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The Most Wanted

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Wanted man in Albuquerque
Wanted man in Syracuse
Wanted man in Tallahassee
Wanted man in Baton Rouge
There's somebody set to grab me
Anywhere that I might be
And wherever you might look tonight
You might get a glimpse of me
Johnny Cash, "Wanted Man"

There's a story about a character who's chased by numerous people without success. Usually is about a bad guy who committed some atrocious crime, or a dangerous thug/serial killer/drug dealer that escaped from jail and is now a fugitive, maybe some terrorist or simply a rapist or murderer that recently was discovered. Other times it's a good guy that was accused of a crime he/she didn't commit, was obligated to do something horrible (in both cases he/she fights to clear his/her name) and/or did something that angered the mob and/or gangs.

The case is, this character is hunted exhaustively by the police, the mob, the intelligence services, the government and even international agencies like Interpol, leaving no stone unturned to catch this character dead or alive. He/she now has become The Most Wanted. It could be of a city/state, a country, or even the world (or the galaxy, or universe in the case of Space Opera plots). This is Seen It a Million Times.

In the case of evil organizations or organised crime, a Bounty Hunter or Professional Killer is usually hired to get this character. If is from the good side, a Cowboy Cop or Military Maverick can take the job too. Possible pursuers also include Inspector Javert and the Intrepid Reporter. The character can appear on a "Wanted!" Poster and sometimes has a Price on Their Head. Often one of the consequences of an Unintentionally Notorious Crime. If the wanted person is actually The Protagonist of the story, it may lead to Arrested for Heroism. It might cause an Enemy Mine to team up former hostile parties to take on the wanted character. May coincide with a Fugitive Arc. Subtrope of Outlaw.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • In Arcadia of My Youth, Harlock's love interest Maya is the voice of La Résistance on Vichy Earth and, as such, is the most wanted woman on the planet. After her death, Harlock becomes the most wanted man due to his attack on the Illumidus forces.
  • EDENS ZERO has the Oración Seis Galáctica, six of the cosmos's most powerful warriors who refuse to comply with the government and have each conquered and/or destroyed entire planets and systems, or at least have the potential to do so. Their threat is such that the government army devised a circle of equally powerful officers, the Oración Seis Interestelar, to serve as a so-called Good Counterpart to the Galáctica.
  • Lupin III is repeatedly noted to be the world's greatest thief, which is why he's no.1 on the ICPO's "Most Wanted" list. Further lampshaded by 2004's Lupin III: World's Most Wanted manga series.
  • In Moriarty the Patriot, after Whiteley's death, the British government beings hunting down The Lord of Crime in earnest, and after William's name is leaked to the press, he becomes Public Enemy Number One. Mycroft even has to intervene with Sherlock to warn him that William is liable to be assassinated at any minute if he's caught.
  • One Piece:
    • The leader of the Revolutionary Army, Monkey D. Dragon, is called "the most wanted criminal in the world", as the group openly defies the World Government and have converted several countries to their cause.
    • It's assumed the first "World's Most Wanted" went for Gol D. Roger, a dreadful pirate that stole all the treasures of the world, revealed after his capture and before his execution that all the treasures were in one place, the "One Piece" and the location will die with him, starting the "pirate fever" that launches the story. Though Gol D. Roger may have been once the most wanted, being "Pirate King" and all, he's a Posthumous Character. Late in the series, Roger's bounty is revealed to have been the highest of any pirate in the world (5.5 billion), followed by the recently-deceased Whitebeard. Kaido holds the distinction of having the highest active bounty (4.6 billion) and thus the top of the World Government's hitlist.
    • The Ope-Ope Fruit is stated several times to be the "ultimate Devil Fruit" thanks to its extreme versatility, miraculous medical applications, and ability to grant eternal youth (at the cost of its user's life). When it was last up for sale thirteen years ago by the Barrels Pirates, it's estimated worth was at least 5 billion berries to the Marines and other potential buyers. When combined with his own personal bounty (500 million as of the Wano arc, 3 billion after it) this makes the current Ope-Ope holder, Trafalgar Law, as valuable and sought after as Gol D. Roger himself. It's implied that though Corazon's death defined Law's future, Law himself had already lost any chance he had of living a normal life the moment he ate the Fruit.
  • In Outlaw Star, "Hot Ice" Hilda is known as this for stealing the XGP 15A-II (later baptized as "Outlaw Star"), a special spaceship made by the Kei Pirate Guild and the Space Police, hunted for both sides as well for the MacDougall brothers.
  • Vash the Stampede from Trigun is the Most Wanted Man in his planet Gunsmoke, known as "The Humanoid Typhoon" for making great havok and destruction every time he goes to a city, at the point of getting a Price on Their Head with the ridiculous price of $$60,000,000,000.

