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"O cursed hunger of pernicious gold!
—Aeneas, The Aeneid, Book III
The hero and his ragtag band of adventurers are inching ever closer to the spot on their map where the Fantabulous Cave O'Treasure is said to be located. They can almost taste it, and it tastes just like gold. GOOOOOOOLD! The word itself is enough to conjure bouts of hallucinatory euphoria. Dollar signs appear in their eyes to the sound of a cash register. Even the most strait-laced and serious members of the band find their steps getting a little springier, their faces sporting predatory, out of character smiles.
Soon...soon they'll be richer than their wildest dreams.
If only they didn't have to share it with all these other fellows...
Paranoia slowly begins to creep into the minds of all of the characters. People who only a week before were putting their lives on the line for each other and firmly swearing their belief in The Power of Friendship suddenly come to view their companions with suspicion. The closer the heroes get to the treasure, the more likely this suspicion is to be kindled into hate, violence and even murder.
...after all... this is GOLD we're talking about. And there will probably only be so much to go around...
Gold Fever. There's probably nothing that can be more destructive to a circle of True Companions than this, for it is a moral disease as well as a mental one. To be infected with it leaves one vulnerable to the effects of karma and removes all protections one gets from being an upright hero. Fortunately, most heroes infected with Gold Fever realize what dinks they're being and turn back into their own noble, non-greedy selves just in time to avoid killing each other or being crushed by the Treasure Room's bamboo-powered boobytraps. Although sometimes they makes off with a teensy partial sum of it if the writer thinks they deserve it.
Villains who have been infected with Gold Fever don't make out nearly as well as heroes. They're almost certain to bump each other off and/or end up tripping headfirst into a Lava Pit while clutching a golden trinket and hissing insanely: "It's mine! ALL MINE! MIIIII--" *FLOOP!* In fact, the main cause of Karmic Death is a villain's own avarice, and their inability to see what danger they're in while they're trying to satisfy it. Even the most brilliant and street-savvy of villains can find themselves holding the Idiot Ball when Gold Fever strikes. And being already insanely wealthy is no protection against Gold Fever. In fact, wealthy characters seem even more inclined to take leave of their senses when Gold Fever strikes, most likely because the existing drive which led them to become wealthy in the first place is a fire that Gold Fever is just adding fuel to.
See also Artifact of Attraction.
Anime and Manga
- In Gankutsuou, The Count's revenge plot against Danglars revolves around the latter's Gold Fever. After tricking Danglars into losing all of his wealth in the stock market, the Count lures him onto a spaceship with an interior constructed mostly of gold bars, which he then sends hurtling into the depths of space where Danglars will die a very rich man.
- Jiro Taniguchi's The Ice Wanderer tells the story of young Jack London and his friend being saved by the titular wanderer while looking for gold in Alaska during winter. Jack wants to come back after that but the rest of their team had found gold meanwhile - at the end he's the only one who comes back. Those who stayed die.
- Spirited Away has the bathhouse employees going crazy trying to pick up gold from No Face.
- In One Piece, Nami has a Running Gag where she will utterly refuse to do something, but then immediately change her mind when money is involved.
- Played seriously in Jinx by Brian Bendis, where the eponymous protagonist carries a deep resentment of herself for once having gone crazy with gold fever, grabbing for flying dollar bills while people laid dead and dying around her.
- The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, which has two men joining forces with an old prospector in the 1920s to search for gold. One of them goes bad and tries to kill the others, but is killed himself by Mexican bandits who mistake the gold for worthless sand and scatter it to the wind.
- Played with in The Dark Knight in the Joker´s first coup.
- The silent masterpiece, Greed. Which is based on the Frank Norris novel McTeague.
- The Good the Bad And The Ugly has Gold Fever as a driving force for the plot.
- The 1942 film Jungle Book is a flashback told by the lone survivor of a Gold Fever Massacre.
- The John Woo movie Bullet In The Head features three would-be gangsters with a bond of brotherhood who try to strike it rich in late '60s-era Vietnam while The War is in full swing. Things go right straight to hell, and Gold Fever, in addition to the hellish experience of the war, is enough to break this bond, which in John Woo's other movies was all but unbreakable.
- Tarzan And The Valley Of Gold sends the villain to his willing end by having him smothered by a roomful of gold dust, triggered when he greedily yanks a golden skull out of the wall.
- MacKenna's Gold, a western about a motley crew of people plotting and backstabbing away in a mysterious valley where you just have to fall in the creek to come up covered in gold dust.
- On a lighter note, we have Charlie Chaplin in The Gold Rush.
- The movie version of Paint Your Wagon even has a song named "Gold Fever." Although the jealous paranoia was more about a woman than about the gold... at first, anyway. (Gold Fever was not an element of the stage version, which had a mostly different plot.)
- This editor recalls a short film in which beachgoers find a grey blobby substance washing up on the shore. Upon spotting whales not far out to sea, someone concludes the blobs are ambergris, and a mob scene ensues as everyone tries to collect as much as they can. The rapidly-escalating Gold Fever is only checked when someone in the know calmly informs them that the grey substance is not ambergris, it's treated sewage.
- At the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Elsa Schneider is overcome by greed and falls to her death attempting to take the Holy Grail from its temple home. Indy himself nearly does the same thing before his father snaps him out of it.
- Wet Gold, featuring a sunken treasure hunt.
- In Shallow Grave, a suitcase full of cash turns three roommates into cold blooded murderers.
- Sam Raimi's A Simple Plan, in which two brothers find a downed airplane with a dead pilot and 4.4 million dollars. They attempt to keep the feds from finding the money, but mistrust rears its head and...well, let's just say "Downer Ending" and leave it at that.
- In Disney's Aladdin, the titular Aladdin is clearly warned to take "nothing but the lamp" from the cave full of treasure. His pet monkey, however, clearly falls for the Gold Fever as he drools over a large gemstone and grabs it, triggering the cavern collapse. This has the unexpected result of saving Aladdin's life as Jaffar was waiting for Aladdin to exit so he could murder him and steal the lamp for himself.
- Drives the plot in The Western A Man Called Sledge in which a gang of outlaws fall out over the fortune in gold they have stolen.
- Rudyard Kipling: "The King's Ankus" from The Second Jungle Book. A succession of thieves find a jeweled object that Mowgli had found and discarded. Later he follows the trail of their dead bodies.
- JRR Tolkien's legendarium: An example is in The Hobbit, in which the armies of Elves, Dwarves and Men would normally be able to get along, but can't when a dragon's hoard is up for grabs.
- It is implied that the depth of the gold fever is the result of a curse laid on the trove by Smaug (apparently a common thing for dragons to do).
- The dwarves of Moria, as Gandalf implied, 'dug too deep'. Justified in that their 'gold' had military applications needed during the orc assaults, and they had no way of knowing they could dig up a balrog.
- The titular Silmarils of The Silmarillion have this effect on people, along with the Nauglamir/Necklace of the Dwarves. When Thingol fuses the two together, well...
- One of the islands visited in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader features a spring which turns anything dipped in it to gold, which sparks a brief rush of Gold Fever. A vision of Aslan brings the characters to their senses before anything untoward can happen, but it's enough to prompt Reepicheep to suggest naming the island "Deathwater Island" as a warning.
- In the Belgariad, the "red gold" of Angarak, which induces Gold Fever in those who possess it. The explanation given is that the red gold magically "calls to its own", causing the gold to be drawn together, which causes the holder to want to gather more and more in one place.
- In Fred Saberhagen's Second Book of Swords, the final defense of the Blue Temple's Treasure Hoard is the greed of the thieves, as any group of thieves who managed to penetrate all the way to the Hoard itself would presumably be overcome with greed and fall to fighting among themselves over the loot, even though there was far more there than any such thieves could hope to carry away. Is somewhat averted here, since Mark and Ben, the actual heroes of the story only end up fighting their less heroic accomplices, and remain loyal to each other. Also, the treasures they are fighting for, the eponymous magical swords, effectively cannot be shared, and can be carried away.
- The Pardoner's Tale from Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales.
- William Morrison has a story called The Sack, about a superintelligent lifeform which was found on an asteroid, which could (and did) answer lots of questions about all kinds of topics. In the end it is kidnapped by pirates, and the good guys think about how they could stop them from using it to rule the world. Turns out no one has to do anything - the trope worked perfectly.
- Averted in "Self-Limiting," a short story by Robert L Forward. No member of the society described is obsessed with accumulating wealth, which is made not of gold but of a refined version of another rare, heavy, soft metal Uranium 235. Anyone who is too greedy accumulates a large pile of coins under their dwelling. They are then removed from the gene pool in a spectacular fashion.
- Features in The Emigrants.
- The short story "In the Hall of the Mountain King" is a recycled in (Known) space version of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, set during the Man-Kzin Wars - except the prospectors find a little more than gold under the mountain.
- The chief cashier in Making Money develops a glassy stare and unnerving facial tics whenever he gets on the subject of gold, and finds the idea of banking without a gold standard tantamount to heresy. Gold is Serious Business where he's concerned.
Live Action TV
- The Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode, The Painted Hills is a western that features a prospector getting Gold Fever, murdering his partner, and being brought to justice by Lassie. One of the segments from that episode has Tom Servo becoming similarly infected with Gold Fever and melting Crow down into an ingot, in the mistaken belief that because Crow was colored gold, that he must be made of gold. Despite being melted into an ingot, Crow also becomes infected with Gold Fever and begins wanting himself.
- Fun Fact: Crow is made of molybdenum.
- One episode of Married... with Children has the Bundys and the D'Arcys visiting an old abandoned mine and discovering gold. Of course it turns out to be merely fool's gold but the characters don't discover that until they've nearly slaughtered each other.
- In Friends an argument occurs over a bunch of lottery tickets that were bought as a syndicate, as the characters fight over money. In the end Phoebe threatens to destroy the tickets before it hurts their friendship. She ends up dropping a bunch of them off the balcony. And a guy who finds one of them wins $10,000.
- In an episode of Gilligan's Island, Mr. Howell discovers a cave full of gold. The predictable results: 1. The rest of the characters Get Theirs by outrageously overcharging the Howells for everything and 2. the group's plan to finally escape the island is scuttled when the gold everyone smuggled in their bags sinks the raft.
- All except Gilligan, meaning for once, it was everyone else's fault that they didn't get rescued.
- The episode "Treasures of the Tonga Trench" of seaQuest DSV featured most of the crew developing Gold Fever when Lt. Krieg discovers a trove of glowing blue rocks on the ocean floor. Everyone involved Gets Theirs when the "rocks" turn out to be the fecal pellets of an enormous squid, which glow as a result of the bioluminescent krill that forms the creature's diet.
- MASH had a first-season episode in which Hawkeye and Trapper scheme to make Frank Burns think there's a fortune in gold buried beneath to 4077th. It's titled "Major Fred C. Dobbs", after Bogart's Treasure of the Sierra Madre character. It's also generally regarded as the show's Worst Episode Ever.
- In the Beauty and The Beast episode "Fever", the underground tunnel community discovers a buried treasure ship, and starts to violently fracture over the question of what should be done with it.
- In the Law and Order: Criminal Intent episode "Ouroboros", a kidnapping plot goes wrong when Mitch Godel kills his fellow kidnappers as well one of the kidnap victims -- even though she had hired him to perpetrate the kidnapping! After he convinces the woman's grand-daughter April that someone else had done the killings, Mitch exchanges the ransom money for gold, which he hides "in plain sight". After Detectives Goren and Eames discover the truth, Goren actually uses the term "gold fever."
- In an episode of The Twilight Zone entitled "The Rip Van Winkle Caper" a group of four men steal one million dollars worth of gold bricks. Figuring that in one hundred years (2061) no one will remember them, they hide out in a cave in the desert and the mad scientist of the group puts them all in suspended animation to wait it out. However, upon awakening things start to go wrong as one of the men is already dead and greed soon incites the others to kill. The twist in this episode is that in the future gold is worthless and the last man standing dies lugging his worthless cargo across the desert.
- In an episode of Malcolm in the Middle, Malcolm received a $10,000 fellowship grant. Hal decides to keep it a secret from Malcolm, because "he'll just blow it on Legos and candy." (Apparently, Hal didn't realize that Malcolm's not 7 years old anymore). Lois and Dewey find out about the money, and Hilarity Ensues.
- In the Monk episode, "Mr. Monk Gets Married", Gold Fever is the main motivator behind two murders.
- I Love Lucy: The subject of a late-season hour-long episode, only with uranium instead of gold. There's no murder, but everyone suspects everyone else is trying to claim the uranium before they can. They have a long race to get back to the town before the misunderstanding is sorted out and they all agree to share the reward. It turns out the uranium Lucy found was actually just the sample uranium included with her Geiger counter, which is worthless.
- On Lost, Hurley consciously averts this trope by choosing to share the food from the first bunker equally with everyone in one huge feast, lest Food Fever turn the survivors against one another.
- Earth: Final Conflict: the Taelons managed to acquire a lot of gold, with the arrogant Zo'or invoking this trope in saying that they did not need to enslave the people of earth, the Taelons could merely "buy them" instead. Like most of the plotlines on the show, it went nowhere.
- One episode of The Greatest American Hero has Ralph (and his high school students!) following Bill Maxwell's treasure map to a long-lost gold mine. When they do find the mine, the students catch Gold Fever so badly that some of them empty their canteens and fill them with gold ore ... and then find that their bus's engine was stolen and they have to hike out across a scorching dry desert.
- The Discovery Channel took a group of unemployed men and made an entire series Gold Rush out of their attempts to extract gold from a mining claim on the banks of an Alaskan river. The fever part: the group's preacher catches gold fever and joins them at the claim site.
- The song One Tin Soldier has the "people of the valley" killing the "people of the mountain" over a "treasure buried deep beneath the stone." Turns out "'Peace on Earth' was all it said."
- Of course, the valley people just asked at first, and the hill people said they would willingly share without explaining. Literally Too Dumb to Live.
- It's sort of a tossup who was dumber than the other--the valley people might edge out because they went all genocide-y without even knowing what the treasure was. So, the song is also about how you should always make sure your intel is complete and trustworthy before going to war.
- Of course, the valley people just asked at first, and the hill people said they would willingly share without explaining. Literally Too Dumb to Live.
- Derelict, aka Fifteen men on deadman's chest. Yeah, that song.
There was chest on chest of Spanish gold
- The Stone Roses' song Fool's Gold is loosely based on this trope. Ian himself admitted it was inspired by Treasure of the Sierra Madre.
Myth and Legend
- The Norse legend of the Nibelungs has a massive pile of treasure over which some 50% of the mortal characters are offed, and which causes the death of the other half through the Cycle of Vengeance that follows.
- During the Trojan War, King Priam of Troy sent his youngest son Polydorus to King Polymestor of Thrace to keep him safe from the war. To provide for him in the case that Troy should fall, Priam also endowed Polydorus with a treasure of gold. When news that Troy had fallen reached Thrace, Polymestor's avarice induced him to murder Polydorus to appropriate his riches.-- This incident is related by Aeneas to Queen Dido in Virgil's Aeneid, where Aeneas blames auri sacra fames (book 3, verse 57), the "accursed hunger for gold", for Polymestor's betrayal. The phrase was later quoted by Seneca as "What don't you force mortal hearts to do, accursed hunger for gold!" (quod non mortalia pectora coges, auri sacra fames). The quotability of the phrase also lies in the use of the word sacer (which here means "accursed" but can also mean "sacred"), which expresses the idea that "hunger for gold" is affecting the human soul like a supernatural force.
- King Midas had this, so when he gained the ability to make anything he touched turned into gold, it had unfortunate consequences for his daughter.
- In Professional Wrestling, Gold Fever quite often manifests itself in the form of championship title belts often referred to as "Championship Gold". The idea is the same, men with otherwise strong moral principles will often be driven to commit nefarious acts in order to obtain Championship Status. Similarly, the bad guys will often commit acts that are even more dastardly.
- The Goon Show featured this on occasion. Parodied horribly of course since this is the Goons we're talking about.
- Dwarves in Warhammer Fantasy have this as a racial trait. Every single one has to at least fight it, and sometimes large amounts make them lose all self-preservation instinct. One notable instance is in the novel Dragonslayer, where a Trollslayer goes all Scrooge McDuck in the dragon's hoard in the middle of the fight.
