Created By: Dragonmouth on May 25, 2012 Last Edited By: morenohijazo on May 19, 2016

51% Is Absolute Power

Owning 51% of a company\'s stock gives you complete power over that company.

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Trope
In fiction, owning the controlling interest of a company means that your commands are unquestionable. The controlling interest is almost always stated to be 51% of voting stock, although the trope still applies even if the exact percent isn't stated, or it's some other number greater than 50% that somehow counts just as much as having 100%.

In Real Life, owning 51% of a company does not give one absolute power over it. Remember that 49% of stockholders are partial owners of the company and retain certain rights.


Examples:

Anime & Manga
  • In Yu-Gi-Oh!, Seto Kaiba is given two percent of the shares to his stepfather's company Kaiba Corp, but has to use them to make 100 times their worth within a year's time. Seto does this by buying 51% of a company and threatening to close it and put everyone out of work unless the original owner buys it back for five times it value, which he agrees to for the sake of the employees. It's implied Seto repeats this with other companies to work up the needed money to please his stepfather. He later takes over Kaiba Corp itself with the same strategy.

Comic Books
  • In B.P.R.D.: The Black Flame, Landis Pope calmly walks into the boardroom of Zinco Corperation in a suit of black armour with frog monsters in tow, tells the members that he owns 51% of the company and fires them all with little explanation. He then gets the R&D department to experiment in controlling the frog monsters as part of his plan to gain control of Katha-Hem.
  • In the The Simpsons comic, "To Heir is Homer", Homer ends up being bequeathed 51% of the shares in Duff Brewery by the will of the previous owner, Sam Duff, with Montgomery Burns controlling the other 49%. He ends up driving the company into the ground with idiotic decisions and is forced to sell the shares to Burns. Fortunately for Homer, it turns out Sam Duff wasn't actually dead (so that 51% had never been actually his to begin with), and Homer had the chance to enjoy something he didn't own for a while.

Film
  • Peter LaFleur in Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story buys Globo Gym's controlling stake using the $5 million his team won. He is then able to totally remodel the gym while the original majority shareholder, White Goodman eats himself back to into obesity.
  • Averted in Iron Man. While Tony has the controlling share in Stark Industries, Obadiah points out that the board still has rights and was able to file an injunction against Tony when he shut down the company's weapons program.
  • In George Cukor's Let's Make Love, Welch buys the 51% of the theater company and when Dumas's going to be fired, he says to the director:
    Welch: Your 49 percent wants him out of the show but my 51 wants him in, so he stays in.
  • In Mr. Deeds, Chuck singlehandedly votes to sell off Blake Media, putting thousands of employees out of work.
  • In the Richie Rich movie, Richie gains control of his parents' company after their apparent deaths due to owning 51% of the company's stock.
  • In Scrooge (1951), Scrooge and Marley obtain their wealth by offering to cover the expenses of their owner's embezzlement scandal in return for the right to buy up to 51% of the company's shares. Naturally this gives them absolute power over the day-to-day business of the company.

Literature
  • In Terry Pratchett's Making Money, Topsy Lavish owned 50% of the Royal Bank of Ankh-Morpork and managed to become Chairman because her dog, Mr. Fusspot, owned the crucial 1%. When she died she left all her shares to her dog and appointed Moist von Lipwig the dog's guardian, effectively making him chairman. The other members of the board want the dog dead; the Guild of Assassins have signalled to Moist von Lipwig that should the dog die, he is next...

Live-Action TV
  • In Le comte de Monte Cristo, a French miniseries adaptation of The Count of Monte Cristo, the count buys fifty one percent of a bank's shares so he could issue himself infinite letters of credit. Granted, he was good for it.
  • Leverage: In "The Snow Job", the team tricks the mark's Idle Rich son to sign over 51% of their company and then proceed to give back the homes that they had tricked people out of. The mark insists they will be able to get the company back, but the team tipped the police off to his violation of the RICO act earlier in the episode and he is arrested before he can do anything to stop the team dismantling the business.
  • This comes up in an episode of Dragon's Den where an potential entrepreneur had to choose between an investor who offered her 49% percent ownership of her product and another who offered 50%. She ended up choosing the latter.

