The audience is presented with a number candidates for the BigBad, the true source of evil actions.

The writers are playing the Big Bad Shuffle when Bob, the good guy, defeats Big Bad candidate Mr. Corrupton, but learns that Mr. Corrupton was really just being manipulated by Big Bad candidate Dr. Unethik. So Bob, the good guy, [[note]]Who the audience is now thinking might be a Big Bad candidate himself.[[/note]] kills Unethik, but finds out that Unethik was secretly controlled by the Big Bad candidate OmniscientCouncilOfVagueness, which turns out to have Bob's scheming trophy wife as a member and who is now -- you guessed it -- a Big Bad candidate. And so on, with a few station breaks to sell you some of the aspirin you now need.

Tropes by which this can be invoked include TheManBehindTheMan, HiddenVillain, TheDogWasTheMastermind and HijackedByGanon.

Multiple {{reveal}}s and [[TheUnReveal UnReveals]] are mandatory. Contrast BigBadEnsemble, which is when there are several Big Bads operating at once.


[[folder:Anime And Manga]]
* The BigBad of ''Manga/{{Naruto}}'' has, at various points, been: [[MadScientist Orochimaru]] (former [[StandardEvilOrganizationSquad Akatsuki]] member) -> [[GottaCatchEmAll Akatsuki]] itself ([[DragonWithAnAgenda Itachi]] being its most visible player) -> [[PuppetKing Pain]] -> [[JokeCharacter Tobi]] ''[[BigBadEnsemble and]]'' [[WellIntentionedExtremist Danzo]] -> [[MadScientist Kabuto]] [[BigBadDuumvirate and]] [[DeadPersonImpersonation Tobi]] combined -> [[spoiler: [[CameBackStrong Madara]] & [[EvilFormerFriend Obito]] with [[BackFromTheDead Orochimaru]] on the fringes -> [[DarkMessiah Madara]] after throwing Obito away -> [[FallenHero Kaguya]] after stabbing Madara. Given that Kaguya is basically the ninja deity, it's most likely that she is ''actually'' the very last villain. -> Then [[HeelFaceRevolvingDoor Sasuke]] takes the helm after helping Naruto seal Kaguya]].

[[folder:Comic Books]]
* ''ComicBook/VForVendetta'' descends into this once original BigBad Adam Susan is killed.

* Mystique and Bolivar Trask compete for title of villain in ''Film/XMenDaysOfFuturePast''; it's Trask's Sentinels that lead to the BadFuture, but it's Mystique killing him and being captured for experimentation that leads to the Sentinels getting approved by the government. Additionally in the future Trask and Mystique are dead, making it the Sentinels themselves that are the villains. [[spoiler:And then in the past Magneto ends up becoming a ''third'' villain when he tries to kill Mystique, and later the President.]]

