It was then that I made the discovery that was to change my life for a second time, viz., that the criminal underclass - the thieves, burglars, counterfeiters and con-men who were the plague of London - were all unremittingly stupid. I thought I would be afraid of them. As things turned out, I would have felt more anxiety walking through a field of sheep. I saw that once that what they lacked, crucially, was organisation and that, as a mathematician, I was ideally suited to the task. If I could bring the same discipline to their nefarious activities as I could to binomial coefficients, I would create a force that could take on the world. I will confess that, although it was the intellectual challenge that first interested me, I was already thinking of personal profit for I was growing tired of living hand-to-mouth.
~ James Moriarty, on becoming the greatest criminal mastermind of all time.
Oliver Queen: I'm not going to kill you. If only because that's what you want me to do.
Adrian Chase: But you've done everything I wanted so far... Did you really think I would let all of this end in a parking garage?
~ Oliver Queen and Adrian Chase discussing how the latter's intellect and skills rivals the former's.

Masterminds are considered geniuses among geniuses; in other words, they are among the most intelligent beings in existence and are characterized by a personality in which they will plan things to amazing lengths and always have a backup plan. These characters may often be arrogant, weaklings or even cowards, but they should not be underestimated, as they can be extremely difficult to catch or defeat due to their incredibly complex schemes. They are usually referred to as "the brain behind it all" and just like master manipulators, they rarely show themselves directly towards their enemy.

Masterminds are generally defeated if the hero or another character (whether evil or not) finds a way to exploit their arrogance or egotism (e.g. in Hannibal, Mason Verger was pushed by his assistant amongst the boars and then eaten alive by them), if the hero(es) are of similar intelligence (e.g. in Death Note, Near eventually cornered and forced Light Yagami to confess he was Kira the whole time), or by a huge stroke of luck (e.g. in The Dark Knight, Batman caught the Joker off-guard at the very end of the movie).

Examples of well-known masterminds include Lex Luthor, Norman Osborn, JokerJohn Doe, Dr. Ivo Eggman Robotnik, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, Auric Goldfinger and James Moriarty.

Of course, they are rarely incompetent. They are generally as such if they are a comical character whose failures are played for laughs (i.e. Megamind).

To qualify as a mastermind, such characters have to be rarely caught off-guard and must have a plan B, C, or D to fall back on should their original plan be foiled. They are the complete opposites of Dimwits, who are stupid and cannot make any smart decision. This means those two categories are different and a character can be very rarely both, unless they come from comedy settings.

Also, manipulative machiavellians, or skilled tricksters are not necessarily masterminds unless they meet the aforementioned criteria and are proved to be successful in most of their plans.

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