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Sydney: Wait. I have questions for you.
The Man: You can ask my boss.
Sydney: Your boss? I thought The Man was the boss.
The Man: Yes, yes. But I am not The Man.
Alias, "Almost Thirty Years"

When a character previously positioned as a Big Bad is revealed in fact to be either the flunky, puppet, or spokesman for a higher authority. Note that gender of either is not relevant, so this trope could include The Woman behind The Man, The Woman behind the Woman, or The Man behind The Woman.

The Man has deeper motives, bigger designs, and more power than the hero(es) could ever hope to smash in one blow; they will usually have to go through another round of dungeon diving just to stand a chance. When they reveal thier reasons for being evil, expect the theme of the plot to unfold quickly and dramatically.

In many genres, the Man Behind the Man often has more sinister and apocalyptic goals than their predecessor. For example, while a Puppet King or greedy Mega-Corp may want to Take Over the World, the real Big Bad may want to destroy the world, or even erase all of existence.

Can be reversed as "The Man in Front of the Man", in which case a person you thought was the Big Bad's crony turns out to be the real Big Bad. See also Bastard Understudy, Dragon-in-Chief, and Dragon Ascendant. May be the one pulling the strings of the Puppet King.

Contrast Chessmaster Sidekick and Decoy Leader. In some (unsatisfying) occasions, The Man Behind The Man may be The Man Behind the Curtain. If there is no first man to begin with, or the first man is very obviously not the Big Bad, it's a Hidden Villain. If the mastermind turns out to be an innocuous character who was quickly overlooked, then it's a case of The Dog Was the Mastermind. If the Man Behind the Man is a previously-fought villain, then the plot has been Hijacked by Ganon. Sufficiently complex plots may involve The Man Behind The Man Behind The Man and so forth; the Sorting Algorithm of Evil usually, but not always, applies in these cases. Do this many times within a story (optionally mixed with the aforementioned tropes) and you have The Big Bad Shuffle.

Compare and contrast Greater-Scope Villain, where a villain more powerful than the Big Bad exists, but is either not personally involved in the plot or is not a "person" to begin with. Not to do with a Gambit Pileup, though you might get one if everyone is trying to manipulate each other. This trope and/or Greater-Scope Villain may also come into play if the villains are terrorists backed by larger powers like Dirty Communists or Corrupt Corporate Executives.

Rarely involves The Man, unless he was the one who created the personified conceptual authority on the first place.

