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.
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 their 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.
A Sub-Trope of Obvious Villain, Secret Villain. 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.
This trope is often used as a form of The Reveal, so beware of spoilers!
- 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.
- Ace Powers: The Panther, Ace's Arch-Enemy, is revealed to be working for a mastermind known as the Spook in the comic's final issue.
- Amulet: The Elf King is set up as the Big Bad for the majority of the comic, until it is eventually revealed that he was being controlled by the Voice within Emily's Amulet, whose real name was Ikor, who himself was taking on a more villainous role starting in the latter half of the series, and is also the real Big Bad.
- Batman Eternal: Hush is confirmed to be Jason Bard's real boss in Issue 32. Then, Cluemaster is revealed to be Hush's real boss in issue 34... with Lincoln as the man behind him.
- Black Moon Chronicles: Haazheel Thorn appears to be directing the Black Moon in its genocidal war against the Empire of Lhynn, but he is actually under orders from Lucifer to create a favorable enough situation that he can just stroll in and Take Over the World to make it a new Hell (with every inhabitant's soul as a bonus).
- The 2008 series of ClanDestine sees some of the family trapped in an alternate universe with the Excalibur team, on an Earth where most humans have been exterminated by the Inhumans and their telepathic king, Maximus. Except that Maximus is just a People Puppet for the real tyrant, the ancient Inhuman named Tral.
- 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.
- Justice League (2018) and Dark Nights: Death Metal reveals that Perpetua, their Big Bad, was this, as she was the mother of the Anti-Monitor and after he was defeated, she manipulated Parallax, Alexander Luthor Jr. and Superboy-Prime, Darkseid and Mandrakk, and Barbatos.
- 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.
- 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.
- In The Amazing Spider-Man (Nick Spencer), the Kingpin's idea to get to Boomerang by going after his roommate Peter Parker is nixed by an unknown, giant-centipede-carrying third party, who forces Fisk to kneel and remember "who really runs things around here". A second attempt to get Boomerang has his forces back off at the sight of "The Roomate". This mysterious third party, Kindred, is revealed to be Harry Osborn, the other Green Goblin.
- Star Wars: Crimson Empire: Lumiya was retconned to be behind Carnor Jax, the alleged new leader of the Imperial Remnant forces.
- During Kryptonite Nevermore, Morgan Edge (or better said, the clone impersonating him) tries to bring Superman down because he poses a threat to his true leader, Darkseid.
- Played with in The Nail. It's implied that Lex Luthor (believed by the Justice League of America to be the Big Bad) is being manipulated by Starro until it's revealed that "Starro" is actually a mutated version of Krypto. The real Big Bad is none other than... Jimmy Olsen.
- Lex Luthor is initially positioned as the Big Bad of Infinite Crisis, but it turns out that the true culprit is Alexander Luthor, Lex's Mirror Universe counterpart. Note that this also included everything leading up to the Crisis, such as granting sentience to Batman's Brother Eye satellite and instigating the war between Raan and Thanagar.
- In Convergence, Brainiac is revealed to be a monstrous alien intellect operating through drones and constructs.
- This reveal was used in Superman: Brainiac to explain the contradicting appearances Brainiac made throughout the DC Universe, only now they're saying that Brainiac has been operating this way ever since his first Post-Crisis story.
- In Superman and the ThunderCats, Mister Mxyzptlk is the Man behind Mumm-Ra.
- In Who Took the Super out of Superman?, readers are introduced to Xviar, a shape-shifting alien who has been spying on Superman since Kal-El's rocket made it to Earth, and plans to destroy both the Man of Steel and his adoptive homeworld. Then it's revealed he's a mere agent of an alien organization that has been hired to obliterate Earth.
- Superman: Red Son: Superman initially defeats and reprograms Brainiac to help him increase the efficiency of his burgeoning Global Soviet Union, until Brainiac reveals that he merely faked being reprogrammed since Superman was already carrying out Brainiac's plans anyway. This leads Superman to the realization that he's no better than Brainiac in trying to control humankind.
- In Superman: Truth, Barack Obama. While he had nothing to do with the way that Steve Trevor and the rest of Homeland Security treated Superman and his friends and family, he gave passive approval for them to act. When he learns just how bad things have gotten (from the mouth of Superman himself), he gives Superman his reassurance.
- In Who is Superwoman?, it's revealed that everything the titular villain does -spying on Kryptonians, plaguing Supergirl, eliminating any embarassing witnesses...- is at the behest of General Sam Lane.
- Similarly, The Coming of Atlas ends up with the reveal that Sam Lane was the one who found Atlas and sent him after Superman.
- At the end of Red Daughter of Krypton, it's revealed that a parasitic sentient bio-weapon named Worldkiller-1 was manipulating the genocidal Diasporans the whole time.
- The first chapters of Crucible set up Roho as the Big Bad who intends to destroy the titular super-hero academy out of petty resentment, but at the end it turns out that he is being ordered around by Preceptor Korstus, who is trying to take over Crucible and raise a super-human army.
- In The Killers of Krypton, Supergirl sets out to find out whether Rogol Zaar, who claimed to be real cause of Krypton's explosion, was a madman working independently or was being backed by someone. Eventually she learns he tried and failed to convince a clandestine organization known as The Circle to exterminate the Kryptonian race. However, Empress Gandelo went behind of the Circle's back and helped Rogol Zaar destroy Krypton. During the story, Kara faces Harry Hokum, and learns what Hokum found out about Gandelo's actions, so the empress gave him the strip-mining rights to Krypton's ruins as long as he kept his mouth shut, which is because he owns Kryptonian cloning tech.
- At the end of Strangers at the Heart's Core, old Supergirl's enemy Lesla-Lar shows herself and reveals she and her psychic manipulations were behind most of villains who had fought Kara during those last months.
Lesla-Lar: "But I did not die! Instead, I evolved into a new life-form— of pure energy! I still sought your destruction by mentally influencing others... until I became trapped in a Superboy Robot!"
Supergirl: "So it was you in all those battles... YOU!"
- Starfire's Revenge: Supergirl spends several chapters unaware of the cause of her problems until she finds out Derek "Ames", the conman who slipped a power-nullifying pill into her drink, was working for a queenpin nicknamed "Starfire".
- In Superman vs. Shazam!, Supergirl and Mary Marvel search the world until they find Superman and Captain Marvel's impersonators, and then they find out Black Adam and the Quarrmer manipulated their relatives into fighting at the behest of a third party who is attempting to destroy both Earth-One and Earth-S.
- Reign of Doomsday: After half dozen of issues, the Superman Family learns that it was Lex Luthor who sent Doomslayer and the multiple Doomsday clones after them to keep them busy while he carried his scheme out.
- In The Hunt for Reactron, Kara and her allies Nightwing and Flamebird are trying to capture the eponymous villain to uncover who framed them for Metropolis' latest terrorist attack. When they finally defeat Reactron, the villain confesses he was following General Lane's orders.
- Adventures of Supergirl: As fighting a string of hostile aliens, Kara catches several hints and clues which eventually lead her to figure out her enemies are being goaded or manipulated by another villain called Facet.
- In The Earthwar Saga, the Legion of Super-Heroes fight the Resource Raiders, only to learn they are secretly the advance guard for an invasion by the alien Khunds. Who are being manipulated by the evil Dark Circle. Whose leader had been replaced by the even more evil sorcerer, Mordru.
- Ultimate Marvel:
- The Ultimates: In Avengers vs. New Ultimates the Avengers think that Nick Fury is behind a conspiracy, and the New Ultimates that it is Carol Danvers. It is eventually revealed that it was Gregory Stark from the begining, scheming to make both groups fight each other.
- Ultimate X-Men: Multiple Man was a villain of the Brotherhood, seen since the first arc. As of Ultimatum, however, it was revealed that he was controlled by Lorelei.
- 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.
- In The Dark Phoenix Saga, it turns out that Jason Wyndgarde was steadily brainwashing Jean Grey to further the goals of his boss Sebastian Shaw, leader of the Hellfire Club.
- In AWE Arcadia Bay (Rogue_Demon), Sean Prescott is behind a lot of seemingly unrelated incidents that have been on the FBC's radar, from Mark Jefferson's serial-kidnappings and killings, to Orzai's Monolith-Cult.
- A Different Miraculous Set of Circumstances... (Miraculous Ladybug): No one even knows that Hawkmoth exists in this universe, much less that he's the one commanding Chat Blanc to cause mayhem and demand the Ladybug Miraculous. Master Fu is aware that both the Butterfly and Black Cat Miraculi have been activated to do evil, but it's dubious whether he is privy to the Cat's brainwashing.
- 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 SEELEs 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.
- YodaKenobi, 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.
