Die on your feet or live on your knees."
A prison is a place for violent people, and usually with violent practices, so in fiction, riots are natural. If The Hero is placed amongst the populace, expect him/her to be the one to instigate it. It could also be a public assault of a Pariah Prisoner; an inmate despised by the others. Convicts and guards are usually Color-Coded for Your Convenience. Expect mattresses and toiletpaper (fire optional) to be thrown around in a modern setting. Truth in Television.
- This 1970 Alka-Seltzer commercial shows prisoners starting a riot in the mess hall by banging their cups against the table and shouting "Alka-Seltzer!", presumably as a comment on the quality of the food.
- Subverted in the Chick Tract "Soul Story". The tract starts with a prison riot... except one of the guards realizes they're faking it. The riot turns out to be cover for the murder of a prison snitch.
- Judge Dredd:
- The 90s storyline "Purgatory" features a riot happening in the space prison Titan, which is reserved for incarcerated Judges. It leads to a massive breakout, and an all-out attack on Mega City One.
- Another riot occurs in the "Titan" arc, led by former Chief Judge Sinfield. The Judges had rigged explosives to destroy the prison after the previous breakout, but most of the prisoners escape to settle on the abandoned prison moon Enceladus.
- In The Maze Agency #14 ("Before Midnight"), Jennifer and Gabe go to a prison to witness the execution of a criminal Jennifer once caught. One minute before the execution, the convicted criminal dies...of poisoning...in the electric chair. When the inmates find out, a full-scale riot ensues. Jennifer talks them into letting her investigate the murder. Meanwhile, The Chessmaster Dr. Rune, who helped to orchestrate the riot (but not the murder), uses it as an opportunity to escape.
- The Punisher:
- Frank often takes advantage of these, and is usually directly or indirectly responsible for causing them. In one case, after Daredevil got sent to Ryker's, he gave himself up, waited for the inevitable riot (only killing the criminals that came too near his cell) and took Daredevil hostage (with his co-operation) so that they could both escape.
- In "The Cell", he sets one up by murdering a black inmate and leaving a prison guard's nametag on the corpse. The guard protests that he wasn't there, but realizes his alibi (he was having sex with a neo-Nazi) will not help matters. Part of the riot we do see has an inmate with a very big smile and a decapitated head in his hand, while Frank only did this to corner the mafiosi originally responsible for the deaths of his family (they were planning a hit on their don, which went disastrously wrong even though he survived and didn't suspect them).
- In the MAX series, a prisoner starts a riot and then escapes with him, all so that Frank could take revenge on the Kingpin, who'd severely wronged the prisoner. Frank kills him first, then goes after the Kingpin anyway.
- Happens in the 2nd issue "Friends with Benefits" of the Ratchet & Clank (2010) when Ratchet fights his way out of the prison.
- Robyn triggers one in Robyn Hood: The Hunt, when she manages to convince the supernaturals she is in a Forced Prize Fight against that she is not their real enemy, but that the prison is. The opponents, and the rest of inmates, seek to unleash their fury upon the warden.
- A crossover arc of Thunderbolts and Avengers Academy focused on a super powered prison riot in The Raft.
- Watchmen: Nite Owl and Silk Spectre break out Rorschach during a prison riot caused by Rorschach killing a prisoner.
- Wonder Woman Vol 1: Eviless tries to start a riot on Reformation Island, for only seven of the villainous prisoners to be interested. After her little group forms Villainy Inc. and captures Mala, Hippolyte and some other Amazons the rest of the prisoners finally riot, so that they can save the Amazons and recapture their fellow prisoners since most of the inmates had truly reformed.
- In the Discworld, A.A. Pessimal allows prisoners at Ankh-Morpork's Tanty Jail to have two prison riots per year. These are a Guild right for members of the Guild of Lags and Lifers, and enables them to teach old craft skills to newcomers, like for e.g. how to rip slates up from the prison roof and safely throw them down into the street, and how to take a prison officer hostage with the minimum of bad feeling and to treat him right - it is polite to invite him to join in a friendly card game, for instance, and you make him a cup of tea on request. The Prison Governor is usually tipped off in advance, and makes sure to put out the worst furniture in the canteen alongside clapped-out and chipped mugs and plateware that won't be missed when they're smashed up.
