The rich may be different than you and me — but not nearly as different as the characters that comprise the Forbes Fictional 15, our annual listing of fiction's very wealthiest. This year's selection includes a duck, a wizard, a Nigerian prince and even a plumber. Aggregate (fictional) net worth? $111 billion.
The biggest change to this year's list comes at the very top. For the first time in the Fictional 15's history, Santa Claus has been unseated from the number-one spot, replaced by defense contractor Oliver ''Daddy'' Warbucks.
We still estimate Claus' net worth as infinite, but we excluded him from this year's rankings after being bombarded by letters from outraged children insisting that Claus is "real." We don't claim to have settled the ongoing controversy concerning Claus' existence, but after taking into account the physical evidence — toys delivered, milk and cookies devoured — we felt it was safer to remove him from consideration.
In the absence of the tubby toy titan, Oliver Warbucks now reigns as the world's richest fictional character. The ex-U.S. Army general turned industrialist saw his net worth surge to $36.2 billion, thanks to the ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and because of a contract to provide oil-well maintenance in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Other characters were dropped for more prosaic reasons. Plummeting demand for fur coats hit puppy-hating Cruella De Vil especially hard, while playboy billionaire Arthur Bach died from liver failure. Ebenezer Scrooge gave the bulk of his $1.7 billion fortune to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. And Superman nemesis Lex Luthor is struggling to rebuild his fortune after blowing billions on his latest (futile) attempt to take over the world.
With a net worth of $7.1 billion, Atlantic City real-estate tycoon Mr. Monopoly is the richest newcomer. Also making his Fictional 15 debut: spam entrepreneur Prince Abakaliki of Nigeria. Abakaliki is notable for being the only fictional character on our list who regularly e-mails real people, usually begging for assistance in recovering large sums of money. We estimate Abakaliki to be worth more than $2.8 billion.
Characters involved in the defense industries, or whose fortune is determined by the price of gold, have done particularly well over the past 12 months. Fictional 15 newcomer Tony Stark (net worth: $3 billion) has profited immensely from his firm's invention of indestructible alloys and so-called "destructor rays." And despite a failed scheme to find "the gold at the end of the rainbow," the planet's richest poultry, Scrooge McDuck, saw his fortune soar to an estimated $10.9 billion on rising gold prices.
Other newcomers include Mario, the videogame plumber who built a $1 billion fortune after decades of collecting gold coins, and billionaire narcocapitalist Tony Montana, aka Scarface.
The wheel of fortune has a tendency to turn especially fast for the members of the Fictional 15, and this year proved no exception. Longtime member C. Montgomery Burns doubled his fortune to $16.8 billion in just 12 months, thanks in large part to a "technology exchange" deal with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il.
Others have been less fortunate. Willy Wonka ran afoul of British occupational safety authorities with his eccentric "golden ticket" method of CEO succession planning. Richie Rich blew more than $6 billion over the last year building solid-gold schoolhouses in Indonesia. And Thurston Howell III's fortune has taken a hit after a mysterious whistleblower, known only as "Gilligan," began cooperating with the New York State attorney general.
A note on methodology: Net worth estimates are based, when possible, on known commodity and share price movements. All prices as of market close, Nov. 17, 2006. In the case of privately held fictional concerns, we sought to identify comparable fictional public companies. Final net worths were calculated using a tiny grain of common sense and a large dose of salt.