All resistances are against The Empire. Only evil governments provoke rebellion. No matter their hold over information, striking against the authority will never be wrong. In the land of tropes, the revolution will not be vilified. It is always a force for the good, freedom, equality, freedom, justice, freedom, and democracy. And freedom. (For Great Justice, of course.)
This isn't necessarily an unrealistic trope, as rebellions and revolutions almost never happen for no reason at all. They're usually the expression of real (or at least perceived), preexisting problems and grievances, often founded on economic inequality or long-lasting cultural discrimination. Revolutionaries tend to be people who are sick of bad conditions and they're demanding something better, and it's easy to sympathize with them.
Having said that, reality is complicated. Sometimes the rebels have misread the situation, for instance believing that the government has caused all their problems when actually the government had nothing to do with it. And if the government really is evil or incompetent, that doesn't necessarily mean that the revolutionaries actually know how to fix it. Sometimes they establish a new government that's just as bad as the old government.
For instance, Animal Farm (based on the Russian Revolution) depicts the animals revolting against a corrupt establishment and establishing a new government with a new leader...and then the new leader turns out to be a murderous tyrant. Oops. Less destructive examples usually involve the revolutionaries breaking into factions, where each faction has a different idea of how to run things now that the old regime has been defeated, and they can't agree on a common plan even if they all have good intentions. This may even lead to a civil war among the revolutionaries.
If things go bad, the new regime may have to confront a lot of pissed off government workers, businesses, and common folk who didn't want a war in the first place. All that unrest might produce a new crop of revolutionaries...who might just end up repeating the exact same mistakes.
(Try not to confuse "Revolution" and "Rebellion". All revolutions are rebellions against the established order, but all rebellions need not be revolutions. Rebellions are driven mostly in opposition to the existing system without necessarily an idea in place to replace the new regime. Rebellions can even include military and parliamentary coups which are usually not seen as positive examples of this trope. They are also vague, limited in outcome and yet, ironically, they are generally more spontaneous as expressions and reactions of genuine sentiments than a revolutionary program.)
It goes almost without saying that things taking place in the modern day of the country they are made in are as likely to avert this trope as not - just ask Jack Bauer.
Contrast with Full-Circle Revolution, The Remnant, Obligatory War Crime Scene, and the Dark Messiah. See also the related and often confused trope of La Résistance. When the rebels are generally good but hampered by infighting, it's We ARE Struggling Together. For the opposite, when the rebels are anti-heroes or outright villains, see The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized. For the case where the whole conflict really was "civilized" (for better or worse), see Velvet Revolution.
- The entire point of Genesis Climber MOSPEADA (which became the third season of Robotech) was an armed insurgency against the Inbits occupying Earth. Any Inbits that saw the error of their treatment of humans underwent a HeelFace Turn eventually, while those that did not defect became progressively more genocidal in attempting to wipe out the human resistance.
- The rebel group Katharon from the second season of Mobile Suit Gundam 00 is basically fighting the good fight, standing up for the neglected (and sometimes downright oppressed) Middle Eastern countries and going against the oppressive Earth Sphere Federation.
- The Anti-Earth Union Group from the earlier series Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam fills much the same role, standing against the oppressive Titans.
- And Terminal in Mobile Suit Gundam SEED, who fights against Blue Cosmos which controls the Earth Alliance and the dogmatic army of ZAFT which plans to cull the Natural Population
- The pilots in Mobile Suit Gundam Wing attack OZ and Earth Sphere Alliance military bases in order to secure independence for the space colonies. But while the series makes it clear that war is a terrible thing, the pilots are treated as the noblest and most heroic characters in the show, While unpleasant, their actions are portrayed as totally justified, and the only people who refer to the organization that funds or controls the Gundams as terrorists are OZ officials when they're lying to the media. And the original plan was to deliver a Colony Drop and have the Gundams mop up the survivors, they opted for this option instead.
