"The glee club’s been ignoring Tina all year long. Actually, she kinda got ignored last year too. Actually, Tina’s sorta been ignored the whole time and she’s been in the New Directions since, like, forever. "
This is a character who is supposed to be a main character, but for whatever reason does not get developed nearly as much as his counterparts. He's on all the advertisements, he gets a witty one-liner in the trailer, but when the release date comes, he almost fades into the background. Basically, he was Demoted to Extra before the story even came out.
This character is introduced at some pivotal point (usually the beginning) and then is generally ignored for the rest of the story. Maybe he's seen for all of five minutes in a three-hour movie, or maybe he just lurks in the background while his friends do all the important stuff. Whatever the case, to qualify for this trope, a character must have been introduced in a way that implied he was going to be important, but is left out of most of the story.
If the wasted character is in a series, the author may realize his mistake and give him some development in later episodes/books/etc. Alternatively, he can just put him on a bus or kill him off for real to avoid having to deal with another character.
Also may occur if an actor is in the opening credits but is seen in very little of the movie. Also could appear only in the cold opening and by the time their name appears in the opening credits they are not seen in the rest of the movie. This tends to be used with big named actors, and often in DVD re-releases of movies they appeared in before the big breakout role that made them stars. Might overlap with One-Scene Wonder. Also could be known as an Opening Credits Cameo.
May be a victim of the Spotlight-Stealing Squad, and expect him to become an Ensemble Darkhorse. Another possibility is that the extra is a Decoy Protagonist.
Compare The Artifact, who starts out prominent and then fades. An advertised extra is advertised as prominent, but never actually achieves that status. Also compare Fake Guest Star, where an actor is credited as a guest star but appears to be part of the main cast. Contrast Sir Not-Appearing-in-This-Trailer, where a prominent character appears in little to no advertising.
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Anime and Manga
Pokémon has this problem, with the main characters often obtaining monsters that end up receiving less screen time than the guest stars.
Kouchuu from Koihime†Musou is treated as a main character in both promotional art and anime opening, but in the first season she only appears for one episode before joining the Final Battle (everyone else gets at least 4-5 eps of hanging with the heroine) and for the next seasons she has to Stay in the Kitchen while everyone else has adventures (except Bachou on season 2, and her got A Day in the Limelight to compensate).
The Kämpfer mobile suit in Mobile Suit Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket. Heavily merchandised, looks badass, and loaded with weapons. It wreaks havoc across the colony for a few minutes, then gets torn to shreds in less than a minute by the Gundam Alex.
Most likely the point of it's non-use; it was crashed early on, and in repairs up until the finale. 0080 wasn't about the Gundam battles itself, but knew that the build up for the final clash would make it more memorable.
Hidan no Aria gives us Reki, who is put on par with Aria, Shirayuki and Riko in promotional artwork but ended up getting a few tiny (albeit important) appearances while all the others got An Arc and/or plenty of screentime. In the novels, however, she's more prominent, and even get two novels dedicated for her.
Tigerstar in the Warrior Cats manga Tigerstar and Sasha, is this for the second and third books. In the first book, he was the love interest. However, in the second book (on which he is the only one on the cover), he shows up, asks the hero a question, and is never seen again! In book three, he only appears in dream sequences. It's like the writers didn't know what to do with him, so they hid him in a cupboard and hoped no one would find him.
Subverted by Yuina in Hanasaku Iroha, as she was treated as part of the main cast but barely appeared... until episode 13-14, which were focused on her, and afterwards she started hanging around the main girls all the time.
Cammy in Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie appears in every piece of promotional material and tie-in for the Japanese release, to the point that it almost seems as if she's one of the main characters (along with Ryu, Ken and Chun-Li), despite having a screentime of less than five minutes. Cammy's only significant scene involves her assassinating a British politician while under M. Bison's brainwashing.
Chalia Bull in the original Mobile Suit Gundam was played up as the Ace Pilot from Jupiter who'd be able to completely change the war. He was a Newtype, a great pilot, and not only that, he was piloting a new Prototype Mobile Armor with remote weapons. Thing is, he only had a few minutes of screen time...in one episode... And he died...
The cover of the Dragon Ball Z film, Fusion Reborn was this. It featured many villains both from the DBZ series as well as the other DBZ films, despite that none of them play any major role in the film apart from a tiny cameo appearance.
Erina Nakiri of Shokugeki No Soma is billed as the female heroine. However, her appearance in the manga is rare, and usually not in a significant, plot-related way, which indirectly ascends another female character Megumi Tadokoro into a Deuteragonist with the eponymous Soma Yukihira by the time the Autumn Election begins.
Icarus in Pieter Bruegel the Elder's Landscape with the Fall of Icarus◊ is almost hidden. You can only see his leg sticking out of the water in the bottom right corner of the image. None of the other people in the painting seem to notice Icarus falling into the water; in fact, the shepherd seems to be actively focused on something else.
See also W. H. Auden's 1938 poem about the Bruegel painting, "Musée des Beaux Arts", which addresses this issue directly.
Advertisements for the classic movie musical Singin' in the Rain listed the names of all its stars, which was common at the time. However along with the people you would expect (Kelly, O’Conner, Reynolds, Hagen, Mitchell) they had Cyd Charisse. She was in the movie for less then 3 minutes as Kelly’s dance partner during a Big Lipped Alligator Moment (which was inside another Big Lipped Alligator Moment). The strange thing is that Charisse was not a star yet it probably would not have made a difference whether people saw the movie or not. You could chalk it up to fanservice.
Watching the first bit of Scream, it would be perfectly reasonable to assume that Drew Barrymore is our main character. But, alas, she's offed after one scene.
