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The Most Manipulative Characters in Film

Updated June 14, 2019 3.0k votes 744 voters 42.7k 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.
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  • 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.

    • Film: Hannibal, The Silence of the Lambs, Red Dragon, Hannibal Rising, Manhunter
    • Actor: Anthony Hopkins, Mads Mikkelsen, Gaspard Ulliel, Brian Cox, Goran Kostic
    295
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    Keyser Söze

    Keyser Söze is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Most Manipulative Characters in Film
    Photo: Spelling Films International
    "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.
    • Film: The Usual Suspects
    • Actor: Scott B. Morgan
    219
    33
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  • Frank Abagnale Jr. is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Most Manipulative Characters in Film
    Photo: Amblin Entertainment/DreamWorks Pictures

    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.

    • Film: Catch Me If You Can
    • Actor: Leonardo DiCaprio
    184
    35
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  • John Doe is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Most Manipulative Characters in Film
    Photo: Se7en / New Line Cinema

    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. 

    • Film: Seven
    • Actor: Kevin Spacey
    176
    32
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