- It is worth noting however, that while the pilots are treated as being noble because of their role as people who, particularly in the first arc, carry out orders rather than actively making decisions, the series doesn't attempt to depict their tactics as being any less violent, aggressive and deceitful than their enemies, frequently more so. In the first four episodes the audience sees: Heero conclude that the safest option to avoid detection is to shell a civilian aircraft, Heero try to murder an unarmed civilian, Wufei kill a dormitory full of trainees in their sleep with explosives and Duo blow up part of a hospital in order to rescue Heero. From the standpoint of Earth's residents, the Gundam pilots are nothing more than romanticized terrorists for the first ten or so episodes.
- The League Militaire of Victory Gundam fights only to protect the Earth and space colonies from being taking over by the crazed bloodthirsty fanatics of the Zanscare Empire since the Earth Federation is no longer able to do so.
- All these are an interesting reversal from the original Mobile Suit Gundam series, in which the antagonists are the ones looking for independence.
- Mustang's rebellion in Fullmetal Alchemist has Mustang and crew trying to take on a good portion of Central Army without killing a single person to do it. Olivier Mira Armstrong mocks Mustang for this since her soldiers are at least willing to kill. Their opponent is The Empire who has slaughtered their own civilians, waged war since it was founded, and plans to sacrifice everyone in the country.
- Though, in Roy's defense, it quickly becomes clear that most of the regular soldiers have no idea what their superiors are planning to do and are only doing what they truly and honestly believe to be the right thing. And are severely ticked off when they find out the truth and ripped off their badges and threw them in the corrupt officers face. A lot of them have Heel Realizations after hearing Central Commands plans and realizing that their families and friend will be among the dead.
- For all its attempts at down-to-earth gritty realism, the revolutionaries in Fang of the Sun Dougram are always portrayed in a sympathetic light, while authority figure Donan Cassim is presented as the bad guy but is so good-intentioned that he borders on being a Designated Villain.
- The AKB0048 are portrayed as a heroic rebel group dedicated to restoring to bringing back entertainment and cheap clean FTL drives for everyone against an evil Corporate Government.
- Both the government and the anti-government rebellion in Area 88 are portrayed as essentially good people who just couldn't agree over certain issues. Then again, Area 88 isn't really about the Aslani Civil War, but the dehumanising and destructive effects war has on people. And awesome dogfights.
- Wonder Woman (1987): Diana's Slave Revolt turned revolution is a bunch of escaped slaves and sympathizers fighting the Kreel Empire to abolish their slavery practices and allow woman to be citizens, and the core group does their level best to do so without any casualties as they are led by Diana. They are not all treated as saints and some of them have very checkered backgrounds but their cause and their methods are the opposite of villainous.
- The Patriot plays it straight, in best Hollywood tradition. The noble Ragtag Bunch of Misfits shooting surrendering British soldiers is all but glossed over, and the various atrocities of the British army are actually fabricated much of the time.
- The Galactic Empire in Star Wars is remarkably evil, what with the racist motives and the Earth-Shattering Kaboom. The Rebellion, on the other hand, wore halos. This was eventually fleshed out in the Expanded Universe with both sides kicking or petting the dog. However the Rebellion is still much better. This is explored in Rogue One; quite a lot of blood is being spilled in the background in order to keep the leadership's hands clean.
- Pan's Labyrinth: A historical exception to the "If the revolutionaries are wearing brown, they're the bad guys" which tells us a bit about the sorting algorithm of political ideologies: If you want the Dirty Commies to be the good guys, the bad guys pretty much have to be fascists. We still see them doing the old "line up soldiers to shoot them in the head" shtick that the fascist military was doing itself earlier.
- Played painfully straight in Black Mama, White Mama. The government is a dog-raping bureaucracy that is really just another gang, and the revolutionaries are Big Damn Heroes, with a Che Guevara-like leader, and aided by a beautiful, blond American woman. The film never goes into much detail about exactly why the government is so bad, or what exactly what the guerillas are fighting for. It was the 70's though!
