We’ve all probably seen at least one movie that has an epic action scene that involves some explosions and burning money. And while it’s illegal to destroy real American currency, using fake money that looks real, or prop money, allows filmmakers to film these awesome scenes. But there is one movie that made a huge impact in how movie makers use fake money that looks real in their films: Rush Hour 2.
The film had one of those aforementioned epic scenes where money gets blown up. They were filming in Las Vegas when the set consisted of a casino that exploded, causing about $1 billion worth of Hollywood film money to fly throughout the air… and into the hands of bystanders.
So while filming the casino explosion was a success, there was an unforeseen effect. The bystanders who happened to come across those fake $100 bills attempted to make purchases with the prop money at local businesses. And when the authorities found out, they weren’t very happy.
The Secret Service, who is in charge of handling counterfeit cases, detained more than $100 million in prop money for movies. The company that created the money for the movie props, Independent Studio Services (ISS), unfortunately, suffered consequences.
Because the money prop designs looked too real, the Secret Service required ISS to stop making the prop cash. Furthermore, any movie production company that had purchased prop money from ISS received a recall notice and they weren’t able to use the props.
Over the years, there have been tons of different prop money designs — in fact, between 1970 and 2000 alone, there were about 270 types and 2,000 sub-types of movie money created by prop houses. But the money produced by ISS was too close to the size of real money. According to federal law, fake money must be at least 75% smaller or 150% bigger than real bills to ensure people are able to tell the difference.
So while there have been numerous accounts of problems with fake money over the years, the use of Rush Hour 2 prop money was a significant event in counterfeiting history. Filmmakers still struggle to have realistic money without getting in trouble, but fortunately, prop houses have some pretty realistic — but not too realistic — money that can be used in movies and TV shows today.