Alice knows something that Bob doesn't want anyone else to know. So Bob has to do something for Alice so that she doesn't tell anyone.
In a teen comedy, a character is blackmailed by someone outside the main cast, and the others find out and stick up for their friend. In a Government Procedural, a respected politician is confronted with pictures of him in a strip club or with a girl twenty years too young for him, and is asked for hush money. In a Super Hero story, the hero is blackmailed when someone discovers their Secret Identity. In a Sitcom, a child blackmails their sibling when they break a rare, expensive heirloom.
The possibilities are endless. To list all the variations and permutations of this trope here would be a lesson in madness. Blackmail is such a key plot device, so intrinsic to the art of storytelling and human nature, that it is used by almost every series at one point or another. Sadly, it's very seldom these days that a blackmail resister (him/herself a rare animal) does so with the traditional response, and in real life usually effective, "Publish and be damned!"
One of the many ways of making someone An Offer He Can't Refuse. When coupled with Sinister Surveillance, this can become Paranoia Fuel, hence the potency of Big Brother Is Watching.
Of course, it's rarely stated as such, because "Blackmail Is Such an Ugly Word".
While the words 'blackmail' and 'extortion' are used interchangeably, this is not strictly true. Blackmail is a form of extortion where what the blackmailing party is threatening to do would otherwise be legal. For example "I have your loved one hostage, give me the MacGuffin or they're done for" would be extortion as taking hostages is a crime. However, "I have pictures of your loved one committing a crime, give me the MacGuffin or their reputation is toast" would be blackmail as otherwise releasing the pictures would be legal. (Assuming the there is no reasonable relationship between the threat and the demand. If a store refuses to honor a contract or compensate the other person, threatening to reveal it is legal. Likewise, if parents do not take reasonable steps to control their delinquent child, threatening to reveal evidence of crimes is not blackmail.) One side note is that the word originally did in fact mean simply extortion; rent or taxes was called "mail" in Scotland therefore taking it illegally(by threatening to burn down a neighboring clan's huts for example)was blackmail. The modern meaning shows how language evolves.
Also note that blackmail is an inherently dangerous activity. Informing someone that you know too much is quite rarely the best course of action, especially if Agatha Christie is holding the pen. Or you haven't told anyone else (but not too many people, as that would, of course, destroy the point of blackmail).
open/close all folders
Anime and Manga
This shows up at an alarming rate in hentai. Usually the person being blackmailed is trying to defend her (it's almost always a woman) honor/reputation/job by giving into the blackmailer's demands (of sex, always), even if the person who is blackmailing her raped her to create blackmail material.
In the anime/manga Ranma 1/2, Nabiki Tendo did this on a regular basis. One manga story opens with her standard dating technique - get a boy to buy her dinner, take her to the movies, and get her presents, then give him a handshake and a goodnight and have him never darken her doorway again. In addition, the poor sap would have to pay serious money to keep love letters he wrote Nabiki from becoming public, which would embarrass him in front of his peers and make any subsequent girlfriends very upset.
Nabiki also used the threat of blackmail as payback against Ranma for accidentally destroying her expensive concert tickets.
Since Ranma is a Manipulative Bastard and The Chessmaster, he used this tactic as well, particularly in the manga. In the very arc that she blackmailed him, he searched her room for material to use against her.
Youichi Hiruma of Eyeshield 21 done this in regular basis for everything. Recruiting helpers and potential players, securing funds for the club room/casino, getting the football club in the first place....
He seemingly has blackmail material on everyone in Japan as he once got permission to use the TOKYO DOME just by flashing his threatbook. It's so powerful, that it rivals the Death Note in effectiveness. Just a few of the things he obtains are his trademark guns, a TANK and anything you ask for.
Even the people who Hiruma does not have blackmail material on are terrified just by the sight of the little black book and immedietely submit to Hiruma's bidding.
Not just Japan. He practically get free lodging in US during their Death March.
Haruhi Suzumiya blackmailed the Computer Club President into giving her the most modern computer of their club with pictures of him grabbing Mikuru's boobs. An event Haruhi forcefully orchestrated. The President was an innocent stranger.
