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Blackmail Backfire

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"Let me get this straight. You think that your client, one of the wealthiest, most powerful men in the world, is secretly a vigilante who spends his nights beating criminals to a pulp with his bare hands, and your plan... is to blackmail this person? [Beat]... Good luck!"
Lucius Fox, The Dark Knight

This is when a Blackmail scheme goes wrong for the blackmailer. It can happen in a few ways.

  1. The blackmailer doesn't have much (if any) leverage.
    1. The victim has no problem with the information being made public — he doesn't really care very much, feels that there is No Such Thing as Bad Publicity, or even considers the "blackmail material" something worth boasting about.
    2. The victim decides that the blackmailer's terms are worse than having the information publicized.
    3. The information isn't as secret as the blackmailer originally presumed it to be. The blackmailee's wife/girlfriend/other-individual-of-importance is already well aware.
    4. Whatever the blackmailer held over the blackmailee ceases to have any importance.
    5. The blackmailee makes it clear that if the blackmailer tries to push him around, he will destroy the blackmailer even if that means his own ruin.
    6. The blackmailer is blackmailing the wrong person (because of Mistaken Identity or some other issue). The blackmailee really couldn't give a damn.
  2. The blackmailee is Crazy-Prepared and the blackmailer has bitten off more than he or she can chew.
  3. The scheme doesn't just go wrong for the blackmailer; it goes horribly wrong, and the blackmailer is screwed.
    1. The blackmailer made the unwise choice of blackmailing someone who has no qualms about murder (or in the best-case scenarios, unleashes all of his power and influence and destroys the blackmailer socially and/or financially before he can do any damage).
    2. The victim has been so ruined by their life experience that he or she has nothing left to lose and only wants one thing: Revenge (or at least to stop the blackmailer in his/her tracks).
    3. The blackmailee asks "Have You Told Anyone Else?" and the blackmailer hasn't, so Murder Is the Best Solution.
    4. The victim is already being blackmailed (or protected) by a different criminal, and in the ensuing war of Colliding Criminal Conspiracies, the blackmailer is the one with insufficient firepower.
    5. The victim obtains blackmail-worthy information on the blackmailer (which, for the sake of Laser-Guided Karma, will probably be even worse than what the blackmailer has on him) and either makes clear that if the blackmail continues Mutually Assured Destruction will ensue or will use it to force the blackmailer to suffer an equal or worse indignity.

The third is the most common in fiction.

Related to Bribe Backfire and Sub-Trope of Threat Backfire.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • The "loss of leverage" type appears in episode 16 of Tantei Team KZ Jiken Note. As Sunahara stated he has evidence against the Japanese Delinquents group of scamming his foster family, leader Onozuka threatened to expose to the police all the laws the former broke under his orders. However, as it turns out, Sunahara is Crazy-Prepared enough to not break any law.
    Sunahara: Don't underestimate me. I only ever got close to you to gather evidence on you. All the money I said I stole for you were mine.
  • In Dragon Ball Super, actor Barry Khan is upset that Videl jilted him over an autograph, thus sets up a trap to try to get back at her by trying to ruin her relationship via a Honey Trap. He even shows "proof" of this via photos he took. However, Videl sees right through this and gives him a stinging "The Reason You Suck" Speech followed by Gohan telling him to Get Out! before he wakes up their daughter.