* ''Literature/ASongOfIceAndFire'': Good luck guessing who is ultimately behind any given act of villainy.
* So, in the ''Literature/MollyMoon'' series, there's Primo Cell, who's really being controlled by [[spoiler: Lucy Logan, the librarian.]] But then we learn that the real person with the strings is [[spoiler: Cornelius Logan, crossdressing as his sister Lucy.]] Okay... And then in the third book, it turns out [[spoiler: Waqt]] hypnotised [[spoiler: Cornelius]] into his StartOfDarkness. Wow.
* Hoo boy, ''Literature/TheChathrandVoyages'', which could just as easily be called "GambitPileup- The Epic Fantasy", despite the action largely being confined to the eponymous ship. Let's take a look, shall we?
** [[TheSpymaster Sandor Ott]] wants to start a civil war in the Mzithrin Empire by freeing the Mzithrini tyrant and war-criminal [[GodEmperor the Shaggat Ness]] and returning him to his followers.
** [[EvilSorcerer Arunis]] tricked Ott into thinking it was a good idea as part of stage one of a plan to recover the Shaggat's ArtifactOfDoom and [[spoiler: destroy the world]].
** His on and off co-conspirator and rival [[spoiler: and sister]] Macadra wants the same artifact and sent him to get it, but she wants to rule the world [[spoiler: rather than destroy it]].
** The Shaggat himself thinks fate is manipulating all of them to help him fulfil his destiny as a DarkMessiah.
** Master Mugstur is the psychotic, sentient rat who wants to take over the ship at the head of an army of regular rats because he thinks [[CrystalDragonJesus Rin]] wants him to (and eat the Captain's tongue while he's at it).
** Lord Talag is the eight-inch-high {{Chessmaster}} who wants to use the ''Chathrand'' to find his people's lost homeland, then scuttle it there and kill everyone aboard except his followers. He's aided and abetted by his son Taliktrum, who starts plans of his own that quickly spiral out of control.
** [[EldritchAbomination The Swarm of Night]] is the entity Arunis ultimately intends to summon. It doesn't really make anything that can rightly be called "plans" of its own, but the threat it offers to the world is greater than ''all of the above combined'' [[spoiler: and by the end of the third book, it's loose]].
** Needless to say, they all trip over each other at every turn. ''Yikes''.
* ''Literature/WarriorCats'' descends into this in the Dark Forest storyline. Every major villain in the series, and a few new ones, team up to destroy the Clans. The story leads us to think that Tigerstar, Hawkfrost, Brokenstar, or Mapleshade is the villain, without ever giving a definitive answer on who's behind it all. Even Ivypool is confused, and the information she relays to the other characters reflects it. Not that this is a bad thing.

[[folder:Live Action TV]]
* ''Series/{{Angel}}'': Darla wants revenge/reunion with Angel. Her actions prompt Sajhan to pull Holtz through time to kill Angel and Darla both. Holtz betrays Sajhan, who then seeks aid from longtime foes Wolfram & Hart, who play off both Sajhan and Holtz. Sajhan discovers this and banishes Holtz to another reality, then duels Angel. In the aftermath of that battle, Holtz returns with a new means of attacking Angel, while Wolfram & Hart lick their wounds. Who was the Big Bad? Not even JossWhedon could tell you.
** The writers, same as every season.
** A later BigBad takes credit for having set all of it in motion millennia ago as part of their plan to (re)enter and take over the mortal plane. The veracity of the claim is never tested but there's no evidence to dispute it either and several of the events involved would definitly make more sense with some otherworldly party pulling strings behind the scenes.
* ''Series/BurnNotice'' season three started with a BigGood cop as the potential antagonist, then moved on to an AffablyEvil fixer, followed by a PsychoForHire, and culminating with a [[TerroristsWithoutACause Terrorist Without a Cause.]] Apparently feeling that was too easy, the writers in season four go with TheMole, a CorruptCorporateExecutive, a stray SmugSnake, a returning EvilCounterpart, ANOTHER returning EvilCounterpart, all before the reveal of the actual BigBad: [[spoiler: TheMole from the beginning!]]
** And then again in Season 6. First we have the BigBad of Season 5, followed by a ColdSniper, then the EvilMentor, and finally an InspectorJavert.