Kyon proves himself even better than Haruhi at this in Disappearance: Yuki mentions to him that she might have to face repercussions for redesigning the universe. Kyon tells her to tell the Overmind from him that if it dares do anything to her, he will coerce Haruhi into remaking the universe so that Yuki exists and the Overmind does not. That's right, Kyon blackmailed a Sufficiently Advanced Alien... successfully!
In One Piece, after having been trapped in Impel Down's level 6, Sir Crocodile volunteers to help get Luffy and the prisoners. Luffy initially flat out refuses, still remembering the Alabasta incident, but Ivankov assures him that Crocodile will behave because he knows a certain weakness for Crocodile. We don't know what that weakness is yet, but if the fact that Ivankov knows it is an indication, then it'll assuredly be hilarious.
Played for laughs in the Franky's flashback to Tom. Spandam tries to make Tom give up the blueprints to Pluton by blackmailing him with the knowledge that Tom built Gold Roger's ship. Unfortunately for Spandam, not only is this information already widely known, the World Government had already tried him for it and, thanks to a deal Tom had made, were on the verge of letting him off the hook for it.
In Shiro, the titular catgirl uses this to force Miyako (the female protagonist} to continue to keep her.
In Monster, a hooker attempts to blackmail Johan Liebert by presenting her knowledge of the murders he's committed. With Johan being Johan, this turns out to be an EXTREMELY bad idea as he had planned for it ahead of time.
Yu-Gi-Oh! 5Ds: Divine, creator of the Arcadia Movement (an army of psychics who want to take over Neo Domino), gains legal immunity from Director Goodwin by threatening to say that Goodwin was a Satellite-born.
In both the Kodomo no Jikan anime and manga, Rin does this in a pretty unique way: she creates her own blackmail material to use on Aoki.
In the Yoko Tsuno story "The Prey and the Shadow", a young secretary named Margaret is framed for theft inside her job and cannot prove her innocence. It's a ploy by her boss Sir William, who has noticed that Margaret is the Identical Stranger to his niece and adoptive daughter Cecilia, and he forces the secretary girl to become Cecilia's Body Double and a part of his Evil Plan to kill Cecilia for her huge estate. Too bad Margaret swallows her fear and speaks to the titular Yoko, who's staying at Sir William's castle as a guest...
In Death Of The Family, Batman finds out that Joker has not only taken over Arkham Asylum, but he has blackmailed the guards into working with him.
In Retro Chill, Evil Calvin plans to use the Planet Deteriorater to blackmail the planet into bowing down to Retro and Rupert.
Falcone: I know you wouldn't want the police to take a closer look at those drugs they seized. And I know about your experiments with the inmates of your nuthouse. See, I don't go into business with a guy without finding out his dirty secrets. And those goons you used – I own the muscle in this town. Now, I've been bringing your stuff in for months, so whatever he's planning, it's big, and I want in.
Crane: Well, I already know what he'll say: that we should kill you.
Falcone: Even he can't get me in here. Not in my town.
Crane: ...would you like to see my mask? I use it in my experiments. Probably not very frightening to a guy like you, but these crazies, they can't stand it.
Falcone: So when did the nut take over the nuthouse?
In ''Little Sweetheart, the entire plot runs on this. Thelma is blackmailing her brother to get the photos developed, Robert Burger and his mistress Dorothea to make money and doing this all with a slightly willing accomplice. It doesn't end well for most of the cast.
In Marci X, a senator danced to her opponent's music, and her son filmed the dance.
In the 1919 German film Different from the Others, Paul Korner is blackmailed by a man who knows he's gay — an offense in Germany (and many other countries) at the time. Eventually he cracks and sues for blackmail, but the blackmailer counter-sues for violation of Paragraph 175 (the anti-gay statute). They both go to prison, and Korner's reputation is ruined; he is Driven to Suicide as a result.
This is what sets the plot of Clue in motion, seeing as how it gives all the characters a motive for wanting the blackmailer dead.
In Struck by Lightning, Carson Phillips forces his classmates to write for his literature magazine by blackmailing them.
In the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, the police chief is threatening to arrest April's boss's son for delinquency if he doesn't get April to stop criticizing the police in her news reports.
