Money Is Not Power

"Your money can't save you any more than it could save me!"
First Officer William Murdoch, Titanic (1997)

There's always that one rich Jerkass — the corporate snob, that one with the Lexus, that arrogant prick who's always looking down his nose at everybody else. He can have anything he wants, because ha ha; he's rich.

But then shit hits the fan. Maybe it's a natural disaster, an unstoppable disease, the RMS Titanic, or even The End of the World as We Know It. Or maybe it's merely a Communist revolution or some weird kind of hyperinflation. Suddenly, all that wealth isn't worth so much, because people are more worried about plain ol' survival rather than making money. However, it could be on a much smaller scale — maybe Kids Just Prefer Boxes or money simply isn't important to somebody.

Getting hit with this trope is typically a huge moment for any character used to money solving all their problems. Sometimes it can lead up to a Villainous BSOD or even a Heel-Face Turn. Or sometimes he just dies.

Compare Screw the Money, I Have Rules! and Worthless Yellow Rocks.


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     Anime And Manga  
  • In Rurouni Kenshin, opium kingpin Takeda Kanryuu tries to bribe Kenshin out of attacking his mansion. This works about as well as you'd expect. Discussed by his Dragon-in-Chief Shinomori Aoshi:
    Aoshi: You don't get it. Your money's of no use here. Himura Battousai does not live for gain—I told you.
    • Later on, when Kenshin finally takes him out:
    • One of the Serial Killer Jin-e's victims tried to bribe him into leaving him alone, but Jin-e doesn't care about money, only about the fun from killing people and having interesting fights.
  • In Yu-Gi-Oh!, Shadi is a mysterious being whose main role is to punish those who would desecrate tombs and steal their artifacts. Some of his victims try to bribe their way out, and Maximillion Pegasus once tried to save one of his victims by offering to pay for what he stole, but Shadi says he and his ilk do not care about money at all and such crimes are only punishable by death or Penalty Game.

  • V for Vendetta: this is the final fate of Rich Bitch Helen, having lost all money and power, with her husband (who was in charge of the Norsefire party's Sinister Surveillance) dead, having just killed her lover (an up-and-coming street rat, who she was grooming to become the chief of Norsefire's goons), and the total collapse of the Norsefire party leaves her on the street. She desperately flings herself onto the first guy she recognizes as a former party member, trying to seduce him that with her they'll seize power. He no longer cares about any of it, and leaves her screeching.
  • Maus features one of the rare occasions where the person on the receiving end of this trope is sympathetic. The main character's father-in-law, a Jewish millionaire in Nazi-occupied Poland, tries to bribe himself and his wife out of the Holocaust. Unfortunately, smuggling two middle-aged Jews to safety in 1940 is simply too much risk for anyone, no matter how great the reward.
  • In American Vampire, Skinner Sweet's sire Percy has him dug up and asks him to join him. He promises Skinner money and territory to sweeten the deal. Unfortunately, Skinner's a total psychopath who has hated Percy for decades. Skinner drags Percy screaming into the sun.

    Fan Works 
  • White Rain: Marnix finds this out the hard way when Sasuke cuts his arm off and burns him to a cinder with Amaterasu.
  • In the Yu-Gi-Oh! fic Yu-Gi-Oh! Soul of Silicon, corrupt businessman turned warlord Gansley learned this, but was able to adjust thanks to Daala.
    Gansley: Ironic, isn't it, that in Xanadu there is no currency. Money doesn't exist where Duel Spirits reign. They have no need for it. In dimensions like this, power is the only thing that counts. I wouldn't have lasted a day in my old human form. Duel Spirits wouldn't have cared about my stocks or financial clout. They would have seen nothing but the crippled old man I was without them. But now, thanks to Daala, the power I once had that only existed on paper in my stock portfolio has been replaced by true power! The power to crush anyone who opposes me!

