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"I never believed the original Luthor. Every story would begin with him breaking out of prison, finding some giant robot in an old lab he hid somewhere, and then he'd be defeated. My view was if he could afford all those labs and giant robots he wouldn't need to rob banks."
A villain who constantly fails at beating the heroes never realizes their intellect and hard work might mean they'd get a lot more done if they did an honest day's work; any attempt at going straight is simply a ruse to lull heroes into a false sense of security. This may be more a factor of maintaining the Status Quo, and it's usually mentioned that the Mad Scientist is mad after all. Sometimes Lampshaded at a villain's death with "If only he'd used his powers for good, instead of for evil." This is a dying trope as comic book characters became more complex, but was extremely common for many villains decades ago. Also, it ties closely into Reed Richards Is Useless—even if The Government gets ahold of secondhand ultratech, they just use it for ill-conceived attempts to either conquer other nations or abuse their citizens.
Consider, for a moment, the Trope Namer: Lex Luthor. His earliest incarnations were generally focused on using his Mad Scientist inventions for the sort of schemes typical in The Golden Age of Comic Books and The Silver Age of Comic Books, with the goals of pure monetary gain, "ruling the world", or eliminating Superman as an obstacle to monetary gain and ruling the world... The question is then raised as to why he just doesn't sell his amazing inventions legally.
In the Post-Crisis world, however, author John Byrne decided to finally cut Lex Luthor a check and recreated him as a Corrupt Corporate Executive, already a multi-billionaire captain of industry before even meeting Supes. Now, having far more cash than a man could ever spend in one lifetime, Luthor's only want is power, and while he certainly has a great deal of it already, he wants more... and Superman, he feels, is standing in his way. It's later established that he became a billionaire specifically through marketing his brilliant inventions.
The current Luthor is a far cry from a purely Mad Scientist, he thus avoids the trope.
Sometimes this trope is subverted by villains who start out using their talents for legitimate gain, but who end up becoming villains for one reason or another. Another subversion can be when the villain really does go straight, and is able to use the skills he demonstrated in his criminal career to land a legitimate job. This last one is Truth in Television for former criminals who manage to find legitimate work, or even start their own businesses, after getting busted. Compare Engineer Exploited For Evil. Rich Boredom may justify it because the character already is swimming in money and is seeking something else.
See Also: Fake Real Turn where a business that is serving as a front operation for a criminal activity or organization becomes so successful in its own right that characters decide to pursue it as a legitimate business. And You Could Have Used Your Powers for Good.
Compare Reed Richards Is Useless, Screw the Rules, I Have Supernatural Powers, and Dick Dastardly Stops to Cheat. Contrast Visionary Villain and Pragmatic Villainy. See also Science-Related Memetic Disorder and Sanity Has Advantages for the possible justifications of this trope. Can end up leading to Boxed Crook when put into practice.
Gaining more money legitimately
Anime and Manga
- The Team Rocket trio in the Pokémon anime invents some of the most impressive Death Traps one could ever imagine, almost every episode... until they occasionally run out of money. It's mentioned in one episode of the Johto series that they borrow their traps from Team Rocket, and that they were invented by the R&D at their HQ. They're also not above taking and maintaining legit work, until the inevitable screw up, and it's always manual labor anyway. Ironically, their "honest" work is almost always profitable. And they always prove to be much better at whatever work they do for extra cash than they ever are at being bad guys. They'd probably have better lives if they just stopped chasing Pikachu. They once tried to set up a memorabilia stand for some Pokémon tournament, and did well. Then they sank all of their money into it, just in time for the tournament to end and the market for their stuff to disappear. In fact, Jessie recently started entering Pokémon contests; not only is she pretty good at it, she has won a few, even progressing quite far in the Sinnoh Grand Festival. James also acts like pre-Flanderization Brock on occasion, showing potential to be a great Pokémon breeder. Meowth, being able to speak both English and Pokémon language, also could be filthy rich if he stopped being a criminal and just became a translator. In the Pikachu short film "Pokémon -- Gotta Dance", Meowth is apparently a genius in that he invents a Pokébaton that can control Pokémon. However, he just uses it to make Pokémon dance, and he ends up allowing it to be destroyed. Meowth is a borderline Gadgeteer Genius; James mentioned that the cat's the one responsible for most of the Humongous Mecha that they throw at the twerps!
- Subverted in Tsukihime canon; the 14th Dead Apostle Ancestor, Van-Fem, rather than drinking blood and harming humans, he took a preference to human society/life and built a highly-profitable casino boat in Monte Carlo shortly after World War I which earned him a high social status among humans.
- Inverted in One Piece, when minor villain Wapol actually starts a new life and builds a massive toy-making empire by using his powers to recycle objects into toys. In fact, the alloy his power creates (dubbed "Wapometal") is apparently a unique and amazing compound, which makes him even richer when a scientist discovers its properties and Wapol begins capitalizing on that. Later in the series, Franky starts building tanks using the revolutionary metal.
- Possibly lampshaded in Slayers NEXT. Martina is horribly, comically hopeless as a villain, but turns out to be sufficiently talented in retail and handicrafts to raise a small army of thugs out of her profits from selling (and making) paper flowers for a few episodes.
- Averted in Baccano! when Nice (who qualifies as a villain only in the sense of being a criminal) invents a new form of explosive and immediately sells it to the mining industry.
- Yu-Gi-Oh! Seto Kaiba originally invented the Solid Vision as part of a revenge scheme against Yugi, attempting to use technology to replicate the Shadow Duel Penalty Game he had experienced. This plot eventually failed (as in, Yugi defeated him a second time) but after recovering from a second Penalty Game (and actually learning a few things as a result) he would later incorporate a safer version of the system into the Duel Disks and market them commercially, promoting the card game in the process.
- Eventually subverted by the first Icicle, Joar Mahkent. He went into villainy partly for the thrills, but he used his time in jail to work on his inventions and made a legitimate fortune once he reformed, half of which he left to the Flash.
- Averted with the Marvel Comics character Taskmaster. Able to flawlessly imitate anyone's physical abilities after seeing them in action once, he initially made money and his reputation training flunkies for supervillains, teaching them how to take down their superhero opponents. Once it became known he was a mercenary, not merely a dedicated villain, legitimate governments and law enforcement started hiring him to teach their people on how to take down superpowered threats. To the extent that, in his first appearance, he concludes that if he stayed and fought, he could probably defeat the entire Avengers team (and one of their more powerful line-ups at that). However, he sees no profit in it or point to fighting superheroes, and runs away instead.
- Subverted by the villain Purple Man, who has pheromone-based mind-control powers. He lived the high life without doing anything to attract super-hero attention—only to get caught by Doctor Doom and used as a component in a world-conquest gizmo.
- Averted with Wildstorm Universe villain Kaizen Gammora who sells battle-droids and pleasure robots to finance his country's terrorism.
Films -- Live-Action
- Played straight and subverted in the first Austin Powers film, when Number Two grows furious with Dr. Evil for engaging in world-threatening schemes when their front companies were already making billions a year legally.
- In Ridley Scott's Robin Hood 2010, Godfrey conspires with the King of France to undermine England from the inside. However, Godfrey is best buddies with King John of England, who quickly promotes him to his second-in-command. Godfrey is already more powerful than Philip would ever make him, yet he follows through with the betrayal.
- The Goliath Corporation in the Thursday Next novels are an absolutely giant monolith who practically own Great Britain; still they insist on harebrained schemes like trying to enter fiction on a wide-scale basis. On the other hand, we infer that a large part of how they made their money in the first place was on evil schemes...
- The memoirs of one James Crosbie, a moderately notorious armed robber, describe a fairly impressive list of achievements; he held a responsible position at a Kenyan mining company and for a long while was running his own quite successful metalwork business. And yet despite having earned better money during those times—to say nothing of not being on the run from the law—he claims to have felt a much lesser sense of achievement from this than from robbing banks, despite the much greater failure rate, smaller financial returns and lengthy prison sentences. Of course, a better example of an Unreliable Narrator is hard to imagine...
- In Percy Jackson and The Olympians, the Amazon tribe has become far more successful this way than they were back in the days they were known as savage man-hating warriors, having founded Amazon.com and running it out of Seattle.
