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Bribe Backfire

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"Bribery is a federal offense, sir!" (Shoots Henry)
James Lancelot, Stealing the Diamond

Gosh, what a sticky situation you're in! Oh, if only you could just buy your way out of this situation...

But before you try it, keep in mind that bribery is itself a serious offense, and if that official you're talking to falls on the lawful side of the Lawful/Chaotic divide, you may have just made things much, much worse for yourself. Basically, this is what happens when Mr. Screw the Rules, I Have Money! crashes headfirst into Mr. Screw the Money, I Have Rules!, and the results are usually not pretty.

If you're really unlucky, the individual who you're trying to bribe may not be easily dissuaded, and may in fact want to do horrible and illegal things to you anyway, regardless of the money offered. At the very least, the individual may just throw the money back in your face just to see the shock of the briber deal with a person who cannot be bought. Even if he takes the money, he may just be stringing you along to get evidence of the bribe (or to just screw you over by taking your money and giving you absolutely jack squat in return). Another thing to keep in mind: Anyone that you can bribe can also be bribed by someone else, so don't put too much trust in them. And of course, if you had already made a particular enemy of the individual in question, they may hate you enough to declare "Screw the Money, This Is Personal!" and only make your now-inevitable demise even more painful.

An occasional inversion is one character suggesting that they would accept being bribed only for the person who would be giving the bribe to demonstrate he is having none of it.

See also Comically Small Bribe (where any backfire is a result of the inept choice of bribe (or better said, its amount) rather than the attempt itself) and Money Is Not Power (where the use of Money as a method of bribe in the face of a situation where it is useless paints the briber as Too Dumb to Live).

Compare Blackmail Backfire.


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  • In one of the "Trunk Monkey" commercials (featuring the titular monkey as a fictional dealer-installed option on cars; released from the trunk, it solves problems for the owner), a woman signals the Trunk Monkey to get her out of a traffic ticket. It tries to bribe the cop, resulting in both the woman and the Trunk Monkey being arrested and taken to jail.

    Comic Books 
  • Subverted in one MAD article about advertisements for criminal services. A criminal bribes a cop, thinking he seems more upstanding, but then his partner, the only honest cop in the city, decides to arrest him. However, with enough money, the second cop is willing to fall in line.
  • Maus: During the Auschwitz death march, one of Vladek's friends attempts to bribe two SS guards with gold he had looted from dead prisoners. The guards promise to give him an opening to escape later that night, but when he tries to make a run for it, they shoot him anyway.
  • In the graphic novel La Perdida by Jessica Abel, the protagonist (an American in Mexico on an expired visa) is visited by a police officer. Terrified that he's there to arrest and deport her, she decides to hand him her ID and a large bill. He simply hands back the bill, saying she must have "mistakenly" given it to him.
  • In Preacher, Jesse Custer's first meating, er, meeting with meat baron and Small-Town Tyrant Odin Quincannon ends with Quincannon trying to bribe Custer (who's just been declared sheriff of the town) into looking the other way and letting his workers have free run of the town. Custer throws him out a window.
  • In The Pulse, a Hydra agent tries to buy Jessica off. It doesn't work.
  • Wonder Woman (1942): A fixer tries to bribe Rita into losing a race in an attempt to discredit her sponsor. He does this while she's chatting with three of the most violent Holliday Girls and ends up stumbling back to his employer much worse for wear.

    Comic Strips 
  • In one Garfield strip, the titular fat cat attempts to butter up the talking bathroom scale with gifts like flowers and chocolates, but the scale says it doesn't take bribes. So Garfield returns with a crowbar, and the scale says, "Now threats I take. Hop on, skinny!"

