film characters The Most Manipulative Characters in Film

Ann Casano
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List Rules Vote up the most manipulative film characters.

The word "manipulative" has a natural negative connotation to it. To manipulate does not just mean to convince. It implies an influence by deception, to unfairly control a person by exploiting them. Therefore, when we think of the most manipulative movie characters in cinema history, we immediately think of villains. A good guy doesn’t manipulate; he persuades or influences. But a bad guy deceives, lies, and schemes. 

These manipulative film characters are not just your everyday antagonist. Somehow, through their sheer evil, they’ve learned to plot and maneuver in order to not only work the perfect scam, but in many instances get away with their crimes in the end. Think about Keyser Söze (The Usual Suspects), Aaron Stampler (Primal Fear), and John Doe (Se7en). Their plans worked to perfection. It’s almost chilling to think that such evil could come out on top, especially in the movies, where the bad guy almost always loses in the end.

Of course, we can’t fault the manipulators in movies who don’t get to ride off into the sunset. Darth Vader was never supposed to use the Force to defeat Luke Skywalker. It’s not part of that story's mythology. But we still can’t deny Vader’s manipulative powers to control in the name of the Dark Side.

Make your voice heard. Vote up your picks for the most manipulative film characters ever.
Keyser Söze is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Most Manipulative Characters in Film
Photo: Spelling Films International
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Keyser Söze


"The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist. And like that, poof. He's gone." Not only does Verbal Kint (Kevin Spacey) convince Agent Kujan (Chazz Palminteri) that he is nothing more than a pathetic, low-level pawn, but he convinces every person who has ever watched The Usual Suspects of the exact same thing.

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Film: The Usual Suspects

Actor: Scott B. Morgan

Also Ranked

#65 on The Best Movie Villains of All Time

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Hannibal Lecter is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Most Manipulative Characters in Film
Photo: NBC
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Hannibal Lecter


We only see the beginning of Hannibal Lecter's psychopathic behavior in The Silence of the Lambs. In the sequel, Hannibal, the power of Lecter's evil intelligence is fully on display. He easily manipulates Mason's assistant into killing his boss (Gary Oldman). He even brainwashes strong-willed FBI agent Clarice Starling (Julianne Moore). Thankfully most criminals are not as intelligent as Lecter.

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Film: Hannibal, The Silence of the Lambs, Red Dragon, Hannibal Rising Manhunter

Actor: Anthony Hopkins, Gaspard Ulliel, Brian Cox, Goran Kostic

Also Ranked

#4 on The Best Oscar-Winning Actor Performances, Ranked

#4 on The Very Best Oscar Winning Performances

#25 on The Best TV Villains of All Time

#20 on The Most Likeable TV Anti-Heroes

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Tyler Durden is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Most Manipulative Characters in Film
Photo: 20th Century Fox
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Tyler Durden


Okay, so maybe Tyler Durden from Fight Club was not a "real character" but instead an alter ego. Still, Durden's persona was so strong that it turned The Narrator (Ed Norton) from an apathetic, mindless consumer into a vigilante who recruited lost men to help him blow up the financial world.

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Film: Fight Club

Actor: Brad Pitt

Also Ranked

#3 on The Most Likable Movie Antiheroes

#19 on Movie Tough Guys Without Super Powers or a Super Suit

#49 on The Best Movie Villains of All Time

#42 on The Best Fictional Characters You'd Leave Your Man For

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Darth Vader is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Most Manipulative Characters in Film
Photo: menj/Flickr
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Darth Vader


Darth Vader is the most iconic villain in the Star Wars franchise, even though he's only the main bad guy in three of them (four, if you want to be pedantic and count Revenge of the Sith). But arguably his most manipulative moment comes in The Empire Strikes Back when Darth uses Han, Leia, and Chewbacca as bait to lure Luke Skywalker to Cloud City, where Vader lies in wait.

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Film: Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, The Benchwarmers, Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope Once Upon a Jedi, + more

Actor: James Earl Jones, Robert E. Bean, David Prowse

Also Ranked

#66 on The Best TV Villains of All Time

#11 on The Best Movie Characters of All Time

#15 on The Most Likeable TV Anti-Heroes

#2 on The Best Movie Villains of All Time

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Kathryn Merteuil is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list The Most Manipulative Characters in Film
Photo: Columbia Pictures
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Kathryn Merteuil


Rich prep teen Kathryn Merteuil (Sarah Michelle Gellar) makes a wager by seduction with her stepbrother Sebastian (Ryan Phillippe) in Cruel Intentions (1999). She manipulates the innocent Annette (Reese Witherspoon) and Cecil (Selma Blair) by pretending to be their friend and also owns Sebastian by way of her seductive machinations. Kathryn is a vile person, yet even the spectator easily falls prey to her delicious wickedness.

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Film: Cruel Intentions 2, Cruel Intentions

Actor: Amy Adams, Sarah Michelle Gellar

Also Ranked

#35 on The Greatest Female Villains

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Frank Abagnale Jr. is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list The Most Manipulative Characters in Film
Photo: Amblin Entertainment/DreamWorks Pictures
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Frank Abagnale Jr.


Steven Spielberg's Catch Me If You Can tells the true story of Frank Abagnale, Jr. (Leonardo DiCaprio), a con man who bilked millions of dollars before the age of 20 by writing fake checks. There is no one that Frank cannot con, especially beautiful women. He poses as a pilot, doctor, attorney - whatever it takes to pull off his convincing ruse.

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Film: Catch Me If You Can

Actor: Leonardo DiCaprio

Also Ranked

#4 on Fictional Characters Named Frank

#3 on The Greatest Con Artist Characters in Film

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John Doe is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list The Most Manipulative Characters in Film
Photo: New Line Cinema
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John Doe


In Seven (1995), John Doe (Kevin Spacey) only has two of the seven deadly sins left, envy and wrath, to complete his serial killer masterpiece. In order to achieve his evil plan, he needs to orchestrate a murder scheme so impossible that only a master manipulator could possibly pull it off. He needs Detective Mills (Brad Pitt) to be wrath, to shoot him as he's handcuffed unarmed on the ground. How John Doe is able to do this is the work of pure manipulative evil genius. 

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Film: Seven

Actor: Kevin Spacey

Also Ranked

#22 on The Best Movie Villains of All Time

#18 on Funny Full Names of Nefarious Villains

#17 on Fictional Characters Named John

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Regina George is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list The Most Manipulative Characters in Film
Photo: Paramount Pictures
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Regina George


Regina George (Rachel McAdams) from Mean Girls is the Queen Bee of The Plastics, the most popular group of girls in school. She's basically an evil person who won't let her friends wear sweatpants. She makes lower-level Plastics Gretchen (Lacey Chabert) and Karen (Amanda Seyfried) hate themselves but still finds a way to have them worship her as well. Regina is the classic bully: she's ruthless and heartless, but almost every high school girl still wants to be her.

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Film: Mean Girls

Actor: Rachel McAdams

Also Ranked

#19 on The Greatest Female Villains

#17 on The Biggest Bullies of TV and Film

#32 on The Greatest Kid Characters in Film

#10 on The Best Blonde Villains

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