Trading Places Ending Explained: Buy High, Sell Low - /Film (2024)


Trading Places Ending Explained: Buy High, Sell Low - /Film (1)


ByKira Deshler/

Wall Street is an absurd place. When you get down to it, the financial markets are just groups of people playing a really, really expensive game. And yet, there aren't that many movies or TV shows that capitalize on the inherent farcicality of this wild world. Usually, it's all serious business, as in "Succession" or "Billions." If you're looking for something that highlights finance's sheer silliness, you have to go all the way back to the "greed is good" era.

John Landis' 1983 film "Trading Places" takes a satirical look at the commodities market and the people who invest in it. Two rich commodity traders, the Dukes, become bored with their charmed existence and make a bet to spice things up. The older Duke thinks that anyone could do their jobs under the right circ*mstances, so he fires his right-hand man and hires a struggling street hustler instead. When the two victims realize they've been duped by the Dukes, they hatch a plot to swindle the brothers out of their millions.

For a lighthearted comedy, the plot of "Trading Places" is more complicated than you might expect. From the 1980s-style racism to the arguments about biological essentialism to what actually happens on the market floor, there's a lot to unpack here. If you're still a little confused about how these characters get from point A to point B, we've got you covered. Keep reading for a deep dive into the high-stakes ending of "Trading Places."

What you need to remember about the plot of Trading Places

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The central theme of "Trading Places" is the question of nature versus nurture. Businessmen Mortimer (Don Ameche) and Randolph Duke (Ralph Bellamy), who run Duke & Duke Commodity Brokers in Philadelphia, come down on different sides of the issue. Randolph believes that one's lot in life is the result of environmental factors, while Mortimer thinks it's all about "breeding." So, the brothers decide to put their ongoing debate to the test. They fire their general manager, Louis Winthorpe III (Dan Aykroyd), a Harvard-educated man who exemplifies Mortimer's concept of good stock, and replace him with Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy), a hustler who lives on the streets.

To complete the experiment, the Dukes ruin Winthorpe's life by framing him for crimes he didn't commit and making his fiancée leave him, then give Valentine everything he needs to succeed, including Winthrope's house and his butler, Coleman (Denholm Elliott). Valentine enjoys his newfound life of luxury but is ultimately unfulfilled. Meanwhile, Winthorpe meets a sex worker named Ophelia (Jamie Lee Curtis) who helps get him back on his feet. Eventually, Valentine discovers that he's part of this perverse experiment and teams up with Winthorpe to take the Dukes down. Ophelia and Coleman join the enterprise as well, hoping to reap the financial rewards.

What happened at the end of Trading Places?

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Winthorpe and Valentine's plan to defeat the Dukes rests on the humblest of commodities: frozen orange juice. They discover that the Dukes have covertly hired a man named Beeks (Paul Gleason) to steal a USDA report on orange crop forecasts, and intend to corner the market — meaning they're going to buy enough shares to control the price — using this insider info.

The first step in Valentine and Winthorpe's scheme involves stealing the report from Beeks. To do so, they concoct a hair-brained scenario involving several ill-conceived disguises. Valentine dresses as an exchange student from Cameroon, Coleman masquerades as a drunk Irish priest, Ophelia poses as a Swedish backpacker, and Winthorpe arrives in blackface for no good reason (not that there's ever a good reason for blackface).

Beeks recognizes Winthrope despite his terrible makeup, but the team still manages to steal the report, dressing Beeks as a gorilla and locking him in a cage with an actual gorilla. (To make matters even more absurd, this "real" gorilla is also very clearly a man in a gorilla suit). Coleman and Ophelia give Winthorpe and Valentine their life savings, which they hope to get a huge payout on the market floor. Hiding in the shadows like Deep Throat, Valentine delivers a fake report to the Dukes, indicating that the orange crop yield will be low in the coming season. The plan is now in motion.

What unfolds on the commodities market floor?

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The climax of "Trading Places" is the part that viewers find most confusing, so let's get into it. Because of the phony report they've received, the Dukes believe the price of orange juice will rise, so they tell their trader to buy as many future orange juice contracts as he can. They hope to sell these contracts for a higher price at a later date. When the Dukes start buying up all the contracts, all the other traders on the floor follow suit, driving up the price.

Winthorpe and Valentine know the truth, so Winthorpe makes a bold move. While everyone is busy buying orange juice futures, Winthorpe yells "Sell 30 April at 142!" which means he will sell orange juice for $1.42 a pound in April. Because of how many contracts the Dukes have bought, the other traders believe the price will be much higher than that, so they rush to buy tons of shares from Winthorpe at a discount.