    Comic Books 
  • The crux of Superman: Truth (and the "Lies" arc that preceded it) is Lois Lane exposing Superman's secret identity in order to try to trigger this from an unknown blackmailer... and the drama that ensues because the blackmailer remains unknown and the lives of Clark Kent and everybody he knows goes to hell in a hand basket, souring Superman to everybody (including his lover Wonder Woman... and especially Lois). The discussion between Kal-El and a still somewhat-unapologetic Lois is that Lois thinks the removal of the threat was a good idea, but Superman insists that the threat was his (and only his) to bear, and Lois seemed to him a bit too eager to try to cut the knot.
  • Supergirl/Batgirl storyline Elseworld's Finest: Supergirl & Batgirl provides a funny, light-hearted example. Bruce jokingly says he'll tell Gotham about the Batcave if Batgirl isn't nice to him. She replies that his disappearance is scheduled.
  • In Suicide Squad corrupt Senator Cray tries to use the Squad to get him re-elected, threatening to reveal the existence of the program. Not knowing Amanda Waller has handled Cray and his aide, Tolliver, Rick Flagg kills Tolliver and, confronting Cray, points out how foolish it is to blackmail a team of super-villans.
    Flagg: When you set out to blackmail the Squad, Senator, didn't you realize you were trying to coerce thugs and killers? Ruthless people. Didn't it ever occur to you that the easiest way of dealing with you was to kill you?
  • In Batman: Year One the corrupt police commissioner tries to bring Gordon under heel by taking compromising photos of him and Sarah Essen, whom he had a brief affair with. However, Gordon simply tells his wife the truth, and when the commissioner goes through with his threat, Mrs. Gordon tells him that she knows about Sarah and to never bother her again. Of course, it only force Loeb to go for a more direct threat.
  • In Secret Six #20, Catman's infant son gets held hostage, and the hostage-takers threaten to drop him off a building. For every one of his team he kills in the next five minutes, they will allow his son to live for one year. After long deliberation, Catman tells them to go ahead and drop his son, and that he is going to hunt them all down. He then goes on a pre-emptive Roaring Rampage of Revenge.

    Fan Works 
  • Superwomen of Eva 2: Lone Heir of Krypton: In chapter 8's omake Touji tells Asuka he knows she is Power Girl and he will tell everyone unless she puts a skimpy bikini on and models while Kensuke takes pictures. Touji thought the next step would be profit, but the only step was him getting beaten.
  • Princess of the Blacks: Hermione gets a double dosage when she tries to blackmail Jen over her suspicion the girl murdered the Dursleys. Jen is quick to sum up everything wrong with her plan. 1) If there was any evidence, Hermione would have already gone to the authorities. 2) The Wizengamot would never listen to Hermione as she's a muggleborn accusing a rich pureblood noble of killing some muggles. 3) If Hermione is right and Jen did murder them, what would stop her from murdering Hermione to keep her quiet? Likewise, Jen has evidence that Hermione previously blackmailed Rita Skeeter, which would land her in prison.
  • In Mending The Knots, Cardin Winchester tries to blackmail Pyrrha with a video of her and Jaune, taken from an angle that looks like their kissing, and threatening to release it unless she becomes his "Best Friend", thinking she would accept in order to save her reputation as a celebrity. Pyrrha, being a celebrity, has been through this kind of thing before and outright dares him to do it, planning to go to Ozpin and get him expelled if he does. note 
  • In The Shadow, Boba Fett tries to blackmail Luke (who's become Vader's apprentice) for an unspecified amount of money after Han Solo escapes. If Luke doesn't secure him the money, Fett will inform Vader that Luke is Anakin Skywalker's son. Unfortunately for him, Vader is Anakin Skywalker and knows full well Luke is his son. Just before killing him, Luke lets Fett in on this little detail.
  • One Naruto fanfic has a pair of nobles attempt to extort Tsunade for sex, saying that if she refuses, they'll stop supporting Konoha. Being not only one of the greatest ninja ever, but the leader of an entire army of ninja, Tsunade puts both of them in the ICU and makes the counter offer that either they pretend to have fallen down some stairs or she'll have them killed and replaced by a pair of ninja who will fake their deaths a few months later and leave all of the nobles' money to Konoha in their new wills.
  • The New Adventures of Invader Zim: Early in Season 2, Zim tries to coerce Gaz into becoming his minion by threatening to expose how she betrayed Dib near the end of Season 1 by giving Zim the location of Project Domination. Completely unimpressed, Gaz lays out all the flaws in Zim's threat — to begin with, she doesn't care what Dib thinks about her. Secondly, even if she did, she knows Dib would never believe anything Zim has to say anyway. And finally, she makes it clear she'll respond to any further threats against her with force, briefly beating Zim up, with a promise of worse to come if he pulls this stunt again.
  • Long Road to Friendship: When Trixie finds out that Sunset is living in an abandoned warehouse, she tries to blackmail her into doing her bidding. Sunset, who at this point is 100% out of fucks to give, calls Trixie's bluff, adding that if she goes through with this, she'll be no better than Sunset was. Sure enough, when the moment of truth comes, Trixie backs down.
  • In Kara Of Rokyn, rival wrestler Jara's attempt to blackmail the titular character into having sex with her backfires when Kara reminds her that such threats may destroy her career.
    Jara: I warn you, Kara—
    Kara: Warn me? One word of this to the commission and they'll yank your license!

