Oliver Stone later admitted that everyone involved told him Daryl Hannah was miscast, but he was too proud to replace her. This caused tension on set, particularly with Sean Young who wanted the role herself.
From the beginning, Sean Young kept telling Oliver Stone that she should play Darien and Daryl Hannah should be fired. Young would show up on the set late and unprepared. It's part of the reason her role is so small.
At the time, Michael Douglas was better known as a producer. Oliver Stone was warned that Douglas would micromanage the film and undermine Stone. Stone hired Douglas anyway, and Douglas did not micromanage.
Oliver Stone had written a subplot involving Fox having an affair with Gekko's wife (which would have explained Gekko's anger towards Fox in their final confrontation), but had to abandon it due to Charlie Sheen and Sean Young's hatred of each other.
Gordon Gekko's "Greed is good" speech was inspired by Ivan Boesky's speech at the University of California's commencement ceremony in 1986. Boesky was a Wall Street arbitrageur who paid a $100 million penalty to the SEC later that year to settle insider trading charges. In his speech, Boesky said "Greed is all right, by the way. I want you to know that. I think greed is healthy. You can be greedy and still feel good about yourself."
Oliver Stone wanted to make a film about the 1950s quiz show scandals. When he tossed around ideas with his friend Stanley Weiser, he hit on the notion of making a film about Wall Street instead. Weiser was reluctant because he knew very little about the financial markets. Stone encouraged Weiser to read "Crime and Punishment" and "The Great Gatsby" for an idea of the morality he wanted to put into the story, and Weiser spent the next few months immersing himself in the financial world. He and Stone spent three weeks visiting brokerage houses and interviewing investors.
Early on in the film when Marvin reminds Bud to make his daily call to Gekko, Marvin makes a reference to the Space shuttle Challenger disaster. This is an oddity given that the film is set in 1985 and the Challenger disaster does not occur until January of 1986.
Sir Larry Wildman, the British takeover artist played by Terence Stamp, is widely believed to be modeled after Sir Gordon White of Hanson PLC, a company that does only acquisitions, liquidations, and wholesale deconstruction of companies.
Anacott Steel, a fictional company, may be an obscure reference to Anaconda Copper, a company that busted in the 1929 stock market crash. Many entertainers had invested in Anaconda, including Groucho Marx.
Early on in the shoot, Oliver Stone tested Michael Douglas by enhancing his "repressed anger", according to the actor. At one point, Stone came into Douglas' trailer and asked him if he was doing drugs because "you look like you haven't acted before". This shocked Douglas, who did more research and worked on his lines again and again, pushing himself harder than he had before. All of this hard work culminated with the "Greed is good" speech.
During the meeting where it's revealed Blue Star will be broken up, Gekko's representative tells Bud he will have the shortest lifespan of any executive, "since that pope who got poisoned." This is obviously a reference to John Paul I, who died in 1978 after only 33 days of being pope. John Paul I died of natural causes but conspiracy theories still persist of an assassination.
Daryl Hannah has never seen the film. She said in an interview that it was a "rough experience" and she and Director Oliver Stone had an "unhealthy working relationship". At the time of filming she accused Stone of being a misogynist. She said "film is a collaborate medium. Sometimes you hook up with people you don't collaborate well with."
In the scene in which Bud Fox brings a birthday gift to Gekko's office, Gordon's secretary says 'Five minutes' in order to keep the unplanned meeting between Gekko and Fox as brief as possible. There are exactly 5 minutes in the movie from this moment to the moment in which Bud leaves the office.
Michael Douglas remembers that when he first read the screenplay, "I thought it was a great part. It was a long script, and there were some incredibly long and intense monologues to open with. I'd never seen a screenplay where there were two or three pages of single-spaced type for a monologue. I thought, whoa! I mean, it was unbelievable". For research, he read profiles of corporate raiders T. Boone Pickens and Carl Icahn.
According to Oliver Stone, he was "making a movie about sharks, about feeding frenzies. Bob [director of photography Robert Richardson] and I wanted the camera to become a predator. There is no letup until you get to the fixed world of Charlie's father, where the stationary camera gives you a sense of immutable values." The director saw Wall Street as a battle zone and "filmed it as such" including shooting conversations like physical confrontations and in ensemble shots had the camera circle the actors "in a way that makes you feel you're in a pool with sharks."
At the Teldar Paper shareholders meeting, the name card of the man at the end of the back row on the right, visible over Gordon Gekko's shoulder, says "Sean Stone". Oliver Stone's son, Sean Stone, plays Rudy Gekko.
The scene where Bud confronts Gekko in his office is primarily composed of two extended takes, separated by the cut to the reverse angle shot of Gordon shouting "Because it's wreckable!" The rest of the scene is one unbroken take.
When Bud Fox discovers the Anacott Steel acquisition, Gordon Gekko tells him to buy 1500 option contracts. When they sell their shares to Sir Larry Wildman, the option contracts provide a gross return of $3,225,000.
