In many crime dramas, there is often a briefcase, and in many briefcases there are often lots and lots of unmarked bills. These bills can be used for all sorts of things, and ninety-nine times out of a hundred (except when the story is involved) they successfully change hands in the criminal underworld, to be traded away at a later date for guns, Hookers and Blow, or favors from high offices. So what happens when a deal goes south and someone not in the loop stumbles on the cash?
The most natural thing in the world: thieves stealing from thieves.
The positives of doing this are obvious from the first. Anyone who wouldn't want a large amount of tax-free dollars cluttering up their crawlspace is either lying or too depressed to function. And let's face it: all the hard work and sacrifices you make for your friends and loved ones don't even come close to paying the bills most of the time. Even if you're put off by the moral greyness of it all, it's not so bad. A lifetime of walking the straight and narrow isn't outweighed by one little victimless crime of opportunity... right?
Of course, there are drawbacks. When you take money that doesn't belong to you, a few extra rules for living come into play:
- Be prepared for intense scrutiny, both from vengeful criminal syndicates and the people who catch them. You will need to get really good at everything on The Plan index really fast to come out on top.
- Strive to be frugal. Solid gold rims for your car and a second story on your house will definitely attract suspicion.
- Look to launder your funds at home or abroad as quickly as possible.
- Avoid suspiciously adroit pencil-pushers with a penchant for pulling on loose tax threads.
- Learn how to pilot as many vehicles as possible for a quick getaway, if necessary.
The home turf of any self-respecting MacGuffin Full Of Money, as well as diamonds, gold and other less-than-savory treasures. If it's not already part of a simple plan or a caper, it may be floating in the wreckage of one. Accidentally picking up the wrong bag can get you to this trope if you're lucky. Often the stomping ground of the Karmic Thief.
Compare with Stealing from the Till, a similar grift albeit in 1.5 million easy installments of $3.00 each, and No Honor Among Thieves, a major impetus for some of the examples below. And just so we're perfectly clear, Don't Try This at Home.
- In Baccano!, partners-in-crime Isaac and Miria grossly overestimate how bad their previous misdeeds were and decide to atone by stealing the Genoard crime family inheritance to prevent them from fighting over it. Later, the pair want to do something special for their final caper and decide to rob the mafia as they are depriving hardened criminals of their ill-gotten gains. Given their general stupidity, this was bound to happen.
- Lupin III: General rule of thumb with Lupin: either his target is just some valuable treasure piece or from folks already rich, more often than not the latter will be crooks and thieves themselves. Which suits him just fine as he likes the challenge and sees no worth or honor in stealing from ordinary people.
- Laurent in Great Pretender is a Gentleman Thief Con Artist who has a strict moral code of only conning crooks. When his apprentice Makoto tries to show off by tricking a random bystander into agreeing to pay for their meal at a restaurant, he pays for it himself saying his conscience wouldn't allow it.
- One Piece:
- Initially in the main series, it seems Nami steals from pirates out of greed and a distaste for themnote , until the Arlong arc reveals that she was actually saving money to buy back her home island from Arlongnote for a hundred million berries. She almost meets her goal until Arlong pays a crooked Marine captain to steal her money, then feigns ignorance when she confronts him about it, forcing her to start over. This prompts Luffy and his developing crew to fight Arlong head-on. After Arlong's defeat, Nami becomes an official member of the Straw Hat Pirates, and still keeps her thief skills handy; she only steals from other pirate crews and people she finds morally beneath them.
- One Piece Film: Gold: The middle of the film has the Straw Hats teaming with a rival of Nami's named Carina to rob from Gild Tesoro. It's both as revenge for putting the crew under his debt after losing in a crooked card game, and likewise to save the captured Zoro. Ultimately, Carina is the one who gets away with the goods after Tesoro's defeated, having stolen his entire city-wide golden boat. But not to say the Straw Hats don't leave empty handed; they regain their freedom, and Nami manages to get away with some of Tesoro's golden rings to boot.
- Slayers: Lina Inverse only steals from bandits, feeling it is more moral than to steal from honest people.