    Fan Works 
  • Another Way: Marquis' approach to ensuring that Claire's bodyguards can't be bribed is to give them an open offer. If anyone offers them a bribe to betray him, they're to accept it, string the person along, then report all the details back to Marquis and be rewarded with double the payment.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • 1408: Mr. Olin offers Enslin a bottle of 1939 cognac (worth about 800 dollars), as well as upgrading his room and Lakers tickets in his attempt to keep Enslin out of the room. Enslin accept the cognac, then says he's still staying.
    Mr. Olin: Goddammit to hell!
  • Buffalo Soldiers: Pvt. Elwood, a corrupt drug brewer on an American army base in Germany, tries to bribe his new hardass superior Sgt. Lee by offering him a brand new television set. Lee responds to his offer by kicking in the screen.
  • In Crackerjack, Bernie Fowler tries to bribe Jack into throwing the bowls tournament. Jack agrees to meet him in the car park, but then tips of Nancy so she can take photographs of the meeting. This prove Bernie was in violation of the restraining order saying he could not be within 500 metres of the Cityside Bowls Club, and that act renders him illegible to hold a gaming licence.
  • In the Dick Tracy movie, at one point Big Boy Caprice has his men abduct Tracy and tries to bribe him. Tracy briefly acts like he's going along with it, then essentially says that now they can add attempted bribery of a public official to Big Boy's list of crimes.
  • Attempted in Fargo in one of the most disastrous examples: Carl Showalter and Gaer Grimsrud have kidnapped Jerry Lundegaard's wife as part of an insurance scam. But they get pulled over near Brainerd, Minnesota by a state trooper who has caught their car for driving without valid license plates or temporary vehicle registration tags. An attempt to bribe the trooper fails, and when it's all said and done, the trooper is shot in the head, as are two passing motorists who saw Showalter dragging the body off the road.
  • The Highwaymen: Invoked by Hamer and Gault in order to weed out potentially corrupt cops by pretending to be offering a Louisiana Sheriff a bribe. When the Sheriff tells him to get the hell out of his parish for attempting to corrupt an officer of the law, they know they can rely on him.
  • Hook: When the now adult Peter first confronts Hook, he tries to write him a check to bribe him into letting him and his kids go. Hook, who has wanted to kill Peter for decades for cutting off his left hand and feeding it to a crocodile which proceeded to follow the pirate from that point on to try and eat the rest of Hook, obviously is not going to forsake his long awaited revenge and spare them just for some currency, so he pulls out a pistol and shoots the checkbook. The bullet goes right through it and kills one of Hook's own pirates.
  • Subverted in The Last Boy Scout, where a Senator rejects the villain's attempts to bribe him to vote for a bill legalizing sports gambling and threatens to go to the police... because the bribe wasn't big enough. The villain decides it'd be cheaper to just kill the senator.
  • Nothing but Trouble: Thorne (and later on a bunch of asshole yuppies) try to bribe their way off being arrested in Valkenvania... the problem is that the J.P. is not only a Hanging Judge, but also a man who hates (and that is murderously loathes) rich people ("bankers!"). The only time a bribe works, it's because the deputy was already deciding to do a "Screw This, I'm Outta Here" and the implied job offer sounded interesting.
  • Max Bialystock in The Producers actually deliberately invokes this. Since he needs to guarantee that his show flops, he offers a bribe to a theater critic in exchange for a good review, knowing that the critic will refuse it and get offended at the offer.
  • Simpatico: Vinnie and Lyle have a scam going where they swap horses in racetrack stalls so they can get good odds on horses that win races. When their con is discovered by Simms, the commissioner, they attempt to bribe him. Simms throws the money back at their faces and basically throws them out the door.
  • In Solo, Han and his girlfriend Qi'ra try to escape Corellia ahead of the crime boss chasing them by bribing a customs official with a vial of hyperfuel. However, when she spots their pursuers, she closes the door after Han and calls security, leaving Qi'ra to get caught.
  • Chevy Chase's attempts to bribe his way to a passing test grade in Spies Like Us don't do him much good.
  • In the remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the kids in the car try to bribe the sheriff when he pulls them over and it goes horribly wrong. Then again, since the sheriff was a member of Leatherface's family, there was no way things were going to go right.
  • Three Kings: Averted. When Amir insists that Archie and the other American soldiers escort him and the other rebels to the Iraq-Iran border, in exchange for their help in getting the looted Kuwaiti gold back, Archie tries to dodge, saying they can use some of the gold to bribe their way past the checkpoints. Amir points out that "Saddam's soldiers will never take Saddam's gold, the only way we can survive is if we are with Americans."
  • In Titanic, Cal notices the rule "Women and children first" is strictly applied, so he tries to escape the sinking ship by putting a large amount of cash in officer Murdoch's pocket to ensure a spot in a lifeboat. But when Cal and Murdoch are both at the last lifeboat and Cal reminds Murdoch of their "deal", Murdoch throws the money back in Cal's face.
    Your money cannot save you any more than it can me.
  • Happens in the film version of The Twelve Chairs, where Fyodor attempts to bribe Ostap Bender. "Are you trying to bribe a Soviet official?" he thunders back. (Ostap, of course, is actually just impersonating a Soviet official and is solely trying to discourage Fyodor from pursuing his quest further.)
  • In The Untouchables (1987), a corrupt alderman tries to bribe Eliot Ness on behalf of Al Capone. The alderman suffers no personal consequences, but he does incur a classic scolding from Ness (in front of Ness's team), including the splendid line "In Roman times, when a fellow was convicted of trying to bribe a public official, they would cut off his nose, and sew him in a bag with a wild animal, and throw him in a river," and has the bribe tossed back at him.

  • Invoked in an old joke: when a lawyer advises a client against bribing the judge and states that said judge was too honest for that, the client sent the bribe and tricked the judge into thinking that it came from the other side.
    • A similar joke from the American South:
      The attorneys for plaintiff and defendant in a civil case come in to the judge's chambers for a pre-trial conference. Each side hands the judge a packet containing a brief. The judge takes a quick private look at the defendant's brief packet and notices it contains $5000 cash. He takes a similar look at the plaintiff's packet and notices it contains $10000 cash. He hands the defendant $5000 from the plaintiff's stack and says: "Thank you both for your equal donations to the judiciary of our state. The case will be decided on its merits."
  • A commonly told academic joke involves a student turning in a test with a hundred dollar bill attached and a note saying, "1 point, one dollar". The student gets his marked-up test back with a smaller amount of money attached and a note saying, "Here's your change".

