This morning an /r/todayilearned/ post about Forbes annual list of the richest people in the realm of fiction hit Reddit's front page. I'm one of the two guys who has edited that list for the last six years (proof), so when I saw all the questions about how the list gets made, I figured I'd start an AMA to answer them.

So hit me -- what are your questions? And better yet, what are your suggestions for the newest version of the list, which is coming soon? Who have we missed?

Comments: 489 • Responses: 24  • Date: 

t3rrapins380 karma

Do you take credit score into account? I hear that Tywin Lannister always pays his debts, which should count for something.

utherdoul320 karma

They say that Tywin Lannister shits gold.

Liquor_Lotto132 karma

When you determine the value of Smaug's gold do you also consider the lower price of gold that would be caused by such a glut on the market if Smaug were to actually sell it all at once?

utherdoul249 karma

You're working on a whole different level here, and I salute you. On a related note, some people have made the argument that Smaug is far and away the richest character because he holds so much gold at a point in history where not that much gold has been mined and minted; that he holds a disproportionately large proportion of all the world's wealth during that period.

On the other hand, it's just a goofy list about dragons and talking ducks, we probably shouldn't overthink it.

yeahnahmaybewhatever106 karma

Where the hell is Scrooge McDuck?!

utherdoul116 karma

From last year's edition of the list: "Scottish-South African diamond mining magnate successfully steals the title of “world’s ­richest duck” from archnemesis Scrooge ­McDuck after winning controversial round-the-world race."

I wouldn't count Scrooge out though -- he's been #1 many times in the past, and you can't keep a good duck down.

CherrySlurpee100 karma

If Batman (Bruce Wayne) and Iron Man (Tony Stark) got into a legal battle, who would be able to win said legal battle?

utherdoul228 karma

Tony Stark has much better lawyers. Do you know how many DWI offenses they've had to get him out of?

Sampwnz94 karma

Why not Zoidberg?

utherdoul177 karma

Nobody likes Zoidberg.

dcfcblues75 karma

A better question, why not Mom from Futurama?

She would definitely out earn C.M Burns

notsoobviousreddit84 karma

How did you calculate Smaug's fortune?

utherdoul98 karma

My co-editor Michael Noer has created a whole world of nerdy scholarship on this particular subject -- see his blog posts on the subject. In short, he's trying to figure out how big Smaug is, how big his lair is, and how much gold and jewels are inside the cave.

crankymole62 karma

Just, how do you come up with the list? What about those characters whose books/comics/shows have already ended? How do you predict their future earnings?

utherdoul111 karma

We start by making a long list of candidates, which consists of all the characters that have ever been on the list in the past, plus any good suggestions we've gotten over the last twelve months. We always try to see if there were any new big books, tv shows or movies that came out since the last list that had rich fictional characters --it keeps the list fresh.

Then we go down the list and remove characters who don't meet a few key criteria. One of the first is that each character on the list must be from an authored work of fiction; generally speaking, we don't want mythological figures or folk heroes, because they're too hard to analyze (how do you calculate the net worth of Zeus? Or King Midas? We also remove characters that aren't known within their fictional universe for being rich; we want their wealth to be a defining characteristic. Someone like Princess Ariel might be wealthy because she's a princess, but nobody thinks of her as a rich person.

Then once we have a few dozen good candidates, we look at where their wealth comes from, compare them to real-world analogues (like Charles Foster Kane to William Randolph Hearst), and value their possessions against real-world equity and commodity prices. This can sometimes get really complicated: for several years my co-editor Michael Noer has been trying to perfect a formula to calculate the value of all the stuff in Smaug's horde.

Finally, we exercise a certain amount of editorial judgement to keep the list fresh have 10-30% turnover each year; last year, for instance, we had Flintheart Glomgold "steal" Scrooge McDuck's gold --an event which actually occurred in the fictional universe-- just because Scrooge had been dominating the list for years, and we wanted to shake things up.

crankymole18 karma

Thanks! Any major protest over a character's placement (or lack therof)?

utherdoul105 karma

Every single year. It's a big part of what makes this list fun -- on some level, publishing the Fictional 15 feels a lot like sitting at a bar with my friends arguing over whether Iron Man could beat Batman in a fight. (Answer: No, he could not.)

HymenAnnihilator-2 karma

This. I'm in finance and there's fucking no way these numbers aren't completely pulled out of someone's ass.

JXDB18 karma

I'm not in finance and of course they're pulled out someones ass.

utherdoul63 karma

I'm in financial journalism and they're only partially pulled out of my ass.

Rhana6 karma

Definitely just tagged you as Sometimes poops finances.

utherdoul10 karma

I'm going to put that on my business cards.

