Wall Street (1987): Michael Douglas Oscar-Winning Role

Though it is set in urban New York, circa 1985, Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street” represents the same type of morality tale as “Platoon,” his 1986 Oscar-winning Vietnam War saga. The link between the two films becomes even more obvious through the casting of the lead with the same actor: Charlie Sheen, serving as Stone’s alter-ego.

As in “Platoon,” Sheen plays an innocent youngster named Bud Fox, this time around working in Downtown New York financial market, instead of Vietnam. Also like “Platoon,” “Wall Street” posits Sheen between two father figures, a good (played by real-life father Martin Sheen) and a bad one, played by Michael Douglas.
This was the year in which Douglas specialized in playing ethically dubious yuppies, first in “Fatal Attraction” and then in “Wall Street.” As Gordon Gekko, the corrupt corporate raider, Michael Douglas plays a prickly character, based on the notorious insider trader Ivan Boesky. Douglas’ long, climactic speech about greed is supposed to be based on Boesky’s actual words.
It was a shrewd piece of casting, based on Douglas’ knowledge that that villainous roles have always done a lot for demonstrating the range of actors’ talents. In “Wall Street,” Michael followed the tradition of his father, Kirk Douglas, who played well heels (in Minnelli’s melodrama’s “The Bad and the Beautiful” and many other films), though he never did win a legit Oscar, despite three nominations. Douglas was thus even more determined to get the Academy’s recognition for his deviation from his more established persona.
As writer and director, Oliver Stone has its share of fans and detractors, but you’ve got to acknowledge his acute sense of timing in making relevant pictures of public interest. This was the case of “Salvador” and “Platoon,” both in 1986, “Wall Street,” as well as “Born on the Fourth of July” in 1989.
Hand of fate played a role too in catapulting the movie to impressive levels of awareness and commercial success. In 1981, “China Syndrome,” which Michael Douglas produced and starred in (alongside with Jane Fonda and Jack Lemmon) had benefited from the Three Mile Island nuclear accident. As luck would have it, “Wall Street” the movie profited too, from the October 19, 1987 stock market crash barely two months before the picture’s release.
The reviews to the film were mixed. In the New York Times, Vincent Canby called it a “tantalizing Sidney Sheldon-like peek into the boardrooms and bedrooms of the rich and powerful.” Julie Salamon in “Wall Street Journal” dismissed the movie as a silly, pretentious melodrama, pandering to the current fascination with insider trading. But other critics pointed out that unlike most American directors, Stone (like Spike Lee) at least tried to present a critique of the socio-economic malaises of American society of the 1980s.
However, even reviewers who didn’t like the picture and its preachy nature had to acknowledge the work of Michael Douglas, who had never acted with so much gusto and energy before. By the time “Wall Street” opened theatrically, his previous film, “Fatal Attraction,” had already become a blockbuster.
The topicality and high-level of awareness of “Wall Street made Douglas a household name in the same way that “Fatal Attraction” functioned for his co-star Glenn Close, as villainess of the piece.
Some saw “Wall Street” as an allegorical morality tale, a reworking of the classic Faust tale, about any capitalistic enterprise, easily transferable to the Hollywood studio machine and or real estate (Donald Trump anyone and the corrupt, greedy executives of those industries. Robert Altman will take this point to an extreme in his 1992 satire, The Player.”
Cast
Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen)
Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas)
Carl Fox (Martin Sheen)
Sir Larry Wildman (Terence Stamp)
Kate Gekko (Sean Young)
Darien Taylor (Daryl Hannah)
Realton (Sylvia Miles)
Roger Barnes (James Spader)
Lou Mannheim (Hal Holbrook)
Harold Salt (Saul Rubinek)
Crew
Produced by Edward R. Pressman and A. Kitman Ho.
Directed by Oliver Stone
Screenplay: Oliver Stone, Stanley Weiser
Camera: Robert Richardson
Editor: Claire Simpson
Music: Stewart Copeland
Production design: Stephen Hendrickson
Art direction: John J. Moore, Hilda Stark
Costumes: Ellen Mirojnick
Running time: 124 Minutes
Oscar Alert
In 1987, Michael Douglas won the Best Actor Oscar, beating out William Hurt (“Children of a Lesser God”), Italian Marcelo Mastroianni (“Dark Eyes”), Jack Nicholson (“Ironweed”), and Robin Williams (“Good Morning, Vietnam”). It’s Douglas’ only Oscar nominations.