It’s been 30 years since Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd starred in Trading Places, a hit comedy whose big climax involves trading a bunch of frozen concentrated orange juice futures, and you’d be hard-pressed to think of any films about high finance that treated the topic with a sense of humor (though there are certainly some laughable moments in the Wall Street sequel). This baffles the writer of the 1983 film.
“The movies that have come out about Wall Street, none of them are funny,” says screenwriter Timothy Harris in Business Insider’s Oral History of Trading Places. “They’re all melodramas, they take themselves very seriously. I think they’re constrained, they have to be automatically liberal in their disapproval of it.”
Harris says he initially came up for the idea of the script — in which two old-money brothers place a $1 bet on whether they can take a homeless criminal and make him a powerful executive at their commodities firms while simultaneously turning the current exec out on the street and into a life of crime — from a pair of wealthy brothers he played tennis with at the time.
And even though the film was a huge success at the box-office and in the then-burgeoning home video market, Harris says the satire appears to have not rubbed off on everyone who has enjoyed the film.
“Somebody came up to me recently and said it was because of ‘Trading Places’ that he’d gone into the world of finance, which is like a huge paradigm turn — that a film written as satire of that world ends up inspiring somebody to go into that world and make a lot of money,” he recalls.
So why aren’t more American studios making quality comedies about this world?
“I think it’s probably an American thing — they’re not interested in looking at that stuff particularly,” suggest Harris. “I don’t think Hollywood is either — it’s awkward for them. The important people in Hollywood are really, really, filthy rich. They don’t want to see that made fun of particularly, I don’t think.”