.
On a pay phone Bud tells Roger about his client, and Roger agrees to do it.
Bud sees that his boss Lynch is firing an older man. Marvin explains that he was not meeting his quota. Lynch announces that Bud had the highest sales for the past month. Mannheim says Bud is on a roll, but it never lasts. Lynch gives Bud his own office with a secretary named Gina. Bud thanks him.
Bud looks at a condo on the east side, and a woman tries to sell him on it. He offers her $950,000.
Workers refurbish the place and bring in new furniture. Darien asks Bud if he likes a mural.
At night Bud and Darien prepare food in the kitchen with fancy appliances. They hear opera, and he kisses her. At a table he pours wine as they begin dinner. She asks if it is too perfect. Later they are making love in the dark on the bed. Bud is outside on the balcony and asks where he is.
Gekko is at an auction with Darien. They walk on the street, and he suggests they celebrate. She says those days are over. He says she has puppy love, and she says she is falling for Bud. Gekko asks if she told him about them, and she says she does not want him to know. She misses Gekko and calls him “twisted.”
Bud is at work on the phone and says he will send his cut. Marvin comes into his office, and Bud gets angry at him and tells him to do his own homework.
Teldar Paper is being sold on the stock market.
At a Teldar stockholders meeting CEO Cromwell (Richard Dysart) says that Gekko has them under siege, and he advises them to vote against Gekko’s offer. Gekko takes the microphone as the largest stockholder and walks around as he tells them about economic reality. He says America has become a second-rate power because of its trade deficit and its fiscal deficit. He speaks of accountability to stockholders. He says the CEO Cromwell owns less than one percent of the company. Gekko says several vice presidents are making more than $200,000 a year, but he has learned that they do little. Gekko says he liberates companies so that stockholders can make more money. He says greed is good and right because it works. Greed marks the upward surge of mankind, and it will save the USA too. The stockholders applaud.
At home Bud on the phone orders selling of Deutsch marks. Darien asks about his 60-hour work week. He says he is going to be an entrepreneur, and she can come along for the ride.
On a private plane Bud tells Gekko that Bluestar is being decimated by a price war they cannot win, but they can be bailed out. Gekko says that unions are killing the airlines. Bud says that cash can help. Bud asks to be his co-pilot and says they can make a fortune. Bud says he has friends there and knows his way around. He says if they can lower labor costs, they can make a large profit. Gekko gives an order to look into it.
Carl Fox visits Bud in his new home and meets Darien. Carl sees Duncan Wilmore and Toni Carpenter (Jean De Baer) of the flight attendants union. Carl meets Gekko and his lawyer Salt. Carl says he thought this was to be informal and asks why his attorney is there. Gekko tells Salt to take a walk, and he goes out. Gekko says Bluestar is losing money while being squeezed by the majors. He blames management and says management has the parachutes. He says they will betray labor, and Wilmore asks what would keep Gekko from doing the same thing. Gekko says he has a way they can all make money. He asks for a 20% wage cut for a year. After that if they are making money, they go back to the wages. He would also let employees buy stock. Wilmore asks if he would put that in writing, and Gekko says yes. Toni asks how they will return to profitability. Gekko asks Bud to tell them that. Bud hands out a three-point modernization plan. Computerization will save them money. They need more advertising. They can expand their hubs and re-organize their schedules. Wilmore says he can take it to his people, and Toni likes it too. Carl laughs and asks what else is in Gekko’s bag of tricks. Carl says Gekko is greedy and is in it to make money. Carl says his son worked summers handling baggage and sarcastically wonders if he can run an airline. Gekko calls the present management scum for running the airline into the ground, but Carl says they built up the company. He says goodnight and goes out. Bud follows him out and angrily congratulates him for embarrassing both of them. He says he heard his “workers unite” speech too many times. He says the airline is going down the tubes. If it is not Gekko, it will be someone else. Carl gets in the elevator and tells Bud that Gekko is using him. Carl says he does not judge success by money alone, and Bud says he never had the guts to stake his own claim. Carl says he must have done a lousy job as a father. They walk together, and Carl says he has a responsibility to the union members. Bud says he should not decide for them but let the membership decide. Carl says he will not lie to them. Bud asks why he was never there for him, and he asks what if he is wrong. He begs him to think. Carl says he does not sleep with a whore, and he wonders how Bud does it. Carl hopes he is wrong about Gekko, and he will let the men decide. He promises that and walks off.
Bud with dark glasses visits Roger who says the SEC wants to see his records. Bud tells him to relax and says they are always looking for red flags. Roger says he wants to slow down and suspend their business. An associate calls Roger to a meeting, and Roger tells Bud that Gekko is reviewing the business, and he asks if Bud wants to come. Bud says he did not know anything about it. Roger says Bud is the president of the company and asks what he knows.
Roger introduces Bud as the new chief of the company. The executives and the labor representatives argue about Bluestar Airlines. One man says Gekko is going to make $75 million on the pension program and another $60 million in a month. He says Fox will have the shortest executive career.
