Story: Van Anh
Photos: Internet

Hollywood has long explored the lives of the rich and powerful with a satirical eye.

A scene from Babylon

When director Jon M. Chu’s Crazy Rich Asians was released in 2018, few expected a satirical film set among the aristocracy of Asia to have such a global appeal. From scores of expensive Maseratis to countless vintage Rolex watches to yachts worth billions of dollars, the exclusive realm of Singapore’s old-money elites was faithfully recreated. The film reflected the intersection of an Asian family’s traditional values with conspicuous consumption and lavish jewelry based on the real-life experiences of the source novel’s author Kevin Kwan.

Crazy Rich Asians may have been unique in featuring an entirely Asian cast, but its portrayal of the foibles and excesses of the upper crust echoed many other Hollywood films. We can easily find the same trappings of cars, yachts and lavish parties from classics set in the early twentieth century such as The Great Gatsby by director Baz Luhrmann to the modern cautionary tale of Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street. The films’ main characters, Jay Gatsby and Jordan Belfort, both played by Leonardo DiCaprio, share an outer sense of confidence and privilege that conceals a deep hollowness within.

The Great Gatsby by Baz Luhrmann


The world’s elite and cinema have gone hand in hand since Orson Welles’ masterpiece Citizen Kane (1941). Year after year, Hollywood continues to make films about the lifestyle of the 1%, taking viewers on a journey to discover the lifestyle, habits, and behaviors of the wealthy.

In many cases, the characters are portrayed as tragic or ridiculous figures done in by their own riches and power. In Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, antagonist Miles Brown purchases a large island and rents the priceless painting Mona Lisa to display in his home in a scheme that backfires spectacularly.

Crazy Rich Asians by Jon M. Chu

The fabulously wealthy Gatsby, meanwhile, drowns the sorrows of his miserable life with extravagant nightly parties, while Jordan Belfort’s fraudulent fortune ultimately collapses. The elites of Hollywood flaunt their wealth while remaining secretive and fraudulent fortune in their personal lives.


The year 2022 witnessed another surge in the enormous success of films and television series about the elite. The White Lotus follows the overlapping relationships of upper-class guests at a luxury resort amid a backdrop of multiple murders. The Oscar-nominated and Palme d’Or-winning film Triangle of Sadness brings its characters into the tight space of a yacht, which promises only sunshine and extravagant pampering until a nightmare strikes. Honorary mention goes to the dark comedy The Menu, where a super-exclusive dinner slowly reveals the shadowy secrets of its guests’ lives before ending in chaos and death.

A scene from in Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery

All are regarded as part of a new wave of films that look at the elite and the excesses of capitalism from an increasingly satirical and existential perspective. When the context of the modern world includes extreme disparity between rich and the poor, cinema cannot avoid social commentary. The world of luxury will always be an endless source of inspiration for artists and filmmakers who look to unveil its darkest corners to the public.