Because this trope is often used as The Reveal whenever it appears, beware of spoilers.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • Bleach:
    • All hints pointed to Gin being the Big Bad, but after Aizen is revealed to be alive, he impales his loving vice captain and walks away with Gin following him obediently. It's made even more shocking by the prior implication that they were enemies, and that the former had killed the latter. It gets even deeper than that. Aizen claims he's basically the man behind the entire series. Ichigo (and Uryu, for that matter), wouldn't have been conceived if not for Aizen, because he's the reason why Isshin and Masaki even met in the first place.
    • In the Shusuke Amagai arc, it's presumed that Kumoi wants to kill Lurichiyo and control the Kasumioji clan, but then when the confrontation comes, Komoi, Amagai appears out of nowhere, kills him, kidnaps Lurichiyo, and then proceeds to let everyone know his plans to kill Yamamoto, and he used Kumoi and the entire Kasumioji clan to get his hands on a weapon that somehow disables all but his zanpaktou so he could kill Yamamoto with it.
  • In Fullmetal Alchemist, at first it seems like the homunculi are simply manipulating the country of Amestris because the Fuhrer, King Bradley, is the homunculus Wrath. Then we find out that Bradley himself is simply the result of an experiment by Father, and that Father has been controlling the entire country behind the scenes since the very day it was established 400 years prior. Most of the military's upper command is fully aware of this fact.
    • The first anime has a similar scenario, although it differs in key areas. Dante is the mastermind of this conspiracy and controls the government through Bradley, her ultimate creation. Once the Philosopher Stone that Hohenheim left her began to diminish, she infiltrated the government in order to facilitate the creation of a new one. Unlike in the manga, only Bradley and Tucker seem to be aware of her existence.
  • Near the end of Excel Saga, the head of ACROSS — the organization Il Palazzo serves — is revealed to be a previously-established character known only as "That Man". He makes reference to being one of the "ACROSS Six," the other five of whom are revealed in the unaired final episode to be "This Man, That Man There, That Man Over Here, This Man Over There, and This Man Over Here."
  • The Mazinger trilogy played much with this trope:
    • Mazinger Z: In the original manga, Baron Ashura shows up before Dr. Hell, leading several Mechanical Beasts and the Iron Masks troops and calling it "Ashura's army". In that chapter he seemed like the Big Bad, but one chapter after Dr. Hell is introduced and we learnt Hell was behind the whole operation and he is the real Big Bad.
    • In the anime, Archduke Gorgon was apparently a Dr. Hell's ally. In the last chapters we learnt he was a Dragon with an Agenda was working for Great General of Darkness/Ankoku Daishogun. Likewise...
    • Great Mazinger: In the Mazinger-Z versus Great General of Darkness movie it is said the legions of Mykene Warrior Monsters are commanded by Great General of Darkness. He seems to be the supreme leader of the Mykene Empire. In first episode of Great Mazinger we learnt he is the supreme commander of the Mykene army, and he is under the orders of the Emperor of Darkness (also known like Hades).
    • UFO Robo Grendizer: In the original manga, Blackie is the first Vegan commander in showing up, and he seems being behind the invasion. However, in the next chapter Big Bad King Vega and Dragon-in-Chief Gandal (commander of the armies tasked with the invasion) are introduced.
  • In Sailor Moon, every story arc has this type of villain behind that storyline's recurring villains. The Dark Kingdom has Queen Metallia, the Black Moon has Wise Man (and even earlier, Prince Demand is behind Rubeus and the Ayakashi Sisters), the Death Busters have Master Pharaoh 90, the Dead Moon Circus has Queen Nehellenia, and Shadow Galactica has Chaos. The only time this doesn't happen is during the Makaiju Filler Arc in the anime, where the aliens and the Makaiju are working entirely alone.
    • The manga practically makes a matroshka doll of villainy as not only does each story arc feature the same series of villains behind villains as the anime does, but the final story arc one-ups them all as in the manga, the final villain is still Chaos, but in this storyline, Chaos itself has been repeatedly incarnated into all the previous Big Bad villains as well and Sailor Moon was merely fighting the same villain for a fifth time in a new form.
    • In the musical adaptation of the series, Chaos is downgraded to Galaxia's subordinate/jester, and not even a true dragon. But he still turns out to be The Man in Front of the Woman.
  • Mermaid Melody Pichi Pichi Pitch did this every season. In fact, in both seasons, we had a Double Subversion of this trope. Season one had Gaito (Gakuto and Gackto in the manga), who was working for Sara, who did a Heel–Face Turn, leaving Gaito as a worse Big Bad than Sara was. Season two had Michel's sidekick Fuku appear to be above him but below "That Man", but in the end, That Man was also manipulated by Fuku.
  • Digimon:
    • In the second season, we started off with the Digimon Emperor, who later did a Heel–Face Turn and who it was revealed was the pawn of two other villains. They in turn were working for another, who was actually possessed by still another. It gets even weirder when you realize that some of the Fake Bosses' plans didn't jive well with those of the big man (Malo Myotismon). So, either Malo had one extremely bizarre Gambit Roulette going that he never bothered to explain, or the writers simply decided to fall back on Hijacked by Ganon.
    • The fourth season had Cherubimon who went corrupt, but it turned out that Lucemon corrupted him and two other Digimon called the Royal Knights into collecting data so he could return.
  • Naruto exaggerates this trope to absurd extremes. It's first revealed that Akatsuki is lead by a mysterious figure known as Pain. Some chapters and an important character death later, we find out that "Pain" is actually a collection of dead bodies controlled by a man named Nagato, who once studied under the same sensei as Naruto. Then Nagato is actually being manipulated by a masked man known by the alias "Tobi" who claims to actually be the legendary shinobi known as Madara Uchiha. Later on, Tobi isn't the real Madara Uchiha, but is actually a former leaf shinobi named Obito who used to be a student of Naruto's father and later turned evil. Then, it turns out Obito's "Moon's Eye Plan" was actually the real Madara's plan, and Obito was also supposed to bring Madara back to life to he become the jinchuuriki of the Ten Tails. But later we learn that Obito never had any intention of reviving Madara and himself using him in order to become the jinchuuriki of the Ten Tails. But then, turn out they both was being manipulated the entire time by Black Zetsu, a mysterious member of Akatsuki and a being that Madara thought he himself had created to carry out his will. And Black Zetsu? He's actually carrying out the will of Princess Kaguya, an ancient Physical Goddess whom the current shinobi clans are descended from and who created Black Zetsu centuries ago right before she was sealed away to ensure that she would be revived. And thenokay, just kidding.
  • Might Gaine: The series setups up Exeve as the big bad, being the catalyst of the events to start the brave express but it's eventually revealed he was just a puppet used by Black Noir. It's even implied that there was a higher power behind Black Noir's actions.
  • The YuYu Hakusho manga reveals at the end that every villain Yusuke faces throughout the series is acting with the approval and, in some cases, the aid of King Enma, who wants to make himself look better by having major threats repeatedly stopped by Yusuke and allies (who work for him). The anime opted instead to end with another Tournament Arc, which was glossed over in the manga.