- In its earliest appearances, Mitsuhama Computer Technologies from Shadowrun were depicted as a front for the yakuza. Eventually, the writers caught on that a billion-nuyen criminal organization is hardly going to use a trillion-nuyen triple-A Mega Corp as a cover. The retcon became 'because several of the original investors happened to be oyabun, Mitsuhama and the Yakuza have a historical connection'. However, the original oyabun rapidly retired from crime to enjoy their new money machine, and the connection doesn't go much beyond "to the degree that any megacorp will deal with criminal syndicates under the table (for money laundering, industrial espionage, etc.), instead of spreading it around as normal instead MCT gives the Yakuza right of first refusal on any business opportunities".
- Forgotten Realms had Thay as The Magocracy with two main parties: Imperialist and Researcher. The former favored using their magical prowess for territorial expansion - mostly via military means, but also via subverting other political entities. The latter wanted to use magical achievements for gain, whether directly or indirectly (excess of magic allows production boost in many areas). The Imperialists dominated for a while, but ended up with series of costly failures and the charismatic leader who got disillusioned about both "glories" of war and Red Wizards' competence in this area, and had a personal vendetta with another Imperialist tougher than himself. Lazouril eventually (in Silverfall) switched sides, in the way that would be enough to firmly establish him as a Magnificent Bastard even if he hadn't been there already. Cue many Thayan enclaves popping up all over the continent in following years.
- From the Resident Evil series is the Mega Corp Umbrella Corporation, which had enough legitimate profit as the world's leading pharmaceutical company to not be dabbling in bio-weapons. And on top of that, when you consider what they are able to accomplish with their research, they'd probably make much, much more money pursuing something legitimate and marketable, as opposed to selling mutants and skinless dogs on the black market.
- What makes it even more sad is that all the money that was invested in making these biological weapons could have vastly improved the lives of the civilian world. All these villains could have helped people had they wanted to and still have made a huge profit off of it.
- Resident Evil 5 revealed that Oswald Spencer's ultimate goal with Umbrella was to mutate a virus he'd discovered into something that would make him godlike and immortal. All the zombies, skinless dogs and mutants were byproducts of this research. Of course Spencer still crosses the Moral Event Horizon by trying to weaponize them and not giving a damn about any of his employees's lives.
- Team Fortress 2: Blutarch and Redmond Mann have hired teams of elite mercenaries to fight over lumbermills, granaries, and barren scraps of land in the middle of Death Valley, even though, according to the timeline, they literally own half the world. Possibly subverted, as they hold a deep grudge due to their father's hatred of their own stupidity, forcing them into cooperation by giving them a split share of the company's land.
- COBRA in G.I. Joe. The majority of the plots in the cartoon involved stealing/kidnapping someone and ransoming them off for absurd amounts of money, through which they would be able to attain ultimate power. Only about a third of their plots directly incorporated demands of, "Hand over the keys to the entire world, or else!" This was lampshaded by Tamox and Xomat at one point, when they pointed out that Cobra already had absurd amounts of money from its front corporations, black market operations, etc, which is how they got all their ridiculous contraptions to pull off the schemes in the first place.
Possibility of gaining more money legitimately
Anime and Manga
- Mazinger Z: Dr. Hell is wealthy and intelligent enough to build dozens of gigantic war machines, Doomsday weapons, squads of cyborgs, several HQ, aircrafts, submarines... It was kind of justified in one of the different manga continuities when Dr. Hell revealed shortly after finding the old Mykene's mechanical warriors, Count Brocken took over several ancient European Mafia in order to earn cash for Hell. However he will not use his talents for legitimate -and less frustration-inducing- gain because he sees himself like The Woobie and wants making the whole humankind paying for all humilliations and hurt he suffered in the past. He NEEDS enslaving everybody and making them bowing down to him.
- Which is not necessarily true in Shin Mazinger Shougeki! Z-hen, where most of his reasons to hate the world don't apply. If anything, it would make even more sense for that version of Dr. Hell to go legit.
- Pumpkin Scissors. This trope is almost the premise of the series—this is a world where rather than building safer tanks or devices to protect people from chemical weapons, they engineer people who can withstand tank-fire and chemical weapons. Lampshaded in the interlude where a lab assistant finds a report about the protective fluid that the Flamethrower Troopers use and mentions that they could be used to help burn victims. Her superior replies to that by telling her to throw it out because he doesn't need it anymore.
- Sunred points this out to his Friendly Enemy General Vamp in Tentai Senshi Sunred. Vamp is such a good homemaker that Sunred tells him, "You oughta give up the world domination thing and open a restaurant."
- Lampshaded in Coyote Ragtime Show when a swindler manages to sneak his way into a high-paying executive job for a major bank purely so he'll be in a position to test himself against their reputedly 'impenetrable' vault—he could easily have lived a comfortable and stable life with a job like that, but the money wasn't the issue.
- The villains in Karakuridouji Ultimo have some truly unusual day jobs, including music composer, elementary school teacher, and pro golfer. It never seems to occur to them that they'd be better off using their incredibly powerful robot servants to pay the bills instead. The exception is K, who only joined the villains so he could quit his job and bum around all day. The manga constantly reminds us that he is unemployed.
- In Dragonball Z, Dr. Gero was capable of building machines that have infinite fuel. Given the world's demand for fuel, he could easily become the richest man in the world with this technology. Too bad he was only interested in getting revenge against Goku.
- Hideaki Anno is reported to have asked why Neo-Atlantis in Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water wants to conquer the world instead of just using their superior technology for their own benefit. Reportedly, he got no answer. Wikipedia reports this, although the actual source seems unfindable.
- Lampshaded in Durarara!! when Shuji wonders why the unnaturally superhuman Shizuo Heiwajima is slumming it in a rather low status and low-paying job as a debt collector/bodyguard when he could potentially use his abilities to become stupidly rich or famous. He gets his answer soon enough: Shizuo's so violently unstable that it's only by virtue of Ultimate Job Security that he has any job at all. A later Light Novel has Shinra pointing out that Shizuo's probably one of the few people that could consider supervillainry as his most viable career option, and the fact that he hasn't is a reason why Shinra usually gives him the benefit of the doubt when the situation looks bad. ("Sorry. Nah, how would you ever bother to kidnap anyone? With your power it would be much faster to go to a bank and tear down the door of its vault if you wanted money.")
- In theory, any supervillain who uses expensive, fantastic technology for theft could subvert this: provided the technology is a one-time expense, they would eventually make back the money and start profiting if they manage to steal enough, meaning they can do it for the money and For the Evulz. The problem is, in a world where superheroes are everywhere thwarting your every move, this isn't likely to happen.
- In All-Star Superman Lex is so bitter and twisted towards Superman that he can't really be bothered doing anything that isn't related in some way to his vendetta. At the end, when he tries to accuse Superman of encouraging Holding Out for a Hero, Superman points out this trope to him: If Lex had truly ever wanted to save the world, he could have done it years ago.
- In the first issue of The Hood, a friend of the Villain Protagonist spots Electro in a bar and speculates on why Electro doesn't just take a job with the electric company and earn millions that way. He points out that his friend would never last an hour at a straight job.
- The Flash: The general inability/unwillingness of the classic Flash supervillains to think bigger has been noted quite a few times in that title.
- Doctor Alchemy somehow got his hands on the Philosopher's Stone—giving him the power to create infinite amounts of riches, transmute any substance to anything else, psychokinesis, and makes him immortal. He uses it, of all things, to commit petty crimes which repeatedly get him sent to jail. This is lampshaded extensively and hilariously in the opening narration of Manhunter #7.
- Mirror Master is arguably the greatest inventor in the history of the world. He has created such devices as a matter duplicator, teleportation, and interdimensional portals. The first Mirror Master used these things to rob banks, the third uses them for mercenary work. If they just sold them they could become obscenely rich and not have to get the crap beaten out of them by a pajama-clad speedster. The third Mirror Master actually ruminated on this once, that he and most of the people he ran with could become filthy rich beyond anything they could earn in petty crimes if they sold even half their individual tech, and that people had outright pointed this out to him before. He, however, concluded he LIKED running around being a Super Villain far too much to really consider going legit.