    Comic Books 
  • The Chronicles of Wormwood: Danny and his coworkers pitch a new show about a man who wakes up one day to find every American law-enforcement agency gunning for him. He doesn't know why, and neither does the audience, keeping them guessing until the show's title shows up: "I Fucked The President's Wife".
  • In the first Civil War, when the government stated that metahumans should be registered or else being rogue and chased by the justice, Captain America decides to stand against what he considers a violation to superhuman laws and becomes the most wanted, overcoming almost all S.H.I.E.L.D. and escaping, later becoming the leader of the superheroes that are against the law.
  • The first arc of Grifter is about Cole Cash becoming the World's Most Wanted, this because his recent connections with the Daemonites that can hear and see them in their true forms, making crash a plane full of Daemonites disguised as humans ready for an invasion. This was televised, showing him as a terrorist that killed everyone on the plane, being wanted by the cops, the army and even some heroes.
  • In Happy!, cop-turned-hitman Nick Sax is being hunted by both the cops and the mafia after a job gone bad.
  • The Incredible Hulk: The Hulk usually becomes the most wanted, especially in his beginnings when he was an uncontrollable monster that only made havoc and before he converted into a superhero by joining The Avengers and other hero groups.

    Fan Works 
  • A Diplomatic Visit: The border station between Equestria and the Packlands maintains a board with a list of such beings, though for Twilight's visit, it's been cleared off so as not to offend her sensibilities. Twilight, on learning this, is more offended by the fact that they felt the need to do so, seeing as she's seen other such lists (including that maintained by the Royal Guard) before and wouldn't be upset by them. Later on, Wise-Mind is less than thrilled when he hears about their actions.

    Film - Live-Action 
  • In Captain America: Civil War, Bucky Barnes is already on the run from the evil HYDRA and the multitude of self-interested governments that want him both for his potential usefulness as an asset and to make him pay for the murders he committed as the Winter Soldier. Zemo wants to use him to create dissension amongst the Avengers. Black Panther thinks Bucky killed his father. Even the "good" guys are looking to bring him into custody, albeit for varying reasons.
  • The Dark Knight: Invoked at the end when Batman takes the heat for the murders Harvey Dent committed, including his own. He ends the film as the most wanted fugitive of Gotham P.D., continuing into The Dark Knight Rises where the Police call off the pursuit of Bane when Batman shows up, drawing nearly every cop in the city into a chase with him.
  • The main plot of The Fugitive is about a medic who was framed for the murder of his wife. With all against him, he devices to escape and get the real murderer to justice.
  • Hannibal. In the letter Hannibal Lecter writes to Agent Clarice Starling, he notes that he's back on the Ten Most Wanted list of the FBI's public website, and wonders if she is responsible for this and is therefore "back on the case".
  • The 1996 movie Most Wanted is about a Marine Force Recon sniper in a mission to kill a Corrupt Corporate Executive who's close to the First Lady of USA. Instead, someone else killed the First Lady and he's framed for the crime.
  • In Star Wars: A New Hope, Dr. Evazan brags to Luke about having the death sentence in 12 systems. Expanded Universe (both Legends and Canon) explains that he's a Mad Scientist who has committed a truly impressive and equally horrifying list of atrocities.
    • The Legends handbook "The Bounty Hunter Code" explains that the Empire maintains an official Most Wanted list, which consists of a few hundred individuals who's bounties exceed 200,000 credits and have done a good enough job of avoiding capture that the Empire enlists bounty hunters. It's mostly rebel officers, but some have just managed to piss of the wrong people. There is also the Blacklist, which consists of similarly valuable bounties that were issued by private or criminal sources, rather than the Empire. Vader has been known to employ the blacklist for his side projects.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: In a What Could Have Been example, the character of Barbara "Bobbi" Morse was famous enough to get her own Spin-Off called Marvel's Most Wanted in 2015, in which she and her ex-husband and partner Lance Hunter get framed and have to quit S.H.I.E.L.D. and stay undercover to find who made them the most wanted by various sides, S.H.I.E.L.D. included. The pilot was ordered, but in the end the possible series was cancelled.
  • On Arrow, Oliver Queen spends a great deal of time evading capture. The bad guys want him dead for ruining their criminal enterprises. Law enforcement wants him captured because of the murders he's committed as a vigilante. Covert ops want him for his value as an operative. People from his past show up wanting revenge for actions he's taken that created collateral damage.
  • The A-Team is about a group of former soldiers that were Frame-Up for a crime they didn't commit and were expulsed. After that, they were chased by the army and now act as an undercover group helping people in need, becoming US' most wanted team.
  • Serving as the inspiration for The Movie, The Fugitive is about an innocent man in his search for the murderer of his wife as well escaping from the police (and especially a Cowboy Cop).
  • Firefly: Mal’s crew doesn’t always break the law, but they’re definitely wanted by the Alliance. River and Simon are very high priority thanks to escaping the Academy but they don’t hesitate to arrest Zoe in the comics either and attempt a second time. Mal gets chased by Alliance enforcers a couple of times too between The Movie and the comics.
  • Justified: Despite being a lawman himself, Raylan finds himself in this position in the Season 3 episode "Watching the Detectives." After the criminals he's pursuing turn the tables and make it look like Raylan murdered his ex-wife's new husband, Raylan finds himself benched by the US Marshals Office of Internal Affairs, wanted by the FBI for corruption charges, being investigated by the US District Attorney for possible unjustified shootings in the line of duty, wanted for questioning about the murder by the local police, and also targeted by the very criminals he was pursuing when this whole thing kicked off. This is all while he's trying to clear his name despite orders to stay out of it.
  • NCIS: NCIS headquarters maintains a Most Wanted Wall in the center area of the Squadroom, where various clipboards containing the criminal and information about them are hung all over the wall. Photos of those who have been confirmed as captured or killed, be it by federal agents or the United States military, have had red tape placed over them.
  • As the title says, Prófugos (lit. Fugitives) is about a group of men who are involved in a failed drug operation that forcing them to escape from police and the rival drug sellers.
  • In Season 5 of Supernatural, Sam and Dean Winchester are wanted men from every angle. The angels are after them, wanting them to fulfill their destiny in the apocalypse. The demons and monsters want to kill them for being hunters. The FBI wants them for their suspected role in the death of an FBI agent and in connection with many crimes where their heroism looks like criminality. And their fellow hunters want to kill them for accidentally freeing the devil.

  • Johnny Cash: "Wanted Man" co-written by Cash and Bob Dylan is from the perspective of a fugitive. Whether he's on the run from the law or a string of lovers is left to interpretation.
  • Marty Robbins: "Big Iron" tells the story of Texas Red, an infamous outlaw that was challenged by "an Arizona Ranger with a Big Iron on his hip". At the time of their duel, "twenty men had tried to take him, twenty men had made a slip, twenty-one would be the Ranger with the Big Iron on his hip"... if it hadn't been for the Ranger's incredibly swift shooting.

    Tabletop Games 
  • GURPS has the Enemy disadvantage. By adjusting your Enemy's Power level (how many people are looking for you and how powerful they are), their Intent (what they have planned for you), and their Frequency of Appearance (what the GM has to roll for them to show up), it's very easy to simulate this trope. Of course, to quote the rule book, "You can get a 60 point bonus by taking Enemy (FBI, 12 or less, Hunter) but... even with an extra 60 points, your career may be short." As current page image Mr. John Dillinger learned.

