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Criminal Procedural

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The equal and opposite of the Cop Show and Police Procedural, the Criminal Procedural is a type of Crime and Punishment Series that focuses on people who are on the wrong side of the law, and especially their present-day transgressions of it.

Examples often focus on certain types of criminals: sophisticated Con Men and Gentlemen Thieves are the most popular, since it's easy to make them sympathetic to the audience by making their victims rich and greedy types. They are also usually charismatic and attractive.

The story typically goes from the criminal mastermind's conception of the heist through to the selection of qualified, reliable team members, to planning the step-by-step execution of the heist, to setting it in motion. These caper shows and films are usually light and stylish in tone, and the gentlemen thieves emphasize guile and deception over violence. There will almost certainly be one episode where they help the police to take down a violent or child-targeting (and therefore a vile criminal (Even Evil Has Standards). There may be a recurring police detective who tries (and fails) to capture the protagonists, or who coerces them into helping him out with his investigations.

Outsiders and Hangers-on are the next rung down on the popularity ladder. Generally petty crooks, fencers, forgers, dealers of soft drugs and other people who are on the wrong side of the law but not sufficiently nasty to put off the viewing audience. Expect the really nasty criminals to pop up more regularly, usually as a plot device if the protagonists owe them money/drugs/something else. The outsiders are usually cowardly or otherwise non-violent. These guys typically star in dark comedies.

Hardcore/Organized Criminals are the least popular protagonists for Criminal Procedurals, largely because they have to be shown to be despicable people in order to come across as being remotely realistic though occasionally they will have their Pet the Dog moments, especially among the more sympathetic gangsters. It's also difficult to play down the crimes that they commit: murder, extortion, dealing in highly dangerous drugs, etc. As a result, such series tend to be very adult in tone and morally complex, and therefore not attractive to advertisers. Where there is humour, it tends to be pitch black. The "Rise and Fall" Gangster Arc is commonly found here.

Convicts and Prisoners do not fit comfortably into the popularity ladder. This is because, since they have been taken off the street and are (in theory) paying for their crimes, they don't necessarily have to be shown committing criminal acts. Or, when they do commit such acts, they are usually in flashbacks, as a part of the convict's origin story - or against fellow inmates, which attacks can be seen as justified to some viewers. As a result, series set in prison can have wildly different tones, from harrowing to comedic.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Black Lagoon encompasses just about all four types of "people outside the law" and even introduces characters who seem to fit in a criminal archetype all their own.
  • Cat's Eye is about a team of sisters trying to steal back their inheritance Gentleman Thief style.
  • Lupin III is an action/comedy franchise about a Gentleman Thief and his accomplices.

