The movie starts with Ryan Gosling as Jared Vennet in which he mentions that the banking world is very boring. But things started to change when Lewis Rainieri created a plan to ensure bigger profits with lower risks by selling mortgage back securities since everyone was paying their mortgages. This was a success for bankers but then came the year 2008 when the financial crisis occurred. We then are introduced to Michael Burry, played by Christian Bale. He was a hedge fund millionaire who have a glassed eye. Michael Burry suspected on why the housing market went up when the tech bubble burst in 2001. He hires an analyst and tells him to conduct a list of the top 20 selling mortgage bonds.
Mark Baum is another protagonist in this movie. This character is played by Steve Carell. He hates people who works in big banks because his brother committed suicide by being a victim of it. His wife Cynthia, played by Marisa Tomei really wants for Mark to quit because she thinks is not healthy for him to work in such a damaged working environment and because of the fact that his brother suicide as a result of it. In the meantime, Michael Burry takes a look at the list of the top 20 selling mortgage bonds. He realizes that the housing market is backed by high-risk loans to clients who have fewer returns, and then decides what he can bet against and have a profit from the housing market. Burry then goes to different banks, in which he mentions that the bonds will fail and to create a credit default swap market. The bankers thought he was crazy and they were in complete disagreement, they thought that the bonds were secure.
Vennett (Ryan Gosling) learns about Burry's (Christian Bale) dealings and then meets with Baum and his team of investors, to propose the idea of the credit default swap. After Vennett leaves, Baum and his team consider what Vennet presented very seriously. Then we are presented with Charlie Geller and Jaime Shipley who are two hopeful investors that wanted to meet someone from JP Morgan Chase. But these two don't have an ISDA agreement which limits them. They listened a pitch from Vennett on how the housing market was a bubble and decide bet against the housing market as well. They do this with the help of Ben Rickert, played by Brad Pitt, a retitred trader.
By the start of 2007, it is reported that mortgage fraud had reached a new maximum. Risk advisors tell Baum and his team to give up their swaps. Baum makes Daniel tell them to go to hell. The two meet Georgia Hale, a Standard and Poor's officer, and criticize her for giving banks AAA percentages on high-risk loans. She defends herself by saying that the banks will default if she doesn't have those ratings, and Baum criticizes her actions, but she replies that he and his team have multiple credit default swaps.
By April 2007, everyone is preparing for the financial crisis. Michael Burry prevents investors from withdrawing their money, which resulted in multiple lawsuits. Geller and Shipley go to the press with the intention of warning them about the future financial crisis, but no one cared and no one was interested in the story. Baum and his team are told to give up or sell their swaps.
As predicted, in 2008, the market economy collapsed, but everyone involved in the shorts has benefited greatly from the swaps, although none of them are proud of it. Several banks begin to close. Burry retires, and one of his analysts takes a new job in a 7-11. Geller and Shipley have lost faith in the system. Daniel then tells Baum that he can sell his financial swaps, but Baum believes he will do as bad as banks, although Daniel says otherwise. Baum then tells him to sell them all.
The movie ends with the final text that reads that five trillion dollars from real estate values, pension funds, 401k savings and bonds had disappeared after the crisis. 8 million people lost their jobs, 6 million lost their homes, and that was only in the United States. Charlie Geller and Jaime Shipley, the two young investors, attempted to sue the rating agencies but were laughed at. Ben Rickert lives with his wife on an orchard. Michael Burry contacted the government several times to see if they wanted to know how he predicted the collapse. Nobody answered, but he was questioned by the FBI four times. He now only invests in water.