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Stage Money

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To create the illusion of massive wads of cash, TV and film producers don't take real $100 bills and put them on the front and back of a stack of $1 bills (or even just pieces of paper cut to size) but instead use fake bills.

This is also seen any time where the character shows a bunch of bills. Rather than going to the bank and getting, say $5,000 in real money, letting the actor use it for the scene and then putting it back in the bank, they use Stage Money.

There's actually a cottage industry that makes fake money to be used in films, that looks just enough like the real thing that a casual viewing doesn't reveal that they're fake... for one example, take a look here. Users of Poser software can freely download U.S. money props, including various coins and four different currency styles. The 20th century bill props are not intended to imitate genuine currency.

It isn't legal for print media to use real money, to the point that boxers with accurately sized money on it were once seized. So the magazine ad would show part of a hundred dollar bill, but not all of it. Because the law says that only the government can print money. There is no law against showing it on TV or in the movies, since you can't cut out the bills and use them. There is no law now, that is. Up through the '60s (and even then, it was increasingly spottily enforced) the US had laws against photographing US currency, and it was interpreted in such a way as to forbid filming scenes with money. As a workaround, studios used old Mexican money (particularly an issue from around the time of the Mexican Revolution from the Bank of Sonora) that had been gotten for cheap. As the laws were gradually relaxed, closeups would use real currency, sometimes with the serial numbers obscured, but the Mexican money would still be seen in large bundles.

In Britain, if a TV game show has a prize draw with cash prizes and illustrates them, the £10, £20 or £50 notes will be shown in full but with something like "SPECIMEN" superimposed. In some other parts of the world, bank notes illustrated in print media (such as ads) often also have that SPECIMEN marking.


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    Films — Live-Action 

  • Babylon (2022): Invoked. The money Manny procures to get Nellie out of her gambling debts turns out to be prop money from one of the studio's previous films, a caper. The mob boss is furious when he realizes it and Manny only narrowly escapes with his life.
  • The setting of the 2005 adaptation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was designed to look like America to Britons and like Britain to Americans, so it made use of "guinea" notes that didn't look quite like either a $10 bill or a £10 note.
  • One short from The Three Stooges has them needing to get the ransom for a starlet. They resort to some bills found in a room marked 'Property'. It didn't say whose property, of course. Guess what the roll was identified by the crooks as...
  • Averted in the production of the 1978 film "The Brink's Job." A scene showing the main stars wallowing in a pile of money used ACTUAL currency borrowed from a local bank. The money was carefully counted and recounted by guards at the beginning and end of each filming day, and police were on hand to double check everything.


  • In Making Money, the Ankh-Morpork Times broke the story of Moist von Lipwig's new invention, paper currency, by averting this trope. They printed true-to-scale images of the front and back of a bank note, which (as Vetinari observes) surely sent most of the city scrambling for scissors and glue.
  • In The Phantom of the Opera, Erik (the titular Phantom) demands 20,000 francs per month from the managers of the opera house. They put the money in an envelope and give it to the head usher, who has a duplicate (provided by Erik) up her sleeve that contains stage money. She puts the duplicate in Erik's private box and slips the real one into the back pocket of a manager's dress-coat while he is wearing it. When the managers return to their office, Erik sneaks the money out of that pocket by way of a trapdoor built into the floor. Later, they check the envelope in the box, find it full of stage money, and start blaming each other and the usher for the switcheroo.

    Live Action TV 

  • Doctor Who used specially commissioned notes with portraits of David Tennant and Phil Collinson (the producer) for a scene in "The Runaway Bride" where a cash machine malfunctions and shoots banknotes across the street. While it's legal to show tender on British TV, with real money there'd have been too much risk of the notes being damaged (which is illegal) or pocketed by the extras on set. These props have become collector's items, going for a pretty penny on eBay.
  • Notably averted in children's arts and crafts show Art Attack, which used to have a segment where presenter Neil Buchanan would create a huge picture out a themed selection of everyday objects; a picture of a house might be assembled from the inventory of a builder's merchant, for example. On the occasion with which we are concerned, the producers somehow persuaded the Bank of England to loan them a truckload of real £10 notes to create a portrait of the Queen of England.
  • Family Game Night: All the colorful Monopoly money spat out of the Crazy Cash Machine in the Bonus Rounds. The bills would usually be given out to the studio audience at the end of each show.
  • Harry Enfield's early character Loadsamoney's "wad" used the first method described above, being two real £10 notes with lots of appropriately cut newspaper in between.
  • To someone who goes to Chinatown often enough, it's obvious when someone is using Chinese Hell dollars as stand-ins for American dollars, but otherwise the designs are quite similar. They were used like that in an episode of the Australian series Pizza.
  • On the NBC game show Scrabble, players could earn bonus cash by placing letters in colored squares on the gameboard and then immediately guessing the word in play. Host Chuck Woolery would then pay out the bonus in pink or blue "Chuck Bucks," fake bills printed with his picture.
  • On Three on a Match, contestants tried to win $1000 by trying to uncover the left half and right half of a $1000 bill on the game board.
  • On the 2000 revival of 21, losing contestants were given bundles of stage money as they left the studio. Host Maury Povich gave $1,000 to challengers, while champions' winnings were brought out on a silver tray and counted into a tote bag.
  • At the start of every episode of Cutthroat Kitchen, the four competing chefs were each given $25,000 in prop money (with host Alton Brown's picture) to use in bidding on sabotage items.
  • Leverage, being a show about criminals, naturally has quite a bit of this. One commentary has director Jonathan Frakes mention that the prop master asked him if he wanted to use to use "the good money" for the episode. Producer Dean Devlin indignantly pointed out that, as a con and heist show, they have a lot of briefcases full of money.
  • Mr. Bean: In the spin-off book Mr Bean's Diary, there is Mr Bean's hand-drawn picture of a £10 note, with "ten pouns" (sic) written on it. Below this, it says: photocopy this ten million times, then SPEND it."
  • The VH1 reality series Ton of Cash used this trope as a central feature. A group of 14 contestants received $1 million in prop $1 bills, bundled into 167 bricks that weighed 12 pounds each, and had to physically carry as much of it as they could through a series of challenges ranging from Malibu to Las Vegas.


  • The Stephen Sondheim musical Road Show involved piles of cash being literally thrown into the air until they carpeted the stage, so that audience members in the front few rows were able to catch loose bills. Needless to say, it wasn't real money.

    Western Animation 

  • In The Beatles episode "Money," John sews the boys' concert take in Ringo's pocket while they tour Coney Island. Ringo is followed by a mysterious stranger and loses the money during a chase. The stranger turned out to be George, yanking Ringo's chain. John reveals that he kept the real money and sewed stage money in Ringo's pocket. But when John takes out the stack from his own pocket, it turns out to be the stage money.
    Ringo: (tossing the stage money in the air) Very droll.
  • The Dick Tracy Show episode "Funny Money" has Hemlock Holmes busting a gut chasing Stooge Viller and Mumbles, who have stolen some theater receipts only to find out at the end it was stage money.

    Real Life 

  • During the Victorian era, forging a banknote carried a hefty sentence, but making something that looked a bit like a banknote didn't. So forgers would create notes that read "Bank of Engraving" instead of "Bank of England", and could try to pass these off as real currency. This loophole no longer works.
  • A related trick in real life: the "carnie roll", a roll of what appears to be high-denomination bills. The first and last ones are high-denomination bills, though all of the ones in-between are $1 bills. This trick is difficult to pull off successfully with currency from countries such as Australia, England and Canada (to name just three) because the different denominations are not only slightly different sizes, but also different colours.
  • RJR Props, one of the leading providers of money props produces two styles of fake money: "Standard grade" which looks real enough from a distance, and "high grade" which is more convincing up close, therefore it is only printed on one side to keep anyone from spending it.