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I'm the Bad Guy?


The Wall Street villain returns to Hollywood.

In 2008, the major Hollywood trend was vampires, who leapfrogged pirates and ninjas as the protagonist of choice. This year saw Nazis cast as the bad guys, for obvious reasons: Everybody hates Nazis.

Meanwhile, the reigning 2009 box office king is Columbia Pictures' (SNE) Paul Blart: Mall Cop while Slumdog Millionaire, the story of a shantytown-dweller winning the Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, is the favorite to win the Best Picture Oscar. The people have spoken: The little guy is king. And if the latest Hollywood trend is any indication, the Bernie Madoff-era crook is about to get his just desserts on screen.

This won't be the first time the businessman supervillain gets his close-up. The 1987 crash inspired Ghost, in which Patrick Swayze's character is murdered by his i-banking co-worker over a money-laundering scam. Then there was Wall Street's infamous Gordon Gekko, the corporate raider role for which Michael Douglas won an Oscar.

The earlier part of this decade saw Hollywood's occasional corporate villains take the form of barely disguised real-life corporations in films like The Constant Gardener, Michael Clayton, and Erin Brockovich. But with Bernie Madoff's face and former Merrill Lynch CEO John Thain's $87,000 rug plastered all over the news, producers are calling for blood.

It starts subtly this February with The International, starring an international bank whose portfolio apparently includes murder and conspiracy. The coming months will also bring films like Duplicity, starring Clive Owen and Julia Roberts as corporate counter-intelligence agents looking to rip off their CEO bosses and live happily ever after together on the proceeds.

Then comes Imagine That, starring Eddie Murphy as a financial executive/negligent father, and Minimum Wage, a yet-to-be-cast film in which a scheming executive is forced to get by on, you guessed it, minimum wage. And that's only the beginning. Time Warner (TWX) has recently optioned two books featuring corporate evil geniuses, Confessions of a Wall Street Shoeshine Boy and The Wolf of Wall Street.

Meanwhile, the Paul Blart school of hero worship remains in session. The everyman action hero has drawn close to $70 million in domestic box office as of this writing, and talk of a sequel has begun. Observe and Report (starring Seth Rogen as, yes, a mall cop) is slated for an April release, while Next Day Air will feature Donald Faison and Mos Def as UPS deliverymen thrust into a city drug war this May.

No word yet on any involvement from Michael Douglas, whose Gekko remains Hollywood's most enduring portrayal of corporate greed. But the actor will be returning in another way: Falling Down, the 1993 film in which Douglas played a dispirited, laid-off office worker who goes rampaging through Los Angeles, is slated for DVD re-release.

That disillusioned reactionary working-man-cum-commando story may have never been more relevant by the time it gets the Blu-Ray treatment this May.
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