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Riches to Rags

"Princess on the steeple and all the pretty people
They're all drinkin', thinkin' that they got it made
Exchanging all precious gifts
But you'd better take your diamond ring, you'd better pawn it babe
You used to be so amused
At Napoleon in rags and the language that he used
Go to him now, he calls you, you can't refuse
When you ain't got nothing, you got nothing to lose
You're invisible now, you got no secrets to conceal"

Bob Dylan, "Like a Rolling Stone"

We're all familiar with the story of the young man or woman with absolutely nothing who worked hard to make enough money to open that business, and now have it all. The overall tale behind Bill Gates' rise to multi-billionaire is one of these; he started building computers in his garage, and now has one of the largest computer empires in the world.

This trope is the exact opposite of that; it's the story of someone who used to have everything, and now finds themselves with nothing.

If the character is from the most blue in hue of bloods, they may be an Impoverished Patrician. If the character continues on as they did when they were rich, they may be a Princess in Rags. If the character stops being an Alpha Bitch and is revealed to be insecure or to have other sympathetic traits that make the audience like her, this might be a Fallen Princess. It might be a result of A Fool and His New Money Are Soon Parted, if the character is (well, was) Nouveau Riche.

Examples

Advertising

  • An old Discover Card commercial depicts a fictional Hair Metal band called Danger Kitty (played by Steel Panther) achieving fame and fortune in the year 1983, only to be completely broke a year later because they couldn't control their spending. The end of the commercial shows one of the band members working in a hot dog stand, and reveals that their comeback attempt involved them playing a bar mitzva.
  • A series of Dutch commercials for the mobile telecommunication company Telfort star a former millionaire who lost his entire fortune and has been forced to move from his villa to a small appartment, but at least, thanks to Telfort, he can still afford the same quality of internet and telephone services he used to have.

Anime and Manga
  • This had just happened to one Komatsu Saburou Naotaka in the middle of a cruel local war in medieval Japan. His land has lost soundly, his retainers and supporters have all been slain in front of him, and Naotaka himself is badly wounded and all alone. Then he met an odd kid named Enki, who turned out to be a kirin aka a mythological beast who chooses and advises the rulers of another world, and has seen that Naotaka is the only one who can become the leader of the Kingdom of En.

Comic Books

Film (Animated)

Film (Live Action)
  • Trading Places does this twice:
  • The movie Maid To Order explores this with a spoiled rich girl stripped of her wealth and identity by a Fairy Godmother, forced to work as a maid in a rich household and learn the value of something.
  • Steve Martin's The Jerk goes the full circle from Rags to Riches back to rags. Martin's character invents a grip handle for glasses that becomes all the rage, amassing him a fortune. A fortune he loses when his company is sued after it's discovered the handle causes people to go permanently cross-eyed.
  • The Dark Knight Rises. Wayne Enterprises is no longer profitable after Bruce canned a high-risk project and Bruce himself goes bankrupt when the villains gamble away all of his assets on the stock market. Due to the chaos of Gotham's isolation and Bruce's apparent death, the lost money is never recovered.
  • What happened to Thorin from The Hobbit. He was once a prince of a very wealthy and powerful dwarven kingdom but after Smaug invaded Erebor, he and his people were driven out and he was forced to work menial, dead-end jobs to survive.
  • Brazilian Based on an Advice Book movie Até que a Sorte nos Separe ("Til Luck Do Us Part") has a guy who won the lottery 15 years prior finding out his fortune is basically gone after years of Conspicuous Consumption. To make it worse, he has to hide it from his wife with a pechant for spending... and who finds out that is pregnant.
  • Blue Jasmine: Flashbacks show the protagonist living a life of luxury—Upper East Side penthouse/brownstone, lavish summers in the Hamptons, black tie charity events, etc. Her life now? Sleeping on the couch in her sister's apartment, which is above a grocery store and working as a receptionist in a dentist's office, all because her financier husband turned out to be a fraud.