Video Games
  • Gex's mother buys 51 percent ownership in NASA using the money inherited from Gex's great-uncle, fires everyone, sells the rockets to third world countries, and turns Mission Control into "Space Monkeys", a Suck E. Cheese's featuring robotic dancing chimps wearing spacesuits.
  • Monty Python's The Meaning of Life the videogame: You have to find stock shares of the Very Big Corporation Of America totalling 51%; then you can take the building (a clip from "Crimson Permanant Assurance" plays).
  • The "Fruity Business" mission in Tropico 4 has you working to oust the CEO of Fruitas LTD, a company based on United Fruit Company, the one who gave us the term Banana Republic. To achieve this, El Presidente has to own 51% of the shares and he does this by flooding the market with fruit to lower the price of the shares enough to buy. To get the last 1%, Presidente even has to hire some discount Chinese ninjas to retrieve them from a heavily-guarded fortress in Tibet.

Western Animation
  • Futurama
    • In the episode "Future Stock", That Guy manages to get controlling interest in Planet Express from Zoidberg. For a sandwich.
    Leela: Zoidberg owned 51% of the company?
    Hermes: The shares were worthless and he kept asking for toilet paper!
    • The plot of videogame starts when the Professor sells Planet Express to Mom, as it had been losing money for years due to mismanagement. The buyout gives Mom ownership of more than fifty percent of Earth, allowing her to become the supreme ruler of Earth. She then enslaves humanity and starts converting Earth into a giant warship.
  • In the Hey Arnold! movie, Big Bob Pataki initially goes along with Mr. Scheck's plan to bulldoze Arnold's neighborhood and replace it with a mall because he was promised that one of the stores contained therein would be his largest-ever beeper emporium. Later on, however, he reads the fine print of the contract and discovers that in exchange for said beeper emporium, Scheck gets 51% of the shares in his company. Cue one Heel–Face Turn.

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Community Feedback Replies: 81
  • May 25, 2012
    captainpat
    • In Yu Gi Oh, as a child, Seto Kaiba was given ten million dollars on his birthday by his adopted father. He could spend that money how he pleased but had to repay ten times that amount within a year. Seto repays all the money within a day by buying 51% shares of a small company that cares for its employees and forcing the president to buy it back under threat of the company being shutdown and the employees jobless.
  • May 25, 2012
    Generality
    This comes up in a few episodes of Futurama, particularly "Future Stock", in which Mom arranges a hostile takeover of the delivery company by means of this trope.
  • May 25, 2012
    Phediuk
    • In the 1951 adaptation of A Christmas Carol, Scrooge and Marley obtain their wealth by offering to cover the expenses of their owner's embezzlement scandal in return for the right to buy up to 51% of the company's shares. Naturally this gives them absolute power over the day-to-day business of the company.
  • May 25, 2012
    Shrikesnest
    Good catch. Can't believe we don't have this yet.
  • May 25, 2012
    peccantis
  • May 25, 2012
    Tuckerscreator
    This comes up in an episode of Shark Tank where an potential entrepreneur had to choose between an investor who offered her 49% percent ownership of her product and another who offered 50%. She ended up choosing the latter.
  • May 25, 2012
    Ryusui
    Absurdly Powerful Controlling Interest?

    • One mission in Tropico 4 has you working to take control of an enemy's company by buying 51% of the shares.
  • May 25, 2012
    ringsofrexor
    In George Cukor's Let's Make Love, Welch buys the 51% of the theater company and when Dumas's going to be fired, he says to the director: "Your 49 percent wants him out of the show but my 51 wants him in, so he stays in."
  • May 25, 2012
    DragonQuestZ
    I'd prefer a title that is not a snowclone of a current events catch phrase. It just begs to date the trope title.
  • May 25, 2012
    DrakeClawfang
    Correction and expansion on the Yugioh example.

    • In Yu Gi Oh, Seto Kaiba is given two percent of the shares to his stepfather's company Kaiba Corp, but has to use them to make 100 times their worth within a year's time. Seto does this by buying 51% of a company and threatening to close it and put everyone out of work unless the original owner buys it back for five times it value, which he agrees to for the sake of the employees. It's implied Seto repeats this with other companies to work up the needed money to please his stepfather. He later takes over Kaiba Corp itself with the same strategy.
  • May 25, 2012
    Stratadrake
  • May 25, 2012
    randomsurfer
    Monty Pythons The Meaning Of Life the videogame: You have to find stock shares of the Very Big Corporation Of America totalling 51%; then you can take the building (a clip from "Crimson Permanant Assurance" plays).
  • May 25, 2012
    peccantis
    ^^ the number 51 is critical for the trope.
  • May 25, 2012
    JonnyB
    I don't know if the percentage is specifically stated, but at the end of Batman Begins, Bruce Wayne has acquired enough stock to take back control of his company and fire the CEO.
  • May 26, 2012
    aurora369
    51% Is Absolute Power?
  • May 26, 2012
    MorganWick
    Could this also apply to a political party's control of a governing body?
  • May 26, 2012
    Arivne
    Deleted - incorrect example.
  • May 26, 2012
    surgoshan
    • In the Futurama episode "Future Stock", That Guy manages to get controlling interest in Planet Express from Zoidberg. For a sandwich.
      Leela: Zoidberg owned 51% of the company?
      Hermes: The shares were worthless and he kept asking for toilet paper!
  • June 6, 2012
    SingingRain
  • June 6, 2012
    Hertzyscowicz
    • The French miniseries adaptation of The Count Of Monte Cristo has the count buying fifty one percent of a bank's shares so he could issue himself infinite letters of credit. Granted, he was good for it.
  • June 6, 2012
    Stratadrake
    Maybe "Absolute majority, absolute power" for a title?
  • June 7, 2012
    AgProv
    In Terry Pratchett's Making Money - the combination of Royal Bank chairman Moist von Lipwig (50%) and the little doggie inherited from the previous Chairwoman (Mr Fusspot, who owns the strategically vital 1% and is therefore the most important dog in Ankh-Morpork) The other members of the board want the dog dead; the Guild of Assassins have signalled to Moist von Lipwig that should the dog die, he is next...
  • June 7, 2012
    nameheregrrer
    I swear we have this somewhere. Maybe under an artistic liscense trope. I'll look.

  • May 22, 2014
    jormis29
    • Futurama
      • The plot of videogame starts when the Professor sells Planet Express to Mom, as it had been losing money for years due to mismanagement. The buyout gives Mom ownership of more than fifty percent of Earth, allowing her to become the supreme ruler of Earth. She then enslaves humanity and starts converting earth into a giant warship.
  • May 22, 2014
    Paradisesnake
    ^^ I'd imagine it was Artistic License Economics.
  • May 22, 2014
    DAN004
    Owning51%Equals Power?
  • May 22, 2014
    JonnyB
    Regarding the Batman Begins mention earlier, Bruce Wayne doesn't mention the 51% but he does say he's bought controlling interest. He uses it to fire CEO William Earle and rehire Lucius Fox into that position.
    William Earle: What makes you think you can decide who's running Wayne Enterprises?
    Bruce Wayne: Well, the fact that I'm the owner.
    Earle: What are you talking about? The company went public a week ago.
    Wayne: And I bought most of the shares - through various charitable foundations, and trusts, and so forth. Look, it's all a bit technical, but the important thing is that my company's future is secure. [speaks slightly louder] Right, Mr. Fox?
    Lucius Fox: Right you are, Mister Wayne. [turns to Earle and takes off his glasses] Didn't you get the memo?
  • May 22, 2014
    Bisected8
  • May 22, 2014
    Paradisesnake
  • May 22, 2014
    jormis29
    • In the The Simpsons comic, "To Heir is Homer", Homer ends up being bequeathed 51% of the shares in Duff Brewery by the will of the previous owner, Sam Duff, with Montgomery Burns controlling the other 49%. He ends up driving the company into the ground with idiotic decisions and is forced to sell the shares to Burns.
  • May 22, 2014
    MorningStar1337
    I'd be willing to launch this trope as soon if it hits 5 hats and help with the examples

    In fact if the name needs a change I'd suggest Business Majority Rule (can be plural)
  • May 22, 2014
    partner555
    I thought we had this trope but a brief search didn't turn up anything.

    Though is it vital for it to be 51%? If so, then the Dodgeball example needs to be removed or at least edited since the example doesn't state a percentage ownership.
  • May 22, 2014
    Statzkeen
    51% is common, but if the idea is "majority = dominance" then the majority doesn't *have* to be 51%
  • May 22, 2014
    Statzkeen
    But do think it's important that "owner who can do almost anything" someone derives from some sort of "I have the most stock" or something - so I would say that Inception doesn't apply when Saito buys the airline. In this case he or his company probably literally merges-takes over the other and now he's the owner and CEO of his new acquisition.
  • May 23, 2014
    Arivne
    Deleted my Citizen Of The Galaxy example. I re-read the book and discovered that Thorby only controlled 45% of the company...the other 6% was owned by people who voted for him at a shareholders' meeting.
  • May 23, 2014
    partner555
    ^^^ So are you going to put in the description that the exact 51% is not vital?
  • May 23, 2014
    Antigone3
    I don't recall the exact figure, but in The Ship Who Searched Tia (more accurately, her human agent — a brainship wouldn't fit in the meeting room) treats a controlling interest in a company as total control.
  • July 8, 2014
    Statzkeen
    I added it - guess Dragonmouth isn't here any more?
  • July 8, 2014
    DAN004
    ^ Looks like it.
  • July 9, 2014
    henke37
    Technically the owner doesn't control the company: they just get to choose who does. Which can be themselves.
  • July 9, 2014
    HellKillUsAll
  • July 9, 2014
    HumanTorch2
    ^ Actually, that was Snowball wearing a Bill Gates suit.

    Real Life:
    • When NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. couldn't invoke this trope with his late great father's company (the now defunct Dale Earnhardt, Inc.) back in 2007, he ended up jumping ship to one of DEI's archrivals: Hendrick Motorsports.
  • July 9, 2014
    DracMonster
    Another Real Life:

    • In the Bitcoin community, there was a brouhaha when mining group Ghash.io managed to acquire 51% of the total mining power (after they had promised not to,) which could allow them to abuse the system in various ways such as piling on extra transaction fees. They were subject to repeated lynch-mob style DDOS attacks simply due to fears of the hypothetical possibility of abuse.
  • July 9, 2014
    bitemytail
    • In Civilization V, If you have more than half the delegates to the World Congress, you can effectively force any proposal you want. As host, you get to make a proposal every iteration, and the host gets additional votes. You can use this controlling power to make your religion the world religion and ideology the world ideology, for even more votes.
  • August 11, 2014
    MorganWick
    Referenced in this Cracked article.
  • August 11, 2014
    bitemytail
    Is the Up For Grabs, or is the OP still around?
  • August 11, 2014
    DAN004
    Can this be extended to 50,0000...1%?
  • November 28, 2014
    Arivne
    Tabletop Games
    • Shadowrun supplement Corporate Shadowfiles. This is specifically stated to be the case in the future Earth of the game. By standard corporate rules anyone who has more than 50% of the total voting shares can elect anyone they want to the board of directors. The board can then remove and replace corporate leaders, thus granting control of the company.
  • April 23, 2015
    marcoasalazarm
    1) we need to publish this YKTTW.

