Lois: The Presidency?
Mr. Cleveland: To follow up my two previous terms in '84 and '92.
Lois: Mr. Cleveland, I—
Mr. Cleveland: Oh please, call me Grover.
A form of insanity far more common in fiction than reality, the delusion that one is a famous person, or at the very least the modern reincarnation of same. Napoléon Bonaparte is the most commonly used person for this, possibly because the unusual hat and hand-in-jacket pose are a strong visual that immediately identifies the delusion for the audience. God and Jesus are also frequently seen.
This trope is usually played for comedy, but can also be a bittersweet commentary on contemporary society.
Not to be confused with the trope The Napoleon or The Napoleon Complex, where a short person is hostile or violent.
Compare A God Am I. Contrast Thoroughly Mistaken Identity, Dr. Psych Patient. See also Daydream Believer and Otherkin, for people in real life or otherwise who believe they are reincarnations or representations of mythic/fictional characters, animals, or other things, obviously usually with much less delusion than in fiction. Note that in some religious sects people believe they are reincarnations of, vessels for, or possessed by spiritual beings. These are not the same as delusions, according to psychology and social scientists. People who are delusional usually perceive things which aren't there, fail to perceive things which are there, and exhibit other traits like psychotic rage, extreme narcissism or paranoia. Someone who holds beliefs that don't make sense isn't automatically delusional, despite the common usage of that word.
- In Asterix and the Big Fight our Roman-era heroes go to see a druid who specializes in treating mental problems. One of the people in the queue is dressed as Napoleon. The receptionist's comment: "No-one knows who this one thinks he is." See also a film example below.
- A very early Batman story, "The Scarlet Horde", was about a cabal of scientists led by a man believing himself to be the reincarnation of Napoleon.
- Related to the above, longtime Batman villain Maxie Zeus is convinced he's the reincarnation of his namesake.
- An old EC Comics sci-fi story involves an alien invasion scout ship killing a man and stealing his brain, so they can scan it to learn of Earth's defenses. They see men on horses with swords and powder rifles, and cockily decide that their one ship can conquer this primitive planet. They launch an attack...and are immediately shot out of the sky with missiles. Cut to a horrified worker at the insane asylum who just found the brainless corpse of the inmate who thought he was Napoleon.
- The Simpsons Halloween comic "Immigration of the Body Snatchers" gives the Springfield Loony Bin an entire Napoleon Ward. It's on the Cliched Patients Wing, right next to the Charlton Heston Messiah Complex.
- An Archie Comics story once had asylum employees mistakenly think that Jughead was an escaped mental patient and they brought him back with them. Jughead spends until the entire comic trying to prove his sanity or escape, until he finds out that the cafeteria there serves great food. In the end, Archie comes to try and free his friend, only to find Jughead deliberately pretending he's Napoleon in order to stay for the food. Interestingly, a reprint of the story years later changed it so that he pretends he's Dr. Eggman instead.
- Achille Talon has a guy claiming to be Admiral Nelson. If you think this belong to Non-Napoleon Examples, check what Nelson is famous for.
- Another guy, while never claiming to be Napoleon, wears the green jacket with his hand inside, and owns a Napoleon-memorabilia store.
- Subverted in an Italian Donald Duck comic: Donald and Scrooge are forced to undergo a psychiatric examination when they both claim to have seen a ghost (which they really have, by the way). The first thing the doctor asks is which one of them is Napoleon. Then he proceeds to ask them if they think they are other famous historical figures. Annoyedly, Scrooge tells him who they really are. The doctor then expresses great disappointment that two people who claim to have seen a ghost can be sane enough to know who they really are.
- In the story "Higher Learning" by William Van Horn, Donald is depressed because he understands nothing that is said on TV. He goes to Gyro, who invented a ray that can expand the brain. Out of the two test mouses, one become a genius, while the other though it was Napoleon. Donald overuses the device, not only expanded his brain, but also his entire body, , literally. Once Gyro figures out an cure and saves Donald from an angry mob, noting that there may be some temporary side effects. When questioned by the police, Donald says that he can't possibly be the giant. Why? Because he's Napoleon!
- The 1976 Lucky Luke story l'empereur Smith features a man who declares himself emperor of America. He is rich enough to set up a small private army which he dresses up in French Napoleonic uniforms. Emperor Smith was inspired by Emperor Norton (see Real Life).
- De Kiekeboes: Subverted in the album "Een koud kunstje", where the real Napoleon is brought to a mental institution for believing he is Napoleon.
- Nero: Both Nero and Meneer Pheip have at one point (Nero in De Draak van Halfzeven, Pheip in De Gouden Kabouter) believed they were Napoleon, dressed up like them and were sent to a mental institution.
- Jan, Jans en de Kinderen: Lotje the teckle once though he was Napoleon for several gags. Then he gained his senses back and imagined himself to be Sinterklaas.
- The Powerpuff Girls story "Micro Managing" (#68, DC run), has the Micro-Puffs (tiny sprite avatars of the girls who show up just to mess with them) trying to brainwash each of them while they're sleeping into believing that she is the leader of the team. Bubbles is the first to get brainwashed, and when she trumpets about being the PPG leader, Blossom shrugs it off as a Napoleon complex that will blow over. Unfortunately, it doesn't.
- Scooby-Doo and the gang are invited to a séance where a medium brings Napoleon Bonapart from the dead ("Napoleon Lives!", Gold Key issue #23). Or so it seems. When the Napoleon is exposed at the end as a fake (all part of a scheme to steal some museum artifacts of Napoleon), the imposter vehemently claims he's the real deal.
Scooby: (thought balloon) I don't care if he was the ruler of France...if he calls me "pooch" once more, I'm going to bite his leg!
- One Gahan Wilson cartoon has a psychiatrist's patient, dressed as Napoleon, sitting up on the couch and reading a dispatch while an officer in a Napoleonic uniform stands at attention. The psychiatrist fumes, "We'll never get anywhere with these constant interruptions from the front!"
- Older Than Television The likely origin of the trope in media was a 1913 play The Misleading Lady by Charles W. Goddard and Paul Dickey. It was novelized in a 1915 book, and it was made into a silent film in 1920 and a pre-code talkie starring Claudette Colbert and Edmund Lowe in 1932. The 1913 original is obviously much earlier than Stan Laurel's 1922 Mixed Nuts (below), which has been previously cited as the earliest example (it isn't even the earliest film example). This seems to be confirmed in the book "The Shuberts and Their Passing Shows: The Untold Tale of Ziegfeld's Rivals," which tells the story of how the Napolean Delusion character from The Misleading Lady was recycled a couple of years later by another play (The Passing Show), and makes it explicit that the character originated from the earlier play. In the story and its remakes, a man kidnaps another man's fiancee, and takes her to his cabin in the woods. There is another man hiding out in the cabin who is recently escaped from a nearby asylum, and he claims to be Napolean Bonaparte (the character is referred to as Boney).
- It was used in the 1922 Mixed Nuts, starring Stan Laurel.
- In Highlander III: The Sorcerer, Connor is strapped to a bed in the psych ward of a hospital, and uses his first-hand knowledge of the Napoleonic Wars to convince a Napoleon to free him.
- In the brief asylum scene of The Shadow movie (in a rather Nightmare Fuel scene showing that the villain after having the psychic part of his brain damaged by a shard of glass and then removed by surgery has been put into a place where his claims of being the mind-manipulating descendant of Genghis Khan will not be believed), the inmates exclaim who they think they are. One of them is a Napoleon. Another, with a distinctly male voice, announces that he is Josephine.
- At the end of Batman Forever, the now-institutionalized (and insane) Riddler claims to know Batman's true identity. When pressed, he insists that he's Batman. From somewhere else inside the asylum, we hear another patient respond, "And I'm Napoleon!"
- There's a film titled The Emperor's New Clothes in which Ian Holm plays Napoleon himself, and the premise is that he escaped St. Helena and an Identical Stranger took his place. However, once he gets back to France, he is treated as one of these, and ultimately settles into a happy but mundane life. There's one scene where a doctor (who suspects that Holm's character is Napoleon) takes him to a insane asylum and shows him a courtyard full of men with Napoleon Delusions, so he'll realize the danger of his claims.
- In The Exorcist, Fr. Karras tells Mrs. MacNeill that Pazuzu/Regan claiming to be the Devil "is like saying she's Napoleon."
- In Dark Delusion, the last film in the Dr. Kildare Medical Drama series, a patient beats Dr. Gillespie at gin rummy. Gillespie is mortified when it turns out the patient wandered off from the psych ward, where he was hospitalized because he thinks he's Napoleon.
- Dr. No: Referenced when James Bond taunts Dr. No with, "World domination. Same old dream. Our asylums are full of people who think they're Napoleon. Or God."
- A visitor in a mental hospital is given the chance to speak to two mental patients. After a long, interesting conversation in which both patients come across as particularly articulate and well-adjusted:
- Another version of the joke adds a third patient.
Visitor: Well, who are you?
Patient 1: Napoleon Bonaparte.
Patient 2: Jesus.
Patient 3: What? No! I don't have a child that old!
- Fredric Brown's "Come And Go Mad", a rather complicated sci-fi novella from 1949, involved a man who had once been institutionalized for believing he was Napoleon. He returned to the asylum to uncover a conspiracy, and discovered that he was, in fact, Napoleon—body-swapped through time by a conspiracy of red and black ants who secretly control all of human history. (Not to be confused with the historical novel The Red and the Black.) The revelation drives him to violent insanity; he undergoes electroshock therapy and returns home "cured", believing himself to be a salesman.
- Invoked in Poul Anderson and Gordon R. Dickson's Hoka stories. While the wildly imaginative Hokas love playing sustained imaginative games and taking on roles, so that a Hoka can be Sherlock Holmes, Queen Victoria, the Lone Ranger, the Duke of Wellington, etc. — only when speaking of a Hoka who is Napoleon does Alex feel the necessity to explain that a Hoka can be perfectly sane and still call himself Napoleon. (Well, by Hoka standards.)
- Mentioned (but probably doesn't happen) in Animorphs, where Tobias wonders to himself if he's not in an asylum full of people who think they're Washington, Napoleon, or red-tailed hawks.
- In the Horatio Hornblower short story The Last Encounter, a stranger calls on the retired Hornblower (a veteran of the Napoleonic wars) claiming to be Napoleon and begging the loan of a carriage so he could return to France in time to run in the upcoming Presidential election and reclaim his rightful position.Hornblower views him as a crazy man, but decides to humour him anyway. The stranger turns out to be the future Napoleon III, Napoleon's nephew, which makes this an odd mix of the trope being exploited and a use of Exact Words.
- In I Never Promised You A Rose Garden, Deborah's parents have put off explaining Deborah's mental illness to her sister Suzy. They fear she will be traumatized, but she already suspected something and her only question is "It's not like she's Napoleon or something... is it?"
- In the 1891 novel Quincas Borba, by Brazilian writer Joaquim Machado de Assis, the main character is a straight-up example of this trope, as he goes from daydreaming to full-time delusions of grandeur, thinking himself Napoleon III (who is alive at the time of the novel) and even bestowing titles on his friends.
- In the Choose Your Own Adventure novel UFO 54-40, your character has been abducted by aliens. In one possible ending, your character pretends to be insane in the hope the aliens will send him back to Earth as unsuitable. Being insane apparently consists of doing your best Napoleon imitation, which only leads the aliens to study your strange behavior more closely in their laboratories. Maybe it only works if your audience knows who Napoleon was in the first place.
- A Night Court episode has Harry end up in a holding cell for the mentally ill. 'I'm in here, with the Napoleons.' Bonus points: all of them growl when Russia is mentioned.
'Harry: Let bygones be bygones.
- A The Two Ronnies sketch featured the two as men in an asylum, both apparently suffering from this delusion. More of an Invoked Trope, however, as neither is actually mad - they are instead pretending to be in order to avoid the requirement for a job.
- The Prisoner (1967) episode "The Girl Who Was Death" was an oddly loopy adventure set outside the Village, where No.6 is out to stop a mad scientist who fancies himself Napoleon (complete with a Josephine) who is plotting to blow up London. It all turns out to be a bedtime story No.6 is telling a nursery full of children, where he'd cast No.2 as Napoleon.
- Jokingly invoked in a M*A*S*H episode in which Hawkeye deals with nightmares and sleepwalking, during which he imagines he's a little kid back home in Maine. The Tag to the episode has Klinger congratulating Hawkeye on what he assumes is a new form of Obfuscating Insanity to get discharged from the Army.
Klinger: It is an act, isn't it?
Hawkeye: [tucking his hand in his shirt and affecting a French accent] Mais oui, Josephine, I'm as sane as you.
- Played for laughs in The Stinger to an episode of The Addams Family where Morticia's sister calls to tell her she's dating someone who thinks he's Napoleon. (Clearly the type who an Addams can love.)
- One episode of El Chavo del ocho had Don Ramón invoking this to get away from paying the rent from Mr. Barriga.
- Magnum, P.I.: The episode "Holmes Is Where the Heart Is" features an old friend of Higgins, David Worth (played by Patrick Macnee), who's under the delusion that he's Sherlock Holmes (and Higgins is Dr. Watson). Along with the delusion, however, comes the full packaging of Holmes's deductive skills, mastery of disguise and general badassery, which comes in handy to solve the mystery of the week (even though he's confusing the culprit with Moriarty).
- Freddie Starr did a sketch which played with this where a man entered a psychiatrist's office in full Napoleon regalia.
Patient: Doctor, doctor, you have to help me. I think I'm Lord Nelson
Psychiatrist: Don't you mean Napoleon?
Patient: Oh no, I AM Napoleon. I just think I'm Lord Nelson.
- "They're coming to take me away, ha haa!" is a song from The '60s about a man who will be soon taken to the asylum. Its author is Napoleon XIV. The guy's sane, only playing the image of Napoleon-wannabe loonie.
- Flanders and Swann had a song, "The Elephant", in which an elephant claimed to be suffering from this. It makes marginally more sense in context.
I suffer from Schizophrenia. It comes on me in spells.
Sometimes I'm King of Armenia, and others I'm Orson Welles.
I tell them I'm Napoleon, and all that sort of bunk.
They never guess that all the time I'm laughing up me trunk!
- Brazilian band Mutantes have an "I Am" Song narrated by a crazy person, "Balada do Louco" ("Ballad of the mad"). At a certain point the narrator sings "If they are pretty\I'm Alain Delon\If they are famous\I'm Napoleon". (once the female singer of the band did her own version, she changed the names to "Sharon Stone" and "a Rolling Stone")
- In Bleak Expectations, this is somewhat justified, as England has just emerged from the Napoleonic Wars. And therefore all patients on the insanity ward think they're either Napoleon or The Duke of Wellington, and fights are a daily occurrence.
- Conversational Troping in The Unbelievable Truth, with regard to the apocryphal story that George III talked to oak trees.
David Mitchell: Crazy people don't do that sort of thing as much as you'd think. There's a lot more unhappiness and self-harm, and a lot less thinking you're Napoleon.
- Parodied by the Cheapass Games release Escape From Elba, in which you play Napoleon. So does everyone else. And each Napoleon is trying to escape the island of Elba (or at least be at peace with the fact that they're obviously crazy and trapped with a bunch of other Napoleons).
- In the Book of Madness from the old WOD's Mage: The Ascension, the book explained how Marauder Madness levels worked using the Napoleon Delusion - believing you're Napoleon in the court was a higher level than believing you were Napoleon on campaign, than believing you were Napoleon time displaced or reincarnated, and the lowest level was believing someone else was Napoleon.
- An NPC in Gamma World is a sentient bear that thinks he's Napoleon Bonaparte. Given that he has an army of sentient animals at his command, who's going to argue?
- In the game Psychonauts, one character in an asylum claims to be Napoleon. In fact, he's a direct descendant of Napoleon fighting off a Genetic Memory of his ancestor. Unlike his diminutive ancestor, Fred Bonaparte is tall and has no particular love of victory although losing repeatedly to inmate Crispin Whytehead at a board game conveniently named "Waterloo" was enough to drive him over the edge and cause the aforementioned Genetic Memory to take over. He wasn't even a patient initially, he was the head orderly until his slide into semi-madness. Raz then enters Fred's mind and helps him win a game of Waterloo against Napoleon. Seeing his descendant win and regain his confidence pleases Napoleon and decides to leave him alone.
- There was a BBS door game way back in the days of the Internet called Sanitarium in which the weapons salesman was Napoleon. Or at least he said he was - given the name of the game, you can obviously guess where it took place, and the state of its inhabitants.
- The antagonist for most of Rhythm Thief & the Emperor's Treasure is a man who claims to be Napoleon Bonaparte, even though physically, he looks nothing like the actual thing, and the game is set in the present day anyway. He'll stop at nothing to reclaim France, under the idea that it should belong to Napoleon forever. The truth, however, is that he knows he isn't Napoleon but pretends to be him, riding on the real Napoleon's legacy and charisma. Also, the real Napoleon is still alive, or perhaps undead, and the fake Napoleon's actual plan was to draw all of France's attention to himself so Napoleon can re-emerge from his tomb undisturbed.
- Irregular Webcomic!
- In the Cliffhangers theme, North Dakota Jones knew someone who thought he was Napoleon, and was therefore unable to stay in Moscow.
- Also in Cliffhangers, when Monty Jones, tired of his grandfather's constant namedropping, protests that Minnesota couldn't possibly have known Napoleon, he gets the response "No, but I've met a few people who ''thought'' they were him."
- What Nonsense has Monsieur Zimmelman, a major character who claims to be the reincarnation of Napoleon. He is nearly always seen wearing Napoleonic uniform, and his text bubble is a non-standard scroll design, with a distinctive font.
- Screwy Squirrel wore a Napoleon hat as a nod to this.
- At the end of his best-known cartoon, he finally confronts the dog about why he has been chasing him "all through the picture." The dog answers that it's 'cause he thinks he's Napoleon.
Dog: Butcha ain't. * puts on hat* I am!
- At the end of his best-known cartoon, he finally confronts the dog about why he has been chasing him "all through the picture." The dog answers that it's 'cause he thinks he's Napoleon.
- Futurama: In "Insane in the Mainframe", Bender was put in a robot insane asylum and declared "Je suis Napoleon!"...but then reassured his friends that he was just using humor to get through a difficult time.
- In the same episode, Fry's guide shows him a robot that looks like Abraham Lincoln (in the manner of Disney's Hall of Presidents). Fry guesses that he's got this trope going on, but his guide points out that he's supposed think he's Lincoln since it's his job; the reason he was institutionalized is because he has multiple personalities, and they're all Lincoln ("I was born in 200 log cabins"). Later on when Bender is talking about how great the asylum is, he says there are two Lincolns for every Napoleon.
- Parodied in the Bugs Bunny cartoon "Napoleon Bunny-Part", when the real Napoleon is hauled off by insane asylum orderlies who think he's an escaped patient. One of them quips that he's the twelfth Napoleon they caught that day. Bugs then gets into the act himself with the closing line: "Imagine, them thinking he's Napoleon, when I really am!"
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987): A Napoleon is in the insane asylum with Baxter Stockman in episode 6, voiced by Peter Cullen.
- Private Snafu: After Snafu is locked up in a padded cell at the end of "Rumors", he is joined by a crazed baloney wearing a Napoleon hat. (It Makes Sense in Context.)
- The origin of this trope is believed to have occurred when John D. Rockefeller had donated money to help restore the Eastern State Mental Hospital in Williamsburg, Virginia. While there, he was walking the grounds and introduced himself to a patient. The patient did not actually believe he met Rockefeller and he sarcastically quipped that he was Napoleon Bonaparte.
- Semi Truth in Television - after going crazy from syphilis, the French playwright Georges Feydeau thought that he was Napoleon III.
- Involved in the Urban Legend debunked here, where a French chef named Napoleon briefly Goes Among Mad People because he told a bus driver he was going to meet the president - just Not That Kind Of President.
- Gabriel of Sedona, cult leader extraordinaire, claims to be the reincarnation of Napoleon. Additionally, he's a reincarnation of Jesus and Abraham Lincoln, too (never mind that Lincoln and Napoleon were alive concurrently, from Lincoln's birth in 1809 to Napoleon's death in 1821). "Either I am who I say I am, or I'm completely crazy," is a direct quotation. Well then.
- In a story reported by Raymond Smullyan in What is the name of this book?, a schizophrenic patient was tested on polygraph:
Interviewer: Are you Napoleon Bonaparte?
[the machine reported that the patient was lying]
- Jean-Bedel Bokassa modeled himself after Napoleon. Unclear whether he believed he was Napoleon, though he was charged with cannibalism and he later declared himself the 13th Apostle.
- As a child Salvador Dalí both claimed he wanted to be either "Napoleon" or a "female cook".
- One of The Presidents of France, Paul Deschanel, was removed from office after having a mental breakdown that included, among other things, signing official orders "Napoleon." Whether he believed himself to be Napoleon at that moment is unclear, although there's no indication that he had a persistent delusion (his problems manifested themselves through dissociative episodes, like the time he walked out of a state meeting, out the door, and — still fully dressed — into a lake).
- In The DCU, there's also mobster Julie Caesar. Guess who he thinks he is.
- And Maxie Zeus, first two guesses don't count!
- Charlie Caligula deliberately based his criminal "empire" and theme on both of the above, making him a borderline example; he doesn't actually think he's Caligula, but likes to pretend.
- In "The Goofy Superman!" first printed in Superman #163, Clark Kent, behaving erratically due to Red Kryptonite, is admitted to an insane asylum, where they believe him to be a lunatic who thinks he's Superman. There are several actual delusional patients, including a Napoleon. The most important is a "General Grant," who quickly realizes that Clark is the genuine Superman. (He's crazy, not stupid.)
- In a multipart story more recently, Brainiac downloaded his own mind into Superman's body ... and Superman's mind into a young boy in a Bedlam House who believed he was Superman. In the end, Superman mindlinked with the boy, found out the reason he wanted to be Superman so badly, and they took on Brainiac together.
- At the Cereal Convention from The Sandman, at least two of the serial-killer attendees considered themselves to be God. Their name tags designated them "God 1" and "God 2", presumably based on who'd gotten to the registration booth first.
- Even better, a ranting lunatic claims that "God" speaks to him. One of the "God"s attending responds with something along the lines of "No I don't, I don't even know you." (So much for God being omniscient...)
- A Golden Age Batman story has a non-insane Joker (this'll tell you how old the story is) get himself committed to an insane asylum in order to pump an inmate for the location of a McGuffin. In order to find out what he's up to, Batman has himself committed in the disguise of a stereotypical mind-reading Eastern mystic (turban and all). The inmates include the mandatory Napoleon, an Isaac Newton and... a Batman, complete with full costume. Hilarity ensues when the Joker captures the real Batman after seeing through the fake mystic guise, only for the fake Batman to turn up to rescue him — and then decide that Bruce (who has doffed his disguise in an attempt to confuse the Joker) must be the Joker! With the real Joker standing there watching, of course. In the end, the Joker is so confused that he has to explain that he's not really mad and it was all a plot, simply to convince himself that he's actually sane! Boy, they couldn't do that one these days...
- An issue of the M.A.S.K. comic book is centered around an escaped asylum patient who thinks he's Guy Fawkes. There is also a patient who thinks he's Napoleon, but he's not important to the plot.
- The Transformers: Last Stand of the Wreckers introduced "primus apotheosis", an obsession with emulating Optimus Prime that can, in extreme cases, lead to the Cybertronian in question becoming convinced that they are Optimus Prime. Supposedly it afflicts 2% of Autobots and even the odd Decepticon, and generally leads to the sufferer performing a Heroic Sacrifice (at least among the Autobots; Decepticon sufferers are less likely to survive long enough to do so).
- In the movie Bubba Ho Tep, it's left to the viewer whether or not the main character and his friend are really Elvis and JFK, or just really, really delusional. Oh, and the guy who thinks he's Kennedy is played by Ossie Davis, a black man.
- The Ruling Class features Peter O'Toole as an heir to a noble title who believes he's Jesus. He's put into psychiatric treatment, and ends up believing he's Jack the Ripper.
- Miracle on 34th Street involves an elderly gentlemen named Kris Kringle who claims to be Santa Claus. The film leaves open the possibility that he actually is, however.
- Airplane!: "It's Lieutenant Hurwitz. Severe shell-shock. Thinks he's Ethel Merman." He is.
- In Airplane II: The Sequel, air traffic controller Steve McCroskey (Lloyd Bridges) is said to have gone senile, and now "thinks he's Lloyd Bridges."
- The film and play They Might Be Giants (not to be confused with the band named after it) is about a wealthy man who has come to believe that he's Sherlock Holmes. His psychiatrist is fittingly named Dr. Watson.
- In Revenge of the Pink Panther, Clouseau, dressed in women's clothing, is dragged by the police to a psychiatric hospital. He insists that he isn't crazy, that he's Europe's greatest detective, and gets confronted by a patient who maintains that he is Europe's greatest detective - Hercule Poirot.
- In The Dream Team, one of the main characters believes himself to be the second coming of Jesus.
- In K-PAX, one inmate in the asylum is a woman who thinks she's the Queen of England. Dr. Powell also has an off-hand quip when he first learns he's getting a new patient in prot with, "Who is it this time, Jesus Christ or Joan of Arc?"
- The Swedish film I rök och dans has an accountant going mad from stress and believing he is King Charles XII of Sweden. He then proceeds to the Nordic Museum to grab "his" clothes and armor.
- In The Cannonball Run, Roger Moore plays Seymour Goldfarb, Jr., who is suffering from the delusion that he is Roger Moore.
- The Nun's Story features a madwoman in an asylum who thinks she's the archangel Gabriel.
- The librarian who was spooked by the ghost librarian in Ghostbusters (1984) mentions having an uncle who thought he was St. Jerome.
- An In-Universe version in From Noon Till Three (1976). No-one believes that Charles Bronson's character is the famous outlaw who supposedly died after his now famous tragic romance, so he gets thrown into a lunatic asylum. When the inmates believe his claim, he's actually relieved.
- Ripper: Letter from Hell: The study group theorizes that the killer may actually believe that he or she is Jack the Ripper. The end of the film indicates this is probably true with Molly in the asylum imagining that she is in 1888 London, and her voiceover referring to herself as Jack.
- Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure: The historical figures Bill and Ted recruited end up getting arrested for disturbing the peace after running amok throughout San Dimas Mall. After Abraham Lincoln and Sigmund Freud get on the interviewing officers' nerves (the former by being completely honest and the latter by trying to psychoanalyze the cop), the police decide that all of them are examples of this trope and lock them up. Ironically enough, Napoleon himself was spared because he was a water park behaving himself (for the most part) and having the time of his life.
- Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell: Muller, one of the inmates in the asylum, believes that he is God.
- This old joke:
Psychiatrist: Congratulations! You're cured!
Patient: Cured? I used to be Julius Caesar! Now I'm nobody!
- As detailed in Making Money, the Discworld equivalent is Vetinari Delusion. The main villain is shown descending from wanting to be like Vetinari and having Vetinari's possessions stolen to better emulate him, to actually believing he is Vetinari. At the end of the book, he's shown being put into the "Lord Vetinari Ward" in the local nuthouse, along with a bunch of others.
- Referenced in The ABC Murders by Agatha Christie; Hercule Poirot, explaining that a madman's actions always make sense if you understand his peculiarly biased point of view, uses the example of a man who believes himself to be Mahatma Gandhi.
- There's a Norman Spinrad short story ("It's a Bird! It's a Plane!") also involving an epidemic of people who believe they're Superman.
Dr. Felix Funck: He thinks he's Superman, and he's so crazy that he is Superman! This is a job for SUPERSHRINK! ... Wait for me, Superman, you pathetic neurotic, you, wait for me!
- In The Ball and the Cross by G. K. Chesterton, the two protagonists realise they've broken into a lunatic asylum when the two men they've met claim to be God and the King. Since the protagonists are, respectively, an atheist and a Jacobite, they each take the opportunity to vent some steam at their respective hate figures.
- House of Leaves features a throwaway anecdote from Johnny Truant about a former landlord who woke up believing he was Charles de Gaulle.
- Referenced, during a discussion of religion, in The Last of the Venitars.
The Beast: I once visited a mental institution where four hundred patients claimed to be God. I suppose it is unlikely they were all lying.
- In the Honor Harrington novels, the Andermani Empire was founded by Gustav Anderman, a mercenary who believed that he was the reincarnation of Frederick the Great, and modeled the Empire after historical Prussia. Unlike most examples on the list, Anderman was not only insane, but also highly competent. He passed on both traits to his successors and at the time of the story the Andermani Empire is a vibrant and prosperous, though authoritarian, militaristic and ever-so-slightly invasion-happy, interstellar empire.
- In the Illuminatus! sequel trilogy Schrodinger's Cat, one of myriad sub-plots involves a ward full of psychiatric patients who are adamant they are the US President, senior Administration members and shadowy background advisers. The fact they look like homeless or out-of-luck Afro-American men is unfortunate. The American medical system then treats them with the level of care held to be appropriate for delusional psychotic out-of-luck black men at the bottom of the social heap: lots of heavy-duty antipsychotic drugs and frequent brain-frying with ECT. [[note]] The fact that in one sense they ARE the US President, senior Administration members and shadowy background advisers is unfortunate. A Black Power group experimenting with occult rituals has learnt how to swap their own minds and souls into the bodies of the most powerful white men on the planet. The displaced souls and minds of those powerful white men had to go somewhere, and are now learning what it is to be lowly, black and powerless. Instant Karma.
- In the Anno Dracula novel Johnny Alucard by Kim Newman, there's a discussion of vampires who believe themselves to be Dracula that makes a comparison to humans who believe themselves to be Napoleon. Many characters consider the eponymous Johnny to be delusional in this way until he turns out to be possessed by the actual Dracula.
- In the Modesty Blaise novel I, Lucifer, the title character possesses a delusional belief system built around the belief that he is Satan. In explaining his case to another character, Dr Bowker explicitly says that it's basically the same condition as believing oneself to be Napoleon, and uses several Napoleon-related examples. (For instance, he explains that "Lucifer" will automatically ignore or justify any evidence that shows he's not really the Dark One, in the same way that a delusional Napoleon would if you took him to the middle of modern Paris and pointed out all the things that didn't exist in Napoleon's time.)
- In the Babylon 5 episode A Late Delivery from Avalon, we meet a passenger that is convinced that he is the reincarnation of King Arthur, returning in Earth's, and therefor Britain's, darkest hour. It turns out that he is in fact the person who fired the starting shot in the Earth-Minbari War and has suffered a serious case of Survivor's Guilt. He is healed when "The Lady of the Lake", or Delenn, retrieves his Excalibur, symbolising that she, and the Minbari Race forgives him.. It should be noted that this is not played for humor. The characters — having met another historical character preserved by the Vorlons — seriously consider the possibility that he is King Arthur. Somewhat amusingly, after being "healed", he keeps up the personality, and goes to help the Narn resistance.
- In the Adam West Batman (1966) TV series, there was a villain who was an archaeology professor who after an accident, believed he was King Tut; he was cured twice, but relapsed each time. He's since been introduced in the comics.
- Boston Public:
- A teenage boy became convinced he is Jesus after he saw a little boy run over by a bus and later received a nasty electrical shock from a projector. He manages to convince a few other people too.
- In another episode Harvey believes he is George Washington reincarnated. The interesting bit is that he is so knowledgeable about Washington that he actually convinces his class that there is at least a chance that he might really be the founding father reborn.
- In the Community episode "Studies In Modern Movement", Britta picks up a hitchhiker to prove to Shirley that she has a moral compass despite being an atheist. This backfires on Britta when the hitchhiker reveals that he is a devout Christian. Shirley is thrilled, but then it backfires on her when the hitchhiker turns out to be wacko who believes that he is literally Jesus Christ (oh, and "Jesus" thinks marijuana should be legal). Finally, he declares that he's going to sing a song he wrote about race-mixing called "Don't You Do It", prompting Britta to slam the brakes and both Britta and Shirley to yell "GET OUT!"
- Lois & Clark had a woman who thought she was Mary Todd Lincoln. She ends up witnessing Clark using his powers, but then she starts calling him General Grant.
- A M*A*S*H episode had a soldier convinced he was Jesus. Unlike most examples, there were some who speculated that he was faking it to go home. Turns out he wasn't. The Tag showed Klinger declaring that he was Moses, complete with costume, in an effort to repeat the soldier's success at getting sent home.
- Also, in the finale episode when Hawkeye is placed in a mental hospital, he mentions to Sidney that there are two patients suffering from this, one of whom thinks he's General MacArthur and "wades ashore in his bathtub every morning".
- Barney Miller had an arrestee who believed he was Jesus, as well. Since he had previously thought himself possessed by Satan, this delusion was kind of therapeutic.
- Seinfeld featured a woman who was worried George might be mentally unwell. George almost convinced her otherwise, until she saw him in the street dressed as Henry VIII.
- The Hercules: The Legendary Journeys episode "Reign of Terror" had King Augeus believing he was Zeus, even calling Hercules and Aphrodite his children. Hera grants him powers roughly equal to the real Zeus and orders him to kill Hercules. He obeys, wanting to please his "wife" and angry that his "son" had disrespected him earlier. After he is defeated and the power leaves him, he seemingly goes back to normal, but then starts calling himself Ulysses.
- Mystery Science Theater 3000: Characters would regularly suffer a mental breakdown and become convinced that they were someone else - most famously Mike becoming convinced that he was a) Carol Channing and b) Captain Janeway, but Crow spontaneously becoming a character from the movie they were watching was far from unheard of.
- In American Horror Story: Asylum, a woman incarcerated at Briarcliff claims to be Anne Frank. In actuality, she's a woman named Charlotte Brown suffering from postpartum psychosis.
- Harry's Law had a woman who thought she was Wonder Woman.
- In Red Dwarf Rimmer believes himself to be the reincarnation of Alexander the Great's chief eunuch.
- The Super Mario Bros Super Show!: In the live action segment "No Way To Treat a Queenie", a woman who dresses and acts like the Queen of England visits the Mario Bros. She claims she ditched her guards because she is tired of having to rule, so she would like to live with them as a normal person. She hangs out with them, does some chores, and even bakes a pizza. Eventually, she says she'll go back to ruling, and knights the two as thanks for the wonderful time she had. Just then, a doctor walks in and tells Liz it is time to go back to the asylum, and if she behaves herself, he'll let her eat tapioca, at which point she happily goes with him. The Mario Bros shrug and say even if she wasn't really the Queen of England, they had a good time and the pizza she made was perfect.
- Monty Python's Flying Circus has a sketch of a mousy little man surrendering himself to police as he claims he's Atilla the Hun. The charges he claims are "looting, pillaging and sacking a major city." They give him a "Hunilizer" to blow into to prove his identity. When nothing happens, he's exposed as Alexander the Great.
- The Twilight Zone (1959):
- In "Person or Persons Unknown", one of David Gurney's fellow patients believes that he is Winston Churchill.
- Discussed in "The Bard". Julius Moomer tells his agent Gerald Hugo, the network executive Mr. Bramhoff and the sponsor Mr. Shannon that William Shakespeare is a cousin on his mother's side who believes that he is Shakespeare.
- The Twilight Zone (1985): In "Wong's Lost and Found Emporium", David Wong tells Mrs. Whitford that he met twelve people who claimed to be the Second Coming of Jesus and one who claimed to the reincarnation of the High Priest of Lemuria during his three year search for the Lost and Found Emporium.
- Big & Rich's "Live this Life"
Met a man on a street last night, said his name was Jesus
Met a man on a street last night
Thought he was crazy 'til I watched heal a blind man
I watched him heal a blind man, now I see.
- The song "Committed to Parkview" as sung by the Highwaymen, mentions a fellow who thinks he's Hank Williams (does not specify Junior or Senior) and his singing.
- The Dire Straits song "Industrial Disease" includes the line "Two men say they're Jesus. One of them must be wrong..."
- French rapper Kamini's song "Psychostar Show" is set in an asylum.
There's Edouard, who thinks he is a tsar
- The Scaffold's "Lily the Pink":
Old Ebenezer thought he was Julius Caesar
And so they put him in a home
Where they gave him medicinal compound
And now he's emperor of Rome
- Kirsty MacColl:
There's a guy works down the chip shop swears he's Elvis
Just like you swore to me that you'd be true
There's a guy works down the chip shop swears he's Elvis
But he's a liar and I'm not sure about you
- In Warhammer 40,000, members of the Blood Angels Space Marines chapter would sometimes permanently succumb into so called Black Rage, in which they believe they're the Chapter founder Sanguinius. The rest of the chapter rounds them up into Death Seeker squads when possible, or else just locks them away. They have a reason; the death of their angelic Primarch left a psychic imprint across the entire Chapter, permanently cursing them with that insanity, and a thirst for blood... It's normally played for drama... but you can't really help but throw in a few jokes about it.
- In the Shadowrun game-universe, professional baseball players use skillsofts that perfectly mimic the performance of historic ball players, allowing for proxy match-ups between such combinations as Ted Williams vs. Mark McGuire, or two different seasons' Babe Ruths playing against one another. In the short story that introduced this idea, an ex-player who'd been chipping Babe Ruth when he was struck on the head by a line drive suffered brain damage as a result, causing the Babe's personality to be imprinted permanently over his own.
- Freedom City has Nicky Nero, the setting's counterpart to Maxie Zeus or King Tut, but with added Playing with Fire powers.
- Arthur Kopit's play Chamber Music is about a group of women in an insane asylum who think they're various historical figures, including Susan B. Anthony, Gertrude Stein, Joan of Arc, Amelia Earhart, and Mozart's wife.
- There was a cabaret sketch with two guys speaking in Gratuitous French, only to be interrupted by a doctor:
Doctor: Well, here did my Froggies hide, in the boiler room! Get back to the ward, guys!
"Frenchmen": [do not notice]
Doctor: Richelieu et l'hospital!
- The Physicist has 3 characters, an Isaac Newton, an Einstein, and one who believes he is simply visited by Solomon. Einstein is only pretending for the benefit of Newton, because he believes that he is actually Newton.
- The titular Elisabeth visits patients in an insane asylum while trying to distract herself from her unhappy life as Empress of Austria-Hungary and meets a patient there who believes herself to be Elisabeth. In a twist on the trope, the real Elisabeth envies the woman's ability to be happy in this delusion when she herself is so miserable. She has to consciously tell herself to stay strong and not give into the temptation to allow herself to go mad too, where they can "only bind your arms but leave your soul free".
- In Arsenic and Old Lace, one of the Brewsters believes he's Teddy Roosevelt. He continually relives the battle of San Juan Hill by charging up the stairs, and makes excavations in the basement to dig locks for the Panama Canal and bury alleged yellow fever victims. His aunts note that this is largely voluntary on his part; at some point in the past, when they suggested he be George Washington for a change, he sank into a week-long funk "and just wouldn't be anybody." When he has to be intimidated, the best way to do it is to claim you're Woodrow Wilson. In the movie version, the asylum director complains that Happy Dale already has a surfeit of Teddy Roosevelts, and sadly, no Napoleons.
- The one-act play "Degas, C'est Moi", written by David Ives, revolves around a man who decides to be the painter Edgar Degas for a day in order to escape his wretchedly mundane life. While having dinner with his wife, the illusion collapses - cemented when he sees a man who appears to be channeling Renoir. Still, living outside of himself for a day helps him appreciate his original life.
- In the asylum levels in The Darkness II one of Jackie's mafia henchmen, Aldo, believes he is Adolf Hitler.
- In the old versions of Kaiserreich: Legacy of the Weltkrieg, Roman von Ungern-Sternberg, ruler of Mongolia, believes he is the reincarnation of Genghis Khan, and plans to restore the Mongol Empire of old.
- In a similar note, though in an example that's survived to current versions, in The New Order Last Days Of Europe the warlord of Kemerovo is General Nikolay Krylov, who cracked from stress, went into his room with a stack of history books, and emerged convinced he was the reincarnation of Rurik, the man who once forged the original Kievan Rus. Now he calls himself Rurik II, and styles his governance after the original's own. The parts of him that have stayed sane are competent enough, at least, that he can actually reforge Russia as a country, and a good one at that. While his last words state he was putting up a charade, no one is ever completely sure if he cracked hard enough to think he really is Rurik's reincarnation, or if he went just insane enough to think pretending he had was a good idea.
- In level 30 of Zombie Solitaire 2: Chapter Three you encounter a guy who thinks he's Julius Caesar. If you give him your sailboat he rewards you with 50 denari.
- Avatar of Supermegatopia, a former archaeologist with multiple personalities, repeatedly assumes the identity of various deities, such as Quezalcouatl, Thor, Set and Jehova. (She also uses the ancient UFO she found to simulate divine powers.) Unfortunately she must not have been an attentive student, since she gets a lot of details wrong, such as referring to Thor's hammer as "Mitch". (Not to mention several of her divine identities are supposed to be male, and Avatar is very much a woman.)
- AHres of Union of Heroes believes himself to be the reincarnation of Ares, the god of war.
- Subverted in this Girl Genius comic. Agatha thinks Tarvek has this sort of delusion because he claims to be the Storm King. He explains that he just means that he is the current holder of that inherited title. (Or would be, if the title wasn't defunct, and if none of his scheming relatives got there first.)
- The above mentioned Futurama episode also features the following exchange in regards to a robotic Abraham Lincoln:
Fry: Let me guess, he thinks he's Lincoln?
Unit 2013: Well, he's supposed to. Problem is he's got multiple personalities — all of them Lincoln.
Robotic Lincoln: I was born in two hundred log cabins.
- The Batman comics and animated series also had Maxie Zeus, who was under the impression he was the Greek god—though sometimes the delusion seemed to be more playing a part than genuine insanity. In the animated series, it's more strongly suggested that he's genuinely delusional; in the end, he's sent to a padded cell in Arkham Asylum and is actually happy about it because he believes he's been brought to the real Mt. Olympus. He even mistakes several of Batman's other rogues for gods and, therefore, his family.
- The Simpsons:
- An episode has Duff Man working in a men's shelter after being fired from his mascot position. After the family convince him to come out of his 10-Minute Retirement and he rips off his suit to reveal his old costume a scraggly looking man is seen saying "Then if he's Duff Man... I must be Jesus!" and promptly jump out a window.
- In the episode "Stark Raving Dad", the family befriends a large, bald, white man... who insists he's Michael Jackson (although he does have the voice of the real thing). The joke of this episode is that Homer apparently has no idea who Michael Jackson is, even when the patient names several things that made Jackson famous it doesn't ring a bell with him. Thus, understandably, he just accepts that this huge white man is probably who he claims to be. Eventually subverted, as it turns out he doesn't really believe he's Jackson: it's an act he developed to help him deal with his anger issues. This is presumably why he was able to leave the asylum at will.
- One episode of Captain Planet had Gaia losing her powers and becoming homeless. Of course, no one believes her when she tries to explain that she's The Spirit of the Earth. Among the homeless are two men who think they're The Red Baron, and one guy who thinks he's William Shakespeare.
- Inspector Gadget features a one-shot asylum patient who thinks he is Sherlock Holmes, James Bond and Gadget himself, all at once.
- The Beatles cartoon "Run For Your Life" has Ringo thinking (and daydreaming) he's Louis XIV after a statuary bust knocks him out cold.
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987) had an episode where Leo gets hit hard in the head and starts thinking he's D'Artagnan and that Raph, Mikey and Don are The Three Musketeers. They're forced to play along (even dressing the part) until he comes to his senses.
- Worldof Warcrafthas a series of quests given by a character named Maximilien of Northshire. He claims to be a knight and that he is undertaking quests for "damsels" (one of whom is male). It's meta-humor, since no formal order of knights actually exists in this world and no known literature features knights undertaking quests on behalf of damsels either. He's an Expy of Don Quixote, but in-universe he's delusional. He thinks a dinosaur is a dragon (when it looks nothing like an actual dragon does in this world) and that throwing a woman off a rock will save her (instead of kill her). Also, he thinks the steam elementals are spirits who can be prayed to. You help him wreak havoc in the Un'Goro Crater zone. He also reappears as a follower at your Garrison, where although he follows your orders he amusingly addresses you as "squire".
- A surprising number of people suddenly declare themselves as a prophet, messiah, or Jesus returned on entering Jerusalem. It's so common that there's a large psychiatric ward in the city dedicated exclusively to treating people with a messiah complex.
- Hong Xiuquan, the founder of the "Heavenly Kingdom of Transcendent Peace" and leader of the Taiping Rebellion (1850-1864) in China, proclaimed that he was the younger brother of Jesus. The rebellion cost 20-30 million lives, making it distinctly Dude, Not Funny!.
- During the French Revolution, one of the seven prisoners in the Bastille at the time of the storming was supposedly an old man who thought he was Julius Caesar. This is, of course, before Napoleon was famous.
- Actor/director Billy Bob Thornton once declared he was the reincarnation of Benjamin Franklin.
- The Three Christs of Ypsilanti documents the unusual case of three men who claimed to be Jesus Christ met in a lunatic asylum. The psychiatrists capitalized on this to try to devise a treatment, alas to no avail.
- George Patton claimed that he lived previous lives so that he could fight in every (major) war in history.
- Contrary to popular belief (and some fictional stories) Shirley MacLaine has never claimed to be the reincarnation of any historic figure (she does, however, believe in reincarnation, and claimed to have been a brother of a spirit supposedly channeled by author J.Z. Knight). Her suggestions in a book that Holocaust victims' deaths had been caused by bad karma were received quite poorly.
- Emperor Joshua Norton of San Francisco was well known in the latter part of the 19th century, proclaiming himself as the "Emperor of the United States, and Protector of Mexico" after going bankrupt (and a little funny in the head) when an attempt to corner the city's rice market failed. He would be often seen inspecting public transportation for defects as a form of quality control. The citizens liked him so much that they went along with this to the point that his homemade currency was accepted in fine restaurants all over the city. City officials even made him a new and improved outfit. However, it was found at the time of his death that he hadn't a penny to his name.
- He's still venerated in San Francisco, among other things, for his proscription of the loathsome term "Frisco". There's also a movement to have the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge (which he ordered built back in 1872) named after him.
- And his Real Life story was so epic that Neil Gaiman included it in The Sandman mythos.
- It also got him declared by absurdist religion of Discordianism to be the only begotten son of their Eris, goddess of discord and confusion.
- Downplayed in that he did not believe himself to be anything other than Joshua Norton, whether by reincarnation or not. It's just that he apparently also believed he'd been declared Emperor by a majority of US citizens. Whether he was simply eccentric or had a delusion isn't clear. The only attempt to have him committed caused outrage from San Francisco citizens and Norton was soon released.
- Internet crackpot Archimedes Plutonium claims to be the reincarnation of Archimedes.
- Marshal-Admiral Marquis Tōgō Heihachirō, commander of the Japanese fleet during the Russo-Japanese War, was convinced that he was the reincarnation of Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson, who was commander of the British fleet during Napoleonic Wars. Tōgō's skill as a naval tactician was such that many thought it wasn't a delusion at all, with Western journalists dubbing him "the Nelson of the East."
- Richard Lawrence believed he was King Richard the III, motivating his attempt to assassinate U.S. President Andrew Jackson. It didn't work, and he spent the rest of his life in jail or a mental institution.
- Debate rages as to whether Anna Anderson, the most famous and iconic of the Anastasia impersonators, was knowingly pursuing a hoax or if she was a delusional woman who really believed that she was the Grand Duchess Anastasia. If it's the latter, it would certainly be one of the most notable incidents in which someone exhibiting this trope was actually believed by other people.