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15 Most Manipulative Movie Characters of All Time

Updated June 15, 2017
10 min read

Manipulative personalities aren’t uncommon in movies. If you think about it, the art of movie-making is inherently about manipulating audiences. But that’s a separate conversation altogether. Today, we are going to talk about the list of movie personalities who created an unforgettable name for themselves because of their evil and wicked ways. These are the most manipulative film characters ever.

15.  Kathryn Merteuil – Cruel Intentions (1999)

Kathryn Merteuil (Sarah Michelle Gellar) is a sweet little child, wary of the world and its deceptions. She is too deceptive for her age and can manipulate anyone and everyone. For her, the world is game and she has this relentless need to win every single game. And she is ready to do anything for that. The art of seduction is her biggest weapon and she knows how to use it. She is a temptress and lures everyone to her deception, even the audience. She is also vicious and doesn’t care for anyone except for her selfish ways.

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14. Col. Nathan R. Jessep – A Few Good Men (1992)

There are not a lot of scenes where Jessep (Jack Nicholson) is shown at his manipulative best. The idea behind the story is to keep his manipulating skills under wraps and only display his authority. His manipulative traits comes to the fore when he is questioned in the court. In his quest of inculcating discipline among his men, he has become so blinded that humanity and compassion are few words that don’t exist in his dictionary. All he believes in is the line of command and security of the nation. But the moment his pride gets heavy on him, his deception gives in and he is exposed.

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13.  Frank Abagnale Jr. – Catch Me If You Can (2002)

Frank Jr (Leonardo di Caprio) is a con artist, the ways of manipulation is his bread and butter. He has a way with people with his impeccable charm and the wink in his eyes. He can be anyone for he has the confidence to think on his feet. Frank is a smooth talker and his easy-going personality supports his charm. He never dominates any situation, he melds in like he was always there, right in the thick if things. The reason he gets caught is for his deception becomes predictable and his attitude full of over-confidence.

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12. Gordon Gekko – Wall Street (1987)

Mr Gekko (Micheal Douglas) is a Wall Street guy who understands the language of only numbers. He speaks the tone of money and for him money is all that matters. He doesn’t care about the road, all he cares about is making money and making it at God speed. For him, people are mere pawns which he believes are waiting for his whip. In a way, he represents the Wall Street guys of the 90s. They might not have been as  manipulative as Mr Gekko’s character but they had the similar hunger for money. Michael Douglas never loses his character in his act of Mr Gekko, he remains stern and suave throughout and makes people believe his stories.

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11.  Colin Sullivan – The Departed (2006)

Colin Sullivan ( Matt Damon) builds a whole web of deception around him. He plays this act of being an honest officer. An officer ready to sacrifice his life for the safety of the citizens. But everything that he says is a blatant lie. He doesn’t care for the world or the people, all he cares about is money and his so-called father who is an Irish mafia Boss. Nobody thinks highly of him and he is always under the radar. He is the mole right under the eyes of the department yet no one has a clue for they don’t think he has the capacity of doing anything like it.

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10.  Alex DeLarge – A Clockwork Orange (1971)

Malcolm McDowell as Alex DeLarge is ruthless and relentless in nature. He doesn’t kill for a reason, he kills for the thrill of it. Alex is a monster and everything about him is enigmatic. The portrayal of Alex DeLarge by Malcolm McDowell deserves all the accolades he has received. He acts with the whims of his eyes. Alex is tied to a chair and is forced to watch explicit movies, you can see his different emotions through the expressions of his resisting eyes. He is the master of deception and is the reason the movie seems as ruthless and violent as it was imagined to be.

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9.  John Doe – Seven (1995)

The major part for John Doe’s manipulativeness comes from the clever screenplay. For a role that lasts hardly for fifteen minutes, John Doe packs a solid punch. Especially, in the scene where the detective accuses him of killing innocent people. He gets enraged for he doesn’t think that any of them were innocent and he truly believes that they deserved to die.  Kevin does a wonderful job in capturing the essence of a menacing character with his sharp acting.