Jack-Jack doesn't feature nearly as much in the action film The Incredibles as you'd be inclined to think by the promotional material. In fact, he doesn't even wear his full Incredible outfit until literally the last fifteen seconds of the film.
The Direct-to-Video action film Wrong Side Of Town actually starred Rob Van Dam. However you would not know that by looking at the DVD cover where Batista is featured front and center. He plays a minor supporting character that was only in three scenes. RVD was billed second and is in the background alongside third billed Ja Rule who was an even better example of this trope. The rapper plays a gang leader who is shot by Batista literally three minutes after being introduced. Fourth billed R&B singer Omarion has a similar role to Ja Rule. Strangely other actors that have bigger roles in this movie note (Edrick Browne, Lara Grice, Jerry Katz, Ava Santana, and Louis Herthum) are not mentioned at all. According to some people this was because Batista was the best actor in it.
Liam Hemsworth as Gale in The Hunger Games did appear in quite a bit of promotional material like posters and did a fair amount of press, but wasn't in much of the movie since Gale isn't a participant in the Hunger Games. Though Hemsworth isn't a big name he's an up and comer that studio wanted to promote. Also, Gale becomes a more prominent character as the series goes on. Sort of. This is actually a complaint about The Hunger Games in general - it treats Peeta/Katniss/Gale like a big triangle, but Gale barely appears in the first two books of the trilogy at all, thus making who Katniss will end up with fairly obvious.
Kaya Scodelario as teenage Eve in Moon receives top billing despite having only a minute or two of screen time. To a lesser Dominique McElligott who plays Tess is only seen in a handful of flashbacks and videos. Justified as the only actors who have any significant screen time are Sam Rockwell and the voice of Kevin Spacey.
Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me: Elizabeth Hurley appears in the cold opening but is killed off before we see her name in the opening credits.
Jeanette from Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel: The boys and her sisters all get ample screen time, whereas Jeanette seems to fall by the wayside. Older fans know her from the 1980s cartoon as a genius, but this never really comes out. She's never seen without her sisters, and she gets about 5 minutes of screentime that isn't singing. Fortunately, she gets significantly more screen time in the third movie.
Dave as well actually has much more of a minor role than the film let on, as he's hospitalized for nearly all of it. The main human in the movie is actually a relative of his played by Zachary Levi.
A somewhat debatable example with Venom in Spider-Man 3. Eddie Brock was around for most of the movie, but Venom is seen for all of 15 minutes. However, he did a lot in 15 minutes, including finally doing what no other villain in the movies could do; kill one of Peter's loved ones, Harry Osborn.
Most of the criticisms toward Inglourious Basterds comes from a feeling that the Basterds are this trope. Though this is more of a misunderstood title. Inglorious means unknown, or disgraceful bastards being plural. i.e. The Nazi, The girl, The black guy, AND Brad Pitt's crew are all inglorious bastards. The European posters made this a bit clearer. Many of them consisted of a shot of one of the cast members with tagline *actor's name* is a Basterd. The marketing strategy was not done in the US because besides Brad Pitt the cast was relatively unknown.
Angel is featured heavily in all the promotional material, as part of the whole "the original X-Men team in the comics finally together in film". He only has two or three scenes: he refuses the cure and runs (flies?) away; he very briefly shows up at the X-Mansion for the sole purpose of allowing them to state categorically that the school is still open; and finally he saves his father's life during the final battle. He does nothing in between.
The same can be said of Colossus — he has one line (which is about as long as both of his two lines in X2: X-Men United combined) and he's really only in the film for the Fastball Special.
It should come as a surprise to nobody who saw the movie that several scenes were deleted from the final cut—not unusual in this movie series, but much more noticeable here. This obviously affected how much screen time several characters got.
Gambit qualifies for X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Like Venom, he has limited screentime, but manages to do a few things (sets/stops a fight between Logan and Sabretooth, takes Logan to the enemy base, saves Logan at a Big Damn Heroes moment).
Cyclops counts in the second and third movies, where his screentime is greatly reduced due to James Marsden's other commitments.
Anna Paquin as Rogue has a total of one scene (and a handful of seconds at that) in the theatrical release of X-Men: Days of Future Past. She even got her own Empire magazine cover despite the fact that most of her scenes were cut from the final film.
One of the first things revealed in the lead-up to Turtles Forever was that the movie would feature TMNT2003 versions of movie villains Tokka and Rahzar. The poster for the movie makes them one of its most notable elements, even more than several prominent characters. In the actual movie, they appear for less than a minute, unnamed, as part of a larger group of mooks.
Rappers Drake and Nicki Minaj in Continental Drift. Their combined screen time is about five minutes and yet Fox saw it was enough to put their names on the poster. Meanwhile, actual actors like Peter Dinklage, Nick Frost, Aziz Ansari and Rebel Wilson have far more screen time than those two but barely appeared in the marketing.
Sao Feng from Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End. Like Angel, advertised as a great new addition to the cast. When it came out, roughly 30 minutes of screentime (in a movie that's almost 3 hours long!) and an anticlimatic death one hour in.
Droopy was on the cover of and in many of the advertisements for Tom and Jerry: The Movie, even though he only gets a five second cameo.
Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis in The Expendables. The two actors were featured on nearly every advertisement for the film but appear in only one scene. The trailers for the sequel suggest that Arnie and Bruce are getting more screen time of the action variety, though they're still not the lead characters from all available information as of the start of 2012. For that matter, both Toll and Hale also have very minor roles despite having equal billing in the film. The only real members of the team to have any major roles are Barney, Lee, and to a lesser extent Yin.
