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Manipulative Bastard / Film

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  • Hamegg from the Tezuka Star System (most notably Astro Boy) might be called this in general, but it's hit pretty hard in the CG movie. He's made a career of manipulating lost, lonely children for a living — and after realizing Astro is a robot, he keeps toying with his emotions to get him ripe and trusting for the opportunity to toss him into the Robot Games.
    • Also has managed to get enough people under his sway that no one has a problem with him publicly torturing Astro after the gladiator bots fail to kill him.
  • Disney enjoys this trope:
    • Scar from The Lion King. He uses Reverse Psychology to tempt Simba into visiting the forbidden elephant graveyard, nearly getting himself and Nala eaten by the hyenas. After killing Mufasa, he tricked Simba into thinking himself responsible for his father's death — before telling the hyenas to kill him. Upon Simba's return several years later, Scar played off Simba's misplaced guilt to turn the whole pride against him. He would have won right there if he hadn't stopped to gloat before killing Simba.
    • Gaston from Disney's Beauty and the Beast. Though for the most part a highly unintelligent person (he's Book Dumb in an extreme sense), he's surprisingly good at using his popularity amongst the townfolk to get them to do what he wants, not matter how obviously evil it is. That's because no one's slick like Gaston.
    • Dr. Facilier from The Princess and the Frog easily appeals to Lawrence and Naveen's desires during his Villain Song so that they get sucked into his devious schemes with a little help from his Friends on the Other Side. He tries it on Tiana in the end, but fails.
    • Mother Gothel from Tangled. She managed to keep Rapunzel voluntarily isolated in their tower for nearly two decades by playing to her fears and insecurities. She manages to be a Vain Sorceress without any magic powers, because she's so good at manipulating people she doesn't need to have spells to make the plot work.
    • Probably the most terrifying and notorious example of this has to be from Frozen. Prince Hans pretends being a Nice Guy by wooing Anna to even capturing Elsa in a seemingly reasonable manner. It's only when Anna desperately needs his help does he then reveal his true colours, breaking the former so hard when she is in dire need of the assistance she thinks he can provide. A deceptive man, Hans is very good at consciously mirroring people to push and show them what he thinks they want to see in a calculated manner. He helps Arendelle's populace to gain their trust, and when Anna reveals she's dying, he says she's dead just to rally the other dignitaries to have Elsa executed. It's no wonder that by the time he reveals his betrayal, he was just INCHES away from winning.
      • It's also deconstructed. Once Anna sees through Hans's repeated lies, she points out that he's the only person around with a metaphorically "frozen heart."
  • Lord Business from The LEGO Movie. He so viciously targets his lieutenant's weaknesses by putting him in between the dedication to his job and the love of his parents when asked to Kragle the latter. Of course, he knows practically everything about Good Cop Bad Cop, and exploits this for his own goals to get him to pick the right answer. However, a moral dilemma is the perfect place to break someone, not to mention someone who has a split personality that have separate morality codes, ending with Good Cop overwhelming Bad Cop with his protests of innocence. Not only achieving the possibility of one step towards world domination, Lord Business finds an excuse to erase Good Cop from the picture and turn Bad Cop into his own puppet by forcing himself into his lieutenant's very psyche.
  • The Shrek film franchise:
    • Shrek 2: The Fairy Godmother. While she seems like your typical friendly, sweet and kind fairy as the name would imply, she's actually rather nasty. She has no qualms about resorting to trickery and extortion to get what she wants; in this case, the crown of Far Far Away. She intended to have her son rescue and marry Fiona to put him on the throne and reign as queen mother. This doesn't go according to plan as Fiona fell in love with Shrek, thus the Fairy Godmother attempts to get rid of him, either by blackmailing Harold into getting rid of Shrek or by using Shrek's own feelings to manipulate him into thinking Fiona doesn't really want to be with him. When Fiona didn't fall in love with Charming on her own, she decided to drug her with a potion so that she would marry Charming. This is what finally crosses the line for Harold and gives him the courage to stand up to her.
