Great cons belong to that special category — along with heists — of things that are very fun in fiction but not something you want happening to you. And con artists in fiction are usually charming, smart, and have an abhorrence of violence. Here are the 10 greatest con artists in science fiction and fantasy
As always, this’ll involve discussion of character and plot development, so spoilers ahead.
1) John Constantine
Even though he can do magic, Constantine’s greatest skills are as a con artist. He’s deceived some of the most powerful entities in the DC universe — once saving a soul by delaying the First of the Fallen by tricking him into drinking holy water and then exploiting a loophole in the contract that meant that the delay costs him the soul. Then he outwits the First by selling his own soul to two other Fallen. He’s even managed to manipulate Superman and Batman. World’s greatest con man indeed.
2) Moist von Lipwig, Discworld
When it comes to fictional con artists, Moist checks all the boxes. He’s charming, he’s smart, he sees himself as above typical criminals as he doesn’t “hurt anyone.” And he does what he does not for the money but because he needs the challenge. Once caught, his punishment is government service. It turns out that outsmarting corporations and bankers requires the mind of a con man, and Moist has that and style. Moist’s books all involve cons of one kind of another, but the most telling may be in Making Money where a too-successful Moist is bored and has taken to breaking into his own office and then talking his way out of being caught.
3) Scaroth, Doctor Who
The Whoniverse has its share of charming con men: Jack Harkness and John Hart, to name two from the recent past. But Scaroth, from “City of Death,” has a great plan — fractured through time, he conspires with his past self to have Leonardo da Vinci paint seven Mona Lisas so that his present self can sell the copies once the one we all know about is stolen. Of course, the Doctor foils the plan by writing “This is a fake” on the copies in felt tip pen, convincing da Vinci to paint over the writing, and using X-rays to show track the fakes in the “present.” But, up until the Doctor shows up, Scaroth was very smart.
4) Mr. Wednesday, American Gods
It’s hard to beat a con artist whose true identity is the Norse god Odin. He’s the god of knowledge and wisdom, so that gives him a bit of an edge. Pulling off cons is how Odin gets by in the modern era, and his grand plan for winning a war against the new gods is, in fact, a two-man con... a con he actually revealed long before the protagonist figures it out.
5) Sawyer, Lost
Sawyer’s whole background is shaped by con men. His parents were taken in by a con man, ending in his father killing his mother and then himself. In his search for the man responsible, Sawyer then does the exact same thing to get by. Like the man whose name he took and who ruined his family, he seduces women and lets them “find out” that he has a great business deal. The rich husband then “invests” in the scheme, and Sawyer leaves with the money. In a variation that ends up landing him in jail, Sawyer lets a suspicious divorcee named Cassidy “catch” him in the act, teaches her some of his tricks, confesses that he’s still conning her, tells her to take the money and run, but gives her counterfeit bills and keeps her actual money. Wheels within wheels within wheels. Sometimes the simpler cons are better.
6) Flim, Star Wars Expanded Universe
Even though it wasn’t his plan — he was recruited due to his con skills — it takes a healthy dose of courage and ego to impersonate one of the greatest tactical minds the Star Wars universe has ever seen. Flim, using makeup and acting skills, pretends to be Grand Admiral Thrawn in order to rally the remainder of the Empire and defeat the New Republic. He was so good he managed to convince people who had actually served with Thrawn of his authenticity.
7) Sarah Walker’s Father “Jack Burton”, Chuck
Sarah Walker isn’t even her real name, but she was recruited out of high school by the CIA based on the skills she picked up from her infamous con man father. As is necessary for con artists, they moved from place to place fleecing people, including the Salvation Army at Christmas, for just one example. A less glamorous and “Robin Hood” kind of con man than fiction usually loves, but a very effective one.
8) The Wizard, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
You may not want to credit a man who eventually got caught out by a teenage girl and her dog with a ton of skill, but still any stage magician who ended up in a strange land via a hot air balloon accident and managed to ascend to power by convincing people that he had magical gifts is pretty impressive. And these people, it should be noted, had actual experience with magic. It’s even only by his skills in the confidence game that the mere tokens he gives the Scarecrow, the Lion, and the Tin Man are transmuted into the objects of their desire by their belief in the Wizard’s non-existent powers.
9) Vala Mal Doran, Stargate SG-1
This is likely a matter of some disagreement, but Vala’s past as a con artist was fairly in depth and successful. The first time we see her, she is trying to singlehandedly steal the spaceship Prometheus by impersonating a Kull supersoldier. In season nine, we discover that Vala used her possession by a Goa’uld -— who pose as gods of less advanced civilizations — to set herself up as a god of the planet her possessor once ruled. She both managed to gather a cache of loot and give them the gift of a justice system.
10) Eames and the rest of the team, Inception
Eames is so low on the list for two reasons: whether or not the team succeeded is still up for debate, and the work that the team does straddles the line between heist and con. Eames’ talents as a “forger” of people makes him the best con artist on the team. The plan of convincing their mark to join them — while actually going into his subconscious to plant the idea they want — is a confidence game. And a brilliant one at that.
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