I assure you, something gets lost in the translation.
"Thank you, Fat Tony. However, in the future I would prefer a nondescript briefcase to the sack with a dollar sign on it."
One of the most ubiquitous tropes of all. Whenever someone is offering someone else an obscene amount of money for whatever reason, it will be in the form of neatly stacked and bound stacks of bills in a briefcase, or, if the amount is even larger, a suitcase. This frequently appears where the people making the briefcase can't afford enough money and therefore try to pad out the suitcase with stacks of paper with a few dollar bills on top.
For accuracy, the briefcase should be a Zero Halliburton brand brushed-aluminum model
(oddly just the right size for ten thousand one-hundred-dollar bills), the first choice of terrorists, drug dealers, and Las Vegas whales.
A briefcase full isn't really an obscene amount these days, relatively speaking. Assuming all US$100 bills, an average sized briefcase (25" x 18" x 4") could theoretically fit about US$2,400,000. An average attache case (18" x 12" x 4.5") is good for about US$1,000,000. That's obviously a lot of money, but not generally enough in the modern developed world to live on like a king, sufficient to fund a significant enterprise, or worth killing over. That's precisely the reason why the US Treasury doesn't make any bills bigger than $100. Notice, however, that if you fly across the Atlantic it is
possible to cram in a briefcase an obscene amount of euros: using 500 € bills and assuming each bill has a thickness of 0.16 mm, a briefcase as described above can hold €6,350,000 (US$8,550,275), whereas an attaché case can hold up to €3,213,000 (US$4,326,304). In fact, euros have become popular with organised crime. A briefcase full of money would also weigh quite a lot: In the above examples the suitcase would be over fifty pounds and the attaché case over twenty. However, you never see anyone struggling to lift the suitcase.
To get around inflation, sometimes the briefcase will contain a portable money transfer device ready to send the undisclosed sum
to the nameless Caymans bank of your choice.
Interestingly, there exists a simple mechanism precisely designed for the impersonal transfer of arbitrarily large amounts of money: a handy little financial instrument called a bearer bond
. It weighs as much as the one sheet of paper it's printed on, it's completely negotiable — in effect, currency — at any major bank, it's untraceable for practical purposes, and it can carry a huge face value, even into the hundreds of millions.note
Unfortunately, criminals outside the sort of movies in which Interpol might be a factor never seem to think of this and lug around heavy briefcases full of money through, say, Customs.
This is probably the most common manifestation of A MacGuffin Full of Money
As this trope is so common, only exceptions, parodies and subversions will be listed.
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- A Canadian commercial for a hybrid car has a guy going into a gas station with a brief case and puts it on the counter, opening it up. You expect that the "gas station" is a front for something... until the guy says "Pump Number 3?", and the clerk motions towards the door. High gas prices indeed.
Anime & Manga
- An episode of Case Closed had a rich person trying to get his daughter back by paying one of these...only the bills were all fake because he couldn't get that much in cash at the time without bankrupting himself and the kidnapper didn't really want the money anyways.
- Invoked in the third round of the Liar Game, in which the scenario has participants role play as smugglers trying to sneak conspicuous suitcases through customs and inspectors determining whether or not the suitcase really is full of money or whether the smuggler just wants them to think that. It is played straight several times, but also averted in that the obscene amounts of money also come in: rare gems, checks, bank-accounts complete with ATM cards, and poker chips.
- In the first episode of The Big O, Roger Smith negotiates the release of R. Dorothy Wainright (whom he doesn't yet realize is an android) from Beck by bringing a briefcase full of money. Roger activates a hidden feature in the briefcase which sends it flying back to them via built-in rockets. Beck's mooks open fire on the briefcase in surprise, only to break the lock and dump the money all over the city. The viewer can easily sympathize with Beck screaming about being Surrounded by Idiots.
- In Yu-Gi-Oh!, Seto Kaiba substitutes a briefcase full of Duel Monsters cards. The implication is that they are all rare and valuable. In real life, a lot of them are common because his deck was released as a starter deck, but card availability is a lot different in the anime.
- In Hayate the Combat Butler, Nagi offers one of these in order to pay off Hayate's debt to the "very nice men". They gladly accept.
- In Ultimo, Iruma Tonomitsu, a shady politician (falsely) offers Present!Yamato a briefcase that contains $100 million in order to buy Ultimo. After Iruma ends up getting stabbed by his own Karakuri douji, Yamato's mother apparently takes the money to get a nice apartment.
