The audience is presented with a number of 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.

'''Warning: expect spoilers!'''
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!!Examples:

[[foldercontrol]]

[[folder:Anime And Manga]]
* The Android Saga of ''Anime/DragonBallZ'' starts off with Androids 20 and 19 as the villains. Then it's revealed that they aren't the androids responsible for defeating the Z-Fighters in the future. Right after Androids 17 and 18 are introduced and kill Android 20/Dr. Gero. They look to be the true villains until Cell appears and absorbs them both, solidifying himself as the BigBad of the saga.
* 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]] (the leader of Akatsuki) -> [[NotSoHarmlessVillain 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 -> [[HeelFaceRevolvingDoor Sasuke]] after helping Naruto seal Kaguya -> [[KnightTemplar Toneri]] when he tries to crash the Moon into the Earth -> [[EvilVersusEvil Momoshiki Otsutsuki]], who is Kaguya's rival in monopolizing chakra]].
* ''Anime/KillLaKill'' starts off with StudentCouncilPresident [[KnightTemplar Satsuki Kiryuin]] as the BigBad. Halfway through, it's revealed that Satsuki actually been working to fight the real BigBad, her mother, Ragyo Kiryuin, who is also TheDragon to the [[GreaterScopeVillain Primordial Life Fiber]]. After both are destroyed, Ragyo's assistant Rei [[DragonAscendant ascends to the role]] in the final episode, at least until [[spoiler:Satsuki convinces her to pull a HeelFaceTurn]].
* In ''Manga/FairyTail'', [[BigBadWannabe Jellal]] starts out as the apparent BigBad of the series. Then it turns out he's being manipulated by his right-hand woman [[ManipulativeBitch Ultear]], who is actually TheDragon to Hades. When Hades steps in as the BigBad, he wants to get [[GreaterScopeVillain Zeref]] to become the BigBad. Then it turns out Zeref was always the BigBad, but [[AwakenTheSleepingGiant he just didn't feel like doing anything until this point]]. He's challenged by [[BigBadEnsemble two other powerful enemies]]: Acnologia, whom he wants to kill; and E.N.D., [[DeathSeeker whom he wants to be killed by]].
* ''Anime/YuGiOh5Ds'', the initial antagonists are Jack Atlas, TheRival, and Sector Security and their leader, Rex Godwin. Then in the second half of Season 1 the heroes find out Rex has been recruiting the heroes to fight the Dark Signers and his brother Roman, the ''real'' villains. Then Rex becomes a Dark Signer as well and becomes the FinalBoss of the season. Next season the Three Emperors of Yliaster become the main antagonists, and it is revealed Roman and Rex were their puppets they manipulated. The Three Emperors in turn are working for the leader of Yliaster, Z-one. It is also revealed that the BigBad of the 10th Anniversary film, Paradox, was another member of Yliaster.
[[/folder]]

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

[[folder:Film]]
* 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, making ''her'' the one whose EvilPlan needs to be stopped. 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 decides to kill Trask and the President.]]
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Literature]]
* ''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.
** Very much so in ''Literature/WarriorCatsDawnOfTheClans'' . The first novel sets up [[spoiler: Clear Sky]] as a villain. This continues throughout the second and third novel. However, Clear Sky [[MyGodWhatHaveIdone regrets his actions]] and tries to makes up for them. The fourth book introduces One-Eye and [[spoiler: Star Flower]] as villains, with the former [[spoiler: dying]] that very book. In the fifth book, we are introduced to Slash, and the story makes Star Flower's choice of side unclear. By the last book, Slash is the final boss, and Star Flower is good.
* ''Literature/TheDeathGateCycle'' begins with one BigBad, [[SorcerousOverlord Lord Xar]] (though the [[VillainProtagonist main character]] is his [[TheDragon Dragon]]), but as it goes on picks up more main villains with increasingly complicated relationships. The {{necromancer}} [[OmnicidalManiac Kleitus]] is the ruler of [[OurLichesAreDifferent the lazar]] and despises all life and seeks its destruction; when Xar encounters Kleitus he manages to defeat him and force him into servitude, but Kleitus hangs around mostly for the chance to [[TheStarscream kill Xar while his back is turned]] while trying to manipulate him for his own ends. [[TheHeartless The Serpents]] are a timeless force of evil who feed off chaos and negative emotions, and willingly subordinate themselves to Xar in the hopes of manipulating him into causing unprecedented destruction - their leader is [[BiggerBad the Royal One]], but he rarely shows up and plays little direct role, leaving the position of TheHeavy and TheFace of Serpents as a faction to [[TheCorrupter Sang-drax]]. Sang-drax and Kleitus don't get along and are seen to try and manipulate Xar in opposite directions, while Xar himself trusts neither of them and generally does what they want only insofar as its suits his goals. ''Then'' there is [[KnightTemplar Samah]] (who is replaced by his son [[DragonAscendant Ramu]] after he dies) who opposes Xar and is ''also'' working with the Serpents, who like to play both sides wherever possible. Needless to say, when they all crash into each other, the worlds barely survive.
* In the ''Literature/ErebusSequence'', it takes until the end of the second book (of three) to be clear on exactly who the main villain is. The King and the Majordomo each seem dismissive of the other's belief that they're the one in charge, and apparent new primary threats (the reactionary Fonteins, the increasingly tyrannical Domina, etc.) turn out to be manipulated by the then-thought-dead Majordomo.
* ''The Ascendant Kingdoms Saga'' has, at various points, [[OurVampiresAreDifferent Pentreath Reese]], [[EvilSorcerer Vigus Quintrel]] [[spoiler: or rather, the demonic being controlling Quintrel]] and [[ShroudedInMyth Thrane]] as architects of different plots trading off the role of main threat; [[AristocratsAreEvil Lord Vedran Pollard]] is TheHeavy of the series and works with or for all three of the above at various points [[DragonWithAnAgenda to advance his own ambitions]], and [[SorcerousOverlord Nagok]] has a similar relationship with Thrane alone. [[spoiler: However, several characters speculate that Thrane may have been responsible for the magical cataclysm that set the MythArc in motion; if this is true, that probably cements him as ''the'' BigBad of the Saga]].
[[/folder]]