  • In Yu-Gi-Oh! GX:
    • The villain of the third season, Professor Cobra, is revealed to be working for a Duel Monster spirit named Yubel. Later in Season 4, initial villain "Trueman" is revealed to be working for Yusuke Fujiwara... only for Yusuke to be revealed as a host for Darkness, the true villain.
    • Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's has a series of these. The first true villains are the Dark Signers lead by Rudger. The second season reveals that Rudger was manipulated by Yliaster and the Three Emperors, who in turn work for Z-one. Furthermore, it is revealed Z-one was the commanding force for Paradox in the 10th anniversary movie.
  • In Mobile Suit Gundam SEED, Rau Le Creuset is eventually revealed to be The Man Behind The Man to archenemies Muruta Azrael and Patrick Zala, pretending to be The Mole for the former and The Dragon for the latter. It's all part of his plan to move both sides in the war to such extremes that human extinction will be guaranteed.
  • Dragon Ball Z does this several times in a row in the manga and the anime. After Raditz is defeated Nappa and Vegeta are revealed to be the Saiyans behind the Saiyan. After they are defeated, Kaio mentions the "root" of the problem, which is shortly afterwards introduced as the Saiyans' (ex-)boss, Frieza. Even later in the series, Frieza's father, King Cold, is introduced and revealed as the secret leader of the Planet Trade Organization, which Frieza supposedly ruled.
  • Dragon Ball GT, the anime-only continuation, has a confusing chain of this. The Para-Para Brothers work for Cardinal Muchy Muchy, who himself is under the command of Dolltaki. Dolltaki is the leader of the worshipping Luud Cult, and Luud turns out to be a robotic sham creation of Dr. Myuu. Dr. Myuu created Baby, the eventual Big Bad of the arc, and it's eventually revealed that Baby created him, not not the other way around.
  • In Darker Than Black, it looks like it's such a Mêlée à Trois that there can't possibly be a Big Bad. However, it turns out that The Syndicate, the dueling intelligence agencies, the Japanese police force, and PANDORA were all controlled by the same people. Evening Primrose was actually La Résistance, and other than their influence, all the conflict in the series had been due to the higher-ups pitting the Contractors against each other to keep them from finding out their genocidal plans.
  • In GaoGaiGar, the season 1 Big Bad Pasdar turns out to be a subordinate of one of the 31 Primevals, which are themselves fragments of the much more fearsome Z Master.
  • This is implied near the end of Fruits Basket, after Akito's Heel–Face Turn, the 'man' in question being the Sohma family elders, who criticize Akito for not emotionally destroying the members of the Zodiac.
  • Weiß Kreuz has layer after layer of this. In season 1, Reiji Takatori is the man behind criminal organizations like the Creeper gang and the Liott prostitution ring, and Essett is behind Takatori. In season 2, Mayumi Tsujii is behind Todou and S Class, and Epitaph (and by extension Essett again) is behind Tsujii. Rampant Chronic Backstabbing Disorder — particularly on the parts of Schwarz, who start out as one of the groups that Reijia Takatori is behind and end up backstabbing their way right out of Essett altogether — muddies the exact order in both cases.
  • While not actually villainous, it's pretty obvious that Austria's the true power behind the Holy Roman Empire in Axis Powers Hetalia. Which is what happened in Real Life, via the Habsburgs.
  • Shishio is set up as the Big Bad of Rurouni Kenshin, but behind him is Enishi, the final villain of the series. Shishio has at his disposal an ultra-modern (for the setting) gunship, which he got through Enishi, who owns a fleet of them, and Enishi's Dragon/ Evil Genius hides among Shishio's group, pretending to be Dumb Muscle.
  • Dark in Samurai Harem: Asu no Yoichi is introduced as a self-aware puppet serving the current Torikago clan leader who is set up to be the apparent Big Bad. When the leader is swayed by Yoichi's kind words, Dark reveals her true nature: she is the one who has been keeping the Torikago clan's hatred towards the Karasuma clan alive for generations. Dark turns against her supposed master, stating that she has no right to forgive the Karasuma clan after her ancestors devoted their entire lives to hating them.
  • In Pretty Cure All Stars DX 3, similar to the Sailor Moon example above it's revealed that the creature known as Black Hole was the source of all evil the girls face. It's kind of hard to figure out, though, if he meant the villains from the TV series itself (which wouldn't make sense as Suite Pretty Cure ♪ was going on at the time) or the villains from the various movies up to that point (whom he resurrected for this).
  • In Science Ninja Team Gatchaman, Berg Katse is presented as the face and leader of Galactor. The viewer finds out long before the characters that Sosai X is the true power.
  • The Anti-Spiral is effectively this to Lordgenome in Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann as they are the ones who caused him to drive the humans underground.
  • While he was a more traditional Big Bad in the manga, in the Trigun anime Knives Millions instead occupies this role, with his Dragon Legato doing most of the work until the very end.
  • In Log Horizon Indicus is apparently the maid and representative of Nureha, the leader of guild Plant Hwyaden. In truth Indicus has used psychological torment and Nureha's own self-loathing to cripple her, and now controls Nureha, the guild, and Minami as she sees fit.
  • In Fairy Tail, Zeref, who is doing the manipulating to bring himself back to life (although he seems to not technically be dead). Ultear also plays this role both for Lyon and Jellal. Although in reality that was Ultear pretending to be Zeref. Zeref himself doesn't seem to be aware of any of this stuff happening. Also,Ultear's actions are actually based on Hades' commands.
  • One Piece:
    • Big Mom is one of the four strongest pirates in One Piece, a tyrant in the New World who, along with her children and other allies, can eliminate the armies of entire countries and get them to submit to her. She was not always like this though—she was always incredibly strong, but she was once kind-hearted. Who made her that way? It's Streusen, a no-name cook who decided he would use her raw strength to achieve his own goals of being in control of people. He met Big Mom when she was still a child and has since effortlessly manipulated her actions so that she would become the conqueror she is at the present while he stays free of suspicion as her head chef.
    • Donquixote Doflamingo is a major underworld figure, supplying weapons left and right, having moles here and there, and even have enough political leverage to get the World Nobles to do him favors now and then. He also ate Ito Ito no Mi, allowing him to produce threads which can be used as Razor Floss and play People Puppets. He's the man pulling the strings, figuratively and literally.
    • A brief chain of these can be found with the World Government. Behind the mighty admirals, who command the actual fleets in the field and do their own fighting when there's big hitters involved, are the Gorosei, or Five Elder Stars: Five old men at the head of the Entire World Government, taking the decisions even the Admirals find distasteful. And behind these five, standing against the most important principle under which the World Government was founded, that there wouldn't be a single king to rule over all, is the enigmatic figure known as Im, who calls the biggest shots such as what bits of history need to be completely erased.