- At the beginning of One Piece's Water Seven Arc, the gold retrieved from Skypiea is exchanged for three of these. Two are stolen by the Franky Family, and the theft is only noticed when Luffy realizes that the briefcase he's holding is lighter than it used to be.
- Late in Mobile Suit Gundam, Char Aznable sends his sister Sayla Mass a suitcase full of gold in an attempt to persuade her to leave White Base and the Federation military.
- In Mobile Suit Gundam Chars Counter Attack, Char hands out briefcases of gold to a number of Federation officials as part of a short-lived peace deal that gave him control of the old Axis asteroid base.
- In Linebarrelsof Iron the Big Bad is seemingly going to offer the main character a briefcase full of gold bars as an apparant bribe to get him to join him. But the "gold" is actually cake that he's giving to him regardless of his answer as something for them to snack on as he continues his proposition.
- Subverted in Kick-Ass when it's revealed that Big Daddy was never actually a cop, made up everything about his past, and that the trunk he keeps with him is, in fact, full of old comics that he sells on the internet to fund his operations.
- Referred to in the Batman story The Joker's Millions. The Joker believes he's inherited a fortune and, just before he discovers that most of the money is counterfeit and most of the valuables are worthless fakes, he comments to himself "I've been spending a lot lately. Still, plenty more where that came from. I'll just take another suitcase full as pocket money."
- How Frank stays liquid in Catch Me If You Can.
- In Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, the briefcase is opened to reveal a single, lonely stack of bills. Even funnier is the fact that the man offering says that it's $100,000, which is more money than is shown. $100,000 would require ten 100-deep stacks of $100 bills.
- Except it's a suitcase, the main plot point of Shallow Grave after the drug addict/thief dies the group of friends decide to keep the money and go about removing the body. Then some other criminals come about looking for the money.
- The Way of the Gun overtly subverts the trope. When Parker and Longbaugh demand $15 million ransom in mixed bills, Jeffers yells, "You know how much that's going to weigh?" Even with the random in hundreds, it takes up three gigantic dufflebags.
- In an outtake scene from the first Austin Powers movie, Number 2 offers Austin a billion dollar bribe this way. Austin flips through one stack of bills and says he's $832 short. Number 2 explains that he had to buy the briefcase as well. They then argue over who should have to pay for the briefcase until Dr. Evil gets fed up and dumps Number 2 into the fire pit.
- In Once upon a Time in Mexico, at a payoff between two characters, one of them hands the other his fee... in a metal lunchbox. Slightly lampshaded, as the character then comments he was unable to find a small enough suitcase for the sum of money the other had requested. Indeed, almost every time this trope is used in the film it is via a lunchbox full of money. In one case, it is shown that this is enough money to pay for the President's aide to betray him to the Barillo Cartel. The exception is the end of the film, where there is so much money shown that it fills the protagonists' guitar cases, with enough left over to stuff their jackets with.
- The script for Beethoven features one of these, but the actual cut of the film replaced it with a rather less impressive brown envelope of notes.
- In Kill Bill, a suitcase filled with one million dollars also contains a highly poisonous black mamba.
- Subverted in Die Another Day when Bond adds a C4 charge into the lining of a briefcase full of diamonds which then end up buried in The Dragon's face when Bond sets it off.
- In Licence to Kill, The Mole is paid a suitcase of cash for helping Sanchez escape US custody. Bond later uses it to knock him into a shark tank.
- This movie actually shows how heavy the case is. Sanchez even says that as it is 2 million dollars in 20 dollar bills, it is very heavy.
- The Big Lebowski features a Briefcase Full of Money as the MacGuffin; Or is it? The Dude deduces that the eponymous false millionaire has planted a False MacGuffin in an attempt to rid himself of his unfaithful Trophy Wife.
- Subverted and lampshaded in The Brothers Bloom: ''"Only Russian mafia men and Hollywood spies deal in large briefcases full of money. YOU get a certified check."'* Later, the Russian mobster Diamond Dog turns up with a a briefcase full of money.
- Dumb and Dumber characters, Lloyd and Harry, travel to Aspen to deliver a Briefcase Full of Money to Mary Swanson, initially believing that it's merely forgotten luggage. When they do discover the money, they quickly spend all the money and fill the briefcase with IOUs.