Jeffrey "Mad Dog" Beck, a star investment banker at the time with Drexel Burnham Lambert, was one of the film's technical advisers and has a cameo appearance in the film as the man speaking at the meeting discussing the breakup of Bluestar. Kenneth Lipper, investment banker and former deputy mayor of New York for Finance and Economic Development, was also hired as chief technical adviser. At first, he turned Oliver Stone down because he felt that the film would be a one-sided attack. Stone asked him to reconsider and Lipper read the script responding with a 13-page critique. For example, he argued that it was unrealistic to have all the characters be "morally bankrupt". Lipper advised Stone on the kind of computers used on the trading floor, the accurate proportion of women at a business meeting, and the kinds of extras that should be seated at the annual shareholders meeting where Gekko delivers his "Greed is good" speech. Stone agreed with Lipper's criticism and asked him to rewrite the script. Lipper brought a balance to the film and this helped Stone get permission to shoot on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange during trading hours. Lipper and Stone disagreed over the character of Lou Mannheim. Stone shot a scene showing the honest Mannheim giving in to insider trading, but Lipper argued that audiences might conclude that everyone on Wall Street is corrupt and insisted that the film needed an unimpeachable character. Stone cut the scene.
Oliver Stone cites as influences on his approach to business, the novels of Upton Sinclair, Sinclair Lewis and Victor Hugo, and the films of Paddy Chayefsky because they were able to make a complicated subject clear to the audience.
Reportedly, Gordon Gekko is said to be a composite of several people: Wall Street broker Owen Morrisey, an old friend of Oliver Stone's who was involved in a $20 million insider trading scandal in 1985, Dennis Levine, Ivan Boesky, corporate raider Carl Icahn, art collector Asher Edelman, agent Michael Ovitz, and Stone himself. According to Edward R. Pressman, producer of the film, "Originally, there was no one individual who Gekko was modelled on", he adds, "But Gekko was partly Milken".
Sean Stone appears both in this film and the sequel released in 2010 but playing different characters. In this one, he played Gordon Gekko's son while in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010) he played a fund trader.
According to Stanley Weiser, Gekko's style of speaking was inspired by Oliver Stone. "When I was writing some of the dialogue I would listen to Oliver on the phone and sometimes he talks very rapid-fire, the way Gordon Gekko does".
In Gekko's office when Bud is describing Bluestar Airlines, he says it has 80 "Medium Body" Jets and 300 pilots. Most domestic airlines benchmark an average of 11 pilots per airframe (5.5 x 2 pilot "crews") in order to satisfy a full flying day roster and account for leave / days off etc. Bluestar would rationally have approximately 880 pilots.
Oliver Stone used food to symbolize Gordon Gekko's voracious nature in the early scene where he takes Bud Fox to lunch at an exclusive restaurant. Gekko treats his new protégé to his favorite off-the-menu dish: Steak tartare (raw beef) with a raw egg on top.
According to Oliver Stone on the DVD commentary, the scenes filmed at the Wall Street trading floor (shot on location) were filmed in just one day for 45 minutes with actual brokers playing themselves.
Oliver Stone had been thinking about this kind of a movie as early as 1981 and was inspired by his father, Lou Stone, a broker during the Great Depression at Hayden Stone. He originally pitched the premise of two investment partners getting involved in questionable financial dealings, using each other, and they are tailed by a prosecutor as in Crime and Punishment.
Oliver Stone also consulted with Carl Icahn, Asher Edelman, convicted inside trader David Brown, several government prosecutors, and Wall Street investment bankers. In addition, traders were brought in to coach actors on the set on how to hold phones, write out tickets, and talk to clients. Stone asked Lipper to design a six-week course that would expose Charlie Sheen to a cross section of young Wall Street business people. The actor said, "I was impressed and very, very respectful of the fact that they could maintain that kind of aggressiveness and drive".
Oliver Stone mentioned that the studio heads at 20th Century Fox weren't so enthusiastic about the film in terms of release, awards consideration and difficult theme for an audience to embrace, and instead the studio focused their attention on Broadcast News (1987). Both were released in the same month (December 1987), made a similar profit (despite Wall Street getting a limited release compared to the other film) and were nominated for Oscars, with James L. Brooks film getting seven nominations and Stone's film only one. While Broadcast News (1987) didn't get any Oscars, Wall Street (1987) managed to win its only nomination.
Although Oliver Stone was always interesting in making a film about the business world, he was reluctant at first because he thought films with such theme hardly ever make good films or something that people would like to see, citing the example of the critical and box-office failure of Rollover (1981), as a clear example of this theory.
There is a brief glimpse of the U.S. Customs House at around 40 minutes into the film. That building would become famous two years later after its appearance in Ghostbusters II (1989) in which it doubled as the fictional Manhattan Museum of Art which housed the Vigo painting.
Oliver Stone planned to use a Fortune magazine cover in exchange for promotional advertisements, but Forbes magazine made a similar offer. Stone stuck with Fortune, which upset Forbes publisher Malcolm Forbes, who turned down a later request to use his private yacht.
The trivia item below may give away important plot points.
At the end of the movie, when Bud Fox gets out of the car to take a long walk up the stairs to the courtroom, he passes by a newspaper stand in the background with a poster for Fortune magazine. His picture is on the front cover.