- In another story, a police detective who is forced to team up with Captain Cold calls him out for his criminal tendencies, pointing out how a man who invented a device that could manipulate matter on a molecular level (his "Cold Gun") would have had no problem getting rich legitimately. The Captain responds by pointing out the detective's preference for expensive suits despite their impracticality in his line of work. "We all have our vices."
- In a Silver Age story, the Flash encounters the villain Element Master, whose gimmick is, well... the atomic elements. In the climax of the story, Element Master says he discovered a new element (the creatively dubbed "elemento") that is a sort of magnetic light, which he uses to send the Flash to the Moon. Ignoring everything wrong with that idea, if it were true, Element Master would've completely changed the way we look at the elements, magnetism, Einstein's theory of relativity, and space travel, easily becoming the most important scientific figure in recent history. Instead... he tries to steal stores of "elements" like gold, platinum, and diamonds (carbon).
- Averted by villain the Chunk, who gave up supervillainy and used his suction powers (being able to siphon off material to another universe inside his own body) to start a personal removal business.
- Sleez, one of the New Gods of Apokolypse. While few would argue that the adult film industry is, indeed, a profitable - if controversial - business, but if you had powers of brainwashing that could enslave both Superman and Barda, forcing them to star in such a film might not be the most effective way to use them. Kind of the reason why the story in question is considered by most fans to be a black mark on John Byrne's career.
- In the Marvel comic Heroes for Hire, a mercenary named Paladin breaks into a special armory where the props and weapons of various former gimmick villains are stored, seeking valuable weapons to both arm himself with and to sell. He comes across the "alchemy gun" of the former supervillain Chemistro, and comments amusedly that "This guy invented a gun that could turn lead into gold, and all he could think of was to rob banks with it". Moments later, he had a lightbulb moment, saying "Waitaminute -- this thing turns lead into gold... I'm good with just this!" and attempts to escape with it. Unfortunately, the gun is destroyed in the course of fighting his way out. He presumably was unaware of the fact that any object transmuted by the alchemy gun turns into dust after exposure to heat or after a certain amount of time. Luke Cage, Hero for Hire would eventually comment that Chemistro was just one of those guys who had power and wanted to throw it around so people knew he meant business. If he turned things into gold and made himself rich, no-one would be afraid of him or know who was boss. Chemistro's alchemy gun is in fact a subversion. In one issue of Iron Man, Curtis Carr tells Tony Stark that he has in fact tried to create new alchemy guns by attempting to duplicate the radiation field that gave his original gun its powers. As much as Carr might want to mass-produce his invention and get rich that way, so far he's had no luck.
- Iron Man
- The comic loves to simultaneously subvert, lampshade and justify this trope, by pointing out the Unfortunate Implications of letting weaponized supervillain tech (or, more frequently, Iron Man's repulsor tech) out into the world. In a recent example one of his enemies implanted repulsor-variant technology into terrorists's bodies, turning them into high-end suicide bombers. Hundreds were killed and Stark Industries was completely wiped out.
- Iron Man once defeated a villain called the Living Laser. An alternate universe comic has him simply hiring the certified genius as Tony Stark. Unfortunately, this doesn't work because like most villains, he doesn't fit into society. This is arguably the best reason for not cutting Lex a check... villains who don't fit in still don't with money.
- Averted with the villain Mock Turtle, who put his skills to creating Powered Armour for a company, only for them to forbid him from piloting it, so he snapped and stole it.
- Subverted by the Ultimate version of the Thinker, who turned to crime after he was fired from Roxxon for proposing alternative energy based on Vibranium.
- Averted in some Marvel comic or other. Molecule Man chats with another supervillain: "So eventually I got out of prison, and I thought?" "Now I shall have my revenge!" "No, no. Who needs the grief? With my powers I can live in luxury without ever doing anything to draw the heroes' attention."
- An issue of Ultimate Spider-Man lampshaded and subverted this trope with Ultimate Shocker. Unlike the main universe version, the ultimate version is a real loser seen as a joke by everyone and constantly mocked by Spider-Man. However, after learning that Shocker had created his blasters himself, Spider-Man asked him why he didn't made a fortune with selling the technology. The subversion: Shocker reveals that he had worked for a big company creating inventions, and while said company made even more money, he was fired without seeing a single cent. Which also added a tragic aspect to the formerly laughable character, because he also explains how he studied at MIT until his eyes bled.
- Lampshaded and played straight, one right after the other in Spider-Man. When the Man Who Would Be Hobgoblin first examines the Green Goblin's cache of equipment, he remarks on how incredible the technology is. Specifically, that the personal bat glider must surely represent a breakthrough in the field of aeronautics, and how this proves Norman Osborn's insanity, since he could have made far more money by patenting the design than he could ever have hoped to by using it for crime. In his very next breath, however, the man states that keeping such a thing to yourself would be one part of proving yourself better than those around you, and thus using it for personal gain makes total sense.
- The Vulture is another one of those subversions who started out making money honestly. It was only after he had been ripped off by his business partner that Adrian Toomes decided to use his new flying harness as a professional criminal. In one of the more recent Web of Spider-man comics he actually goes further into this when asked by a fellow prisoner (who was the leader of a gang black-mailing him to build a vulture suit to fly out) why Toomes didn't just sell the his technology (his partner is gone and can easily build the his equipment with little resources—he was making it in prison for at least the second time). He tells him that since his partner who betrayed Toomes looked down on him as weak he uses the equipment to do what ever he wanted so that no one ever would think he was weak again.
- Averted with Dr. Octopus in most of his incarnations: He was a scientist who invented and used his arms for legitimate research purposes. It took a lab accident fusing the arms to his body and driving him insane to turn him into a supervillain. Further subverted with the Ultimate Marvel version of Dr. Octopus. He was caught in an explosion as per usual, but S.H.I.E.L.D. scientist Henry Pym let his condition deteriorate to the point where his arms couldn't be removed. Nice Job Breaking It, Hero. Ock went on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge against the man he blamed for the explosion until he was captured. He later escaped from prison twice, both times attempting to continue his revenge spree against first S.H.I.E.L.D. and then his ex-wife, who was trying to profit off of his story. Upon subsequent arrest and running out of people to get revenge on, Ock made a deal with the FBI to use his knowledge of Spider-Man's DNA to produce Spider-Man clones for the agency. In the end it's played straight in a fight with Spider-Man, as Ock realizes that he likes being a supervillain, even if it's stupid and doesn't work out for him.
- In the Spider-Man/X-Men Expanded Universe novel Time's Arrow: The Present, written by Adam Troy-Castro, Spidey muses on "the guys who spend six million dollars building robot suits so they can rob banks". He compares this with his own initial decision to make money as a masked wrestler/novelty act, rather than sell his webbing formula to an adhesives company, and concludes that it's not really about the money; it's about proving something to everyone who ever laughed at them.
- It was even discussed in another case: "But I don't want to cure cancer. I want to turn people into dinosaurs".
- Averted when the Riddler performs a variant of this based on his compulsive disorder and rampant ego: he becomes a detective, to keep his ego inflated and potentially beat Batman at his own game, without having to worry about the inevitable Bat-Fist to the face and subsequent jail time should he fail.
- Averted when, at one point, the Riddler is seen chatting with Penguin, who has discovered he can make more money as a legitimate businessman selling cheaply made merchandise at extortionate, but legal, markups. Penguin averts this trope again with the Iceberg Lounge. Criminal empires are fun, but Batman tends to kick your ass. Solution? Open a prestigious nightclub that doubles as a Bad Guy Bar for Batman's huge Rogues Gallery. It tends to get blown up a lot, but it provides a steady source of legal income.
- Sort of occurred with the Batman villain the Mad Hatter. He used to use his mind controlling hats to commit crimes, feeling that the riches he made this way would make him happy. So did he realize that he could cut out the middleman and sell the technology for all the riches he wanted? No! He realized that he could use the hats on himself to become blissfully happy whenever he wants, thus cutting out two middlemen. He still commits crimes, but now it's just for fun.
- Another Golden Age Batman story has a character named Carlos who had a phony mind-reading show, Bruce figured right away he was using code words to get the answers, gaining real mind-reading powers following a car accident and emergency brain surgery that "Fate slyly played its hand in". He does use his power to make money somewhat legally at first, in card games and radio shows, but decides to turn to crime so he can make even more money. He hits this trope head on when he learns Batman and Robin's real names, but can't think of anything better than to blackmail them into keeping away from him. It bites him on the ass when his last robbery victim fatally shoots him in the back while he's distracted fighting Batman.
- There was another Golden Age Batman story featuring a person with a photographic memory. Despite graduating from college with every degree possible, this guy couldn't get any work better than stage acts. He was recruited by mobsters so that he could memorize secret information without taking the relevant documents themselves and later sell said info, under the condition that the mobsters don't kill anyone during their jobs. The man's skills are proven when he forces Batman to fight dirty, renders him and Robin unconscious via nerve pinching, and perfectly copies the Batplane. Ultimately, since this story takes place during WWII, the story is subverted when Batman saves the man's life and recommends him to the army so his talents can be used against the Axis to atone for what he's done.
- Victor Fries, or Mr. Freeze, was originally an inexplicable cold-based villain, already falling under this trope. The guy has a gun that turns thermodynamics upside down and rather than patent that and claim his Nobel, he robs banks. Batman the Animated Series established he was trying to save his frozen wife and committed crimes to get the necessary funds. He was a downright sympathetic Anti-Villain. He's also essentially ageless with a technology that could be invaluable to the rest of the world. Given he's not just in it For the Evulz, one's got to wonder why he doesn't just go legit, prove what he's done, and wait for university and corporate backers to line up just for a chance to throw resources at him. One comic suggested that, while he is not in it For the Evulz, he's also not willing to part with any of his inventions (with the occasional case-by-case exception) until Nora is all fixed.
- Linkara points out in The Agony Booth review of Batman #147, that the scientist Garth could have patented an age-reversing ray instead of working with jewel thieves.
- In Shadow of the Bat, there was this one Batman villain named the Human Flea who invented a device allowing him to jump extraordinarily high. The Human Flea went around robbing diners to save his father from going bankrupt. After capturing the Human Flea, Batman tells the supervillain that he could make himself rich off patenting his invention. The Human Flea responds that he never thought of that.
- Poison Ivy falls into a variant of this that actually exists in real life: ecoterrorism, wherein an attempt at enacting social/environmental change is done in such a way that discourages people from doing as desired. Making things far worse than real cases, she really is an absolute genius with plants, able to create miraculous strains that could solve all sorts of environmental problems that harm the plant ecosystem, the sort of thing she fights for... if only she would market her creations on the legitimate market, rather than giving them forcibly, with fangs and a taste for human flesh added in.
- She also faces a problem real-life ecoterrorists don't; her connection to the Green means that plant life suffering from pollution and etc. causes harmful mental feedback to her in proximity. Essentially, the very existence of the problem she is trying to fight is also what renders her incapable of rational thought on the topic. She's a tragic character that way, which is presumably the author's intent.
- Subverted with the villain 8-Ball, who actually started out working for a defense firm as an engineer, before he was fired when his employers thought he was selling company secrets to pay his large gambling debts, leading him to create his weapons and costumed identity.
- Subverted with Spectra, who first got a job in a laboratory so she could rob the place, only to obtain superhuman powers after Sleepwalker interferes in the robbery. At first, she seems poised to become a criminal, but when she reappears it turns out she's gotten a legitimate job using her light-generating powers.
- One of his first villains was Crimewave, who wanted to, among other things, kidnap models and hold the valuable clothes they were wearing hostage... using his remote-controlled, armored van with a tentacles-and-guns self-defense system. This is justified, as the bad guy cares more about fame—he even has his own cameraman—than actually making a profit or toppling Kingpin.
- Lampshaded by the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Mirage comics by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird when Baxter Stockman, already very wealthy from his legitimate technology company, begins using his Mouser robots for crime. When April asks him why he'd do it when he's already rich, Stockman, who is already mentally unhinged to begin with, simply claims that it's fun!
- Doctor Lovecraft in the Justice League of America initially did legitimate work for his company, but when they pursued financial wrongdoing, they allowed him to pursue more dangerous experiments to create mutates to steal for the company. As these mutates later devolved out of sentience, this explains why he could not have gone public with his results.
- The Revenant has managed to "convince" a number of villains of the PS238 universe that it is better for them to find a more practical way to use their abilities. For example, Mr. Godwin, a.k.a. the Crystal Skull, was convinced to stop robbing banks and to take money from people voluntarily... by running a legit casino.
- The Trapster follows this trope to a T. He invented a type of super adhesive and decided to use it to rob banks instead of just patenting it, for some reason that they never explained. He even got a pardon after his first criminal outing, by helping the Avengers defeat Baron Zemo and yet still went back to crime after that. In a rather excellent print short story, the Trapster completely subverts this trope. He changes his name and begins selling his products on behalf of a Seen on TV company. His inventions are successful, he starts dating, and he even gets to ham it up on television. Unfortunately his old colleague the Wizard sees him enjoying himself and threatens him into going back to his Trapster identity and threatening a live studio audience, but his girlfriend talks him down in a touching on camera scene just before U.S. Agent clocks him in the jaw. As the story ends, Trapster is a sympathetic reformed criminal who keeps the girl and his job and gets legal representation to help clear up his parole problems. Of course none of this is canon.
- A very early issue of the Fantastic Four has an inverted invocation of this trope: the villain in this case is a stage magician who used his skills as a hypnotist and illusionist to fool the Fantastic Four into thinking he has powers far greater than theirs. Then he uses these powers to fight them off as he went around stealing jewelry. Reed Richards ultimately deduced that his powers were phony and pointed out that if those powers were real the magician could easily have conjured up all the jewels and treasure he wanted without having to stoop to such petty thievery in the first place.
- Averted with The Atom's foe the Bug-Eyed Bandit, who became a criminal because no-one would buy his technology—no-one would fund his research without a working model of it, but he couldn't build a working model of it without funding. Eventually, he got so ticked off that he just stole the money he needed, built his tech at last and used it to become a career criminal.
- Linkara called the one-shot Daredevil villain "The Surgeon General" on her whole organ-stealing shtick, which inherently relies on being a skilled surgeon. On the other hand, selling black-market organs would probably be more profitable than the average medical practice... the savings on malpractice insurance alone would be immense.
- Averted in one Tom Strong storyline; an alternate-timeline version of Tom manages to stop his Arch Enemy in the normal timeline from ever turning to crime by pointing out how much more money he could make by selling his inventions legitimately.
- The Authority tends to do this in varied ways. "Tank Man" is simply talked into giving up his murderous ways and settling down (it doesn't turn out well, but they tried). Jacob Krigstien is given an outlet for his world-changing habits by being allowed to do it in a non-killing-people way. An animal-abusing psychopath is put on retainer for when the Authority needs to get information out of human-abusing psychopaths.
- Hilariously subverted in the short-lived DC parody comic book the Inferior Five. The would-be superteam's first nemesis was Dr. Gregory Gruesome, a brilliant, evil Mad Scientist who was so poor he lived in a dilapidated wooden hut in the middle of a junkyard and his sole henchman was a dim-witted vagabond. Despite lamenting about his inability to "turn out multi-million-dollar missiles like they were paper planes" like this trope's namesake, he actually created some remarkably effective machines by cobbling together garbage, scrap, and various other odds and ends.
- The Trickster
- Lampshaded in one Robin issue where he's beating up the Trickster. He points out to him that he has shoes that can walk on air, and by mass producing them, he'd be ten times richer than Bruce Wayne. Instead, he rents himself out as a mercenary.
- In an earlier issue of Blue Devil, the first Trickster is also asked why he didn't market his shoes. He points out they've just finished a storyline in which he tried to do that and the buyers tried to A) kill him and B) forcibly secede California, though he does consider trying to resell to a "reputable" organization like SKULL. Also, Depending on the Writer, he may have been more interested in the attention than the money.
- At one point, he became a professional hero-distractor, doing things like putting people's lives at risk so Superman would let crooks get away to save them.
- One of the Banana Man comics in The Dandy had this with a villain (well, his villainy was basically trying to scare the hero), running a fancy fake haunted house with holographic ghosts and what not. It subverted the trope because at the end, the villain DID do a Heel Face Turn and use his abilities to run a theme park Haunted House ride.
- The Circus of Crime may be D-list villains, but they're excellent circus performers. If they would go straight and abandon the "hypnotize the crowd and rob them blind" shtick, they could pull in plenty of money without getting beat up and thrown in jail. At least one comic had them propose doing that... then lament that it wouldn't really be all that profitable, since not too many people care about the circus anymore.
- The Adventures of Tintin has a subversion in Flight 714. Dr. Krollspell has developed a working, if unperfected, truth serum. Now, you might reasonably assume that every intelligence or security agency in the world would pay a king's ransom for it. However, instead of marketing it, Dr. Krollspell takes a job from Rastapopoulos to use it on millionaire Laszlo Carreidas to get a bank account number. This trope could even conceivably apply to Rastapopoulos too. He could have bankrolled the distribution of a massive invention... except that the truth serum doesn't work, as Carreidas ends up babbling on about everything except the bank account number. Rastapopoulos could have injected Carreidas with Rajaijah Juice and gotten the same result.
- Minor-league Marvel Comics supervillain The Ringer thoroughly subverts this trope. He actually started out working as a legitimate engineer for NASA, but he got a serious case of Green-Eyed Monster syndrome when he saw wealthy business executives like Kyle Richmond getting rich off the hard work of people like him. The Ringer originally embarked on his career to get revenge for the little guy by robbing Kyle Richmond, who was secretly the superhero Nighthawk. After Nighthawk defeated him and he escaped from jail, the Ringer tried again with an upgraded battlesuit that allowed him to gather condensed air particulates and assemble them into a substance that was almost as strong as steel and that he could use to make additional rings whenever he needed them. Despite the fact that this invention could probably have revolutionized the steel industry, to say nothing of manufacturing in general, the Ringer simply uses it to... try and market the battlesuit to his criminal contacts, but then the Beetle forces him to fight Spider-Man and he gets his ass kicked.
- Deconstructed to a great extent in issue #16 of Ultimate Spider-Woman: Change With the Light, when the Beetle provides a number of rebuttals to the arguments that supervillains should just patent their technology. Even if you can patent your technology, there's always the danger that some Corrupt Corporate Executive will try and screw you out of your share of the profits, something the Beetle claims happened to the Shocker when he tried selling his shock blasters to Justin Hammer. Starting your own business is no guarantee of success either, particularly when many businesses fail within their first year of operation. Then there's the fact that many supervillains do not want to spend their time working for people they view as Pointy-Haired Bosses who got ahead through ass-kissing and brown-nosing, rather than actual talent. This obviously isn't the case most of the time, but supervillains as a whole tend to be misanthropes...
- Of course, so long as heroic billionaires keep owning technology companies, this argument makes no sense. Tony Stark would love to cut you a check so a) you get rich b) he gets even richer and c) the incredibly long parade of tech-themed villains that keep dropping by to ruin his weekends off grows shorter by one. Indeed, there was a period in comics where Tony did precisely this with several reformed members of Justin Hammer's supervillain stable.
Films -- Animation
- The villain of Up, Charles F. Muntz wants to get fame and recognition by catching a rare bird. To accomplish this he invents devices that allow dogs to communicate verbally, and fly airplanes! Even if he wanted fame and renown rather than money, being known as the person who invented the device that lets dogs talk to humans would be far more likely to make him famous than catching a new species of bird! Heck considering the dogs don't even need to bark to speak with this, the profits from engineering it to allow mute humans and humans who are completely paralyzed to speak would ensure his honor among the greats. This is, however, justified and lampshaded to some extent by showing that he has become psychotically obsessed with the bird. Not to mention that his museum is full of dozens of skeletons of other species, all of them of a bizarre nature and undiscovered to science. Had he brought any of those back instead, he would have made far more of a profit in the scientific realm than the capture of a single colorful ostrich.
Films -- Live-Action
- Averted in Goldmember. Number Two finally hits upon the brilliant scheme of making the organization a legitimate business with the ethics of an evil organization, by turning it into a talent agency.
- In Lord of War, Yuri Orlov eventually abandons his business as an arms dealer and adopts, in his words, "more legal methods of exploiting Third World countries", but notes that it isn't as thrilling as his old line of work, and there is comparatively more competition. He inevitably returns to arms dealing, with the change that it is government sponsored.
- The Corrupt Corporate Executive in Tron made his name, position and fortune by stealing another programmer's game programs... with the help of his fully sentient A.I. It's explained that the executive's A.I. started out as little more than a chess program that could learn, but you'd expect that a learning program would still be a tad more complex than a video game.
- Justified in that not only did the A.I. have plans of its own, its creation was largely an accident and Dillinger didn't seem to really know what he had until after it had already taken control and started giving him orders.
- Spider-Man films:
- Dr. Octopus is researching a new power source. In order to control it, he invents a system of mechanical arms that interface with his brain, have artificial intelligence, are indestructible, have the strength to throw cars, and never seem to need new batteries. Just about every aspect of the things would seem to merit a Nobel Prize, but Octavius and the rest of the world initially only treat them as a simple tool. However, if the research in nuclear fusion had paid off, it would have been a significantly more important discovery. Also, he doesn't just patent the things because the time he revealed them to the world was shortly before the accident, and the loss of the control chip caused him to go insane. If anything, a successful test run would have let him have two major technological achievements under his belt.
- And in Spider-Man 3 Sandman needs to raise money for his sick daughter and turns to a life of crime. When he becomes living sand, you'd think he could strike a deal to work off his debt to society for a little government health care. It's not like a guy who can meld with sand wouldn't come in handy in any ongoing warzones. Instead, he simply robs banks. In all fairness, however, Sandman is simply doing what comes naturally to him and has no reason to suspect that anyone would allow him to go straight. He was, after all, running from the cops when he got his powers.
- It's still a classic example of this trope, in that he's too stupid to figure out that the ability to basically move an infinite amount of sand is worth billions to the right people, such as, oh, oil companies. Heck, just outbidding the guys who made the World Archipelago would have made him enough money to not only get his daughter medical treatment but also buy out the entire Mayo Clinic.
- Also, the places oil companies need sand moved aren't in the United States. It doesn't matter if he's a fugitive in New York - Saudi Arabia, to name just one example, is a non-extradition country.
- Lampshaded in Darkman III. The doctor in charge of making a serum based on the nerve damage suffered by the titular character discusses with herself the fact that she could make way more money selling to pharmaceutical companies.
- Reuben in the remade Oceans Eleven. After Benedict ran his casino out of business, he completely bankrolls Danny's heist to the tune of about $17 million rather than just try to build another casino. This one becomes subverted, however, as the successful heist allows him to be completely reimbursed and actually make a $13 million profit.
- In The Prestige, Nicolas Tesla tries to invent a teleportation machine for Robert Angier to use in his magic shows. The problem was, the machine ended up copying things instead of teleporting them. But Angier still used the machine to perform his magic trick, creating copies of himself so that it appeared as though he was teleporting across long distances. Angiers could become the richest man in the world almost overnight by copying valuable objects with the machine, but he's already a wealthy gentlemen who is more interested in magic than riches. He could also do things like completely end world hunger by copying food and so forth, but his obsession to out-do his magical rival blinds him to all other goals.
- In the film version of Street Fighter, M. Bison is the dictator of some tiny southeastern Asian country, but somehow has developed both super-soldier biochemical engineering, as well as hover boots, with which he wants to use to conquer the world. He could probably become the de facto ruler of the world just by marketing those two bits of technology.
- Mr. Freeze's appearance in Batman and Robin has him stealing giant diamonds and using them to both fuel his suit and build a giant freeze ray he plans to use to hold Gotham hostage in exchange for funds to further the research he needs to save his wife. Why he doesn't just sell the giant diamonds is never explained. If not that, could have just patented the smaller ray immediately, waited for the Nobel, and wondered how many new laws in physics will be named after him. The applications are endless and he's just disproved everything known about thermodynamics. He would never again want for funds no matter what he's researching. At the end of the film Batman basically talks him into doing just that. Oh, and giving him the cure to the early stage of the horrible disease his wife had. The stage, coincidentally, Alfred happens to have. Freeze trades the cure for a cell with Poison Ivy, since he learned she tried to kill his wife.
