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Oh no! These guys just held up a bank, and they have hostages! They're threatening to kill everyone if they do not get their demands! They'll even kill the old lady! They don't care! They're monsters!

Not exactly. You see, these guys don't really plan to hurt any of the hostages. That's just a front they put up to scare the police. In fact, they don't really seem like they're that bad at all. The hostages seem to be getting along with them, even joking around. Soon it's revealed that they aren't just being greedy. They have good intentions. They're a Justified Criminal: they need the money to pay for their daughter's operation. Either that, or the person they are robbing kind of deserves it anyway.

This trope is often used in Bank Robbery and Hostage Situation movies. Expect the hostages, the crowd outside and even the media to sympathize with the robber. Sometimes the negotiator or the detectives will actually grow to like the bank robber or at least respect him as misunderstood. If the good guys do not sympathize, expect them to be painted in a bad light.

These characters are often the protagonists, but not always. Also, they don't have to be bank robbers to invoke the trope.

See also Stockholm Syndrome, Justified Criminal, Karmic Thief, and Loveable Rogue.


Comic Books

  • Based on the most-popular version of his origin (the Alan Moore version), The Joker qualifies. He was just an ordinary non-criminal who had to do one job to help support his pregnant wife...Then again, it's the Joker, so who knows how true that story is.
    • Depending on the Writer, and to a large extent whether or not its the mainstream comic, The Joker could just be a Complete Monster who was a violent murderous criminal even before his acid bath. In that light he just acts insane to get away with the Insanity Defense and in truth all that happened to him was he developed a love of commiting horrific crimes for attention and thrills, and not just for money or other reasons.
  • In the Cyanide&Happiness book there's a comic book when a little boy and his dad are being mugged, the little boy screams for help, his father has a heart attack and his son screams for a doctor, Seizureman comes to save the day but has a "Brain attack" And finally the mugger says "I should call a ambulance".


  • In Airheads, the Villain Protagonist Nakama are much more sympathetic than the rest of the cast.
  • Bandits, starring Bruce Willis and Billy Bob Thornton.
    • Mitigated in at least one scene where the bank manager's wife breaks down crying in the middle of dinner on account of, y'know, being held hostage in her own home by bank robbers. It's a realistic touch. However, the audience still seems expected to root for them.
  • In Cadillac Man, the villain is The Woobie.
  • In the movie Catch That Kid, a bunch of kids robbed a high-security bank in order to pay for surgery for the father of one of the kids.
  • Charlie Sheen's character in The Chase.
  • Al Pacino in Dog Day Afternoon. He needed the money for a sex change operation for a friend.
  • Clive Owen in Inside Man.
  • In The Italian Job, the audience (especially if they're British) are supposed to feel this way about Charlie Croker and his gang, even though objectively they're not sympathetic at all.
  • Denzel Washington in John Q holds up a hospital to ensure that his dying son gets the operation he needs.
  • Samuel L. Jackson in The Negotiator. When he is falsely accused of his best friend's murder, Jackson holds a government office hostage in order to clear his name and learn the truth.
  • Public Enemies: I'd bet John Dillinger is the modern Trope Codifier.
    • Dillinger went to a lot of trouble to cultivate this persona. It helped that he was gregarious and good at working a crowd. In all likelihood, he might have actually been just a poor farm boy who stole to get a better life, and compared to contemporaries Baby-Face Nelson and Clyde Barrow, he was a nicer or at least more careful criminal.
  • The Bill Murray film Quick Change has these as protagonists.
  • Ruthless People: Sam Stone stole a fashion idea from Ken and Sandy Kessler, as well as their life savings. The Kesslers decide to get revenge by kidnapping Sam's wife, Barbara, and forcing him to pay a $500,000 ransom. The Kesslers are portrayed as being incredibly nice and gentle people (also completely incompetent kidnappers) who end up befriending Barbara and helping her get revenge on Sam (who had intended to kill her).
  • Subverted in the opening of Swordfish, where John Travolta's Diabolical Mastermind refers to/deconstructs Dog Day Afternoon, commenting that a more successful robbery would rely on carefully applied ultraviolence instead.
    • Which is a big part of the film's theme. The antagonist is a quasi-sympathetic Knight Templar who steals money that doesn't really belong to anyone for an ostensibly good cause. He doesn't want to hurt anyone, but if he has to, he doesn't hesitate to employ violence "for the greater good".
  • Happened in the French movie Yamakasi.