Suddenly, the traders stop to watch the crop report announcement on TV. The Secretary of Agriculture announces that the orange crop yield is normal, which means the price of orange juice will not rise exponentially. The traders sell all their contracts and the price falls rapidly. When the price falls to a meager 29 cents per pound, Winthorpe and Valentine agree to buy future shares. This means they will buy loads of orange juice for 29 cents in April and sell it for $1.42. Ergo, they've made a huge killing. Meanwhile, the Dukes bought millions of pounds of orange juice at a much higher price than they can sell it for, which means they are now bankrupt.

What goes around, comes around

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While the minutiae of commodities trading might go over a lot of viewers' heads, the ending's broad strokes are easier to comprehend. The Duke brothers, two racist old men who don't care about Winthorpe or Valentine, finally get their comeuppance. Normally, men like the Dukes come out on top. In this case, they're blinded by their own ignorance and self-importance. Despite Randolph's belief in nurture over nature, neither could have imagined that Valentine, a Black man from a "broken home," would have the skill and cunning to defeat them, nor did they believe that Winthorpe would ever have the confidence to go against them.

So, the evil capitalists are defeated and the working people become capitalists themselves. Ophelia put all the savings she made from sex work into Valentine and Winthorpe's enterprise, and Coleman finally gets out from under the Dukes. Winthorpe and Valentine are both hustlers; they were just working in different fields. Over the course of "Trading Places," they learn they have more in common than they thought — and when they work together, they're unstoppable. It's a satisfying ending because the "good guys" win and the "bad guys" lose, but it also re-enshrines the power of capitalism and the American dream. As the film suggests, American capitalism is a convoluted game, but why not try to play it and win?

What have the cast and crew of Trading Places said about the ending?

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Considering the film's setting, it's no surprise that the writers of "Trading Places" had to do plenty of research for that ending. In a letter to NPR, Herschel Weingrod noted that he and co-writer Timothy Harris went in-depth on commodities markets before writing the script, including hanging out with a lot of traders. Harris told Business Insider that it was a difficult topic to wrap one's head around. Director John Landis agreed. "It took me a long time just to understand the con, what was going on," Landis admitted, so if you found the ending confusing, you're not alone. Weingrod suggested that some of this bewilderment comes from the fact that they reversed the classic "buy low, sell high" strategy, as Winthorpe and Valentine make their millions by doing the exact opposite.

Harris explained that the film premiered right around the time that it was becoming cool to be wealthy, an attitude the film's ending upholds. "The dream is achieved because these two guys, a Black guy and white guy, both got filthy rich," Harris said. "I think that's why the film is successful — it's a satire on greed and social conventions, but it had a satisfying happy ending." Critics might argue that the film's conclusion undermines its more subversive elements, but Harris is probably right in attributing the ending to the movie's success. Moreover, the film's fairly cookie-cutter conclusion means that it appeals to both those who buy into what the finance world is selling as well as those who are critical of it.

Real-world influence

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If you need more evidence that "Trading Places" has fans all across the economic spectrum, listen to what writer Timothy Harris has to say about some of the feedback he's gotten. "Somebody came up to me recently and said it was because of 'Trading Places' that he'd gone into the world of finance," Harris said. He explained that such a reaction "is like a huge paradigm turn — that a film written as satire of that world ends up inspiring somebody to go into that world and make a lot of money." It's a salient example of how viewers can have wildly different responses to a film depending on their own preconceived biases.

As it turns out, the film has done more than inspire a few finance bros. While the way the Dukes obtain their insider info is definitely shady, trading based on secret government reports wasn't actually illegal when "Trading Places" was filmed. Though the world of trading has only gotten more convoluted since the 1980s, the practice wasn't banned until 2010. Can you guess what the provision is colloquially known as? The Eddie Murphy Rule, of course. How's that for life imitating art?

What the end of Trading Places could mean for the franchise

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The ending of "Trading Places" is pretty conclusive, but we all know Hollywood studios love to capitalize on their successes for as long as they can. Indeed, the appeal of making money drives the entire film. So, will "Trading Places" be subject to the '80s-loving cultural moment we're in today and receive a sequel?

Technically, there already is a follow-up of sorts to "Trading Places," if you know where to look. Landis and Murphy reunited for the 1988 hit "Coming to America," in which Murphy plays the wealthy African prince Akeem, who travels to America in order to find a wife. There is a brief scene in the film where Prince Akeem hands a bundle of cash to a homeless man on the street. That man turns out to be Mortimer Duke, who runs to his brother Randolph to show him the chunk of change. "Mortimer, we're back!" Randolph responds.