[[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 Creator/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.
* Dai Shi is the initial and eventual Big Bad of ''PowerRangersJungleFury'', though the title shuffles frequently. Carnisoar, Jellica and Grizzaka all take their turns on the throne, and it initially looks like the Phantom Beasts are going to take over before they betray Jellica and Dai Shi takes back his title.
[[/folder]]

[[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''.
* ''VideoGame/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.
** To elaborate, it at first seems that the Subspace Army is led by the Ancient Minister with Bowser and Wario working with them to take out the other fighters and collect them in their trophy forms. [[spoiler: King Dedede]] is also collecting trophied fighters, but he's competing with the other villains [[spoiler: and it turns out he's GoodAllAlong as he was collecting the fighters so that he could give them timed badges that would revive them in case all the fighters were wiped out.]] Then it turns out that the real leader of the Subspace Army is [[spoiler: Ganondorf and Ancient Minister was ForcedIntoEvil in order to protect the R.O.B.s.]] THEN it turns out [[spoiler: Ganondorf and the other fighters working with the Subspace Army were working under the Master Hand, who was in turn being controlled by the true Big Bad, Tabuu, the lord of Subspace.]]
* ''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!
** The lattermost is more just the FinalBoss - s/he/it has no involvement in the plot until then and isn't actually orchestrating anything (Necron is implicitly a personification of death/the reaper... probably).
* ''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.
* AssassinsCreed: The Templars/Abstergo are the oldest enemies of the Assassins and seem a lock for the position of {{Big Bad}}s. But that's before you learn the AbusivePrecursors who made the Pieces of Eden. Even then, it's a toss-up between [[spoiler: Minerva and Juno]] until the end of III, which pretty clearly cements the latter.
* ''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...
* ''VideoGame/{{Persona 3}}'' is similar. At first the Full Moon Shadows serve as the collective BigBad of the game, being the source of the Dark Hour. Then you meet Strega, a fellow group of Persona users who want to stop you from getting rid of the Dark Hour, but they aren't affiliated with the Shadows at all, they just want to keep using their powers for petty reasons (which mostly involve killing people). Their leader Takaya [[spoiler: eventually manages to inflict a PlotlineDeath on one of your party members]] and is the closest thing the game has to a human villain. Then you kill all the Full Moon Shadows and [[spoiler: Shuji Ikutsuki, your MissionControl, reveals himself as EvilAllAlong and that he was just using the party to bring about TheEndOfTheWorldAsWeKnowIt.]] This character becomes the clear new BigBad... for all of one cutscene, after which they're quickly killed off and the game has NoAntagonist for a while. Then we meet [[spoiler: Ryoji, who turns out to be the avatar of Nyx, a godlike being that will bring about the end of the world.]] Takaya becomes TheDragon to this new BigBad, and said new BigBad is the FinalBoss. However, the PlayableEpilogue added in the UpdatedRerelease reveals that [[spoiler: Nyx wasn't really evil and the ''true'' BigBad, Erebus, was just using her to destroy the world. Though Erebus is more of an animalistic force born from humanity's collective despair than an actual sentient being, complicating things further.]]
* The third game in ''VideoGame/TheSecondRealityProject'' series is slated to have this, according to [[http://www.smwcentral.net/?p=viewthread&t=25863 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.
* ''VideoGame/LifeIsStrange'' initially seem to set up either [[spoiler: [[AxeCrazy Nathan]] [[ScrewTheRulesIHaveMoney Prescott]] or [[LoanShark Frank]] [[HairTriggerTemper Bowers]]]] as the main candidates for Racheal Ambers disappearance [[spoiler: and subsequent death]]. However [[spoiler: Frank turns out to be a giant RedHerring (Rachael was actually in a relationship with him) and Nathan turns out to be TheDragon to the true villain of the game [[SadistTeacher Mark]] [[TheDogWasTheMastermind Jeffison]]]].
* ''VideoGame/NeverwinterNights'', the expansion ''Shadows of the Undrentide'' opens with a tribe of kobolds attacking your home and stealing several artifacts. As you pursue them you find evidence that they came into conflict with some bugbears and each made off with at least one artifact. The kobolds are employed by the dragon Tymofarrar, but he ordered the attack because he was in alliance with J'Nah, the leader of the bugbears. Then you find out J'Nah is collecting the artifacts for a unknown third party.
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Webcomics]]
* ''Webcomic/{{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]]

[[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.
[[/folder]]

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