    Comic Books 
  • Hard Time is a short-lived but critically acclaimed DC Comics series that combines convicts in prison with more fantastic elements. (It does not take place in The DCU.)
  • The Punisher MAX arguably falls into the third type, as this version of Frank Castle goes to far greater extremes in his holy war against crime, to the point that he more or less comes across as a glorified serial killer who happens to go after other killers.
  • Secret Six straddles the line, focusing on a team of villains who are initially bootstrapped together by a mysterious backer, but band together while taking "gray jobs" to make money.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Assault on a Queen, a lot of thought has been put into the mechanics of using a small submarine to rob an ocean liner at sea, and the characters are showing discovering the issues involved and working out ways round them. Even then, they acknowledge that the plan is risky and relies heavily on the fact that ships officers are trained to be cautious and take no unnecessary risks
  • Bank Shot, where a gang of thieves plan to steal a bank. Not rob it, but steal it.
  • Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid: Robert Re... look, let's just say that Robert Redford really likes the Gentleman Thief type and capers.
  • Circus: An especially convoluted example of The Con.
  • Catch That Kid. A movie about a girl and her friends who team up to rob the bank her mother works for to pay for her father's surgery.
  • Contraband: A retired smuggler is forced out of retirement to pay of a drug lord on behalf of his brother-in-law.
  • Den of Thieves: An extremely organized gang of thieves plan to heist the Federal Reserve while a squad of corrupt deputies try to stop them.
  • El Robo del Siglo: Argentinian movie based on the real life robbery of the Banco Río de Acassuso in 2006.
  • Get Shorty: Organized crime in the movie biz.
  • The Godfather is the Trope Codifier for the Criminal Procedural genre as it is an intergenerational story about the Corleones, an Italian-American crime family.
  • Grand Slam: After retirement, Professor James Anders presents criminal Mark Milford an elaborate plan to rob a diamond company in Brazil with a crew of professionals.
  • The Great St. Louis Bank Robbery details the planning and preparation for the Bank Robbery, and how George's involvement with Ann threatens to send the whole thing off the rails.
  • Holy Rollers follows a young Orthodox Jewish American man who uses the cover of his religion to smuggle drugs.
  • The Hoodlum: A 1951 Film Noir with a strong focus on the planning of an Armed Blag.
  • The Hot Rock: Robert Redford as Gentleman Thief Dortmunder. See Literature below.
  • How to Rob a Bank: Caught in the middle of a bank robbery, a slacker and a bank employee become the ones who arbitrate the intense situation.
  • The Italian Job (1969)
  • The Italian Job (2003)
  • The John Wick franchise is a mixture of Criminal Procedural and Thriller focusing on a hitman who fights against his former employers. Criminal syndicates such as the Camorra and the Russian Bratva are part of a mysterious organization known as the High Table.
  • About half of King of Thieves details the gang's planning and execution of the heist. The second half deals with the fallout.
  • Le Samouraï is about a French mobster perfectionist hitman named Jef Costello who follows a strict Bushido-like Code of Honor and sets up an alibi to perform a hit so he can get away from the Paris police. Similar to John Wick and The Professional, Le Samourai mixes Criminal Procedural with Action Thriller.
  • Many of Martin Scorsese's crime dramas often focus on American organized crime especially the Italian Mafia withGoodFellas, Casino, Mean Streets and The Irishman as the most notable examples.
  • Ocean's Eleven and all its sequels, full of many charming Con Men and their Asshole Victims.
  • The instalments of the Outlaw: Gangster VIP series all concern a Yakuza enforcer as he tries to survive the business.
  • The Professional is about an Italian hitman and his young apprentice after her family is killed by corrupt DEA agents and cops. It's also a mixture of Criminal Procedural and Thriller.
  • Quentin Tarantino likes this genre as well. Reservoir Dogs follows a cadre of bank robbers (and one undercover cop) on a heist that goes pretty far awry while 'Pulp Fiction'' follows two contract killers, their imposing boss, a boxer who's killed a man in the ring by way of ripping the boss off, and two sweetheart stickup artists whose victims include the contract killers, although "victim" isn't really the right word.
  • Both Scarface (1932) and its 1983 remake focus on a protagonist who gets himself involved in the dangerous world of organized crime (Italian in the original and Cuban in the remake).
  • Sicario: Mostly based on the activities of Mexican organized criminal groups operating in America and Mexico and American/Mexican LEO responses.
  • Skin Traffik: A hitman attacks a ring of Human Traffickers.
  • The Sting: Robert Redford and Paul Newman team up to scam a racketeer. The inspiration for and referenced by many others on this list.
  • The Sting II
  • Sneakers: Robert Redford as the leader of a team of shady (but mostly licit) "security experts".
  • To Catch a Thief had Cary Grant as a suave jewel thief who supposedly had retired, until thefts in his style started happening again...
  • Violent Saturday: The bank robbers side of the story is entirely about the planning and execution of the bank robbery.