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8. Tyler Durden – Fight Club (1999)

Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) is a pseudo god, a role model for the narrator (Edward Norton). Everyone follows him like he is the Pied Piper and they are his rats. He says things that makes them believe in the conspiracy theories of the world. The narrator is sure that Tyler’s way of life is the answer and hence he follows his every step. Though, Tyler is an alter-ego of the narrator but he is still convinced of his ways. Tyler Durden is like a walking George Orwell novel, filled with wisdom and wild expressions.

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7.  Daniel Plainview – There Will be Blood (2007)

Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) is a symbol of greed. He is the very definition of manipulation and exploitation. Firstly, he acquires the land from the village folks for next to nothing. He pays them peanuts for a piece of land that has so much of value for its oil. He even adopts a child to make his business a “family run mill”. Daniel feels that in order to survive in the business of oil, the man must be able to deceive and kill, in no particular order. For him, “corruption” is a way of life. But at the same time, he is also driven by his ambition, a quality that makes him magnetic. And there’s nobody more dangerous than a magnetic manipulator.

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6.  Aaron Stampler – Primal Fear (1996)

If books could teach deception, then Aaron Stampler (Edward Norton) makes a strong case for it in this movie. He is innocent, a guy hurt by the world. Nobody can see past his act and unveil the sociopath buried inside. He manipulates everyone: the doctor, his lawyer and most importantly his audience. He gives meaning to the world of deception. Aaron etches a character that stutters, is scared and the inhibitions of his mind has made him fragile. The beauty about Aaron’s character is the switch he makes from the fragile to the violent self is as seamless as a transition of an expression can be. The character is a copy book on how to play a deceptive character.

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5.  Catherine Tramell – Basic Instinct (1992)

In the end, any form of fiction writing is deception. Catherine Tramell (Sharon Stone) in ‘Basic Instinct’ is not only a writer but also a seductress. Catherine makes even the most intelligent of men do absurd things and they do it willingly. Everything about her, from her dresses to the way she sits, everything has a purpose. The world thinks it is one of her wild ways but for her it is a manipulation to cover all the loose ends.

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4. Keyser Söze – The Usual Suspects (1995)

“The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist. And like that, poof. He’s gone.” The movie is build on the premise that Keyser Soze (Kevin Spacey) is nothing but a listless pawn. He has an appetite for crimes but doesn’t have a brain of his own. Keyser Soze uses the words inscribed on random objects in the office while he is being interrogated to sketch an entire story. The detective or the audience doesn’t have a clue right till the end.  The entire movie is nothing but a tale of his deception, the audiences are under the impression that finally they will get to know the face of the urban legend but they get something that is even better. They are told that they have been played and the trickster is the devil.

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3. Terence Fletcher – Whiplash (2014)

He manipulates his students into believing that he cares for them. He makes them believe that their education, the perfection of their skill and craft is his only motivation. Hence, they should be fine with his brutal and unforgiving ways. Terence Fletcher (J.K Simmons) only cares for his reputation, a reputation that hinges on his band’s performance. He is not there to make the next big star, he despises the fact that anyone could get bigger than him. He is bitter and relentless with his language. To think of it, he is only human. Yes, he is greedy and yes he is outrageous. But all that has stemmed from the void that his skills could never fill. He is a reflection of a man who couldn’t amount to something and now is trying to hide in the glory of his students.

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2. Louis “Lou” Bloom – Nightcrawler (2014)

Right from the start of his career Jake has done roles that have pushed the envelope. He brings a sense of mystery to his characters and adds depth. As Louis Bloom he is breathtaking. He seems like a normal ambitious 20 something trying to make a career. But deep inside he is an evil monster who is a skillful manipulator. The testimony of his manipulative skills is the scene where he negotiates Sex with the news director. His voice doesn’t change, the volume doesn’t elevate and he doesn’t look surprised. He is very controlled and concise. All point to only one direction: A master manipulator at work.

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1. Amy Elliott Dunne – Gone Girl (2014)

Arguably, the most interesting manipulator on this list. Why?  There is subtlety and warmth in the character of Amy Dunne. She hardly ever loses her cool and is always in control. And that’s scary! The closing shot is a replica of the opening scene, with Nick caressing his wife’s head and in a chilling voiceover says, “what are you thinking?”, “how are you feeling?”, “what have we done to each other?” Everything you need to know about Amy is evident in that last scene: Despite everything she has gone through, she still seems to be manipulating.

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