Seven documentaries that teach you all you need to know about money


Money matters got you confused? Check out these documentaries that explain why cash, credit and crypto are king.

Money might make the world go around, but exactly how it does is often a mystery.

How did money become something we all just accept is needed? How do some financial geniuses accumulate so much? How do they manage to lose fortunes on such a regular basis? And what lessons can the rest of us learn from their stories without putting our own hard-earned cash at risk?

money documentaries scott pape the queen of versailles minimalism jiro dreams of sushi

Fortunately, documentary makers are just as fascinated by those questions and have produced countless films looking at the finance world and pulling back the curtain on cash.

Here's seven features that shine a light inside the world of money, explain how things work and what we can learn from other people's successes and mistakes.

1. The Ascent of Money (YouTube)

Based on Harvard historian Niall Ferguson's ground-breaking book, this six-part series is the definitive history of how mankind came to use money as a universal token of value, how various cultures have tackled the problems of regulating and monitoring money and more.

From Babylonian clay tablets to modern banking, this is a great guide to understanding how money came to be so important to (almost) the entire world.

2. Freakonomics (Stan)

Funny, enlightening and sometimes terrifying, this explanation of how economic theory applies to the real world is rightly hailed as ground-breaking.

Based on a series of articles by economist Steven Levitt, it examines the motivations of cheating in everything from small businesses to Sumo, how bribing someone (even kids) can be a legitimate business model, how public spending on health can slow crime and much more.

3. The Queen of Versailles (Beamafilm)

When finance and real estate guru David Siegel and his wife Jackie decided to build the biggest, grandest home in America, documentary maker Lauren Greenfield followed along.

But when the 2008 recession hit, the film became less about the house the Siegels were building and more about how they struggled to cope with the sudden change of fortune. Lesson after hilarious lesson in money mismanagement follows.

4. Minimalism (Netflix)

Undoubtedly the documentary the Siegel family should have watched when things started to go south, this looks at Americans who have decided - in the middle of the world's greatest consumerist society - to live with less.

It's not a lifestyle for everyone, but minimalists Joshua Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus show us the men and women, including a former Wall Street broker, who are living proof we don't need things to thrive.

5. Scott Pape's Money Movement (Foxtel)

As more students leave school or university already in debt and with many families financially illiterate, Australians often face a bleak financial future.

scott pape

Like the American series The Most Important Class You Never Had before it, the Barefoot Investor Scott Pape sets out to change that with a series of lessons in real schools that teach kids (and through them their parents) how to manage their money and plan for their future.

6. Jiro Dreams of Sushi (Kanopy)

What we do need, however, is what Jiro Ono has - Ikegai. Jiro is the owner of a small, ten-seat sushi bar near a Tokyo train station.

In any other story, his could be a tale of relentless work for minimal return, but Jiro embraces "Ikegai" a philosophy of combining what you love to do, what you are good at doing with what you can be paid to do, effectively making his life everything he ever dreamed of.

7. Bitcoin: The End Of Money As We Know It (Kanopy)

Easily one of the most misunderstood financial phenomena in a century, cryptocurrencies are seen as either snake-oil or saviour depending on which side of the investment scale you land.

This documentary sets out to demystify the world of crypto, explaining how online bits are the same, yet very different to the shiny metals discs they try to copy.

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Scott Ellis is an Australian television producer and entertainment writer who has worked in and covered the broadcast industry for more than three decades.
Adeo Thomson
August 25, 2021 4.53pm

What about Mr Money Mustache . com. It's the best money blog in the world!

And, they made a movie - Playing with Fire. Financially Independent Retired Early.


Veronica Mars
August 25, 2021 5.24pm

Yeah, why didn't they include a BLOG in their list of money DOCUMENTARIES? It's a mystery even I could never solve.

Money magazine
August 25, 2021 5.29pm

Hi Adeo,

We love Playing With Fire! We actually wrote about it when it came out back in 2019:

- Money team