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Cardboard Box of Unemployment

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"Kids, hello. I didn't get fired. Even though I have the old plant in the box.... Margaret, hi. Just taking my plant out for some air. Just like to carry it in this box with all my other personal stuff... Sometimes, I like to put all my stuff from my office in a box and just do some exercises and just use it as weights."
Erin (who has indeed just been fired), Ghostbusters (2016)

A trope common in Western media, the Cardboard Box of Unemployment has been used by generations of the recently laid off to remove their personal possessions from a former office, locker, or desk after being discharged from their duties. Like a pink slip, it's visual shorthand for "this character was just fired". The sight of a a worker carrying a box stuffed with books, papers, and personal items — like potted plants and family photos — can also indicate that they've merely been demoted, reassigned, or just forced to move to a smaller office, but the sentiment (that their employment status has changed for the worse) remains the same.

A harsher variant is for the fired employee to not be allowed back in the building, and so a security guard brings the cardboard box out to the now-fired person. This is Truth in Television for some large organizations, because they don't want the now-fired employee to have the chance to try to sneak out company secrets or get revenge by sabotaging the office computers/machines.

The trope of being given a container to pack up your possessions when you are fired is Older Than Radio. During the early 1800s, when a worker was fired, it was called "getting sacked", because the boss would give the worker a sack to collect up their personal tools and clothes. The slang term remains in use today.

Oftentimes, this is the result of a disgruntled employee working under a Pointy-Haired Boss snapping and telling said boss to Take This Job and Shove It. The boss, in turn, hands the employee a box and tells them they're fired. A box is also the indispensable accessory of every Fired Teacher. It can be used to show that someone is a Reluctant Retiree: if they knew their retirement was imminent and didn't start packing up their personal items in advance, they're likely to work up until the last minute before grabbing a spare cardboard box to cram all their stuff into. Expect this to happen early on in the plot.

Not to be confused with the Cardboard Box Home (which is where an impoverished person lives in a box), or Bankruptcy Barrel (which is where an impoverished person wears a barrel). Similar to the Bindle Stick, which holds a character's few possessions after a loss of wealth or status, and the Shopping Cart of Homelessness, where a homeless person might have whatever valuables or necessary good stashed.

About half the examples listed below are Bankers Boxes; sturdy, stack-able, standardized storage boxes found in white-collar workplaces the world over. (Available in white, tan, and faux wood-grain, they even come with convenient handles!) Truth in Television comes into play in that they're so cheap and abundant no employer is going to complain if a recently terminated employee takes one home with them.


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  • Has been used multiple times in advertisements by employment website
    • Set up as if it's Played Straight in an ad titled "The Box." The commercial opens on a stern-faced man with graying hair & beard dressed in a shirt and tie holding a box of his possessions. As he exits an elevator and walks down an impersonal utility hallway, a voiceover describes how much time and effort had led up to "this". Viewers are given the impression that he has been fired and is carrying his belongings out in a Cardboard Box of Unemployment — but as a door opens and he walks into a bright, welcoming office space it is revealed that he is actually starting a new job. The box he's carrying is a Cardboard Box of Reemployment, making this an Inverted example of the trope.
    • Another ad describing how a company could use Indeed's services to fill a gap in their team uses the trope in a Downplayed manner. A voiceover describes how "Your shipping manager left to find themself, leaving you lost. You need to hire." The camera pans to follow an employee carrying a Banker's Box (holding a potted fern, laptop bag, and binders) as they bid their boss goodbye and walk off towards a VW Camper Van — the implication being that the employee had planned to quit at a certain time to pursue personal goals, giving their boss prior warning
  • Another inverted example can be seen in a Purdue University Global commercial from 2019 titled "Affordable Online Learning". The commercial shows clips of several adult students working towards degrees while raising children, working full time, or serving in the military. In one shot, a woman in a room full of cubicles packs away a placard that reads "Lauren Landry, Assistant" in a cardboard box with a plant and several folders already inside. She picks up the box and walks to a private office where a plaque that reads "Lauren Landry, Manager" is being installed, smiling with confidence — the implication being that her online degree from Purdue helped her land a promotion without having to give up her current job to pursue higher education. The same footage was used in the university's "Earn College Credit for Your Work Experience" advertisement.
  • Played Straight in a 2017 University of Phoenix commercial titled "We Can Do IT." The animated ad depicts a single mother employed in a blue-collar factory job operating a drill press, with a small personalized workbench seen behind her. A quick time-lapse shows her coworkers on the factory floor replaced by automation, their drill presses and workbenches disappearing, and eventually the single mother is also let go. The scene shifts to the mother at her kitchen table, contemplating a bankers box full of the items from her workbench. Those items include a Rosie the Riveter poster, whose iconic "We Can Do It!" slogan prompts the mother to get a degree in information technology (or IT) from the University of Phoenix while still working and supporting her children. By the end of the ad, the items that appeared in her bankers box reappear on her new desk at her new white-collar job in IT.

    Comic Books 

    Comic Strips 
  • In Alex, black bin liners [i.e. garbage bags] are the container of shame. Sacked bankers are required to pack their personal belongings in a bin liner and are then escorted from the building by security so they can't steal anything. The staff know that a round of firings is coming up when the boss's PA is sent out to purchase bin liners.
  • The eponymous Dilbert of Dilbert has been fired before. A strip from 2009 plays the trope straight, showing Dilbert with a "box full of junk" as he tries to give his Pointy-Haired Boss a Take This Job and Shove It after he's been fired. (It doesn't go so well for Dilbert, to the extent that the strip manages to throw in a Vomit Discretion Shot between the second and third panels.)

    Film — Animated 
  • A Downplayed example appears in Incredibles 2 — during a phone call between Bob and his contact in the Superhero Relocation Program, Rick Dicker, the latter is seen in his office packing the contents of his desk into a cardboard box. It's made clear that the shutdown of the Superhero Relocation Program is forcing Rick into an early retirement, but he can be seen wearing a brightly patterned Aloha shirt as he packs (and there's a tropical drink on the desk in front of him). Viewers are left with the impression that Rick might not mind the relaxation and travel opportunities afforded to him by his forced retirement.
  • Used twice in Zootopia
    • As anti-predator sentiment hits a boiling point, Officer Benjamin Clawhauser (a cheetah) is transferred away front desk duty at the police station. This falls under the "decrease in status" use of the trope — Clawhauser is an extroverted, personable officer who clearly loves his job greeting people. In an administrative sense the move from front desk to records might be a lateral one, but to Clawhauser it's as if he's been Reassigned to Antarctica. His despair is evident as Judy watches him packing his "I Heart Gazelle" coffee mug and snow globe into a box for the move.
      Officer Clawhauser: They thought it would be better if a predator - such as myself - wasn't the first face that you see when you walk into the ZPD. They're gonna move me to records. It's downstairs. It's by the boiler.
    • Later Inverted: when Bellwether's plot has been revealed and the anti-predator furor has calmed down, Officer Clawhauser is allowed to return to his post at the front desk. His look of delight is obvious as he unpacks his nameplate, coffee mug, and snow globe from the same box he'd used to move them to the boiler room.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • After Lester, the protagonist of American Beauty, succeeds in blackmailing his boss and quitting his boring desk job, he leaves the office carrying a box with his belongings hoisted on his shoulder and pumping his fist triumphantly.
  • Seen at the end of Birds of Prey (2020), when Renee Montoya quits the police force after realizing she's never going to be given any credit for her achievements, becoming a vigilante instead.
  • Twice in Bruce Almighty:
    • Reporter Bruce goes ballistic during a live TV broadcast when he finds out his co-worker, Evan, was promoted to the position Bruce wanted. The next scene shows Bruce fired from his job; literally tossed out of the WKBW-TV 7 building, followed by security throwing a bankers box full of his personal items at his junk.
    • Later on Bruce uses his newfound divine powers to win back his old job, then to cause Evan to have a similar on-air breakdown. Bruce is promoted to Evan's position, and though he is initially happy at the downfall of his rival he has a change of heart after he sees Evan clearing out his office with a similar bankers box. (Bruce then offers Evan his job back.)
  • After dying and getting resurrected with feline powers in Catwoman (2004), an overconfident Patience lays out a brutal "The Reason You Suck" Speech to her Bad Boss George Hedare in front of the entire office. She's fired on the spot and told to clean out her cubicle. Cue Patience walking down the street with obligatory cardboard box of office paraphernalia.
  • In Donnie Darko, Donnie's teacher Ms. Pomeroy is fired from her job for discussing offensive literature. There is a shot of her leaving the classroom with a box full of books, a desk lamp and a U.S. flag.
  • Averted in Fight Club. When the Narrator blackmails his boss at the automotive recall company into letting him "work from home," he leaves the office with a shopping cart full of fax machines, phones, and computer paraphernalia. Not a cardboard box in sight, despite the office set having been painstakingly designed, built, and filmed to evoke a quintessential soul-sucking, 9-to-5, white-collar corporate headquarters.
  • When Walter "Keys" McKey is fired from his job at Soonami Games during the climax of Free Guy, he is escorted out of the building with a Bankers Box containing his laptop and other personal effects. (This would be the laptop he was using minutes previously to blatantly "counter-hack" Antwan's attempts at disrupting Guy and Millie's progress through the "Free City" game as they race towards The Island where the hidden original build of the "Life Itself" game is stored.) As Keys is being led away by security, he surreptitiously opens his laptop in the box and begins to livestream the events to Guy's many fans.
  • Featured on the poster for the film Get a Job, and present when a significant portion of LA Weekly's work force gets "downsized" and escorted out of the office.
  • Happens in Ghostbusters (2016), when Erin is fired from her job (after Abby and Jillian post the video of her covered in ectoplasm and shouting that she believes in ghosts). Abby and Jillian are terminated shortly after, but they forgo the bankers boxes and start wheeling equipment out with carts.
  • Good Will Hunting: Viewers see Sean packing a box and leaving his office at the end, having decided to see the world after Will encouraged him to move past his wife's death.
  • Happens twice in Hidden Figures:
    • As Vivian escorts Katherine to the Space Task Group's Flight Research Division to be their new [human] computer, Katherine follows with her necessary computing equipment and desk items in a cardboard box. She carries the box like a shield as she is introduced to her new, all-white coworkers.
    • After Katherine is told she's no longer needed in the Space Task Group now that NASA's IBM computer is performing calculations for them, she packs all her desk items and a few gifts from coworkers into a similar box and leaves.
  • In Your Afterglow: When the university fires Leigh due to her unconventional beliefs, she stacks books and papers from her office into a large cardboard box.
  • It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie implies this trope: the Big Bad is trying to take over the Muppets' theater, and snidely tells them that if they need help moving out, there are discarded boxes behind a nearby business that they can use.
  • L.A. Confidential: Inverted when Exley is seen carrying his box to his new desk in Homicide, after gaining a promotion to Lieutenant through careful political manipulation of the "Bloody Christmas" scandal.
  • Happens in Late Night (2019) when Molly is fired from the writing staff of "Tonight with Katherine Newburry" talk show for a second time. She packs her motivational posters (which even her dour office buddy Burditt had started to warm up to), desk knickknacks, and a coffee cup she steals from the writers' room into a bankers box as she leaves.
  • With her boss Fletcher Reede rendered unable to lie or dance around the truth in Liar Liar, beleaguered secretary Greta confronts him about the raise he promised her that never materialized. She pointedly asks if he fabricated an excuse about their law office prohibiting him from taking a pay cut to finance her raise because "it would make the other secretaries jealous", and if he just didn't want to pay for her raise himself. The scene immediately cuts to Greta packing all of her personal items into a cardboard box and taking a potted plant with her, having resigned in disgust at his answer (which was yes to both questions).
  • Looney Tunes: Back in Action has Daffy Duck go into histrionics while arguing to the Warner Brothers that he's much more bankable than Bugs Bunny. Unmoved, the brothers have a yes-man bring in a box of personal effects. Daffy recognizes the contents.
    Daffy Duck: Say, that looks like the stuff from my office.
    Brother #1: You don't have an office.
    Brother #2: Not any more.
    Daffy Duck: [breaking fourth wall] Symbolically, this is bad.
  • Bookends the beginning and end of Margin Call, when layoffs at the investment bank's trading floor are prefaced by HR passing through with stacks of boxes to distribute to employees whose jobs are being cut.
  • Subverted in Marie (1985). When the title character is fired from her government job, she removes several boxes of files which could be useful for the ongoing FBI investigation. She then has an Oh, Crap! moment when she runs into a colleague, but he apparently thinks she's just clearing out her desk and helps her carry the boxes to her car.
  • Implied in The Mighty Ducks. When Gordon is fired from his law job for insisting that the youth hockey league's district boundaries apply to all, his boss, Ducksworth, tells him to collect his personal belongings in the office.
  • Implied in Spider-Man: Homecoming, when Liz tells Peter that she and her mother are moving to Oregon, her mother Doris Toomes can be seen in the background carrying a bankers box with several books and a trophy in it. It's unclear if Mrs. Toomes worked at Midtown School of Science and Technology and has had to quit her job, or if she is helping Liz clean out her locker, but the impact of the scene is the same - the Toomes family members are persona non grata in New York City, and they're leaving to avoid the negative attention they'd receive during Adrian Toomes' trial.
  • Though uncommon in German media, bankers boxes show up here and there thanks to Eagleland Osmosis. One example can be seen in the Stromberg movie. Near the end of the film, the protagonist gets fired from his job at an insurance company and can be seen leaving the office with a bankers box holding a globe, a trophy and an honorary certificate.
  • April in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014) after being fired from the news station.
  • Tetris (2023): Alexey is shown carrying one after he loses his job for pulling a Fire Alarm Distraction in order to send Henk Rogers the crucial fax that ends up saving his business.
  • Venom (2018): When Anne's law firm discovers that she was the source of the leak (after Eddie learns about the symbiote/ human trials in an e-mail from the Life Foundation on Anne's computer), she is seen leaving her (former) workplace with a cardboard box.
  • When Tess in Working Girl gets fired from her secretary job, she carries one of these boxes with her.

  • A downplayed, Inverted example shows up in Chapter 2 of The Affinity Bridge. As Veronica Hobbes starts her first day at work with Sir Maurice Newbury in his crowded, untidy office, she's mentioned to have brought a box of personal items with her:
    Veronica was hard at work, clearing the spare desk across the other side of the room, unpacking her small box of belongings and filing the many sheaves of abandoned notes she continued to find in drawers and random piles all around the office.
  • The first chapter of John Grisham's legal thriller Gray Mountain features protagonist Samantha Kofer being furloughed from her job at a big name Wall Street law firm during the 2008 recession. Samantha and her other downsized co-workers are given cardboard boxes by the security staff assigned to escort them out of the building:
    A woman in a black suit and a black necktie stood at the quad where Samantha shared a "space" with three others, including Izabelle. Ben was just down the hall. The woman tried to smile as she said, "I'm Carmen. Can I help you?" She was holding an empty cardboard box, blank on all sides so no one would know it was the official Scully & Pershing repository for the office junk of those furloughed or fired or whatever.
  • Marcelo in the Real World: When Robert Steely, a lawyer at the firm, is fired for being too soft, Marcelo is told to bring him two cardboard boxes for his belongings.
  • The Speed of Dark:
    • After Gene Crenshaw is found to have broken the law, Lou sees him carrying a cardboard box with a pair of expensive running shoes on top.
    • Later, Linda and Chuy bring boxes for all their coworkers who won't be coming back after the autism treatment.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Invoked and then downplayed in Agent Carter. Peggy is told to pack her things after the SSR catches wind of her vigilante investigation and fires her. However, she was given so few responsibilities from her sexist coworkers that there isn't much to pack.
  • A plastic crate takes the place of a cardboard box in the Altered Carbon episode Clash By Night, when Ortega's Cowboy Cop antics finally catch up with her and she's ordered to Turn in Your Badge.
  • Black Mirror, "Joan is Awful": After Joan fires Sharon, she is seen being escorted out the building by security carrying a cardboad box of her things. Humiliatingly, Joan drops her cigarette onto her as she walks below. The next day, she is escorted out with a similar box.
  • Blue Bloods: Sid Gormley carries a Bankers Box with his possessions to 1PP when he thinks he's being summoned to be terminated by Frank, only to be surprised when he's rewarded with a promotion to Special Assistant to the Commissioner.
  • Implied in a conversation between Bob and Goodwin in Bob Hearts Abishola Season 4, Episode 2 "Bibles to Brothels." Christina has to fire Goodwin from the position he's just taken at "Toesey Woesies," though she becomes uneasy after seeing the many, many family photos he's already decorated his office with. Soon after, Bob offers Goodwin a job as the President of "MaxDot Therapeutic Hosiery" — a job that comes with Bob's old office. Goodwin accepts by telling Bob he's going to grab a box of family photos from his car, presumably the ones he'd just removed from his office at "Toesey Woesies."
    Goodwin: And this would definitely be my office? No take-backsies?
    Bob: This would be your office.
    Goodwin: Excuse me.
    Bob: Where you going?
    Goodwin: I have a box of pictures in my car. I will be right back.
  • Breaking Bad:
    • In "Green Light", Walt gets fired from his teaching job (he was trying to seduce his boss to get back at his cheating wife) and we see him carry a box with his work items into the parking lot. He places it on top of Jesse's car where it is forgotten. When Jesse speeds off the box crashes to the ground, much to Walt's chagrin.
    • Lampshaded in "Madrigal", when Hank's boss is being pushed out of the DEA due to his affiliation with Gus.
      Hank: So when are you gonna announce it?
      Merkert: I don't know. As I'm walking out the door with my big cardboard box.
      Hank: You can't do that. You know damn well we're gonna throw you a big party.
      Gomez: Damn straight. We're talking a blowout.
  • The Brittas Empire: After Brittas is fired in "The Chop", he can be briefly seen packing a box full of his personal belongings, including his manager nameplate.
  • In the Broad City episode "Game Over," Ilana uses one after Todd finally fires her.
  • Daredevil:
    • In "Nelson vs. Murdock", in a flashback Foggy Nelson shows his willingness to pass up an offer from the prestigious law firm they're working at to go into business with Matt Murdock instead by emptying an archive box of legal papers and declaring he's going to stuff it full of bagels from the firm's canteen because they won't be able to afford their own from now on. In the present day having discovered his friend is the masked vigilante, Foggy throws their "Nelson & Murdock, Attorney At Law" sign in the trash basket, packs his stuff into another archive box and leaves.
    • In Season 1, Episode 12, "The Ones We Leave Behind" Ben Urich is shown bringing home a Bankers Box with all his office memorabilia including his framed front page articles after getting fired from the Bulletin. Just in time for Wilson Fisk to choke him to death in his apartment. In between seasons 1 and 2, we see Ellison re-acquire all of Ben's memorabilia to restore the office to the way it used to be, as a shrine to Ben. And that's how the office continues to look even after Karen moves in.
  • Doctor Who: In "Turn Left", Donna is downsized from her clerical job. She leaves with a cardboard box containing her possessions... along with some other items that aren't technically hers but she decides to take as compensation.
    Donna: Hole punch. Having that. Stapler, mine. Toy cactus. You can have that, Beatrice. Catch.
  • Fargo:
  • Fi: Özge is handed one after losing her job in the second episode. It falls apart in the lobby, adding to her humiliation.
  • Occurs in The Flash, when Barry makes a deal with Julian: Julian won't turn Caitlin over to the police for her Killer Frost spell, and in return he demands Barry resign from the CCPD. In the next scene Barry packs his desk into a box.
  • In Friends Season 10, Episode 14, The One With Princess Consuela, Rachel is fired from her job at Ralph Lauren when her current boss Mr. Zelner sits down to eat at the same restaurant where she's being interviewed for a new job at Gucci. She leaves the Ralph Lauren offices carrying a box of her office stuff, while Ross struggles to carry her office chair out of the building.
  • Subverted in The Good Wife "After the Fall": Will thinks Caitlin has been fired when he sees her with a cardboard box. Diane explains that Caitlin has actually been promoted and is moving to a different office.
  • Inverted and then Played Straight in Good Omens episode 2, The Book. When Newton Pulsifer gets a new job as a wages clerk at United Worldwide Holdings (Holdings), he shows up on his first day with a worn-out Bankers Box full of desk supplies and personal items — a plant, some highlighters, a pencil cup, and the sandwiches his mother made him for lunch. As soon as Newton takes a seat at his new desk, his Walking Techbane powers short out his computer station (and the rest of the office's electricity). He's quickly let go, leaving with the same battered Bankers Box full of office supplies. The beat-up old box breaks as he stands dejectedly in the business' parking lot, dumping all his possessions on the ground.
  • Grimm
    • Invoked in "Fugitive," the sixth season opener. Detective Hank and Sergeant Wu return to the precinct to keep tabs on the search for Nick, only for Officer Franco to inform them that Captain Renard is on the warpath. Hank notes that it "looks like he's cleaning out his office." The next shot of the interior of Renard's office reveals that he's got a bankers box on the console next to his desk, which has been emptied of his [sparse] personal effects.
    • Played straight two episodes later in "Oh Captain, My Captain," when Captain Renard has demanded Detective Hank and Sergeant Wu's resignations for their role in arresting him for the murder of Rachel Wood. Both Hank and Wu are shown with bankers boxes on their desks, and later announce to Nick that they are "officially unemployed." It doesn't stick, seeing as Nick gets them their jobs back by the end of the episode.
  • Subverted in the last episode of Jack Ryan, when James Greer is promoted to deputy station chief in Moscow. Jack catches him at his desk as he packs his personal items into a bankers box in preparation for the big move.
  • Leverage: Exploited in an episode where the team is trying to keep a company from covering some scandal on a plane, Hardison is sent to infiltrate the offices and steal the information directly. He does this by calling a bunch of meetings, then faking sickness to dump presentations on hapless stooges while he hacks the computers. At the end he puts a bunch of stuff (including the drive with the information he needs) in a cardboard box then makes a show of leaving, yelling about all he's put into this company and for them to just cut him off like this. And on his birthday too! As he does, a pair of office staff watch him go.
    Female Coworker: He was always so sensitive.
    Male Coworker: I never liked him.
  • Mad Men is bursting with examples, as it's set in the heart of white-collar corporate Manhattan during the 1960's:
    • Inverted in the first episode, "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes" as Peggy Olson arrives at her new job at Sterling Cooper carrying a cardboard box with her work supplies in it.
    • Subverted when she's promoted to junior copywriter in ''The Wheel". As Joan shows her to her new shared office, Peggy caries a bankers box full of items from her desk in the secretary pool.
    • Played straight when Peggy fires Joey Baird in "The Summer Man" after he tapes a demeaning cartoon to Joan's window. Joey attempts a Take This Job and Shove It when he grabs a bankers box Peggy's currently using to store files, dumps it out, and takes it with him, but it mostly serves to characterize him as a petulant Manchild.
    • Played with twice in the episode "Lost Horizon", when Peggy Olson moves into a new office at McCann carrying a bankers box full of personal trinkets. The first attempt at the move is a false start, but by the end of the episode the move-in is played much more triumphantly. (The box used in filming the scene was later auctioned off as memorabilia.)
  • Subverted in Season 2, Episode 1 of Mindhunter: when the FBI's new Assistant Director Ted Gunn tells the Behavioral Science Unit that he's increasing the BSU's resources and building them custom facilities to expand their team, Bill immediately fills a box with his office supplies and moves "just down the hall" into the uncompleted space.
  • Played Straight in Modern Love Season 1, Episode 3 "Take Me as I Am, Whoever I Am" — the uncontrolled highs and lows of Lexi Donohue's bipolar disorder contribute to her losing her job as a lawyer, despite her sympathetic boss. As she walks out of the office, she carries a Bankers Box with her degree, a small globe, and some other personal items in it.
  • The Office (US):
    • Inverted during the Cold Open of Season 7, Episode 25, "The Search Committee" — when determining who to tap for acting manager, Jo Bennett asks Jim, Toby, and Gabe who has the most experience in the office. Cut to Creed in the manager's office, unpacking his personal items from a Banker's Box and making himself comfortable in the big leather swivel chair.
    • Played Straight in Season 9, Episode 21, "Livin' the Dream" — Andy Bernard takes drastic steps to get himself fired, hoping that without a "fallback" job at Dunder Mifflin he'll be able to focus on pursuing his acting career. He succeeds in getting David Wallace to fire him, and can be seen packing his desk tchotchkes into Bankers Boxes before bidding his coworkers goodbye.
  • Happens in Prison Break: After Warden Pope discovers burns on Micheal, he pins them on Roy Geary, a corrupt guard who'd been shaking down inmates and stealing their possessions for months. The warden searches Geary's locker, finding several stolen items. The next scene is Geary being marched out of the prison, carrying his belongings in a box.
  • Saturday Night Live has utilized the trope more than once:
    • A Saturday Night Live skit that first aired during the January 27, 2018 show featured Will Ferrell as an office worker advertising a deodorant for men "who are feeling the heat because their time's up" (i.e. men who have been outed as harassers and abusers by the "Me Too" movement). As the fake commercial comes to a close, Ferrell's character marches into the office elevator with a bankers box (laden with a plant, a cup of pencils, and various other office paraphernalia) in his arms and announces that he's been fired.
      Office Woman: You're disgusting.
      Office Man: But my pits aren't!
      Office Man: [to another elevator passenger] I got fired.
    • A digital short/ musical skit called Corporate Nightmare Song, which first aired in November of 2019, features the trope in a Downplayed, blink-and-you'll-miss-it manner. The singers are Dillon, Tina, Nate, and Casper, a group of ultra punk-y 20-somethings who have been forced to take up white collar work as "corporate drones" to make ends meet. While they initially rebel against what they view as stifling corporate culture, they come to realize that the job isn't as bad as they initially thought — their pay is okay, their benefits are good, and their boss Ted genuinely wants them to succeed. When Ted offers them the opportunity to pitch a project, they're suddenly excited about their futures with the company. They bring up the fact that "Dana," an elderly co-worker in a management position, is retiring and will need to be replaced, possibly by one of their numbers. When Dana is mentioned the camera cuts away to a shot of Dillon, Nate, and Casper gesturing excitedly towards Dana, who smiles and hold a bankers box to show that she's ready to retire.
  • When Nancy and Jonathan are fired from their internships at The Hawkins Post in season 3, episode 4 of Stranger Things, "The Sauna Test", there's a brief shot of Nancy returning home with a small cardboard box in her arms.
  • Kara loses her job in Season 2, Episode 15 of Supergirl (2015), Exodus, for independently publishing a story after Snapper rejected it. She finds her belongings packed up for her in advance of the firing, just to drive the point home.
  • Ted Lasso:
    • Season 2, Episode 1 "Goodbye Earl" sees Leslie Higgins giving up his office so that the newly hired sports psychologist Dr. Sharon Fieldstone can have a space to work with the players. He packs his laptop, pencil cup, and potted plant into a Bankers Box and sets out to find another place to sit down and get work done.
    • Leslie's search for a temporary workspace continues in Episode 2, "Lavender." He wanders around the football club carrying the same Bankers Box from the previous episode, unable to find a desk to call his own.
  • WandaVision: In the first episode, as Vision adjusts to his new job at Computational Services, Inc., he realizes that his career hinges on him and Wanda hosting a successful dinner for his boss Mr. Hart. The point is driven home when Vision sees (former) coworker Phil Jones leaving the office with a Bankers Box after having failed to live up to Mr. Hart's standards.
    Mr. Hart: Employee dinners are a rite of passage for the new hires. Jones over there failed miserably. Isn't that right, Jones?
    Phil Jones: The wife thought five courses would be sufficient.

  • Played with in the music video for "Levels" by Avicii. The opening scene shows a tired, frumpy looking man with a Bankers Box in his arms taking the elevator to a stuffy office space. As he disembarks from the elevator, another worker dumps a mess of files into his already overfull box. The implication here is that he's using the box to take his work home with him — the photos on his desk and familiarity with his coworkers indicate that he's worked at the company for some time. Although it doesn't signal that he's been fired when it appears, the Bankers Box in the opening does foreshadow the man's dismissal from the company later in the video (due to an outbreak of uncontrollable dancing).

  • Seeing her math teacher Ms. Norbury escorted out of school with a Bankers Box is what finally gets Cady to speak up at the end of the Musical Theater adaptation of Mean Girls. Cady had written "Ms. Norbury is a sad old drug pusher" in the Burn Book when she was upset with Ms. Norbury for "pushing" her to do better in Calculus. Once the pages of the Burn Book are made public by Regina, parents of students at the school demand that Ms. Norbury be fired in case there's any truth to the allegations. Cady takes credit for fabricating the whole Burn Book (not just the page where she had written a lie about Ms. Norbury) and Ms. Norbury gets her job back.

    Video Games 
  • Portal 2: Mentioned when Cave Johnson fires an Aperture employee while making a prerecorded message:
    Cave Johnson: Yes, you. Box. Your stuff. Out the front door. Parking lot. Car. Goodbye.