  • 28 Days Later: Mark talks about the early days, when people were trying to escape the country.
    Mark: I remember my dad had all this cash. He thought maybe we could buy our way onto a plane, even though cash was completely useless. Ten thousand other people had the same idea.
  • The Dark Knight Rises: Corporate mogul John Daggett gets hit in the face by this trope when Bane stops doing what he's told.
    Bane: [to Stryver] Leave us.
    Daggett: No, you stay here. I'm in charge! [Bane puts his hand on Daggett's shoulder; Daggett craps his pants]
    Bane: Do you feel in charge? [Stryver leaves]
    Daggett: [almost whimpering] I paid you a small fortune!
    Bane: And this gives you power over me?
    Daggett: What is this?
    Bane: Your money and infrastructure have been important...'til now.
    • This is a theme with all the villains in the Dark Knight saga. In the first movie, Falcone says he runs the city with "power you can't buy... the power of fear." In the second, the Joker burns his cash payment from the mob and then kills the mob boss who paid him. In general, money won't get you anywhere with Batman's enemies, any more than it would with Batman himself.
  • Titanic (1997): Cal tries to bribe his way off the doomed ship. While it appears to work initially, the money is thrown back in his face when it matters most.
  • The War Of The Worlds 1953. As Los Angeles is being evacuated, people are rioting in the streets while trying to obtain transportation out of the city.
    Man: Let me up. I'll give you $500 for your place. I'll make it $1,000.
    Man in truck: Money's no good anymore!
  • Played with, somewhat, in 2012. While some of the surviving humans were selected by geneticists, a good portion of the rest were rich snobs whose tickets ran at a billion euros apiece. The trope comes into play when the storylines converge in China, where one of the ark ships has been severely damaged and its assembled passengers are nearly left to die (one of them yells "I paid a fortune to be here!").
  • In Quick Change, one of the bank hostages tries to bribe the robber (Bill Murray in a clown costume) by offering his very expensive watch. Being Bill Murray, the mocking reply is priceless.
  • In The Untouchables, this Trope is the entire reason for the film's title. Eliot Ness and his group cannot be bribed, which is Al Capone's usual way of keeping the cops away from him.
  • In Dick Tracy, Big Boy Caprice tries to buy off Tracy. Doesn't work. (In fact, in the novelization, the other mob bosses in his group initially question if it's even possible.)
  • In Predator 2, Jamaican gangsters kidnap the leader of their rival Columbian gang, hang him from the ceiling naked by his ankles, and prepare to execute him. He desperately offers his fortune to them, but they reply, "This is not about money, this is about power. There's a new king in the streets. This is a message he has for your people: 'you are history!' Fucking history. Goddamn puto." Shortly afterwards, they are all killed by the Predator.

  • Making Money plays with this trope: Moist Von Lipwig, Boxed Crook, works for the government as the leader of the National Bank, treating it as a complex con game, which, in a very real sense, it is. He faces the resistance of the Lavish family, who are the Royally Screwed Up shareholders of the bank. And while their money definitely grants them power, this power is mere leverage, not just Moist, but also their true opponent, the Big Goodnote  Vetinari, know and understand this much better than they do.
  • This is Koreiko's plight in The Little Golden Calf and the reason why he patiently awaits the end of the Soviet rule. Ostap Bender also learns to appreciate this trope when he finally makes it big.
  • In Battle Royale Oda is a rich asshole that claims he doesn't belong in the Program because his father works for the government. He finds out that they don't care one bit who you are. Everyone goes to the Program at random, even rich people.
  • In When Worlds Collide, a rich tycoon tries to buy his way onto the ark spaceship.
  • This is a major theme in the later sections of World War Z. Because of how the world has been turned upside down by the Zombie Apocalypse, people who had previously held high-paying, "important" positions like stock brokers, celebrities, and professional athletes, find themselves having to be retrained so they can actually do something useful. At one point it's mentioned that a formerly wealthy woman who held a white collar job before the end of the world is now taking a class on useful skills—being taught by her former maid.
  • OGPU Prison by Sven Hassel. Wounded German soldiers are divided into two categories; those likely to survive who'll be evacuated, and those who are too injured to bother with who'll be left for the advancing Soviet Army. A supplies officer in the latter category tries to buy an evacuation ticket off the former with diamonds he's got on hand and a Big Fancy House he owns in Berlin. They all think he's mad and laugh at him, causing the officer to break down crying, as "he suddenly realised how poor he was."

