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The Con

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The Con plot reveals the anatomy of a confidence scheme, usually from the criminal perspective. Less action-oriented than The Caper; while having some action, the main focus is on how The Mark becomes the victim of his own desires.

The tale, also known as a long con, is the plot of a confidence game. It defines the ways in which The Mark will be duped. A con-man crew usually includes a team member called The Roper, whose job is to ingratiate himself with the mark and tell them "the tale" of how the Get-Rich-Quick Scheme supposedly works, thus "roping him in". The terms Long Con and Short Con are related to the complexity of the tale. The slang term for these is a "gag."


May contain an A-Team Montage or Avengers, Assemble! sequence. Commonly uses a Big Store setting at some point.

The book The Big Con, by David Maurer, is recommended to the casual reader. An anthropological study of the Con Man circa 1935-1940, it served as partial inspiration for the original Mission: Impossible TV series.

See also Impossible Mission, The Infiltration, One Born Every Minute. While usually a standard of The Caper, occasionally there will be a Caper Crew running or utilizing The Con.

Remember, if it seems Too Good to Be True, it probably is.

Not to be confused with the colloquial term for a Fan Convention. Or with the term for people in jail; though an unsuccessful perpetrator of The Con might end up there.


Related tropes:



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    Anime & Manga 
  • Lupin III is both a gentleman thief and a conman. Think of him as a eastern version of Bugs Bunny.

    Comic Books 
  • Hellblazer series is an example of this trope, although its plots features supernatural (say fictional) elements. John Constantine, the protag, is known in the DC Universe as the "Ultimate Con Man", which he got from conning his enemies with wit, including the Devil and God themselves.
  • Loki is not far behind, if there is someone in the Marvel universe they didn't con, and they already conned themself, that must be probably part of a con yet to come. This is more evident in series featuring his kid (Journey into Mystery) and teen (Loki: Agent of Asgard) versions who don't have the raw magical power. They're the kind of guy who would con Mephisto to get an inside man for a caper that turns out to be a diversion for a spy mission.
  • In Robin Tim's dad Jack falls for a con which involves some crooks going around claiming to be contractors looking to repair damage after the big quake but requiring a heavy deposit since things are so hectic. Tim manages to get the money back as Robin and tells his dad they came back and said they were too busy while getting the con artists arrested. It foreshadows Jack losing the family fortune not long after.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Catch Me If You Can
  • The classic movie example is The Sting. In fact, the title is old slang for..."The Con!" And its spiritual remake Confidence.
    • Interestingly enough, The Sting was inspired by real events; while Johnny Hooker was not a real person, Gondorff (actually, the Gondorff brothers, Fred and Charley) were very real; while the fictional Gondorff (and Hooker) got away with it, the real Gondorff brothers' victim went to the equally-real police, and the brothers were quickly arrested.
  • Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
  • The Distinguished Gentleman opens with a con man who operates by getting his mark into a sex scandal, then showing up and arresting the "blackmailers", who are part of the con. The mark is so anxious to avoid publicity that he bribes the "FBI agent" to keep it quiet.
  • Many works by David Mamet.
  • Nine Queens and its 2004 American remake, the generically named Criminal.
  • The Brothers Bloom shows three cons, one after the other. The last one gets complicated.
  • Diggstown involves a Battle of Wits between a hustler and a conman over a boxing match. Both try to rig the match in their favor, but the conman ends up coming out on top, when he anticipates the hustler bringing in a Super Ringer in the form of a guy he knew from prison and bribes the inmate beforehand to throw the fight.
  • The remade Ocean's Eleven and its successors are mostly Capers, but also rely on the kind of psychological manipulation more closely associated with a Con.
  • Inception in a weird sort of way.
  • The specialty of the servants in Fitzwilly.
  • The Grifters
  • The Flim-Flam Man contains a lot of little con games instead of one big con.
  • The Spanish Prisoner
  • Gambit follows a con by an inept art curator, attempting to convince his employer to buy a forgery of a Monet painting by use of a confederate. At the end of the film, he seems to have failed, revealing the forgery as part of a show of competence, only for it to be revealed that he was actually after another painting owned by his employer, which he stole and replaced with a forgery.
  • Matchstick Men
  • The Con is On: Despite the title, The Caper Harry and Peter plan is not a classic con game. Instead it is part con/part heist, with a lot of improvisation thrown in.
  • Circus, although it takes a long time till it is apparent exactly who is conning who.