Happened with the 2009 DVD release of Sesame Street Presents Follow That Bird — the cover features Elmo amongst the pictured characters, but the film was made in 1985, before he became a prominent member of the show's cast. In the film he only has a few seconds of screen time at the beginning and end, with only one line of dialogue (part of the song at the end).
Michael Jackson appears on the front cover of A Special Sesame Street Christmas, despite only showing up for less than two minutes and not singing.
Lizzy from Meet the Robinsons is featured prominently on the poster (which aside from her only includes the main characters), despite the fact that she is in no way essential to the plot, has maybe one full minute of screen time, and anywhere from two to five lines. The present-day version of Dr. Krunklehorn is also featured on the poster alongside many characters who appear in the future, which is odd because she ends up being Lewis' adopted mother.
Most advertisements and promotional images for the Dragon Ball Z film Lord Slug featured one of his henchmen Zeeun, in the film itself he only shows up for a few minutes and is killed by Slug when he accidentally insults his age before he even has a chance to fight.
Valentine's Day has a huge cast made up numerous A-listers. The movie was advertised one of two ways, the first was by advertising all of the stars, regardless of how big their role was or by saying it "starred" Taylor Swift and Taylor Lautner despite them having roughly two scenes and their characters were clearly meant to be looked down upon. Even worse was that all the reviews focused almost entirely on Swift, judging her performance despite her being a cameo.
The Spiritual Successor, New Years Eve managed to avoid this by only advertising the stars that had major parts (in fact there are several stars who don't appear in the commercials).
In a way Beetlejuice kind of fits this trope, despite being the title character (sort of), and the main focus of all advertisements and promotional material is on screen no more than 17 minutes of the film's 92 minute run time. The film might as well have been called The Maitlands if it hadn't been for the fact that Beetlejuice stole the movie. Chances are the only scenes you remember are the scenes with him and the "Banana Boat Song" scene.
Mr. T in DC Cab. The advertisers were hoping to cash in on his popularity from Rocky III, despite the fact that his character, aside from one memorable monologue in front of the Lincoln Memorial, has about as much screen time as most of the non-essential characters of the company (which, by the way, included Bill Maher and Gary Busey).
Early Halloween: Resurrection trailers heavily featured Jamie Lee Curtis and made it seem as though she played a big part in the movie. She ended up appearing in one scene at the beginning... before being killed off. She is also positioned at the forefront of the movie poster◊.
It could be argued that she is actually a Decoy Protagonist since viewers obviously weren't supposed to see her death coming.
Boba Fett in The Empire Strikes Back - heavily promoted, had his own action figure before the movie even came out, has exactly four lines.
In Roll Bounce, Nick Cannon and Mike Epps. Each are only in three scenes. Epps' garbageman Byron is pure comic relief alongside his partner Victor, played by Charlie Murphy, who doesn't even make the theatrical poster. More egregious is Cannon, who's skate rental clerk Benard gets ONE semi-dramatic scene, yet somehow pulls second billing on TWO DIFFERENT◊ DVD COVERS.◊
The marketing from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader placed a lot of emphasis on the White Witch, to the point of making her appear as the primary villain of the film. In fact, the character only appears sporadically, and only as an illusion- the real Witch never shows up at all.
The title character in Queen of the Damned does not appear until an hour into the movie (unless her statue form counts). The film draws elements not only from its own source novel, but also from The Vampire Lestat, and he is the central character along with love interest Jesse Reeves (whose actress, Marguerite Moreau, never even gets a mention). There's also the fact that Akasha's actress, R&B singer Aaliyah, died six months prior to the film's release, and the movie was heavily promoted as her last "starring" role.
Take Up to Eleven with Idlewild. In the trailer, you see a shot of comedian Bruce Bruce as a bodyguard leaving a room. Once you see the film, you realize that the trailer showed his entire role.
The trailer for The Next Three Days plays up Liam Neeson's role in the movie, but he's in it for a grand total of about five minutes and doesn't show up again.
Even though you probably didn't get a good look at his face in the split second it's on the screen (Josh Holloway, aka Sawyer, by the way), you probably associate the trailers for Mission Impossible Ghost Protocol with a man jumping off a rooftop, spinning around and firing several shots in freefall. This is taken from a scene fairly early on in the movie, and while the character is pretty plot important and does survive the fall, he doesn't live for long afterwards.
A really weird backwards (though possibly deliberate) version happened with Angel Heart. For anyone who hasn't seen the movie, it really does look like Robert De Niro's character is such. He's always billed as a "special appearance" even though the posters and DVD cover prominently shows him in front of the leads, making it appear that the film is just overbilling an actor who in actuality only has one scene. In the actual movie, while he doesn't have as much screentime as the lead, De Niro does make multiple appearances and his character turns out to be Satan himself, suddenly making the cover in which he is prominently displayed make a disturbing amount of sense.
Men In Black III has Lily, the Fanservice with a Smile girlfriend of villain Boris played by Nicole Scherzinger. She only appears to free Boris in the opening sequence and is unceremoniously dumped by him as he lets her be sucked into vacuum. In a sense, there's also Tommy Lee Jones as Agent K. Agent K does have a significant role in the movie...but it's the young Agent K, played by Josh Brolin, whereas Jones is only in the beginning and end.
Maria Hill was featured on many of the posters of The Avengers alongside the team and Nick Fury. Ultimately she gets one action scene to herself in the first ten minutes, and after that is mostly a bystander. As she has at least three deleted scenes, it's safe to say that much of her material was cut for time.