- Played both ways in Iron Man 2 with Ivan Vanko. Vanko's capable of replicating the Arc Reactor with his father/Tony's father's incomplete diagrams. While not as potent as Tony Stark's variant, it still catches the eye of Tony and he is left to wonder why Vanko is using it to terrorize him instead of selling it to the highest bidder, be they legitimate or otherwise. The real reason is that Vanko's father did try to sell it for massive profit but Howard Stark would have none of it, exiling him from the US instead. Ivan is out for Tony's blood as his family stole the opportunity to have that check cut for them. In other words, the ship already sailed long ago for Ivan as far as making money, he's just interested in making Tony suffer by this point.
- In Making Money, Moist von Lipwig averts, subverts and lampshades this. As someone who had previously been a con man and was now making a respectable living, he now found himself still desiring the thrill of the chase, and "keeping his hand in" with schemes of various sorts. Someone actually mentions to him how silly it is for people to swindle and trick when better money could be made out of living honestly... he glosses over the point. Specifically, he mentions to himself that while the legal way is more profitable and in many ways easier, its also less fun.
- This is also lampshaded in Equal Rites wherein it is pointed out that the time and effort a group of brigands puts into robbing caravans could have quite easily allowed them to earn a good living if they were to work that hard at a honest trade.
- In The Last Continent, a wizard reminisces about a classmate who, sentenced to copy out lines of text as a punishment, invented a multi-pencil apparatus to write the same line several times simultaneously. Building and improving his invention took more time and effort than simply copying the lines would have and eventually led to the student's accidental death.
- A much simpler device, made of coat hangers, was used in the novel Who Ran My Underwear up the Flagpole? by Jerry Spinelli. The character in question is assigned to write a hundred lines on the board, then the teacher stepped out for a coffee. When he gets back, there are 120 lines on the board and the student is gone. When he finds out what the kid's done, he's so impressed that he isn't even punished. The same kid also has a custom skateboard, and it is implied he'll be some sort of inventor when he grows up.
- A comment is offered in Vanity Fair about one character who is a stingy and sly aristocrat. The author notes that if he had been born in obscurity, he could have become a wealthy Amoral Attorney, but as a baronet, he does things like being so stingy his crops fail and engaging in constant law suits which while profitable when he wins are more frequently a financial drain.
- In the Paul Jennings short story The Strap Box Flier, an inventor goes from town to town selling his amazing glue which, in demonstrations, bonds instantly with a grip like steel. He then gets as far away as possible, before the townsfolk figure out the glue comes undone after four hours. Apparently it never occurred to him that a glue which allowed you to fix something immovably into place for a predictable amount of time, after which it would come undone of its own accord, would be worth an incredible fortune.
- Subverted when, at the end of the Serpentwar Saga. Dashel Jameson, Sheriff of Krondor, renounces his noble titles and becomes the Upright Man, leader of the Krondorian Thieves Guild, succeeding his late great-uncle, Lyle Rigger. His new second-in-command asks him why he's doing this, since as the son of a Duke and the younger brother of an Earl, there's no way he could make as much money as a thief as he could legitimately. He did it as a point of honor: he had promised a thief he had fallen in love with who had died protecting the city from Keshian raiders that he would look out for the thieves.
- Eventually averted by Artemis Fowl, who does use his genius to make money in more legitimate ways. Among others, he has several patents and won a competition to design a new opera house in Dublin.
- One telling of Hansel and Gretel outright states that the witch built her gingerbread house just to lure in children to eat. Apparently, it never occurred to her that being able to produce enough sweets to build a house from them in the middle of a famine could be a mighty profitable skill.
- The Company in Prison Break is an example. They have the technology to solve most of humanity's energy and agriculture problems and hence would become both the richest and most heralded people on the planet if they were up front and honest. Instead, they run currency scams in third world countries and sell weapons to belligerents that will make them hundreds of millions, but have the potential to wipe out all of humanity if used.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer
- Warren Meers could have made billions with his life-like androids. Instead, he pisses away his genius robbing banks in a small California town. Then again, Warren is very emotionally immature, such that he may well not have thought of the ramifications of his machines.
- Word of God is that the super-science used by the trio and a few other villains is actually an applied form of magic (which the user may not be aware of), and cannot be used in any large-scale capacity since the tech doesn't actually work.
- The androids could not only be reprogrammed and maintained by people who were not Warren, but there was already an android-making villain on the show completely unrelated to Warren (the guy behind Ted in season 2), as well as the unrelated-to-either-of-those Life Model Decoy-esque androids used by whoever was impersonating Wesley's father in Angel season 5. That's a lot of reproducible examples for an allegedly non-reproducible technology.
- In the post-TV continuation comics Willow not only builds a new Buffybot from scratch, she significantly improves on Warren's AI design. To be fair, Willow is pretty much the Buffyverse's equivalent of the Sorceress Supreme by that point in addition to being a computer genius.
- An episode of The Twilight Zone has a group of gold thieves trying to evade the heat. One of them accomplishes this by using a cryogenic device he made to hide for many decades instead of patenting the device and becoming a well respected and incredibly rich scientist. This may have been because of societal reasons due to the era Twilight Zone was aired.
- Averted in Dalek Empire (Big Finish Doctor Who spinoffs), where the Daleks seek an alternate history where they've already conquered the entire universe. What they get is an alternate reality where the equivalent of Davros decided that you catch more flies with honey, and decided to make the Daleks good or at least well-intentioned. "You Daleks have conquered this galaxy?" "Correct" "You have waged war against its peoples, you have destroyed, you have subjugated." "Correct!" "You have committed the greatest crimes our universe has ever known! Neutralise them!" Unsurprisingly, by not being genocidal jerks, they've been far more successful, and the Daleks are rapidly reduced to the edge of extinction yet again.
- Subverted in the Firefly episode "Our Mrs. Reynolds", where Mal, upon confronting Saffron, points out that "All the lying, all the games... there's got to be an easier way to steal." At which point she replies that Mal is assuming the payoff for her is the money.
- Lampshaded in an episode of Hancocks Half Hour when the Honest John "Sid Balmory James" discovers that spending all his time thinking up elaborate cons is a lot harder than simply going to the bank and getting an overdraft.
- In Harry's Law, it's averted at the end of the series premiere. The main character used to be a patent lawyer, and three thugs had rigged up a device to get car doors open. They decided they wanted to patent it instead.
- The reality show It Takes a Thief is an aversion, a security makeover show where former thieves first burgle the home or business in question, and then install security systems that would've prevented them in the first place. Then they test them to see if the owners are using it properly. On more than one occasion they've found the homeowners have literally left the front door unlocked.
- FoxTrot has Jason Fox, who tries several ludicrous schemes to make money, (including thousand-dollar SNOW DINOSAURS, which, you know, would MELT come Spring!) despite the fact that he has effortlessly built machines and coded programs that could have made him MILLIONS had he simply sold them. He once tried to form a one-man corporation, but all he had to show investors was "a dinky little program I wrote for fun." Unfortunately for him and them, the Darth Jason virus did not "kill off interest," it "killed off the Internet." Possibly justified in that, while genius at some things, Jason is still a child and thus doesn't always have the best common sense.
- Mad once had a article that said that your laziness factor factored in the amount of work you're willing to go through to get out of doing work.
- Subverted by The Thieves' Guild, a criminal gang in the Freedom City setting of Mutants and Masterminds. Six inventors, all brilliant in their particular field, and they rob banks. Of course, they're also all psychotic in their own particular way.
- Lampshaded in City of Heroes. Sometimes NPCs will say "If the Sky Raiders really only wanted money they would just sell their jetpack designs. There is something more." Crey Corporation plays this straight. They make a lot of products that could be much more valuable as actual products rather than tools of mass destruction. They also make countless products just for consumer and military purchase.