  • The Dark Knight:
  • In Ronin, Gregor meets a Russian gangster and demands more money for his briefcase's contents. He informs the gangster that his girlfriend, Natacha, a gorgeous skater, has a sniper being trained on her, ready to kill her in the middle of a performance. Gregor counts down the time until the sniper fires, waiting for the gangster to pay up to save his girlfriend. At "zero," the gangster raises up his own gun and too late Gregor realizes the man has absolutely no qualms letting his girlfriend die rather than pay up more.
  • In Sweet Smell of Success, Sidney Falco tries to muscle one of his boss JJ Hunsecker's rival columnists by implying that he knows about an adulterous affair the columnist had. The columnist confesses to his wife right then and there, makes up with her, and launches into a "The Reason You Suck" Speech aimed at both Falco and Hunsecker.
  • On Zero Effect, this almost happens. While the blackmailer and Daryl Zero have their own plans on how to deal with the blackmail, the blackmail-ee Stark has grown obscenely paranoid and skittish by the time Zero starts his investigation and insists on wanting to arm himself to blow away the blackmailer if he ever meets him in person (which Arlo needs to talk him out of repeatedly).
  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier: Secretary of Defense and member of HYDRA Alexander Pierce figures that Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow's dark past would keep her from releasing all of SHIELD's private information, which included her aforementioned past and SHIELD's interlaced relationship with HYDRA, onto the public Internet. She proves him wrong.
  • Who Framed Roger Rabbit: R.K. Maroon's plan to blackmail Marvin Acme fails when Acme is murdered, and Maroon tries to repair the damage by trying to find Acme's will, and ends up murdered as well.
  • Thunderball: SPECTRE operative Angelo Palazzi tries to blackmail his organization into paying him more money at the last second before his part in the plans to steal several nuclear weapons occurs (as he points out, he is the only infiltrator available for the job, with his surgically-changed face and all; and there is no way SPECTRE will get a replacement in such short notice. He also points out that said face is all the evidence he needs to show any agency that some dirty deeds are afoot). SPECTRE agrees, only to kill him rather unceremoniously once he has outlived his usefulness.
  • In Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, when Pirelli recognizes Sweeney from the old days when he was Benjamin Barker, he tries to blackmail him, threatening to tell Beadle Bamford about him if he doesn't hand over half his earnings to him every week. This proves to be his biggest mistake as Sweeney makes Pirelli his very first kill.
  • No Man of Her Own: Stephan doesn't know the lengths that Helen will go to to protect her identity and her son from being discovered. She's willing to kill him to keep him silent. Same with her beau, Bill.
  • Mulholland Falls: The bad guys try to blackmail Detective Hoover with his affair with Allison by holding the film reels of their liasons over his head. The problem is, they mailed the copy of the reels directly to his house, as opposed to his office or a safety deposit box. And his wife has already seen them by the time he finds out. He later points out to the blackmailers that he really doesn't give a crap anymore who they send it to now, making their whole scheme worthless.
  • Edge of Tomorrow centers around Major William Cage, a sleazy PR man who's been covering the recent victory over the Mimics from the safety of the home front. When Genral Brigham assigns him to the front lines to cover what he deems to be the final victory over the Mimics, Cage tries to weasel his way out by threatening to release some unsavory information about the general. The general responds by demoting Cage to private, labels him a traitor and deserter, and sentences him to fight in the first wave of the attack.
  • The Death of Stalin: Khrushchev makes Beria indirectly responsible for the deaths of over a thousand mourners who get shot by the NKVD guarding Moscow, turning the Presidium against him. When Beria learns he's to be held responsible (which would hamper his prospects of becoming the new leader of the CCCP) he flips out and goes on a rant, revealing he has blackmail material on every single member of the Presidium that could cause them to get branded as traitors in the court of public opinion and shot. Instead of scaring them into line this threat to their lives instead galvanize the hold-out members into supporting Khrushchev over Beria, leading to the latter's deposing and execution.

  • The Business Of Dying has two instances of blackmail backfiring on Miriam Fox. Blackmail A backfired, because the person she was blackmailing said they didn't care if she revealed her information, because it would be 'the word of some junkie prostitute' against a rather respectable person. Blackmail B ended up getting her killed.
  • In the Sherlock Holmes story "The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton", the title character is a blackmailer. Sherlock and Watson are determined to destroy papers that he has that he intends to publish to ruin various powerful men of society. While they're burglarizing his house, a woman shows up ostensibly visiting him to give him more dirt on someone. She isn't — she is a woman whose life Charles has ruined and she's there to kill him so he can't ruin any more lives.
  • In the backstory of The Dark Half, the protagonist Thad Beaumont is a not well-known writer who published several thrillers while using the pen-name of George Stark (said thrillers being a lot more successful than his mainstream work). A man discovers the link between Beaumont and Stark, then tries to blackmail him, threatening to reveal to the media that Beaumont and Stark are the same person. Beaumont was already pondering to stop writing as Stark and this threat definitively decided him to do so. He revealed his second identity to the media himself, staging some mock funerals to symbolise Stark's death, and preventing the blackmailer from gaining anything. This was actually a series of events which happened before the novel's beginning. In the proper novel, a being with Stark's mind comes to life and starts a murderous trip to reach Beaumont with the intent of becoming fully human. One of his first victims is the unsuccessful blackmailer, as a revenge because the blackmail attempt is partly responsible for Stark's "death".
  • In the Dirk Pitt novel Vixen 03, Pitt and lover Congresswoman Loren Smith are secretly photographed during a tryst. Fellow Congressman Daggat tries to use the photos to force Loren to back one of his plans, saying the photos will ruin her and Pitt's Senator father. However, Pitt interrupts a meeting to note that Daggat has no leverage as Pitt's father is considering retiring soon anyway. He then says he's already gotten Daggat's accomplice to spill the beans. As Pitt states, which is a bigger scandal: Two unmarried adults carrying on a relationship or a Congressman blackmailing a colleague to get his own way? Realizing Pitt is right, Daggat is forced to back down.
    Pitt: Congressman Daggat is about to retire from the blackmail game. He doesn't have the talent for it. He wouldn't last ten minutes against a tried and true professional.
    Daggat: Like yourself?
    Pitt: No, like my father.
  • The plot of Apt Pupil involves Todd Bowden discovering that his neighbor Kurt Dussander is an escaped Nazi and the former commander of a concentration camp. Todd is morbidly obsessed with the Holocaust, and he forces Dussander to tell him about the concentration camp by threatening to expose his past. Dussander complies for a few months, but eventually decides he's had enough. He points out that, by not exposing him sooner, Todd is now complicit in hiding Dussander from the authorities — Todd can't expose Dussander without exposing himself to punishment as well. To further twist the knife, Dussander claims that he left a complete account of Todd's actions in a bank deposit box, to be opened and read if Dussander dies. He's lying about the safe deposit box. But the psychological strain of being counter-blackmailed is one of several factors that leads to Todd completely snapping at the end of the story.
  • On The Day of the Jackal and its adaptations, one of the people who provide gadgets for the Jackal (the documents forger in the original novel and the first film, the manufacturer of the radio-controlled Sentry Gun device on The Jackal) try to blackmail more money out of the Jackal (and respectively commit the dumb acts of not bowing to the Jackal's one request of meeting elsewhere for payment and going to a far-away location with the Jackal and the fully-assembled high-caliber machine-gun that he built the radio-controlled support for). Nobody laments them.
  • Larry Niven's short story "$16,949". A blackmail victim tries to blackmail his blackmailer, who goes to another one of his victims to resolve the problem permanently.
  • One of Agatha Christie's unspoken rules is that any person trying to blackmail a murderer will be dead before the story ends.
  • This trope also frequently pops up in the Nero Wolfe mysteries:
    • Fer-de-lance, the first novel in the series, starts the pattern with the reveal that Carlo Maffei, the missing man whose disappearance caused Wolfe and Archie Goodwin to get involved in the case, unwittingly designed a tool that was used as a murder weapon and thought that blackmailing the person who hired him was a good idea. Naturally, he was very much mistaken.
    • An interesting variant pops up in And Be A Villain, in which it's revealed a blackmail syndicate has been targeting people with slander in order to pressure them into paying up to get it to stop. The variant is that the blackmailers in this case actually made up false stories about their victims that would nevertheless do serious damage to their reputations if it got out, but they ended up approaching someone with what they thought was a lie about them committing murder only to realise too late that they'd accidentally stumbled onto the truth. It ends about the same way you'd expect this trope to end for a blackmailer in a murder mystery.
  • In the In Death novel Witness in Death, someone learns the identity of the murderer of actor Richard Draco and because this person didn't like Draco, is willing to keep the identity a secret but isn't above trying to get money from the murderer by blackmail. It backfires horribly, with the murderer tricking him into hanging himself!
  • In The City Without Memory, Veri-Meri tries to blackmail his way out of arrest and memory-wipe execution by shouting he knows the dirty secrets of his captors and has it all written down. The problem is that writing is forbidden in the land – on pain of memory wipe.