Robert De Niro's role in "Great Expectations" is pretty small but he's advertised as one of the four leads. A better choice for 4th lead might have been a then-unknown Chris Cooper
Every single cameo by a video game character in Wreck-It Ralph. The way that Disney marketed the film, it seems like they tried to make the cameos the stars and push the actual main characters to the background (but at least they have the honesty of putting at least one of the four protagonists along with the cameos in the posters.) Like many animated films, there were even character-themed posters that a cameo character had all to themselves. These characters rarely appeared outside of the opening scene, and some of them didn't even have lines.
Severine in Skyfall, who has more screentime than Eve (who will become recurring as Ms. Moneypenny) and is killed off shortly after we meet The Big Bad Silva which is barely into the second act
Bobby from A Goofy Movie had a big enough role that it made sense for him to be advertised—or it would have if the trailers didn't play him up to the detriment of three secondary characters with bigger roles than his, including completely ousting one of them. From viewing the trailer and looking at the cover art you would probably think Bobby was a main character on par with or barely beneath Goofy and Max. He actually has six scenes worth of screentime, one of which is spent doing nothing interesting or important and not being acknowledged, five of which are in the first act, and he completely disappears without even a mention for the entire second act and most of the third. He also has only one contribution to the plot.
The beginning of Celeste and Jesse Forever imply the film is going to be evenly split between Celeste (Rashida Jones) and Jesse (Andy Samburg) but after ten minutes they stop hanging out together and the story sticks with Celeste; Jesse remains in the film on and off and he is important to the plot but he's definitely a supporting character in Celeste's story and gets far less screentime overall.
Gary Oldman in Lawless, who was heavily featured in the promotional material and received third billing. In the actual film, Oldman appears in only a few scenes and is billed no less than tenth in the ending credits.
Michelangelo and Donatello in TMNT. All the posters, promotional material, and merchandise featured all four turtles evenly, but in the actual film they barely do anything and only appear in about a third of it in total.
Every original release poster and trailer of Lawrence of Arabia prominently features Jose Ferrer (Oscar winner for Cyrano de Bergerac) as the Turkish Bey, who appeared for two scenes totaling less than five minutes in length. Avoided through various re-releases, as Peter O'Toole and Omar Sharif have long since eclipsed Ferrer's fame.
Master Thundering Rhino in Kung Fu Panda 2. He was advertised on the official website and other promotional material, but only got about two minutes of screentime before being Killed Off for Real. To a lesser extent, Masters Ox and Croc apply as well. The DVD special Secrets of the Masters makes up for this, as Ox, Croc, and Rhino are the main characters.
Food Fight! had a very bad example of this, which is possibly due to troubled production. The movie was supposed to be used to promote several supermarket food brands, and as such, the cover had Mrs. Buttersworth, Twinkie the Kid, the Vlasic stork, Charlie the Tuna, etc. However, each of these characters were basically extras, only appearing in one or two scenes.
Averted with regards to Batman appearance in The Lego Movie. Unlike all of the other licensed characters in the movie, he's actually a pretty major character.
Despite being hyped up as a major supervillain in trailers and posters, Alexei "The Rhino" Sytsevich has around five minutes of screen-time in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, and we only see him as the Rhino for around two minutes. Alexei appears in exactly two scenes: the Action Prologue of the movie, and the final scene—where the credits roll just as Spider-Man swings in to fight him.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier has this for the titular character of all people (the Winter Soldier, not Cap). He only appears in maybe 30 minutes total, and despite the fact that he does play an important role it's mainly as a weapon for the HYDRA agents that have been planted in SHIELD. The film focuses much more on that aspect rather than the Winter Soldier's character.
Live Action TV
Characters on LOST are invariably either some of the most dynamic and developed characters on TV, or completely wasted. Daniel Faraday, an important character in season 4, disappears for most of season 5, and dies immediately upon re-appearing. Caesar was hinted as being mysteriously integral to the plot before Season 5 but he dies less then halfway through the season. Then he gets replaced by the equally mysterious "Bram" in a sense, who dies in the first episode of Season 6.
Harry Kim on Voyager applies as well, with the exception of a few episodes that were specifically about him, he usually gets the obligatory one line.
Jake Sisko in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Despite being credited as a main character for the show's entire run, the Son of the Emissary appeared in less than half of the show's episodes. Not as strong a case as Mayweather and Kim, as Jake was a well-developed character who saw a lot of development during the series.
Jake was also never intended to be a full cast member either: his purpose, when the show was created, was to provide fodder for Sisko, as the original idea for the show was "a father tries to raise his son on the frontier."
After not being included in the first two seasons of the show, the appearance of Tuck in the BBC's Robin Hood was loudly heralded amongst the advertisers for season three, and interviews with the actor David Harewood mentioned a "dark back-story" for the character. Tuck gets one character-centric episode (which is just pointless filler), and is then a tag-along member of the gang from then on.
Tina much of the time; is usually lucky to get two lines an episode, and in the whole first season she had exactly one song to herself.
There is also Terri, Jessalyn Gilsig her actress is credited as a regular for the first 2 seasons but stops appearing regularly after the first 13 episodes only having a few scattered appearances afterwards. In season 2 she only appeared in roughly 6 episodes.
In the late 80s and early 90s, a series of Sesame Street videos based on the Israeli co-production Rechov Sumsum called Shalom Sesame, focusing on being a travelogue for Israel. Many of the video boxes for the individual shows released in the 90s show American Sesame Muppets front and center despite the fact that the Muppet on the box only appears in one partially dubbed segment in the show. An example is the Chanukah episode; the video box shows The Count and Elmo - they only appear near the very end during a dubbed "Do De Rubber Duck," where Elmo doesn't even have a line
Sheena Easton, who plays Queen Anne, has spot in the opening credits of Young Blades despite appearing for about a minute each in two of the first five episodes — and one of those is just to explain that she's gone on vacation and a Suspiciously Similar Substitute will take her place. She gets a larger role in the next few episodes, but still doesn't appear at all in 6 out of 13 of them.
An extreme example is "Mission to the Unknown" - William Hartnell is credited despite not appearing in the episode at all.
Hitler, in the episode "Let's Kill Hitler." Despite being the title character and featured in the trailers, he has about five minutes of screen time before he is punched out by Rory and stuffed in the cupboard, where he is forgotten for the rest of the episode.
In Babylon 5, Robert Rusler, who appears as Warren Keffer in 6 out of 22 episodes in Season 2 but is in the main credits for the entire season. A case of Executive Meddling, since the network wanted J. Michael Straczynski to introduce a "hotshot Top Gun kind of pilot." The commentaries reveal that JMS hates this kind of character, and as soon as the network stopped giving him notes, he offed the character as soon as he possibly could.
Misha Collins is credited as a main cast member for all the season five and six episodes of Supernatural he appears in, including the ones where, in his own words, he "turns up, gives a piece of sage advice and disappears."
Grey Damon as Hastings Ruckle in Season 5 of Friday Night Lights. Although billed as a main cast member, he gets fewer scenes than, for example, Dallas Tinker, who is listed as a guest star.
Soap: all cast members are credited only in episodes where they actually appear. But since (a) the cast list in the closing credits is done alphabetically, (b) Jimmy Baio as Billy Tate rarely has anything to do even in episodes where he appears, and (c) Credits Pushback, he's sometimes the only cast member credited even if all he did was stand around in a family crowd scene or something. Even when the credits aren't truncated he's still always listed first in episodes he appears in.
Johnathan Schneider's character was killed off 12 episodes in the 5th season and only appeared in two episodes afterwards in that season but continued to be credited as a main cast member for the entire season. Another example is Erica Durance who played Lois Lane. In the first season she appeared in she was only ever billed as a Special Guest Star for the 13 episodes she appeared in. She is also the only character to appear on posters and the DVD box other than Clark himself. When she got a Promotion to Opening Titles the following season she still only appeared in 13 of the 22 episodes, and it wasn't until around the penultimate season that she finally appeared in the majority of a season.
Darkseid has the worst case. In a poster of season nine he is the only character depicted other than Clark. He does not appear at all. Partially why season nine is universally disliked.
Lois and Clark: Tracy Scoggins as Kat Grant, a society page reporter in the first season. Given little to do, dropped after the first season.
Due to having Loads and Loads of Characters, this is common on Degrassi The Next Generation; in a given season, some characters will have lengthy story lines, while other become almost completely Out of Focus, sometimes appearing in just a few episodes. Characters this has happened to include Toby, who, though prominent in the first few seasons, quickly became The Artifact as the cast expanded, and Leia, who had two centric B-plots after she was introduced, then promptly disappeared.
Police Squad! had this as a Credits Gag. The opening prominently credits "Rex Hamilton as Abraham Lincoln!" who never appears in the show itself. And then the "Special Guest Star" who is killed in the credits and never appears in the show or is even part of the plot.
In the early seasons of Frasier, Dan Butler, who played Bulldog Briscoe. The character was very cut off from the "real" main cast of Frasier, Niles, Daphne, Roz and Martin, was a fairly two-dimensional coworker at KACL who only ever appeared as comic relief or a foil for Frasier or Roz, and had neither any specific importance to the show that would justify billing him along with the main cast, nor any deep connection to the rest of the billed characters. He was eventually dropped from the opening titles, appearing as a guest star in the end credits in the episodes he appeared instead. It's pretty jarring to see the character squeezed into promotional images and covers along with the five "real" leads, when Eddie the dog was more of a main character than he was.
In MerlinKatie McGrath who plays Morgana has been in the main credits since day one, but numerous episodes (especially early on) feature Morgana doing very little beyond looking beautiful in the background. Sometimes this even extends to periods of the show when her character is playing a vitally important role (such as early Series 4) but still often results in very limited screentime.
In season 5 of 24, Carlos Bernard was promoted back to the main cast as Tony Almedia after spending the previous season as a recurring character and appeared heavily in promotional materials. He then spent most of it off screen in a coma and then halfway was seemingly killed off for the remainder of the season. He was in a quarter of that season's episodes in total, compared to the rest of the cast who all appeared in at least half of the season if not more. In season 6 Regina King joined the main cast as Sandra Palmer, even getting the And Starring credit for that year, yet she was only in a handful of episodes. In fact, she actually is notable for having the least amount of appearances total out of every actor or actress to ever be a main cast member on the show.
Tim Meadows on Saturday Night Live had one of the longest tenures but rarely was onstage. It even became a Running Gag in the backstage sketches. "Are you still on the show?"
Simon Reynolds as Daniel Dickinson in the first season of Warehouse 13. A particularly egregious case in that several of the "guest stars" appeared quite a lot more than he did in that span. A case can also be made for Leena (Genelle Williams) who was 'credits only' in four of the twelve first season episodes, and, generally, until her key role in the final story arc, merely puttering doing something intuitive, and not really essential to the 'A' or often even 'B' storyline. Of the thirty-eight episodes of the first three seasons, she was only in the credits for twelve, despite technically being main cast.
In Veronica Mars, Teddy Dunn's character Duncan Kane was written out midway through the second season, but continued to get credited in the show's opening for that year. This notably did help hide his surprise return in the season finale where the paid an assassin to kill Aaron Echolls.
The rules governing who will and who will not receive billing in the opening credits for Game of Thrones seem increasingly arbitrary. Episode count and even amount of face time you receive per episode is apparently not a factor in whether or not you are billed in the opening credits as a regular or in the closing credits as a guest star. It is not uncommon for regular-billed actors to receive less screen time or appear in fewer episodes than non-regulars. Several of the actors billed as regulars are little more than semi-frequent guest stars, to wit:
In the first season, Conleth Hill appears in 6 episodes as Varys, but is billed as a guest star. He gets opening credits billing in every subsequent season, despite his appearances becoming less frequent. For that matter, Aiden Gillan's appearances have decreased each season, but he was credited as a regular from his first appearance onward.
Rory McCann's main role in seasons 1 and 2 is to stand around looking threatening, while uttering maybe one or two lines per episode. He is billed as a regular for both. He gets more screen time and character development beginning in the third season, though, and his development really took off in the fourth.
James Cosmo appears in five episodes in the first season, three in the second and four in the third. Guess which season only credits him as a guest star?
Nearly all the Dragonstone crew, actors Stephen Dillane, Liam Cunningham and Carice van Houten, seem to appear very infrequently compared to nearly all the others. Ms. van Houten appeared only four times in the second season, while Cunningham appeared in 6. While van Houten's appearances increased in the third season's, Cunningham's decreased. They hardly appeared at all in the fourth season. They have all been billed as regulars from their first appearance.
Hannah Murray (Gilly) was added to the opening credits in Season Four, despite appearing in only three episodes; only half the amount of appearances she had in Season Three.
Dustin Brooks from Zoey 101. Through he is credited as a main character for all 65 episodes of Zoey 101, he only appears in 25 episodes and rarely contributes to the plot in a major way.
Suzie in Torchwood, sort of. She was listed in the opening credits of the first episode, and released beside the rest of the cast as a major character. Suzie was a member of Torchwood at the start of the first episode, and quite important to the first episode. She's the villain of the episode, and ends up dying by the end of it.
One of Jim Carrey's first roles was in the 1981 television special Introducing... Janet, where he gets second billing and his character doesn't appear until after at least 15 minutes. That special was released on video in 1995, shortly after he'd become a big star, and the packaging makes it look like he is the star of the special, being the main focus of all video covers, the only actor whose name appears on the cover (despite getting second billing), the video description talks about him more than the main character Janet, and when released on video the special was retitled Rubberface.
Jenna in the second season of The Vampire Diaries, really doesn't do anything of note despite being a main character. Also Tyler in the first season, who's sole purpose seemed to be getting in fights with people.
The Wire didn't have much rhyme or reason to its opening credits. Early on they seemed pretty judicious about who got opening credits billing, even crediting people who had storylines centered around them as guest stars, but in the final season they moved a number of former guest stars into the opening credits, such as Neal Huff, Gbenga Akkinagbe, and Michael Kostroff, despite their characters not really doing anything more than they had in previous seasons. Also, Tristan Wilds and Jermaine Crawford received Promotion to Opening Titles despite having less to do than the previous season.
Gregory Itzin was a series regular on the short-lived Mob City, but only appeared in four of the show's six episodes, and only had a speaking part in three of them.
Various promotional images for Muppets Tonight prominently feature Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, and Animal, as if they are main characters, but due to Frank Oz's directing career, their pressence on the show (especially Fozzie's) wasn't as big as it was on The Muppet Show. Various promotional images for The Jim Henson Hour prominently feature Zondra and Ubu, who only appeared in two episodes.
The advertisements for the iCarly episode "iFind Spencer Friends" hyped up Emma Stone as a guest star. When the actual episode aired however, we find out that she only appeared near the end of the episode, has about 30 seconds of screentime, and plays absolutely no role to the main plot.
This happens all the time in music, when Artist B gets a credit on the charts for singing backup on Artist A's song. For instance:
Tim McGraw got credit for singing a far-from-prominent backing vocal on then-labelmate Jo Dee Messina's "Bring On the Rain". Even more, he already had a single out at the time ("The Cowboy in Me", which actually succeeded "Bring On the Rain" at #1).
It happened again with Tim on his 2014 single "Meanwhile Back at Mama's". Faith Hill can barely be heard doing backing vocals, yet she still gets a full credit.
George Jones got chart credit for Shooter Jennings' "4th of July" even though his only contribution to the song was singing a few bars of "He Stopped Loving Her Today" at the end — a part that was cut out of the radio edit!
In a similar vein, The Wailers sing a chorus at the end of Kenny Chesney's "Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven", and still received chart credit despite their part being cut from the radio edit. Strangely, said credit did not show up until the song's second week at #1.
First, George Strait did not get duet credit on "Shiftwork" until it was halfway up the charts, as Kenny's label had to get permission from George's.
An even more bizarre inversion is his guest vocal on Reba McEntire's "Every Other Weekend". A few stations had been playing the song before it was a single, so it was just listed as "Reba McEntire with Kenny Chesney" on the charts. Once it was released as a single, Reba's label couldn't get permission to keep Kenny on, so the radio edit had Skip Ewing (who co-wrote it) singing Kenny's part. However, due to Kenny's much bigger name recognition, most stations just played the Reba/Kenny version. As a result, it was credited to "Reba McEntire with Kenny Chesney or Skip Ewing" for one week, then to just Reba for the rest of its run.
As with "Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven", David Nail's "Let It Rain" did not give credit to the barely-audible backing vocalist Sarah Buxton until it was just shy of #1.
After Brooks & Dunn split up, both Ronnie Dunn and Kix Brooks began solo careers. Kix's first solo single, "New to This Town", credits Joe Walsh, whose only contribution is a very short guitar solo.
Clint Black also gave credit to his wife, Lisa Hartman Black, simply for singing backup vocals on "When I Said I Do" and "Easy for Me to Say".
Inverted with Ty Herndon's "It Must Be Love". Drew Womack and Doug Virden, then of the band Sons of the Desert, sing a very prominent Call And Response on the chorus, but received zero chart credit. On the other hand, Sons of the Desert did get chart credit on the country and Hot 100 charts for their counterpoint on Lee Ann Womack's "I Hope You Dance", even though the pop remix omitted them.
Accordionist Flaco Jiménez got a credit on The Mavericks' "All You Ever Do Is Bring Me Down" entirely for, you guessed it, playing accordion.
Another strange inversion: Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman of The Byrds recorded Bob Dylan's "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere" (which the Byrds themselves had previously recorded in 1968) on the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's 1989 album Will the Circle Be Unbroken: Volume Two. Even though the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band features prominently on this version, it was credited to just McGuinn and Hillman.
Brad Paisley's "When I Get Where I'm Going" credits Dolly Parton, even though (as with "Bring On the Rain", above) she only sings barely audible background vocals that you may not even notice the first few listens.
Also similarly, Alison Krauss and Billy Dean got credit for backing Kenny Rogers on "Buy Me a Rose". Dean can be heard echoing the line "rest of your life" on the final chorus, but he and Krauss are otherwise rather unobtrusive.
Yet again with Krauss. She and Vince Gill can barely be heard singing backup on Mark Chesnutt's "It's Not Over", but they still got chart credit.
Sara Evans got full chart credit for singing backing vocals on The Warren Brothers' "That's the Beat of a Heart". To her credit, she sings one line by herself near the end.
Similarly, John Rich sings backing vocals on Gretchen Wilson's "Come to Bed", and sings just one line on the bridge by himself, but still got full chart credit.
On Blake Shelton's 2014 single "My Eyes", barely-discernible backing vocalist Gwen Sebastian (a contestant on The Voice, where Shelton is a judge) gets full chart credit.
Another inversion: in late 1999, Hank Williams, Jr. rewrote his Signature Song "A Country Boy Can Survive" with updated lyrics about the Millennium Bug. The "Y2K Version" had Chad Brock on lead vocals, with guest appearances from Hank Jr., George Jones, and John Anderson. However, Anderson did not get chart credit, while Hank Jr. and George Jones di.
Pixie Lott gets a "feature" credit on the Selena Gomez song "We Own The Night" but she really only sings backing vocals. Even so, the backing vocals are almost buried in the mix.
Todd in the Shadows references this in his review of "We Are Young" by fun. and Janelle Monáe. He says that Monáe's part was so inobtrusive that he never even realized she was singing on it, then mocks the concept by claiming the video is now a crossover with JewWario, who appears on-screen for two seconds to say "hi".
Colbie Caillat on Taylor Swift's "Breathe". It's supposed to be a duet, Colbie's voice is so drowned out, it sounds like just Taylor sing. On a flipside, Taylor is this on John Mayer's "Half of My Heart" (who incidentally is an advertised on Fall Out Boy's cover of Michael Jackson's "Beat It", where he only plays the guitar solo.)
Numerous songs that feature Fred Schneider as a guest just feature him making the occasional shout, rather than singing or rapping anything.
Andrew Ridgeley of Wham! did not record very much with Wham!, but was always listed as a member. His contributions included the occasional guitar playing and co-write, but most of their work was down to George Michael and session musicians. Ridgeley was mainly listed as a band member for his sex appeal. This is why George Michael has gone seamlessly from Wham! to his solo career, but Ridgeley has floundered.
Trillian in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy radio series doesn't have much character development, supposedly because the actress' performance didn't give Douglas Adams much to work with, and because her purpose was to have someone who Arthur could talk to about Earth, but Ford served that purpose just as well. Her character is much more developed in the later books (and in the movie).
In Dissidia: Final Fantasy, Shantotto and Gabranth were secret characters with no real effect on the storyline, only showing up in flashbacks. In the prequel, they're much easier to unlock, appear on the cover and are shown standing side-by-side with the other characters in the opening FMV...but they still have no role in the main story.
Your avatar in White Knight Chronicles. Despite the trailers and the back of the box, Leonard is the main character of the game, and the character that you put all the effort into creating will be quickly relegated to standing in the background of cutscenes, nodding dumbly along with whatever Leo is saying, with no one bothering to even interact with him or her most of the time — if your avatar even appears in the cutscene to begin with. You're not even required to have yourself in the party, whereas the game forces Leo in at various story points.
The only unlockable characters in Super Smash Bros. Brawl not getting the Secret Character treatment are Sonic the Hedgehog and Solid Snake, since they're the only two guest fighters in the game and as such they're openly featured on the Super Smash Bros DOJO website, their own announcement videos (which in the game are available from the start) and on the back of the cover. This is not a coincidence: Nintendo has actually been Genre Savvy enough to invoke a certain trope.
Marth and Ness also appear in the opening movie, despite also being secret characters. Also in Melee, Ganondorf's arm, Pichu and Jigglypuff are shown in the opening, although the latter two are in a crowd shot featuring nearly half of the other Pokemon from the first two generations, so even if Jigglypuff steals the screen, at least Pichu's a little innocuous to someone not looking for it.
In the original, Luigi appears as a 1 Player mode enemy as well as in the How To Play video, so being able to unlock him was hardly a surprise.
