Lee Gates (George Clooney) is the host of the financial show "Money Monster". He tells his viewers about the downfall of the corporation Ibis, which has seen its stock plummet and a loss of $800 million in shares, and its CEO Walt Camby (Dominic West) is in Geneva, unable to comment on the situation of his company.
Before the next show, Lee talks to his director Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts), who, unbeknownst to him, is taking a new job across the street. Although she goes along with his smug behavior, she appears to have grown tired of it. Lee just finds out that Camby, who was supposed to be the guest on his show, has cancelled on them, so they are going to interview Ibis's CCO Diane Lester (Caitriona Balfe). They head to the stage for the show to begin. Lee has his backup dancers and rap music accompanying him.
A few minutes into the show, a supposed deliveryman (Jack O'Connell) walks into view, so Patty has one of the cameras focus on him. When Lee notices him, the man drops the boxes he was carrying and pulls out a gun. Lee thinks it's a "union thing", but it stops being a joke when the man fires a shot at the ceiling. At gunpoint, he forces Lee to open one of the boxes. It contains a bomb vest, and the gunman forces Lee to put it on. He takes out a dead man's switch and threatens to blow everyone up if they don't comply to his demands. Patty quietly gets everyone not working on cameras or sound to get out of the studio.
The police outside the building, led by Captain Marcus Powell (Giancarlo Esposito). The police (and by extension, Patty) learn that the gunman's name is Kyle Budwell. In the studio, Kyle criticizes Lee for giving a bad tip on the show several weeks earlier, encouraging viewers to invest in Ibis, not knowing what would eventually happen to them. Kyle lost 60 grand as a result.
Powell and his officers contact the studio and try to negotiate with Kyle, but he refuses to speak to cops and threatens to start shooting if they still talk to him. The cops then discuss handling the bomb situation by planning to shoot the receiver that is by Lee's stomach. The bullet would still strike him but only hit his kidney and still give him an 80% chance of survival.
By now, the hostage situation is televised all over the world, including Seoul, Iceland, and Johannesburg. Patty also attempts to buy Lee some time. They bring Diane by the studio to speak to Kyle through a camera, but she continuously insists that she has no idea what happened to Ibis's stock. Kyle gets fed up and shoots the screen. To buy himself more time, Lee is given ten minutes to address his viewers to buy shares in Ibis, mainly to save his life. While the number appears to go up at first, it then drops significantly, indicating that people aren't so concerned about his life.
Diane starts to investigate what really went wrong with Ibis. The problem is said to have come from a glitch in the company's algorithm. She goes to an airfield with an assistant and contacts a man in Seoul, Won Joon (Aaron Yoo), who came up with the algorithm. He insists that there's no way there's a glitch, and that there are human fingerprints on this. Moments later, Camby's plane arrives. He greets Diane with a kiss and gives her some chocolate. When Camby isn't looking, Diane sees his passport booklet and learns he wasn't really in Geneva, but in South Africa. Diane then lets Patty know that they are headed to the federal hall and where he really was.
The police find Kyle's pregnant girlfriend Molly (Emily Mead) and bring her by the studio to contact him. Kyle sees her through a monitor, and she angrily berates him for the whole world to hear, calling him a coward and an idiot that threw all their money away. He takes the words to heart and starts to rethink his plan. He leaves the gun on the desk. Lee contemplates grabbing it, but he calls Kyle and lets him take it back.
The police get ready to send in a sniper to take out the receiver. Patty's assistant contacts her and tells her what the cops plan to do. The rest of the crew is evacuated. Patty warns Lee about what's going to happen. The sniper takes his shot, but Lee ducks out of the way before anything happens. He grabs Kyle and tells him to cooperate with him. They leave the studio with the cameraman following them.
Patty hops in a van toward the federal hall to catch Camby. One of her crew members gets in touch with two hackers from Iceland to gather whatever they can on Camby's recent activities. Meanwhile, the cops and several New Yorkers follow Lee and Kyle. During the walk, Kyle admits to Lee that the vest doesn't contain explosives, but just heavy packs of clay. Lee tells him to keep his thumb on the switch regardless. The show's producer then appears to tell Lee something, but he startles Kyle and gets shot in the arm.
Everyone makes it to the federal hall, with Diane leaving Camby to deal with Lee and Kyle. They enter the building and have cameras and the cops surrounding them. Lee forces Camby to explain what really happened with Ibis's money. Camby gives him the "glitch" response, which angers Kyle. With Patty still speaking to him, Lee exposes publicly how Camby invested the money in platinum mines, and he was working with a man in South Africa named Moshe Mambo (Makhaola Ndebele), who has lead a miners strike in Johannesburg. There is even video evidence of Camby arguing with Mambo over a bad deal. Kyle then tells Lee to put the vest on Camby. Kyle orders Camby to admit what he did and say it was wrong. Camby does so, and Kyle tosses the switch, causing Camby to panic. An officer shoots Kyle in the chest, killing him, to Lee's dismay.
In the aftermath, Lee and the producer are recuperating at the hospital. Patty joins him with some food. They watch a news report that says Camby is under investigation, and several Vine videos of his panicked reaction have hit the internet. It is also reported that Kyle was just a deliveryman from Queens and that his mother died six months earlier. Lee appears to feel genuine sorrow for Kyle. Patty then asks what show they will do next week, indicating that she'll stick around with Lee.
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