    Live-Action TV 
  • On Better Off Ted, Veronica helps a CEO find a file he secreted back in 1962 packed with secret and damaging information to prevent his board from forcing him out. When they find it, Veronica is confused to read the file's notes on smoking causing cancer and the dangers of various building materials. It turns out the CEO hasn't updated the folder since he hid it and thus all the "secrets" are things that have been public knowledge for years.
  • In CSI's "Pilot", Warrick gave a bad tip on a game to a corrupt judge in exchange for a warrant. A few episodes later, in "Pledging Mr. Johnson", the judge tries to blackmail him into compromising evidence on a rape case, but he confides in Grissom and talks to the judge while wearing a wire.
  • Doctor Who: In "Silver Nemesis", one of the bad guys is a seventeenth century sorceress who makes a big deal of claiming that she knows a deep, dark secret about the Doctor, and threatens to reveal it to everyone present if he doesn't hand over control of a powerful alien super weapon to her. After apparently looking very shifty and worried, the Doctor ends up calling her bluff, and it turns out the other faction there, the Cybermen, don't care about it anyway. She doesn't react well.
  • Elementary: In the episode "Dead Man's Switch", Charles Augustus Milverton also gets killed by one of blackmail victims, like the original. It turns as be more complicated as the killer, Anthony Pistone had previously confronted Milverton, but was deterred by being offered into the business, and his real motivation for killing Milverton was to take his place.
  • Gotham: At the end of season 4, when the new Joker and his cult have placed bombs all over Gotham and are demanding its complete evacuation within six hours, a collection of Gotham's other criminals led by the Penguin decide to blackmail him by stealing the trigger device and convince the Joker to demand an additional fifteen million dollars from the Mayor. When this proves too inconvenient, the Joker instead blows up the guy holding the trigger with a bazooka (since he had a back-up already, albeit one that is slightly more difficult to implement), bumps up his schedule, and orders his goons to kill Penguin and his lackeys.
  • On Homeland, Carrie and Saul find out that a Middle Eastern ambassador is gay and try to blackmail him into giving them information. He shrugs it off, saying that his family and his government already know.
  • The King of Queens: Subverted big-time in "Wild Cards." After a heated argument, Deacon threatens to tell his and Doug's wives the truth about the guys' recent actions... and follows through on it after Doug claims to not care. Worse, Doug's wife is infamous for being less forgiving than Deacon's.
  • Subverted in Lois & Clark: A blackmailer finds evidence of Superman's secret identity and blackmails him into robbing a jeweler. Superman would rather have his identity exposed but the blackmailer, anticipating Superman would make this choice, abducted his parents.
  • In the Malcolm in the Middle episode where Malcolm buys a used computer from a neighbor, he finds evidence of his numerous affairs with several neighborhood women. Reese, Malcolm's brother, whom Lois, his mother, forced to provide free manual labor the neighbor after Reese vandalized his house, confronts him over the information, the neighbor agrees to do whatever Reese says so long as his wife doesn't find out. A few days later, as the neighbor picks up Reese from school, a teacher asks him if he's Reese's father, and demands to speak with him, when he returns, Reese chastises him for taking too long and hurry up and drive him where he wants to go. The neighbor then tells Reese that he had a very interesting chat with his teacher and that they're going to go shopping for the supplies Reese needs to fix the damage he did. When Reese threatens to tell his wife, the neighbor asks him if he's more afraid of his mother than he's afraid of his wife. Later we find out that Reese went to provide free labor for the neighbor.
  • On Melrose Place, Michael and Peter fire Sydney as the receptionist at their medical practice. The ever-conniving Sydney hits back with a sworn statement citing evidence of their "harassment" of her (backed by her past with Michael) and forces them to hire her back or have a very public lawsuit that will drag the firm down. The next season, Peter (having just been cleared of murder charges) discovers that to pay off his debts, Sydney basically sold his house and belongings behind his back. An irate Peter fires her with Sydney threatening him with the lawsuit.
    Peter: I was just in jail, Sydney. For murder. A sexual harassment suit will be a day at the beach.
  • A minor example in The Middle: Sue catches Axl coming home late one night and threatens to expose him if he doesn't drive her and her friends around. He complies for a while but eventually gets fed up, calls their mom to confess, then kicks Sue out of the car (fairly far away from home) and drives off without her. They both wind up grounded.