Played straight with Sonic in the Subspace Emissary, where he only shows up right before the final boss fight. Although he does manage to weaken Tabuu's One-Hit Kill attack in the process.
Tentomon appears on the PAL box of Digimon World, but he is only a common enemy in game. This may be because he's a main character in the cartoon and some of his evolutions are available.
The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion's marketing campaign heavily advertised the fact that Patrick Stewart would be playing the voice of the series' perennial Big Good, Emperor Uriel Septim VII. In the actual game, he only has a few brief lines of dialogue before he gets killed during the tutorial mission.
Similarly, Skyrim's trailer was narrated by Max von Sydow, so you'd expect that his character, Esbern, would play a major role. He's actually a fairly minor character who only becomes important in an entirely optional plot branch.
Promotional art for Knights of the Old Republic II heavily features Jedi Master Atris, portraying her as a kind of light side counterpart to Darth Nihilus. However, while she is important to the game's backstory, her involvement in the actual game is much smaller than it should have been; she was originally supposed to be a party member and, in an alternate ending, replace Kreia as the Big Bad, but, like many other features, it was cut short by rushed development.
Promotional art and trailers for Pokémon Ranger: Shadows of Almia made a great showoff about surfing on an Empoleon's back as one of the main things in the game. How many times it happens? Once. Two or three if you want to go for 100% Completion.
Higurashi: When They Cry's Rena Ryuuguu is featured in all promotional art, crossovers, side-games and is practically synonimous with the entire When They Cry franchise. She's only really, truly important for two arcs out of eight.
The revival of Hair featured actress Allison Case prominently in its advertising. She was on every poster, every TV appearance and most likely to be the one to speak for the cast. Case played Crissy, and while she's in the whole show (like everyone in Hair), her character had one song and maybe two scenes with her as the center.
Estelle Parsons in Nice Work If You Can Get It. She showed up at the very end of the show and that was it.
The deal they made out of U2 appearing on the 200th episode and they only had a scene and a bit. Before that was "Lisa's First Word", the episode "starring" Elizabeth Taylor... wherein she spoke one word! (But it was Maggie'sfirst word (only canonical) so it was pretty important.)
It doesn't help that after Taylor's death FOX aired a rerun of the episode instead of a new one, infuriating some fans.
Dennis Leary in "Lost Verizon". He gets 5 minutes of screen time. And is portrayed as an utter psychopath.
Another that was heavily advertised was Alyson Hannigan; her character has very limited screen time and only has three lines of dialogue.
Sky's (and FOX's) promotion of "Elementary School Musical" was pretty bad too, emphasising the guest voices of Glee regulars Lea Michele, Amber Riley and Cory Monteith while completely ignoring the presence of Flight of the Conchords, even though Messrs. Clement and McKenzie's characters had far more screen time, were essential to the plot, and writing original songs for the episode!
Both Ironhide and Arcee were actually given this treatment in the Japanese opening for Transformers Animated. Ironically, according to the AllSpark Almanac, Ironhide was intended to become a main character in the fourth season before the show was cancelled at three.
Cliffjumper was one of the main advertising faces of the Transformers Prime promos, got a preview comic devoted to him and even a handful of figures when the toyline was released, and generally seemed to be the future main-character of the show. He dies within the first couple of minutes of the pilot, then becomes a zombie and is killed again, and only gets a Flashback episode halfway through the series. After that, he received several other toys depicting him as a Terrorcon zombie.
Many Finding Nemo ads show minor characters Bruce and Crush, who have very small roles in the movie.
Futurama spoofs this trope: in the opening credits for the first film, "Bender's Big Score", the new character Zylex is announced with great fanfare... only to appear just for a couple of seconds, while begging for food!
If you've never seen Chicken Little, you'd think Morkubine Porcupine was a major character. He featured heavily in TV spots and on the website, and appears on the DVD cover (in place of Abby Mallard, who was a main character) yet has 3 lines of dialogue in the whole film ("Yo", "no", "whoa").
Parodied in South Park. In the early episode "Big Gay Al's Big Gay Boat Ride", George Clooney was advertised as a guest star on the show. Yet, in the episode itself, he is just Stan's gay dog, Sparky. All he does is bark. Similarly, another episode features Jay Leno providing the meowing sounds of Cartman's cat.
A ton of celebrities were advertised to appear in the SpongeBob 10th Anniversary special, "Truth or Square" but almost all of them only made cameos, most of them don't even appear in the trimmed-down rerun version, and none of them appear in the animated segments instead appearing in the live-action Patchy segments. This trope is however, averted with P!nk's appearance as she got to sing Scurvy.
Most of the regular cast from Taz-Mania is acknowledged in the opening, including characters whose appearances were very few and far-between (including Wendell T. Wolf, Buddy Boar, The Kiwi, and The Bushrats). In fact, some of those characters who ended up appearing in many episodes (such as Digeri Dingo and Francis X. Bushlad) weren't in many episodes during the first season.
Although she gets a lot of screentime, Minka in Littlest Pet Shop (2012) has not had an episode focused on her as of late 2013 and is the only major character with this distinction. She has received a B-plot in two episodes, however, but in both cases, Minka is incessantly doing one single thing for most of the B-plot, meaning the story makes very little progression. For most of the rest of the series, she just hangs out with the other main characters doing whatever they're doing.
The Powerpuff Girls TV special "Dance Pantsed" heavily promoted special guest star Ringo Starr of The Beatles. He has about three minutes of screen time and he doesn't even sing. And while a song & music video for "I Want To Be A Powerpuff Girl" was shown during the special's breaks, it wasn't part of the actual story.