  • In The Adventures of Pinocchio, four weasels had a pact with Melampo, a watchdog, in which he had to feign being asleep so they could steal seven hens and Melampo could eat an eighth one. When the dog dies and Pinocchio is punished to be the new watchdog by the farmer, the weasels try to make the same deal with Pinocchio, only to find that irresponsible and misbehaving as he is, Pinocchio won't accept bribes. So the weasels are captured and Pinocchio earns his freedom.
  • In The City Without Memory, Alice and her friend Iria offer several sacks of gold to the spy who has discovered their hiding place for his silence. As he is the richest man in the land and stands to gain much more than a few sacks of money if he does give them away, it proves to be useless.
  • It's not seen attempted, but the guards of the Grey Fortress (the prison used for the most powerful political prisoners) in the Codex Alera series are considered absolutely immune to bribery. It's the law that if a guard is offered a bribe and reports it, The Empire will reward him with a bonus three times the size of the attempted bribe.
    "In the past five hundred years, not one Grey Guardsman has taken a bribe, and only a handful of idiots have attempted to give them one."
  • In Digital Fortress, this is used by the male lead while trying to get information from a German tourist (who was with a prostitute) while pretending to be a police officer. He basically says, "There is something you can do to make me overlook this" and then says, "You dare bribe an officer of the law!?" when he's offered cash (he's actually after something else).
  • Discworld.
    • "I believe that the last person who tried to bribe Vimes still doesn't have full use of some of his fingers." It is incredibly stupid to try to bribe Vimes. He's married to the richest woman in the city and has no taste for luxuries anyway. The only exception he makes is coffee and donuts.
      That hasn't stopped Chrysoprase, a mobster troll, from lending Vimes a coat while meeting him in a chilled warehouse so Vimes doesn't freeze. Vimes doesn't even think about the coat, but as he leaves, the mobster mentions he hopes Sam's wife will enjoy the coat as well. Vimes, realizing what has happened, tells one of his men to destroy the coat with his Piecemaker. Considering that Chrysoprase is a Magnificent Bastard, he was probably hoping that people would see the incorruptible Commander of the Watch walking out of the meeting with a known criminal wearing a very expensive fur coat, since it could seriously damage his reputation.
    • An earlier case described the palace guards as unbribable, only because the Patrician could outbid anyone. In Unseen Academicals, we hear that the official procedure for palace guards when someone tries to bribe their way into the palace is to accept the bribe and take the subject to the waiting room. And then bolt all the doors.
  • In Elianto, some of the protagonists try to bribe a guard on Medium, a Planet of Hats where everyone is a True Neutral obsessed with regulations and with keeping things "average". It doesn't work, as can be expected.
    Guard: I'm sorry, but showing a Kofs is third-degree corruption. I'm only allowed first- and second-degree corruption.
    Brot: Because you're averagely corrupted?
    Guard: Because I'm averagely honest.
  • Isaac Asimov's "The General (Foundation)":
    • When Privy Secretary Brodrig interrogates the Foundation merchant Devers, he expects to be bribing the Privy Secretary into working against the Emperor. What he doesn't expect is Brodrig trying to bribe him, but he adapts and convinces Brodrig that General Riose is actually trying to overthow the emperor and take control of the Empire. This convinces Brodrig to support Riose instead of reporting it to Emperor Cleon II.
    • When Devers goes to Trantor, capital of the Galactic Empire, he and Barr try to bribe their way up the ladder of bureaucrats so they can see the Emperor and get General Bel Riose recalled. They eventually run into one who's actually an Imperial Police lieutenant. He's under orders to arrest them for conspiracy to overthrow the Emperor, not for bribing officials. Their effort was effectively pointless, because the only reason Emperor Cleon II had survived as long as he had was to be suspicious of everything his subordinates did, and they had been using Privy Secretary Brodrig's funds.
  • Time-delayed in the Judge Dee story "The Chinese Bell Murders": The abbot of a suspiciously rich Buddhist monastery gifts the judge an enormous amount of money which he accepts, to the consternation of Sergeant Hoong. However, the judge used that money to enact a complex plan to catch the monks in the act of defrauding the pilgrims and worse (the temple had a reputation for ensuring pregnancies by virtue of praying to the goddess there, in fact it was the monks serially raping the women and threatening to spill the beans (a woman could either kill herself or be Defiled Forever).
    When the abbot, shivering from the cold morning air, had seen the judge, he hissed at him: "You dog-official, you accepted my bribe!"
    "You are mistaken," the judge said coldly, "I only borrowed it! Every copper cash of the funds you sent me was used to bring about your own downfall."
  • The Kaiju Preservation Society: When visiting Tanaka Base, Rob Sanders wants to get a closer look at Bella and tries to bribe Satie to land near the kaiju. Satie initially ignores him, but when Rob ups the price, Satie hovers over just above the ground and tells him to get out. Rob turns to General Tipton, but Satie says that he's in charge of Chopper Two, and the man has just insulted him. Twice, and Satie was willing to overlook the first time. Rob finally apologizes, but Satie still files a report after returning to the base.