- Belle and Beau in Batman: Urban Legends #18 were working minimum wage jobs at the Iceberg Lounge, until they finally snapped over the just how entitled the openly criminal clientele were, and became an Outlaw Couple stealing from Gotham's richest crooks. Batman warns them how dangerous this is, but doesn't work very hard at actually taking them in.
- In the Project Superpowers universe, the modern Owl Girl is a brutal vigilante who is open about the fact that her fight against criminals is funded by money stolen from the various gangsters and drug dealers she's killed.
- The Punisher: In order to fund his war on crime, Frank Castle constantly steals the money from criminals he kills (and equipment, when they are gun runners), thinking that already being blood money it's only karmic (and when it comes to guns, it's to make sure criminals aren't better equipped than the police).
- The Sensational She-Hulk: The subplot of issue #10 revolves around Jen prosecuting a police officer who stole money from drug dealers and giving it to victims of crime. One reporter points out that some people see the officer as a hero.
- The central premise of Thief of Thieves is this. Successful thief Conrad "Redmond" Paulson decides to quit "the game" before his biggest heist, stealing from other thieves in order to become The Atoner and trying to reconnect with his already-retired wife Audrey and their son (who they want to keep out of the game) Augustus. Conrad's protege Celia serves as the main protagonist of the episodic video game.
- In Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, the eponymous character takes some treasures from the robbers' secret hoard. When his brother Cassim tries to do the same, the robbers catch and execute him, but the story shows it to be a punishment for his selfishness and greed, not for the act of stealing itself.
- In The Bremen Town Musicians, the musicians scare away a group of robbers and seize their house and other possessions for themselves.
- Dungeon Keeper Ami: Stealing for their Cast from Money magic from each other happens between Dungeon Keepers, who are basically all criminals:
- This Bites!: Cross' plan to devastate Sabaody Archipellago's slave trade, and cripple slavers worldwide, is to turn piracy itself against all slavers. He does this by making pirates everywhere realize how profitable robbing them is, causing even the ones not morally opposed to slavery to start attacking slavers for loot and potential crewmates. Luffy, Nami, and Zoro relise that every pirate is going to jump on the bandwagon to the point where it becomes a tradition for pirates to attack slavers.
- Sea of Souls: The Straw Hats steal everything that isn't nailed down in Las Noches during their raid on the place, which includes all of Szayelaporro's records on his experiements, Aizen's prized stash of tea, and all the food that Aizen smuggled from Soul Society to feed the Arrancar stationed there, Kitchen Sink Included. Given that Aizen's an evil, megalomaniacal schemer hellbent on achieving godhood, all of the looting committed by the Straw Hats feels closer to karma than anything.
- While exploring the human world, the Tres Bestias stumble upon two ladies that were about to get robbed by a few guys in an alley. The daughters of Harribel then proceed to give them a lesson by beating and toying with them, and in the process discover more about money, later deciding to mug any men that harass women that they find in the town from then on.
- Zoro and Nami steal a street gang's cash, visa cards, and booze after the Straw Hats arrive in the human world as a way for them to stock up on supplies needed to blend in with other people as best as they can.
- In Puss in Boots: The Last Wish, Puss, Kitty and Goldilocks and the three bears all aim to steal the map leading to the Wishing Star from "Big" Jack Horner, who himself is a feared crime lord that obtained the map from two thieves who said they had to murder quite a lot of people to steal it.
Papa Bear: Them cats stole the stolen map we stole, and we ended up with diddly-squat — nothing.
- $: Joe gets the idea to rob a bank where he works as security manager. What he does is, he calls in a fake bomb threat robbery, then pretends to foil the robbery, while actually robbing three safety deposit boxes rented by crooks who keep their loot at the bank. This means that the people he robbed can't call the cops. They can, however, come after Joe themselves.
- In Back to the Future, Doc Brown steals plutonium from Libyan terrorists, who themselves stole it from the Pacific Nuclear Research Facility.
- In Blade (1998), Dr. Karen Jenson takes umbrage at the fact Blade steals the money from a bunch of crooks that he saved her from (actually minions of the vampires that were out to silence her). Blade snarks that his line of work isn't a charity and thus he needs to get the money from anywhere he can (there is also the underlying irony of using the money from the absurdly rich vampire courts to fund his hunting).
