That guy in the back? Yeah, that's the lead.
The tendency of a film to be retroactively linked in the public mind with the biggest name in the film or be marketed as "starring" the biggest name, even if that actor is not the main character (at least from the filmmakers' point of view), and occasionally even if his or her character is very minor indeed.
There are several reasons why this might happen: drumming up a newly famous actor to help advertise the movie, a famous actor given a supporting role (Stunt Casting
) to help sell the movie, or a secondary or supporting role gaining more hype than the main role which requires a change in publicity (Ensemble Dark Horse
). Sometimes the actual lead actor gets an "And Starring
A variation is caused by the repackaging of an older movie with a then obscure, now famous actor
prominently advertised. This happened to Satisfaction
(1988) which was repackaged as Girls Of Summer
"starring" Julia Roberts and featuring a small appearance by Justine Bateman (who, for those who don't get Sarcasm Mode
, was in 1988 a major figure as a co-star in Family Ties
) as the lead character.
Seeing as this is becoming very common, only include examples of where the role is substantially smaller than the actor's billing would suggest, not just where they're not the main protagonist. In an Ensemble feature, this is partially justified provided they are part of the main ensemble and not just a cameo.
Compare Billed Above The Title
, Spotlight-Stealing Title
, and Wolverine Publicity
, where a popular character is deliberately added for the sole purpose
of selling a product, whether or not the character is actually relevant to the story. Also compare Award Category Fraud
, where a minor role is given an award for a major one, or vice versa.
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- In the Dragon Ball Z movie Lord Slug, Slug's henchman Zeeun appears in most of the posters and promotion material, although in the actual movie he only appears in one scene near the beginning where he appears during a meeting with his boss and he accidentally insults his age causing Slug to kill him with an energy blast.
- Cammy is shown alongside Ryu, Ken, and Chun-Li on the Japanese flyer for Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie, despite the fact that the other three are main characters, while she has a total screen-time of less than five minutes. Her only notable scene involves her assassinating a British politician while under the influence of M. Bison's mind control.
- When NYX was released, X-23 was an Ensemble Dark Horse on X-Men: Evolution, but otherwise largely unknown outside that fandom. She became a Canon Immigrant with this series as a minor character (she doesn't appear until the third issue, and her total lines of dialog could be counted on one hand), and her popularity exploded from there. Later, when NYX was collected in trade paperback, guess who was prominently displayed on the cover at the expense of the series's actual protagonist, Kiden Nixon?
- Star Wars:
- In the original trilogy, Peter Cushing (Grand Moff Tarkin) and Billy Dee Williams (Lando Calrissian) get billed with the main stars (Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher). David Prowse and James Earl Jones, meanwhile, who played and voiced Darth Vader (respectively) are listed under the co-stars, as do a few other actors of pivotal characters such as Frank Oz (Yoda) and Ian MacDiarmid (Emperor Palpatine).
- In the prequel trilogy, both of Anakin Skywalker's portrayers, Jake Lloyd and Hayden Christensen, were billed below Ewan McGregor (Obi-Wan Kenobi) and Natalie Portman (Padmé Amidala) in all three films, despite Anakin being the main focus of the series. Episode I gave top billing to Liam Neeson (Qui-Gon Jinn) who didn't make it to the end of the movie and never appeared in another official Star Wars film.
- Even though he portrays the main character and appears on the cover of The Criterion Collection DVD, Max von Sydow is billed fourth in The Seventh Seal.
- When a Mean Girls game came out for the Nintendo DS in 2010, Lindsay Lohan, the film's star, wasn't on the cover. The tabloids had a field day with this.
- In Napoleon Dynamite, Diedrich Bader gets top billing in the opening credits despite him being in only two scenes. This ignores those who actually have larger roles than Bader such as Hayley Duff. Somewhat justified in that Bader's appearance is a One-Scene Wonder appearance and probably one of the most memorable performances in the movie... and the fact that unlike the closing credits (where Jon Heder is first) the opening ones are alphabetic.
- In Holes, Sigourney Weaver and Jon Voight get top billing above Shia LaBeouf who is the lead.
- Averted effectively in the opening credits to The Evil Dead, in which Bruce Campbell's name is in the middle of the list: this makes it more difficult to know from early on that he'll turn out to be the final guy.
- In general, most ensemble casts in horror movies are billed in alphabetical order to hide the surprise.