  • The Monk episode "Mr. Monk and the Twelfth Man" involves a man that killed his wife and then hid the corpse, and one of the jurors on his case managing to discover incriminating evidence and then blackmailing him. The juror is a gambling addict and as such continuously keeps on asking for money, and eventually the man decides that killing the blackmailer is the best solution. Of course, he doesn't know who he is, but he just needs to go through twelve possibilities...
  • In an episode of The Newsroom, Jeff Daniels' character faces off against an immoral journalist that tries to blackmail him into becoming a 'silent partner' in a restaurant — he pretends to go along with it, and then gives her a "The Reason You Suck" Speech and tells her that if she and her co-conspirators try to come after him, he'll dedicate every moment of his very influential news program to ruining her life. He then walks out, telling her that a restaurant is a bad investment.
  • The Outpost: Marshal Withers tries to use his discovery that Gwen is really Princess Rosmund in order to gain leverage and further control of the outpost, pointing out that he has letters exposing this secret which will go to the Prime Order "in the event of my untimely death." Rosmund simply states that he'll still be alive... and working in the lowest levels of the mines.
  • The Punisher (2017): CIA Agent Bill Rawlins (the architect of "Project Cerberus" and the man who ordered the death of the Castle family) is able to convince his superior, Deputy Director Marion James, to allow him to continue trying to finish off Frank Castle and David "Micro" Lieberman and thus finally silence all witnesses of Cerberus and keep the Agency from being publicly shamed. Director James is utterly disgusted with the atrocities Rawlins has done, however, and so orders him to retire from the Agency once he's done with the loose ends. When Rawlins mentions her complicity with said actions in an attempt to get leverage and thus remain in the Agency, she immediately fires back that he will take the offer she's giving him or she will personally expose him to Homeland Security and to hell with her career.
  • Sherlock: The whole of the episode His Last Vow is a slow set-up towards this. If Magnussen, the so-called "Napoleon of Blackmail", had not kept on bullying the Holmeses and the Watsons out of a petty desire to showcase his control over them, Sherlock wouldn't have figured out that all of the blackmail information he has was located in his head (and only his head), and wouldn't have been angry enough to deal with the threat thusly. Magnussen unknowingly dodges a bullet earlier when his continuous dangling of Mary Watson's (nee Morstan's) past to make John do what he wants nearly make Mary (who in this version is apparently a retired assassin, presumably for the CIA) kill him; only to be thwarted because John and Sherlock entered the office while she was talking to Magnussen.
  • Svensson Svensson: Gustav is trying to blackmail Max into doing garden work on top of what they had agreed on. Gustav threatens by mentioning the mountain bike that Max wants. However, Max has none of it and explains to Lena about the bribery deal Gustav made with the children.
  • The 1989 mini-series Twist of Fate has SS Colonel Helmut von Schreader hunted for his part in a failed plot against Hitler. He hatches a desperate plan to get plastic surgery and then pose a Jewish prisoner named Ben Grossman. He ends up in the wrong camp and, upon being freed, circumstances soon lead him to become a major fighter for Israeli independence and marrying a Jewish woman. 25 years later, he's a well-regarded colonel in the Israeli army when two former SS buddies come to him and demand he supply them with some uranium or they'll expose his identity. Smirking, Grossman asks which of these two wanted Nazi war criminals is going to be the one to testify in an Israeli court (without any actual evidence) that a concentration camp survivor turned war hero was once an SS officer.
    • Realizing Grossman is right, the Nazis go to the back-up plan of threatening Grossman's wife and son. He seems cowed but really goes to his long-time friend who's a high-ranking Mossad agent. Grossman sells the story that he was on vacation when they found him, claiming to recognize the two while in the concentration camp and they're threatening his family to force him along. His friend buys it and soon comes up with a scheme of Grossman pretending to pass the uranium as a sting.
  • The Unusuals:
    • Henry Cole is a God-fearing upstanding cop, but he used to be a Texas criminal. His old partner tracks Henry down and blackmails him into pulling some jobs. Henry tires of this and kills his blackmailer.
    • Cole may have also been involved in the Plot-Triggering Death of Walsh's former partner, who might have been blackmailing him too. It is never fully resolved.