Technically, this means that "Trading Places" and "Coming to America" exist in the same universe, although Murphy plays different characters in the two films. We got another update on the Dukes in 2021's "Coming 2 America," which reveals that the brothers rebuilt their company as D&D Digital. Colin Jost plays Calvin Duke, Randolph's grandson, who interviews Akeem's son for a job.

As for a more straightforward sequel, we're not aware of anything in the works. For now, fans will have to amuse themselves with the original film and these clever tie-ins. But, considering the fact that "Coming to America" got a legacy sequel, maybe there's still hope for our friends on Wall Street.


"Trading Places" Plot Summary and Ending Explanation

The 1983 film "Trading Places" is a satirical comedy that explores the commodities market and the concept of nature versus nurture. The plot revolves around two wealthy commodity traders, Mortimer and Randolph Duke, who make a bet to test their opposing beliefs. They replace their general manager, Louis Winthorpe III, with a street hustler named Billy Ray Valentine to see if upbringing or breeding determines success. The Dukes ruin Winthorpe's life and provide Valentine with everything he needs to succeed. Eventually, Winthorpe and Valentine discover the Dukes' plan and team up to take them down. The climax of the film involves a scheme to manipulate the orange juice market, resulting in the Dukes' bankruptcy and the "good guys" coming out on top [[6]].

The Ending of "Trading Places"

At the end of "Trading Places," Winthorpe and Valentine's plan to defeat the Dukes centers around manipulating the orange juice market. The Dukes have hired a man named Beeks to steal a USDA report on orange crop forecasts, intending to use the insider information to corner the market. Winthorpe and Valentine steal the report from Beeks and replace it with a fake one indicating a low orange crop yield. They then sell orange juice futures contracts at a low price, causing other traders to buy them, believing the price will rise. However, when the Secretary of Agriculture announces that the orange crop yield is normal, the traders panic and sell their contracts, causing the price to fall rapidly. Winthorpe and Valentine take advantage of the low price and buy future shares, making a significant profit. Meanwhile, the Dukes, who bought orange juice at a higher price, are left bankrupt [[7]].

Themes and Messages in "Trading Places"

"Trading Places" explores themes of nature versus nurture, social class, and the power dynamics of capitalism. The film raises questions about whether success is determined by one's upbringing or inherent qualities. It also satirizes the greed and absurdity of the financial world. The ending of the film serves as a satisfying comeuppance for the Dukes, who represent the wealthy elite. It suggests that the American dream and capitalism can be convoluted games, but it also re-enshrines the power of capitalism and the possibility of success within the system [[8]].

Cast and Crew's Thoughts on the Ending

The writers of "Trading Places," Herschel Weingrod and Timothy Harris, conducted extensive research on commodities markets before writing the script. They spent time with traders to understand the intricacies of the financial world. Director John Landis admitted that it took him a while to understand the con and what was happening in the ending. The writers reversed the classic "buy low, sell high" strategy, which may have contributed to some viewers finding the ending confusing. However, the film's ending, with the "good guys" becoming wealthy, was seen as satisfying and contributed to the movie's success. The film's conclusion appeals to both those who buy into the finance world and those critical of it [[9]].

Real-World Influence and Legacy

"Trading Places" has had an impact beyond its entertainment value. The film's portrayal of trading based on secret government reports was not illegal at the time of filming. However, the practice was banned in 2010, and the provision is colloquially known as the "Eddie Murphy Rule." The film's success and its influence on viewers can be seen in the example of someone who was inspired to enter the world of finance after watching "Trading Places." The film's ending, with the "good guys" achieving wealth, aligns with the cultural attitude of the time when it was becoming cool to be wealthy [[10]].

Possibility of a Sequel

While there is no straightforward sequel to "Trading Places" in the works, there are connections between the film and other movies. Director John Landis and actor Eddie Murphy reunited for the 1988 film "Coming to America," in which Murphy plays a wealthy African prince. In a brief scene, Murphy's character interacts with Mortimer Duke, suggesting that the two films exist in the same universe. The 2021 film "Coming 2 America" further explores the Dukes' legacy, revealing that they rebuilt their company as D&D Digital. While there is no official news of a direct sequel to "Trading Places," the film's popularity and connections to other movies leave room for future possibilities [[11]].

Trading Places Ending Explained: Buy High, Sell Low - /Film (2024)


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