    Audio Plays 
  • Big Finish Doctor Who: In "Zagreus", the Doctor and TARDIS have been infected by anti-time and turned into Zagreus. It is revealed these events have been set up by Rassilon for his plan to send Zagreus to destroy the Divergence. Then at the end of the Divergent Universe arc it is revealed Kro'ka, who was supposedly working for the Divergents, was working for Rassilon.

    Comic Books 
  • DC Comics Bombshells did an onion-like multilayered version of this, with practically every villain revealed to be a tool of someone else who turned out to be a tool of someone else and so on. The final Big Bad who almost all the villains had been consciously serving, or manipulated by, was revealed to be, of all people, Faora Hu-Ul.
  • In some of its last issues before being abruptly cancelled, The Incredibles seems to imply that the film's villain Syndrome may have possibly been doing business with or possibly working under the employ of Xerek (a character taken from early drafts of the film). Xerek's long in development Xanatos Gambit to discredit the supers further had two key components: An adapted use of the Omnidroid technology to create a bipedal giant mecha and the preserved brain of psychic superhero Everseer, who was one of the first victims of Syndrome's Omnidroid series, to act as a living psychic amplifier to enhance the abilities of another telepath/mind controller, Mezmerella.
  • Marvel's Loki does this so frequently he basically has this as his M.O., particularly in the Thor comics. The number of Thor Rogues Gallery that have nothing to do with him could be counted on one hand. Especially in the early days of The Mighty Thor just about every villain Thor ever faced was either created by or empowered by Loki in his attempts to kill Thor, sometimes as part of a multistep plan.
  • The heroes in Warren Ellis's Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E., spend most of the series battling or evading Dirk Anger of the evil Beyond Corporation. Once they beat him, they face the Beyond Corporation's CEO, Number None... who is revealed to be a robot controlled by a baby M.O.D.O.K., who claims to be the Diabolical Mastermind behind it all... before being shot dead by Devil Dinosaur, the real lizard behind the man.
  • Shakara: Oberon Sneer appears to be the nominal leader of the Hierarchy at first. Cinnibar Breneka, the former heroic founder of the Shakara Federation is later revealed to be ruling The Hierarchy from behind the scenes.
  • Spider-Man:
    • In The Clone Saga arc that spanned the Spider-Man titles, the Jackal was believed to be the Big Bad. The villain truly behind it was the Green Goblin, who was still believed to be dead at the time.
    • In Untold Tales of Spider-Man, the person backing the Headsman and the Scorcher is eventually revealed to be The Green Goblin.
  • Superman:
  • X-Men: In Grant Morrison's New X-Men, John Sublime is the Man Behind the U-Men, the Weapon Plus Project, Kid Omega, and Xorn. About the only major villain that can't be traced back to him is Cassandra Nova.