  • Dragaera: The Vlad Taltos series chronicles the adventures of a mobster/assassin in a fantasy world.
  • The Gentleman Bastard series is about con men in a fantasy world vaguely resembling a Grimdark Renaissance.
  • Get Shorty: Organized crime in the movie biz.
  • The Hot Rock and all of Donald E. Westlake's "Dortmunder" books involve cons, capers, criminals, and gentlemen thieves.
  • Also from Westlake (under his Richard Stark pseudonym), the Parker novels. In contrast to the Dortmunder books, the Parker books are dark, violent, and star an utterly amoral Villain Protagonist.
  • The Saint: Simon Templar is a con man whose victims are criminals and other shady characters. He’s always one step ahead of the police, particularly Inspector Claude Eustace Teal. However he does occasionally give them assistance in bringing criminals to justice.
  • John D. Macdonald's extensive chronicles of "salvage consultant" Travis McGee include several adventures in which McGee discovers a con game and plots to take it down with a con of his own. Pale Gray for Guilt and Darker than Amber both show, in particularly impressive and plausible detail, both how the innocent victims got taken and how Travis and his best friend and accomplice Meyer work the big con on the con men.
  • Void Moon: A Classy Cat-Burglar steals a Briefcase Full of Money which she thinks is a Vegas high roller's $500,000, only to find out that it's really $2.5M in Mafia money, and the Mafia wants it back very badly.
  • The Wyatt books are about the Australian version of Parker. The books devote a lot of time and description to the planning and execution of Wyatt's extremely professional heists (and even more time to the fallout from them).