In Don Bluth's Rock-A-Doodle, when Chanticler learns that his boss Pinky has captured his friends, he refuses to work for him anymore, only for Pinky to threaten the lives of his friends.
Chanticler: That's blackmail!
Pinky: That's showbiz.
In the 1929 Alfred Hitchcock film Blackmail, Alice kills the man who was trying to rape her. Then an acquaintance of the dead man starts hinting that he knows what she did, and could be...persuaded to keep quiet.
In Everything Must Go, Nick Halsey spies two of his neighbors engaged in BDSM sex acts, and uses it to blackmail them into letting his use their electricity and pool. Notable that the blackmail isn't explicitly stated, but implied through exchanged glances and looks.
In Joysticks, the main characters try to get Rutter to back down with (out of context) pictures of him in the arcade with a pair of half dressed teenagers. However he simply strong-arms them into handing them over... until later on, when it turns out they kept the photos after all and show them at the debate.
In Anne Of Windy Poplars, Anne stopped the town's dominant family from trying to destroy her career by accidentally sending them their revered grandfather's diary, in which was detailed how he committed cannibalism when he was shipwrecked.
The murder mystery The Shortest Way to Hades by Sarah Caudwell features a young woman who accuses the protagonists of attempted blackmail. Subverted in that they actually have no clue what she's talking about.
Early in "Too Many Magicians", the Marquis of London decides to coerce Lord Darcy into taking on an investigation by throwing Master Sean in jail.
"Blackmail", said Master Sean.
" 'Blackmail' is perhaps too strong a word," Lord Darcy said thoughtfully, "but I will admit that no other is quite strong enough."
Six chapters later, Lord Darcy puts the Marquis in the same position, by showing that the same level of circumstantial evidence that "justified" Master Sean's arrest also provides grounds to arrest the Marquis' personal assistant.
"His lordship," said Lord Bontriomphe, "got you out by simple but effective blackmail."
" Counter-blackmail, if you please," Lord Darcy corrected.
"A" in Pretty Little Liars blackmails them, but she really doesn't want anything except for them to humiliate themselves.
Charles Augustus Milverton, who bought compromising documents from disgruntled servants, squeezed the documents' writers for every farthing he could, and then ruined them anyway when they revolted or if he simply felt like it. After his death, Sherlock Holmes and Watson felt he needed killing.
Lord Peter Wimsey turned the tables on a blackmailer in The Unprincipled Affair of the Practical Joker. The asshole had stolen jewelry whose box included a document hinting at an affair the jewelry's owner had had, and blackmailed her. Wimsey made him look like a card shark and persuaded him to return all jewelry to the lady in question. Lord Peter and the other two card players then have the following conversation:
Sir Impey Biggs: It's a crime crueler and infinitely worse in its results than murder. As a lawyer, ... I have consistently refused to defend a blackmailer, or prosecute any poor devil who does away with his tormentor". Lord Peter: H'm. What do you say, Colonel? Col. Marchbanks: A man like that's a filthy pest. Shootin's too good for him. I knew a man — close personal friend, in fact — hounded to death — blew his brains out — one of the best.
In Murder Must Advertise, the motive turns out to be being blackmailed. Another of the workers at the agency was also approached and went for "publish and be damned"; it worked.
In Don Jones, Alex tries to blackmail Terwillinger to agree that both of their irresponsible behaviors should be swept under the rug. Terwillinger says, "Publish and be damned!" Fortunately this inspires Doralene to decide that he's not after all a stuffed shirt and she's in love with him. This inspires him to let Alex off after all.
In The Napoleon Crime, Alex, finding himself cast as the Duke of Wellington, can remember only that he responded with "Publish and be damned!" to a blackmailer. At the end, when a reporter tells him that he can make him look ridiculous, Alex decides not to resist temptation: "Publish and be damned!"
In Larry Niven's Known Space stories, the Puppeteers regard blackmail as simply another business transaction — the two parties negotiate terms, and if agreement is reached the target pays the settled price and the blackmailer gives up the relevant evidence and memories.
In the In Death series, a number of folks have used this. Some of them even tried to blackmail a murderer, which qualifies them for the What an Idiot award. All of these blackmailers ended up dead.
