Relax with the best in “reel” estate

Posted by on January 22nd, 2015


Winter is typically a slow time for home sales and its related industries.

So why not sit back with a cup of cocoa and enjoy a stack of the greatest real-estate movies of all time?

Here’s a fully biased list of the winners for several housing-related movies across several genres.


There’s a lot of competition here, but the winner has to be the slapstick The Money Pit (1986), a sight-gag a minute movie about a young couple who get an unbelievable deal on a gigantic dream home. It just needs a “little work.” They pull out all the stops to get the money for the seemingly flawless fixer-upper.

Played by Tom Hanks in one of his first, and best, roles, and Shelly Long, in one of her only movie roles, the couple get a lesson in hard-core “if it looks too good to be true” fashion. The mansion proceeds to fall down all around them, reaching absurd levels of disaster.

Joe Mantegna is great here as aptly named contractor Art Shirk.


It amazes me that another tale of the broken dream of home ownership can evoke the exact opposite reaction. But The House of Sand and Fog (2003) does.

Great actors make great movies, even when telling a convoluted story. In this one, recovering drug addict Kathy Nicolo, played by Jennifer Connelly, is struggling through a divorce when she gets another surprise: she’s also losing her house, because she forgot to pay her property taxes.

She’s sure she did pay, but the county says no. She is evicted, and the house is put up for auction.

In the meantime, an aging Iranian military man (Ben Kingsley), exiled from his homeland after the revolution, is also struggling. He works as a trash collector and convenience store clerk to pay the rent on his family’s expensive apartment, attempting to maintain a semblance of wealth around his professional friends, who are much more successful. He buys Nicolo’s house at auction, planning to improve it and “flip” it, or make a large profit on its resale.

The process of figuring out what happened, and the successive attempts to clear up the mistakes, are tragedies worthy of Shakespeare. You will be left holding a handkerchief, and wondering why people don’t make sure to check their mail.

Based on his quietly haunting novel, Andre Dubus III has penned a screenplay that tugs at the heart, while never losing focus on the true villain: Human failing.


So many to choose from here. Why are houses, hotels and housing so scary? Lots to recommend: The Shining (1980) is Stanley Kubrick’s gripping vision of the Stephen King novel about a hotel that enjoys making its employees go crazy and kill everyone. Jack Nicholson stars and has never been creepier. An inspired parody is still one of the greatest Simpsons Halloween episodes ever – big points.

And many argue that Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), sets the standard for landlord terror.

But by just a corpse hair, the winner of this category is Poltergeist (1982). This is already a full on chiller on every level before we even get to the tie-in to real estate. And it’s one hell of a tie in. The bodies. Why didn’t they move the bodies?

Director Steven Spielberg never resorts to gore, and you still almost pee your pants.


A beloved yet ridiculous tale of a man who builds a baseball diamond in his backyard cornfield because a haunting voice tells him to, Field of Dreams (1989) easily wins this category.

It’s rivetingly stupid, but extremely heartfelt, when farmer Ray Kinsella’s decision to fulfill the eerie request leads him to reconcile with the ghost of his dead father. (What?)

Honorable mention: It’s a Wonderful Life (1946). Enough said.


In The War of the Roses (1989) the Roses start as many young couples do. They can’t get enough of each other. Then the years go by. He has a big career, she raises a couple kids and they buy a beautiful house.

But now there’s a problem. They hate each other.

Watch and laugh with guilty pleasure as the battle escalates to psychotic levels over the one thing they do have in common: They both want the house. You’ll never look at goose liver the same way again.


American Beauty (1999) is about a lot of things, or maybe it’s about nothing. But one of the plot lines involves  the scheming of ambitious and materialistic real-estate broker Carolyn Burnham, who treats her husband like chattel while shamelessly embarking on an extra-marital affair.

Some critics remark that the selection of real estate as her profession is supposed to mirror the cold banality of suburban existence.

Most political: 

No matter how you feel about science fiction or computer generated imagery, there’s no doubt that Avatar is really about one subject. Development.

A man takes a trip to a distant planet, falls in love with one of the natives, then tries to help them fight off a greedy corporation that wants to exploit their land.

Director James Cameron called it “a fictionalized fantasy version of what our world was like before we started to pave it and build malls and shopping centers. It’s really an evocation of the world we used to have.”


In The Descendants (2011), George Clooney plays a Hawaii lawyer. Sounds like a pretty gig. He’s pretty. Hawaii is pretty.

Except for his wife is in a coma she’s never coming out of, and the accident that put her in that condition reveals the fact that she was cheating on him. All the time. Now he has to tell his two impressionable daughters what a peach mom was.

On top of this, Clooney’s character is the deciding vote whether his family should keep their long-held unspoiled Kauai property, or sell it to developers and make a mint. He’s under a lot of pressure in a movie set in paradise.

Most original:

This was a difficult decision, but in Superman (1978), many may not remember arch-villain Lex Luthor has an ongoing obsession with real estate – though it borders on the insane, and stomps all over the unbelievable.

Luthor (Gene Hackman) and his bumbling sidekick Otis are somehow able to divert a test nuclear missile toward the San Andreas Fault.

Seems Luthor’s been buying up millions of acres of desert in Nevada, and he believes the wayward blast will sink California into the Pacific Ocean, making his useless land into valuable beachfront property. Wow.

Not exactly brilliant, but pretty original.

Best for kids: Up (2009) is as close as you come to writing a perfect movie. One of the only animated movies ever nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture, it’s about realizing you grew old while building your home and family, and somehow missed out on your dreams.

You realize later your dream all along was your home and family. But not until you try to float your house to South America via 10,000 helium balloons. Trust me. It works.

Throw in a wayward Boy Scout and a hilarious bird, and you’ve got a movie masterpiece fit for all ages.

Honorable mention in this category goes to The Goonies (1985) a Richard Donner-directed, Steven Spielberg-produced classic about kids trying to stave off the mass foreclosure of their town by finding pirate treasure. Chris Columbus penned the script.

Best: Glengarry Glen Ross (1992), might not be the most exciting film, or the most brilliant, but boy, is it memorable.

Alec Baldwin is malevolent corporate trainer Blake, who brings the heat to salesmen in a New York City real estate firm. Here’s his message: If they don’t get investors for a couple of new development projects, they’re fired.

To further motivate them, Blake promises the really good “leads” are being reserved for the top two sellers. Everyone else is gone.

Filled with quotable quotes about “making the sale,” writer David Mamet’s script is exhilarating. The outstanding cast is a pantheon of Oscar winners, including Al Pacino, Kevin Spacey, Jack Lemmon, Ed Harris and Alan Arkin.

If you haven’t seen this movie, you must. If you have, it’s a good time to check it out again.