- A New World: Every single major player in Gensokyo, Luna, and Earth, including the supposed villain Lord Tenshou, 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:
- 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:
- The story 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".
- Book 2, A Crack of Thunder, reveals that Renly Baratheon was the one who hired the bandits who tried to kill Tony in Book 1, as a means of petty revenge. He is also the one backing Vanko and Asha's campaign against the other nobles of Westeros, hoping to undermine them all enough so that he can come out on top in the war.
- The Discworld of A.A. Pessimal introduces its take on South Africa. At the tail-end of the Annk-Morporkian Empire, an unscrupulous adventurer called Cecil Smith-Rhodes emigrated to the Caarp Colony, as it was then called, and, equipped with a dry academic textbook on geology which he had read assiduously on the way over, figured out where to look for things like gold and diamonds in the unexplored interior. He then equipped a rag-tag private army and conquered a whole new land for the Empire, which, with characteristic modesty, he called Smith-Rhodesia. Sir Cecil then became quietly influential, exploiting the War of Independence by backing both sides at once, whilst remaining publicly neutral. His surviving sons, who had fought on both sides, carried on the family tradition of "we do what works". In the latest iteration of The Family, the senior patriarch is Charles Smith-Rhodes, who had a conventional career in politics before realising his time was more usefully employed by founding and sustaining the minority party, the one that invariably held the balance of power between two major political parties in a deadlocked system. Thus, for minimal effort, in a democracy he ensured he always had the casting vote. Charles keeps a close and largely benevolent eye on his family and reasons that a lot of its younger members attending the Assassins' Guild School in faraway Ankh-Morpork is no bad thing at all. He is pleased, for instance, to charitably support the selected pupils his nation sends to the School every year. Charles also has lots of friendly professional contacts in, for instance, his nation's armed forces. Lord Vetinari in Ankh-Morpork has even been heard to express approval of a kindred spirit in a former colony.
- Girls' Night Out: In the first story, Barbara starts out chasing Arthur Brown. She quickly identifies him as an underling of Floyd Lawton, who is in turn nothing more than a chess piece of Harley Quinn's.
- Persona: The Sougawa Files: After Nobuyuki Itou's death, it's revealed that Yuudai Honda is the true villain of the story.
- When Life Gives You Lemons (Worm/Portal): As part of its deconstruction of Aperture Science's horrible history, Cave Johnson was little more than a figurehead manipulated by the true mastermind of the company, his assistant Caroline. She eventually killed Cave to ensure she would be the first person uploaded into GLaDOS.
- Professor Z's superior in Cars 2 is Sir Miles Axelrod, host of the World Grand Prix.
- Despicable Me: Mr. Perkins, the head of the Bank of Evil, is this for his son Victor, also known as Vector, as he hijacks Gru's plan and gives it to Vector to carry out. He is also this for the franchise as a whole (depending how long he's been active) as he has the entire criminal underworld in his pocket and can fund any scheme he wants.
- In The Princess and the Frog, it's clear that the Friends on the Other Side are the real power behind Facilier. Facilier himself clearly plans on being this once Lawrence marries Charlotte and takes over Big Daddy's role as head of the city's most influential family. Which would make the spirits the man behind the man pretending to be another man...
- 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, and until The Bourne Ultimatum that Blackbriar itself is taken down.
- The Fast and the Furious:
- Inverted in Fast & Furious, 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.
- Fast & Furious 6 reveals that Big Bad Owen Shaw had the drug cartel within his pockets, along with the CIA, DEA and numerous terrorist organisations.
- 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.
- The Green Hornet: Played for Laughs in that the mastermind has no idea she's the one coming up with all the plans. Britt (who is the Green Hornet) asks Lenore (his secretary, who makes a hobby of criminology) what she expects the Green Hornet to do next. She tells him, he and Kato do that thing, and she just thinks she's really good at predicting the guy. This backfires because she wasn't telling them what would be smartest, just what she thought they'd do. Right before the climax, she mentions off-hand that they're going to get killed soon because they've pissed off every criminal in the city. After the climax, they finally come clean so that she can give them real advice.
Britt: It's me! It's us! I'm the Green Hornet!
Lenore: Then why did you ask me all those questions about what the Green Hornet would do?
Britt: Are you kidding? We don't have any idea what we're doing!
- 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 reveals 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.
- Marvel Cinematic Universe:
- 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.
- 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.