  • Moist von Lipwig is a serial Con Man and bank robber who's done just about everything short of actually killing people, including use of a shoe as an offensive weapon. He's also a protagonist, an extremely non-violent person if not an Actual Pacifist, and one of the most sympathetic characters in the Discworld books. It helps that he gets a Crowning Moment of Awesome every other scene. The fact that in the books he is a Boxed Crook at first, a Reformed Criminal afterwards and runs government offices for most of the time might also have something to do with it.
  • Lisbeth Salander in The Millenium Trilogy steals hundreds of millions of dollars by very clever use of computer hacking and disguise, and gets the reader's sympathy for her cleverness. Anyway, the original owner was a nssty villain who in the first place got the money in very nasty ways and who clearly "deserved it". Moreover, Salander had had a hard life and when becoming a multi-millionaire does not any extravagant use of the stolen money - just enough to enjoy life a bit, in between very harsh and dangerous adventures.
  • The entire team in Volkonir: Rise of Semaphry are pushed into this role rather forcefully, though it's arguable if their regular actions prior to the story were entirely legal or not.
    • Since Carlos was abducted, and threatened with being sent to Guantanamo, Vinny and Lenny stage his escape from jail. Vinny also gets himself and Kayla arrested for loitering in a park so they wouldn't have to risk being arrested for breaking into a motel room. He escapes his cell in order to save the police from an army of Gwirdon Treaders that have overrun the station. They also didn't care for his methods of foiling a robbery happening in the background, as it made the police look really bad at their jobs.
    • Kayla destroys a few FBI helicopters and nearly kills the pilots, who were being reckless and endangering civilians by shooting at random apartments in an effort to assassinate Volkonir. She also trespasses in Yellowstone to help Vinny rescue Silnya and recover the Crystal Swan powers. On top of that, she stages a con game to get herself and Hanom into the Social Security building. And she "abducts" an agent to help her remove Hanom's name from the Death Master File. She also commits several traffic violations, and litters the remains of a giant slug monster all over Pennsylvania Ave. She also kills Gwirmalesh outright to foil his attempt on the president's life. All while she was under suspicion by the FBI for being part of an illegal vigilante operation, and was fleeing to evade arrest. That's all in addition to the things her fiance made her do above.
    • Up until the point that he facilitates Carlos' escape, Lenny is the only one before that point who is not an actual criminal. He is a political prisoner, locked up to keep him quiet because he knew too much about the Gwirdons, and was too vocal about it. Yet, he has been in jail longer than anyone else on the team ever has. (Unless you count Volkonir's being trapped in toy form for 400 years as an Implicit Prison.)

Live Action TV

  • The Carnival of Crime in The Cape. They rob banks to circus music.
  • A Subversion is an episode of Chuck wherein the Buy More is robbed by a bumbling, all around likable guy. who is actually a competent, ruthless agent of the Nebulous Evil Organization in the series and who did the robbery only to draw Chuck and his partners out.
  • CSI New York had a season finale with a bank robber whose family was being held up until he robbed the bank subverted later when you discover his family doesn't exist, and he was lying all along. The episode ends on a cliffhanger since he took Mac hostage. The first episode of the following seasons reveals that he does have a family, they just weren't in any danger (since he was the mastermind behind it all).
    • Another episode of CSI New York has two young boys who were trying to get enough money to pay their mother's rent. They ended up being robbed by a much less sympathetic bank robber who was casing the bank they robbed and shot one of them to steal the money. He ends up being run over in his escape attempt when the CSIs catch up with him.
    • Another episode had the daughter of a bitterly estranged couple, desperate to escape the pain and torment of living in the middle of such a relantionship, rob her parents so she could run away with her boyfriend (who helped her with the robbery). She never intended for her father to die, it was his wife who killed him, and even she comes off as sympathetic as the husband was willing to destroy his company, bankrupting her, their daughter, and his best friend/business partner, just to spite the wife.
  • Most of the cast of Firefly. They kill and steal, but it generally only hurts the villainous Alliance.
  • Leverage: In the episode The Bank Job, a father and son attempt rob a bank in order to pay off some meth dealers who are holding the mother hostage. Luckily, the Leverage team was in a middle of a con on a corrupt judge who with a deposit box in the bank when this all went down.
  • Quantum Leap:
    • Sam leaped into a masked bank robber, who with his two brothers were trying to steal exactly the amount their pa needed to pay off the mortgage to the same bank.
    • Sam leaped into a man who, along with his friend, robbed a church in order to pay for treatment for his friend's daughter's treatment for fever (which his friend's wife had died of). The church refused to give them any money from the donations as "They said we would spend it all on rum."
  • One of the last seasons of Stargate SG-1 had an episode where the team gated into a museum, were quickly considered Terrorists, and had to pretend to be taking hostages and acting the part before they could fix the gate and return to Earth.
  • Most of the drug dealers and criminals in The Wire have at least a few sympathetic moments. Omar has a code of honor that prevents him from killing civilians or kids. Stringer Bell wants to escape from the ghetto and become a businessman. Avon Barksdale is shown to greatly care about his family, friends and associates; and goes out of his way to get a talented basketball player into college and donates $15,000 to start a boxing gym for kids. Michael and Dukie are two homeless teenagers with unreliable drug addicts for family who are trying to survive while taking care of Michael's little brother. There are many other examples.
  • Almost every single criminal in Flashpoint has sympathetic motives. In many cases, the members of the SRU that are assigned to talk or take them down end up sympathizing with them. The few criminals shown that are not sympathetic generally fall into Complete Monster territory within a few minutes of their initial appearance.
  • Walt (at least initially) and Jesse in Breaking Bad.

Religion, Mythology, and Legends

  • Among the legendary stories of the wise Japanese judge Ooka Tadasuke is one where a man out of work sneaks into a rice warehouse and steals just enough rice to feed his family for the week. He intends to replace it when he gets a job.

Video Games

  • Ace Attorney gives us Terry Fawles. He went along with a phony kidnapping ploy at the behest of his girlfriend, Dahlia Hawthorne. You may or may not have seen her name before on this wiki. She and her sister Valerie made it so that he got arrested on genuine charges for a fake crime. Why did they do it? Terry wanted to know too. He broke out of prison just to ask.