[[folder:Video Games]]
* The ''Franchise/MetalGear'' games, especially the MindScrew of ''Metal Gear Solid 2'', and the non-canonical ''Ghost Babel'', where the terrorist general, his mercenary [[TheDragon Dragon]]/manipulator, and the U.S. government all mock the others as fools who are just being played by whoever is doing the mocking at the moment.
* Untangling who stands behind whom, with many false leads, is the entire point of ''VideoGame/DeusEx''.
* SuperSmashBrosBrawl, in the Subspace campaign, has... numerous [[BigBad Big Bads]]. This stems partly from the nature of the game - as a lumping together of the respective Nintendo mythologies, all the key villains come with their respective heroes.
* ''VideoGame/{{Myst}}'' has this in spades. The game begins when you meet [[ObviouslyEvil two imprisoned brothers]], each of whom tries to convince you that his brother is the one behind the disappearance of their father. As you complete the various stages to slowly free the brothers, you encounter clues to help you finally decide which of the two is the actual BigBad. [[spoiler: Turns out, [[TakeAThirdOption they BOTH are]].]]
* ''VideoGame/FinalFantasyVII'' introduces Shinra as the {{Megacorp}} oppressing the world. The it turns out Sephiroth is Cloud's ArchNemesis and the real threat. But it turns out the Shinra scientist Hojo created Sephiroth by experimenting on Jenova, but Sephiroth is still the bigger threat than either of them. And the party continues to come into conflict with Shinra throughout the game as they search for Sephiroth.
* ''VideoGame/FinalFantasyVIII'' has the Galbadians and President Deling as the Disc 1 villains, only to kill him off and reveal Sorceress Edea as the real villain at the end of the disc. Then Disc 2 ends with Edea's defeat and Disc 3 reveals she was under DemonicPossession by the ''real'' villain Ultimecia.
* ''VideoGame/FinalFantasyIX''. The BigBad is Queen Brahne. Wait, now it's Kuja! And now it's Garland! Now it's Kuja again! But in the end, it's Necron!
* ''VideoGame/SeikenDensetsu3'' has three possible {{Big Bad}}s, each with their own [[TheDragon dragons]] and {{Mooks}}. About halfway the game, one of them will eliminate the other two (which one depends on your choice of main character), but until that time the whole game is a tangle of their conflicting plots.
* ''VideoGame/BatmanArkhamCity'' has [[PsychoPsychologist Hugo Strange]] and SelfDemonstrating/TheJoker competing for the position of BigBad, [[spoiler: with Ra's al-Ghul proving to be Strange's [[TheManBehindTheMan hidden benefactor]]]].
* ''VideoGame/{{Persona 4}}'' is filled with this. First it seems that [[spoiler:Kubo]] is the killer but [[spoiler:he only killed your teacher and wanted attention]]. The murder attempts continue and you eventually find out that the one doing the deeds was [[spoiler:Namatame]] but then it turns out [[spoiler:that he thought he was doing good and something made him snap]]. The person who made him snap was [[spoiler:Adachi]] who [[spoiler:did the first two killings while Namatame did the rest, plus he threw Kubo in the TV world]]. AND THEN [[spoiler:he gets possessed by Ameno-Sagiri, a creature that had been causing the fog and was using Adachi to raise paranoia and chaos among the town to begin to create a world full of shadows]]. AND FINALLY [[spoiler:Izanami, one of the two gods in Japanese myth that birthed humanity, gave personas to you, Namatame, and Adachi to do what they did for her goals and is the master of Ameno-Sagiri]]. And I'm out of breath...
* The third game in ''VideoGame/TheSecondRealityProject'' series is slated to have this, according to [[ this old thread at SMW Central]]. The first world takes its time to set up the game's premise. Bowser, the BigBad of the first game, returns to the Second Reality with the intention to take back the Power Supply Switch from the Catgoom Kingdom. Then it was discovered that Zycloboo, the second game's BigBad, has been revived, and he too wants the Power Supply Switch. With both villains vying for the switch, Mario and his friends have no choice but to go on a quest to destroy it.

* ''{{Homestuck}}'' does this quite a lot. So, the BigBad and FinalBoss of the Game is the Black King. Except before they can fight him, he gets killed by [[spoiler:Jack Noir]], who's the REAL big bad that all the heroes and other villains are trying to stop. Except [[spoiler:the whole thing was a set-up by Vriska Serket]]. Until it [[spoiler:Jack]] stops following her plans. And then it turns out that they were both under the control of [[spoiler:Doc Scratch]], even though [[spoiler:Jack]] is actually more dangerous than him, except he's not because everything he does is part of The Plan, and it eventually turns out that [[spoiler:Scratch was behind everything]]. BUT WAIT! He was doing everything to summon his Master, [[spoiler:Lord English]], who's actions also provoked the Horrorterrors, pretty much the only party not being manipulated by someone. But then, Act 6 introduces ''even more'' villains while still keeping one or two of the old ones around, [[spoiler:but all of them can be traced back to Lord English]].

[[folder:Western Animation]]
* One episode of ''WesternAnimation/{{Gargoyles}}'' featured six villains, each revealing one after the other that the previous villain wasn't actually that episode's BigBad.