They say fortune favors the bold--but it also favors the fictional. The characters that make up this year's edition of the Forbes Fictional 15, our annual listing of fiction's richest, boast an aggregate net worth of $137 billion. That's enough to give $20 to every (real) person on the planet.
Flapping into the top slot on this year's list is the first non-mammal to rank as fiction's richest: Scrooge McDuck. Soaring gold prices mean the penny-pinching poultry's hoard of coins and bullion is now worth more than you can shake a tail feather at.
Born penniless in Glasgow, Scotland, McDuck shined shoes as a duckling just to make ends meet. One day a ditch digger paid him a U.S. dime to clean his boots, inspiring the fearless fowl to stow aboard a cattle ship and seek out his fortune in America. He proceeded to build an empire from scratch, and today boasts a net worth of $28.8 billion. An avid treasure hunter, McDuck often travels the world with his grand-nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie looking for even more loot.
McDuck moves into the top slot vacated by last year's richest fictional character, defense contractor Oliver ''Daddy'' Warbucks. Warbucks was tragically killed by an improvised explosive device during a visit to Iraq in March.
The mogul's sudden demise leaves Warbucks Industries--the world's largest maker of depleted uranium artillery shells and cat food--without leadership. Adopted daughter Lil' Orphan Annie is now in court fighting Warbucks' former wives, bodyguards and mistresses for control of the company and estate.
All told, six billionaires fell off the list, including Atlantic City real estate magnate Mr. Monopoly, who lost everything in the subprime mortgage crash. Archaeologist Lara Croft is missing and presumed dead after her plane disappeared above the Congolese jungle. And narco-capitalist Tony Montana, aka Scarface, was finally confirmed dead by a joint CIA/FBI task force.
Taking their place is a cast of new characters including Ming the Merciless, who ranks second on this year's list. With the existence of this evil alien overlord only recently confirmed by the U.S. government, we've had difficulty separating planetary wealth from his personal fortune, but we can safely say his net worth is at least $20.9 billion, and potentially much higher. Variously described as "control freak," "micro-manager," "vile despot" or "a kinder Steve Ballmer," Ming is best known for his fixation on NASA public relations specialist Dale Arden, girlfriend of astronaut Flash Gordon.
Also new to the list: quirky investor Gomez Addams, who ranked 12th with a net worth of $2 billion. This descendant of Castilian royalty and British aristocrats powered onto the list thanks to a series of extremely lucky investments: for instance, earlier this year, he bought a swamp for "scenic value" and subsequently discovered a massive oil deposit underneath. Addams is known for exhibiting eccentric behavior, including an affinity for sword fighting and a passion for crashing toy trains.
It's been a tough year for some fictional billionaires, including 2006's second-richest character, C. Montgomery Burns. The owner and operator of the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant saw his fortune plummet after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency attempted to contain pollution by enclosing Springfield in a giant glass dome. The population rioted, and looters ransacked Burns Manor, making off with priceless treasures, including the suit Charlie Chaplin was buried in and a first draft of the Constitution with the word "suckers" in it.
Ongoing controversy surrounds the absence of one character from the list: Santa Claus. After ranking first in the first two editions of the list, we excluded him in 2006, after being bombarded by letters from outraged children insisting that Claus is "real." After taking into account the physical evidence--toys delivered, milk and cookies devoured--we felt it was safer to remove him from consideration. While we continue to take the matter under consideration, Santa remains--for now--strictly real.
To qualify for the Fictional 15, we require that candidates be an authored fictional creation, a rule that excludes mythological and folkloric characters. They must star in a specific narrative work or series of works. And they must be known, both within their fictional universe and by their audience, for being rich.
Net worth estimates are based on an analysis of the fictional character's source material, and are valued against known real-world commodity and share price movements. In the case of privately held fictional concerns, we sought to identify comparable fictional public companies. All prices are as of market close, Dec. 10, 2007.
We reserve the right to bend or break any of our own rules.
This year, for the first time, we also ranked the largest fictional companies in the universe. The task was a mammoth undertaking: Dozens of reporters spent countless hours poring over financial documents, a far-flung network of correspondents traveled much of the space-time continuum, and sophisticated algorithms were perfected to perform the tricky business of converting gold pieces, Zorkmids, other exotic currencies into 2007 U.S. dollars.
It all has, of course, been a labor of love, and we hope you enjoy reading it as much as we enjoyed writing it.