- In Sleeping Dogs, though two members of La Résistance were revealed to have framed an innocent man (the main character, Smith) for a bombing, the guerrillas overall are portrayed being better by far than the brutal Special Police Force they fight.
- The Battleship Potemkin and any other Soviet depiction of the Russian Revolution. For obvious reasons, Western depictions (which are quite rare) will usually portray it as a Full-Circle Revolution.
- Warren Beatty's Reds, a biopic of American communist John Reed which defends the Russian Revolution and portrays the Bolsheviks sympathetically, though still marred with flaws of bureaucratic fussiness, whose authoritarian nature also irritates other leftists.
- Some film versions of Les Misérables made at points of anti-Communist hysteria, portray Enjolras as a dangerous kook and Marius as a wide-eyed innocent caught up in his overzealous mission. This trope is however played straight in the highly popular Les Misérables (2012)'' where Enjolras is portrayed in the same manner as Victor Hugo's original vision.
- Spartacus by Stanley Kubrick, Dalton Trumbo and Kirk Douglas portrays the Third Servile War as a fight between the slaves and The Roman Republic. Spartacus and his fellow ex-gladiators initially fight for their freedom from bondage, and escape from Rome, but they don't seem to have any desire to topple the Republic and establish an abolitionist regime. The historical record is fuzzy on this point.
- Viva Zapata! by Elia Kazan was an attempt at reconstructing this trope. Kazan had become an ex-communist but he believed that genuine revolutionary change was a good thing to strive for. In the film Zapata after succeeding in his rebellion takes office but worries that he'll become a tyrant like he once opposed, so he resolves to fight and live among the people inspiring them from below rather than above.
- Wild Wind has the good Communist partisans against the evil Nazis. The only partisan who disobeys orders and shoots the prisoners is put on trial and shot by his commander.
- In Victor Hugo's Les Misérables, of course the heroes of the French Revolution proper and the meager student rebellion of the book's later chapters are portrayed as heroic defenders of the common man, right down to the token drunkard. To balance the scale, however, the saintly and sympathetic Bishop of Digne is described as a once-noble victim of the Revolution of 1789, and early in the book has a debate with a dying revolutionary regarding who deserves more pity, the oppressed and hated poor, or the nobles who are murdered for a crime that is not their fault. The poor win.
- Deconstructed and reconstructed in the Inheritance Cycle. Oromis challenges Eragon to explain why he opposes the Empire. Most of the Empire's subjects, Oromis points out, are decent people and a war would have negative consequences for them. Eragon counters that unless Galbatorix is overthrown, his rule will never end, so upheaval over a single time is better than an eternity of oppression.
- In Michael Flynn's Spiral Arm novel On the Razor's Edge, Gidula tells Donovan that his own attack, in his pre-amnesiac days as Padaborn, had killed many innocents, but they can stage a more effective one.
- The Crimson Shadow: The Eriadorans' rebellion is against an evil wizard king and his minions for their freedom. It's never once shown as anything except entirely justified and good.
- Babylon 5:
- Not only is there the big resistance against President Clark, but Mars and Proxima 3 are also rebelling and generally seen as oppressed planets under the thumb of the increasingly fascist Earth Forces.
- Some cells of the Mars Resistance do use terrorist tactics such as bombings that kill civilians (though they take place offscreen). Sheridan's forces tell them in no uncertain terms that this has to stop if they are going to work together. Since they have no chance of winning without coordination, it does.
- Subverted later when rogue telepaths rebel against the Psi-Corps, as while the Psi-Corps are quite literally telepathic Nazi wannabes, the tactics used by the rogues make no distinction in their targets, making it all too easy for Psi-Corps to spin it as wanton terrorism.
- Doctor Who:
- The Doctor tends to end up allied with the resistance against the Evil Totalitarian Despot of the Week, and rarely is the resistance shown as being anything less than favorable.
- In 'The Sunmakers', the 'resistance' — at least initially — are depicted as brutal, self-interested and venal criminals out for themselves rather than any higher purpose; it's only when the Doctor effectively takes over that he starts directing them to a better purpose.