- City of Industry: A group of four criminals pull a succesful heist on a jewelry store. Their youngest member then betrays the other three to keep the loot all to himself, except he missed one—who spends the rest of the film tracking him down to get revenge.
- The Driver has completed the heist, and eluded pursuit by both the police and the double-crossing punks. The detective thinks he's finally caught this outlaw as he's carrying a valet case full of money, and makes the arrest... but the case is empty, so there's no incriminating evidence.
The Detective: Looks like we both got gypped by the exchange man.
- The Fast and the Furious:
- 2 Fast 2 Furious: Not a major haul, but Brian and Roman not only walk away with clean rap sheets for their help bringing down the villain, but even manage to grab some of the money he was laundering and sneak away with it once he's arrested.
- Fast Five: The entirety of the film has Dom and Brian putting a team together to take on the crooked cartel boss they gained the ire of. Culminating in them literally stealing his money vault and dragging it through the streets of Rio.
- In Hold-up, Lasky, a burly Canadian Bud Spencer-looking ex-inmate and tow truck driver, keeps going after bank robber Grimm (Jean-Paul Belmondo) to steal him the money of the Bank Robbery the latter just pulled in Montreal.
- Honest Thief lives for this trope, the twist being that two crooked FBI agents are the ones ripping off a retiring crook.
- The Italian Job (2003) features a heist against a former member who stole the take from their previous heist and murdered their mentor.
- A proposed sequel to the original film would have involved this trope as well, with the gang chasing down the loot after it falls into the hands of the French mob.
- In It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, this trope plays into Captain Culpeper's motivation: steal the money out from under a bunch of marauding treasure-seeking idiots, then cross the border into Mexico to live out retirement in comfort. Simple, right? Not in this movie.
- In Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels, this is how Eddie, Tom, Bacon, and Soap come up with the half a million pounds they owe to Harry: they plan on robbing their neighbors after they have themselves robbed a major cannabis grower.
- Stranger Than Paradise: Eva is just taking a walk on a Florida beach when a drug dealer shows up, mistakes her for a courier, and hands her an envelope stuffed full of cash. Eva immediately leaves town with the money. The real courier, a woman of similar age wearing a similar wide-brimmed hat, shows up moments later. Unlike many examples of this trope Eva gets away with it.
- In Tuff Turf, Morgan steals a Porsche, which is promptly stolen by Nick's gang.
Jimmy: God, I can't believe they took your car.
Morgan: I don't own a car, man.
- Aesop's Fables: In "The Wolf and the Lion," a wolf steals a lamb, only to have it stolen from him by a lion. The wolf yells at the lion for stealing "his" property, but the lion mockingly asks the wolf if he obtained the lamb legally. The fable ends there, implying that the wolf had no grounds to argue back.
Moral: "What is evil won is evil lost."
- Artemis Fowl:
- In The Eternity Code, after being double-crossed by Chicago Mob-associated businessman Jon Spiro, Artemis gets revenge on him by draining his bank accounts. He gives most of it as an Involuntary Charity Donation to Amnesty International, and keeps a small portion of it for himself as a "finder's fee".
- The Opal Deception features a Fictional Painting entitled "The Fairy Thief", which was stolen shortly after its completion and has only ever changed hands through theft. Artemis becomes the youngest person in history to steal it when he heists it from a high security bank vault in Munich.
- Brother Cadfael: In Eye Witness, the abbey's stolen gold is found and taken by a itinerant peddler... right back to the abbey, where he waits alongside the porter for the thief to be caught. The peddler confesses that he was quite tempted to just take the gold and flee, but in the end decided it was better to have a small but honest reward rather than a purely hypothetical gain accompanied by jail time.
- Deconstructed in Going Postal. Moist von Lipwig spent most of his life convinced he was doing this on the grounds of "you can't fool an honest man", concentrating on Violin Scams or only stealing from large businesses. However, he comes to realize that he was still hurting innocent people in the process, culminating in The Reveal that his Love Interest lost her job as a bank teller when she was blamed after he tricked her into accepting a bad check before they'd properly met — seeing only the faceless employee of his mark at the time.
- Gone Girl: Amy views her money as being stolen from her to pay for The Bar, which is how she justifies taking money from Nick to fund her attempt to fake her own death. The money then gets stolen from her by Jeff and Greta, two fellow low lives who figure out that Amy is carrying a lot of money and being pretty naive about it.
- Over the course of Millennium, Lisbeth Salander steals a fortune from a white-collar criminal. Since she can't simply turn the money over to the police without facing questions about how it ended up in her possession, she simply holds on to it, occasionally donating some of it to charity or using some of it to pay for her former guardian's therapy.
- Both No Country for Old Men and its movie adaptation invoke this trope to get Anton Chigurh chasing Llewelyn Moss, a Vietnam veteran who stumbles on a drug deal gone awry. He steals a suitcase full of money from the scene, with no one to see except one Almost Dead Guy...
- Ian Fleming's short story Octopussy has Smythe, a British Army officer, abscond to the Caribbean with his wife and some Nazi Gold directly after World War II, only for him to run into none other than James Bond, the secret agent trying to get it back, a few decades later. Despite the initial success, it's portrayed as a rather melancholy affair, as the money fails to alleviate either Mrs. Smythe's overdose on pills or Smythe's drinking problem.
- The standard plot for the stories in Leslie Charteris's The Saint series had Simon Templar (AKA The Saint) stealing from or tricking criminals, thus obtaining their ill-gotten wealth. He usually gave most of the money back to the criminals' victims, keeping only a small percentage for himself.
- A Simple Plan and its adaptation explore this trope in detail, along with its many, many drawbacks, when a backwoods yokel and his brother stumble on a wad of cash in a downed airplane.
- The Witch of Knightcharm: In the first couple chapters, the protagonist Emily is badly defeated and fails to stop evil witches from stealing a bunch of powerful artifacts. In order to redeem herself and get past her disgrace, she resolves to infiltrate their school and steal the artifacts back. She then finds this is much easier said than done, but her efforts to recover the artifacts continue.
- Better Call Saul:
- Subverted in the episode "Bingo", where Jimmy and Mike only take the Kettlemans' embezzled money to force them to take a plea deal for stealing it in the first place. Jimmy regrets not invoking this trope later on, though:
Jimmy: Help me out here. Did I dream it, or did I have $1,600,000 on my desk in cash? When I close my eyes, I can still see it. It's burned into my retinas like I was staring into the sun. No one on God's green earth knew we had it. We could have split it 50-50. We could have gone home with $800,000 each! Tax-free!
- Played straight with Nacho Varga, who outright prefers to rob other criminals because they can't go to the police. When he learns about the Kettlemans' embezzlement money, he plans to steal it from them, knowing they'll take the fall for it, and is only thwarted from doing so by Jimmy warning them. He does the same thing later when Daniel Wormald carelessly leaves his vehicle registration (which includes his real name and home address) out in the open during a drug deal, breaking into his home and robbing him of all the cash he's made selling drugs. Unfortunately this ends up backfiring since Daniel turns out to be dumb enough to go to the cops, unaware that this will lead to everyone potentially getting caught in a drug bust.
- Subverted in the episode "Bingo", where Jimmy and Mike only take the Kettlemans' embezzled money to force them to take a plea deal for stealing it in the first place. Jimmy regrets not invoking this trope later on, though:
- Castle: One Victim of the Week was a prep school girl who, along with two of her classmates, burglarized the homes of their wealthy classmates. Their biggest score was burglarizing the home of her father's clients, a gang of bank robbers.
- In Fargo: Season Four, this is a key to resolving the season's conflict - Ethelrida Smutney steals Don Fadda's ring from Oraetta Mayflower, who stole it from Fadda when she killed him all the way back in the first episode of the season. Ethelrida trades the ring to Loy Cannon, Fadda's rival, in exchange for her parents' debt to Cannon being cancelled. Cannon then turns around and uses the ring to force Don's son Josto to the bargaining table to end the war between their two gangs.