    Video Games 
  • Ace Attorney has several examples:
    • Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney:
      • Redd White has a vast blackmail empire that all but guarantees him immunity from legal recourse. So the ghost of the woman he killed for spending years digging up dirt on said empire ultimately gives him a taste of his own medicine and threatens to publicize said dirt unless he surrenders — which, after an immensely satisfying Villainous Breakdown, he does.
      • Double Subverted in the third case. The victim finally snapped from years of life-destroying blackmail and tried to kill his blackmailer... whom instead killed him in self-defense. However, the resulting scrutiny ultimately leads you to nail the killer anyway, thus avenging the victim after all.
      • The bonus case. You ultimately use Damon Gant's own blackmail tool as the critical evidence to defeat him.
    • The final case of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Justice for All features this. The defendant of this case, Matt Engarde, actually is guilty of murder as he hired the assassin who killed the victim and had said hitman hold Maya hostage to ensure you get him acquitted. He also recorded the murder to use as blackmail information in the future. Unfortunately, not only did he consider blackmailing a known assassin—a questionable move at best—but said assassin, Shelly de Killer, has a strict code of honor and considers the trust between him and his client to be sacred. In the best ending, you reveal the contents of the recording to de Killer (you haven't seen the tape, but previous talk with the defendant and other corroborating evidence has already made it clear what it is). The recording proves that the Engarde not only didn't trust de Killer at all but was also about to backstab him, a major Berserk Button for de Killer, and so he breaks the contract, releases Maya and announces his intentions to go after Engarde next. At this point, Engarde is stuck between a rock and a hard place: if he's found guilty, he gets sent to prison and possibly gets the death penalty; and if he's found not guilty, he will be hunted down by de Killer. Engarde ultimately chooses to confess.
    • Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Trials and Tribulations's second case takes this Up to Eleven. Luke Atmey killed a Redd White Expy for blackmailing Atmey over his own blackmail of the Gentleman Thief that Atmey claims to invoke Great Detective against.
  • If you have multiple spouses in Fable II, you will receive a letter threatening to inform your spouses of your infidelity. The blackmailer doesn't consider that you might just kill him, even if you're so evil you have horns.
  • If you've chosen the Earthborn backstory in Mass Effect, a member of the gang you used to be a part of tries to blackmail you over this fact, thinking it will ruin Shepherd's career. The nice option is to point out that it's not going to work: Shepard's superiors in the Systems Alliance already know about Shepard's past, the asari and salarians will instantly recognize it as a smear campaign, and the turian officer who's listening in on the conversation will point out that having a reputation as being someone who overcame their past crimes to become a soldier devoted to protecting others is something his species would respect. The middle of the road option is to point out that you can legally execute him where he stands and no one will do anything about it. The not-nice option is to simply shoot him in the face.
  • In the Forensics story in Trauma Team, a bomber is paying a college student to provide voice talent for her bomb threats — the college student tries to blackmail the bomber. The bomber agrees initially, but after having the voice actor describe his own self ("a Caucasian male") she has him killed off for good.
  • In Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, Big Bad Coldman was a former CIA chief who was reassigned to Costa Rica after his fall from grace. This worked to Coldman's benefit, as it allowed him to start the very illegal Peace Walker project with no oversight. To do this, he hired one of America's greatest roboticists, Dr. "Huey" Emmerich, to develop the robot's body. Huey, however, is a staunch anti-nuke advocate, but almost every robot design he "created" was actually plagiarized from the Soviet Union, a fact Coldman uses to keep Huey from whistleblowing the project. However, when Coldman reveals he plans on nuking an innocent city to test Peace Walker's capabilities, Huey decided that he didn't care about his career being ruined anymore and promptly turns on Coldman.