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Americans examines what it takes to be an illegal spy (sleeper KBG agent) in Ronald Reagan's United States. It involves murder and deception on a regular basis.
  • The Black Donnellys is about in Irish-American gang
  • Big Mouth (2022) is about a Hellhole Prison full of violence, deaths, gangs, and the protagonist's goal of clearing his name from a crime he didn't commit.
  • Boardwalk Empire explores the organized crime ventures and opportunities opened in the wake of the Volstead Act in New Jersey, New York and Chicago.
  • Breaking Bad is about a mild-mannered high school chemistry teacher turned meth cook turned drug kingpin. Features an excellent Protagonist Journey to Villain.
  • Brotherhood is about the worlds of two brothers, one a politician and the other a mob boss, wind up intersecting.
  • The Company You Keep is about a family of con artists. One of them, Charlie Nicolletti, unknowingly falls for a CIA agent, Emma Hill.
  • Dark Justice follows Judge Nicholas Marshall, who after his wife and daughter are killed by a car bomb meant for him before the series starts, turns vigilante and forms a team of minor repentant criminals to run sting operations by night to catch the criminals that get Off on a Technicality in his courtroom by day.
  • Dexter follows Dexter Morgan, a forensic specialist by day and Serial Killer who goes after other killers by night. Interestingly, also a Police Procedural.
  • Extracurricular is a Korean drama about high school teens who get into an illegal prostitution business for various reasons and school police and a juvenile crime detective who suspects them.
  • Gangland Undercover, is an American factual drama miniseries about Charles Falco, a former ATF confidential informant who infiltrated an outlaw motorcycle gang.
  • Get Shorty: Organized crime gets into the movie biz.
  • Godfather of Harlem is a fact-based crime drama about the gangster Bumpy Johnson and his attempt to wrestle Harlem back from the Genovese crime family in the 1960s, as well as his association with Civil Rights leaders such as Malcom X.
  • Hap and Leonard is a drama series based on the characters Hap and Leonard, created by novelist Joe R. Lansdale and adapted from his series of novels of the same name.
  • Hustle is a British TV series about a group of con artists, heavily inspired by the remake of the movie Ocean's Eleven.
  • Ideal is a sitcom about a small-time drug dealer.
  • Intelligence (2006) is partly about an organized crime group engaged in the marijuana trade.
  • It Takes a Thief (1968) with Robert Wagner was probably the first television program to do this.
  • Leverage: A formulaic but truly fun show where a band of True Companions conmen/thieves/hitters/hackers/etc. take down the rich and greedy.
  • Lock, Stock..., a spin-off from the movie Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels, featured a gang of Outsiders who invariably ended up on the wrong side of much nastier London gangsters.
  • Motive which focuses at least as much on how and why the murder was committed as on how it is solved.
  • Murphy's Law is about undercover cop Tommy Murphy and the various criminal organizations (and in some cases, prisons) he enters.
  • Narcos chronicles the drug empire built by Pablo Escobar and the efforts to capture him.
  • Orange Is the New Black is Based on a True Story about a woman who was sent to prison for helping her girlfriend transport illegal drugs.
  • Oz is an infamously violent show set in a US prison with a multitude of rapes, castrations, murders and more rapes.
  • Ozark is about a white collar family man who must start up a new money laundering business in the Lake of the Ozarks to pay back a cartel he stole from.
  • Peaky Blinders based on Real Life street gangs in early 20th century Birmingham (the English one), and their attempts to gain prominence in the underworld against more powerful and influential gangsters. Also features some very bent coppers as well as appearances from the IRA, communists, anarchists and a pre-Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
  • Player is about a team of con-artists who target truly reprehensible criminals.
  • Porridge is a Brit Com set in a small prison.
  • Power: Ghost, a powerful drug dealer, attempts to go legit by opening a night club. However, many of his associates are against this, including his wife. And many of his enemies sees this an act of weakness and an opportunity to take over his empire.
  • Prodigal Son: The son of an incarcerated serial killer works as a profiler for the NYPD.
  • The Riches: A family of Irish Travellers impersonates a rich couple they accidentally ran off the road.
  • Red Widow: The daughter of a Mafiya boss who has to continue the criminal work of her husband after he is killed.
  • The Saint was a Gentleman Thief with Robin Hood tendencies, although the TV version downplayed this, portraying him more as an Amateur Sleuth whom a police detective had an inexplicable grudge against.
  • Serimoney. The series also focuses on other prisoners and uses flashbacks to detail their crimes.
  • Sneaky Pete is about a con man infiltrating his old cellmate's family by masquerading as him in an effort to rob them and pay back a mobster.
  • Sons of Anarchy is about an outlaw motorcycle club operating a variety of criminal activities ranging from petty to extreme. Shades of grey abound, but even some of the most murderous characters are oddly lovable.
  • The Sopranos is probably the best known example: a high-profile, critically acclaimed show following the exploits of Tony Soprano, mafia boss, and the various members of his two families.
  • Spotless
  • The Straits is about the deadly smuggling trade between northern Australia and Papua New Guinea. It focuses on infighting in the Montebello crime family, but also how a drug trade between a developed nation (Australia) and a developing nation (PNG) impacts the people on all sides who get caught up in it.
  • Top Boy is about people involved in drug dealing on a fictional housing estate in London.
  • Weeds is a comedy/drama about a bereaved housewife who starts selling marijuana to pay the bills.
  • The Wire tends to be evenly split between the lives of the criminals and the lives of the cops that are stalking them. Later seasons broadened this to politicians, journalists, and children who are getting into a life of crime.


    Video Games 
  • The first three Saints Row games more or less fell under this genre but since the fourth installment it's increasingly drifted away from it.
  • Mafia: The City of Lost Heaven and it's subsequent sequels given the subject matter.
  • Assassin's Creed Syndicate is about a British working-class crime syndicate in London led by the Frye twins of the Assassin Brotherhood in the late 1860s.
  • Beneath the karaoke songs, the crazy sidequests, the cool ink, and the ambiguous homosexuality, Like a Dragon is at its core a franchise about government conspiracies, societal instability, gang wars, and tests of faith between families of choice.

    Visual Novels 
  • Psycholonials profiles the struggles of an influencer to grow her social media brand while evading capture for various crimes, which include a massive bitcoin fraud and the murder of multiple police officers.

    Web Comics 
  • Last Res0rt centers around a Reality Show featuring several prisoners and convicts, all trying to earn their way out.

Alternative Title(s): Criminal Focused Fiction, Crook Stories, Crime Time Fiction, Crime Time TV, Crime Drama