    Live Action TV 
  • Early in LOST, Sawyer is quick to point out that money is completely worthless on the Island, which makes the formerly wealthy Shannon powerless.
  • In the miniseries of Battlestar Galactica (2003), Helo and Boomer land on Caprica as it's getting nuked to make repairs to their ship. Not long after they land, they are swarmed by a large group of civilians. One of them tries to buy his way on board with 50,000 cubits, even though the bank they're backed by is more than likely dust now.
  • In House of Cards (US), Frank Underwood prefers to surround himself with people who seek power over money, as their loyalty can't be bought.
    Frank: Money is the McMansion in Sarasota that starts falling apart after 10 years. Power is the old stone building that stands for centuries. I cannot respect someone who doesn't see the difference.
  • Game of Thrones really shows that gold alone does not guarantee power. The Lannisters are able to stay in power not just because they are the richest house in Westeros, but it's due to Tywin's cunning and ruthlessness. This becomes a plot point in Season 4, when it's revealed that the Westerland mines have been dry for years, and the Lannisters themselves are actually bankrupt.

  • The whole theme of The Beatles hit, "Can't Buy Me Love".

    Professional Wrestling 
  • There's a reason MVP's wanted in TNA World Heavyweight Championship. He had money already, being the "Highest Paid Free Agent" in the sport and respect for his runs in Florida, Puerto Rico, WWE and New Japan Pro Wrestling. Then he became director of wrestling operations of Impact but decided that wasn't enough.

    Web Comics 
  • The Order of the Stick: When the Crystal Golem decides to rebel against Bozzok for all the abuse he's put her through, including being reanimated as a golem in constant agony, Bozzok tries to get Grubwiggler, the wizard who reanimated Crystal, to help him deal with her. Grubwiggler decides that helping Bozzok is against his best interests, and leaves. Bozzok tries to offer Grubwiggler triple what he was paying, but Grubwiggler, tired of Bozzok's constant infringing on his magical research, tells him he wasn't as smart as he thought he was, and teleports home.
  • 8-Bit Theater: This trope coming into play motivates Thief into wanting to save the world, since if the world ends, "money won't be worth the act of picking it up".

    Western Animation 
  • In one episode of Arthur, Elwood City is struck by a massive blizzard. Mr. Crosswire manages to beat Mr. Read to the last of the food at the supermarket, but that's where his influence ends. Upon returning home, Muffy complains that none of her electrical devices are working and begs him to fix it by paying someone. He replies "This is something money can't fix."
  • Batman: The Animated Series has a case of this in the episode "The Terrible Trio" where Warren, the group's leader truly thinks that he can get away with murder because he has money. When he finds he can't bribe Batman he still thinks that his family's lawyers will get him off. This is followed by a Gilligan Cut to him being thrown in jail.
  • In the Adventure Time episode "Furniture and Meat", Finn and Jake go to the Wildberry kingdom to spend all of their excess treasure. Jake quickly goes nuts when he realizes he can get away with just about anything by tossing around money. He finally bites off more than he can chew when he offers Wildberry Princess money if she lets him sit on her head. She gets so angry and embarassed that she orders Finn and Jake's arrests and confiscates their loot.

     Real Life  

  • A textbook example of hyperinflation making money worthless: after World War I, the German economy imploded to such a degree that it took wheelbarrows full of Reichmarks to buy a single loaf of bread. c.f. Ridiculous Future Inflation. note