    Fan Works 
  • The Biggest Bad is this to General Hand in Super Milestone Wars 2.
  • In Power Girl fanfic A Force of Four, it's revealed that Mars is the man behind Badra.
  • The Child of Love: SEELE were the group was behind Gendo the whole time. Kaji tried to wipe them out, but they returned in the sequel.
  • Children of an Elder God: The main characters spend a long time fighting the Great Old Ones only to find they are acting at the behest of the Outer Gods, their true enemies.
  • In Last Child of Krypton, Darkseid was pulling the SEELE’s strings behind the scenes to find the Anti-Life Equation.
  • Downfall has an interesting one — although it appears at first glance that Unohana and her faction are the villains, subsequent perspectives given the readers have rendered that perspective uncertain. At best, that is only half the answer, and it is implied that some other force may be manipulating events.
  • Yoda Kenobi, author of the epic Star Wars fanfic series Legacy of the Sith loves this one. The villain of the first story is set up as Vagaari leader Goresh Tenziesh, but he turns out to be controlled by General Kol Renin, one of the leaders of the true Sith Empire. Then it's revealed that Renin is only an apprentice Sith. The real mastermind is his Master, Darth Malig. Now it's being foreshadowed that even Malig isn't the complete answer to the puzzle, though it's unknown if there's another villain controlling him or not.
  • The Legend of Spyro: A New Dawn has its first half with a Big Bad Ensemble consisting of Deadlock, Empress Tyrania, and Boss Kaze, though Deadlock is The Heavy of the three. The second half reveals that General Grendel, The Dragon to Deadlock, had been manipulating all three of them as part of his plan to gain an Artifact of Doom he can use to obtain the power of the Naga Spirit Of War and take revenge on the dragons for their banishment of the Naga thousands of years ago. In a twist, the readers know he's The Man Behind The Man at the halfway point, but the characters don't until after Deadlock is defeated and he successfully performs the ritual, giving him access to a civilization-destroying Eldritch Abomination.
  • During the first Story Arc of Jewel of Darkness, Slade is this to Midnight — in this universe, she's the first Big Bad that the Titans face, as she tries to prove that she's a worthy apprentice to Slade. However, the Titans don't know this, viewing her as an independent villain; they don't learn of Slade's existence until the climax of the arc, when he shows up to rescue the defeated Midnight from the Titans.
  • In Mines of Dragon Mountain (the second in a series of crossovers between Doctor Who and My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic), it's eventually revealed that Tirac has been manipulating Gabbro for years, and everything Gabbro's done in the story is part of a Gambit Roulette by Tirac to ensure his release.
  • Clash of the Elements: Part 2 reveals that Cackletta is responsible for pretty much all the villainous threats to Plit beforehand, up to and including Joe Dark and Tabuu.
  • The Stars Will Aid Their Escape: While the reader is aware from the beginning that Herald is the true Big Bad, the protagonists spend most of the story believing that his Unwitting Pawn Trixie is the main villain, until he reveals himself to them during the fight in Canterlot. And Herald himself is just a servant of the Old Ones, so they probably qualify as well.
  • Earth and Sky: To an extent, Diamond Tiara is this to the Flim-Flam brothers — while she may have lost control of them by the time the Pegalathon starts, she's still the one who sent them after Harmony Aeronautics in the first place, and is still covering for them the best she can. She also turns out to be the one who hired the LaFish brothers to attack the HA team during the race.
  • Digital Harmony: Fluttershy is manipulated into becoming Vespimon by Daemon and Dragomon. Also, according to Nightmare Rarity, Dragomon was the one who caused the corruption of the moon's inhabitants into the Nightmare Forces in the first place, making him responsible for the trouble Nightmare Moon and Nightmare Rarity caused in canon.
  • In Equestria: A History Revealed, apparently Celestia has been behind most significant events in Equestrian history, even the ones she wasn't even there for. Of course, given this claim is made by the Conspiracy Theorist narrator, it may not stand true in-universe.
  • Erebos earns his position as Big Bad of the Ponies Of Olympus series by benefit of this trope. He was the one who turned Chrysalis into a changeling, sent her to invade during the Royal Wedding, and later sends her to infiltrate the Atlas Strongest Tournament; he was the one who corrupted Luna into Nightmare Moon; and Luna suspects that he was manipulating the conflict between the hippocampi and the dragons of the Scaly Back River Clan for his own benefit (though this hasn't been confirmed yet).
  • Burning Black: It's eventually discovered that Remy is in a "partnership" with the Pixies. However, the latter are clearly the superior party (despite what Remy might think) and are using Remy to further their own goal.
  • Friendship Is Aura: Lord Tartarus was the one who sent Chrysalis into Equestria in the first place, making him responsible for the incident at the wedding and her actions in-story.
  • In the Facing the Future Series, Vlad has been shown this to be for quite a few stories. First, he was responsible for Vortex and Nocturne making their appearances in Hearts and Minds, now is responsible for a couple of ghost attacks on Amity Park for some reason.
  • Justice League of Equestria; in the side story where Rainbow Dash/Supermare teams up with Batpony, the thugs that tried to free Clayface were revealed to have been hired by Joker.
  • Every single major player in Gensokyo, Luna, and Earth has been nothing but Yukari Yakumo's puppet for at least three hundred years and serves to complete her final and most ambitious Batman Gambit. It's a testament to her skill, everyone's predictability, or both, that she's been dead during that time.
  • Son Of The Seven Kingdoms:
    • Lord Harkon is eventually revealed to be the one who engineered the King in Rags' attempted invasion of the North.
    • The White Walkers turn out to be in service to Alduin.
  • The supercrossover military fanfiction The Terminators: Army of Legend gives us Archdemon Deitus the Immortal, the fallen son of fallen Archangels Messorem and Vitam, the incarnations of Death and Life respectively. Although he doesn't make his grand appearance until well into the multi-volume series, he's hinted throughout as being in control of every other antagonist.
    • And then the eighth volume throws another wrench into the machine with the reveal that Vergil is still alive, perhaps making him the Man Behind the Man BEHIND the Man.
  • Bagan, the Big Bad of The Bridge, is later revealed to be pulling the strings of the Red Dawn, main antagonists of the spinoff Humanity's Stand. And, in A Shimmer in the Dark — a crossover between this universe and The Shimmerverse — he also acts via his Aspect Mizu as the benefactor for the Nightmare Army remnant led by that story's Big Bad Countess Mircalla.
  • A Man of Iron lampshades how much Tywin Lannister enjoys being "the power behind the throne", with Syrio Forel reminding Arya that Lord Tywin basically ruled Westeros for Aerys Targaryen and still rules the Seven Kingdoms in Robert Baratheon's stead. A peek in his mind also reveals he would be quite happy to prop a compliant Stark as Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North, already making plans involving the Stark offshot in Iron Pointe for the eventuality of the main family line having a mishap.