  • There's an inversion in Memory by Lois McMaster Bujold. It is General Haroche's attempt to bribe Miles that gives him the clue he needs to figure out who sabotaged Illyan's memory chip. This later becomes a standard investigative technique for Miles, when he suspects that there is something underhanded going on, but doesn't know what, or by whom: start trolling for bribes, and see who offers one to him.
  • Because Nero Wolfe has expensive tastes and charges high fees for his services, many ne'er-do-wells throughout the series have gotten it into their heads that they can get him to back off from investigating their wrongdoing if they offer him a bribe, often disguised as an offer for employment. What they fail to realise is that Wolfe, despite his mercenary reputation, actually has an iron-rigid code of honor coupled with a massive ego that means that he's not just going to accept a bribe in order to get out of a commitment he's made to someone. He does acknowledge that, like practically everyone, he does in fact have a price — however, the aforementioned "massive ego" means that it's a price that's out of reach to almost everyone.
    Nero Wolfe: The emerald was not a token of gratitude for anything I had done; it was a bribe to keep my mouth shut. Had it measured up to my conceit — had it been the Kohinoor or the Zabara — it might have served its purpose; but it is merely a rather large emerald with a noticeable flaw. So naturally I was piqued.
  • On Wings of Eagles by Ken Follett. Ross Perot and his executives are approached by a shady character who offers to get their colleagues out of an Iranian prison in exchange for a considerable amount of money to be paid into an escrow account (meaning the money isn't handed over till after the deal). After debating the matter, they decide to refuse because they suspect they're being set up for a bribery charge.
  • A rather bleakly humorous version is mentioned in John le Carré's Smiley's People. A CIA station in Switzerland tried to bribe a local professor so that they could run wires through his property to bug the Soviet embassy. The professor took the money and promptly reported everything to the local police, who were embarrassed no end. Turns out the CIA had already talked to them, and they were looking forward to their promised portion of the intelligence gathered.
  • Sort of inverted in the Star Wars novel I, Jedi. Corran Horn is trying to sneak onto Corellia, where there's still a warrant out for his arrest, so he talks a pair of tourists into trying to bribe their way past the customs official. However, the tourists bribe too heavily and attract every customs official in the place, who all want a piece of the action — which is exactly what Corran was counting on. The customs officials are so distracted by the tourists that they wave Corran through without notice.
    • Another sort of example in Shadows Of The Empire: Dash bribes a guard, and although the guard takes the bribe, his boss is well aware that it occurred, and honestly did not care (they would have been let in anyways).
  • Water Margin:
    • Ximen Qing's bribes backfire fatally on two fronts: both the ones that aren't accepted and the ones that are. He was an accomplice in the poisoning of his lover's husband. First, he bribes the coroner to overlook any indication of foul play. The coroner takes the money, not wanting to be on the powerful Qing's bad side, but he sets it aside along with some forensic evidence. When the deceased's brother, the famous badass Wu Song, returns home and starts investigating the murder, the coroner hands both over to him. At the same time, Qing spreads money around the courts so that when Wu Song tries to have him and his lover prosecuted no one will pursue it. The end result is that Wu Song avenges his brother the old-fashioned way.
    • A more unusual form of Bribe Backfire happens to Wang Lun, the original chief of the Liangshan Marsh bandits. When his stronghold's reputation starts attracting gallant men on the wrong side of the law to join up with him, he realizes that his gang is about to start filling out with guys who are better leaders than he. His solution is to offer them a heap of cash and polite excuses that his poor fortress is much too humble for one so great, encouraging them to be on their way. Essentially, rather than bribing his way around the laws of government, he's bribing around the code of jianghu chivalrous brotherhood. When he tries it with Lin Chong, his comrades persuade him to change his mind. When he tries it again with the famous Chao Gai, Lin Chong is so offended that he does Wang Lun in.
  • In "The Witness" by Nora Roberts smalltown shady bussinessman subtly tried to bribe Abigail Lowery with case of 10.000 dolars to change her statement of his son vandalizing police car in front of her house and trying to assault Brooks Gleason, owner of car (smalltown police chief and Abigail's boyfriend), while high as kite. This backfired:
    • Abigail is Secretly Wealthy;
    • Abigail, while hiding from Russian bratva, isn't intimated by bussinessman.
    • She is armed, has Fort Knox!level of House security and large guard Dog, if bussinessman tries to threatens.
  • The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Guide to Travel has a section with suggestions of how to pass a bribe without this occurring.

    Live-Action TV 
  • On Animal Kingdom, J's college girlfriend finds out that his family are criminals and (correctly) suspects that they robbed a charity event her mother helped run. She tries to blackmail J into doing all of her class assignments for the rest of the semester. J realizes that she has no real evidence, so he simply turns her in to his professor and she is punished for academic honor code violation. When she confronts him about this, he points out that he was actually being nice to her and if she persists, he will have to take actions that are not nice.
  • Barbarians Rising: Spartacus tries to pay Sicilian pirates and merchants to ship his troops to Sicily so he can occupy it, but General Marcus Crassus anticipates this and buys them off first. Spartacus arrives in southern Italy to find his emissaries hanged and Crassus's troops coming up behind him.
  • Breaking Bad: The first time Walt approaches Saul Goodman, he tries to bribe him into keeping Badger quiet to the DEA. Saul kicks him out and threatens to call the police. Not that Saul is an honest man himself; he just knows to take precautions around new people in case they're an undercover cop. Walt and Jesse ultimately kidnap Saul out to the desert and threaten him at gunpoint to get him to help them out.
  • Burn Notice
    • In the Season Two episode "Truth & Reconciliation", Michael says that backfire is a built-in risk to any bribe:
      There's no way to shop around, so you usually overpay for whatever information you're after. There's no money-back guarantee if the information's bad. And, of course, the only thing that you know for sure is that you're handing your money to a thief and a liar.
    • In another episode, Michael tries to get important information from a Polish military intelligence officer. Since the officer has Russian ancestry and Michael has had to do infiltration missions in Russia, he poses as a Russian businessman offering to buy a few harmless facts. The Pole goes along with it... until they're alone when he suddenly pulls a gun on Michael. Turns out the guy is both a patriot and has a grudge against Russia. Whoops. Fortunately for Michael, Fiona is around to save him from answering uncomfortable questions before a summary execution.
  • On Copper corruption is rampant so people naturally assume that when a public official is being diligent about his job, it means that he is looking for a bribe. When a building inspector starts making trouble for a landlord, the landlord quickly offers the inspector money to forget about the problems with the building. This is met by (faked) outrage. While the inspector is normally extremely easy to bribe, this time he is there on orders from an important Tammany Hall politician. The landlord has been making unwanted sexual advances on a female tenant and Corcoran asked the politician for help in teaching the landlord a lesson.
  • In an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, Larry David tries to bribe a pharmacist to cut in line to get medicine for his wife. The pharmacist takes extreme offense at this.
  • Daredevil (2015): In the fallout of Karen Page leaking information on the criminal activities at Union Allied Construction, Wilson Fisk has everyone associated with the scheme killed, except for Karen, whom he tries to have bribed into silence with the equivalent of six month's salary from her old job. When given the offer, Karen quickly sees it for what it really is, and instead of backing off, is further motivated to go after Fisk and everyone else involved.
  • Dragnet loved this, because Joe Friday was notoriously non-bribeable. Once, a Dirty Cop tried to bribe him to protect his bookmaking... Joe went to the captain and worked with him to get evidence for an arrest. Another involved Gypsy fortune-tellers who tried it... Joe went along long enough to get evidence, then busted them.
  • In Embassy (a 1990's Australian series), someone who's entered Ragaan without a visa tries to bribe his way past the airport official, who simply pockets the money and refuses to allow him on the plane anyway. When fuming about this afterward, the local who advised this approach just laughs and says he went about it the wrong way.
  • Foyle's War: In the episode "The French Drop", the protagonist is being given a tour of the British Special Operations Executive's headquarters; he sees an old "friend", ex-pimp Leo Mason, giving a lecture on the best ways of suborning enemy agents. As he explains, bribery is a popular option, but cautions them to remember that anyone willing to accept a bribe is, by his very nature, untrustworthy.
  • Game of Thrones: when Jaime Lannister is taken captive by a group of soldiers sworn to House Bolton, he tries to bribe their leader Locke into returning him to his father, offering him enough gold to live the rest of his days in luxury, as would his sons and grandsons. Locke pretends to go along with it for a few moments, before revealing that he has no intention of betraying Lord Roose Bolton and if anything, this demonstration of rich-boy entitlement has just made him angry. He then proceeds to chop off Jaime's hand.
  • Game Shakers has a flashback to Double G in the maternity ward with his newborn son and the nurse tells him that it's time for him to leave. Double G hands her some money to let him stay longer which she takes, only to tell him that he has to leave now. As she walks away, Double G shouts, "That's not how bribes work!"
  • Happens in the Inspector George Gently episode "Bomber's Moon". A German businessman tries to bribe Sgt. Bachus. Bachus accepts the bribe so he will have the evidence to arrest him.
  • A particularly amusing instance occurs on Lost. When Ilana is forcing Ben to dig his own grave because she intends to kill him herself, he tries to weasel his way out of it by buying off Miles's help. Miles asks him why on earth he would need three million dollars from him when there are "a couple of jabronis named Nikki and Paulo" (whom Miles knows about because of his ability to "talk to the dead") "buried alive right over there with eight million dollars worth of diamonds sitting right on top of them".
  • In Malcolm in the Middle Hal gets caught using his genius, underage son to count cards in a Vegas casinonote . He tries to bribe his way out, the chief security officer thanks him for the money but still bans him. When Hal asks for the money back, the guard is confused as to what he is talking about.
  • In one episode of M*A*S*H an overeager public relations officer is at the 4077th trying to convince an injured North Korean pilot to defect to the United States in the hopes that it would boost the war's popularity back home. The pilot doesn't want anything to do with the scheme so Hawkeye and BJ constantly try to run interference. At one point the PR officer bribes a nurse with a pair of nylons so that he can be alone with the prisoner; she takes them and leaves, only to come back with Hawkeye and BJ in tow. She gives the nylons back claiming that they didn't fit her conscience.
    • In another episode, Klinger becomes desperate enough to try and buy his way out of the army by bribing Col. Potter for his discharge. All Potter has to do is remind him that, since this would be an official bribe, he'd be going home to Leavenworthnote  instead of Toledo to make him abandon this train of thought.
  • Medici: This happens to the Medici a few times, notably when buying votes for the papal election.
  • Mission: Impossible: "The Pawn": Phelps offers an indirect bribe to the KGB officer who is guarding the nuclear scientist Phelps has been assigned to extract. He is threatened with deportation by the KGB officer who sees through his Obfuscating Stupidity and orders more surveillance. However, Phelps knew the KGB officer could not be bribed and used the conversation to manipulate the officer’s emotions.
    • Later Phelps uses fake evidence to convince the commissar that the KGB officer is about to defect. This evidence includes United States currency. The commissar believes this evidence since the KGB officer resembled Patton in their behavior and personality. In addition, at the beginning of the episode, Phelps says that if they are successful the KGB officer will be sent to a prison camp for failure. Therefore, it can be assumed that the officer was already under suspicion, the fake evidence simply proved the disloyalty.
  • Murder, She Wrote: In "Moving Violation", Sheriff Metzger stops a driver for speeding and running a stop sign. The driver doesn't have a licence and attempts to bribe Metzger $100. At this point, Metzger arrests him.
  • The Nanny: C. C. Babcock once gave a gift basket to a critic who sent it back with a note stating he couldn't be bribed and, even if he could, a gift basket wouldn't be enough.
  • Shameless in one episode a cop is accusing Lip of assault, so they try to bribe him. He takes the bribe to drop the charge of bribing a police officer.
  • The Wire:
    • A Bribe Backfire is engineered towards the end of the series. Lester Freamon deduces that Gary DePasquale in the state's attorney's office has been taking bribes to leak non-public court documents to the infamous Maurice Levy, who in turn sold them to his clients, drug kingpins. He persuades the leak to make one more offer to Levy, and he gets it on tape. This leverage ends up being the only reason the show ends with a Pyrrhic Victory instead of a straight Downer Ending.
    • Another way a bribe can backfire is when you think you're paying a bribe, but it's actually just a con. Stringer Bell learned this one the hard way, thanks to the slick-talking Clay Davis when he tried to transition from drug dealing to real estate development and government grants.