- While this show's revolution is already over and failed, despite the rather ugly mess it caused, it's looked back on rather favorably. We didn't get to see a lot of Alliance oppression before Serenity, but the Academy and the Blue Hands and what they did to River was pretty damned evil. There are some indications that the Browncoats were not all squeaky-clean, though; in "Bushwhacked" an Alliance officer implies that he personally encountered prisoners who had been tortured by Browncoats, and in the tie-in comics there were extremists known as "Dust Devils" who kept on fighting after the war ended, performing terrorist attacks on civilians and soldiers.
- The implication is that, overall, the Alliance wasn't generally tyrannical. It's greatest fault was, as River Tam said in Serenity, that it is "meddlesome." Word of God has it that the Core worlds generally were more progressive than the outlying worlds, and the poor living conditions in the outer worlds were unnecessary. The formerly leading worlds of the Independents are the ones with aristocracy and slavery (though the connection isn't clearly drawn in Firefly). Malcolm Reynolds is an Antihero, but his desire for independence is set against the tendency of the Alliance to overreach, which could lead to disaster.
- Politibongo: This German children's TV show cranks this trope up to 11. The revolution might be stupid and constantly messing things up which their contact on earth as to fix for them, but they never are evil.
- Revolution: Played with. The Monroe Republic is a dictatorship that will terrorize and kill anyone who dares to stand up to them. A number of the rebels are genuinely good. Episode 2 shows that the rebels are considered traitors and terrorists by Monroe. Episode 3 shows that any rebel who sells out his comrades will be killed by the militia in short order, and the rebels will generally not have any sympathy for any member of the militia, former or otherwise. Episode 5 shows that the rebels have little teamwork between them, with one of them willing to blow up a train to kill off militia officers...and a civilian. Episode 9 shows that the rebels are willing to rough up Miles Matheson in interrogation and have even adopted military ranks...too bad they didn't notice that a mole had been in their ranks for years. Episode 11 has Monroe deciding to exterminate every single rebel in the Monroe Republic. Episode 13 shows that the rebels are not going to show mercy to any militia member they capture, but the militia is generally unsympathetic anyway. Episode 14 onward has the rebels and 200 Georgian soldiers working together to fight Monroe, making the number 300. Unfortunately, episode 17 has one drone strike kill off so many men that the number goes down from 300 to 30. It's not clear how many of those 30 men were rebels and Georgians. Finally, episode 18 has the rebel leader Wayne Ramsay killed off. All in all, you can generally root for the resistance, but they are certainly not angels.
- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine downplayed this overall. The Bajorans' main claim to the moral high ground in their ultimately successful guerrilla war to drive out the Cardassians is that they were defending against a brutal foreign occupation involving concentration camps, genocide, forced prostitution, religious persecution, and pillaging of artistic and cultural resources. However, several episodes take pains to point out that the Bajorans were hardly angels themselves, being just as willing to kill Cardassian civilians as they were soldiers and in some cases attempting to continue the fight against the Cardassians after they had already withdrawn.
- Star Trek: Voyager: Subverted in the episode "Resistance". Instead of the usual selfless support of outsider Good Guys, the underground battling the despotic Mocra only help Voyager's crew in exchange for payment in medical supplies, and aren't the least bit interested in helping free Tuvok and B'Elanna from prison. As their leader points out: "If I could get people out of there, I'd free my own first!" In fact, Voyager effectively subverted this trope several times. The episodes "Nightingale" and "Flesh and Blood" both involve a crew member attempting to help a resistance group, only to find out the situation is more complicated than good rebels vs. evil empire.
- Hamilton portrays the American Revolution as a just cause of revolution against an oppressive English government (to the point that King George III outright says that he'll kill the revolutionaries' friends and families to get them to fall in line). Thus, all the actions taken by Hamilton and Co. against the English (the Boston Tea Party, stealing British cannons, etc) are justified, and when Samuel Seabury offers a contrasting opinion (that all Americans don't necessarily agree with the Revolution), he is talked down and mocked for his beliefs.
- Like the above Literature example, Les Misérables portrays a France post-Revolution of 1830, where the populace is angry with the new king and already ready to rebel once more. Les'Amis del ABC are brave, noble revolutionaries, and even the worst among them, the token drunk Grantaire, is still dedicated to the cause enough to fight and die along with the rest of them. Justified in that many of the revolution scenes are adapted from and inspired by scenes from the book, which were taken directly from author Victor Hugo's own experience with the June Rebellion of 1832, making it Truth in Television.
- Subverted by Javert and the Thenardiers, who each pretend to be revolutionaries for their own purposes - Javert to crush the rebellion and the Thenardiers to line their pockets with the belongings of the dead students.
- In the Mega Man Zero series, Zero is found by the Resistance to Neo Arcadia, an empire that Zero's friend X (hero of the previous series) created with the best of intentions, only for it to go bad after he left. The Resistance is full of spunky, heroic types with French names, and they're always in the right — with one major subversion. Elpizo, the leader in Mega Man Zero 2, is zealous and aggressive; when his new methods fail, he goes nuts and becomes the game's Big Bad.
- In Mega Man X: Command Mission, there's a Rebellion, and they're not very nice guys. But there's also a Resistance to the Rebellion, and they're swell. X gladly helps them fight the Rebellion... until the big twist, when it turns out that BOTH groups are basically good and have been manipulated by The Man Behind the Man.
- Deus Ex: The National Secessionist Forces (NSF) begin the game clearly portrayed as The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized, terrorists who blew up the Statue of Liberty and don't hesitate to threaten innocent civilians for their cause. As the game progresses, it turns out that the NSF really are mostly heroic, and were framed for the bombings by an evil government conspiracy, while the hostage situations were desperation tactics from panicked individual grunts.
- Also the French Silhouette are portrayed like a bunch of young and relatively harmless idealists, who limit their action to information warfare. In the sequel they win and immediately join the Illuminati to introduce hidden authoritarian government.
- City of Heroes both averts this and plays it straight with the Praetorian Resistance faction. On one hand, many Resistance Crusaders engage in acts of deliberate terrorism. While the Warden faction of the Resistance tends to be more heroic, the Crusader faction is far more visible than the innocent doctors and reporters trying to protect the people from Cole and his cronies (and on occasion their own comrades). On the other hand, Cole really is as evil as the Resistance makes him out to be, and by the end of the Neutropolis quest chains, even Responsibility Loyalists are horrified by his plans.
- What Could Have Been: Issue 24 would have dealt with Calvin Scott's last gasp. Embittered by the revelation that his marriage to Aurora Borealis, the woman he founded the resistance to save, was just a delusion, Scott redirects his rebellious tendencies onto Primal Earth at the urging of the Council. The Moral Event Horizon is crossed when he drops a bomb onto the First Ward Refugee Island, nearly killing the people he wants to "save". The Resistance definitely isn't wouldn't have been blue skies and grannies anymore.
- Played with in Yggdra Union. Yggdra and her army are unambiguously good people who believe that they're doing the right thing. Yggdra's enemies, Gulcasa and his army, are exactly the same. Both characters are revolutionaries—Gulcasa overthrew his country's corrupt government via coup d'etat; Yggdra seeks to reclaim her country from Gulcasa's invasion—but Gulcasa is a Well-Intentioned Extremist who believes he has to conquer the world to save the poor and weak, and Yggdra has been raised since birth to believe that she has an Omniscient Morality License. The body count by the end of the game includes almost every character who isn't in Yggdra's army. The narrative doesn't hesitate to call you out repeatedly.
- Red Faction and Red Faction: Guerrilla, Ultor and the Earth Defense Force are absolutely evil tyrants who have NO redeeming personalities and the revolution rarely commits acts of genuine evil. Red Faction 2 is slightly more ambiguous.