- Played with in Beerfest; the German Beerfest team is willing to play for the von Wulfhausen beer recipe with one of these, but they brought a briefcase full of German Euros, which the Americans mistake for Monopoly money. The Germans start arguing among themselves that they should've brought the now-obsolete Deutsche marks.
- Played with in Pulp Fiction: the MacGuffin is a suitcase full of something extremely valuable and impressive (so much so that it bathes everything before it in a diffuse golden glow) but we never get to see precisely what it is.
- In the 2009 film Astro Boy the robots open up a briefcase and are bathed in golden light, parodying Pulp Fiction, but the suitcase merely contains a flashlight.
- Used in Ocean's Eleven as a way for the con men to empty the vault: the fake SWAT team enters with duffel bags full of red light district flyers and swaps them with the duffel bags full of cash in the vault their confederates packed.
- Snatch features this as the stolen diamond is placed in an attache case secured by wire to Franky's arm. When Franky is captured by the Yardies, Boris the Blade asks for Franky and his case for 10 grand. When the Yardies say no deal, Boris executes Franky and then asks for the case again. The Yardies then say that Franky was the only one who knew the combination to the case. Undeterred, Boris chops Franky's arm off, removes the wire, takes the case, and leaves the Yardies with Franky's body.
- Spoofed in the opening credits of Zombieland, which shows a 'businessman' fleeing from a burning car chased by two zombies, heedlessly throwing away his briefcase of money.
- In the 1985 version of Brewsters Millions, the first order Monty Brewster (Richard Pryor) gives his newly hired head of security is for the man to go into the vault and collect $2 million in cash "for whatever expenses come up." The guard is later seen hauling around a single locked briefcase that he keeps handcuffed to his wrist.
- Back to the Future II has a scene where Doc pulls out a suitcase labeled "Emergency Cash" - this suitcase has labeled collections of period-era money (and future money as charge cards.)
- Subversion of this trope is discussed in detail in William Gibson's Spook Country. At the climax of the novel, Tito uses his Le Parkour skills to camoflage the contamination of a cargo container full of cash with radioactive material. When it comes to transporting ridiculous amounts of cash to fuel a Government Conspiracy, a briefcase just won't do.
- Three books in Tim Dorsey's Serge Storms series (set Only In Miami) follow a variety of wacky yet violent criminals (as well as a few unsuspecting Muggles) who chase after a suitcase containing $50 million in cash, which a Con Man ripped off from an insurance company that was actually a front for The Cartel.
- In the fifth Dexter novel, Deborah is presented with a case of money by a rich family seeking revenge for their daughter's kidnapping. She doesn't take it. Dexter mentions that it really is insultingly small anyway, only being about half a million dollars.
- Subverted in the Dethklok song "Briefcase Full of Guts," in which Nathan Explosion describes harvesting people's organs to "sell them back and raise the price/make a profit off your interests[...]" So it's not full of "money," per se, but it can become money.
- Every Continuum spanner starts their new life with a big stack of bills, usually in multiple briefcases. An exception in that the briefcase or briefcases almost never include the full amount of money, and the Moneychangers usually just provide the equivalent currency in credit or direct deposit. The briefcase is used just to make sure the point sinks in, and that spanners don't try something stupid.
- In Kingdom of Loathing, you may open a briefcase to find either a stash of meat or "fat stacks of cash"... which aren't of any use except as Vendor Trash. Though the stacks of cash briefly found a use in the Crimbo 2008 quest for bribing members of the Penguin Mafia.
- In Evil Genius your construction workers carry the gold for purchases to and from the dock in briefcases.
- In Scarface: The World is Yours some gangsters will drop these. Where they're keeping them, on the other hand...
- For whatever reason, these briefcases are used to store rough cut diamonds in Far Cry 2
- Referenced in Scott Pilgrim VS the World: The Game, where they can be picked up and used as weapons in a stage based on a filming studio.
- In Interstate 76 vigilante Taurus finds one of these in the wreckage of a destroyed gang safehouse. He comments that it must be a pay off for something. His partner, a green vigilante named Groove asks how Taurus can be sure, to which the Genre Savvy Taurus says "Cuz' a suitcase ain't a BANK, Groove!"
