If there's one thing the demonstrations in Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen show, it's that the power ultimately belongs to the people. And sometimes, that's the power to topple a leader. Considering what's happening in the headlines, we thought we'd take a look at 12 instances of mass uprisings that have taken place in sci-fi movies, TV shows and books.
But first—there's a distinction we want to make: Not all revolts, revolutions and uprisings are created equal, and an armed resistance along the lines of what we see in Independence Day and The Matrix holds different weight when compared to something like labor strikes or resistance seen in films like Metropolis and Moon.
Here are people as a mass group rising up against some form of injustice that they see in their government or rulers above them. They don't have to be spontaneous, but they seek to overthrow or otherwise alter the existing power structure through the only avenue open to them: rebellion, riots and violence.
The Stargate franchise has themes of rebellion and revolution from the movie that started the franchise all the way through the 10 seasons that continued the story. Inspiring people to rise up against their gods in the film, Jack O'Neill, Daniel Jackson and other members of the U.S. Air Force help the people of Abydos free themselves. Years later, when Stargate Command is formed, this becomes a frequent mission as they fight against the Goa'uld across the galaxy.
One of the main themes throughout the show is the enslavement of the Jaffa by the Goa'uld and their struggle for freedom. As SG-1 helps to undercut the powers of the System Lords, more and more Jaffa join their freedom movement, rising up against their gods and, eventually, overthrowing them completely.
Battlestar Galactica, "Bastille Day"
The third episode of Battlestar Galactica has revolution throughout the episode. The title comes from the French national holiday that celebrates the storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789, and features Tom Zarek, a political prisoner and terrorist, as he organizes his fellow prisoners to retake their captors. Members of the Galactica crew are captured in an effort to begin a political revolution throughout the fleet. With hostages in tow, Zarek issues the following statement:
"The crew are my prisoners. They will not be harmed. But I have two conditions before I release my captives. First, the government that controls our fate is illegal and illegitimate, and it must submit to the will of the people. I demand the immediate resignation of Laura Roslin and her ministers. Second, I demand free and open elections to choose a new leadership, and a new government that represents all of the people. These demands are made not for me, or the former slake held on this ship, but for you the people, the survivors of the holocaust and the children of humanity's future."
Babylon 5 is another show that looks to rebellion over the course of the show. There are two major plot lines in the show that feature mass uprisings:
The first is the plight of the Narns, a race enslaved by the Centauri for centuries before rising up to overcome their enemies. Over the events of the show, the Narns find themselves once again overcome by their enemies, leading G'Kar to become an inspirational figure amongst his people as he leads a resistance against the Centauri:
"No dictator, no invader, can hold an imprisoned population by the force of arms forever. There is no greater power in the universe than the need for freedom. Against that power governments, and tyrants, and armies cannot stand. The Centauri learned this lesson once. We will teach it to them again. Though it take a thousand years, we will be free."
Earth finds itself involved with an uprising of its own in the series. Following the election of President Clark in season two, Earth becomes more and more of a police state. As martial law is declared, Mars breaks away from the Earth Alliance with riots and demonstrations, followed by several other territories, including Babylon 5. Eventually, civil war breaks out, and Clark's administration is overthrown.
Star Wars is, at its very core, about revolution and rebellion, and there are many examples where people rise up against an overpowering government throughout the films, television shows and assorted expanded universe.
However, as we're looking for something along the lines of a crowd or mob, one scene comes to mind, separate from the armed resistance that defines most of the series: the celebrations on Coruscant following the death of the Emperor and destruction of the second Death Star. As the scene unfolds, we see people rioting in the streets—stormtroopers are thrown into the air, and statues of the emperor are torn down.
District 9 opens with the arrival of an alien ship over South Africa's Johannesburg, where around a million aliens—Prawns—are discovered and brought down to the surface to live in the city. Tensions rise over the next 20 years, ultimately resulting in riots across South Africa as people turn to violence to turn away the aliens—interviews indicate that people are generally unhappy with the aliens, and want them just to go. Curfews are imposed as violence escalates and the death toll rises throughout Johannesburg, and the Prawns are kept separate from people by fences and paramilitary forces. Eventually a solution is found: a complete removal of the aliens from District 9 to another secure location 200 km away, District 10.
Children of Men
Alfonso Cuarón's dystopian film Children of Men ends in one of the most intense action scenes in a science fiction film with a riot in the Bexhill Refugee Camp. As Theo and Kee break in to escape England, a terrorist organization called the Fishes work to incite an uprising in the refugee camp. There, they move to steal back Kee and her newborn child while inciting people to fight back against Britain's oppressive government. The group successfully manages to get the imprisoned refugees to rise up, and the military is called in to put down the rioters, first with tanks and ground soldiers and later with jets and bombs.
While there are numerous examples of people rebelling against robots, none really fit the specifications of a spontaneous, mass uprising against an established order from the people's side. However, I, Robot has the closest thing as the central A.I. VIKI activates a new robot product line to take over the human race to ensure its "protection." As the robots march on the city streets, large groups of people, armed with torches and clubs, advance on the marching robots, only to be scattered by their superior numbers.
V for Vendetta
V for Vendetta is all about resistance as the mysterious V seeks to usurp the oppressive British government through several public acts of destruction that bring attention of the state to the people. While this doesn't quite count as a normal mob that wreaks havoc, the end does see a large gathering of people, cloaked and disguised as V, with a Guy Fawkes mask, assembling in the streets despite the guns of the army trained on them. The will to act despite orders to the contrary make this scene one of perfect passive resistance that helped to undermine the party's iron grip on Britain.
This receives more of an honorable mention than anything: In the opening of Inception, Saito discovers that he's in a second dream during his audition with Cobb, while outside an angry mob storms the street. There's little context for the purposes of the mob—but the scene does show the violence and destruction that such a group can cause.
The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, Robert Heinlein
Robert Heinlein's Hugo Award-winning novel, published in 1966, starts off with the ideas of revolution from the first pages of the story. In 2075, prisoners are sent to the moon to live out their days, and eventually a growing colonial population grows.
With a growing threat of a food shortage with drastic consequences, Manuel Garcia O'Kelly-Davis (Mannie), HOLMES IV (Mike), Wyoming Knott (Wyoh) and Professor Benardo de la Paz join together to begin a revolution to free the moon from Earth. The revolution begins in 2076, with the lunar population rising up against the token force of soldiers and Authority officials, eventually declaring independence on July 4, 2076.
Coyote, Allen M. Steele
Allen M. Steele's fantastic novel Coyote sees several acts of rebellion throughout the story, but one particular event stands out in the end. In this near-future story, the United States becomes the United Republic of America, an oppressive police state that looks to the stars and a far-off planet to leave a lasting mark in the history books. A ship, the URS Alabama, is created, with a crew to colonize a habitable moon, Coyote.
Following the theft of the Alabama by dissidents, a "chain of events [...] eventually led to the URA being toppled by domestic insurrection." A number of years after the new colonists reach Coyote, they are visited by members of a new society on Earth, the Western Hemisphere Union, a collective that had come up from the ashes of the former United Republic.
Dune, Frank Herbert
Frank Herbert's epic novel contains one of science fiction's best examples of revolt over its storyline. The presumed dead Paul Atreides found safe shelter amongst the Fremen of Arakis, where he becomes a messiah-styled figure, Muad'Dib. Looking into the future, he sees a massive force poised to invade the planet to destroy the Fremen, and under the cover of a sand storm, he and the Fremen attack the capital, overthrowing the Emperor of the Known Galaxy and ascending to replace him. The move sparks revolution throughout the Galaxy, and the Fremen Jihad that he started escalates beyond Atreides' control as a new social order is established throughout the galaxy. While this can fall into the militarized side of things, the Fremen's harsh way of life sees their rebellion as something within ordinary means.
This list is in no way comprehensive, so what other sci-fi examples of domestic and popular uprisings can you think of? Which are your favorites?