    2) Example-Live Action Film:

    The second "Mission: Impossible'" film has this as the plan of the Big Bad: to extortionate Corrupt Corporate Executive John C. McCloy into giving him enough money to buy 51% of his pharmaceutical company, which will have its stock price going through the roof once the "Chimera" synthetic virus starts killing people on the streets, and the company starts production of the only available vaccine. McCloy immediately points out that 51% stock-holding would give the Big Bad control of his company, and is angry about it... but being face-to-face with a Trigger Happy maniac and his goons, he cannot do much more than that.
  • April 23, 2015
    SolipSchism
    ^ Yes.

    That example needs some proofreading, though.

    Also... who exactly is the CEO "pointing out" the 51% thing to? The way you've written it, it sounds like he's pointing it out to the Big Bad... which is kind of nonsensical, if the Big Bad is the one extorting him.

    Here's my attempt:

    Film:

    I'd just cut the last part, since it's not necessary for the trope.
  • April 23, 2015
    Kartoonkid95
    • The Pinky And The Brain episode "Snowball" has Bill Grates (actually the titular hamster in disguise) being the majority shareholder of the world, thus taking it over before Brain can, owning a 51% share.
  • April 23, 2015
    Folamh3
    • Upon his father's death in Vanilla Sky, David is given 51% control of his father's company, with the remaining 49% split equally between seven board members. A sub-plot in the film revolves around the board's efforts to assume control of David's share.
  • April 23, 2015
    SolipSchism
    ^ Does the film make it clear that his 51% gives him leave to do whatever he wants? Because just having a 51% share isn't the trope. The trope is that having 51% control means you control the company. And honestly, if one guy had a 51% share and seven other Corrupt Corporate Executives controlled the other 49%, it makes perfect sense to me that they would be scheming to get control of his share.
  • April 23, 2015
    DAN004
    Who's in control of this ykttw?
  • April 24, 2015
    SolipSchism
    Last edit by Statzkeen... almost a year ago. It's Up For Grabs.
  • April 24, 2015
    marcoasalazarm
    ^

    Re: Solip Schism: Scene is kind of like this:

    Big Bad: I want payment in stock options. Options for your company-the money you wanted to give me before? Should be about enough to buy 51% of Biocyte, at the current market prices. And the stock price... oh, well, it's going to rise real quick soon, because I unleashed a Typhoid Mary full of Chimera and the market for Bellerophon is going to be in high demand eventually...

    Corrupt Corporate Executive: (growls out, rises as if to leave) There is no way in HELL I'm going to just up and hand you control over MY COMPAN...!

    Big Bad: (Click Hello) Sit. Down.
  • April 24, 2015
    SolipSchism
    ^ A'ight. Yeah, I think my write-up does it justice, but that's just based on what you've said since I haven't seen the film. It's pretty clear from the bad guy's dialogue that everyone in the room knows exactly what he's up to, so saying the CCE "points it out" is a little redundant.
  • April 24, 2015
    Folamh3
    R.E. SolipSchism - if I remember correctly, the board in Vanilla Sky are eager to seize David's share of the company because they think he's incompetent, and he's presented as having essentially dictatorial control over the company despite being an absent-minded Millionaire Playboy.
  • April 24, 2015
    SolipSchism
    ^ That last part needs to be included in the example then. The bit about him "having essentially dictatorial control over the company despite being an absent-minded Millionaire Playboy."
  • April 24, 2015
    marcoasalazarm
    ^ Guess the guy is pointing it out to the audience, if nobody else.

    Editing still works. Just felt like mentioning why I added the extra stuff.
  • May 14, 2015
    marcoasalazarm
    OK... this needs be published.
  • May 15, 2015
    hbi2k
  • May 15, 2015
    zarpaulus
    The Making Money example isn't really correct. That's how Topsy Lavish controlled the bank, she left all her shares to the dog and appointed Moist as guardian of the little mutt. It's why "Mr. Fusspot" officially holds the title of Chairdog while Moist did all the actual work.
  • May 15, 2015
    marcoasalazarm
    Half The Shares All The Power doesn't works well because the funny detail of the trope is that whoever is boasting they have control of the company has more than half of the stock shares (and as many of these trope examples show, writers just believe that one percent over fifty is enough to be the "king of the world").

