How Similar Is The Big Short to the Real Life Story It’s Based On?

The Big Picture

  • The names of the main characters in The Big Short were changed for personal reasons, but the film is still largely accurate, with a 91.4% accuracy rate according to a comparison.
  • The movie focuses on the moral dilemma of Steve Carell’s character, Mark Baum, and changes the backstory of the real-life person he is based on.
  • There are some differences between the movie and the book in terms of events leading to the financial crash, names of characters, and certain details, but overall the film faithfully depicts the events.

The 2015 Academy Award Best Picture nominee The Big Short is a financial cautionary tale — which also happens to be very funny —based on true-life events. Adam McKay and Charles Randolph adapted (with McKay also directing) the book The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by financial journalist Michael Lewis, chronicling the events that led to the late 2000s financial crisis. Condensing a narrative that focuses on three investment firms as key players, it boasts a stellar cast that includes Steve Carell, Christian Bale, and Ryan Gosling. Surprisingly, The Big Short is a very faithful recounting of what happened before the housing crisis downfall but, as with every big screen adaptation, there are bound to be differences that depart from what really happened — or, at least, from what’s told in the book. Information is Beautiful’s book vs. movie comparison establishes the film is 91.4% accurate, so let’s take a look at what keeps The Big Short from being 100%.

Keeping Track Of The Name Changes In ‘The Big Short’

Jeremy Strong, Steve Carell, and Ryan Gosling as Vinny, Mark, and Jared in The Big Short
Image via Plan B

Bale’s Michael Burry is the only main character whose name goes unchanged. The faithfulness of his portrayal goes all the way to hearing hard rock at high volume and using an actual T-shirt and cargo shorts that belonged to Burry. Still, there are some differences to his character, for he doesn’t disclose his life details to the person he’s interviewing, rather than some friends through email. The names of the rest of the main cast members are changed for personal reasons. McKay states he made some concessions on this topic, which ended up with Gosling’s Greg Lippmann turning into Jared Vennett, and the last names of Brad Pitt’s, John Magaro’s, and Finn Wittrock’s characters also changing — that’s how Ben Hockett, Charlie Ledley, and James Mai were changed to Ben Rickert, Charlie Geller, and Jamie Shipley. The latter two’s investment venture, Cornwall Capital, is also changed to Brownfield Fund.

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The movie largely focuses on the moral dilemma of Carell’s character, Mark Baum, on whether or not to take advantage of the impending downfall. Baum is an alias for businessman and investor Steve Eisman. Given the focus both the book and the movie place on Eisman, he’s the one that has more backstory. The book details the painful loss of Eisman’s son due to an accident. The family specifically requested to have this not included in the film, for the agony of reliving this incident would be too much. Instead, to be able to tell his story in a respectful and faithful way, it’s shown how Baum loses a brother who committed suicide – hence the name change from Eisman to Baum. Still, Carell was characterized as Eisman and even had a visit from him on set once filming began. Lewis, the book’s author, recalls being shocked by how well the actors got into their characters, saying everyone performed exactly as their counterparts. Even their hairdos and clothes were pretty much what each individual wears, so kudos to the costume and hair and makeup departments as well.

‘The Big Short’ Changed Events Leading to the Crash

John Magaro and Finn Wittrock as Charlie and Jamie in The Big Short
Image via Plan B

Comparing what the movie shows to what the book tells, pops up some understandable differences for the sake of storytelling. For instance, the movie shows Wittrock’s Jamie and Magaro’s Charlie, the heads of Brownfield Fund, having encountered Vennett’s housing bubble pitch in the lobby of a bank they wanted to get into business with. Instead, a friend sent it to them, as they explain while breaking the fourth wall. The whole Miami visit has both real and made-up moments. While Eisman’s team did in fact travel to Miami to see what the situation is over there, Eisman himself didn’t go to Florida’s second most populated city. And a bit added for dramatic (and hilarious) effect is the crocodile that Porter (Hamish Linklater) and Danny (Rafe Spall) find inside the pool of an abandoned house. To condense the team’s conversations with mortgage brokers, the characters of Max Greenfield and Billy Magnussen are included, exposing how they were incentivized to keep placing a high volume of high-rate loans.

In the book, it’s Vinny (Jeremy Strong in the film) and not Baum/Eisman, who meets and interviews the stripper with six loans with low down payments. Also, the book mentions the stripper actually had five loans. The one who has six loans on her properties is Eisman’s baby nurse. Some years earlier, she bought a townhouse in Queens along with her sister. The price surged and the lender advised them to refinance, so they bought another one and so on, to the point they now owned six townhouses and were unable to pay their mortgages. In the movies, long, drawn-out processes are usually sped-up. When Jamie and Charlie pick up Ben to go sign a swap agreement, it’s a pretty simple deal, going in to sign and then going out. The book explains how this process took ten days in reality. There’s also a scene involving Jamie and Evie (Karen Gillan), his brother’s ex-girlfriend, an SEC employee who gives information about the lack of oversight on mortgages. In reality, this bit of information is dug-up by Eisman through several analysts of different agencies. Another fictional character is Adepero Oduye’s Kathy Tao, who isn’t mentioned in the book, but thankfully represents a strong female figure in a movie filled with dudes getting their way.

Name changes and altered events are the summary of the differences between the movie and the book. One obvious additional variance is what makes the movie so great: in real life, we don’t have stars like Margot Robbie (with her Australian accent!), Selena Gomez, or Anthony Bourdain pop up to explain the complicated financial terms in for-dummies language. But perhaps the greatest difference in The Big Short relies in the film’s ending tone, which is a bit pessimistic, warning about how this will happen again and the people at the top will continue amassing and increasing their fortunes. Some of the real people involved in the book’s events, like Greg Lippmann, argue that might not be the case, as the government is currently enforcing policies that help the working class, particularly in fighting inflation. Truth is, the wrongdoing of a few went on to affect the American economy as a whole. Though not enough punishment was given to those responsible, hope remains nothing like this happens ever again.

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