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The Most Manipulative Characters in Film

Updated June 14, 2019 3.2k votes 851 voters 46.6k views20 items

List RulesVote 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.
  • Photo: 20th Century Fox
    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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    • Photo: Columbia Pictures

      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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      • Photo: Mean Girls / Paramount Pictures

        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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        • Photo: Rysher Entertainment/Paramount Pictures
          How could this young, sweet, bumbling, simple altar boy possibly kill a priest in cold blood? Ed Norton wowed audiences with his big screen debut in 1996's  Primal Fear. Stampler convinces a court of law, his own lawyer, and of course every audience member of his innocence.
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