    This is a severe example of Artistic License Economics / Hollywood Economics.
  • I think the exception deserves a little explanation, as most of us don't know what the limitations are.

    What can someone who owns 51% not do that someone who owns 100% can, and how does the minority fight back in real life?
  • June 1, 2015
    hbi2k
    ^^ Splitting hairs.
  • July 30, 2015
    mirisu92
    About Half The Shares All The Power, well, it's technically inaccurate (it's half the shares + 1) — but that doesn't sound as cool.

    At any rate, much of it would be Artistic License Economics anyway, because not only is total control not guaranteed above 50%, one specifically has to control enough of the voting shares to be able to influence decision-making at the board meetings.
  • July 30, 2015
    marcoasalazarm
    On that end, there's also some examples that need to be added.
  • July 31, 2015
    LondonKdS
    In Doctor Who Titan the Doctor buys 51% of the arc-antagonists ServeYouInc through rich friends and Compound Interest Time Travel Gambit, but promptly gets seduced by their evil.
  • August 21, 2015
    marcoasalazarm
    Bump!
  • December 29, 2015
    marcoasalazarm
    Think we need to publish this.
  • December 29, 2015
    DAN004
    What if it's 50.1%, 50.01% or 50.99%?
  • December 29, 2015
    bitemytail
    ^ Clear, Concise, Witty.

    51% is much more clear and concise than 50.00000001% or whatever.
  • December 29, 2015
    DAN004
    ^ I mean, do cases like those count here?
  • December 30, 2015
    marcoasalazarm
    ^ As long as someone holds a very small majority over the rest of the shareholders and the plot treats it (even if for a moment) as if it gave him carte blanche to lord it over everybody else in the company, I think that is would count, yeah.
  • December 30, 2015
    randomsurfer
    It is sometimes referred to as "50% plus 1." Like, in some nonpartisan elections with multiple candidates whoever gets 50% of the vote plus 1 additional vote has won, but if no one candidate gets 50% plus 1 then there's a runoff election (also known as Two Round System) between the top two votegetters. This happened in the Chicago mayoral election of 2015 where incumbent Rahm Emanuel didn't get the requisite 50% plus 1 so there was a runoff election between him and the next highest votegetter, Jesus "Chuy" Garcia, which was seen as an embarrassment to Emanuel and to President Obama who had campaigned for him..
  • December 30, 2015
    DAN004
    ^ That'd overlap with Decided By One Vote
  • February 22, 2016
    marcoasalazarm
    So we launch this, or needs some kind of re-write?
  • May 19, 2016
    HumanTorch2
    In fairness, there are still some examples that need to be added, but it's mostly ready.
  • May 19, 2016
    StarSword
    Film:
    • At the climax of Mission Impossible II the villain, a rogue IMF operative, reveals to Biocyte's CEO that his plan isn't to extort money in exchange for returning a stolen super-virus and its antidote as he had previously indicated, but rather to extort enough stock options from them to gain 51% of the shares and execute a hostile takeover.

    Literature:
    • A benign version of this takes place over the course of Anne Mc Caffrey's The Ship Who Searched. About a third of the way in, Hypatia Cade, a quadraplegic who has been turned into a brainship, is seen telling her stockbroker to invest some of her earnings into a cybernetics company that is apparently not very profitable. Way later, now owning a majority stake, she introduces herself as their new owner. She didn't want to do anything untoward, she just wanted them to build her a robot body so she could have a physical relationship with her human partner Alex.
  • May 19, 2016
    ANTMuddle
    Fifty Percent Plus One
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=b0fu4uvhxr2kuak5xiy2pzn4