Policemen, doctors, lawyers, scientists, teachers: These are the professions that we often see in Hollywood movies. But are movies also trying to show what the work of data analysts looks like? Here is a list of six movies in which screenwriters, directors, and producers decided to cast SQL and databases in the main roles.
Data analysis is most often associated with business, reporting, and making key decisions for the company. Today it is part of many organizations’ daily life, so it’s no wonder that this topic often appears in movies.
Film producers want to show the work of analysts. They don't always do it well. Sometimes it ends in a strange mix of mathematics and supernatural skills that gives the people working with data a headache. In no particular order, here is my selection of the best Hollywood and independent films featuring data analysis.
Six Movies Where Hollywood Takes on SQL and Data Analysts
1. Moneyball - Analyzing sports statistics
Biography, Drama, Sport - 2h 13min
This based-on-a-true-story movie was a milestone in showing date analysts; it's fair to say that it brought the power of databases to the big screen. Moneyball is the story of Oakland Athletics baseball manager Billy Beane, played by Brad Pitt. He runs a club that is in big financial trouble. Beane meets a young economist, Yale graduate Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), who inspires him with an unconventional way of choosing players. The method uses predictive modeling and the in-depth analysis of hundreds of items of historical data about athletes.
Despite criticism from the media, club owners, and coaches, the method begins to work. Skillful data analysis allows Billy Beane to create a team despite a limited budget. Eventually the club begins to win, and the method changes baseball forever. How? Just by using math, code, and SQL. Working with large databases made it necessary to properly process information, aggregate data, and use it to form relevant conclusions. This data was previously available to trainers, owners, and managers – but only the right queries produced results.
This adaptation of the novel "Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game" by Michael Lewis received four Golden Globe nominations and six Oscar nominations, including Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Lead Actor, and Best Supporting Actor. It's something for all lovers of data analysis, sports, and drama.
Maybe you also want to know SQL and be able to create a winning strategy for yourself. Or maybe you’re thinking about a career in data analysis and you dream of coming up with a similar formula that ensures success and money. We recommend our Vertabelo Academy SQL Track to help you get started.
2. Limitless - How much data can our brains process?
Mystery, Sci-Fi, Thriller - 1h 45min
This is an extraordinary story about an unfulfilled and depressed writer, Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper) who dreams of publishing his novel. His life is a mess. One day he meets a friend who gives him an unusual drug.
Thanks to this secret substance, his brain gains abnormal skills; he’s now a genius. He enters the world of big business and meets rich Carl Van Loon (Robert DeNiro), who notices Eddie’s new talent and uses him to make money. Eddie starts working as a data analyst. His rapid-fire brain can process huge amounts of data and suggest obscure, unusual, and risky strategic decisions.
The film is an interesting look at the possibilities of human perception. But even with superpowers, an analyst would not do much without using computers or processing data properly. Here again, SQL came in handy.
The movie had a spinoff – a television series produced by Netflix. It had the same name and ran for one season (22 episodes). It was not very successful and was not renewed for a second season.
3. Margin Call - How much is data worth?
Drama, Thriller - 1h 47min
Although the action of this film takes place almost exclusively in one skyscraper, this movie keeps you in as much suspense as the best thriller. It is a story inspired by the first hours of the 2008 global economic crisis. One of the main characters is a risk analyst working for a large investment bank (similar to Lehman Brothers Holdings).
Analyzing the data, he finds an error in the financial strategy assumptions on which the entire company is based. It concerns the issue of mortgage insurance. When the market bubble is about to burst, a race against time begins.
Although the script is fictitious, many economists and industry people think it well reflects what was happening at Wall Street at the time. The movie features stars like Kevin Spacey, Demi Moore, and Jeremy Irons. It’s a great cinema, and also a warning about what the pursuit of money can lead to.
4. Big Short - Data that few noticed
Biography, Comedy, Drama - 2h 10min
Another great movie about the economic crisis, this time in a slightly more comedic way. An eccentric analyst (Christian Bale) at a California hedge fund sees something that no one else has ever seen in macroeconomic data. By using calculations and relevant database queries, he predicts the upcoming collapse of the mortgage market. Based on his analysis, he decides to invest in financial options against the US economy.
A group of outcast Wall Street analysts is reaching similar conclusions. Led by a character played by Steve Carell, the team goes on a trip around the United States to see for themselves the true condition of America. What they first read in hard data, they now see with their own eyes: unpaid loans, scams, and massive corruption. All this inevitably tends to burst the market bubble, which consequently led to one of the largest financial crises in the history of the world.
This Adam McKay film received five Oscar nominations, including one for best film. In addition to Carell and Bale, the cast includes Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt, and a whole bunch of celebrities who explain the complexities of economics during the film. The message is simple: It is good to be able to analyze data; thanks to this skill, you’re not just ahead of others – you can save the world.
5. The Great Hack - How much do they know about us?
Documentary - 1h 53min
This is not movie fiction; it’s a documentary. It shows the modern world through the prism of information and data. Every second, each of us sends a lot of data to the world. Most of it seems harmless. What does it matter if I liked a photo of a cat on Facebook? Or that I subscribed to my favorite artist's YouTube channel? According to these filmmakers, each click is important. There are companies that collect all this information, and they can organize it and create a digital profile for each of us.
How do these companies do it? They employ analysts who, knowing the appropriate methods (including SQL), can work with databases and use what’s stored there to guess our future behavior. Thanks to this, we get offers to buy a given thing before we even realize we need that item. The average internet user has no chance against a perfectly-targeted advertisement. This thought may be scary for some people, but it’s the world we live in.
The film also shows the behind-the-scenes story of what some consider to be one of the biggest scandals in the digital world – the case of Facebook–Cambridge Analytica and its unclear actions accompanying Donald Trump's campaign. It's worth watching and thinking over.
6. Brexit - How did analysts take control of politicians?
Biography, Drama, History - 1h 32min
This film is a fictionalized story about the British getting fooled into convincing themselves that they want Brexit. The main character is an analyst and marketer who has little to do with politics. He is interested in trends and people's behavior.
Taking advantage of the political turmoil in Great Britain, he manages to lead the team responsible for a referendum campaign on the country's proposed exit from the European Union. This character is a genius, but he also has no scruples. Can he analyze data and use it in political disputes, regardless of whether the outcome will be good for Britain’s citizens?
He meets other analysts, who show him the real power of analyzing the data flowing in from social media. They operate on the border of the law, and sometimes even outside the law. Everything leads to Brexit, although most politicians and media are not really aware of why. The power of databases and analysts’ skills have won again.
Data-Based Movies Got You Wanting to Learn More?
I hope you liked my choice of SQL- and data-themed Hollywood movies. Perhaps it will inspire you to learn SQL. If you’re a beginner and don’t have any experience with databases, your first step into the exciting world of data should be this online course. It contains 129 interactive exercises that build foundational SQL skills. Thanks to the opportunity to test everything in practice, you'll immediately see how you can use what you learn.
Do you prefer Python? Vertabelo Academy also has something for you. Try the Python for Data Science course. Python is a powerful tool in the hands of an analyst. It is easy to learn and allows you to cleverly work with data. This is one of the most popular programming languages in the world, and it’s still gaining new followers. It is also extremely desirable for job seekers; employers are looking for people who can code in Python.
Still hungry for knowledge? Check out our Introduction to R course. R is a popular and effective programming language for statistical calculations and graphics. In this course, you will learn how to work with data, create data visualizations, and even do some data modeling. These skills are quite useful in business.