- 'Ghost rock fever' is part of the setting for Deadlands, and can even manifest as an actual physical condition. Justified, as Ghost Rock is the local Phlebotinium, and has supernatural effects as well as being absurdly valuable.
- The Conan RPG has characters making a Will save when coming across an amount of treasure worth at least as much as a king's ransom, and failing the save results in being distracted, which can be dangerous in the Conan universe where, more often than not, there's something guarding that treasure that more often than not wants to eat you. If the treasure is cursed or magically tainted in any way, a character may gain corruption points upon a failed Will save.
- Arkham Horror has an investigator named Bob Jenkins, a salesman who joins the battle against the Mythos forces in pursuit of cultist gold. Optional rules continue his story in one of two ways:
- He learns the truth of what's going on by finding enough clue tokens. He gets his gold but learns there's more at stake then wealth and can spend his cash for more clues. Or...
- He gets his hands too bloody in his quest and becomes cursed, in additional he cannot receive a curse-countering blessing as long as he has any money.
- Dragons suffer from this in Dungeons and Dragons, acquiring and nesting on the classic Dragon Hoard. At first it was believed that they suffered from a magpie-like obsession with shiny objects, but Draconomicon reveals that they are just as likely to hoard any valuables, even things like paintings or rugs. It seems that any object other creatures consider precious, a dragon will too, even if they have no use for them other than bedding. You could encounter a dragon sleeping on a stamp collection.
- Bad Company starts as a light heared modern military first person shoter staring a Ragtag Bunch of Misfits. Until the end of the first level, when they find a solid gold bar in the pocket of a dead mercenary. During the second level, you just collect all the gold that you happen to find during your missions to later decide what to do with it, but then Haggard decides to invade a neutral third party country chasing after a retreating truck loaded with gold and shortly after all plans to ever return to the rest of the army are abandoned.
- Spoofed in Fable 2, where you come across the remains of a party of treasure hunters. Each corpse has a diary detailing their rising paranoia, with the last one flatly stating its owner's plan for killing his party members, then himself, in order to get the treasure...
- Also spoofed in The Legend of Zelda Four Swords. If all of the players have full health, the game enacts "Rupee fever". During which time any Rupees collected will be doubled in value.
- And in Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden', when Barkley succumbs to his terrible desire for "Incan gold" in Cuchulainn's Tomb. There is no prior indication that this makes sense. At all.
- Tomba: The Evil Pigs are obsessed with gold. It's implied that their magic is powered by it. The final boss of the first game is fought in a pocket universe made entirely of treasure.
- In Kingdom Hearts II, Donald Duck gets a hankering for any treasure the party finds.
- Kane and Lynch: This is actually the point of a multiplayer mode, where you and a group of others must retrieve a bunch of bank money from a bank robbery, but as soon as the loot's secured, it's only a matter of time before someone turns on the rest of the group...
- Fallout: New Vegas: Happens to you in the end of "Dead Money", filled with pre-war money and enough gold bars to buy yourself a small town in the NCR you are tempted to take it all. But to survive without being a munchkin is to let go most of of the wealth in the vault.
- Indeed, Gold Fever decided the fate of almost everybody who ever found the Sierra Madre; either they fell prey to the various and horrible dangers surrounding it, or they were killed by somebody else who had found the Sierra Madre and didn't feel like sharing. Numerous characters comment on how it almost seemed to be a sickness.
- A valid tactic in The Elder Scrolls V Skyrim. If you're sneaky enough to slip into a bandit camp undetected, and drop a valuable gemstone or the like where a patrolling enemy can find it, sometimes the bandits will attack each other over who gets the loot.
- The Five Episode Pilot for DuckTales revolves around Scrooge McDuck and his nephews finding an ancient treasure trove. Gold Fever, identified by name, rears its ugly head, causing Scrooge to unwittingly trip a Secret Test of Character trap. Scrooge breaks out of his Gold Fever when his life is sufficiently threatened; the Big Bad doesn't.
- The lure of the gold and its sheer abundance is so great that even Hewey, Louie and Dewey fall for it shortly after Scrooge. It falls on Webbygail to keep a level head and figure out the deathtrap.
- Of course The Flintstones has Fred and Barney nearly kill each other over a lost gold mine they both invested in, and rescued by their non-affected wives who suspected all along it was a fake just after they come to their senses and before plunging over a waterfall.
- The Looney Tunes shorts
- Ali Baba Bunny plays Gold Fever for laughs, with Bugs Bunny remaining calm and rational upon the discovery of a cavern filled with treasure and Daffy going hysterically nutbar insane.
Daffy: I can't help it, I'm a greedy slob! it's my hobby!
- In 14 Carrot Rabbit, claim-jumper Yosemite Sam discovers Bugs gets a "funny feeling" whenever he's near gold, and naturally tries to exploit the latter's talent. Hilarity ensues.
- Bugs succumbs himself in Barbary Coast Bunny, after hitting an enormous gold nugget while burrowing his way to California.
- Played straight in an episode of Jimmy Neutron, as "ruby madness". Carl was the only one unaffected--indeed, he was the only one who seemed really aware of it.
- Tiny Toons had an episode of Gold Fever, in which throughout the short they were warned to beware of the "green-eyed monster". It was only after several fights and thefts that they realized that they were the green-eyed monsters.
- Happened in an episode of Stargate Infinity. The group managed to stumble upon valuable diamonds and hoped to strike it rich as a result not knowing mercs were after them and their newly found wealth. It becomes An Aesop as in the end the mercs backstabbed each other and while sacrificing most of the wealth Draga slips a diamond for one of the members of the team so she can help her family back home.
- Every so often in American Dad, the focus goes to a sub-plot involving a gold, jewel-encrusted turd that evokes this in anyone who sees it. What comes out of it is a long string of murders, guilt-ridden suicide, and other betrayals as everyone involved tries to be the sole owner by whatever means necessary.
- Another episode revolved around Stan's search for Oliver North's gold.
- Beetlejuice: Beej is literally bitten by the Gold Bug and contracts a fever that can only be cured by a certain alloy...
- The Simpsons parodies The Treasure of the Sierra Madre,in "Three Men and a Comic Book", with a rare first issue of Radioactive Man taking the place of gold.
- Rugrats parodied this once, replacing gold with a nickle.
- One episode of The Wild Thornberrys, actually called "Gold Fever", dealth with Eliza and her sister, Debbie, bickering and fighting over a treasure chest of ancient gold coins they found during their stay in the Galapagos Islands (much to Darwin's confusion, who being a chimpanzee can't understand what makes the pieces of metal so valuable). Eventually both are forced to abandon the chest during a volcanic eruption, but not before Debbie procures one last gold coin which she nonchalantly flicks into the sea as they leave the islands. Eliza, apparently not having learned her lesson, jumps right after it. Having anticipated the action, Debbie throws her a floatie and enjoys herself away from her sister as the episode ends.
- During the Gold Rush in the mid-nineteenth century, some people would go to absurd lengths to defend a staked claim. It was most famous in California, but other gold rushes had them too, even the Yukon gold rush.
- Due to the state of economy there has been something of a gold fever in the stockmarket in the recent times, as gold is seen as a reliable investment when stocks are going down. As a result those who had good deposits of the stuff before the depression are easily raking triple profits to what they paid for it in the first place.
- As of August 2011, the price of gold is now higher than the price of platinum. That's Gold Fever taken Up to Eleven.
- In the late 1990's, a Canadian mining and geology company called Bre-X claimed to discover what was assumed to be the largest gold deposit in history on the Indonesian island of Borneo. The problem was that Bre-X was not nearly large enough of a company to fully extract the amount claimed to exist. Cue months of deals and brokering over which company would have the privilege of assisting with the extraction as everybody involved attempted to attain a piece of the action. These shenanigans involved such figures as former President George H. W. Bush, Indonesian President Suharto and former Canadian Prime Ministers. As for the actual gold, however...
- Hernan Cortez kickstarted a genocide against the Aztec Empire, all for GOLD.  The funny thing is that Cortez got bankrupt multiple times in his life, and died heavily in debt. The not so funny thing is that 90% of Aztecs died, although mainly from epidemic, it is believed that the Spanish purposley increased the strength of the epidemic.
- For that matter, a lot of conquistadores were like this - Gold was a big motivation for them.
- well, that and they wanted new land too.