"Stealing is wrong — unless it's from pirates.
A Karmic Thief is a thief who steals from people for selfish reasons, but only steals from people that are portrayed as being unlikable
. Their targets will usually be wealthy, corrupt, or more often than not both at the same time. Expect a few Kick the Dog
moments just to make you really not like the victim. The target might even be a criminal himself, who made his fortune by stealing, scamming, or extorting money from the poor, the middle-class, or even sympathetic rich people.
The Karmic Thief's actions are "justified
" because they're being done to someone that is seen as deserving it. This turns the thieves into heroes for whom the audience can cheer more easily. If the thieves are themselves poor, the story might contain implicit themes of class conflict.
A Karmic Thief
will never steal from those who are poor and honest. However, unlike a thief who is Just Like Robin Hood
, a Karmic Thief
is not interested in charity through giving away all their ill-gotten-gains to the poor.
This is a Sub-Trope
to Caper Rationalization
. Compare also to the Lovable Rogue
, where the emphasis is on the likability of the thief rather than the idea that all his victims deserve their fates. See also Scoundrel Code
open/close all folders
Anime and Manga
- In Lupin III, Lupin's schemes mostly focus on him stealing something from someone rich and powerful. It is usually obvious from the beginning that his targets are corrupt, tyrannical, or exploitative. Even when they seem initially seem nice or affable, they are often unveiled as evil by the end of the story.
- In Ashita no Nadja, Black Rose steals not just from the rich, but from rich people who are also snobbish and spoiled. (He is actually from a rich family, but left them when he was young.) Double if they are dumb enough to challenge him to steal from then, like Spoiled Brat Fernando's aunt did in public. He's also seen helping out poor people, like giving a humble widow enough money to buy medicine for her child, and discussing social issues with the title heroine Nadja aside of being one of her two more important love interests... the other being his twin brother.
- Lina Inverse of Slayers: "I stole from bandits, so that makes it all right!"
- Disney Ducks Comic Universe examples from Italian stories:
- Paperinik the Devilish Avenger, Donald Duck's superhero/anti-hero alter ego who has no exitation in robbing people who, for one reason or the other, have pissed him off (in the first story, Scrooge was possibly at his most Jerkass. Paperinik stole the money-filled mattress he was sleeping on).
- Fantomius-Gentleman Thief (that's what's written on his Calling Card). Second son of an English duke, for some reason he decided to move to Duckburg, where he was exposed to the despise of the local wealthy families (who, with the exception of the then-traveling Scrooge and his family, called him a lazy bum), and in revenge he started robbing them of jewels and other precious art in the most showy way he could, while also devolving whatever cash he grabbed along the main target to the poors. Finding his diary and his main hideout would be the events that motivated Donald Duck in becoming Paperinik.
- Over the course of three films, the team from Oceans Eleven targets two unscrupulous casino owners and a thief.
- The film Tower Heist involves a Wall Street banker being targeted by the workers in his penthouse building.
- The Sting is about Con Men scamming a mobster who murdered one of their fellow con artists.
- The band of highly-skilled hijackers and bank robbers in Michael Mann's Heat. They only target high-value targets like precious metal depositories, banks and corporate money vans. Invoked during the bank robbery scene when Neil says, "We want to hurt nobody. We're here for the bank's money, not your money. Your money's insured by the federal government, you're not going to lose a dime. Think of your families, don't risk your life, don't try to be a hero."
- The crew of career criminal protagonists in Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels decides to rob the much nastier gang of thieves who happen to live to next door to them to get themselves out of massive debt. Ironically, the profits they plan to steal from their neighbours are themselves being stolen from a group of drug dealers.
- Dog and his band of unpleasant thieves who're the neighbors mentioned above only steal from other criminals - mostly drug dealers.
- The Four Horsemen from Now You See Me are thieves masquerading as stage magicians who steal from defrauders and give back to the audience, who are among the defrauded.
- In Serenity Mal Reynolds and crew take a job which involves stealing a corporate security payroll. It's a job hurting The Alliance from a probably corrupt corporation, so they're Jerkass Victims, but Mal has no intentions of handing out his cut to any poor person who's not on his crew.
- Cousin Marv in The Drop thought he was this, stealing mob money from a bar they owned. In reality... he was being selfish and reckless.
- At one point, Artemis Fowl chooses to focus his efforts solely on stealing from the wealthy and corrupt. However, he explicitly says he is not aiming to be Just Like Robin Hood.
- In Not A Penny More, Not A Penny Less by Jeffrey Archer, a group of people who have been swindled by a con man band together to steal from him exactly the amount he took from them.
- Arsène Lupin's first theft was from a family that had been paying his mother an unfairly low wage for the work she did.
- The Stainless Steel Rat refuses to steal from anyone but rich corporations that are insured against theft, though once he is recruited by the Special Corps, he turns his skill against various villains.
- Moist von Lipwig from Discworld claimed himself to be this trope, more than once. In the light of that we get to know about his career, his pretensions appear a little hollow, though.
"The worst I ever did was rob people who thought they were robbing me ... Okay, I robbed a couple of banks, well, defrauded, really, but only because they made it so easy." — Making Money
- When it comes to Moist, we can consider this trope pretty well deconstructed. A few words from Mr. Pump sum it up: "When banks fail, it is not bankers who starve." Even if you think the person or organization deserves it, robbing them is going to cause harm somewhere to an average joe who doesn't.
- Ragnar Danneskjold, the (in)famous pirate of Atlas Shrugged, never attacks private vessels. He seizes government ships containing — in his point of view — plunder stolen from hard-working citizens, sells the goods for gold, and returns the gold to those he believes the government owes restitution.
Live Action TV
- The crew from Hustle make money for themselves through conning people who earn their ire.
- The Rogues is an American television series that appeared on NBC from September 13, 1964, to April 18, 1965, starring David Niven, Charles Boyer, and Gig Young as a related trio of former conmen who could, for the right price, be persuaded to trick a very wealthy and very unscrupulous mark.
- The Practice has this exchange:
Eugene: What's this embezzling thing?
Alan: Thank you for asking. It was kind of a half-Robin Hood thing, I took from the rich...
Eugene: And who'd you give it to?
Alan: I kept it. Thus the half-Robin Hood
- Omar Little from The Wire steals exclusively from drug dealers and other criminals, refusing to harm or threaten anyone who isn't involved in the criminal underworld. Extras from the final season's DVD package show this goes all the way back to when he was a Street Urchin, as he was so disgusted by a robbery that he and his older brother Anthony took part in, (stealing a few dollars from an ordinary working man at a bus stop) that he made Anthony give the money back at gun point.
- The Leverage team is a group of thieves and con artists who specialize in Karmic Theft. Their clients are people who have been somehow wronged by the rich and powerful, who would otherwise get away scot-free. The team's principle of "alternate revenue stream" means that the clients themselves never have to pay for Leverage's services; they get all the money they need from their targets.