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A MacGuffin of great monetary value (though normally never specifically stated), so great that it could make anyone or any community rich and prosperous, and will never go hungry again. Naturally, it's almost always destroyed, lost, or otherwise gotten rid of at the end of the plot.
Not to be confused with Funny Money.
Compare Fiction 500. In the future, such a bill would be worth nothing thanks to Ridiculous Future Inflation. An example of You Fail Economics Forever on the few occasions it can actually be used in the story, as it would immediately destroy any economy it was introduced to in a realistic setting- if anyone would actually take it, which smarter writers will often use as a plot point.
Anime and Manga
- The same for a method to artificially create diamonds in an episode of Lupin III so that the ones they already have stolen are worthless, that is except Fujiko who betrays the group (for the twentieth-odd time) to get it for herself.
- In Trigun the astronomical bounty on Vash the Stampede's head makes him a walking Zillion-Dollar Bill. As a result, even well-intentioned people try to kill him.
- In one Uncle Scrooge comic, Scrooge arranges for a coin to be worth skyrillions of dollars (by purchasing every other coin for the double of its value and dumping them in the ocean). He then finds that the only one who has enough money to pay for it is himself.
- In another story, Scrooge's fortune becomes so astronomically large that all the money in the country is located in his money bin. The government confiscates all of it, and hands him a zillion dollar check, which he quickly discovers is completely worthless due to no one being able to make change. Since Scrooge owns roughly every store in the country, the money shortly comes trucking back, and Scrooge ends up using the check to repair a draft.
- In several other stories Scrooge comes upon some kind of incredibly valuable object (such as a giant jeweled Mayan calendar). As usual, the treasure is virtually always lost forever, even though the status quo wouldn't have been changed in the slightest if Scrooge had kept it for his museum.
- In a Richie Rich story, the kid tries a different kind of monetary security as he arranges for a literal million dollar bank note. Sure enough, some crooks steal it, but find they can't break it since no one takes the item seriously and they chase away the crooks continually. Eventually, they give up in despair, mail the bank note back to Richie with a note saying "If there is a reward for this, please send it in nickels, dimes and quarters."
- The eponymous treasure from National Treasure. True to the trope, the people who find it decide that it's too big for any one nation and end up donating/selling everything to museums around the world. The one percent finders fee they received was still enough to make them all incredibly wealthy, though.
- Lampshaded when they find one of the first clues, a pipe: Riley asks, "Is it a billion-dollar pipe?"
- One-Eyed Willy's treasure in the movie The Goonies. Most of the treasure is lost completely, but the handful of gems that Mikey manages to hold onto is enough to save the kids' neighborhood from being turned into a country club.
- In The People Under the Stairs, the handful of gold coins Fool steals from Man and Woman is apparently enough to pay for his mother's operation, and pay their rent "till the year 2000". This is 1991, by the way...
- In The Mighty Quinn, a local beach bum comes across a suitcase filled with 10,000 bills, part of a bigger murder mystery the police chief Quinn is investigating.
- The wrecked plane full of cash in A Simple Plan. Of course, in this case it brings those who find it nothing but misery and ends up being burnt so the police cannot trace any of the serial numbers back.
- The million-year capsule in In Time.
- In The Lord of the Rings, Frodo's mithril coat is said to be more valuable than "the whole Shire and everything in it." Probably because the only mine in the world where mithril can be found has a bit of a balrog problem, is also infested with goblins, and has a giant octopus monster outside the gates.
- Mark Twain wrote a story called The Million-Pound Note in which a man lost in England is given a million-pound note by an eccentric rich man he has just met. He can't actually SPEND it, since no one can make change, but showing it everywhere is enough to let him open a lot of lines of credit. It turns out the whole thing was a bet on what a foreigner lost in a strange land with nothing to his name but a million-pound note would actually DO. It was made into a classic film in 1953. It was also made into a Donald Duck story.
- The low-budget version appears in Upton Sinclair's The Jungle. In 1920s Chicago, an unemployed stockyard worker is given a hundred-dollar bill by a rich drunk. (This is about as much money as the hero could make in a year.) But he has no other money with him, and he'll freeze to death if he tries to walk home. In desperation, he goes into a bar to stay warm until the banks open in the morning. They won't let him stay without buying something, so he uses the bill to buy a 5-cent beer. The bartender gives him 95 cents in change, and everyone else enjoys a big laugh when he tries to convince them that he's been cheated.
- In Terry Pratchett's proto-Discworld book Strata, money is defined as time - each bill is worth extra years of life. The biggest bill is the Methuselah (named after the longest-lived Biblical personality) which few people have ever seen. The book also features a bottomless purse, which continually spits out bills which are not technically counterfeit, but which have serial numbers that haven't been used yet.
- There's a similar short film where the currency is your own life. You work for more life and spend bits of your life to buy things, the basic currency being hours or minutes. The Heroine eventually marries and gets rich and rewards her friends with a necklace, each bead of which is several months or years, but they fight over it and it breaks. It had people playing poker machines and gambling for more life. That's right, people were wasting their lives gambling.
- The eponymous dragon in Peter F. Hamilton's Fallen Dragon. In a subversion, the small community benefiting from its advanced technology attempts to hijack a starship to return it to its own kind. In a brilliant sucker punch, the dragon is as valuable to its own kind as a single sperm is to us.
- The Portrait of Madison in Raymond Chandler's The Long Goodbye. Sure, it's only $5,000 — but where are you going to spend that in the 1950s?
- The Pearl, by John Steinbeck. The eponymous gem is worth more than its finders can imagine spending in a lifetime.
- Edgar Allan Poe, of all people, wrote a short story about the discovery of a process that could change lead into gold. Unusually, the story is explicitly about the economic disaster such a process would cause.
- Mysterious Artifact of Death "St. Michael's Sword" in Riptide.
- At the beginning of The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress by R.A. Heinlein, Mike gave a janitor a paycheck for $10,000,000,000,000,185.15 as a joke. It was determined to be a "computer error" and the check was declared invalid.
- Averted in a The Mary Tyler Moore Show episode: throughout the episode, Ted Baxter avoids repaying five dollars to Murray Slaughter by offering to repay Murray IF he can make change for a hundred dollar bill. At episode's end, Murray announces he can make change for the hundred dollar bill—pulling out a heavy bank bag — in pennies!
- Done more subtly and realistically on Corner Gas. Brent Leroy receives a hundred dollar bill he suspects may be counterfeit (and doesn't know how to check) from a customer, and for the rest of the episode tries to pay for things, knowing that no one will go to the trouble of changing a hundred dollar (possibly fake) bill for a two-dollar cup of coffee.
- The "Sorry I only have this hundred" free ride ends when someone at his table happens to have five twenties to trade him and the bartender gladly accepts one of them as payment faster than Brent can invent an excuse for not breaking his hundred. "It was good while it lasted."
- In a futuristic episode of Doctor Who, the Doctor gives his companion what looks like a small white slate that can be used as a credit card of sorts in the time they are in. It turns out it has "unlimited credit" on it.
Oral Tradition, Folklore, Myths and Legends
- In The Kalevala—which is a book filled with Finnish myths—the skillful blacksmith Ilmarinen forges a device that gives its owner three things to guarantee wealth and health in one's family: Salt and grains so that food will never run out and gold so that there will always be money. When it's ready, he offers it to Pohjan Akka (who is an evil witch) for exchange of her beautiful daughter he has fallen in love with. This device—called the Sampo—later becomes the MacGuffin that everyone wants. And as every Zillion-Dollar Bill, it is accidentally destroyed, when it falls into the sea and breaks into pieces during the battle for it.
- Parodied in The Goon Show episode "The Million Pound Penny", in which Neddy Seagoon owns a penny that has been left a million pounds in a relative's will. Not surprisingly this ends in disaster.
- Parodied in the MAD board game, which featured a $1,329,063 bill. Granted, you could only get it if you landed on a certain square and your name was Alfred E. Neuman - but maybe it's for the best, as the object of said board game is to lose all your money.
- In 1st Edition AD&D, where the value of gemstones was determined at random, a tiny but genuine chance existed for the DM to roll up gems worth many millions of gold pieces. Just how an adventurer is supposed to sell off such incredible gems in your average medieval village was not addressed.
- Exchange it for permanent credit. Or find a really, really good gemcutter. Or possibly trade it with a dragon, who might be able to make change.
- Gems of ludicrous value are most useful when incorporated into magical items.
- The Star of Africa from the Finnish board game by the same name. You can find plenty of jewels in the game and cash them in for money that helps in getting ahead, but the Star of Africa is the only diamond, and effectively priceless; it can't be sold as such, but taking it back to one of the starting cities wins the game.
- The Milton-Bradley board game The Game of Life has currency denominations going up to $100,000. The $20,000 bill features a portrait of "G. I. Lovemoney".