    Web Comics 
  • Full Frontal Nerdity: Lewis gets a blackmail phonecall from hackers who got access to his ten-year old Yahoo account note . Lewis asks if they can forward those forum links, because he lost them when a previous computer got fried.

    Western Animation 

    Real Life 
  • The KGB had several women pose as flight stewardesses and seduce Indonesian president Sukarno. The orgy was secretly filmed and the KGB showed it to Sukarno with the intention of blackmailing him. Instead, Sukarno thanked the KGB for a lovely night and asked for a copy of the tape—he wanted to release it to Indonesian theatres so his subjects would see how virile their president was.
  • The KGB once tried to blackmail the French consul, by threatening to expose him with pictures of him having sex with other men. His response? "Go ahead, I don't care. Everybody knows I'm gay."
    • Apparently, something similar was considered by the CIA: to discredit a Middle Eastern leader they were going to leak fake pictures of the man having sex with other men. It wouldn't have worked; apparently, in this man's country, such acts were considered a minor transgression, like a French president's mistress.
  • This trope is the reason why the blackmail version of Honey Trap is so fraught with difficulties. The target may not actually care if the "compromising" information is released. (The other reason is that most influential and powerful men are smart enough to recognize the plot beforehand.) Indeed, a good rule of thumb is to presume that a person's proclivities are known to their superiors.
  • This happened to a girl who had sex with hockey player Jaromir Jagr. She then took a selfie with him and planned to blackmail him to not reveal. But Jagr was not in any kind of relationship at the moment, and also had a reputation for being a really weird guy, so he just shrugged it off.
  • When the famous London courtesan Harriette Wilson was about to publish a tell-all memoir, one of the famous names involved was the Duke of Wellington, a national hero known for his defeat of Napoleon at the battle of Waterloo. The publisher contacted Wellington, letting him know that unless Wellington paid up, Wilson's stories about Wellington would be included. Wellington's response was simply "Publish and be damned!" His reputation not only survived, he became Prime Minister; Wilson and her publisher had a brief windfall from the memoirs, but the publisher was soon devastated by libel suits and Wilson fell on hard times and died in obscurity.
  • Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon and the richest man in the world, was contacted by the publishers of The National Enquirer, informing him that they had evidence of him having an affair, including raunchy texts and nude photos. They offered to bury the story in return for retracting claims he'd made against their parent company. The problem was that Bezos was already planning to end his marriage and marry his mistress, and wasn't particularly concerned with being publicly exposed. He publicly admitted everything in a blog post, including publishing the blackmail messages, which exposed them to possible criminal charges. It didn't really cost him anything that he wasn't planning to give up anyway.


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