Decoy Leader

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

The Man Behind the Man controls a real leader behind the scenes. Some leaders may even employ a Body Double to confuse assassins. But sometimes, that leader puts a decoy in front of them to avoid the limelight and long daggers.

A Decoy Leader takes the place of a leader and impersonates them, often conducting him or herself as if they were the real deal. Often, the real leader feeds them instructions via audio device, hand signals, extensive training or other means so the leader can conduct meaningful policy. Usually the decoy is willing to die for the leader, and has little to no political ambitions at all.

Where this gets interesting is that the decoy doesn't need to look anything like the leader either. The leader may be a Master of Disguise or can at least clean up nicely, which she'll use in order to move around royal and civil society freely. In fact, the leader will likely enjoy going about with the common folk. Of course, a savvy hero or villain will be able to tell this King Incognito out.

Compare Puppet King, where the actual legal leader has become purely a tool for somebody else. An El Cid Ploy is another way of making your leader appear to be somewhere they aren't, with the difference being that they're actually dead.

Examples of Decoy Leader include:

Comic Books


  • In Batman Begins, Ra's Al Ghul uses a decoy as supposed leader of the League of Shadows. However, the decoy supposedly doesn't speak English and has the real Ra's "translating" for him, so he's effectively just a figurehead. Another scene reveals that the decoy can speak English, which helps sell deception to the viewer.
    • Also seen later (or earlier depending on perspective) in court when a Mook claims to be the actual head of the Falcone crime family.
  • Kuato the mutant in Total Recall was hidden under the shirt of his decoy "host".
  • The title character in Dave was supposed to be this, but he ended up turning against his handlers.
  • In Star Wars The Phantom Menace, Queen Amidala operates as the Queen Incognito Padme—which is her real name—and throughout the movie has a decoy-bodyguard, Sabe, who replaces her.
    • In the original cut of the scene in Star Wars where Solo talks to Jabba in front of the Falcon, he was talking to a human. One of the short stories in the Expanded Universe explains that this man was a decoy authorized to negotiate with smugglers in Jabba's name. Then the remastered version of the film rendered that explanation meaningless when they have Han talk to the real Jabba in that scene.
  • A scene in The Last King of Scotland sees Nicholas mistake a double of Idi Amin for the genuine article, which gives the real Idi Amin much to laugh about.
  • Superman 2. The President of the United States tries this when the three Kryptonian super villains drop in for a visit. General Zod is not fooled, however.

Zod: You are the one they call "President"?
Guy: I am.
Zod: [snip] Kneel Before Zod.
Guy: [kneels]
Zod: You are not the President. No one who leads so many could possibly kneel so quickly.
President: [Steps forward] They're protecting me. I'm the President.

  • At the end of The Eagle Has Landed the protagonist appears to successfully assassinate Winston Churchill before being shot. However it turns out he was an impersonator and the real Churchill was at the Tehran conference all along.
  • In the film version of Wild Wild West, the first version of Ulysses S. Grant we see is actually Artemus Gordon, but Jim West sees through the deception. Seconds later the real Grant arrives and chews them both out, suggesting he was unaware of what Gordon was doing. Note that both Gordon and Grant are played by the same actor.
    • This gets repeated in a later scene where Loveless tries to kidnap the President and Gordon shows up disguised as Grant to buy the President time to escape. Unfortunately, before the President figures out that he's supposed to be leaving so that the imposter can be kidnapped, Loveless grabs them both.


  • In Nomads of Gor the leaders of the four tribes of Wagon Peoples [sic] all employ these - the Wagon Peoples know who the leaders really are but outsiders think the decoys are the leaders.
    • An Earth girl is also substituted for a female Gorean leader in Kajira of Gor.
  • The Doctor Who Virgin New Adventures book Death and Diplomacy takes this a step further: even the real leader thinks that the decoy is the one in charge.
  • In the BattleTech Expanded Universe, several novels detail uses of decoys for a variety of leaders: Jenna Clay subbing for Melissa Steiner is the most straightforward of these, but Hanse Davion and Thomas Marik both had doubles. Hanse's double was a plot by Maximilian Liao to take control of the Federated Suns, but Thomas Marik's double was a plot by ... Thomas Marik.

Live Action TV

  • On Arrested Development the Saddam Hussein on trial clams to be this, alleging that the real Saddam has a scar on his head and "I'm Noscar."
  • One time on 24 when CTU was invaded by bad guys they asked "who's in charge?" One guy (who wasn't in charge, but was in love with the woman who was in charge) stood up and said "I am," so they shot him.
  • In an episode of Stargate SG-1 involving brainwashed assassins programmed to sabotage negotiations between the Unites States and the Tok'ra, both sides do this.

Tabletop Games

  • One D&D adventuring party that was written up in Polyhedron magazine included a gnoll henchman who, thanks to what his human companions thought would be a one-time ruse to sneak him into a city, wound up becoming renowned as a powerful (human) knight whom the other party members served. It became routine for him to put on full plate armor and ride impressively in the midst of the group, who played along at being the "mighty knight's" minions because having such a famous warrior among them got them more respect (and higher payment for their work) than having a sidekick.


  • Used in Henry VI by the Dauphin of France to test whether Joan of Arc could tell the difference. (She could.)

Video Games

  • The head of the Valkyr drug cartel in Max Payne is thought to be The Don Angelo Punchinello. However, the real head is the Corrupt Corporate Executive of Aesir Corp, Nicole Horne.
  • Parodied in Bangai-O with Nise (Fake) Gai, a doppelganger that the Cosmo Gang occasionally uses to substitute Gai in battle. Given that he wears a flimsy disguise and overacts his assigned role, it's no wonder that Riki sees right through him. The latter then decides to briefly mess with the former a little, assuming that he is the real Gai after all.
  • In Dark Souls, "Gwynevere" is actually an illusion controlled by the Dark Sun Gwyndolin, the real Gwynevere having abandoned Anor Londo long ago to marry a foreign god. Even "her" sunlight is just an illusion that is dispelled if the player kills "Gwynevere".

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