    Films — Animation 
  • Meet the Robinsons had a rare case of the hat behind the man.
  • Professor Z's superior in Cars 2 is Sir Miles Axelrod, host of the World Grand Prix.
  • Waternoose, the president of Mosnters Inc. turns out to be the mastermind of the operation to kidnap children in Monsters, Inc., when it appeared to have been Randall.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Chancellor/Emperor Palpatine is this in the prequel Star Wars movies, where his minions are doing his dirty work for him while he remains in the shadows himself, such that for the longest time the Jedi Order is unsure whether the mysterious Sith Lord even exists: he's the benefactor to Nute Gunray and Darth Maul in The Phantom Menace, and to Count Dooku in Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, along with General Grievous in the latter. However, in the original trilogy there's no doubt or subterfuge involved about his status; he's clearly and openly the evil ruler of the Galactic Empire, he's just more of an Orcus on His Throne than an active Big Bad.
  • The 2003 Zatoichi remake takes this to a ridiculous level in revealing two men behind the man in the film's very last minutes.
  • Megatron in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen turns out to be the underling to The Fallen.
  • Mr White, from James Bond. He first appears as the intermediary between Le Chiffre and the African warlords in Casino Royale (2006), working on behalf of the shadowy terrorist organization Quantum. He only meets Bond once the film, when he kills Le Chiffre as punishment for his failures. Even after Bond captures him in Quantum of Solace, White escapes before he can give information, and also eludes Bond at a later point. It is suggested that White is one of the more mysterious leaders of Quantum, as he manipulates both the heroes and villains to his gain, repeatedly. Spectre later takes this Up to Eleven by revealing that Franz Oberhauser (also known as Ernst Stavro Blofeld) and his organization SPECTRE were behind Mr. White, Le Chiffre and Dominic Greene all along. The film also reveals that Oberhauser was also behind Raoul Silva's schemes in Skyfall.
  • The Fast and the Furious:
    • Inverted in the fourth movie, where Dom and Brian try to find the identity of the one running the drug cartel by tracking their handler, but it turns out that the handler was the leader all along.
    • The sixth movie reveals that Big Bad Owen Shaw had the drug cartel within his pockets, along with the CIA, DEA and numerous terrorist organisations.
  • The Omen trilogy: The audience knows early on that though these evil food corporations may be running rampant, it is really Damien Thorn pulling the strings. And then behind him is the Lord of Darkness himself.
  • Rush Hour 2. This trope is discussed by Carter and Lee. Carter's theory of investigation is "Follow the Rich White Man." His belief is that behind every major crime there's a rich white man waiting for his cut. And he's right. In each movie, the Big Bad or one his associates is the rich white guy.
  • Referenced in Things Change, where Tony Mantegna passes off Don Ameche's character as powerful mobster who is "the man behind the man behind the man," getting lots of casino comps and explaining why no one has ever heard of him at the same time. Ameche is actually a simple shoe-shiner who is about to take the rap for a real mob boss. This scene was parodied in Swingers when Vince Vaugn's character jokingly makes the exact same claim about Jon Favreau at a casino.
  • Iron Man 3: The Mandarin turns out to be an actor used by Aldrich Killian to provide a face and distraction for the Extremis attacks.
  • In Now You See Me, you'd think that maybe Thaddeus is The Chessmaster behind the Four Horsemen, right? He's a former magician himself, and has a popular show that debunks magicians; what better disguise than to appear to be against them? Well, you're wrong. It's Dylan, the cop who was "chasing" them the entire time, and was actually using them for the ultimate purpose of framing Bradley.
  • Star Trek Into Darkness plays with this trope in regards to Khan and Admiral Marcus. While the former is still the main villain long after the latter has left the picture, Marcus is still responsible for bringing Khan into the film in the first place and is a major figure in Section 31, a black ops group in Starfleet.
  • The Avengers: It's revealed in The Stinger that the being Loki made a deal with is Thanos. It's subverted in Guardians of the Galaxy. Thanos is originally this for Ronan the Accuser, but Ronan defies him and embarks on his own personal plots.
  • The Bourne Series: In The Bourne Identity, Ward Abbott was the mastermind behind Treadstone, and after eliminating Conklin, he's seen in a hearing laying down plans for the successor organization Blackbriar. It isn't until The Bourne Supremacy that he gets his comeuppance by Bourne.
  • The Godfather movies constantly employ this trope. Don Barzini is the man behind Solozzo and Tatagglia. Hyman Roth is the man behind the Rosato brothers. Dons Altobello and Lucchesi are the men behind Joey Zasa.
  • RoboCop (1987): When RoboCop roughs up Detroit crime boss Clarence Boddicker, he reveals that he's working for OCP executive Dick Jones. Going after Dick Jones then turns out to be no simple matter, since OCP not only controls the police but also was responsible for creating RoboCop.

    Myths & Religion 
  • Some Bible students believe that Isaiah 14:12 (particularly in the King James Version) and Ezekiel 28:12-19 is God talking to The Man Behind The Kings.

    Pinballs 
  • In Crüe Ball, Craig, the music-hating "Keeper of the Wall", ultimately answers to Mr. Gore, the Spirit of Anti-Metal.

    Pro Wrestling 
  • On Ring of Honor's 13th anniversary, Kyle O'Reilly credited reDRagon's ongoing success against The Young Bucks and Bullet Club to Shayna Baszler, who made her first professional wrestling appearance that night but would have been in contact with them for quite some time if true.
  • WWE: In 1998, Vince McMahon underwent a Heel–Face Turn after his son Shane McMahon took over his stable, The Corporation, and merged it with The Undertaker's pseudo-Satanic cult, The Ministry of Darkness, to form The Corporate Ministry. While Shane and The Undertaker usurped control of Vince's company and kidnapped his daughter Stephanie McMahon, Vince was forced to make peace with all the wrestlers he'd spent the past few years screwing over time and time again, and unite them against this new threat. Then, Undertaker started speaking of a "higher power" he served — who turned out to be Vince himself.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Spirit of the Century, it is heavily implied that Doctor Methuselah should be used as such, at least as far as Gorilla Khan is concerned.
  • White Wolf's Changeling: The Lost encourages storytellers to use the True Fae this way.
  • Jovian Chronicles has the Venusian Bank doing this. It's implied that the majority of the CEGA is in fact in their pocket, if they don't own it wholesale.
  • One of the first adventure paths in role-playing, the G/D/Q series of 1st edition AD&D modules, was essentially this trope played out repeatedly: hill giants working for frost giants, frost giants for fire giants, all giants for drow, drow for Lolth. By the time you kill their demon-goddess, you're either crowing that you've bested the ''ultimate'' Man Behind The Man, or fed up and ready to play some one-shot adventures for a change.
  • In Paranoia, if the players ever investigate a really large-scale conspiracy and are about to get to the bottom of it, Friend Gamemaster is encouraged to introduce evidence that the culprits were being manipulated by someone else.
  • The secret societies in the Card Game Illuminati are structured so that you ultimately become one.
  • There are plenty of these in Rocket Age and more than a few women, too, such as Hantha, a former concubine pulling the strings of the Martian Warlord Tal-Matuth.

    Visual Novels 
  • Ace Attorney:
    • The first game ever has Miles Edgeworth, the smug, arrogant "genius prosecutor" who will "do anything to get a guilty verdict." Then in the fourth case of the game, you're up against the devilish-sounding and looking Manfred von Karma, Edgeworth's mentor. It doesn't help that von Karma, also a perfectionist, tries to get the boy he took in since Edgeworth's father died found guilty for the sake of preserving his 40-year-long perfect record. Not only that, but the identity of the murderer in that case is deduced by Phoenix in court, but it's not until he he finds a letter in said culprit's shack that he discovers that it was von Karma who came up with the plan for the murder.
    • Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth has a large scale international smuggling ring, and throughout a large portion of the game, you see small areas of it, and solve crimes related to it. Eventually you find out that Calisto Yew not only ordered a hit job, murdered two men in cold blood, tried shooting the main protagonist dead, betrayed and back-stabbed her friends, but is also part of the smuggling ring AND ON TOP OF THAT also claims to be the Yatagarasu. Throughout a large portion of the game, you're lead to believe she's the big bad, and the person behind everything. Until it's eventually revealed that she's just a puppet who was being ordered around by the REAL big bad, the ringleader of the entire smuggling operation.
    • The (Japan-only) sequel to Investigations has an even more shocking example. By the end of the fourth case it becomes apparent that some mastermind has been planning things as far back as the first case. Then, about three-quarters through the fifth and final case, the characters uncover a criminal conspiracy with an apparent Big Bad Ensemble. But by the time the characters figure this out, the conspirators are finished - one of them is dead, and the other two have been arrested for murders in the second and fourth cases. That's when Edgeworth deduces the real mastermind - the circus performer he defended in the second case, who up until this point was completely innocent and completely harmless. Turns out he's the real Big Bad and he manipulated the murderers in three of the prior cases. He even manipulated Edgeworth himself in order to get revenge on the people who had ruined his life.
  • Sunrider starts out as a pretty straightforward war story, with PACT as the main antagonists and their megalomaniacal dictator Veniczar Arcadius as the Big Bad. Then it’s revealed that Arcadius is just a persona adopted by the Prototypes, a collective of telepathic clones who are pulling PACT’s strings and claim to be doing so for the Solar Alliance as well. The Prototypes in turn are subservient to their Hive Queen Alpha.

    Toys 

    Web Animation 
  • Audience!: has the white Darkky that curses Litho and manipulates Showtime in the cold open of the first episode.
  • EXE in TVTome Adventures was the one really in charge of the D-Bug Organization. In TOME, Rubirules takes on this role instead, with different motivations (as the D-Bug Organization, now called D-Buggers.org, is more benevolent as a whole this time around).
  • RWBY: For the first volume, the main villain appears to be Roman, who is stealing all the Dust in Vale and appears to have some kind of plan that involves attacking Beacon Academy, where the protagonists are training. The end of the volume reveals that he's been working for Cinder, who spends the next two volumes being the threat the protagonists are trying to identify and stop. However, Cinder clearly communicates with someone that suggests she's not in charge, even though she adapts the plans on the fly whenever the situation on the ground changes. Salem is revealed in the Volume 3 finale, and Volume 4 makes it clear that both Cinder and Roman were working for her and that it's Salem's plans for Vale that Cinder has been in charge of carrying out. Salem has other subordinates for dealing with the other Kingdoms, but appears to favour Cinder, something the other subordinates can't stand. Ozpin and his subordinates knew Salem was the real threat, but struggled to identify the subordinate she had sent to Vale.
  • Red vs. Blue uses this trope a few times.
    • Season 10 reveals Sigma as the one behind the Meta. However, it's subverted due to Sigma dying at the end of season 6.
    • Season 12 reveals that both of the two factions on Chorus, the Federal Army of Chorus and the New Republic, are being manipulated by Locus and Felix into fighting each other. The two mercenaries are also revealed to be working for an unseen person going under the alias of "Control," revealed at the end of the season to be Malcolm Hargrove, CEO of Charon Industries.
  • Semi-invoked in Broken Saints: The two Chessmasters behind the Big Plan are presented as equal threats, only differing in that one stays more mysterious for longer than the other. Then, naturally, it turns out the more mysterious one, Lear, was just manipulating his more active partner Palmer, whom the heroes thought was the Big Bad. Lear betrays and murders Palmer, revealing himself to be the real Big Bad.
  • In Cult of Personality, which takes place before Mann Vs. Machine, the then unknown Gray Mann is supporting oWn with funding, weapons, and prototypes of his robots in exchange for combat footage. Said combat footage would then be used to improve the AI of the robots and make them more closer to the mercenaries in terms of combat expertise and personality.