P. G. Wodehouse used this more than once in his stories, one of the more famous examples being would-be dictator Rodrick Spode not wanting anyone to know about "Eulalie", which is not a woman, but a successful lingerie shop he operates.
Willis Sr. assists his English cousins in confronting a blackmailer in Aunt Dimity's Good Deed. An incompetent physician learns of both the family's literal skeleton in the closet and some accounting errors in the family law practice that might be construed as embezzlement, coupled with some actual embezzlement by a now-deceased in-law. Willis Sr. also informs Scotland Yard, and a Chief Inspector is present at the Denouement.
In Grunts!, former dominatrix Magda Brandiman blackmails a representative of the Visible College to keep on selling the Orc Marines nullity talismans by threatening to reveal their S&M proclivities.
In Jack Campbell's The Lost Fleet novel Invicible, Rione admits she is being blackmailed to perform certain activities, which she has carefully shaped to cause no actual harm. She also tells Geary that Captain Bradament will be blackmailed to spy on him; she will refuse, but she will be destroyed.
In Vernor Vinge's cult-classic novella, "True Names", criminal hackers must keep their secret identities hidden from each other to avoid being blackmailed into servitude. The story's name is a reference to the fantasy trope, I Know Your True Name, where learning a wizard's true name gives you power over him.
A book in Galaxy of Fear has a hero doing this. The monks are unwilling to retrieve Tash's brain and put it back in her skull until Uncle Hoole threatens to reveal their secrets, and how much of their recruiting strategy is a scam.
In Sarah A. Hoyt's Draw One in the Dark, the officer mentions the bathroom to Kyrie, knowing that she knows there would have been blood and other evidence, to get her to talk with him.
In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Hermione Granger discovers that the nosy, meddling journalist Rita Skeeter is an unregistered Animagus (a wizard or witch who can turn into an animal at will) and successfully uses this information to capture her in a bottle when she's transformed (her form is a beetle) and blackmail her into not writing any stories for a year. Well, all except one. In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, she forces her to publish an interview with Harry Potter in which Harry describes what happened the night Lord Voldemort came back.
A sailor who was at the Nore mutiny with Kydd by the name of Dobbie attempts this on him during Quarterdeck for what he sees as disloyalty to his former comrades. Luckily, Kydd earns his respect through showing up for a duel ashore as a fellow sailor, not an officer.
James Bond in COLD goes after the eponymous organization when they have the plane carrying a man who was going to blackmail them on the information he had gathered explode spectacularly when it reaches its destination.
Live Action TV
On The Knick, New York City health inspector Jacob Speight extorts bribes from building owners, threatening to force them to bring their buildings up to code. He also blackmails hospital administrators by threatening to send patients to other hospitals.
Hogan's Heroes keep Sgt. Schultz from revealing their plans by blackmailing him with the fact that if he tells, they'll tell that he knew about their earlier plans and didn't say anything. It's a bit cyclical.
A plot by the tin-pot little African country of Buranda in Yes, Minister results in the following between a rock and a hard place exchange between the eponymous Minister, Jim Hacker, and the very black leader of Buranda:
Hacker: That's blackmail! Selim Mohammed: Are you referring to me, or to my proposal?
One sketch on Monty Python's Flying Circus featured a spoof of pledge shows titled "Blackmail". Instead of lots of people paying to keep the station alive, several persons had to pay to avoid having their embarrassing secrets revealed on national TV. Including a high ranking member of the Freemasons called "Mr. S."
Highlander had an episode called "Blackmail" where a guy caught Duncan on videotape beheading another Immortal. He threatened to give the videotape to the police ... unless Duncan killed his wife (he had been having an affair and had just left his mistress when he came upon them fighting).
Georgina Sparks uses her knowledge of Serena sort of, but not actually, killing a man to blackmail Serena in season one of Gossip Girl.
In the build to Kane's debut in the WWE, Paul Bearer used the threat of revealing the "truth" of the Undertaker's past to try and force him back to his side; Taker complied for a while, before rebelling.
Used at various points across Desperate Housewives, most notably in season one, where Mary-Alice's suicide, the event that started the series, is revealed to have been the result of Mrs. Huber attempting to blackmail her over the fact that Zack isn't really her son. In true Christie-esque style, Mrs. Huber pays for this with her own life when Paul, Mary-Alice's husband, finds out what she did and strangles her.
