A lot of movies have tried to get their arms around this complicated topic. Here's a look at five that did it successfully:
"Inside Job" (2010): Winner of the Academy Award for best documentary feature, director Charles Ferguson's film accomplishes the difficult task of taking an unwieldy subject and making it accessible to a wide audience.
Still, it's a daunting topic, but with the help of user-friendly graphics and Matt Damon's narration, Ferguson breaks down the meltdown into digestible terms without ever condescending.
"The Queen of Versailles" (2012): David and Jackie Siegel are forced to lay off employees, face foreclosure on their house and start shopping for their eight kids at Walmart. Except the Siegels are an elderly time-share mogul and his much-younger trophy wife who were in the midst of building a 90,000-square-foot palace.
Documentarian and photographer Lauren Greenfield never mocks them. The Siegels' lifestyle is still outrageous, but the sensation of panic they experience and the strain it puts on their marriage are relatable.
"Up in the Air" (2009): Walter Kirn's novel, which inspired Jason Reitman's film, came out in 2001, long before the country's economic collapse. But the story of a guy who jets across the country laying off employees took on a whole new relevance afterward.
It felt especially poignant with the inclusion of real-life people who agreed to go on camera. And George Clooney, Anna Kendrick and Vera Farmiga are all excellent.
"Margin Call" (2011): First-time writer-director J.C. Chandor re-creates the earliest moments of the crisis with the tight time frame and claustrophobic setting of a play. He depicts this devastating moment of volatility with a patter reminiscent of David Mamet.
The excellent cast of actors -- Kevin Spacey, Jeremy irons, Zachary Quinto and Paul Bettany -- do what they do best.
"Too Big to Fail" (2011): Curtis Hanson's made-for-HBO film, based on Andrew Ross Sorkin's book, plays sort of like a dramatized version of "Inside Job." Big-name stars portray the central figures in the financial crisis: William Hurt, Paul Giamatti, James Woods and Bill Pullman.
The scenery-chewing puts a dramatic (and sometimes humorous) spin on the potentially dry, alienating discussions that take place in board rooms between middle-aged white men in suits. And the inescapable source of tension: This was real, and it happened, and to some extent it is still happening.
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