Mythology And Religion

Literature
  • Sister Carrie: Over the course of the novel, the rich and socially elite George W. Hurstwood gradually loses his status, his money, falls into gambling, and finally becomes homeless and commits suicide.

Live-Action TV
  • While she never goes completely broke, Jackie is forced to give up her spoiled princess lifestyle in That '70s Show when her father is imprisoned for embezzlement and his accounts are frozen. With her mother travelling the world, Jackie ends up living with Donna.
  • Buffyverse:
    • Cordelia when her father is busted for tax evasion.
    • Angelus never had trouble maintaining a nice pad, expensive clothes, or box theater seats. ("I just ate the people who had 'em.") Once cursed and jilted by Darla, he spent years as a homeless bum living on rats.
  • Caroline on 2 Broke Girls is the daughter of a Bernie Maddoff Expy. She used to live in a mansion, have fancy clothes and owned a horse. At the start of the series she has no money and is homeless. But she still has a horse.
  • There's an unusual version of this on Downton Abbey with Sybil, who is forced to give up her privileged life as a noble's daughter when she marries Branson, the former chauffeur. However, she actually welcomes the change, as she is a Rebellious Lady who disliked the lifestyle of fashion, gossip, paying calls and being waited on hand-and-foot. She also had previous experience working as a nurse during the war and learning how to cook from the servants. And it helps that Branson gets a job as a journalist, she happily returns to being a nurse and her father gives her a little money, meaning its not so much riches to 'rags' as Not-Rich-But-Just-Comfortable-Enough-To-Get-By. But her happiness about taking up a normal life definitely gives an interesting twist to this trope.
    Mary: "But you don't regret it?"
    Sybil: "No, never."
  • This is what happened to Pete Campbell's family on Mad Men. The Campbells were Blue Bloods who used to own half of Upper Manhattan, until Pete's father squandered their fortune. Which is why Pete has to work at Sterling Cooper, and marry Trudy - whose family is Nouveau Riche, but much wealthier.
  • London in an episode of The Suite Life of Zack and Cody when her father makes a bad investment. As typical of show, she gains it back at the end of the episode.

Music
  • The page quote is the song "Like a Rolling Stone" by Bob Dylan.
  • The Rolling Stones song "Playing With Fire":
    Your old man took her diamonds / And tiaras, by the score / Now she gets her kicks in Stepney / Not in Knightsbridge anymore
  • This is a common plot in opera, where the fall usually comes about as a punishment for women sleeping around. Examples include La Traviata and Manon (in the latter, the woman starts out as a commoner and becomes a rich mistress of a noble, but then falls toward poverty again when she cheats on said noble with her true love).
  • Van Halen in "As Is":
    Yesterday I was a bum and broke.
    Today I am a star and broke.
    In this town that's called progress,
    That's how we do biz.

Video Games
  • Dragon Age II has this in Hawke's backstory: the Amell family, of whom Hawke's mother, Leandra, is a member of, was wealthy and influential in the city-state of Kirkwall before Hawke's uncle Gamlen gambled away the money when he became patriarch, since Leandra left for Ferelden. Upon returning to Kirkwall, Leandra and her children were impoverished refugees who had to rely on the begrudging goodwill of Gamlen and money Hawke made in the city's Wretched Hive to survive before a Deep Roads expedition made Hawke enough money to move on up in Kirkwall society.
  • In The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, there's a rich man and a poor man, both of whose daughters (named Mila and Maggie respectively) have been kidnapped by the Big Bad. You rescue the daughters about halfway through the game, and the rich man gives his fortune to the pirates who took the credit for their rescue, while the poor man makes his fortune selling rare necklaces his daughter brings home.

Western Animation
  • Zander Crews in the opening episodes of the second season of Frisky Dingo - he's gone from the head of a company with billions of dollars to living in a refrigerator box. At least till he remember he regain the check from Killface.
  • The Simpsons: when Homer visits his Long Lost Brother Herb, who is the head of a Detroit car company, Homer ruins Herb by designing a terrible car. A later episode has him regain his fortune (with the help of an investment from Homer).
    Kent Brockman: Excuse me, Mr. Burns, now that you're completely ruined, how do you feel?
    Burns: Excellent. I'm on my way back to the top! I've turned these cans into can-dos!
    Brockman: Well, you smell terrible — Good luck to you, sir.
    • Brenda, of the Lifetime TV movie "From Homemaker to Homeless". She later went to Harvard Medical School - as a cadaver.
  • The Boondocks episode "Bitches to Rags" is all about Thugnificent going through this.
  • The Hey Arnold! episode "Rhonda Goes Broke". One of the strongest examples of Status Quo Is God in the series.
  • An episode of Doug features Bebe losing her fortune.
  • The Series Finale of As Told by Ginger features the Griplings losing their fortune when Mr. Gripling was arrested for insider trading.
  • The Twisted Tales of Felix the Cat: The episode "Bet a Billion Bill" featured a gambler named Billy. He was wealthy and lucky until a black cat (Felix) crossed his path. In "Viva Lost Wages", Billy stole Felix's magic bag and used it as a charm to regain his fortune. Once Felix recovered the bag, it didn't take long before Billy returned to the poorhouse.
  • Jonny Quest: The Real Adventures: Miles Duntcheck at the end of "The Haunted Sonata" once it was revealed his famous ancestor stole the sonata that gave their family Royalties Heir status. It's mentioned the loss of the fortune drove him insane.

Real Life
  • Mike Tyson had earned over $300 million during his career as a boxer but had to file for bankruptcy, thanks to his colourful variety of debts including $13.4 million to the IRS and a $9 million divorce settlement to his ex-wife, Monica Turner. From 1995 to 1997, he spent $9 million in legal fees, $230,000 on pagers and cellphones, and $410,000 on a birthday party. In June 2002, he owed $8,100 to care for his tigers and $65,000 for limos.
  • This also happened to MC Hammer. During the late-1980s and early-1990s he was one of the most successful rappers on the planet (as well as being the first rapper to achieve mainstream popularity), but by the mid-1990s the public had grown bored of Hammer's upbeat, poppy rap style. Combined with the large amounts of money he was spending on friends and family, he eventually found himself $13 million in debt. In 1996 he declared bankruptcy. Since then he has unsuccessfully attempted a few times to revive his music career, but has mainly been working as a Christian minister.
  • This often happens to former nobility and royalty as the result of a revolution; for example, the French royal family after they were imprisoned during The Reign of Terror. The Jacobins running the prison basically did everything they could to make them as uncomfortable as possible and humiliate them.
  • This often happens to people who win lotteries. Lotto winners often come from middle- or lower-class backgrounds and have no experience managing large amounts of money. As a result, many of them do not regulate their spending and end up broke (or worse, millions of dollars in debt) within a few years; if they're at least careful about their spending, there's still always the possibility of being hit repeatedly with lawsuits (usually meritless, but taking even one to court can take giant bites out of even the most substantial of fortunes, making settlements the more viable option by a long shot; this, unfortunately, only serves to embolden parasitic people). Shady accountants are another thing that can bring them down; while they will eventually get caught when a discrepancy gets noticed somewhere, they can funnel immense amounts of money away over a long period of time and cause tons of other problems.
  • An alarmingly high number of professional athletes, despite making millions during their careers, have found themselves broke less than ten years after retirement, be it due to alimony/child support, failed business ventures, shady accountants, or simply their excessive lives catching up to them.
  • British football team Leeds United endured this in the mid-2000s. After being Champions League semifinalists in 2001, they failed to make the next two tournaments, losing out to Liverpool and Newcastle respectively. After the second instance, the huge loans taken out to finance the transfer fees and player wages caught up with them (said loans had been dependent on Champions League football 'every season) and they were relegated in 2004 after going into administration. In 2007, they went into administration again and were relegated to the third tier of English football.

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