Used in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered", when Xander discovers that Amy is a witch and threatens to reveal this to everyone unless she casts a love spell for him.
Xander: Blackmail is such an ugly word.
Amy: I didn't say blackmail.
Xander: Yeah, but I'm about to blackmail you, so I thought I'd bring it up.
Veronica Mars uses blackmail as her default MO, but her Guile Hero status isn't tarnished too much because the people she blackmails are often terrible.
In "The Telling", a season 3 episode of The Middle, Sue is awakened by Axl when he sneaks back into the house late through her room. She uses this knowledge to have him drive her and her friends everywhere.
Practically everybody on Downton Abbey either blackmails someone or gets blackmailed at some point. Among the blackmailers are Mrs. Bates, Thomas (who also is on the receiving end, and who conspires with O'Brien), Sir Richard Carlisle, Edith, Kemal Pamuk....
Used by the protagonist of "A Penny For Your Thoughts", a Twilight Zone episode about mind-reading, to demand a promotion for himself and airline tickets for his friend in exchange for his silence about his boss's affair.
Belgian thriller Salamander begins with a bank heist where safety deposit boxes are identified and broken into. right away, one robber cautions another not to get greedy and steal jewelry, cash or other valuables. All they are after are photographs and incriminating documents to use for blackmail purposes.
Smallville features blackmail from time to time. Perry White protects himself by hiding, with various lawyers, multiple copies of murder evidence against Lionel Luthor, to be revealed upon his own death. Chloe Sullivan blackmails the Suicide Squad into helping to save the Justice League from the VRA's Lotus-Eater Machine. A shadowy figure tries to blackmail Martha Kent with Clark's secret, but Lionel buys the evidence from him to learn what she is hiding.
Played with in the Sherlock episode A scandal in Belgravia, where a dominatrix threatens to release photographs of her session with a member of the royal family. She doesn't actually want anything, however - the photographs are just a power play to ensure she'll always have the UK government under her thumb. Later on, she takes this Up to Eleven with possible information on future terrorist attacks. If the government don't meet her demands, all she has to do is deny them the intelligence.
Babylon 5: One episode dealt with Londo's Purple Files, a collection of dirt on all the other noble families compiled over years. Apparently, there was enough in them to blackmail the entire Centauri Republic.
In Zoey 101: Rebecca finds out a secret of Zoey and makes her do all sorts of humiliation things on campus. In the end, Zoey gets bailed out by her friends, whom she was trying to keep the secret from.
Retail: Cooper once blackmailed Stuart into giving him extra hours on the job after discovering that he will lose his job if the inventory goes poorly.
In Trials And Tribulations the motive for the second case is blackmail. It's rather complicated. First, Luke Atmey, a self-proclaimed ace detective, investigates a recent theft by Mask* DeMasque. He quickly figures out who Mask* DeMasque is, and blackmails him (the threat being ratting him out)... into stealing more stuff. And giving it to him. Through a safe-deposit box to hide his identity. In return, he gives a small fraction of the revenue to the thief. The head of a large security company, Kane Bullard, finds out about this through the guards he dispatched to the various heists, and sends a blackmail note to Mr. Atmey, calling him to his office and telling him to bring $50,000, or else his dirty crime will be revealed. Upon reading this, Atmey forwards the letter to Mask* DeMasque. The vague contents of the letter make him think he's being blackmailed, so he goes to Kane Bullard's office. What happens when they're there is a story for another trope page.
This is essentially Redd White and Bluecorp's method of doing business in the first game. When Marvin Grossberg gave information on Misty Fey to White, the police suspected someone leaked it, and White blackmailed him into paying him money, later using his influence over him to prevent him from defending Maya when she was charged with killing Mia Fey, something White himself had done. The revelation that many of White's victims had been Driven to Suicide easily puts him over the Moral Event Horizon. In a karmic twist, Mia, her spirit channeled by Maya, tells him that she will release a list of his victims to the press if he does not confess to killing her.