- Subverted in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. The game starts with the player and some Stormcloak rebels ending up victims of the Empire. (The player almost gets beheaded despite not being a rebel.) This gives the player a positive view of the Stormcloaks. But as the game progresses, it soon turns into a Grey and Grey Morality situation as it's shown the Stormcloaks and the Imperials both have their flaws. The Stormcloaks' leader is racist and stubborn, but the Empire is oppressing a religion at the behest of the super racist Thalmor. (The Empire agreed to outlaw Talos worship in the White-Gold Concordat.) Both sides are happy to kill the other and the civil war means that the Empire may be less able to defend itself against the Thalmor.
- The Militia of the Frontier in Titanfall only want the iron-fisted IMC out of their homeworlds while the IMC are regularly seen committing atrocities against non-militants.
- The Vendrien Guard in Tyranny is fighting a heroic but doomed struggle against the forces of Kyras.
- In Detroit: Become Human, the android rebellion can be pacifistic if Markus makes peaceful choices (like using graffiti instead of destroying property, choosing calm language when making speeches, sparing human lives, etc.) North is against the idea of peace, as she believes humans are incapable of negotiating, but Josh supports it. In fact, the game itself seems to be pushing a peaceful rebellion, as it's the only way that has a chance of every character surviving.
- Dungeon Munchies features a revolt by sentient, mutated plants against their guardian deity, the Lord Protector. They ally themselves and support the player character, as they work for the Lord Protector's archnemesis, Simmer. Much more sympathetic than other examples as the Lord Protector really has no interest in protecting her plant followers.
- In Homestuck, what little we've seen of Alpha!Rose and alpha!Dave's actions as La Résistance against Betty Crocker/The Condesce have been portrayed as completely justified and reasonable. To be fair, when your opponent is trying to enslave the earth and is accidentally killing everyone in the process, it's pretty hard to do worse. It also might help that all our information so far comes from Dirk, who looks up to alpha!Dave pretty heavily.
- In The Doctors of the Cat Family the leader of the revolution is OK with Thomas healing their captured enemies.
- Fairly OddParents' take on the American Revolution goes into this trope rather shamelessly. They even show what modern-day America would be like, were it still under British rule; a nation of bad-toothed Evil Brits stuck in the early 19th century, and still regularly ravaged by the taxman.
- She-Ra: Princess of Power led an example of a good rebellion...though with the majority of her Rogues Gallery being even more incompetent than that of her Spear Counterpart He-Man with a 0% Approval Rating to boot, it's a wonder she wasn't running Etheria by the end of the first season.
- The Freedom Fighters from Sonic Sat AM are a strictly heroic group that is trying to overthrow the evil Dr. Robotnik. Technically however this is a counter-revolution, as they are lead by a princess who happens to be the daughter of the king Robotnik deposed in his revolution.
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003): The corrupt ruler of the Triceraton Empire is eventually overthrown by a rebellion, led by a heroic former gladiator (with a little help from the Turtles themselves).
Prime Leader: This is revolution!
Traximus: Revolution is usually what happens...when the world needs to change.
- Steven Universe: The Crystal Gems are the members of a Servant Race who Turned Against Their Masters to prevent Homeworld from destroying all life on Earth to make new gems and a colony. Homeworld is expansionist, wanted to wipe the Crystal Gems out entirely, treat their own members as expendable and interchangeable, and committed atrocities such as resurrecting the dead to create a Weapon of Mass Destruction and inflicting The Corruption on most of their enemies—along with much of their own forces. The Crystal Gems have an essentially defensive mission, took their enemies alive whenever possible (i.e. most of the time because of gems' regenerative abilities), and most of them joined their leader's cause because they were treated with respect and dignity. Bismuth wanted to take the Crystal Gems into shadier territory, planning to deliberately kill enemy gems as a means to topple Homeworld's leadership, but Rose put a stop to that (and apparently reigned in anyone else who felt similarly).
- "Treason doth never prosper. What's the reason?
For if it prosper, none dare call it 'treason.'"