A coup is essentially seizing power by force, blackmail, or other illegal manners. Usually (in literature) done by the military
, the Evil Chancellor
, or in some cases, uncivilized revolutions
will also take power for themselves. It is a very risky gambit, and often, includes plotting, securing alliances, and keeping it in the dark until the coup happens. Alternatively, guy walks into the throne room waving a sword around telling everyone he's king. Often leads to The Purge
. If the one carrying out the coup is in turn overthrown himself, you may have a Revolving Door Revolution
This is a very useful trope to exemplify a significant change or instability of a nation or region, stable countries tend to not be as susceptible to coups and power grabs, while unstable (in modern day terms, third-world also works), and relatively new countries are vulnerable to power struggles and coups.
Different from a Revolution, whether it will not be vilified or civilized, in that it typically happens from inside the government or military of the country whose power is being seized, while revolutions typically come out of the common folk. Coups tend to not have large battles or start a war, but an isolated event that will, at most, kill dozens. Also different from an invasion for similar reasons, invasions come from outside the country, coups happen inside of it, even if the initial plot comes from the outside.
When the coup is lead by a military officer with the backing of the army and institutes martial rule, it's a Military Coup
As this has happened more times than can be counted, No Real Life Examples, Please!
Anime and Manga
- In the first Appleseed film General Edward Uranus, the CO of Olympus' regular army, attempts a coup out of Fantastic Racism against Bioroids. The coup falls apart after Deunan Boom Headshots his second-in-command, and Uranus surrenders.
- Dr. Akamashi's coup forms the premise of Murder Princess.
- In Naruto it's been revealed that Itachi killed the entire Uchiha clan as a mission from the elders of Konoha because they were planning a coup.
- The Lion King. Mufasa is killed by Scar so he can become king. Simba eventually launches a counter-coup to regain his throne. The basic story is inspired by Hamlet.
- The Man in the Iron Mask. The plot centers around a group of musketeers who want to substitute their tyrannical king Louis XIV with his more compassionate twin brother Phillippe, who was kept prisoner to prevent him from taking the throne. They break him out of prison to perform a Coup.
- In Once upon a Time in Mexico, Barillo and General Marquez try to pull off one of these on Mexico in a plan cooked up by Agent Sands that spirals out of his control. They fail due to the combined efforts of the Mariachi (who Sands had hired to kill Marquez once the coup was complete), his allies, a Heel Face Turned Sands, and the people of Culiacan.
- At the start of Star Trek: Nemesis a cadre of Romulan military officers and a disgruntled senator assassinate the rest of the Romulan Senate so they can install Shinzon as Praetor. They eventually realize he's a total nutbar and turn on him.
- Comes up in Thirteen Days when the Kennedy White House recieves two letters from the Soviets, one from Nikita Khrushchev himself, and later one, which is much for hardline, from someone else. U.S. officials come to the conclusion that the Soviet Union has had a a coup and Khrushchev has been replaced with a far more militant government. Eventually they figure out that there wasn't one, Khrushchev is just trying to appease the warmongers and General Rippers in his own gevernment.
- The 1982 novel A Very British Coup, later adapted into a 1988 TV movie under that title and a 2012 TV miniseries called Secret State, is about a right-wing plot to depose a leftist Labor Party prime minister.
- Isaac Asimov's Foundation, second short story "The Encyclopedists". At the end of the story Salvor Hardin, mayor of Terminus City on the planet Terminus, starts a coup against the Board of Trustees to take over the Foundation. The third story, "The Mayors", starts some time after the coup has succeeded.
- Twice, in the Honor Harrington universe's Haven system: First, the People's Republic of Haven's corrupt democracy is overthrown by a Committee of Public Safety modeled explicitly on the French Revolution, and then that's overthrown by the military when it's had enough.
- Happens a couple times in the Warrior Cats series:
- In the first series, Tigerclaw, the second-in-command of ThunderClan, plots to kill his Clan leader (as Clan law states that deputy succeeds leader) by inviting some rogues to attack the camp and passing off her death as part of the battle. Fireheart jumps in and rescues her during the attempt.
- In the second series, the WindClan leader Tallstar, in his dying breaths, names Onewhisker as his successor instead of Mudclaw. As the only cats who witnessed this are Onewhisker himself and two of his friends, Mudclaw doesn't believe Onewhisker should be leader, and leads a rebellion against him before the younger cat can receive his nine leader's lives. ThunderClan helps out Onewhisker and he wins.
- Also in the second series, Tigerstar and Hawkfrost set up a plan for Brambleclaw and Hawkfrost to kill the other leaders at a Gathering and forcibly take control of all the Clans. Brambleclaw disagrees with it, and it is never attempted.
- Babylon 5
- At the end of the first season, Earth Alliance Vice President Clark orchestrates the assassination of President Santiago and gradually sets himself up as a Hitler-esque dictator.
- During the second season, as the Centauri emperor is dying, Lord Refa has the Prime minister killed to allow his choice, Cartagia, to be put on the throne.
- Later, after determining that Emperor Cartagia is a threat to the Centauri Republic, Londo and Vir manage to assassinate him, allowing Londo to become Prime Minister and eventually Emperor himself.
- Battlestar Galactica (Reimagined): In Season 4, Tom Zarek and Felix Gaeta stage a coup (with some military cooperation) against President Roslin and Adama's command, over the issue of cooperation with the dissenting faction of Cylons (which the coup opposed). The coup is temporarily successful, with the Quorum of Twelve massacred and Admiral Adama facing a firing squad, before the countercoup succeeds.
- On Community Chang becomes the head of campus security after all the other security guards quit. He recruits a bunch of vicious kids to act as his henchmen and starts turning the school into a Police State. When the Study Group tries to get the Dean to fire Chang, Chang has the Dean kidnapped and replaced with an impersonator who then expels the Study Group. With all opposition quashed, Chang then rules Greendale College with an iron fist.
- Merlin had two...one was Morgana and Morgause teaming with Cenred to take over Camelot, and next season, Morgana seized power again.
- Hamlet. Hamlet's father King Hamlet was killed by his brother, Hamlet's uncle, Claudius so he could seize the throne.
- Macbeth. The main plot is Macbeth's killing of King Duncan and seizing the throne for himself.
- Final Fantasy VIII has a squared coup. First, the Sorceress kills President Deling and grabs power, second, the much more decent General Caraway hires our heroes to off her; both happen more or less simulataneously. The first coup succeeds, the other one fails.