- Averted in the original Mega Man Battle Network game by Higsby, a teacher employed by the WWW to brainwash the students of ACDC and steal their rare chips for himself. He later opens up a chip shop. In the subsequent games of the series, Dr.Regal and even Wily do this too.
- Zig-zagged in BioShock, as Frank Fontaine's ultimate goal is to become the richest and most adored man alive after killing off anyone who could get in his way by bringing Rapture's technology such as ADAM to the surface.
- Doctor Eggman, of Sonic the Hedgehog fame. Even if he isn't willing to sell pieces of his giant army of robots, he seems to have a secret love for casinos and circuses. He could probably get a lot of money and influence just by entertaining people. He might even have better luck defeating Sonic by getting him addicted to gambling.
- Super Mario Bros.: Zig-zagged by Wario. After a couple of games serving as Mario's rival and all the while playing a greedy Anti-Hero role, he finally went on to become the founder of the honest Wario Ware business and is presumably wealthier than ever. However, anything with Wario's name in it is not likely to be honest. Case in point: he never actually pays any of his employees.
- Antihero for Hire lampshades it in this strip.
- Freefall: Sam lampshades this dilemma.
- Averting this trope is the driving force behind Evil Inc, a comic about a supervillain who starts a legitimate company to cater to supervillains. When a traditionalist complains he is losing sight of what evil is, he just shows him the legitimate profit margins and smiles. An often repeated motto in the strip is, "You can do more evil if you do it legally."
- Averted in Rusty and Co's Fourth Wall Mail Slot which informs us that Rusty's metal-corroding ability is routinely used for "antiquing furniture for fun an' profit". For a rust monster it means being paid for licking food (carefully).
- Averted in Sam and Fuzzy, where Mr. Sin's core idea is to market his inventions and get rich on them. Played straight in that he's a Mad Scientist and most of his inventions are created in very illegal ways, not to mention tend to go terribly, terribly wrong during the development stage.
- Minions At Work discusses the wrong way and the right way to extract profit from Anti Gravity.
- Averted in the Whateley Universe. Plenty of the Mad Scientists do, in fact, patent their inventions, and figure out uses for them. Furthermore, Ayla Goodkind is making sure to look for these people and CUT them checks. And this is mercilessly lampshaded by Ayla Goodkind herself, when she complains that Whateley Academy needs better contract law help for these inventors, and courses to teach the inventors how not to get robbed by the Corrupt Corporate Executive so they have to turn to crime later in life.
- This is Edwin Windsor's job in How to Succeed In Evil—talk to would-be supervillains and try to get them to use their abilities and talents in an efficient and profitable manner, rather than for grandiose and overly complex schemes they seem so fond of. To his endless frustration, they rarely listen to him.
- Cracked has 6 People Who Turned a Life of Crime into Legitimate Careers, based on Real Life examples.
- Inverted Trope in The Spoony Experiment with the villain Dr. Insano saying that the protagonist of The Dungeonmaster should just patent his inventions and make loads.
- Many of the Captain Planet and the Planeteers villains. Dr. Blight, for example, can invent a time machine, but her best plan for making money with it is to sell a nuke to Hitler. Averted, however, with Sly Sludge, who eventually does go legit after being told recycling could be just as profitable as his usual poaching/polluting gigs (except for metals, it isn't). In a very strange play on this, he invents a device that shrinks garbage in response to a landfill crisis.
- Batman: The Animated Series explored the concept with some of its reoccurring villains. The Penguin is sane enough to admit associating with criminal riffraff is pretty distasteful anyway and he'd make much more profit with a skimming-off-the-top grey market nightclub. Subverted in that he still doesn't turn his act around in the end.
- Averted in the spinoff comic The Batman Adventures. The Riddler signs a deal with some out-of-town businessmen who find that the device he's used to hijack broadcasts can be the basis for a super-advanced cell phone which makes him millions. He finds an outlet for his ongoing urges by sending Batman riddles without actual crimes attached.
- Batman Beyond
- Mr. Freeze's appearance averts this. It's mentioned that he is wealthy and puts his fortune towards making amends to the families who were hurt by his villainous actions in the past.
- Zig-zagged with this version of Spellbinder, a psychologist who uses sophisticated Mind Control devices to hypnotize people into stealing for him. Aside from the fact that he's invented all this hypnotic equipment but can't think of anything better to do with it than trick people into stealing for him, he probably doesn't even make a profit on his crimes. However, in his introductory episode Spellbinder goes on a rant which indicates that this may be more about revenge than greed. It took another turn when Spellbinder got wiser and began marketing his equipment as virtual reality generators that allowed people to live out their fantasies. Of course, he "marketed" it like a drug pusher and got taken down by Batman for it.
- In Wacky Races, Dick Dastardly's Mean Machine is obviously the fastest car in the races and he always manages to get ahead of everyone else. If he wasn't so adamant in cheating and causing the other racers to get further behind of his considerable lead, he could have easily won every single race.
- DuckTales (1987)
- The Beagle Boys Inc. from the Scrooge McDuck universe have moments of clarity: in one story, they realize that at their rate of success, they make an average 14 cents per hour. In another story, they open an ice cream parlor as a front to plan a bank robbery, and to their own surprise make good honest money with it. Subverted because they don't go straight.
- A doubly subversive episode of Duck Tales has them realizing they have musical talent. Ma Beagle signs them in a record deal under Scrooge's label as part of a plan to rob the Money Bin. However, the Boys find their new lifestyle extremely profitable... even Scrooge is making money off of them, despite their excessive demands, so they go legit. However, Ma Beagle is a believer in Bad Is Good and Good Is Bad, and as such sabotages them so they're forced to go back to being villains.
- An episode of Back at the Barnyard, while admittedly a parody, has "Cowman" fighting a botany-themed villain. His motives boiled down to his monstrous plant hybrids never winning the blue ribbon at the county fair. However, while pretending to be a friendly Willy Wonka-style wandering botanist, he plants a seed that instantly sprouts into an ice cream tree. Perhaps that one alone could have won him a blue ribbon. Or Nobel Prize.
- In Transformers Animated, when the creator of the Headmasters is fired for wanting to make something with military applications, he decides to make his own company... and start it by stealing approximately 6.3 metric buttloads of money. This requires him to ignore that 1) he could just get a grant from any number of other companies that do work with the military without stealing and 2) if he actually got the amount of money he demanded, he and several dozen generations of his descendants would never have to work another day in their lives. But then he's a Straw Loser gamer nerd, so...
- The villains in the new series Scooby Doo Mystery Incorporated have this worse than any of the others, as their costumes are far more realistic and advanced than previous series. What's even worse about this? Crystal Cove, the place they're haunting, has hauntings as their primary tourist attraction. The ones who are after money could make a fortune by opening a haunted house legally.
- Stripperella. Parodied with El Cheapo, who plans elaborate crimes designed to get him the world's largest fake diamond, or a stash of copper bars worth up to $16.
- According to Word of God, a Missing Episode of Swat Kats would've averted this trope, with the re-captured villains Hard Drive and former Madcat Lenny Ringtail being hired by the Enforcers as detectives.
- Played straight by Mysterio and the Tinkerer on The Spectacular Spider Man, who create amazingly advanced technologies including Ridiculously-Human Robots which they use in working for high-paying crime lords and foreign governments.
- Word Girl
- The Butcher has the power to produce seemingly-infinite meat from his hands, but rarely seems to use this power to actually sell meat, despite the fact that he could do it at unbeatable prices with every cent being profit.
- Likewise Dr. Two-Brains and Tobey never seem to think of using their genius engineering skills to a more profitable use than stealing cheese and throwing annoyed fits, respectively.
- While not as skilled as the above three, Chuck the Evil Sandwich-Making Guy has attempted a legitimate job in no less than three episodes: "Chuck the Nice Pencil Selling Guy", "Chuck Makes a Buck" and "Lunchlady Chuck", only to go back to crime at the end due to some small slight.
- Pretty much every scheme the title characters of Ed, Edd n Eddy attempt takes so much work to set up, just to fleece a few quarters from other kids, that they'd have gotten a lot richer if they'd devoted the same effort to mowing peoples' lawns. Often, the ramshackle gadgets Edd designs as part of the scams would be salable in their own right.
- Challenge of the Superfriends was notorious for this. Lex Luthor invents a time machine? He and the Legion of Doom use it to steal a few treasures from the past, and never use it again. A teleportation device? They use it to avoid being captured at the end of the episode. But never any other way. Invisibility cloak? Used for a few petty crimes, and never heard from again.
...This was so the Legion of Doom could force the world to give them money. I'm no electronically enhanced genius, but if the Legion of Doom is really hurting for money, maybe they shouldn't have built a fucking planet out of toys millions of light years away in the center of a black hole. Put some in the bank.
- In ReBoot, Dot saves the day and ends an episode by helping The Crimson Binome turn his villainous ways into a legitimate business, because it has higher profit margins.
- Averted on Johnny Test. Brainfreezer wishes he was less evil so he could just use his ice based technology for a legit business. After Johnny helps him, he does just that.
- One episode of Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers is motivated by this. Mad Scientist Prof. Nimnul has built a lightning generator whose power supply is the static electricity you get from rubbing several hundred fuzzy cats. In his Motive Rant, he claims to have tried selling it to a power company, but the design was so silly that they wouldn't take him seriously. His response is to blast them with the lightning.
- The My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic episode "The Super Speedy Cider Squeezy 6000" gives us the Flim Flam brothers, who have a machine that can produce apple cider at a rate faster than the Apple Family can. Had the two brothers not tried to drive the Apples out of business, not been such a pair of Jerkasses to the Apples, or heck, even tried to cut a fair deal with them instead of giving them an obviously bad one, they'd have ended up being filthy rich off the shared profits. Instead, they're hit with Laser-Guided Karma after they become so focused on beating the Apple Family that they turn off the quality control on their machine, this winning the contest but making cider so awful that no one will buy it.
- A popular fan theory is that the machine requires sufficient maintenance that it is not cost-effective to work for long periods, thus reducing the Flim-Flam brothers to a business model of 'show it off quick, then use the intimidation factor it produces to force people into unequitable contracts, then take the money and run'. Some support for this exists in the fact that in order to sustain a high production rate for any period of time the machine needs to be operated in a very unsafe manner, hence the quality control problem.
- In an episode of The Critic, an actress tried to get Jay to like her in order to get a positive review from him. However, when he gives his honest opinion (that she's terrible), she turns nasty. However, buttering Jay up required her to constantly stay in character and be convincing. If she put that much of her acting talent into her movies, she'd have a shelf filled with Oscars.
- The Misfits in Jem are a genuinely successful and popular music group in their own right, just not quite as successful as Jem and the Holograms. Their efforts to one-up and sabotage Jem generally only succeed in making themselves look bad; if they weren't so fixated on outdoing Jem and the Holograms and focused on their own performances, they'd have nothing to complain about. This is shown with particular clarity in the three-part "Starbright" episode; they manage to buy their way into and eventually take over the movie production that Jem had won the contract for in a previous episode, and their constant efforts to harass and sabotage Jem and the Holograms eventually drive the latter off the film - along with basically everyone else competent associated with the production, all of whom join Jem in shooting the original script. The Misfits' film is an unwatchable mess that went severely over its already multi-million-dollar budget only to crash and burn at the box office, no doubt resulting in their popularity taking a hit; they could have profited in both money and popularity if they'd simply spent the time touring instead, especially since Jem couldn't schedule any performances during the shooting of the movie.
- Frank William Abagnale, Jr., the real-life inspiration behind Leonardo DiCaprio's character in Catch Me If You Can, went on to found and run a financial fraud consultancy company, preventing wannabe criminals from pulling off the same crimes he once did.
- Wired magazine ran this article on a hacker who, for a time, had a day job helping corporations protect themselves from the likes of him, and spent his time trying to penetrate the same kinds of networks. He eventually got busted, big time, for credit card fraud. His partner in crime remarked:
"I couldn't figure it out; what is this guy doing? Why doesn't he just go get a job? Then it dawned on me, many years later: Max just likes to hack."
- Kevin Mitnick, hacker, became a successful security consultant.
- The best example with the Mafia is their role in Las Vegas. Here they had a legal, profitable business that they had to skim profits on to make it a criminal enterprise. Justified in that Nevada gaming regulations make it illegal for a convicted felon to own and operate a casino, so they had to get front men to buy the casinos and then skim off their own profits under the table.
- In the MSNBC documentary The Marrying Kind, con artist George Washington Upton embezzled money from his wives and established companies selling non-existent services. Upon his arrest, one of his former wives said that he was smart enough to have made just as much money through legal means but chose to do fraud instead.
- The "Friday Night Bank Robber", Carl Gugasian, could have had a bright future with his mathematical ability, but he was arrested and imprisoned for a crime committed when he was 15. After getting out of jail, he believed that no-one would ever give him legitimate work, so he became a very successful (until he got caught) bank robber.
- Eddie Antar, Kenneth Lay, and Bernie Madoff are all examples of Corrupt Corporate Executives who were clearly talented enough to hit the big time if they'd stuck to legitimate business practices, but who ended up destroying their own empires through fraud.
- On the plus side, many criminals have been able to use the notoriety they gain from their dishonest dealings to find legitimate careers. In addition to ex-hackers going on to work for computer companies and embezzlers who go on to become fraud consultants mentioned above, there were two former burglars who became security consultants teaching people how to keep their houses from being broken into (and later had their own popular Discovery Channel series doing the same), a counterfeiter who used his skills to get a high-level job at a computer company and even a marijuana smuggler who later advertised his services as a business consultant and entrepreneur based on the skills he'd gained building his dope-smuggling ring. Some art forgers who became so notorious for their crimes that people became interested in their own original work, enabling them to make a living as legitimate artists.
- Canadian Brian O'Dea built a multimillion-dollar marijuana smuggling ring in the 1980s and 1990s before he was arrested and imprisoned. After he served his sentence and got out of jail, he decided to get a legitimate job. He took out a series of ads in the National Post, one of Canada's major national newspapers, advertising his services as a business manager. As proof of his skills, he cited his success in building up his dope empire. And It Worked, since O'Dea received almost 600 job offers in response to his ad.
- FBI profiler John Douglas, in his autobiography Manhunter, mentions how, when still a police officer, he helped break up a gambling operation and at one point had a "very talkative bookie" in the back of his squad car. When he observed that the bookie was smart enough to earn money legitimately, the man simply replied that he did it for the thrill, and elaborated on his view. "You see those two raindrops on your windshield? I'll bet you that the one on the left will make it down before the one on the right. You can't stop us, John. It's what we are." Douglas writes that it was this conversation that led him to wonder whether people who continually engage in criminal acts legitimately think differently from law-abiding citizens.
- Generally, many break-in artists, forgers, embezzlers, and other criminals demonstrate a surprising amount of skill and intellect in committing their crimes, which they could have easily used those talents to make money legitimately. It's one thing to be raised in an environment where crime is almost the only way out, but when you consider how many of these guys are already in a position to make a comfortable living with their skills, this trope is arguably played straight in real life much more than you'd think.
- The TV show Masterminds is all about some of the most brilliant criminals ever to operate in the USA. Two of them, the Mission Impossible Burglar and The Florida Housebreaker, went into business using their skills after being caught to prevent crime. Then the Mission Impossible Burglar went back to crime afterwards anyway.
- When Meyer Lansky was arrested in the early 1970s, an FBI agent was quoted as saying "He could have been the CEO of General Motors if he had wanted."
- Look at the extent to which many students go towards cheating. With all that hard work, you wonder if it wouldn't be easier for them to do their work legitimately. Furthermore, students often rely on extra credit assignments to make up for regular assignments on which they gave little effort into. However, the extra credit often turns out to be more difficult than the regular assignments, thus defeating the purpose of slacking off in the first place.
- Many of the people who make Chinese bootleg videogames seem to be surprisingly talented—while there're lots of terrible ones, there're also surprisingly well-made things like Barver Battle Saga (only a bootleg because it was made using assets from other games) and, more shockingly, an NES version of Chrono Trigger that goes all the way up to the fight with Magus.
- A man who broke into Marriott International's computer network and tried to blackmail the company into giving him a job in their IT department. They didn't.