Sakazaki Yuuya of Hatoful Boyfriend's mother was a noble who eloped with a commoner. Her noble fiancee killed her lover, took her back, and told her Yuuya could live if she killed her second child in the egg. Volunteering to do it for her, Yuuya actually hid the egg and switched it with the forthcoming pure noble egg, and had his mixed-class brother brought up noble. Years later a doctor who's examined both brothers determines that the noble is Yuuya's full brother and uses this knowledge to force Yuuya to do things for him lest he tell people who have no compunction about killing Sakuya.
An unknown agent tries to blackmail Phase in the Whateley Universe, in what was probably an attempt to make Phase's dorm hate him. Not only does it not work, but it leads Phase and his team into accidentally finding and stopping some mutant ninja thieves, thus making Phase more popular.
An episode of Ed, Edd n Eddy is dedicated to Kevin blackmailing Eddy into doing his bidding. If Eddy doesn't do what he's told, Kevin will tell everyone his Embarrassing Middle Name. He spends the entire episode using the threat to humiliate Eddy in a dozen different ways, up to and including making him play horns and eat a raw fish like a trained seal. And then he reveals the name anyway! This isn't surprising since Kevin is one of the cul-de-sac's resident personifications of the jerkass trope.
Vicky has done this a few times, but that's just one thing among a sea of evil things she's done.
And one time, it's even fake blackmail.
Vicky: ...Or I'll show your parents this!
Recording of Timmy's voice: Hi, I'm Timmy, and I-
Obviously fake voice: cheated on my math test
Timmy: Hey! I never cheated on my math test!
Timmy recording: Hi, I'm Timmy, and I-
Second recorder: -cheated on my math test!
Chowder did one episode where everyone in town was blackmailing Miss Endive with a picture of her eating toe jam with a fork.
She would have been fine if she used a spoon.
In King of the Hill, Bobby discovered that Kahn was bribing the water meter guy during a major Texas drought so he could water the lawn beyond the limit and be the only person in the neighborhood with a healthy green lawn, and blackmailed Kahn so he could take baths in his house.
In Codename: Kids Next Door Operation: B.U.T.T. the Delightful Children From Down The Lane blackmail Numbuh 1 with some pictures they took of his butt.
They get back at them, though.
In The Simpsons, Homer goes to Patty and Selma for help with his money troubles when he doesn't want Marge to know the truth. Patty and Selma have fun with this.
Selma: We know something you don't want Marge to know. Now, we own you like Siegfried owns Roy.
Teen Titans: In the finale of Season 1, Slade blackmails Robin into becoming his apprentice, or he will kill the Titans.
Done to Ace and Lancer in "Shop Talk" of My Little Pony Tales when the girls lure them into doing something embarrassing to entertain some baby ponies they're babysitting, then take pictures and threaten to expose them unless they stop teasing Teddy.
Teddy also threatens to show Ms. Hackney the entry in "Bon Bon's Diary" that says she cheated in a test unless she goes to the scool dance with him.
Code Lyoko In Log Book, Ulrich was blackmailed when Sissi threatens to put his diary in the paper. He wrote about Lyoko, too.
CatDog had an episode where Winslow blackmails Cat into becoming his slave with a video tape of Cat reading Dog's diary that he recorded himself.
In Season 3 of Detentionaire, Cam gets caught up in this. The blackmailer has a picture of him buying an essay from another student (which he actually threw out, but was passed in for him) and threatens showing it to Principal Barrage, who would likely expel him. He's told to do several tasks such as do a dance on camera in front of the whole school, eat a bug and film it, pour hot soup on his lap, etc. He's not the only one being blackmailed, though, and he teams up with the others to find out who the blackmailer is.
By the end of season 1 of Young Justice, three members of the team are being blackmailed for separate things: Superboy is addicted to a Psycho Serum being supplied by Lex Luthor, Miss Martian is actually a monstrous white Martian and not the Green-Skinned Space Babe she presents herself as (which was discovered by Queen Bee's henchman Psimon), and Artemis is not Green Arrow's neice as she claimed, but rather the daughter of the villain Sportsmaster. In the penultimate episode of the season, all three have their markers called in by the villains only for their plot to fail because all three heroes had earlier come clean with the rest of the team. And then it turns out that none of them are actually The Mole at all.