- A Growing Affection: The Human Path of Pein whips the Leaf Village's prisoners into a frenzy to help his attack on the village.
- Guardians, Wizards, and Kung-Fu Fighters: When a team composed of Caleb, Blunk, Drake and Ludmoore infiltrates the Underwater Mines to rescue Julian, they're quickly discovered by the guards. To even the odds, Ludmoore magically breaks the chains of all the prisoners, allowing them to rise up against the guards, triggering a massive battle.
- In Sonic the Hedgehog fanfic Prison Island Break, Shadow the Hedgehog starts a prison riot at Sonic's request. The whole thing goes to hell in a handbasket, but it is during this riot when the cruel, murderous psychopath starts to show what's Beneath the Mask, a Psychopathic Manchild.
- In the Emergency! fic "Sea of Heartbreak", Gage is wrongly accused of assault. While in jail, a riot ensues and his jaw is badly injured.
- Boot Camp: After Danny is killed, and Logan is revealed as a rapist, the teens riot and start burning down the buildings of Camp Serenity.
- The montage following Cameron Poe's imprisonment in Con Air shows him reading his daughter's letters amongst a prison riot.
- In The Criminal, Saffrion arranges a prison riot as part of his plan to get Johnny transferred.
- Climactic fight between Burke and Sandman in Death Warrant happens during a prison riot.
- Bob in Down by Law manages to provoke a near-example of this by starting up a chant: "I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream!!"
- After finding out that his mission has gone bust and his life has been taken from him, Sean Archer organizes one in order to escape Erehwon in Face/Off.
- In the 1988 Australian film Ghosts Of The Civil Dead, the authorities deliberately create this to justify building a newer 'secure' facility.
- In The Hangover Part III, Chow creates one such riot to escape prison from a tunnel hidden behind a poster.
- The Last Castle leads up to this, with Irwin specifically promising Winter that he is going to take control of the prison away from him.
- Marvel Cinematic Universe
Natasha: You made a scene, didn't you?
- Algrim starts one in the dungeons in Thor: The Dark World as a part of the Dark Elves' plan to attack Asgard and collect the Aether from Jane Foster.
- In Guardians of the Galaxy, this happens when Groot prematurely puts the escape plan of the group into motion.
- Alexei triggers one when he breaks out of the Russian prison in Black Widow (2021):
- In My Cousin Vinny, Brooklynite Vinny can't find a place to sleep in the film's southern rural town, until he ends up in jail on a contempt charge, and one of these breaks out. The sounds of home.
- Frank Drebin in Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult launches an impromptu prison riot to divert attention from the escape plan of a gang he is infiltrating. Naturally for a comedy, it's for a completely silly reasons:
Frank Drebin: Hey! You call this slop? Real slop has got chunks of things in it! This is more like gruel! And this Château le Blanc '68 is supposed to be served slightly chilled! This is room temperature! What do you think we are? Animals?
- Natural Born Killers: An incredibly brutal one with a gargantuan number of prisoners happens after Mickey is interviewed by Wayne. Both guard and prisoner alike are horrifically killed, tortured or mutilated by the mob of prisoners. Most notable about this example is the fact that real life prisoners were used as extras.
- One erupts after Lisa is Driven to Suicide in Reform School Girls.
- Runaway Train starts with the prison where the main characters are held in a state of riot.
- Turkey Shoot: Near the end, Anders breaks into the camp on a buggy, leading his fellow prisoners in a revolt after they arm themselves.
- After Rorschach murders a prisoner, a riot happens in the prison in Watchmen.
- In the third season of 24, Jack starts a prison riot to break out drug kingpin Ramon Salazar. It almost backfires when some of the prisoners take them hostage and force them to play Russian Roulette.
- Parodied on Arrested Development. The Bluth Family holds a fundraiser at the prison where George used to be incarcerated. The prisoners participate and remain well behaved. But when it's revealed the fundraiser is for something that already has a cure, the guests riot.
- A prison riot is triggered as a cover for a murder in the Arrow episode "An Innocent Man".
- In CSI: NY's "Redemptio" episode, career criminal Shane Casey triggers a riot so he escape using a police uniform he had an accomplice smuggle in, along with Danny's badge that he had stolen some time earlier.
- Daredevil (2015): In season 3, Wilson Fisk has the guards and inmates on his payroll start a riot in Rikers in an attempt to kill Matt when Matt visits the prison looking for information on Fisk's stay there.
- For Life: One occurs in the prison gym during which Jamal shivs Cassius and Aaron gets whacked in the head with a dumbbell. The riot results in the death of several prisoners and a guard.
- The Legends of Tomorrow episode "Fail Safe" sees half the team breaking the other half out of a Soviet gulag. In order to facilitate this, they cut the power to the building, unlocking the cells and releasing all the prisoners, who instantly start rioting.
- In the Midnight Caller episode "Life Without Possibility," prisoners hear that a convict who had gained their respect has died of cancer because he was denied healthcare. They respond by rioting and taking a number of guards hostage, demanding better treatment.
- On My Name Is Earl, Donny Jones reflects on the two years he did in prison for a crime that Earl committed, and how he became a born-again Christian while in prison, when he had little else to do besides read The Bible. He was invited to participate in one of these, but declines politely.
Inmate: We're gonna go stomp the guard! You in?
Donny: Sorry, but I'm busy stomping the Devil out of my heart. Sweet of you to think of me, though.
- The Outer Limits (1995): In "The Sentence", Cory Izacks finds himself in the middle of a riot as soon as he enters the Virtual Reality prison.
- Oz: Prison riots are a constant threat. One erupts in the first season finale "A Game of Checkers" when the prison gangs unite to take over Emerald City by taking the guards hostage. The prisoners establish a ruling council, but it's later revealed that everyone from the rioters to the prison administrators were being manipulated by Kareem Said from the start. He correctly predicted that Governor Devlin would refuse even the rioters' mostly reasonable demands and take back Em City by force, causing enough deaths for public outrage to bring about real reform.
- Orange Is the New Black's entire fifth season is a prison riot, as simmering tensions explode after the administration bungles the handling of an inmate death. The entire season lasts three days, and ends with the entire cast separated and heading to Max.
- Prison Break:
- In season one Micheal's actions (turning up the temperature until the prisoners get cranky) cause a riot to break out in the prison. A guard discovers their escape preparations but is killed by T-Bag who then forces Michael and Sucre to include him in the escape plan.
- The Sona prison in Season 3 is run by inmates, as a result of a huge riot that took place before the events of the show. Truth in Television, as it's based on a real-life Bolivian prison.
- The Rookie: In "Under the Gun" Nolan is escorting some juvenile offenders to a prison with Nyla as part of "Scared Straight". However, a riot erupts when they're inside, so they then have to escort them out safely. After doing so, they learn the warden has been taken hostage. So they go back to rescue her. Fortuitously, they had gotten in good with one of the juvenile's brother, a prison gang leader, who lets them leave.
- Roots, on the slaveship/Prison Ship.
- In the fourth episode of Squid Game, a nighttime massacre is instigated by Deok-su's gang in the players' room. Invoked by the game staff to "weed out the weak", who stepped back from protecting contestants from each other and further increased tensions by giving everyone little food.
- On S.W.A.T. (2017) the team is called in to quell a prison riot where three prison gangs take over different sections of the prison and hold prison guards and civilian workers hostage. The riot was initiated by a white supremacist gang who are using it as cover for breaking into the prison's protective unit and murdering a witness against them. The other gangs joined in because the Corrupt Corporate Executive prison warden has been cutting corners and the prisoners are tired of being mistreated.
- The West Georgia Correctional Facility of The Walking Dead had this happen before the protagonists arrive. Survivors explain that the guards thought the Zombie Apocalypse was a standard issue prison riot initially. The main party finds the aftermath: one entire cell block worth of inmates were killed execution-style.
- 10cc 's "Rubber Bullets" track is about one of these, using a "dance party" metaphor.
I went to a party at the local county jail
All the cons were dancing and the band began to wail
But they guys were indiscreet, they were brawling in the street
At the local dance at the local county jail!
- The Blues Brothers song "Riot in Cell Block #9" is about...well, take a guess.
- Written by Lieber and Stoller in 1954; the opening lines are "On July 2nd,1953...". It was recorded by many artists before the Blues Brothers
- The Exodus song "The Last Act of Defiance" is about a real prison riot that happened in New Mexico in 1980 that is remembered as one of the most violent instances of this in American history.
- Crosses the Line Twice with the Laengthengurthe song "I Raped My Way Out of a Prison Riot".
- Once an Episode in the Batman: Arkham Series:
- Joker leads a riot inside the titular asylum in Batman: Arkham Asylum. Joker's the major baddie, but gathering sufficient evidence reveals one cause for the riot: the staff have been experimenting on the inmates.
- Arkham City in the second game is totally out of control, with Joker, Penguin, and Two-Face warring endlessly. And to ensure he gains support for increasingly harsher containment measures, the warden (Hugo Strange) does pretty much nothing about it.
- Not long after the Joker is placed among its populace, Blackgate in Batman: Arkham Origins is in full riot mode. Again. There's also a smaller riot in the precinct holding cells, set up by Brandon in the hopes that Gordon would get caught up in it and killed.
- Batman: Arkham Knight, uniquely, only features one as a DLC side mission
- Deus Ex: Mankind Divided: In the Criminal Past DLC, Jensen goes undercover as an inmate in a high-security prison for augmented people to contact a fellow undercover agent. However, it quickly becomes obvious that some shady business is going on inside the facility, something that the prisoners themselves have had enough of. Not long after Jensen's arrival, the situation escalates into a full-blown prison riot.
- In Fleeing the Complex, the fifth installment of the Henry Stickmin Series, Henry and Ellie start one when they release multiple, if not all, prisoners during their escape, leading to total chaos.
- Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number has a level that happens during one.
- Judge Dredd: Dredd vs. Death: Dredd stops an in-progress one at an offshore penitentiary. Unfortunately, during the ensuing chaos the Dark Judges manage to escape from their confinement.
- Can happen in Prison Architect if you aren't careful. If it does happen, it needs to be broken up fast, lest the National Guard get send in, triggering a failure state.
- The final level of The Punisher video game takes place in a prison. Frank has just been arrested, along with the game's main antagonist, Jigsaw. Jigsaw's Yakuza gang attacks the prison to free him, setting off a riot in the process. Frank actually suspected that this would happen, and he uses the opportunity to go after Jigsaw.
- Overlook Penitentiary in Silent Hill: Downpour was the site of a riot. The game suggests that it was instigated by George Sewell in order to cover up the planned murder of Frank Coleridge by Murphy Pendelton.
- In Splinter Cell: Double Agent, Sam uses one as cover to escape from Ellsworth.
- In Star Wars: The Old Republic, the Penal Colony of Belsalvis is suffering from a grand-scale one of these. Justified as Belsalvis is a Hell Hole Prison run by the Republic, ostensibly for "the worst of the worst" criminals, but they're even treating the descendants of the prisoners (who have done no crime at all) as maximum-security inmates! As an Imperial, you side with the prisoners (who are being experimented on with leftover Rakata tech, forced into deathmatch fights for "scientific research," and kept in hellish conditions) and the descendants who are justifiably pissed off at being punished for their ancestors' crimes. As a Republic player, you're helping the guards, against such wonderful captives as mass murderers, Imperial agents, and imprisoned Sith agents (to say nothing of the Esh-kha aliens, who even the Rakatan Infinite Empire saw fit to imprison). Don't expect a lot of good guys on either side.
- The descendants of prisoners and other dependents aren't criminals per se — but the very existence of the prison, let alone its location, composition, etc., are top-level Republic secrets. The poor unfortunates who are born there can either live their lives in virtual imprisonment, or try to leave and thereby become actual criminals. (Or they can work for the Republic, I guess.)
- First mission in Watchmen The End Is Nigh has Night Owl and Rorschach stopping a riot in Sing Sing by beating up everyone in it.
- World of Warcraft
- The first Dungeon most Alliance players will go through involves quelling one in the Stockade. The orchestrator is an Entitled Bastard type who isn't accustomed to the conditions of a prison. Another prisoner involved is the notorious Hoggar.
- The Assault on Violet Hold instance involves the Blue Dragonflight trying to invade Dalaran via the eponymous Violet Hold, where many dangerous prisoners are held. The players have to stop them as they release two prisoners in an attempt to cover it.
- The same thing happens during Legion where the Legion itself tries the same thing.
- Finally, the Vault of the Wardens involves a traitor among the Wardens who has become a pawn of Gul'dan and is now trying to gain the Sargerite Keystone; she unlocks many cells of the prison in order to hinder your advance, but foolishly waits to finish you off simply out of her own amusement.
- A series of earthquakes frees a number of prisoners at one point in Void Domain. Riots naturally ensue.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender
- "Boiling Rock Part 2" has Sokka, Suki, Zuko, and Hakoda planning a riot as part of an escape plan. Hakoda tries to initiate it by approaching a larger, tougher prisoner and pushing him, hard. All this succeeds in doing is hurting the feelings of the other prisoner. Eventually, however, another prisoner named Chit Sang is able to start a riot merely by shouting, "Hey! Riot!" The fact that he picked up a prisoner and threw him at another prisoner immediately afterwards probably helped. And honestly, Chit Sang could probably be a pretty good riot all by himself.
- Iroh breaks himself out of the Tailor-Made Prison during the eclipse, taking advantage of the fact that the guards were bendingless. So was he, but it's not like he needs them.
- Beware the Batman episode "Animal" has Killer Croc and his gang instigate a riot at Blackgate Penitentiary to kidnap The Key, a recent inmate who holds important information useful to Croc. Batman had himself arrested to infiltrate the prison and retrieve The Key before he even knew a riot was about to occur. Harvey Dent actually allows the riot to proceed in the hopes that Batman is killed before Commissioner Gordon overrules him.
- In the Bojack Horseman episode "Our A-Story Is a 'D' Story", Todd Chavez accidentally causes one of these while serving a jail sentence. Earlier, he had gotten recruitment offers from two rival gangs, the Aryan Nation and Latin Kings; being indecisive, he attempted to join both of them. This naturally backfires in the most horrible way possible, when the Aryans and Latins get into a deadly fight that kills several inmates and guards. The chaos concludes with both of the gangs teaming up to try and murder Todd, who's only saved when the prison walls conveniently break open, allowing everyone to escape.
- In The Boondocks episode "A Date with the Booty Warrior", Tom and Ruckus take Huey, Riley, Butch, and four other boys (who were all suspended by their school for fighting) on a Scare 'Em Straight field trip to a local prison. But things soon go very wrong when one of the inmates, the titular Booty Warrior, seizes an opportunity to start a riot; resulting in the prisoners overwhelming the guards and taking over the whole place, and everyone is held hostage. The Booty Warrior pursues Tom in a frantic chase in hopes of anally raping him; while several other inmates (watching over Ruckus and the schoolkids) form a council, where they argue about giving weird demands to the outside world.
- Valve, Gatlocke, Hunter Cain and No-Face in Generator Rex use a prison riot as a cover for their escape in "Enemies Mine". Rex, Six and Bobo have go into the prison to the quell the riot.
- One episode of The Simpsons shows a prison riot happening while Sideshow Bob is trying to make a phone call, which naturally annoys him. Another episode has one going on while Drederick Tatum (A No Celebrities Were Harmed version of Mike Tyson) is calmly eating Jell-o in his cell. He tells them to shut up, and they all quietly go back to their cells. The Simpsons S 16 E 14 The Seven Beer Snitch shows this as a Subverted Trope: the prisoners make it so it seems it's a riot, but in reality they're going to kill Pariah Prisoner Homer Simpson, the prison snitch.
- The penultimate episode of The Spectacular Spider-Man, "Opening Night", has the Green Goblin creating a riot at Ryker's Island when Spider-Man volunteers to test out the supervillain holding cell known as The Vault. Goblin frees both regular inmates and supervillains to kill Spider-Man. Too bad he didn't count on Black Cat breaking into the prison for her own agenda.
- Season four episode Deception of Star Wars: The Clone Wars has a prison riot as a cover up for an escape. Obi Wan, disguised as a convicted bounty hunter, starts a prison riot as he, Moralo Eval, and Cad Bane, escapes their prison so they can kidnap the Chancellor.
- Obi Wan stops the pair, of course.
- Fun fact: Moralo hired a young Boba Fett, who was incarcerated from events earlier in the series, to start a scuffle with Obi Wan.