Created By: RavenAge on February 24, 2011 Last Edited By: Catbert on August 27, 2017

Worthless Riches

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I've seen this one a million times before, and it comes in two flavors.

1. A character is trapped in an enclosed area, and has some desperate need (it could be escaping, or hunger, or thirst, etc.). And the enclosed area is absolutely FULL of precious stones (or gold). Even a small handful could make you a millionaire. Unfortunately, this does nothing to solve their problem. In the end, they escape, but are forced in the process to relinquish all the stones. Aesop: Wealth is unimportant.

2. The characters are visiting some fantastic location, and are being given the nickel tour. One of the stops is an enormous storage room, with plentiful riches (like in flavor 1). The inhabitants of the location, out of either ignorance or nirvana, have no use for the stones. This will frequently result in one of the greedier characters stuffing their pockets with loot (although they rarely get to keep it).


  • In The Phantom Tollbooth, the mathemagician has a flavor 2 room, with the Humbug doing the pocket-stuffing.

  • In the spongebob Atlantis special, Atlantis has a room like this, with Mister Krabs (obviously) pocket-stuffing.

  • I believe there was a Star Trek episode with flavor 1.

  • In Daniel Pinkwater's "The Worms of Kukumlima" the protagonists are trapped in a flavor 1 valley.

Community Feedback Replies: 26
  • February 24, 2011
    Bonus third flavor: The person has all the riches, and is fully aware of their concrete value, but due to greater concerns, does not feel the riches to be of much personal value.

    • The King whose daughter had been entranced by Thulsa Doom in the film version of Conan The Barbarian, freely offering great quantities of it if Conan and his band of thieves will rescue her.

    • In Disney's Aladdin, the Cave of Wonders allowed admission to anyone with the proper Mac Guffin, with the warning that they could only take the Lamp hidden inside, and that so much as touching any of the other treasures piled inside was forbidden. Aladdin and Abu get trapped because Abu got just a bit greedy.
  • February 25, 2011
  • February 25, 2011
    See also Treasure Room.
  • February 25, 2011
    OP/RavenAge: The Type 1 Star Trek example you're remembering may be the following:

    Live Action TV
    • Star Trek The Original Series episode "Arena". Captain Kirk is trapped on a deserted planet and forced to fight an alien called a Gorn to the death. At one point he makes a discovery.
    Kirk: A large deposit of diamonds on the surface. Perhaps the hardest substance known in the universe. Beautifully crystallized and pointed, but too small to be useful as a weapon. An incredible fortune in stones, yet I would trade them all for a hand phaser, or a good solid club.

    • The Hobbit. After the dragon Smaug is slain the protagonists are trapped inside the Lonely Mountain by surrounding armies of elves and humans. The dwarves (and Bilbo) have all the treasure they could possibly want, but they'll eventually run out of food and starve. Circumstances (and a clever hobbit) end up solving their problem.

    Type 2

    • Disney's Darby O'Gill and the Little People. Darby is lured into captivity in the leprechauns' underground kingdom, which is filled with valuable treasures. He tricks King Brian into leading his people on a hunt outdoors, and stuffs his pockets with gems before escaping himself. Unfortunately his pockets have holes in them, and all of the gems fall out before he leaves the cave.
  • February 25, 2011
    Yeah, that's the episode I was thinking of. (Now that I remember it, I don't believe I actually saw the episode, but just an excerpt in Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey
  • February 26, 2011
    Type 1 is Worthless Yellow Rocks. I suggest the name Burdensome Wealth for when valuables must be discarded so that the characters can escape or move faster.
  • February 26, 2011
    In the Russian novel The Little Golden Calf, a lot of the plot is driven by this idea- on one hand, the characters want to become rich, but since they live in (early) Soviet Russia, it turns out that money isn't really that useful; it's much better to have connections. Thus, the characters' goal is ultimately to be able to flee Russia with their ill-gotten gains, which is the only way it will be useful.

    In Gankutsuou, the Count's fitting punishment of the greedy Danglars is to lure him into a spaceship in which everything is solid gold. Danglars initially is ecstatic, but then he realizes he has no food or drink. In the original novel The Count Of Monte Cristo, Danglars ends up captured on an island by bandits working for the Count. Danglars had fled with a lot of money and finds himself in a situation where his captors will gladly feed him but every meal costs an exorbitant sum. Thus, he must give away all his money or starve and knows in the back of his mind that he will eventually starve to death.
  • February 26, 2011
    In Catwoman's first story on the 1960s Batman TV show she was hanging on to the ledge of a chasm and had a choice: drop the bag full or riches down a bottomless pit, or fall down it herself. She chose to keep the riches. Naturally She Got Better, since Cats Have Nine Lives.
  • February 26, 2011
    • This happens to Sanji during his backstory in One Piece. He and his future mentor, Zeff, are stuck on a rock in the middle of the ocean with no ability to get back up should they climb down. The only food they have is what they happened to salvage for themselves and some of Zeff's treasure.
  • February 27, 2011
    Worthless Yellow Rocks is "Valuable currency is disregarded as worthless by those not in-the-know.", so it isn't Type 1. Some of the examples on that page are the same as on that page because they were either (a) related to it or (b) incorrect.

    Worthless Yellow Rocks is related to (but not the same as) Type 2 ("The inhabitants of the location, out of either ignorance or nirvana, have no use for the stones."
  • February 27, 2011
    • The classic Burdensome Wealth example is probably The Italian Job, which ends with the crooks' coach precariously balanced on a cliff, and if they try to grab the gold bullion...
    • The climax of Soul Music involves a scene very similar to the end of The Italian Job, except that Glod does grab the money.
      Cliff: Idiot dwarf! Let it go, or we're all going to die!
      Glod: Letting go of twenty thousand dollars is dying!
  • February 27, 2011
    In Tom Strong, a girl with the ability to punish people with her dreams puts a money-hungry jerk in a world made of money, and ONLY money. He starves to death.
  • February 27, 2011
    Reminds me of Quark when he says something along the lines of: "It's only worthless gold".
  • February 27, 2011
    Battlefield Earth ends with Terl being defeated and imprisoned in a room full of gold that he can't use.
  • February 27, 2011
    Lost: In "Expose", the stranded plane crash survivors fight over possession of a sack of diamonds worth $13 million. At the funeral at the end of the episode, the useless wealth is poured into the grave with the bodies.
  • February 18, 2012
    I found this. I think there might be some value in retaining it. Anyone else think so?
  • February 18, 2012
    Needs a better title though. And would this be two tropes instead of one?
  • February 18, 2012
    • Johnny Bago: Johnny finds a gold mine near Mt. Rushmore while trying to rescue a kid he sent into the mine (he convinced the kid that there was gold in the mine although Johnny didn't know it at the time). While being rescued from the mine he has to drop all the gold nuggets he's carrying in order to lighten the load of the people pulling him up the rope.
    • Batman (1960s series): In the climax of Catwoman's first appearance she's hanging by her fingers and falls down a bottomless pit rather than let go of the sack of gold she's carrying.
  • February 18, 2012
    Wait. Some of these seem to be Death By Materialism.
  • February 18, 2012
    Real Life: When Union soldiers occupied the Confederate city of Milledgeville, Georgia during The American Civil War, they found large stores of Confederate paper money, which they used to light fires.
  • February 20, 2012
    In King Solomon's Mines, the trio of heros are trapped in a treasure chamber with a hundred fortunes in diamonds. When they finally find what might be a way out, only Quartermain thinks to take any diamonds with him; Sir Henry is rich already and Captain Good is too broken up over the death of his native girlfriend to care.
  • August 12, 2017
    • Blakes Seven. In "Orbit", the protagonists gets hold of a superweapon that could make them rich and powerful. They don't hesitate to throw it out the airlock when their shuttle is crashing because there's too much weight on board.
    • Battle Beyond The Stars. One of The Magnificent Seven Samurai is introduced sitting next an impressive pile of booty that he earned as a Professional Killer. Unfortunately he's made so many enemies that he's hiding out on a ghost planet, unable to spend any of it. The only payment he asks this time is for a sanctuary where he can enjoy human company without someone trying to kill him.
  • August 12, 2017
    Does this count for either type?

    • Stardust The Superwizard: a gang of greedy criminals are given a karmic punishment when they are stranded on a planet made of gold far from Earth.
  • August 12, 2017
    ^^ The first example could go on Emergency Cargo Dump.

    Compare Clutching Hand Trap.
  • August 13, 2017
    Just thought of one which may or may not qualify:
    • Path Of Exile takes place on a Penal Colony with no government to speak of, so things like gold and silver are worthless - trade is instead done with magic scrolls or Item Crafting materials. Near the end of Act 1, as you're making your way through Merveil's lair, you'll pass several large piles of gold and jewelry which do you no good and you can't even pick up.
  • August 27, 2017
    What would be the trope for when what's 'supposed' to be a fabulous treasure turns out to be something common and worthless?