    • Shrek Forever After: Rumpelstiltskin is probably even worse than the Fairy Godmother. He is a devious conman who tricks people into signing his cursed contracts and he'd always twist the words around in his favor and let his victims suffer. He tricks Shrek into signing the "ogre for a day" contract; offering him a day to be a live like a proper ogre (i.e., scaring villagers, outrunning angry mobs), in exchange for "a day from your past that you don't remember". Turns out, the day Shrek gave away was the day he was born and thus, his friends have no clue who he is, and Fiona was never rescued from the Dragon’s Keep and Rumpel is in power over Far Far Away. Worse, Rumpel reveals that the contract will end up with Shrek being erased from existence at the end of the day, and consequently becomes a vicious dictator who destroys the Kingdom of Far Far Away. And Rumpel even comes even closer to winning than any other antagonist in the franchise.


  • Carter Burke may not seem like much more than an out-of-place businessman in Aliens, but he is a Manipulative Bastard. He uses the corporate chain of command to suggest that the Hadley's Hope installation check a very specific set of coordinates (without telling them it would be dangerous), which leads to the facility being overrun by xenomorphs. He tried to get a synthetic loyal to Weyland-Yutani to replace Bishop, but failed. He read up Ripley's psychiatric reports to goad her into coming with the Marines to LV-426, knowing she was suffering frequent nightmares and suggesting that they would not stop until she faced her fears — it works, though she ended up being a bigger crimp in his plans than he anticipated.
  • Eve Harrington, Addison DeWitt, and Margo Channing in All About Eve can all play people like instruments.
  • In Big Eyes, Walter convinces Margaret that her paintings will only be taken seriously if people thought that a man made them.
  • Noah from The Boy Next Door threatens expose pictures and video of his one-night stand with Claire unless she became his girlfriend.
  • Willy likes to play this part in Colette, using the people he employs to build up his literary brand (including Colette). But he’s not especially good at it; the people he uses notice the fact, sooner or later, and get angry with him.
  • Step-siblings Sebastian and Kathryn from Cruel Intentions. They play people like pieces in a board game as a hobby, mostly because it amuses them, they think they're better than everyone else, and they're neglected by their parents and bored. But in the end, it turns out that Kathryn was the worse of the two: "You're just a toy, Sebastian. A little toy I like to play with."
  • The Dark Knight:
    • Though the Joker has already been referenced, this version of him in gets special mention. His manipulative skills are at least as frightening as his penchant for random acts of violence.
    • Salvatore Maroni, the closest thing to The Dragon that the Joker can have, is also the only one to actually benefit from his presence through sheer street savvy...Until he makes the mistake of dealing with Two-Face.
  • The Big Bad in Daybreakers is also a cunning manipulator who plays the hero's brother ad libitum.
  • Any version of Lex Luthor tends to be a Manipulative Bastard, but his DC Extended Universe version especially qualifies. In Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Lex plays everyone like a fiddle, including Superman, Batman and the US military, government and media. The only person he isn't able to successfully manipulate into somehow furthering his plans is Senator June Finch, which is one reason why he orchestrates her death, and even does that in such a way that it furthers his plans.
  • The Warden from Death Race. She's also The Chessmaster the way she makes the convicts participate in her Game Show that she uses to finance the operations of the prison, she's a Hate Sink by the way the movie makes us not like her, and she's a Manipulative Bastard by the way she uses people to get what she wants. It's kinda hard to like her, considering the very strong implication that she had Jensen's family killed and framed him for it in order to get him to race.
  • In Desktop Desperadoes Alex the main antagonist of the film not only tricks the animated protagonist Pointer into captivity by setting up a cage which he disguises as a film audition booth while posing as a production member but he even forces Pointer's newly instated boss Jane Maine into aiding him with his manipulation by setting up a false conference room which Alex entraps both characters in.