- A well-known video game example is the "Chest of Gold" from King's Quest. No matter how much gold came out of it, it can never be emptied. No clue what that would do with inflation, but anywho...
- Also, no clue why neither that chest nor the Shield of Invulnerability show up in any of the future King's Quest games, where they would certainly have been useful (though possibly Game Breakers). As the trope states, it is lost, destroyed, or otherwise, except that this happens off-screen and is never mentioned again. The third treasure (the mirror) does reappear, serving a role in starting off the plots of the future games.
- To acquire a high score in the game, the player must, among other things, track down a couple hidden treasures with no purpose other than monetary value. Since Graham ends up with the Chest of Gold at the end of the game anyway, one can wonder what the point of those treasures were.
- Museum pieces.
- In EarthBound, you are at one point given ten thousand dollars in cash and later an extremely valuable diamond, both of which you must use shortly afterwards to get the band known as the Runaway Five out of a bum contract. You'd think they'd have learned their lesson the first time.
- In the game Evil Genius, one of the loot items you can steal is a million dollar bill (The game is set in the '60s). Since its too big to actually spend, it sits in your base, cheering up your minions.
- This makes more sense than the in-game explanation that the bill isn't actually real money, but some odd PR stunt by the US President. Maybe the designers thought the players wouldn't understand.
- In Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge, you start with, well, not an actual bill, but so much gold, diamonds and treasure you are extremely wealthy and prosperous. Of course, it gets stolen the next minute...
- In the sequel, early on you can find a bag of wooden nickels...and later on you can cash in your life insurance policy in exchange for a lot of money (virtually all of which will be spent playing poker).
- The joke here is that the thieves won't accept a "lot" of money for the diamond, saying "We can't give it to you for anything less than an awful lot of money."
- In the sequel, early on you can find a bag of wooden nickels...and later on you can cash in your life insurance policy in exchange for a lot of money (virtually all of which will be spent playing poker).
- In Leisure Suit Larry 2, you win an actual million-dollar bill in the lottery. After some troubles converting it, you do indeed carry an indefinitely large amount of cash for the rest of the game.
- In Maniac Mansion 2: Day of the Tentacle, you manage to make the Edisons fabulously wealthy by obtaining the back royalties Lucasarts owes them for the first Maniac Mansion game. Naturally, the money must immediately be spent to buy a giant diamond to repair your time machine.
- Sam and Max: Season One introduces the character of Bosco, a paranoid convenience store owner/inventor who charges ludicrous amounts of money for his simple inventions (such as a tear gas gun that's just a salad chopper strapped to an airgun that you're meant to shoot onions out of). The trope is avoided at first, though Bosco does accept things like food stamps and arcade tokens in lieu of cash, until eventually you sell the deed to America to Canada for a trillion dollars... delivered in the form of a handful of billion-dollar bills. Obviously, no matter how much money you have, the only in-game use for it is to buy Bosco's inventions. To make things even better, Bosco reveals that he only asks for so much money because he never actually expects them to be able to pay for it, and is just trying to see how much he can get away with. To list the types of payment accepted by Bosco:
- $10,000 in a dollar-sign bag
- $1,000,000 in food stamps
- $10,000,000 in arcade tokens
- $100,000,000 from the US Federal budget
- $1,000,000,000 through an online transaction
- $100,000,000,000,000 (one hundred trillion) in Canadian trillion dollar notes (they've even got Celine Dion on them!)
- Subverted in Reality 2.0. Sam and Max are prepared to hear the ridiculous price for a wooden sword, and are surprised when Virtual Bosco is willing to sell it for the reasonable price of five gold coins.
- In Borderlands, the Vault is literally said to contain infinite wealth (along with advanced alien technology, fame, power, and women), so the Vault Keys serve as a Zillion-Dollar Bill. And you can even sell them, although the fact that the Vault really contains Sealed Evil in a Can significantly devalues them by the time you do so.
- In Metal Gear Solid 3 the Philosopher's Legacy is a microfilm containing bank information for $100 billion US, more than the real-world US budget at the time. The Legacy is recovered and distributed between three world powers; most of it eventually falls into the hands of the Patriots.
- In the Destroy All Humans!! series, DNA/Cortexes serve as this. The Furon race literally depends on their own DNA for survival. They eat it, drink it, and trade it for money. And in DAH!3, your DNA collection can go up into the billions. Since Pox and Crypto are the ones responsible for collecting it, they are the wealthiest, most important people of their race. Until they screw it up.
