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) -- The 1980s was a decade signified by opulence and nowhere was the American dream more present at the time than on Wall Street.

The fast-paced world of finance in the mid-1980s was glorified in the film

Wall Street

, directed by Oliver Stone and released in December 1987. Despite its romanticizing of the immoral and illegal sides of Wall Street, the movie resonated with American society so much that it led to more than one idolizer to enter the finance industry despite corporate takeover maven Gordon Gekko's infamous speech that "Greed ... is Good."

As the U.S. inches its way out of the most horrific three-year financial crisis since the Great Depression, the legendary director Stone revisited the inner workings of Wall Street with a sequel dubbed

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

set to be released today.

Stone sought to imitate life in art and sets the movie in 2008, some 23 years after the first movie, and at the height of the crisis, between the bailout of


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by the government,

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JPMorgan Chase's

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takeover of

Bear Stearns'


Washington Mutual

, and the failure of

Lehman Brothers

, among others.

In the 1980s the fashion was bold, the hair was high, technology was beginning to get its footing, you were elite if reached "yuppie" status and "I Want My MTV" was what all the cool kids watched. But more than 20 years later, while the fashion styles changed (thankfully), technology became lightening speed fast (also better) and the young generation slowly turned to


to watch videos, things on Wall Street have stayed frighteningly similar.

"In the big picture, I don't think things have necessarily changed that much," says Todd Houge, a lecturer in department of finance at the University of Iowa's Tippie College of Business.

"There are regulations that reacted to situations and events, but the core of what the first movie was about, greed in the sense of chasing returns, that's still what the investment world is about - trying to find higher returns while managing risk. That's what makes capital markets function and with that you're always going to have cycles," Houge says.

Wall Street in the 1980s was signified by increasing leveraged buyouts, particularly of manufacturing and consumer goods companies that had large amounts of cash on their balance sheets and generally undervalued, experts say. The 1989 takeover of RJR Nabisco by Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, then a much less known private equity firm, was the largest leveraged deal of its time and chronicled in the book

Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco


Corporate raiders included

Carl Icahn

and Ivan Boesky, who is speculated to be the inspiration behind Stone's Gekko character and who went to jail for one of the most historic insider trading cases in U.S. history. Junk-bond king Michael Milken was also a major character of Wall Street in the 1980s. Investment banking firm Drexel Burnham Lambert' s aggressive foray into junk bonds, under Milken's charge, as well as a high-profile insider trading case with another employees, Dennis Levine, ultimately led the firm to bankruptcy.

Gekko's speech signifying that greed is a good thing exemplifies the arrogance of the times. But Iowa professor Houge says the speech, while pitched in "callousness, the reality is greed is not necessarily a bad thing in a capitalistic world where it's causing people to make investments leading to productivity, growth, jobs and opportunity," he says. "It's where the greed goes from being good to evil and if it's the focus to destroy lives and starts to hurt people."

But in 2008, the tone is more cautionary. "In 2008 what we really learned was the potential risk of financial engineering when unregulated and left to evolve excessively with modest checks and balances," Houge says.

Media and branding expert Adam Hanft says that while "everything has changed, nothing has changed at the same time."

Of course there were major market moving events, such as the 2001 terrorist attacks, the dot-com meltdown and of course the recent financial crisis and ensuing volatility in the markets, but "the fundamental issues of what is the role of capitalism and the obligations of capitalism,

pitted with some of the less attractive sides to human nature -- those things have been sort of remarkably consistent," Hanft says.

Brian Bolton, an assistant professor of finance at the University of New Hampshire' Whittemore School of Business & Economics, says one of the main differences between the mid-1980s and now is an overall change in perception.

"Today, there is a definite sense that Wall Street-ers are villains," Bolton writes in an email. "Certainly this is largely due to what happened in 2008, but I think the sense would be similar if this sequel had come out

five to eight years ago. I don't think the disdain or hatred was as common in the 1980s as it is now. Then Wall Street was some other world; today, it's a world or cancer that is affecting us all."

Another difference is the increasing regulation put upon financial firms, particularly relating to the de-regulation of the industry in the 1990s via the repealing of the Glass-Steagall Act. That law allowed for once sleepy commercial banks to foray into the investment banking business and ultimately produced some of the conglomerates, like Citi, in the industry at present.

"With the de-regulation, we started seeing new types of competition as firms restructured themselves," Bolton writes. "There is a reasonably legitimate argument that we wouldn't have had the too-big-to-fail issues of the last couple years without firms risking deposits and the race for riskier and riskier trading profits."

The other large change over the decades was the shift of the bulge-bracket brokerage firms like Lehman,

Morgan Stanley

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Goldman Sachs

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and Bear Stearns from private to public firms.

Merrill Lynch

(now owned by

Bank of America

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) was the only firm that was public in the mid 1980s.

"This certainly gave the illusion of exclusivity, but it also gave the illusion that what happened on Wall Street stayed on Wall Street and didn't affect most Americans," Bolton writes.

As more firms went public, opening up access to a larger part of the capital markets, "the risks the firms took on exposed outsiders to great risk," Bolton writes. "Back in the 1980s, when all the firms were private partnerships, if the firm screwed up, it was the bankers/partners/insiders who suffered almost exclusively. That's a big, big change, and it's probably not a great one."

Hanft points out the startling change in technology, which has led not only to the immediate access to trading tools and mechanisms like the algorithmic programs and high frequency trading of today but also the complex derivatives like the collateralized debt obligations, structured investment vehicles and other products that only those that created them are likely to fully understand them.

"Those kinds of sophisticated trading platforms reinforce the idea that the system is rigged" to the average investor, he says.

In the 1980s "there were more cowboys and they were sort of testosterone-fueled," Hanft says. "Today it's more about hedge funds" and quantitative investing.

Paul Sorbera, president of the executive recruitment firm, Alliance Consulting, says that Wall Street has become a bit of a scapegoat, given that the financial crisis was a confluence of factors including lack of risk management and oversight by senior management, partial blame to the government and the rating agencies as well as the mortgage industry, "which was completely broken."

As a result, the feeling today as the U.S. slowly recovers, "it just doesn't feel good," Sorbera says. "Everyone knows someone who has lost their house or is out of work."

That's mighty different than the first Wall Street's movie ending in which the bad guys are caught and the good guys prevail.

--Written by Laurie Kulikowski in New York.

To contact the writer of this article, click here:

Laurie Kulikowski


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