  • The Twelve Chairs and The Little Golden Calf by Ilya Ilf and Eugene Petrov, being the adventures of a con artist, have lot of these. Ostap Bender, the protagonist, is mostly a master of the short con and uses this to swindle just enough money to live a comfortable lifestyle. One day, he's impersonating a White Emigre spy, the other day a repo man, yet another day an artist, the next day he's a chessmaster. His archnemesis Koreiko, on the other hand, is a long con expert and really money-grubbing, not stopping at stealing trains of food bound to famine-stricken regions.
  • In Time Enough for Love: when Lazarus goes back in time he arranges to meet up with his grandfather and when Lazarus starts to avoid questions about his profession, they start talking about the nicknames of common cons used.
  • In The Princes of the Air, the protagonists run a variety of cons, at first for their own benefit and later as loyal if unconventional servants of Queen and country.
  • Words of Radiance (second book of The Stormlight Archive): After Shallan miraculously convinces a band of deserters to protect a caravan from a different band of deserters, she discovers that the leader of the caravan guards, Tyn, is a conwoman who is very impressed with what Shallan has done. Tyn asks to be brought in on Shallan's con, and Shallan admits she is traveling to the Shattered Plains to take the place of the prince's betrothed, who is presumed dead. She carefully neglects to mention that she really is that betrothed. Tyn spends the journey teaching Shallan the tricks of the trade, all while reminding her that Shallan is going to have to get over her naivete sooner rather than later. When Tyn discovers that Shallan is the ward of Jasnah Kholin, who Tyn was hired to kill, Tyn tries to kill Shallan. Shallan kills her first.
    Tyn: Sometimes, we must do things we don't like, kid. Difficult things.
    [Shallan summons her Shardblade and kills Tyn]
    Shallan: Difficult things. Yes. I believe I told you. I've learned that lesson already. Thank you.
  • The Mark and the Void: A novelist convinces a banker to let him shadow him so the novelist can write a book with the banker as the main character. It's actually a scam to find out the layout of the bank so the novelist can rob the bank. Unfortunately, the banker works at an investment bank, which doesn't have a safe full of money. Eventually, the novelist ends up writing his book.
  • The main character in William Lindsay Gresham's Nightmare Alley is a ruthless Con Man who poses as an upstanding spiritualist preacher to con wealthy clients. His biggest con is concocted with his mistress Lilith. Between them they plan to scam an extremely wealthy auto tycoon named Ezra Grindle who is desperate to contact the spirit of his lost love Dorrie who died during a botched back-alley abortion that he made her get. Stan's very reluctant wife Molly poses as Dorrie during a series of phony séances aimed to convince Grindle that they are contacting the girl's spirit so he will part with increasing amounts of cash for Stan to continue.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Mission: Impossible is, of course, the Trope Codifier.
  • Hustle is an entire series of this.
  • Followed up by The Real Hustle, a "consumer" show detailing what to look out for and how to avoid falling for The Con.
  • Leverage, the Transatlantic Equivalent of Hustle follows the same general idea, although they do The Caper fairly often. They are also generally using their powers for good and usually don't keep the money they steal. While, technically, only one members of the team is a professional conwoman (while being a terrible actress on stage), the rest quickly learn the art, even the one, who, according to Word of God, has Asperger's. They also occasionally go up against other conmen.
  • F/X: The Series is about a special effects crew tricking criminals into situations where they revealed information about their crimes.
  • Hawaii Five-0 features one episode where a gang of criminals pulls a Mission: Impossible-style con on a businessman by imitating members of the main cast and having the required perfect replica of the real office in an abandoned building.
  • Several Sawyer-centric episodes of Lost, especially "The Long Con."
  • MacGyver (1985):
    • In "Twice Stung", a friend of Mac's becomes suicidal after being swindled out of his life savings. Mac orchestrates a reverse scam to get the money back.
    • In "Jenny's Chance", Mac organizes a gambling sting operation in order to catch the murderer of a horse trainer, a money launderer for a Cuban drug lord.
  • In Psych, Shawn Spencer is a con man extraordinare. Fortunately, he only uses his powers for good. And the occasional pick-up line. And sometimes because it's really entertaining.
  • In Burn Notice, Michael Westen often gets something he needs out of criminals by pretending to be someone they would associate with for a full episode. In other words, he runs The Con...For Justice!
  • Several episodes of The Rockford Files involve elaborate cons to recover stolen money or avenge a wrong.
  • This (and being a Gentleman Thief) was Neal Caffrey's MO before Peter Burke caught him. Since then, he's often run The Con on criminals for the FBI. Burke himself gets in on the act sometimes.
  • In the episode "Mail Call" of M*A*S*H, Hawkeye and Trapper trick Frank Burns to invest in the non-existing company Pioneer Aviation.
  • Played with on How I Met Your Mother: Lily's breasts are getting large due to pregnancy, and Barney keeps asking to see/touch them. They end up going to dinner at a hibachi grill place (one that Barney hates and always complains about going to, saying that the cooks are not impressive, etc). Eventually he ends up betting Marshal & Lily that he can do the entire cook's routine including the "pocket shrimp" (flipping a shrimp into your shirt pocket) - if he wins he gets to touch Lily's breasts, if he loses he wears the Ducky tie for a year. They agree, thinking there's no way he can do it. But then he starts acting super confidant (flipping a shrimp into his mouth). Marshal also realizes that Barney has been conditioning Marshal to always want to eat there whenever Barney sneezes. They begin to get worried, thinking they've been conned, so they change to agreement to let him see Lily's breasts if they call the bet off. But just before Lily shows them, Marshal stops her saying that no, this is the con and that Barney was just psyching them out so they would let him see Lily's breasts. Cue triumphant gloating as they declare the bet back on. Cut to Barney back in the restaurant cooking up a storm and them about to lose the bet. But then further subverted when, just as Barney's about to catch the shrimp in his pocket, Lily flashes him so he misses the catch, meaning he has to wear the ducky tie for a year.
  • Chuck's missions of the week usually alternate between this, The Caper, and full on action, and a major part of the spy game involves the team assuming identities that get them close to the target. And of course, Sarah's father is a legitimate Con Man, and has used his skills to both help and hinder them, as well as teaching Sarah much of what he knows. Ironically, that still doesn't save Chuck and Sarah from being victimized by another con artist who makes off with their wedding money. Femme Fatale DEA agent Carina also makes heavy use of The Con, and particularly specializes in seducing her targets.

  • Many episodes of The Lives of Harry Lime.
  • From the opposite side, several episodes of Dragnet — most episodes where Friday and his partner are in the Bunco department that don't involve forgery involve cons.

    Video Games 

Alternative Title(s): Long Con, Confidence Trick, Con Game, The Tale


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