    Myths & Religion 

    Print Media 
  • MAD has had fun with this trope several times over the years:
    • One short comic showed a driver trying to bribe the policeman giving him a speeding ticket. The policeman responds by handcuffing him while he surreptitiously offers the money.
    • Another comic had a man who left a 10 dollar bill in his driver's licence, so he could stealthily bribe a policeman when he gets asked to show his licence. Seemingly invokes this trope when the cop angrily asks if the man is trying to bribe him with the 10 dollar bill, and the man assuring him he doesn't know how that 10 dollar bill got there. Subverted next panel when the man says he meant to put in a 20 dollar bill and the cop replies "That's better."

    Puppet Show 
  • At the end of the Marisa Berenson episode of The Muppet Show, after ducking out of a Real Fake Wedding Miss Piggy had tried to rope him into, Kermit is forced to run from the angry pig and tries to take shelter in Statler and Waldorf's box, saying he'll give them free tickets to the next show if they hide him. Unfortunately, it's been well-established that Statler and Waldorf don't like the shownote , and as a result, they throw Kermit over the edge of the balcony.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Bribes in Blood Bowl have a 1 in 6 chance of doing nothing, meaning the coach just wasted good money and gets his player sent off anyway.
  • The rules in Paranoia spell it out as clear as it gets: "Bribery is treason. Bribery in insufficient amounts will be reported as treason."

    Urban Legends 
  • An attractive woman is stopped by a state trooper for speeding. She tries to bribe her way out of a ticket by flirtatiously saying, "Couldn't I just buy a ticket to the Policeman's Ball instead?" The trooper replies, "Ma'am, State Police don't have balls." He realizes what he has just said, turns bright red, and lets her go without a ticket.

    Video Games 
  • Bribing doesn't always work in Alpha Protocol. Especially for the poor VCI who tried to bribe Steven Heck (provided he likes you).
    Heck: So this VCI comes up and says to me: "Steve, I've got a proposition for you". So after I popped three of his fingers off for calling me "Steve", I say: "And what proposition might that be, my good man?". This guy says to me: "Oh god! Please, don't kill me! I just came here to offer you five million dollars to give Michael Thorton up as Ronald Sung's assassin!
    Mike: Tell me you didn't...
    Heck: Not gonna lie, buddy, I was really tempted for a minute there… But I kind of like you, so I told him to piss off. Then I set him on fire to make sure he got the point.
  • In BitLife, you can bribe the police if they are about to arrest you. Sometimes, it will succeed and you'll be able to walk away. Other times, the police will either reject the money or arrest you anyways, and put a "bribery" in your crimes so you'd be sentenced to harsher punishments.
  • In The Classroom 2, there is a level where a student NPC tries to bribe a teacher. It just makes her mad, and she threatens in front of the class to shoot him if any other student tries to do the same thing.
  • In DC Universe Online, one of the early missions with The Joker as your mentor has you going around trying to bribe cops into working with Roland Dagget. There's a fifty-fifty chance that they'll decide not to accept it and attack you, forcing you to strike them down.
  • The Elder Scrolls
    • In the games that have a persuasion mechanic, bribing an NPC is an option to raise their disposition, making them friendlier to the Player Character. This is sometimes necessary to get them to provide a certain service, play their part in a quest, or give a quest in the first place. Because of the Money for Nothing present in these games, bribing is typically the easiest way to raise disposition. However, the success of the bribe attempt depends on the PC's Personality attribute, Speechcraft skill, and the size of the bribe. Failures will typically reduce that NPC's disposition toward you.
    • In Morrowind, the Fighters Guild and Thieves Guild have a clandestine war going on between them. This is because the leader of the Fighters Guild and a couple of his top lieutenants are in the pocket of the Camonna Tong, Morrowind's native mafia who are rivals to the Thieves Guild. One Thieves Guild quest has you using a certain artifact to bribe one of those lieutenants into switching sides, which works. However, if you then complete the Fighters Guild quest line (which has you dealing with the leader and his lieutenants in a different way), she will still see you as a threat and attack.
    • In Oblivion, bribing is the best and (given how plentiful money is) fastest way to rank up your approval with an NPC, the only person in the entire game this doesn't work on is the count of Skingrad's Orcish steward, even if you bribe him to the limit he still won't like you enough to let you buy a house, you need to do some sidequests as well.
  • The Courier can do this to Pacer in Fallout: New Vegas by accepting the bribe and then informing him that it still won't stop you from telling The King what he's been up to. Better yet, you can even attempt to extort Pacer for a bigger bribe (which actually earns his respect) before squealing on him.
  • Henry Stickmin Series:
    • In Stealing the Diamond, at the final point of the aggressive route, Henry can attempt to bribe the police after him with a cut of the diamond. Unfortunately for him, they tell him that bribery is a federal offense and put a bullet in his head.
    • In the "Bounty/Dead" route of Completing the Mission, during the Undertale-inspired "battle" sequence with Mr. Macbeth, Henry can attempt to bribe him with the money from the Toppat clan's loot car… The money he didn't even steal yet. It ends as well as you'd expect.
      Mr. Macbeth: …This money ain't even yours, kid. (fires unavoidable precision-laser attack, killing Henry)
      FAIL screen: Henry really bribes? No dignity.
  • The Inspector can do this in Papers, Please. After catching a smuggler early in the game, he tries to offer a bribe. If you have him detained anyway, the Inspector tells the smuggler "You cannot bribe an officer of Arstotzka."
    • This also happens to Jorji Costava. At one point, his face appears in a wanted criminals bulletin for the day, and when Jorji tries to come in that day, he mentions how he paid good money to the police to stay off the bulletin.
  • In Pillars of Eternity, there is a quest where you can solve the murder of a small boy in the docks and confront the dockyard thug who murdered him. He will offer you a shiny, valuable topaz for your silence. You may accept the bribe and then kill him and all his goons regardless, with no effect on your reputation. After all, he offered the bribe only so you would stay quiet about the crime — he didn't say anything about also sparing his life.
  • Pizza Tycoon: Being open about making a bribe to the police will get you arrested and fined.

    Web Animation 

    Web Comics 
  • Discussed and defied in Freefall: Clippy bribes a married couple working on a secret base forty million credits to lie to their commander and help him kidnap Florence. When Florence manages to escape despite their help, the wife suggests using the money to recruit the commander. The husband makes it quite clear just how awful of an idea he thinks this is.
  • In Jupiter-Men, Quintin is so desperate to avoid seeing a doctor for his strange new powers that he offers to buy Jackie whatever clothes she likes if they visit the construction site where they got their powers first. Unfortunately for him, the explosion from the previous night caused such a fuss that the entire site has been cordoned off. It isn't long before he's forking over $50 to buy Jackie a new outfit and he would've gone to the doctor anyway if he hadn't stumbled upon a mugging and decided to intervene.
  • In Girl Genius the backstory to the untitled Franz Scortchmaw sidestory is that Vip didn't know her bribes to members of the Corbettite Order had backfired until someone questions how she found so many corrupt monks, and Brother Marcus admits that every monk she bribed was playing along, first in the hopes that their "disappearances" would convince her to drop the whole thing, and then to find out why the information she wanted was so important that it didn't.

    Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender inverts this trope. A pair of men tasked with overseeing the bending matches relentlessly pursue Aang and Toph. In their travels, they reach a tavern and ask for information. The patron gives them a little but starts rubbing his fingers together and asks for a little incentive. The larger of the two responds "You suggesting I break your fingers?"
  • In The Critic, Duke is told that he has roughly 5 years to live. After giving a $100 bill to the doctor to see what he now says: "I'd say 'Thank you Mister-5-Years-To-Live!'"
  • Family Guy: One of their flashbacks had Peter trying to seduce a cop by showing his breasts and thinking the cop had to be heterosexual to have refused.
  • In the Hey Arnold! episode "Spelling Bee", Big Bob Pataki tries to bribe Arnold to lose the spelling bee he and Helga are the finalists of. Although tempted, Arnold throws away Big Bob's check, and Helga, insulted that her father doesn't think she can win on her own, purposely misspells her next word to spite him. Unfortunately, Big Bob had also promised to give away free beepers if Helga didn't win, so the episode ends with him being chased by a mob of beeper customers.
  • This is parodied in the Looney Tunes cartoon, Bugs' Bonnets. Among the hats that fall on Bugs' and Elmer Fudd's heads are a mobster's fedora and a police cap, respectively, which alters their personalities accordingly. Elmer, acting as a policeman, tries to arrest Bugs as a mobster, but Bugs tries to bribe him with some money ("Hey, look, copper, we can settle this out of court. Moolah. Yeah, ten Gs. Yeah, buy somethin' for the kids."). Elmer tries to refuse the bribe, but then a Judicial Wig lands on Bugs' head, which causes him to act as a judge. Upon seeing the billfolds in Elmer's hand, the rabbit accuses him of taking a bribe and sentences him to 45 years and hard labor.
  • The result of Daffy Duck trying to read someone else's Love Letter in The Looney Tunes Show.
    Mailman: Uh... what're you doing?
    Daffy: (beat) Reading a letter.
    Mailman: That's not addressed to you.
    Daffy: Oh, is that a crime?
    Mailman: Yes! (grabs letter) This is your mail.
    Daffy: Look. (hands the mailman a $20 bill) Here's a twenty spot if you give me back the letter.
    Mailman: Bribing a government official is also a crime. ("$20" bill is drawn in crayons on white paper) And is this counterfeit money?!
    Daffy: What?! You're gonna tell me now that's a crime, too?! Last I checked, I was living in America! ...Ooh! Look over there! (grabs the letter and gets pepper sprayed; cries out in pain as the mailman drives away) See what happens... when you people don't let me read your mail?!
  • So many times on The Simpsons:
    • From "The Frying Game":
      Homer: You know, if you let us go, there's a diamond necklace in it for you.
      Wiggum: I hope you're not suggesting that I would take that necklace as a bribe. Think again, dirtbag, cause I can swipe it later from the evidence locker.
    • Backfires big time on Bart in "The Simpsons S3E4 "Bart the Murderer"" where he gets a job for Fat Tony. Bart tries to bribe Skinner when caught spraying graffiti, Skinner keeps Bart after school, Bart vents to Fat Tony, and later Skinner suddenly disappears. Even though it turns out Fat Tony had absolutely nothing to do with the disappearance, it almost gets Bart convicted of First Degree Murder.
    • In the episode where Marge becomes a police officer:
      Apu: So, you are the new cop on the beat. (sighing) OK, I know the drill: what will it be? $100? $200?
      Marge: $200. (realizing) No, no! I mean, nothing! I don't take bribes!
      Apu: Yes, of course you don't. (puts the money on the table) I will just leave this money on the table (turns around) with my unseeing back to the money on the table.
      Marge: Apu, no! (turns around)
      (Mr. Burns walks by and snatches the unattended money from the table.)
      Apu and Marge: (seeing the money gone) That's better!
    • And another:
      Mr. Burns: Look, Smithers! Some foolish individual has left thousands and thousands of dollars on this table! Let's step outside and, hopefully, when we return, the money will be gone.
      (Burns steps outside for a few moments. When he steps back in, the nuclear inspector hasn't touched the money.)
      Mr. Burns: (angrily) Look, Smithers, the money and a very stupid man are still here!
      Nuclear inspector: Mr. Burns, if I didn't know better, I'd say you were trying to bribe me.
      Mr. Burns: Is there some confusion about this?
      (Burns starts stuffing money into the inspector's pockets.)
      Mr. Burns: Take it! Take it, you poor schmo!
    • And one more from Homer (he really seems to have bad luck with bribes), when he tries to bribe his way out of a bunch of municipal fines. Unfortunately, the clerk who accepts bribes is away from his window, so Homer impatiently leaves the money at the window in a paper bag labeled "BRIBE". Unsurprisingly, he gets caught.
    • In an example of the bribe failing, not because of standards but because of corruption, Mr Burns is taken to prison, where attempts to bribe the guards quickly fail.
    Prison Guard: "One ticket stub from Tillie's Punctured Romance. Envelope marked bribe; Empty." Guard takes money with smug smile on face; proceeds as if nothing happened.
    • In an episode when Springfield enacted prohibition, Fat Tony attempts to bribe Rex Banner, the new chief of police. It almost works.
    Fat Tony: How do you know you don't like bribes if you've never taken one? Here.
    [puts some cash into Rex's hand]
    Banner: Hey, this is nice... No! No bribes!
    Fat Tony: Okay. You win. From now on, we'll stick to smuggling heroin.
    Banner: See that you do!
    • Bart fakes a marriage to scam people out of wedding gifts. When Wiggum arrests him, Bart tries to bribe him with a gift but Wiggum wouldn't take bribes other than cash. The motto "Cash Bribes Only" is embossed on Wiggum's police badge, implying this is standard policy for the whole of Springfield PD.
  • Wacky Races: Dick Dastardly painted over a speed limit sign to trick the other racers into thinking the limit was of 85 miles per hour instead of 35. When the sheriff pulled over the Ant Hill Mob, Ring Ding offered him a cigar and the sheriff said trying to bribe him made things worse.