    Web Comics 
  • Bob and George: In the final battle, it is revealed that Fistandantilus was controlling Bob.
  • Sluggy Freelance: Torg (the hero) himself becomes The Man Behind The Man to the wannabe Diabolical Mastermind Minion Master, while convincing the Minion Master that he's his minion. He's secretly using the Minion Master to obtain the technology to rescue his friends, and manipulating the Minion Master to take out other supervillains rather than do evil. Then the whole pattern gets more complicated with more serious villains getting involved, and more men hiding behind each other ensues.
    • For a 'Mastermind', he's easily manipulated; his own sister manipulates him as well, and they both get burned.
    • Dr. Schlock has usurped Prometheus as the Man behind Hereti Corp. Since it's a corporation full of evil characters, there's quite a few figures he can get behind.
  • The Order of the Stick:
    • We've now met the Evil Outsiders behind the Linear Guild - although in this case Sabine is the only one who knows about them.
    • General Tarquin and his friend Malack are the men behind several of the easy-come-easy-go kingdoms on the Western Continent. In the case of the Empire of Blood, at least, they're doing all the real ruling for the Empress, an unusually thick (in more ways than one) red dragon. But it's even deeper than that: Their four old adventuring buddies are behind the thrones of two other empires, using manipulation and war politics to ensure their anonymous power no matter who's nominally in charge - and the figurehead changes regularly.
    • Redcloak is this to Lord Xykon. He acts submissive and serves the role as Xykon's toady while actually manipulating him to his own ends. Or at least he thinks he is. It's strongly hinted that Xykon is aware of it and believes he is manipulating Redcloak, and he's certainly been on the ball about Redcloak (and family)'s plans in the past.
    • The Dark One is this to Redcloak (making him/it the man behind the man behind the man) — every action Redcloak takes is to fulfil the Dark One's Plans.
  • In Powerpuff Girls Doujinshi, pretty much every villainous act can be traced back to Dr. X. When Mojo Jojo tries going after the Girls himself, he is forcibly recruited into X's Darkstar Council.
  • In Deviant Universe, Corvus is this to the Dark Legion due to having some kind of control over its leader Anarchy.
  • Complicatedly used in Homestuck. The Black Monarchs are the Big Bads at first, but their Dragon with an Agenda, Jack Noir, kills them and assumes the title. Later it's revealed that Vriska manipulated events so that Jack rose to power. And even later, Doc Scratch reveals he manipulated her all as part of his own plan to bring his boss, Lord English, into the universe. It's hinted however that the ultimate Big Bad may in fact be Lil' Cal. So, still Lord English.
  • El Goonish Shive: The Big Bad of the "New and Old Flames" arc turned out to be the short, hairy, quiet comic book geek, Dex. But it turns out he was under some kind of Mind Control. The main cast know it must have been an immortal due to the circumstances, but only the reader and maybe a couple of other characters know it was Pandora.
  • Spacetrawler: The protagonists initially believe Kuu-Drahc, Apex Speaker of the Galactic Organizational Body, to be the Big Bad. As it turns out, he's just taking orders from Qwahntoo, the guy who enslaved the Eebs and founded the Galactic Organizational Body in the first place.
  • In Girl Genius, Tweedle is frustrated by multiple layers of this.
  • When Talzo returns in Kirby Adventure, he brings along several other baddies to back him up in his fight against the Kirby Adventure Squad. While at first appearing to be the leader of the group, he is soon revealed to be the The Dragon to an as of yet unseen entity who also seems determined to take down the squad.

    Web Original 
  • Stacy Bradshaw is this to Bridget in Sorority Forever.
  • Whateley Universe:
    • Don Sebastiano, the Big Bad who rules Whateley Academy, dropped hints for some time that Hekate, his "queen", scared even him. Now we know that she was really behind the horrific act that gave Don Sebastiano his power base. BUT we also know there's someone behind her. Someone we've never seen except in a concealing cloak...
    • More recently there's been a story about a villain who became the Man Behind The Man by accident — basically bluffing a smallish gang and checking up on them later to discover they'd set up the international "Master of the World Network", with thousands of pawns, all channeling money and information back to that one gang leader, who was more than happy to give it all to his "Master". Later on in the story this villain does a similar thing, except this time he actually does control it all.

    Western Animation 
  • Twin Masters to High Roller in the second season of Hero: 108.
  • Sslither to Metlar in Inhumanoids.
  • Crooler to Cragger in LEGO Legends of Chima; Crooler is the truly evil one of them using rage-inducing pollen to control Cragger so she can use his newfound power as leader of the crocodile tribe for her own goals.
  • Book 2 of The Legend of Korra sets up Korra's Evil Uncle Unalaq as the Big Bad, the main conflict seemingly being the civil war between the Water Tribes. It's revealed halfway through the season he's actually The Dragon to Vaatu, and plans on releasing him so they can Take Over the World.
  • In Rick and Morty, the Shadow Council of Ricks turns out to have been this for the original Council of Ricks that Rick C-137 ("our" Rick) killed earlier in the season. They plan to be this for the newly elected President Morty as well, but unfortunately for them, President Morty—a.k.a. Evil Morty—has other plans, and has most of them killed and their bodies blown out into space.
  • Implied in The Spectacular Spider-ManTombstone is revealed as New York's "Big Man of Crime," but a few lines hint that he may be working for someone else. Word of God says that they wanted the Kingpin to be the Big Man, but couldn't because of legal issues; presumably, they would have introduced Kingpin as the real Big Man if things changed.
  • A non-villainous version in SWAT Kats: It's pretty obvious that Deputy Mayor Callie Briggs is the one who really runs Megakat City, which is a good thing considering how incredibly incompetent Mayor Manx is.
  • When former Big Bad Slade comes Back from the Dead on Teen Titans, it soon becomes apparent that someone or something is pulling his strings this time around, confirmed at the end of the episode "Birthmark" when he is shown kneeling to an unseen figure and calling it "master". It turns out to be Raven's demonic father, Trigon the Terrible.
  • In the first season of X-Men: Evolution, Magneto is this to Mystique, who is in turn the Man Behind the Man to the Brotherhood as far as the X-Men are concerned (though both the viewer and Xavier knew about her from the start, and the viewer knew Magneto was meddling from the end of the first episode). Later on, Apocalypse is the man behind Mesmero.

Alternative Title(s): Man Behind The Man, The Woman Behind The Man, The Man Behind The Woman

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