New York real estate is natural fodder for Tinseltown. Think of the drama, the double-crossing, the deals made in whispered conversations, and more double-crossing. But even real estate outside the Big Apple has inspired many memorable moments in cinema. Consider the 1929 comedy, “Cocoanuts,” in which real estate scams play a starring role. Or in more recent times, think of the San Francisco mortgage that is a major plot point in “House of Sand and Fog.”
With that in mind, here is a list of some classic non-NYC-real estate-related scenes (and sometimes entire plots about the topic) depicted on film. The list includes some old favorites, and a few movies you likely have never seen.
Feel free to comment below about other movies that should be included in this list.
1) Shady Sellers: “Cocoanuts” – 1929
The Marx Brothers star in this riotous roaring ‘20s comedy about brothers who are hotel owners desperately trying to auction off real estate to unsuspecting buyers during the Florida land boom. Grouch shills, Harpo mugs and Chico delivers the classic “Why a duck?” line.
2) Evil Landlord: “It’s a Wonderful Life” – 1946
This American classic has always been thought of as a holiday movie, but is very much a real estate-related one. Mr. Potter (Lionel Barrymore), perhaps one of cinema’s most infamous villains, is a slumlord intent on making as much money as possible, with no regard to the well-being of his town’s inhabitants. As a result of his trying to dissolve the Building and Loan because he opposes home loans to the poor, George Bailey, played by James Stewart, ends up taking over and never leaving Bedford, NY.
3) Renovation Nightmares/Evil RE Agents: “Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream Home” – 1948
Cary Grant plays Jim Blandings, an advertising exec living with his wife (played by Myrna Loy) and two daughters in a cramped New York City apartment. He contacts a duplicitous real estate agent that sells him a real dud in Connecticut. The house, soon-to-be-condemned, ends up needing more work than they originally thought. NOTE: “The Money Pit”, released in 1986 and starring Shelly Long and Tom Hanks, is the remake.
4) Deadly Open Houses: “Open House” – 1987
The plot of this kitschy slasher starring Adrienne Barbeau may very well be the fantasy of many New Yorkers. There is a serial killer, coined “The Open House Killer” on the loose who is only offing real estate agents! Best line ever: As an agent enters a home, she assures her colleague there is no need to pair up and he can go take a call while she sets up. “I’ll hang here ‘til you get back,” she says, only to be found strung up by her neck moments later.
5) Sellers from Hell: “Moving” – 1988
Comedian Richard Pryor plays Arlo Pear, a Jersey boy who gets his dream job in Idaho and sets about moving his family to the Midwest. Arlo and his wife Monica buy a home from an eccentric older couple in Idaho who “jokingly” alert them they are taking everything with them, including windows, doors and fixtures. J/K turns into #sorrynotsorry when the Pears arrive at their new home, everything has been removed and the sellers have recorded their initial conversation so they are legally protected.
6) Unwieldy Tenants/Evil RE Agents: “Beetlejuice” – 1988
In a brief scene at the beginning of this Tim Burton comedy, a very pushy real estate agent, Jane Butterfield, tries to convince The Maitlands (Geena Davis and Alec Baldwin) to sell their big, old house.
7) Workaholic Brokers 2: “American Beauty” – 1999
This is probably one of the most famous real estate-related scenes in movie history. It involves Annette Bening, as extremely ambitious realtor Carolyn Burnham, and her zealous focus on her business. That dedication is summed up in the memorable mantra: “I will sell this house today.”
8) Workaholic Brokers: “Haunted Mansion” – 2003
This Disney flick stars Eddie Murphy as Jim Evers, a very dedicated real estate agent who is so into finding and closing the next deal, he tends to neglect his family. When he hears about a potential new listing, he takes his family along with him. A rogue storm ensues and they are forced to stay the night … only to find out the place is haunted.
9) Real Estate Wars: “House of Sand and Fog” – 2003
Down on her luck, Kathy (Jennifer Connelly) is unable to pay her San Francisco home’s mortgage and the house gets auctioned to an Iranian immigrant, Colonel Behrani (Ben Kingsley). Behrani begins renovating the home in the hopes of increasing its value but Kathy wants her home back, feeling it was unfairly taken from her. A battle (to the death) ensues.
10) Sellers from Hell 2: “Step Brothers” — 2008
Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly play step brothers living with their parents who are given an ultimatum: get a job or move out. When their parents plan to retire, sell their home and sail the world, the stepbrothers try to sabotage the sale of their parents’ home.