    Video Games 
  • BlazBlue: Ragna the Bloodedge, the Anti-Hero of the story, is an SS rank criminal with the highest recorded bounty in the world. At least in the first game, this makes a number of vigilantes and military officials to look for him. In the fourth game, Kokonoe (high member of Sector Seven) reveals that she was once the criminal with the SS rank before she hacked into the government's database to delete the info about her.
  • Carmen Sandiego, in her various incarnations, due to her numerous Impossible Thefts, which range from the Mona Lisa's smile to national monuments. This, combined with the fact that she used to be one of them, has made her the seemingly sole focus of the ACME Detective Agency as well as nearly every law enforcement organization on the planet.
  • In Half-Life 2, Gordon Freeman is quickly branded as "Anticitizen One" by the Combine after his arrival to City 17. Luckily, this status just makes the resistance even more inclined to help him out because of his already legendary reputation.
  • The visual novel Most Wanted. Different from the other entries, the protagonists are a LAPD Detective and a Texas Sheriff going for the Big Bad, a notorious hitman wanted for the justice.
  • Need for Speed
    • The first title (1994's Road & Track Presents: The Need for Speed) and the Hot Pursuit series (1998's III: Hot Pursuit, 2002's Hot Pursuit 2, and 2010's Hot Pursuit) introduce the police to the series, with the racers being chased by them, meaning that players not only have to win the races, but also avoid getting caught by cops.
    • As the name says, the Need for Speed: Most Wanted series (2005 and 2012 games). The first game is about competing in the underground world to be the "most wanted" among the cops and other street racers, with a Cowboy Cop bothering you during the game. The second one is more like the previous Hot Pursuit series in which you have to race and earn points to get into the Most Wanted list.
    • Need for Speed Rivals is about racers and cops in which you choose a side. If you're a racer, you compete to become the most wanted and get famous. On the other hand, if you're a cop, you've to chase racers until you get with the top racer, the most wanted on the police list, and receive help of the FBI even when your character becomes a Cowboy Cop and eventually becomes what you tried to stop.
  • Dutch van der Linde, a central character in both Red Dead Redemption and Red Dead Redemption II. In 1899, Dutch was essentially in the subject of a tug of war between Leviticus Cornwall, the Pinkertons, the O'Driscrolls, the Grays, the Braithwraites, The Mafia, the Lemoyne Raiders, and the local law enforcement, especially Saint Denis's and Blackwater's. They don't even care that much about the rest of the gang, they just want Dutch, with the Pinkertons at one time tried to make a deal with the gang's second in command, Arthur Morgan to hand him over in exchange for the latter's freedom. Then later on he has the whole BOI (FBI's predecessor) on his ass once it's formed in 1903. It's almost like the BOI was formed just for Dutch.
  • Starcraft II: The beginning of the game has Tychus comment that for being the most wanted man in the Dominion, Raynor isn't hard to find. At this point, Raynor is a bitter and depressed drunk after Mengsk's betrayal and Kerrigan's transformation into the Queen of Blades, so Mengsk is probably trying to avoid the Streisand Effect or making him a martyr.
  • Star Wars: The Old Republic: The third act of the Bounty Hunter story line has them becoming the most wanted for the Republic for a number of crimes, some of which they aren't even responsible for, after getting framed by a vengeful Jedi.

    Western Animation 

    Real Life 
  • The War on Terror is basically the actual setup of present day. It all started with the World Trade Center's attack on September 11, 2001 with Osama bin Laden as the World's Most Wanted Man, this has precedents in previous decades, like in The '90s with the Gulf War and having Saddam Hussein as the World's Most Wanted Man. After 9/11, all perpetrators of crimes against US, like the same Bin Laden and later Hussein, were captured and executed; this was replicated to other dictators in Middle East in later years.
  • In the early days of the FBI, the most notorious criminals in the country were designated as "public enemies", in that their actions had proven them to be a threat to society as a whole, with the most influential or dangerous of these earning the position of "Public Enemy No. 1", which was held by such figures as Al Capone, John Dillinger and Baby Face Nelson. This eventually morphed into the FBI's Top Ten Most Wanted.


Video Example(s):


Need for Speed: Most Wanted

After beating all of the Blacklist racers and reclaiming their prized BMW M3 GTR, the player ends up being chased by Rockport Police as the most wanted driver in the city.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (7 votes)

Example of:

Main / HotPursuit

Media sources: