film characters The Most Manipulative Characters in Film  

Ann Casano
617 votes 172 voters 7.9k views 20 items Follow Embed

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.
Hannibal Lecter is listed (or ranked) 1 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

#23 on The Best TV Villains of All Time

#25 on The Most Likeable TV Anti-Heroes

#15 on The Best Movie Characters of All Time

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

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Keyser Söze is listed (or ranked) 2 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

#70 on The Best Movie Villains of All Time

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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

#4 on The Most Likable Movie Antiheroes

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

#51 on The Best Movie Villains of All Time

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

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Kathryn Merteuil is listed (or ranked) 4 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.

More About

Film: Cruel Intentions 2, Cruel Intentions

Actor: Amy Adams, Sarah Michelle Gellar

Also Ranked

#36 on The Greatest Female Villains

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