    Real Life 
  • While bribery was common in the communist nations during the Cold War and is common in North Korea, this can backfire if the bribed official is threatened with exposure. Avoiding a transfer, a prison sentence, or the death penalty is more important than money.
  • There are certain countries where bribing is accepted and places where bribery is unacceptable, such as much of Western Europe. Pretty much anywhere they pay civil servants well will make bribery pretty much impossible. Don't even try. It won't end well.
  • In Turkey a few years ago, a young police officer refused a bribe - uncharacteristic enough, as the Turkish Police Force is notoriously corrupt. The people who offered the bribe then simply beat him up until he was hospitalised.
  • In prison camps, bribery is sometimes used to suborn the opposite side's troops. In books on the German WW2 POW Camp Colditz, both Pat Reid and Reinhold Eggers have related one occasion in which a German Army guard took a bribe, reported it, then followed instructions to let the escape proceed until all the British officers involved were captured. After that, the guard was allowed to keep the money given to him!
  • When doing a lot of travelling, keep in mind some police forces are more lawful than others, so that where sometimes a bribe would be like paying the fine right there, in others it will probably get you jailed on the spot. More to the point, you have honest individuals even in otherwise corrupt organisations. So, don't offer bribes at all. This is especially true for Westerners travelling in non-Western countries, who often presume that every official they meet is expecting a bribe (a stereotype that only makes things worse for the would-be briber if the official takes offense at the implied insult to his culture).
    • Interestingly, the susceptibility of officials to bribes can actually depend on who is doing it. Russia is still notoriously corrupt, but it is getting much better, especially in recent years, not that bribery is rare. However, Russians like to try to present a modern image to foreigners, so a foreigner very well may be unable to buy someone off whereas a local could.
  • Future Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was head of the Nevada Gaming Commission when Jack Gordon offered him a $12,000 bribe in 1978 in order to secure approval of new casino games. Reid contacted the FBI and set up a sting where they could get the attempt on tape. According to newspaper accounts, the arrest was interrupted when he tried to strangle Gordon, saying "You son of a bitch, you tried to bribe me!" — and had to be pulled off by the alarmed (but amused) FBI agents.
  • Al Capone tried bribing Treasury Agent Eliot Ness, only to have the incorruptible agent turn it in to his superiors immediately. The press learned of this and the legend of The Untouchables was born.
  • Losing money to an advance-fee scam, also known as a 419 scam, is a different sort of Bribe Backfire. In most cases, the scammer's stated reason for needing money up front is to bribe officials or bankers so as to gain access to a much larger sum. Of course, there is no bribe and no larger sum; they just keep it. If they think the mark is gullible enough to milk, they might claim to have fallen victim to a more classical Bribe Backfire as an excuse for more money.
  • The "Cobra Effect" is a menacing-sounding, but rather mundane observation in Economics, where a misaligned incentive directed at solving a problem, backfires spectacularly and actually makes the problem worse. The term comes from when the British government wanted to eradicate cobras in India, they started paying a bounty for every dead cobra...which caused people to begin to breed cobras in order to kill them and get the money. When the British realised this, they stopped the bounty, so the backyard cobra breeders just released them all.
  • When Byzantine Emperor Anastasius I died in 518 without an heir, the head chamberlain Amantius (who was a eunuch and therefore could not become emperor himself) tried to get his candidate Theocritus elected as emperor by buying the support of other officials (and controlling a large military force). One official that Amantius tried to bribe was the commander of the palace guard, Justin, who simply took the money and used it to support his own candidacy. Justin was elected emperor as Justin I and had Amantius and Theocritus executed.
  • It's not a good idea to bribe the Bouncer to let one into an exclusive club, trendy bar, strip joint, etc in spite of such depictions in popular media. While some more low-paid or shady bouncers may accept cash bribes, this is a good way for them to get fired and possibly blacklisted and for you to banned from those establishments.
  • The Northern Song dynasty Chinese folk hero, Bao Zheng, was so viciously opposed to corruption that he refused to have family members buried next to his grave if they so much as accepted a bribe.


Video Example(s):


A Federal Offence

When escaping the cops, Henry runs into a dead end. In a bid to get out of his predicament, he tries bribing the cops with the Tunisian Diamond he stole. Unfortunately, the cops are a little more by-the-book than that, resulting in James Lancelot shooting him dead for committing a federal offence.

How well does it match the trope?

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Example of:

Main / BribeBackfire

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