- In the Filthy Rich episode "Proverbs 20:6", Eugene gets roped into helping two stoners blackmail Mark, who's been impersonating Eugene's son Jason while the latter is in a coma. After the blackmail attempt is successful, Eugene realizes that the stoners intend to keep the money for themselves, and thus decides to steal the cash and bring it to Jason's hospital bed to pay for his care.
- In Leverage, the team justifies their many acts of theft and fraud on the grounds that the people they're ripping off have ripped off whichever client hired the Leverage team this week.
- In the Mr. Bean episode "Merry Christmas, Mr. Bean", while Mr. Bean is collecting money for a Salvation Army band he comes across a young pickpocket at work in a crowd. He forces the thief to put all of the money and goods he has stolen into the collection basket.
- In the Hogan's Heroes episode "The Collector General" a Nazi General planning on using an old mine to stash art he stole from France ends up on the receiving end of this from Hogan and his crew. When he threatens Hogan that he'll reveal his activities Hogan responds with "When you steal from a thief, one sure thing, he'll never call the cops."
- In The Wire, this is Omar Little's MO — robbing drug dealers with a shotgun and redistributing what he takes.
- In The Ring of the Nibelung, Alberich steals the Rhinegold, but is robbed of it soon afterwards by Loge and Wotan. Wotan is eager to get the Rhinegold but wouldn't want to renounce love (which is the necessary condition for stealing the gold from its original place in the Rhine).
Loge: What a thief stole, steal thou from the thief: couldst better gain aught for thine own?
- Defied in Bug Fables. In the help dialogue in the Bandit Hideout's storage room, Vi and Leif see a lot of food stored in the boxes and assume that, since it's stolen, there will be no problem if they steal it for themselves. But Kabbu objects, claiming that a thief stealing from thieves is still a thief. Annoyed, Vi and Leif agree to leave Kabbu in the inn next time they would raid the Bandit Hideout.
- Devil May Cry 5: In Visions of V, V initially plans on stealing from a rich person to get the necessary funds for his plan, but then decides to steal from muggers since he can take advantage of his weak appearance to draw victims to himself rather than him searching for them.
- In some paths of the Henry Stickmin Series, Henry can steal property from the Toppat Clan, which is an international crime syndicate with a huge profile of stealing super valuable items such as large jewels.
- In the Escape Velocity series, you can plunder, capture, and destroy as many Pirate, Renegade, or Marauder ships as you want, and the only faction that cares are the Pirates themselves (who are universally hostile anyway, so it's no major loss).
- Sid Meier's Pirates!: Each of the Top 10 Pirates has buried treasure somewhere on the map, which increases in value the longer the pirate stays alive in-game. The player character can dig up treasure belonging to a living pirate, in which case they'll drop everything to seek Revenge.
- Sly Cooper: The Cooper Gang's modus operandi: they steal things from big-name criminals because there's no fun or honor in stealing from regular people. In Sly's words, "You rip off a master criminal, you know you're a master thief". This also helps them feel heroic to the audience, since nearly everyone they steal from is up to some horrible stuff that overshadow simple thievery, and often the Cooper Gang go out of their way to stop their operation alongside the thievery. This is Zig-Zagged, however: in smaller stories such as the Sly 3 train robbery short, their victims don't appear to have done anything wrong and are robbed simply because it's fun to steal something valuable from them.
- Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines:
- The Starter Villains are gangsters who robbed and beat your Friend in the Black Market rather than deliver on a deal. You can choose to steal the money and supplies back, or take them off their dead bodies.
- If you question your orders to sabotage and rob a charity art exhibit, the quest-giver reassures you that it's a Fake Charity going to line a vampire's pockets. This information lets you steal the "charity" money without penalty to the Karma Meter.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender: When Sokka criticizes Katara for stealing a waterbending scroll from some pirates, part of her defense is that they probably stole it themselves.
- In the Netflix reboot of Carmen Sandiego the titular character is a defector from V.I.L.E. who steals the artifacts they steal in order to return them to their rightful owners. When she can't beat them to the artifact and steal it first.
- Family Guy: In "Brian: Portrait of a Dog", Chris admits to stealing $10 from Meg's room, Meg admits to stealing $10 from her mom's purse, and Lois admits to making counterfeit $10 bills.