- The Mystery of the Hooded Horsemen: While Norton is the apparent leader of the Hooded Riders, he makes references to a 'big boss' who is really issuing the orders.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014), Eric Sacks is leading the Foot Clan, isn't he? Turns out he has a higher-up. That higher-up's name is Oroku Saki - better known as The Shredder.
- 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.
- Megatron in Transformers: Revenge of The Fallen turns out to be the underling to The Fallen.
- The 2003 Zatoichi remake takes this to a ridiculous level in revealing two men behind the man in the film's very last minutes.
- In Crüe Ball, Craig, the music-hating "Keeper of the Wall", ultimately answers to Mr. Gore, the Spirit of Anti-Metal.
- 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 HeelFace 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.
- White Wolf's Changeling: The Lost encourages storytellers to use the True Fae this way.
- 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.
- The secret societies in the Card Game Illuminati are structured so that you ultimately become one.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Ace Attorney:
- The first game 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 its revealed that Arcadius is just a persona adopted by the Prototypes, a collective of telepathic clones who are pulling PACTs strings and claim to be doing so for the Solar Alliance as well. The Prototypes in turn are subservient to their Hive Queen Alpha.
- Audience!: has the white Darkky that curses Litho and manipulates Showtime in the cold open of the first episode.
- 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.
- Red vs. Blue uses this trope a few times.
- Season 10 reveals Sigma as the one behind the Meta. While Sigma dies in the Season 6 finale and so isn't technically in charge from then on, his Mind Rape of Agent Maine (the physical Meta) was so thorough that Maine continues to identify as the Meta and carry out Sigma's goal to the best of his ability.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- Bob and George: In the final battle, it is revealed that Fistandantilus was controlling Bob.
- In Deviant Universe, Corvus is this to the Dark Legion due to having some kind of control over its leader Anarchy.
- 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.
- Except that it was actually a different Immortal pretending to be her because she was responsible for other, similar cases, thus allowing them deflect attention away from himself.
- Eureka Seven Paradox Makers has Mekala, who is the harbinger of the Secrets and the sworn enemy of Scubs. She frequently engages in spacio-temporal warfare to tinker with reality, resulting in divergent timelines that often lead to bad futures or total ruin, and she manipulates people through the gift of supernatural powers to achieve her ultimate plans. Many a poor soul have unknowingly furthered Mekala's wicked schemes, thinking they were the ones in control.
- In Girl Genius, Tweedle is frustrated by multiple layers of this. Every time he thinks he finds the person in charge of those trying to assassinate him and deprive him of the role of Storm King, there's someone else. His sister's arrival finally shuts it down.
- 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.
- 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 Dragon to an as of yet unseen entity who also seems determined to take down the squad.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- In Worm, Coil is this to the Undersiders and Travellers, using them as proxies to Take Over the City.
- Stacy Bradshaw is this to Bridget in Sorority Forever.
- In Amphibia, after it was revealed that King Andrias was Evil All Along, it was hinted that he reported to a strange multi-eyed creature. Eventually, it's revealed that the actual main villain of the series is a Mind Hive of Amphibia's previous kings and geniuses known as the Core.
- Big Hero 6: The Series: Obake is this for Season 1, not only directly creating some of the villains but also recruiting them and directing their future efforts, though his involvement isn't revealed to the heroes until much later.
- 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.
- 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 (2003), 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.
- Wakfu: The climax of the third season drops a rather big bomb on the plot, revealing that Oropo, leader of the Brotherhood of the Forgotten, is the one who ordered Dathura to trick Ogrest, pretty much kickstarting the Chaos of Ogrest and the entire settings of Wakfu and the current state of the world, including the retreat of the Gods to Inglorium. He also left the Elacube where Nox found it, which would eventually cause him to become a Tragic Monster.
- 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.
- In Young Justice (2010), much of the villains' activity (including Cadmus, the Kobra venom, and the mole within the heroes) can be traced to the Light, working towards their goal of jumpstarting human evolution through conflict. The end of Season 2 reveals that the Light has an alliance with Apokalips, which is clarified in Season 3 to be a temporary alliance to conquer the universe before a final battle for domination.
- In reaction to the Light, the Justice League leaders Batman, Wonder Woman, Kaldur, Nightwing, and Miss Martian form a Benevolent Conspiracy to coordinate the seemingly-separate hero factions, including Batman's defected League members and Nightwing's own team. They even took staged events to promote Beast Boy's Outsiders. Needless to say, when the other heroes, including Beast Boy and Black Lightning, found out, they were not happy.
- Tales of Arcadia: