Reel Estate: Always Be Closing in the World of Cinema

High contrast image of empty movie theater seats
Photo: Fernando Gregory Milan/123rf

The inherent drama, the big personalities, the even bigger money, the potential for conflict and comeuppance and some crazy storylines–real estate has long been a natural for Hollywood. Hamptons real estate has yet to play a major starring role in film (although we can imagine there are some in the works), but in honor of the Hamptons International Film Festival, we celebrate the top real estate movies of all time.

The Cocoanuts (1929)–Filled with the enthusiasm fueled by Florida land boom of the Roaring ’20s and without a glimmer of the Great Depression waiting right around the corner, this Marx Brothers film puts the comedic siblings in a real estate game with a guy who wants to develop the resort area of Cocoanut Manor. Think Carl Fisher ever saw this flick?

Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948)–Imagine if Mr. Blandings had to deal with wetlands, the ZBA, historical societies, the Dongan Patent…

The Money Pit (1986)–The potential rigors of a distress sale notwithstanding, this Steven Spielberg co-executive produced comedy is a keen reminder that renovations rarely go completely as planned, and it would be safe to assume that you’re going to come in over budget on that next project.   

Field of Dreams (1989)– If you build it, they will come. At least every spec home builder and developer of valuable farmland hopes so.

Pacific Heights (1990)–A renter moves into an apartment and all hell breaks loose when he starts a reno, won’t move out and winds up taking control of both the property and the owners’ lives. And you thought your summer tenants were a challenge when they wanted the fridge stocked.

Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)–David Mamet’s big-screen adaptation of his Pulitzer Prize-winning play gives a glimpse into the darker side of sales, and Alec Baldwin gives us one of moviedom’s most memorable monologues. Put the coffee down…

Joe’s Apartment (1996)–Whether you’re in the big city or out in the suburbs, the first film by MTV Productions is a reminder that finding an affordable apartment just might mean sharing space with some interesting roommates.

American Beauty (1999)–Annette Bening cleans the kitchen, vacuums the rug, dusts the light fixtures–hey, whatever it takes to live by the mantra “I will sell this house today,” right?

Closing Escrow (2007)–This mockumentary follows a trio of real estate agents and their quirky clients as they all search for a dream home–and ultimately wind up bidding on the same property. Nobody would go to such extreme, often absurd lengths to win that kind of war, would they?

The Queen of Versailles (2012)–An actual documentary that plays like part reality TV, part cautionary tale, this film follows a Florida billionaire and his wife as they suffer a reversal of fortune in the midst of building a 90,000-square-foot estate during the 2008 financial crisis.

99 Homes (2014)–An unemployed single father loses his home in foreclosure and falls in with an unscrupulous broker in a desperate effort to reclaim what was his. A potent reminder of how much the concept of home really means, and what lengths people will go for it.

The Big Short (2015)–A two-hour lesson in subprime home loans, collateralized debt obligations, credit default swaps and why an endlessly inflating housing bubble is too good to be true. Unless you bet against it, of course.

Pocket Listing (2016)–Watch this thriller about a disgraced broker lured into selling a couple’s villa as a drinking game, and take a shot every time you hear a brilliant cliché. “In order to sell houses, you need to make your clients feel immediately at home.” “I don’t just sell houses, I deal dreams.” “A pocket listing is every realtor’s dream–it’s the Houdini of all real estate deals.” “It’s not real friends, it’s real estate.”

Honorable Mention: The Amityville Horror (1979)–Sure, there are swarms of flies and blood oozing from the walls, but did we mention it’s near the ocean and on the same south shore of Long Island as the Hamptons?