- In one of the stages in Penny Arcade Adventures On the Rainslick Precipice of Darkness the main enemy is the incredibly wealthy. As such, the smallest denomination of money they drop is a twenty thousand dollar bill. They also rob an ATM of quite a large sum of money, which, given that Tycho interrupts the machine as it is giving an exact figure of the account they are attempting to rob, is more or less a drop in the bucket.
- The "zillion-chip piece" (poker chips are the universal currency) in Twilight Heroes only drops on April Fool's Day and sells for . . . 1 chip.
- The diamond encrusted skull from 50 Cent: Blood on The Sand.
- One of the items you need to find in Zork Zero is a million zorkmid bill.
- Averted in the Sega Genesis Tiny Toon Adventures game. Buster sets off to find a giant pirate treasure. He gets it and he gets to spend it, building an amusement park for himself and his friends.
- Retsupurae did this during the later parts of their 4-part Earnest Goes To Anime videos with the bitcoin gag.
- The Simpsons had "The Trouble with Trillions", where Homer finds out that Montgomery Burns had a trillion-dollar bill in his possession that he stole and was originally printed to pay for damages from WWII in Europe. It's not quite a zillion dollars, but that's enough. At least (as Lisa said) for some dune buggies.
- In the episode Mr. Plow, Homer gets rival plowman Barney Gumble to spend the day dragging his plow up a mountain with the promise of a ten thousand dollar bill. When asked which president is on it, he claims, "All of them. They're having a party. Jimmy Carter has passed out on the couch.". Barney is so impressed that he leaves immediately, abandoning his hot tub with Linda Ronstadt.
- Parodied in the Animaniacs direct-to-video movie Wakkos Wish, where a ha' penny gets this role. However, the town of Acme Falls has fallen on such hard times, all it takes is two of them to save the town from soul crushing poverty and restore it to "as close to perfect as you could find". It would be perfect, but... the mime. THE MIME.
- Referred to in an episode of Jonny Quest: Yellow Peril Zinn has found a way to create gold; the heroes have to destroy the method not only to keep him from using his ill-gotten gains to fund his evil network, but also to prevent the collapse of the global economy should the secret become open knowledge.
- A similar idea was part of an episode of the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon, where the turtles dread the thought of an alien turtle race moving to Earth: they are a benevolent race, but they also have the technology to create gold effortlessly (in fact, they use it mostly as a building material).
- An episode of the original 1960's Spider-Man had the Vulture ransoming the city for two million dollars in the form of two one million dollar bills.
- The British treasury printed nine £1 million banknotes after WWII. They served as aid payments to Europe after the war.
- Between 1929 and 1945, the American government printed paper money in denominations going up to $10,000 bills that were actually released into circulation, and $100,000 bills used for interbank transfers. See this article at Wikipedia.
- They still do print large bills like that. Mostly they're used by banks and the government to transfer large amounts of money.
- The U.S. Treasury stopped producing large bills to make it difficult for criminals to move large sums of cash. $1,000,000 in $100 bills weighs about 20 lbs. and takes up over 600 cubic inches of space - not something you can easily hide when passing through security.
- Likewise, the Bank of Canada no longer issues $10,000 or $1,000 bills; the $100 note is the current highest Canadian denomination.
- Due to hyperinflation in Zimbabwe, the regime eventually printed bills as high as $Z 100 trillion, seen here.
- During the hyperinflation in Germany during the Weimar Republic, this was the norm for currency, especially around 1922-25. Currency denomination in the billions was not uncommon at the time. There is one story, possibly apocryphal, of a man who wheeled trillions of marks in a wheelbarrow to deposit; as he stopped in, the wheelbarrow was stolen, but the stacks of by-then-worthless cash were left on the street. Almost any collectors' stamp store will have scads of 20-billion-mark postage stamps from the time, most of them uncancelled (as they were made obsolete by the mounting inflation shortly after they were issued and most people never bothered using them).
- Diamonds can now be manufactured using a technology that's essentially a superpowered pressure cooker. The diamond cartels are terrified that these might be seen as equivalent in value to natural diamonds, to the point that they now package the natural diamonds with written histories and even etch trademarks onto them.
- In 2007, the Royal Canadian Mint created a $1,000,000 coin - which was worth more than its face value because it was made of 100 kg of gold at 99.999% purity. Five of these have been purchased. (The Mint has also created a $100,000 coin (yes, it's 10 kg of gold), of which only fifteen will ever be struck.)
- During the US debt-ceiling crises of 2011 and 2013, the idea was floated of having the Treasury mint a trillion-dollar coin to pay US obligations in the absence of action from Congress.