- Left 4 Dead 2 - The episode "The Passing", finding one of these (with some handguns too) in a bar is an Easter Egg. Depending on what character you're playing, you'll get a different reaction. Playing as Nick, you'll get the quip "I like how this guy packs!". It also allows you to pick up a second pistol if you haven't already got one.
- During the first few levels of MadWorld, you can throw one of these. When it hits, it scatters money everywhere, which will distract any enemies that see it.
- Dead Rising 2 has a few of these in casinos - in addition, several characters will use the outbreak as an excuse to fill their briefcases with money. If Chuck throws one at a zombie, it will break and spew out $1,800.
- Mimicking the page picture above, Devil May Cry 4 parodies this trope: After Dante and Trish are done helping Lady, the latter gives the former pair a briefcase. Trish opens it to find just a small roll of cash and complains.
- In X-COM, an agent holding an open briefcase full of money is the background screen for financial transactions like buying or selling equipment and hiring or firing personnel.
- In Grim Fandango, Chowchilla Charlie asks Manny to retrieve a suitcase of money from Maximino's cat race club, claiming that he put it up for collateral but wants it back because the race was fixed. Manny doesn't bother to clarify how Charlie knows exactly where his money is or why he's sure that it's still in the suitcase. Things then get complicated, because the suitcase actually contains the Number Nine train tickets — and as Manny realize later, they're counterfeit, and the suitcase itself was apparently stolen from the Big Bad Hector who sells them for profit.
- Pay Day 2 has its criminals stuff packs of money (or jewelry, or gold, or...) into duffel bags when liberating them from banks, mob hideouts, and such. Notably, weight is accounted for as well - while carrying a bag of jewelry barely slows the thieves down, carrying money slows them down considerably and removes their ability to jump. Carrying gold practically turns a thief into a slug.
- In Sluggy Freelance Bun-Bun actually requests "two briefcases full of money" as payment for fighting Oasis. Well, he requested two suitcases full of money, but those were a little too heavy for Torg.
- In the Zokusho Comics universe it's beginning to look like the only times that briefcases are used, they aren't full of money, but of explosive magic or some other form of trap.
- Spoofed in Everyday Heroes, when a multi-million dollar shipment of stolen cash is delivered in a bunch of ordinary cardboard boxes.
- In Exterminatus Now Janus hired a squad of mercs and a clan of shinobi terrapins using briefcases of money, then because he'd gone over budget he next paid a gang of chavs two litres of white lightening and a carton of cigarettes.
- In My Life At War Henry Macon has a suitcase full of stock certificates, which seems to be just for showing off.
- In Lackadaisy, Morecai uses the density of a briefcase full of money to his advantage when he blocks a shotgun blast.
- The Tribe Twelve entry Extraordinary Circumstances. Noah works out the combination for a mysterious briefcase he was given, and finds a collection of his dead friend Milo's belongings. Then he notices something else hidden underneath and his jaw drops. The viewer has enough time to imagine something creepy before he reveals it's "just" wads of money. The weird part is where it came from.
- In Pokemon Apokelypse, Giovanni uses this to tempt Ash into taking a fall.
- An episode of South Park has Tweek's dad trying to be bought out with an ordinary, empty briefcase. When he turns the offer down, the investor whips out good-old-fashioned-bags filled with $500,000 cash, which he also turns down.
- The Simpsons:
- Referenced/parodied in an episode where Fat Tony gives Mayor Quimby a kickback in the form of a bag with a dollar sign on it. The mayor says that he'd prefer future kickbacks to come in a nondescript briefcase instead.
- Mayor Quimby can also recognize a suitcase full of cash by the sound it makes when it opens.
- An early episode had Smithers attempt to hire singer Tom Jones by showing him a briefcase full of money. When Tom refuses, Smithers opens a second briefcase and it sprays him with knockout gas.
- Referenced again in 'The President Wore Pearls' where Homer, after winning big at the school's faux casino, asked for his winnings in cash and suitcases to carry it.
- The Germans who buy the plant use a briefcase full of cash, which apparently contains not only enough cash to buy Springfield Nuclear Power Plant but also will have enough left over to buy the Cleveland Browns.
- In "Homer vs. Dignity", Homer is given a briefcase of money to buy a rare Spider-Man comic and then eat it in front of Comic Book Guy.
- In an episode of American Dad!, Stan opens the briefcase upside down, revealing a phone book that was supposed to be hidden under the bills to make it look full.
- Parodied in Squirrel Boy, when the protagonist is bribed into taking the blame for several pranks with a briefcase... that is revealed to be empty. As the protagonist is a squirrel, he considers the briefcase a good payment anyway.
- In Mutant League, Bones Justice gets a therapist to leave by offering her a duffel bag full of money. Unfortunately, the extremely heavy duffel bag tuns out to contain his formerly lovestruck teammate, doing some Exact Eavesdropping.
- In an episode of Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law, when Birdman's at a baby shower for his pregnant wife, Phil Ken Sebben gives him a briefcase full of cash.
Harvey: Phil, wow. You shouldn't have!
Phil: Oops, I didn't! (dumps out the money, then hands back the empty briefcase)
- In Pinky and the Brain, a doctor with the conclusive proof that would have made Brain's insurance fraud scheme successful is bribed with a briefcase that will "change [his] mind." It contains lingerie. (Make your own conclusion what it will be used for...)
- Parodied in an episode of Stroker and Hoop. The briefcase itself isn't included in the deal; the middleman got it as a graduation present and it has a lot of sentimental value to him. Stroker has to stuff all the money in his jacket and pockets — and the money's all in five dollar bills so he won't need to make change. He ends up losing most of it in a chase.
- Archer has multiple occasions where someone has a briefcase posing as one of these...only to have it turn out to have a single cupcake instead.
- Parodied in The Venture Bros. where Rusty tries to pay Monarch for Hank and Dean's ransom with a bag full of photocopied money. Monarch calls him out for being too cheap to spring for the double-sided copies.
- In the episode of Gargoyles where Thailog is introduced, a ransom for the clone demanded one of these filled with 20 million dollars. Turns out, Thailog orchestrated his own kidnapping and then faked his own death (and apparent destruction of the briefcase) to escape with the 20 million and start his own fortune.
- The Scooby-Doo episode "The Backstage Rage'' starts with Shaggy and Scooby discovering a violin case full of money. It's the start of a counterfeiting caper.
- In the Total Drama franchise, this is how the prize money is delivered. However, it usually gets stolen by a rogue contestant (Ezekiel in TDWT and Heather in TDRI) or comically destroyed whether it's eaten by a shark or burned in a volcano.
- Averted in realistic fashion by Gerry Anderson's New Captain Scarlet, of all things. On the occasions where the Mysterons find it more convenient to buy the services of a human than to dispose of them in favour of a replicant, they typically pay with a briefcase full of diamonds instead.
- The million-dollar grand prize of the World Series of Poker is traditionally paid in cash. Before the final round, the prize is hauled out to the playing floor. In ordinary cardboard boxes.
- The video gaming site ScrewAttack holds an annual "Iron Man of Gaming" in which the winner gets a briefcase-sized package of real money. They're all one-dollar bills.◊
- How Much Is Inside? decided to show what a million (fake) dollars in a briefcase entails.
- Victor Suvorov, a real life Soviet spy, wrote in his semi-autobiographic book how they used a sneak glance of a hidden compartment in a case in order to recruit agents. The trick was that they showed a relatively small (or rather, shallow) compartment which is easy to conceal, full of new shining bills, but the actual payment was in older cash.
- Photos from a Raid On A Mexican Drug Lord show stacks of money in all corners of the house, filling multiple filing cabinets, and 18 Briefcases Full Of Money proper.
- According to one of the former band members, when Black Sabbath first became well-known their producers actually gave them several of these to go buy drugs with. Hey, it was The Seventies...
- According to the book Only in America: The Life and Crimes of Don King, this was one of legendary boxing promoter Don King's tactics when signing a new boxer. King would present the (usually poor and uneducated) young boxer with more cash than he had likely ever seen in his life as an inducement to sign... and also as a distraction. The relative pittance of up-front cash served as misdirection from the fact that King would also be taking a much larger percentage of the boxer's future earnings than other promoters would.
- A lot of banks have started making this trope hard to play straight by restricting the amount of cash private individuals can withdraw at once as well as imposing other restrictions. HSBCnote were recently caught up in a minor brouhaha in the British press because they were asking people intrusive personal questions about why they needed £3,000note or more in cash.
- And perhaps they've got a point, at that; how many of the examples on this page involved anything legal being done with the money?