    Web Comics 
  • 50 Tea Recipes from the Duchess: Before protagonist Park Hajeong was isekai'd into the body of Duchess Chloé Battenberg, she was a modern, overworked accountant in Korea. When a risky project Hajeong's boss foisted off on her fails spectacularly, said boss orders her to resign so that he can save face. The next panel shows Hajeong walking away from her office building as the sun sets, carrying a Bankers Box with some books and papers inside.
  • Casey at the Bat: When Joey loses his job at the cable company, he's seen with a cardboard box.
  • Heroine Chic:
    • Discussed and averted — when Zoe's fashion designer boss Dyna Cuff fires her in Chapter 25, Zoe's replacement Miguel has already packed Zoe's personal effects into a Bankers Box. Zoe leaves Dyna's office without taking the box.
      Miguel: Ginger snaps! Your stuff's in a box by the elevator.
    • Inverted — after Zoe has started her own superhero couture company called "Heroine Chic" and leased a brick-and-mortar studio (and then disappeared into outer space for a few weeks, due to time dilation and superhero shenanigans), Dyna Cuff buys the building lease out from under Zoe and moves her own design business into the Heroine Chic offices. The first glimpse Zoe gets of Dyna is her former boss moving a box of business paraphernalia (one of dozens) into the atelier's workroom.

    Web Original 
  • Played for Laughs in season 10 of Acquisitions Incorporated, where the Bad Boss Omin learns that one of his underlings unwittingly assisted in Viari pulling a fast one on him. Omin has this to say to his (now ex-)employee:
    Omin: Put everything you like and care about in a box, and when I come back, we will talk about what happens to the box.
  • Jake and Amir: In "Quitting," after Jake has manipulated Amir into quitting in a huff, he finds him gathering his stuff in a box and makes the natural assumption, only to find out that their boss doubled his salary to keep him on.
    Jake: Why are you putting your stuff in a box?
  • A Halloween-themed News In Photos item from The Onion: "Man Wouldn't Have Worn Costume To Work If He'd Known He Was Getting Laid Off." The photo shows a guy holding one of these while elaborately dressed as Darth Maul.
  • The trope appears in a schmoyoho music video for DJ Play My Song (NO, LEAVE ME ALONE), wherein a DJ is hounded by an overbearing diva who wants to mess with his sets. She stalks him out of the club, to his home, and to his day job, where her singing and twerking in his office causes his boss to fire him. The DJ is escorted out with a cardboard box full of his desk items, including a trophy, a pencil cup, and a small American flag (possibly a tribute to Donnie Darko).
    DJ: I'm not a DJ when I'm here in the office
    you're gonna get me fired it you don't stop this!
  • In the online game Receptionist's Revenge, if you get caught by the boss while you're poisoning his coffee, you get fired and the ending screen is of you crying and holding a box full of your stuff.

    Western Animation 
  • In Season 3, Episode 2 of The Boondocks, Bitches to Rags, the Lethal Interjection Crew need to look for new jobs after Thugnificent's hip hop career collapses. Flonominal winds up in a white-collar office job. He tries to help Thugnificent get a similar job, but ends up fired himself (and holding a Cardboard Box of Unemployment) when Thugnificient bombs the interview with talk of drug dealing and glorifying violence in his music career.
  • This happens to all eight main cast members at the end of the series finale of Drawn Together.
  • A variation occurs in the Kim Possible season four episode "Graduation", when everything that was in Kim's locker (which effectively served as her Mission Control center while at school) since the start of the series is unceremoniously stuffed in a box by Mr. Barkin. She's not getting fired, per se, but as a graduating senior she is getting the boot.
  • Only utilized in the Inverted manner in the Pixar Shorts animation Purl. When the eponymous sentient ball of yarn "Purl" shows up for her first day of work at B.R.O. Capital, she's carrying a Bankers Box filled with office supplies she has decorated with custom knitting. Later another ball of yarn, "Lacey", and an unnamed human both begin their first day at B.R.O. Capital with Bankers Boxes full of personal effects.
  • The Simpsons: In the final act of "Kill Gil, Volumes 1 & 2", when Gil Gunderson is fired from the real estate company, a lady brings him a box and drops it on the floor, telling him it's for his stuff. Gil laments that it's too small for him to live in.
  • In Wander over Yonder Season 2, Episode 4 "The Axe, Lord Hater fires Commander Peepers. Peepers carries a cardboard box off Hater's ship as he leaves to find another job.


Video Example(s):


Brittas' Box of Firing

After being fired, Brittas can be seen packing a box full of his belongings.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (2 votes)

Example of:

Main / CardboardBoxOfUnemployment

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