Jonapth57 karma

Forbes is generally considered amongst the more "serious" or "scholarly" of the major business publications. Is there ever any negative feedback either via your readership/viewership or within the company itself about something that the rest of the world considers silly/fun?

utherdoul83 karma

No, people really enjoy it. We only do the Fictional 15 once a year, and I think our readers appreciate that we have a sense of humor about ourselves --the list got its start, in part, because we were poking fun at our coworkers who publish Forbes' annual lists of real-world billionaires.

lex_ceja53 karma

Was there anyone on the list you personally wanted but didn't make it?

utherdoul178 karma

The Illusive Man from the Mass Effect series.

jacqueofalltrades18 karma


utherdoul94 karma

Had no luck convincing my co-editor that he wasn't too obscure to include. Feel free to email him and tell him otherwise! [email protected]

destinybond48 karma

How do you deal with fictional currency? Do you use conversion based on certain staples, like bread and water?

utherdoul67 karma

Man, that's a good question. In those cases we try to figure out the value of the currency based on commodity prices (for instance, the coinage of Westeros is roughly tied to real-world metals; gold dragons, silver stags and copper stars) or try to work around the problem by examining the person's business and overall holdings, not just how much cash they have.

Generally speaking, it's not a problem, because very few fictional characters actually have their net worth defined by the author in terms of a specific currency.

Grapedrink_x47 karma

What about Dethklok from Metalocalypse? They're the seventh richest economy!

utherdoul71 karma

I love Metalocalypse (and everything else Brendon Small does, for that matter). But the show hasn't been on the air in years (yes, I know about the special coming out this fall), and even when it was, it was on a relatively obscure cable channel.

So Dethklok is one of the cases where we've had to exercise some editorial judgment and say that someone simply isn't well known enough to make the list. If we put any (or all) of them on there, 95% of our readers would say, "who?!" And nobody's served well by that.

It sucks sometimes not to be able to include really cool cult characters like that, but absolutely necessary; if we don't close the door at some level of fame, we'd have to consider every evil billionaire villain from a thousand different crappy novels and movies.

TodayI_Yearned24 karma

Which character would you be? From all of em, and why?

utherdoul117 karma

Always be Batman, no matter what the situation.

bennybruin7721 karma

Which character acquired his/her wealth by the most creative means? And which is your favorite? And what inspired this list to be published in the first place?

utherdoul48 karma

Tony Stark's pretty creative. Who doesn't wish they could build a super suit? As for favorites, I'm a big Simpsons fan, so I love having C. Montgomery Burns on the list. Last year I even got one of the writers from the show to let me do an interview with Mr. Burns!

The list began almost 8 years ago as a bit of self-parody; Forbes is famous for publishing lists of the world's richest people, and a few of us wanted to poke fun at our own sometimes too-serious style. Over the years, though, it's grown into something bigger, and now we really put a lot of time and thought into the valuations for each fictional character.

edit: I accidentally a word.

JustAMinuteAnHourAgo15 karma

A bunch of people in the comments of the article were suggesting other people who are really rich, such as Captain Nemo and Marc Spector/Moon Knight. The question is, how exhaustive your search and evaluation of wealthy fictional characters? Have you analyzed other characters that people are suggesting?

utherdoul29 karma

Every time we do this list we go through all the comments about the previous edition, and that means making huge lists of new suggestions, which often include people like Captain Nemo and Moon Knight and a million other people.

Our preliminary search is surprisingly exhaustive-- it's fun, so we spend way more time on it than we probably should. We always at least consider and debate every new character suggestion, even if the debate is just a few words between myself and the list's other editor. Some new characters get a lot more attention --sometimes, that's hours of research on a single suggestion-- if we think they might actually qualify for the final list.

HelpMeLoseMyFat15 karma

Do you believe that a villain could be placed in the list like Emperor Palpatine?

The funds to maintain an entire galatic empire would be pretty astronomical, wouldn't you say?

A fleet of star destroyers, a death star or two, a few thousand TIE Fighters and possibly a 100 million or more standing army of clone storm troopers...

His bank account and wealth is probably more fast than any other fictional character I can think of...

Any thoughts?

utherdoul53 karma

Emperor Palpatine (and Darth Vader, mentioned elsewhere in this discussion) don't have a high personal net worth -- they simply have access to the full financial resources of the Galactic Empire, which aren't technically "theirs."

To say that Palpatine is one of the richest fictional characters would be like saying that Barack Obama is the richest man in the United States, because he's the chief executive of an organization with a $3.8 trillion budget.

Thinc_Ng_Kap10 karma

Which character would you say was the most corrupt, and who was the least corrupt?

utherdoul20 karma

On the last edition of the list, definitely Charles Foster Kane. ""You provide the prose poems; I'll provide the war!"

littledogbigheart6 karma

Why do you exclude characters like Thor? Are there any other characters who are excluded due an incalculable fortune?

utherdoul27 karma

Gods are one of the main reasons why we try to limit the list to people from a specific authored work (Today we think of Thor in the context of Marvel comics, but the character is of course much older than that).

Think about it this way -- if we include Thor, then do we also have to include Odin, who presumably is even richer? What about Zeus? Or for that matter, Buddha, Yahweh and Lord Xenu?