Bud walks into Gekko’s office during a meeting and says they need to talk. Gekko excuses the others and asks Bud what he wants. Bud says he heard about the garage sale at Bluestar. Bud accuses him of turning the company upside down. Gekko says the company is wreckable. Bud says he gave his father his word. Gekko says Bud will still be president. He will parachute out a rich man. Gekko says it is a zero-sum game; some win, and others lose. Gekko talks about paintings and their changing value, and Bud asks him how much is enough. Gekko says that the richest one percent in the country own half the wealth—$5 trillion. Gekko admits that stock and real estate speculation creates no value, but he owns things. Gekko says a free market is not a democracy. Gekko says Bud has the killer instinct and can learn more from him. Bud starts to leave, and Gekko asks if he is with him. Bud says he is and leaves. Gekko calls and give a harsh order on Bluestar.
Darien finds Bud smoking and eating pizza. He says today was the big crash with Bluestar. She says she is sorry and was afraid this would happen. She warns him not to cross Gordon, or he will crush him. She says he worked hard and tells him not to throw it away. He says they can survive without Gekko. She says she wants more than that and tells him to get out of self-pity. If he makes an enemy of Gekko, she cannot stand by him. He asks her what Gekko promised her. She asks him to look in the mirror, and he says he does not like what he sees. She says Gordon got him her clients. She says having money and losing it is worse than never having had it. He calls that bullshit and breaks a glass. She walks to the door, and he warns her that he will change the locks. She stops and says she cares for him. She is sorry, and he tells her to get out. She leaves.
Bud tells the lady to sell his condo fast.
At work Bud asks a woman to get his father on the phone, but she tells him he had a heart attack.
Bud talks to relatives and friends at the hospital and goes into his room. Carl is hooked up to a machine and opens his eyes. Bud lights a cigarette and says he got him smoking. He says his second heart attack is pushing his luck. Bud says he loves him and cries. He says he is the only honest man he knows. Bud asks if he can speak for him to the union members. Carl agrees he can speak his own words, not his. Bud kisses him and says he has to go. Carl says he is proud of him.
Bud in a restaurant is meeting with Toni and Wilmore. Bud says the stock will go up because he has friends. When it gets to 23, they should tell Gekko they will give no union concessions. Bud says that Gekko will sell everything he has. Toni asks who will buy them and if someone else will devour them.
Bud meets with Wildman and asks if he would like to own Bluestar at $18 a share with union concessions and get back at Gekko too. Wilmore says they will make the concessions, but they want an ironclad contract. Wildman says he is listening.
Marvin is angry at Bud who apologizes and offers to make it up to him. He advises him to have his clients buy Bluestar. Bud also tells Mannheim who says money makes people do things they don’t want to do. Bud makes calls to get people to buy Bluestar.
At the stock exchange Bluestar goes up past 21.
Gekko orders his people to buy up to 22, and he is angry at who leaked this.
Bud sees Bluestar is nearly at 23 and starts telling people to dump all their shares.
Wilmore, Toni, and others visit Gekko and tell him they will not cooperate with him. They go out. Gekko decides to sell all his Bluestar stock at 23.
Bud calls Wildman and tells him the stock is plummeting. Wildman agrees to carry him for a while with light buying until it hits 18 and then buy it all. Bud says he will.
Gekko takes a call from Bud and threatens him he had better get him out of this. Gekko is angry, and Bud says it is two minutes to close. Gekko decides to dump his stock. News reports that Bluestar went up and then down. They report that Wildman is jumping in and will announce an agreement with the unions. Gekko gets angry.
Bud goes to work and says there is justice in the world. He asks Marvin if someone died. Mannheim tells Bud how a man finds his character by looking into the abyss, and that keeps him out of the abyss. Bud asks Gina to call his father. Bud finds police in his office, and he is arrested for securities fraud and insider trading. He is handcuffed and is read his rights. The policeman walks Bud out of the office as Bud cries.
Gekko in Central Park meets Bud and says he taught him a lesson on Bluestar. Gekko grabs Bud’s coat, lectures him, and hits him, knocking him down. He says he gave him everything. Gekko throws a handkerchief so that Bud can wipe off his blood. Bud says he wanted to be Gordon Gekko, but he will always be Bud Fox. He walks off, and Gekko goes the other way.
Bud walks to a tavern, and in the bathroom he gives a tape-recorder to men in suits. A man tells him he did the right thing.
Carl is driving a car and tells Bud that he helped save the airline. Bud says he is going to jail, and Carl says it may be the best thing to happen to him. He can learn to create instead of living off others by buying and selling. Bud gets out of the car and walks up the steps of the courthouse.
In the Reagan era this drama exposes the greed that drives some people to enter into speculation and manipulation of markets for selfish gain. This materialistic view is contrasted by the view of a labor-union leader who values what people actually create with their work. Through his experience the son learns how taking unfair advantage of others can eventually bring about a fall.