Fakes in film: our top 10 counterfeiting movies

Fakes in Film wide

For such a prevalent crime counterfeiting is remarkably under-represented by film-makers, but there are some gems in the collection.

What follows is a countdown of our top 10 picks, plus some honourable mentions for movies which either didn't make the cut or we haven't yet seen. We're sure to have missed some - do let us know if you have any other recommendations or simply disagree with our rankings!

Dangerous Money10) Dangerous Money (1946; Terry Morse)

Counterfeiting is fairly peripheral to the plot in our first movie, but we make no apologies as this stars Sidney Toler as Chinese detective Charlie Chan in the thirty-ninth of 47 movies in the franchise. Not the best in the mystery series, but certainly not the worst. Chan is called on to help US federal agent on the trail of a counterfeiting ring, but is unable to prevent his untimely (and very public) death.

Incognito9) Incognito (1997; John Badham)

A solid movie concerning the shady world of fine art forgery. There is some nice interplay between the forger (Harry Donovan -played by Jason Patric) and his lover Prof. Marieke van den Broeck (Irène Jacob) who just happens to be the art expert investigating the counterfeit Rembrandt that Donovan has painted for $500,000.

The Counterfeiters of Paris8) The Counterfeiters of Paris (1961; Gilles Grangier)

Based on a novel by celebrated French author Albert Simonin, this comic thriller follows the actions of retired currency counterfeiting kingpin 'Le Dabe' - played by Jean Gabin - who is encouraged to return to his criminal ways and start faking Dutch guilders by three compatriots. A great double-cross yarn featuring some big acting talent from a fertile period for French cinema.

The Mutineers7) The Mutineers (1949; Jean Yarbrough)

Not quite in the same class as a certain other classic from this year (see later), The Mutineers is nevertheless an enjoyable adventure story, focused on the takeover of a ship by a criminal gang intent on running guns and counterfeit money. Adele Jurgens is great as tough-talking 'bad girl' Norma Harrison, the girlfriend of crime boss Thomas Nagle (played by future Superman George Reeves).

A Better Tomorrow6) A Better Tomorrow (1986; John Woo)

The breakthrough movie for Hong Kong director John Woo, the story concentrates on the relationship between two brothers, one a successful counterfeiter and the other a junior cop who has just graduated from police academy. The movie was a massive blockbuster across Asia - spawning two sequels - and was among the first of the Hong Kong crime genre to make it big with Western audiences as well.

The Man Who Copied5) The Man Who Copied (2003; Jorge Furtado)

This is a perfectly formed Brazilian movie, following the misguided but well-meaning choices of a poor photocopier operator and would-be cartoonist who starts to counterfeit money to spend on the girl of his dreams. Likeable characters, a lot of humour and - at the heart of it all - an engaging study of the temptations that can lead a person into a spiral of criminality. Highly recommended.

Mister 8804) Mister 880 (1950; Edmund Goulding)

An Oscar-nominated film starring the legendary Burt Lancaster as investigator Steve Buchanan, drafted in by the US Treasury Department to track down a counterfeiter  - dubbed Mister 880 -  who has eluded capture despite being a rank amateur. Great performance by UK-born Edmund Gwenn as 'Skipper' Miller, the likeable rogue at the heart of the action.

The Counterfeit Coin3) The Counterfeit Coin (1955; Tzavellas Giorgos)

Described in some quarters as "the Best Greek film ever produced", the plot of this comedy drama follows the fortunes of a collector of gold sovereigns who is persuaded by a femme fatale to sink his fortune into the minting of a counterfeit version. Interesting premise in that the movie shifts its attention to those who own the fake coin as it changes hands.

The Counterfeiters2) The Counterfeiters (2007; Stefan Ruzowitzky)

The Counterfeiters is the true story of what is claimed to be the largest currency counterfeiting operation in history, set up by the Nazis in 1936 to destabilise the economies of the US and UK. An absolute cracker of a film that is only kept off the top spot by the sheer brilliance of …

The Third Man1) The Third Man (1949; Carol Reed)

No surprises here I suspect. An Oscar-winning film noir classic set in post-war Vienna, with a plot centering around Orson Welles' infamous Harry Lime character, who makes a nefarious living stealing penicillin, diluting it down and selling it on the black market. Particularly memorable for a monologue by Welles which epitomises the callousness of criminals who pay no heed to the human suffering caused by their actions. 

And the also-rans:

Counterfeit Culture Counterfeit culture (2013; Geoff D'Eon, Jay Dahl)

A one-hour TV documentary that only misses the main list because it is a little out of place in our ranking of fictional outings. The movie explores the dangerous and sometimes deadly world of fake products - which it describes as the crime of the 21st century - and challenges consumers to take a deeper look at what appear to be harmless knock-offs at bargain prices.

Generic movie iconIranian Spead (2002; Kianoush Ayari)

Not one we've seen, but we'd like to. Similar to The Counterfeit Coin in that it follows a fake 1,000-toman note on its travels through Iranian society, from a pickpocketed boy in a bazaar through marker traders, an abortionist, musicians and party revellers. If anyone knows where to get hold of a copy do let us know!

Get LuckyGet lucky (2013; Sacha Bennett)

A British crime caper that seems to have split the critics. It centres on two petty criminals (brothers) who are given the task of looking after counterfeit cash, but gets spooked and burns it up. Cue entry of hired heavies and a dastardly plot to steal their way out of trouble. We haven't seen this, but it looks pretty formulaic and to be honest isn't high on our wish list.

T-MenT Men (1947; Anthony Mann)

Yet another film noir, that sees US Treasury Board investigators on the trail of a nationwide counterfeiting operation. Again, not one we've seen, but it was well-received by the critics despite a B-list cast and looks worth a view.

With many thanks to the excellent IMDb website for movie poster images.

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