Old Man Potter YKTTW Discussion

Old Man Potter
Where a local plutocrat ends up dominating a small town and the lives of everyone in it
Better Name
(permanent link) added: 2013-10-01 06:41:40 sponsor: sturmovik edited by: ShanghaiSlave (last reply: 2013-10-09 07:22:07)

Add Tag:

Name Pickin' Crowner

He owns the waterworks, the railroad and the hotel on Baltic Avenue. If you cross him he'll not only burn down your house, but throw your mother out of work and send your best friend to the morgue. Forget about going to the police because he owns them too. You're only hope is to somehow recruit that stranger with the mysterious past, or, if you can find them, some mercenaries.

Named for the chief antagonist in It's a Wonderful Life, Old Man Potter is the capitalist successor to the previous class of landed gentry that used to fill the same role. Naturally there are numerous examples that helped inspired the trope and made such fingers highly salient to everyday people. Often portrayed as a Patriarch (or Matriarch) of an extended family that can serve as their muscle, Old Man Potter often succeed in completely cowing the entire town into accepting their villainy, even in societies where one wouldn't expect it.

Old Man Potter is always a Big Fish in a Small Pond, content to dominate their little fiefdom without much greater ambition. Often times they are able to get away with their crimes because nobody in the big city or state capitol notices what's going on out in the countryside. If a hero is unable to defeat Potter and his family by [[/Road House kicking]], most times just getting word out will be enough to summon The Cavalry.

While once popular in all forms of media, Old Man Potter is on his way to becoming a Discredited Trope, at least in the developed world. corrupt executives working for National, Multi-National or Megacorporations have stepped in to take their place as the Real Life local businesses that once influenced small town life have been bought up by larger and larger players whose wealthy owners don't even bother to live near the communities they are destroying.

Modern implementation of Aristocrats Are Evil. Compare with Corrupt Corporate Executive.


  • The Trope Namer from It's a Wonderful Life, Old Man Potter owns the only bank in town which, as we see in the alternate future, is enough to give him complete control of the lives of everyone in it and allowing him to turn it into an Egopolis. Stands out for not needing to use violence to get what he wants.
  • Brad Wesley exemplifies this trope in Road House, being able to do pretty much whatever he pleases while leaching off the citizens of Jasper using his son and the local police force to maintain order.
  • Biff Tannen becomes this in Hill Valley in the alternate timeline in Back to the Future Part II. The reveal of the alternate Hill Valley cinematically mimics that of "Potterville" in It's A Wonderful Life.
  • Mrs. Deagle from Gremlins owns the bank, is therefore the richest person in town, and is a bitch to everyone. (Also in the deleted scenes it's revealed she was forcing people out of their homes to put down a strip mall, effectively destroying Kingston Falls.)
    "The bank and I have the same purpose in life - to make money."
  • Miss Gulch from The Wizard of Oz. Threatens to bring a damage suit against a farm because of a small dog.

Live-Action TV
  • The A-Team seemed to go up against Old Man Potters in a majority of their episodes and might even serve as the modern day Trope Codifier.

Live-Action TV
  • The Lincoln County War was a feud between Lawrence Murphy and his business partner James Dolan, who were trying to maintain a dry goods monopoly, and newcomers John Tunstall, his partner Alexander McSween and their ranch hand Billy the Kid.
  • My Name Is Earl featured both Chubby and (after he died) his son Little Chubby owning damn near every store and operation in Camden County.

Western Animation
  • In The Simpsons Mr. Burns is a caricature of this trope that can be Played Straight or Played for Laughs Depending on the Writer. It is implied many times that he is above the law and controls many aspects of the local economy including the ability to plunge the city into darkness, but at the same time is routinely called to account by various regulators and lacks the ability to effectively threaten people.
  • Don Rosa's Scrooge McDuck is a an Lighter and Softer example with the whole of Duckburg being built around his financial empire. He nevertheless holds lease with the majority of the city, and holds sway with the local branch of the army, going as far as being able to order a missile strike to his doorstep. Played for Laughs, of course.

Replies: 29