  • Ex Machina:
    • Nathan deceives Caleb about his real purpose in the experiment, after having manipulated Ava's desire to escape. Hinted early on, when he pressures Caleb to sign the non-disclosure agreement without a lawyer.
    • Ava. The film amply demonstrated that she was very skilled in the art of manipulation. This is augmented even more with her ability to read micro-expressions and her form being that of an attractive young female for Caleb. She possibly manipulated Kyoko (which if she did, probably wasn't hard, given how mistreated she was by Nathan).
  • Gellert Grindelwald in Fantastic Beasts, naturally, as expected from the person who once managed to manipulate even Albus Dumbledore. Pretty much all his words contain manipulative elements designed to inspire loyalty, and unlike Voldemort, he is far more effective at it to where he doesn't need to use blackmail, as he's much better at being Affably Evil than Voldemort ever was and can recognize and use the more sympathetic sides of others to his own benefit, unlike Voldemort sticking to his promises of power. The greatest examples were how he turns Queenie to his side by manipulating her love for Jacob, promising to make her able to be with him, and how he manipulates Credence by appealing to his desire for an origin and companionship. This is even despite them being well-aware of his manipulative traits yet still failing miserably when he gets to them. In fact, a comment from an enemy of his is admitting he's a "charismatic blighter".
  • Ferris Bueller, the main protagonist from Ferris Bueller's Day Off, is intended to be this and something of a sociopath, according to the Director's commentary.
  • Gregory in Gaslight, who sought Paula out and married her so he could get access to her house and find the jewels.
  • When Ferriman in Ghost Ship is exposed as his true self his mastery of personal manipulation becomes evident. His routine is to pretend to be a harmless guy leading greedy people to a lot of gold, then manipulating them into killing themselves one by one so their souls become corrupted and he can take them to Hell. After he's done he lures another crew there, rinse, repeat.
  • Smaug from the film adaptation of The Hobbit, even moreso than in the book. He's perfectly happy to talk to Bilbo for a while and turn all his fears and doubts against him. He refrains from killing Bilbo because he wants him to watch Laketown burn. He even briefly considers letting Bilbo take the Arkenstone to Thorin, just for the pleasure of watching it drive Thorin mad with greed.
  • The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 has President Coin, who ultimately conned District 13 and the others into putting herself in power. Even President Snow admits how well she pulled it off, though her "presidency" doesn't last too long.
  • Bert Gordon from The Hustler (1961) is a dangerously subtle version. Everything he says and does is used to manipulate and control others — there are no innocuous comments anywhere. Worse, even after the other characters know not to trust him, he's still able to goad them to his ends and ultimately drive Sarah to commit suicide.
  • Valentine from Kingsman: The Secret Service is charismatic and affable enough to convince most world leaders and Arthur himself to join him in his twisted plan to save the world.
  • Thelma from Little Sweetheart. She not only manipulates plenty of people using the fact that she's only nine, but even when characters know how evil and vicious she is, they still fall for her tricks.
  • Brigid O'Shaughnessy in The Maltese Falcon. As Sam Spade says at the end of the film, he wants more than anything else to believe her version of events, and that's why he doesn't.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe: Loki in Thor and The Avengers fully lives up to his title as the God of Lies and Mischief. He leads Thor down the path to his banishment and then leads him to believe that Odin is dead, double-crosses both his Asgardian family and the Frost Giants, and continually uses those around him to set up some Engineered Heroics in an attempt to get some respect. In The Avengers he gets even more devious: he manages to sow dissent among the members of the Avengers, eventually causing them to battle each other rather than him. Downplayed in Thor: The Dark World, where he relies on casting illusions and mind manipulation spells (on Odin) more than on exploiting psychology per se, and in Thor: Ragnarok, where he is The Charmer.
  • MonsterVerse:
    • Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019):
      • Emma Russell is revealed to be one of the Abusive Mom variety, especially in the novelization. She emotionally manipulates and all but brainwashes Madison to aid Emma's plan to set the Titans loose on the world, rationalizing it as looking out for Madison's welfare.
      • Alan Jonah, the main human antagonist besides Emma, is a notably more successful one. Although the human bad guys' plan to set the Titans loose on the world was technically his associate's Emma's plan and it was Emma who came to him, it becomes clear that Jonah is the Dragon-in-Chief who has Emma wrapped around his finger when Madison tries to appeal to Emma's conscience and Jonah quickly intervenes to all but gaslight Emma into sticking to their plan. It's always Jonah who encourages Emma to do the worst things in the movie, being the devil on her shoulder.
    • Godzilla vs. Kong: Apex Cybernetics, the Evil, Inc. whom are out to kill Godzilla and prove their own warped ideals that humanity is superior to the Titans, use a lot of subterfuge and deception to realize their plans: creating a giant False Flag Operation against Godzilla by using Mechagodzilla's signal to covertly provoke Godzilla's attacks on cities, and manipulating Drs. Lind and Andrews and Jia into believing that they're going to help them stop Godzilla. It probably comes from having a high-functioning sociopath who thrives on manipulating others as their CEO.
  • Norbit: Rasputia is good at manipulating Norbit into following her commands. As well, her brothers manipulate Deion into signing a contract for the orphanage. On the other hand, Deion manipulates Kate into marrying him so he can get her money.
  • Now You See It...: Max is very cunning, and uses his trickery to not only set up an entire reality show in order to search for a young wizard, but also to convince people Danny has no real magic, and then, convinces Danny he'll train him in being a real wizard, but only with the goal of killing him.
  • Pain & Gain: Lugo manipulates every single of his cohorts, specially Paul.
  • Paranoia (2013): Knowing it was a matter of time until Wyatt tried to send someone to spy on him, Goddard planned to get proof of this so he could blackmail Wyatt into selling Wyatt Mobile to him.
  • Captain Jack Sparrow of Pirates of the Caribbean despite not being a villain... kinda. In Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest alone, he managed to renegotiate a non-negotiable deal with Davy Jones, change the thing that Elizabeth wanted most in this world, and, after Will and Norrington tag-team fight him, having him disarmed and at both of their mercies, ends up turning Norrington on Will, and manages to walk off with the key while they fight each other to the death. All with nothing but the gift of gab.
  • Rotti Largo from Repo! The Genetic Opera, sometimes to the point where it's hard to figure out who he's not manipulating.
  • The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Dr. Frank N Furter is very good at manipulating people into sleeping with him.
  • Saw 3D opens with a trap containing one of these. A woman named Dina, who was seeing two men (Ryan and Brad) at the same time, is suspended over a rotating saw, with two circular saws on either side of it. Ryan and Brad are told that in order to save her, one of them must kill the other. Dina tries to manipulate the men into saving her, but makes a fatal error - she starts by cheering on the one that seems to be winning, but as soon as the tide turns she starts cheering for the other. The men realize that she doesn't love either of them - otherwise she would have only cheered for the one she did love - and mutually decide to push the saw upright, letting Dina drop onto it and killing her.
  • Scary Movie 4: Played for Laughs. Shaquille O'Neil and Dr. Phil end up in a Saw-style nightmare. O'Neil manipulates Dr. Phil into cutting off his leg first by exploiting his Mommy Issues.
    Shaquille O'Neil: You first.
    Dr. Phil: Bullshit!
    Shaquille O'Neil: Yeah, you're probably not man enough. I guess your momma was right.
    Dr. Phil: (enraged). Never! (holds up saw) Whose the coward now momma! (begins sawing)
    Shaquille O'Neil: (smiling) Candy from a baby.
  • The Sex Trip: Matt charms both Eddie and Jess very easily, but Eddie detects something's off with him when he claims to work at a homeless shelter, but refuses to name which one. Jess continues to be charmed by him enough to go on more dates, while Eddie can recognize his manipulation tactics and does some digging, and learns that Matt's not just manipulative — he's also a married man with children. Sadly, Jess is so in love with him by this point that she brushes off Eddie's warnings as romantic jealousy.
  • The Silence of the Lambs: Hannibal Lecter gives the eponymous Hannibal Lecture to Clarice and it's implied he convinces the guy in the next cell to kill himself, and in the books it's revealed that he did this to his own patients.
  • Spanking the Monkey: Susan is quite good at manipulating people. After assaulting a neighbor's daughter, she keeps her father from pressing charges by sympathy baiting. However, the worst example is revealed later on: Ray takes Susan to see the doctor and discovers that she could have had her casts removed weeks ago. This strongly implies that rather than it being a spur of the moment mistake driven by lustful circumstance, she decided to seduce her son into a sexual relationship all along, showing a level of premeditation that makes her truly irredeemable.
  • Spirited (2022), a modernized Christmas Carol has this in Clint Briggs, the Scrooge of the story. He is a smooth talking business man who runs a PR company that creates controversies for the benefit of its clients. He is introduced at a convention for Christmas tree growers where he suggests creating a “War on Christmas” spin to boost their sales against artificial trees. He is even able to manipulate the ghosts that come to haunt him, almost escaping his own haunting on at several points.
  • Star Trek: Generations. Doctor Soran, who plays everyone for his own ends.
    • Also given he's El-Aurian, a race of psychics and readers, means he was likely pulling this on Picard in Ten-Forward to let him go back to the Array.
      Soran: They say time is the fire in which we burn.
Picard has just received the news his brother and young nephew perished in a fire, leaving him the last Picard, something Soran couldn't possibly have known otherwise.
  • In fact, Soran piles it on by adding, "My time is running out." playing on Picard's new re-acquaintance with mortality.
  • Star Trek Into Darkness: Admiral Marcus decided to steer Kirk's rage into a course that would ignite a war with the Klingon Empire, first by sending him in a Federation ship to Qo'noS, then by giving him orders to bombard the Klingon homeworld, and finally by sabotaging the Enterprise so that it would be caught by the Klingons.
  • Emperor Palpatine, A.K.A. Darth Sidious, is the main antagonist from Star Wars. He is the puppet master behind the curtain, pulling the strings of all the characters in the movie. His manipulativeness is evident throughout the saga. From co-ordinating, and eventually betraying the Trade Federation, as they attack Naboo as an excuse to replace the incompetent Chancellor Valorum as Chancellor. Setting up the various commerce guilds in the Galaxy to take on the Republic as an excuse to access emergency powers. Getting Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader to kill Count Dooku to replace him as his apprentice, and then promising to save his wife from certain death with his knowledge of the dark side so he would turn his back on the Jedi. And this is just to name a few of the manipulative things he's done.
  • Bruno in Strangers on a Train.
  • The Suppressor: Max Bentley, AKA "Vince the Prince", exploits Blake Bradley's desire for vigilante justice to convince him to kill the drug dealers and other criminals who happen to be Max's competitors.
  • The titular character of Teaching Mrs. Tingle plays two of the other three main characters like a fiddle before showing weakness on-screen (but away from other characters), and would have gotten the third already were it not for a convenient interruption.
  • The Thing (1982): The titular creature, to the horror of the Antarctica crew, proves itself to be far more cunning and intelligent than a mere animal driven by instinct. The Thing does everything it can to use the paranoia it creates naturally to its favor, infecting those Beneath Suspicion and working to plant evidence and further the guilty look of the camp leaders to further sow confusion and Divide and Conquer. Even in the end, when it appears the threat is over, there remains an ambiguous chance that it may have succeeded.
  • Evie in Thirteen (2003) (although she's not as evil as some of the other examples)
  • The Truman Show was the result of Mad Artist Cristof controlling Truman's life since birth, including giving a fear of the ocean to ensure he'll never leave the dome he unwittingly lives in.
  • Keyser Söze, the villain in The Usual Suspects. To explain any more about the character would probably spoil the entire movie.
  • Randal Graves, famous for his intricately thought-out, vicious verbal traps. Try this one on for size.
  • In The Wings of the Dove, Kate Croy gradually becomes one when her fear of impoverishment leads her to manipulate her dying rich friend into leaving a substantial share of her fortune to her and her fiance'. The fact Kate's so effective at it ends up shocking her.
  • The titular Wizard from The Wizard of Oz. For years he conned everyone in Oz into believing he was the greatest sorcerer in the world and set himself up as a sort of quasi-god king, despite having no magical power whatsoever. When Dorothy and her friends finally see through his disguise, they're at first outraged, but he quickly has them fawning at his feet just by handing out a few Magic Feathers. To give you an idea of how smooth an operator he is, when he admits to being a fake, the Scarecrow angrily shouts "You humbug!" Less then two minutes later:
    Scarecrow: How can I ever thank you enough?
    Wizard: Well, you can't.
  • Wolves: Wild Joe. After being exiled by Connor Slaughter, he tracked down his and Lucinda's long-lost son, Cayden, kills his adoptive parents and frames him, forcing him to go on the run so Joe can steer him towards Lupine Ridge. Once there, he'll undoubtedly find the truth of his parentage and he and Connor will end up fighting. Either Cayden will kill Connor or at least weaken him so that Wild Joe can kill him.
  • Elektra King in The World Is Not Enough, who manipulates Bond into having sex with her and loving her before betraying him and torturing him with a garrote, and revealing her plan to monopolize the oil industry. Unfortunately, somewhere along the line she forgets that Bond is a misogynist. Renard screws with Bond earlier by teasing him about his own love for Elektra.
    Renard: She's beautiful isn't she? You should have had her before, when she was innocent. How does it feel to know that I broke her in for you?
    Elektra: James! You can't kill me! Not in cold blood!
    Elektra: You wouldn't kill me. You'd miss me.
  • The World of Kanako: Kanako herself manipulates everybody within her reach: After being involved in a prostitution ring and eventually convincing even her class mates to take part in it, she blackmails the members together with Matsunaga. Afterwards Kanako asks the narrator if he wants to be like Ogata which becomes his driving motivation and after being bullied by another gang, he seems to be ready to jump just like Ogata but Kanako convinces him to go on living, so that she can completely destroy him. He trusts Kanako enough to take alcohol and drugs from her and gets brutally beaten up again and gang-raped which he only just barely survives. He wants to take revenge and kill Kanako but can't because he still loves her and is finally killed from out of the shadows (presumably by Matsunaga).
  • Keiichi Asamiya, Shiyori's ex, from X-Cross, tricks her into believing that Aiko betrayed her, when in reality, he is not only a native of Ashikari Village, he is the cult leader, and manipulated Aiko into bringing Shiyori to Ashikari Village under the pretence of wanting a fresh start with Shiyori.
  • X-Men Film Series
    • Magneto. Best demonstrated as he convinces Pyro to defect to his side.
    • William Stryker's a normal human, so he has to rely on his rather formidable intellect. He's successfully manipulated others with the help of his mind control serum, but he's also outfoxed the likes of Charles Xavier, Wolverine and the President by his lonesome.
    • Sebastian Shaw from X-Men: First Class. In addition to being an extremely powerful, he is very adept at seducing other mutants to his cause with promises of liberation and the opportunity to tap into powers beyond their wildest dreams. Likewise, he successfully manipulates the leaders of the U.S. and Soviet Union into undertaking increasingly aggressive actions (missiles in Turkey and Cuba) until both are at the threshold of nuclear annihilation.