Suggest media where the bad guys are more intelligent than the audience
April 6, 2009 7:36 AM   Subscribe

Please suggest books and films in which the antagonists are consistently clever, creating complex and elegant (evil?) plots-within-plots to befuddle the protagonist and audience!

I get really frustrated by books and films in which the bad guys just assuming that the spy will die when left standing next to a pool containing sea bass with frickin' lasers on their heads, or make other decisions that the audience can see are stupid. Basically, I want an evil genius who's consistently cleverer, more calculating and more resourceful than I am.

For example, I really liked The Magus, The Game, Fracture and Swordfish. In all of these, the antagonists' plans were entertainingly complex and apparently well thought out, with careful planning and sensible backups in place. Some of Iain M. Banks' Culture novels are good for this too, e.g. the reveal right at the end of The Player of Games made me smile.

I liked "Columbo" and "Jonathan Creek" for pretty much the same reasons: intelligent detectives unravelling a complex but usually elegantly constructed conspiracy, keeping the audience in the dark just as much as the protagonist is.

I realise that your answers are necessarily going to be subjective, that's fine. Just tell me which bad guys kept you guessing and off-balance until the last page!
posted by metaBugs to Society & Culture (28 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Inside Man
posted by aheckler at 7:56 AM on April 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: These entries on TV Tropes have a lot of good examples.
posted by burnmp3s at 8:00 AM on April 6, 2009

I liked the one in The Beekeeper's Apprentice.
posted by oblique red at 8:11 AM on April 6, 2009

Best answer: Mamet! You'd love House of Games, The Spanish Prisoner, and Heist. They're not so much "evil genius" as they are "incredibly well-constructed conspiracy plot" but I think they would still be right up your alley. The Spanish Prisoner is my personal favorite.

Oh, and read Watchmen, of course.
posted by bcwinters at 8:14 AM on April 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

Whoops, looks like I borked a link there. Try Heist.
posted by bcwinters at 8:15 AM on April 6, 2009

I'd recommend the movies Dangerous Liaisons, House of Games and Lone Star. These movies all share excellent villains, double-crosses and very satisfying endings. I also really enjoyed The Game but haven't seen the others you mentioned. I'll definitely put them on my list. Happy viewing!
posted by victoriab at 8:17 AM on April 6, 2009

Best answer: Nine Queens.
posted by Infinite Jest at 9:12 AM on April 6, 2009

The Way of the Gun was exceptionally twisty.
posted by Joe Beese at 9:30 AM on April 6, 2009

Seconding Oldboy from burnmp3s' link.
posted by cali59 at 9:32 AM on April 6, 2009

The Usual Suspects
posted by junkbox at 9:59 AM on April 6, 2009

another vote for House of Games, Inside Man, and Oldboy.
posted by JauntyFedora at 10:02 AM on April 6, 2009

If you like Columbo, try Agatha Christie, including Hercule Poirot stories. Some can almost be frustrating because the mystery is solved using some sort of hyper-specialized or just private knowledge, and/or deductions and trains of thought by the detective that are not revealed to the reader until the end. They're often not Encyclopedia Brown-style "can you solve it?" mysteries - you can't, because you're not given enough information; but they're still entertaining.
posted by attercoppe at 10:14 AM on April 6, 2009

Hammett's The Dain Curse fits your bill, I think.
posted by Barry B. Palindromer at 10:15 AM on April 6, 2009

The Inspector Rebus series by Ian Rankin, the Discworld Series by Terry Pratchett and the Kurt Wallander series by Henning Mankell.
posted by Kattullus at 11:15 AM on April 6, 2009

Best answer: If you read Iain M. Banks I assume you're okay with genre fiction, so I can recommend The Lies of Locke Lamora and its sequel, Red Seas Under Red Skies.

They're set in a kind of fantasy-tinged renaissance trade world, and center around a group of con-men/thieves who take it upon themselves to break the so-called "Secret Peace" between the criminals and nobility by running elaborate and expensive cons.

Red Skies is especially good for your criteria because the villain consistently has the upper hand and the heroes are always operating with imperfect or incomplete information.
posted by pts at 11:19 AM on April 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you haven't read it already Dune is magnificent! Wheels within wheels. The Baron Harkonnen is fantastically clever and downright evil in his schemes. Machiavelli would be proud!

The Dune DVD mini-series (the 2002 release not the God awful 1984 movie) hews pretty close to the first couple of books in the series. Well worth the price and time.
posted by Lord Fancy Pants at 11:46 AM on April 6, 2009

Death Note. Anime or manga. Two masterminds (who's good and who's evil is slightly up for grabs) outsmarting each other for 30+ installments.
posted by gnomeloaf at 1:28 PM on April 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You might also like If On A Winter's Night A Traveller, by Italo Calvino. Not so much an evil genius behind everything, except for the fact that the very book you're reading is an evil genius. You'll see what I'm talking about once you start reading....
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 2:14 PM on April 6, 2009

Everyone and there brother has seen it at this point, but The Dark Knight.

Also, Othello by Bill Shakespeare
posted by tylerfulltilt at 5:22 PM on April 6, 2009

You said books and film, but would you consider TV shows? The character of Ben from Lost is the epitome of a villain that keeps you guessing... so much so that even now, I'm not entirely sure he's a complete villain. He's really good at manipulating people.
posted by Nattie at 5:45 PM on April 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

This is sort of in a different direction, but Cruel Intentions is pretty twisty-turny, and Sarah Michelle Gellar is truly evil and great in that movie.

Nattie brings up a pretty good point too, about allowing runs of TV series, which are pretty easily accessible these days via DVD, especially if you have Netflix or similar. If you are allowing TV shows, JJ Abrams' earlier show Alias also has some pretty solid clever villains in Sark, Sloane, and even Jack Bristow. You can essentially just stop watching somewhere early in season four, though. It goes pretty solidly downhill after that. Season five I found almost unwatchable.
posted by The Esteemed Doctor Bunsen Honeydew at 6:13 PM on April 6, 2009

Late to the game, here... but Pacific Heights had a great, evil, twisty plot.
posted by jknecht at 8:17 PM on April 6, 2009

Best answer: A bit of Brit Lit for you: Roald Dahl and Jonathan Coe.
posted by sfkiddo at 11:16 PM on April 6, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks all, there are some fantastic-sounding recommendations here! I'm encouraged that I've already read/seen several of the suggestions (T. Pratchett, R. Dahl, Dune, Usual Suspects, Watchmen, Lost, Othello) and really enjoyed them all.

I'll try to get around to all of your suggestions eventually. To start with I'll try the Mamat films and see if my library can get a copy of The Lies of Locke Lamora and/or Jonathan Coe's "Winshaw Legacy", then work from there. I have a huge work deadline to get past then some great films and books waiting for me, so thanks again!
posted by metaBugs at 3:01 AM on April 7, 2009

Ed Mcbain's 87th Precinct books have a recurring evil genius character of sorts called the Deaf Man.

The recently released flick Duplicity might be worth a look. Wild Things is amusingly trashy and has plenty of twisty turny conspiracies too.
posted by the duck by the oboe at 6:42 AM on April 7, 2009

Hot Fuzz
posted by Akeem at 7:24 AM on April 7, 2009

One not mentioned so far: The Usual Suspects.
posted by chengjih at 8:02 PM on April 7, 2009

Response by poster: For anyone else who comes across this question, this previous AskMe has some more great suggestions.
posted by metaBugs at 10:48 AM on June 26, 2009

« Older You ain't gonna get sick son!   |   Going to war with prepositions Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.