- Bruce would later get a top billing on some VHS releases despite having a small part in them (Intruder, From Dusk Till Dawn 2).
- One of the most striking examples: the actual main character in Training Day is Ethan Hawke's rookie rather than Denzel Washington's crooked cop, but Hawke is hardly remembered while Washington won an Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role. Despite playing the main character, Hawke was nominated for a Supporting Role.
- A similar example to Training Day is Collateral. Jamie Foxx is on the screen for almost the entire movie, but Tom Cruise was billed as the lead. Foxx, like Hawke, was nominated for Best Supporting Actor at the Oscars, though this was arguably to avoid vote interference with his performance in the biopic Ray, for which he won the Best Actor Oscar that year.
- Ironically, a lot of people thought Cruise would have been a lock for Best Supporting Actor if he had been billed correctly (as his role as a cold-blooded killer was so different from his usual performances).
- Jennifer Hudson was nominated (and the winner) in the supporting category for Dreamgirls despite being the main character, since she did not get top billing, although she did get a huge "And Introducing" credit at the end. In a case of Life Imitates Art, Beyoncé Knowles, whose character steals top billing from Hudson's character, was the movie's top-billed actress (alongside Jamie Foxx and Eddie Murphy).
- James McAvoy is the lead in The Last King of Scotland, but Forest Whitaker received a leading actor nomination, and is generally remembered as the star of the film.
- James McAvoy avoided displacement in Wanted: while Angelina Jolie takes most of the poster and is the bigger star, he's got the top billing.
- Go is mostly seen as either a Katie Holmes or Sarah Polley flick, when it is actually a Two Lines, No Waiting ensemble. Polley is actually the lead character of one segment but Holmes is a fairly minor character.
- The video edition of The Third Man has Orson Welles alone on the cover, even though Welles only features in the last 20 minutes or so, and his appearance is supposed to be a reveal. Joseph Cotten is the actual star, although he does get top billing.
- In an Orson Welles DVD set, one of the four films is A Man for All Seasons, in which Welles has a cameo as the dying Cardinal Wolsey.
- Fourth-billed Sam Jaffe played the title character in Gunga Din.
- The Rock in The Mummy Returns was billed next to Brendan Fraser and had about 10 minutes of screen time with no dialogue, and half of that was Conspicuous CG.
- Blunt: The Third Man, a British TV movie from the '80s. The video had a big photo of Anthony Hopkins on the cover, so the viewer might presume Hopkins was playing Blunt. Turns out Ian Richardson played Blunt (a real-life Soviet spy), and Hopkins was a supporting character, but Richardson never played Hannibal Lecter, and Hopkins did, so they put Hopkins on the cover.
- The DVD cover of Knute Rockne: All American features a prominently displayed picture of a young Ronald Reagan; the title character is played by Pat O'Brien. Reagan's line "Win one for the Gipper" is probably the only thing that anybody actually remembers about that movie, though, so perhaps it is for the best.
- The 1965 movie Operation: Crossbow features George Peppard as an American engineer who assumes the identity of a German engineer in order to infiltrate the Nazi V2 rocket base at Peenemunde. In one short scene, the German engineer's wife, played by Sophia Loren, tracks her 'husband' down and is later killed to prevent her from alerting the Gestapo to the identity theft. Loren's scene is no more than five minutes long, yet she received top billing in the American release (the movie was produced by her husband, Carlo Ponti).
- The Hairspray movie counts, as it was advertised starring John Travolta (in drag!). Nikki Blonsky gets an "And Introducing" after the long list of all the other celebrities "starring" in the movie. The visual extension of this trope is on the soundtrack cover, which uses pictures of the characters. An odd side effect of this is that the only teenage character above the title is Amanda Bynes, with Brittany Snow, Elijah Kelly, Zac Efron, and Nikki Blonksy underneath it (and Bynes and Snow were 20 when they shot the movie).
- Posters and video releases of the 1985 Red Sonja movie has Arnold Schwarzenegger as lead. Brigitte who?
- Arnold also earned top billing for Batman & Robin despite playing the antagonist. (not that this was the first time: Jack Nicholson is the first name in both the poster and the opening credits of Batman... though not the closing credits, as Michael Keaton is listed first)
- In addition to being about humans fighting alien invaders in the Pacific Ocean, both Battleship and Pacific Rim gave second billing to the actor (Alexander Skarsgård in the former and Diego Klattenhoff in the latter) portraying the older brother of the main protagonist. They end up getting killed in the first battle sequence of their respective movies.
- Once upon a Time in Mexico pushes Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek as the "leads," which is understandable since they were the leads in the previous film. In this one, Johnny Depp has far more screen-time, and Hayek is only present in flashbacks.
- This happens to Bruce Willis a lot:
- Planet Terror has a small appearance by Bruce "Osama slayer" Willis. The plan was to make it one of those "Wait, Bruce Willis is in this movie?" moments, but it was kinda ruined when he got billed in the poster.
- In Harts War, the central character (Hart) is actually played by Colin Farrell. However, at that time Farrell was not enough big name to deserve the first place on the poster. Many (all?) posters in fact were showing only Willis' face.
- The Siege prominently features Bruce's face on the cover art, despite the fact that he plays a fairly minor (albeit very important) character who only appears in about 15 minutes of the film.
- Willis's face receives undue attention in some video releases of National Lampoon's Loaded Weapon 1 where he makes an uncredited cameo appearance.
- Willis received top billing in Sunset, but James Garner actually has much more screen time during the movie.
- Surprisingly inverted with Pulp Fiction; his billing on the poster is "and Bruce Willis" at the bottom, and is in smaller font than other names. He gets even worse treatment in the film's actual credits. Yet, he probably gets the most screen time in the film (aside from Vincent Vega).
- In some countries, The Last Boy Scout left Bruce Willis's co-star Damon Wayans off the posters.
- In Four Rooms, Willis was actually prevented from being credited at all by the Screen Actors Guild because he wasn't paid: he did his scene as a favor to Quentin Tarantino
- Superman has Marlon Brando and Gene Hackman billed above the title, while Christopher Reeve (who plays Superman) is first billed below the title. Margot Kidder is also billed very late in the credits, despite having the pivotal Lois Lane role, as a result of everyone after Reeve being in alphabetical order. Of course, Reeve charmed the world as the Metropolis Marvel and the sequels gave him the proper top billing as a result.
- Christopher Columbus: The Discovery has a similar order: Brando and Tom Selleck above the title, unknown actor Georges Corraface (as Columbus) in the Reeve position. It was made by the same producers as the Superman film.
- Satanic gives both Jeffrey Combs and Angus Scrimm prominent billing. Their combined screentime comes to less than eight minutes.
- The old video cover for The Little Shop of Horrors had Jack Nicholson on the back, even though he was little more than a cameo. To make matters worse, the picture used was from The Shining (you can guess which one). Another cover only featured Nicholson on the front.
- Advertising for Executive Decision gave equal billing to Kurt Russell and Steven Seagal, despite Seagal having a relatively minor role and not even being cited in the opening credits. This may have been a deliberate decision to throw the audience off when Seagal is killed off very quickly.
- Though Flying Down To Rio is now remembered as the first of the Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers movies (and is advertised as such to modern audiences), they were only the Beta Couple of the movie; Dolores del Rio was the star.
- This was also the only film where Ginger Rogers was billed above Fred Astaire even though he had far more scenes and one more dance number.
- On the cover of The Scorpion King 2: Rise of a Warrior Randy Couture's image gets the most space and only his name is shown. The credits still list protagonist Michael Copon first.
- In the Sequel / Interquel The Scorpion King 3: Battle for Redemption, protagonist Victor Webster at least has its name on the cover.
- Marilyn Monroe is often featured as the main attraction on the home video releases of the 1950 public domain film "Hometown Story", which would likely remain a very obscure movie were it not for her brief appearance as a secretary and one of her very first on-screen appearances. Jeffery Lynn, Donald Crisp, and Marjorie Reynolds are technically the actual "stars".
- There was even a boxset of 100 public domain "Hollywood" movies with a closeup of her on the front of the big package as the big "star". When actually, "Home Town Story" is the only film of her's in the set, and even that only has her brief cameo role mentioned above. People buying the giant set are maybe getting 120 seconds of on-screen Marilyn at best.
- The Rocker is a fairly mild case; while the trailer does show that Rainn Wilson plays the main character, it implies that Josh Gad's part is the most important of the younger band members, and that he is after Emma Stone's character. Actually Teddy Geiger has the larger, more dramatic role and it is he who ends up with Stone.
- Robert Englund in 1975's "Slashed Dreams", despite no dreaming, no slashing and Robert doesn’t actually show up until the last ten minutes or so - and then only as a good guy.
- In the 1996 version of Hamlet features a number of big name stars in glorified cameos. Robin Williams got his name on the poster, but only played Osric, an extremely minor character whose few minutes of screentime are spent mostly delivering messages.
- Billy Crystal plays the first grave-digger; one scene, lasting about five minutes. Gerard Depardieu is even worse. He plays Reynaldo, a character usually left out since he only has one very short scene, and it has little if anything to do with the main plot. Both men get their names on the poster. Richard Briers, Nicholas Farrell and Michael Maloney, who play the large and pivotal roles of Polonius, Horatio and Laertes, do not.
- When Popeye came out in 1980, the makers of the 1977 comedy Can I Do It 'Till I Need Glasses decided to re-release the film with scenes featuring the now-famous Robin Williams that were cut when it first came out. Naturally, they exploited this in the advertising, even though he had only two segments. He sued them and later video releases had his scenes removed again. At least until the DVD came out.
- The Fast and the Furious is mainly remembered as a Vin Diesel flick, although the main character was actually the role played by Paul Walker.
- The Avengers gets this treatment in one of the adverts. On the Showtime network in Australia, they've recently started to list prominent films that month, and the stars, but for the The Avengers, it simply says "Chris Hemsworth - The Avengers''. Chris Hemsworth, as Thor, has a relatively minor role in comparison to the ACTUAL stars, Robert Downey, Jr. and Chris Evans. This is likely to capitalize on the fact that an Australian's done well in Hollywood.
- Many Australian networks try to capitalize on the success of Australian actors in Hollywood. Showtime is a repeat offender, while networks like Win, Seven and Nine would likely end up saying something like "Starring Jai Courtney and Bruce Willis" for A Good Dayto Die Hard. We are a very proud nation.
- Woman Haters was a short subject released in 1934 that was meant to showcase Marjorie White (who died in a car crash shortly after making this film, making it her last role), and her name's the only one on the initial title card. She does appear, and is a central player, but these days it's known as the first film from Columbia featuring The Three Stooges (albeit not in their actual stooge roles).
- On television, it is often shown as the first Three Stooges "episode".
- The Forbidden Kingdom was advertised as starring Jackie Chan and Jet Li (who both play supporting characters), not even mentioning Michael Angarano, who played the main protagonist. The trailers barely even featured him, marketing the film as a "Chan vs Li" showdown rather than the old kid-transported-to-ancient-time standby.
- The Retroactive Recognition version of this has occurred with some older movies where Jackie Chan appeared in minor roles. For example, 女警察 (The Policewoman), a crime / action film from 1973 starring Yuen Qiu and Charlie Chin, was later reissued on VHS / DVD under several different titles (one of which was Rumble in Hong Kong, an obvious case of Translation Matchmaking), with Chan's name on the front cover. Similarly, in The 36 Crazy Fists (1977), he was credited as "stunt coordinator" and appeared on-screen only as an extra, but the front cover of some DVD reissues are misleadingly designed to present him as the leading actor and/or the director.
- Robin Williams used pseudonyms for his appearances in The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, Shakes the Clown, and The Secret Agent to avoid this trope.
- Rebecca Hall is a frequent victim.
- Despite being one of the title characters in Vicky Cristina Barcelona, she's not on the poster at all and her name is billed with the minor supporting roles - while Penelope Cruz gets joint top billing with Javier Bardem and Scarlett Johansson above a photograph of the three of them. Her character is important and the performance won an Oscar, but Cruz herself actually only appears in less than a third of the film. (This is averted with the posters for most Woody Allen films - and on the opening credits of the film itself; as with many of his films, the stars are listed in alphabetical order and have all their names on one card.)
- In The Prestige, she had about the same number of scenes as Scarlett Johansson but only Johansson was on all of the advertising.
- In some ads for the The Town, despite being the lead female Hall was billed below Blake Lively (who is only in fifteen minutes of the film).
- Home video releases of Carrie have John Travolta given top billing alongside Sissy Spacek, even though his character was a fairly minor one.
- Adam Baldwin's role in Full Metal Jacket has been played up on DVD covers a lot more since Firefly.
- There was a lot of hype about Drew Barrymore starring in Scream (1996), with equal billing to Neve Campbell. Barrymore dies in the first 10 minutes. This was intentional to establish that Anyone Can Die.
- The Aussie coming-of-age comedy Flirting stars Noah Taylor and Thandie Newton, but on the DVD cover Nicole Kidman (who has a supporting role) is pictured front and center, with Taylor and Newton off in the background.
- One of the big reasons the 1984 film D.C. Cab bombed was that it was marketed as a Mr. T vehicle, despite the fact that Mr. T's character was peripheral at best. It got so bad that in some other countries, it was called "Mr. T and Company".
- In the 1998 film Small Soldiers, Kirsten Dunst gets top billing despite playing the love interest of the protagonist.
- Before Rocky, Sylvester Stallone participated in a mediocre porno called A Party at Kitty and Stud's (he was Stud). After Rocky, the producers changed its name to The Italian Stallion to capitalize on Stallone's success.
- Death Race 2000 featured David Carradine in his first post-Kung Fu role, naturally giving him top-billing, and appearing on the poster. A young Stallone appears in a strong-supporting role as the antagonist "Machine-Gun Joe" Viterbo (which doesn't even crack the Top 10 of stupidest names for a Stallone character). His only other major film to date had been The Lords of Flatbush. When the movie was re-released for DVD, Stallone was added to the cover, sharing the top-billing with Carradine.
- When ABC aired The Lords of Flatbush in the 70's, they advertised it as though Henry Winkler was the lead, due to his popularity on Happy Days.
- In Juno, the trailers and posters for that film heavily promoted Michael Cera's involvement, giving him and Page co-star billing, when in fact his role was relatively minor, and fairly passive, in the movie. At the time, Cera was famous for his role in cult TV comedy Arrested Development, while Page was arguably less well-known.
- Not on the poster but the trailers ''really' wanted to make sure you knew Rainn Wilson was in a supporting role by using footage from all one scene he was in in the movie.
- Willow follows the adventures of the character of the same name, played by Warwick Davis, and only leaves his perspective to show what the villains are plotting. However, Davis gets third billing to Val Kilmer and Joanne Whalley, both playing supporting characters.
- Inglourious Basterds is an ensemble piece, but if any of the cast could claim to be the most important character it would be either Melanie Laurent's Shosanna and/or Christoph Waltz's Colonel Landa. Naturally, Brad Pitt is billed first and is the star of the trailers.
- Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow was advertised heavily with Angelina Jolie in the trailers and giving her third billing, even though she shows up fairly late in the film and essentially has a glorified cameo.
- The film The Mighty was heavily advertised using Sharon Stone and Gillian Anderson in the trailers, despite them having relatively minor supporting roles in the film. The DVD cover features photos of them, along with Gena Rowlands and Harry Dean Stanton, who were also minor. Elden Henson, whose character NARRATES the film and is obviously the main focus, is billed 7th in the opening credits.
- The Independent Film Channel advertised Before Night Falls as "starring Johnny Depp," when in fact he only appears in three scenes.
- The trailer of Abel Fererra's Fear City misrepresents Billy Dee Williams as a hard-edge cop trying to solve a bunch of Jack the Ripper-type murders taking place in New York City, and Tom Berenger as the apparent psychopath killer. Berenger is actually the main character, Williams is a Sympathetic Inspector Antagonist, and the killer is an unmentioned third party, none of which is ever unclear in the movie.
- Martin Freeman, who played Arthur Dent (the main character) in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, was listed fourth in the opening credits.
- It happened to him once again on The Hobbit, where he is the title character but only got second billing after Ian McKellen.
- Farrah Fawcett got top billing in ads when Logan's Run hit television, even though she had a bit part as an airheaded nurse.
- R&B star Usher is featured prominently on the poster for The Faculty despite his role being a glorified cameo.
- In the animated movie Heidi's Song Sammy Davis Jr. receives second billing even though his role is very minor only appearing as a singing rat who appears near the end.
- Balls of Fury is sometimes mistakenly quoted as "Masi Oka's movie" (as can be seen here), despite the fact that he only plays a men's room attendant.
- Casino Royale (1967) features as an added extra that a rather large number of characters are all renamed "James Bond". Everyone remembers Woody Allen and Peter Sellers between them stealing the show. The intended star of the film was David Niven. So memorable was his performance, that most people's reaction to hearing this is "Oh, was he in it?" Jean-Paul Belmondo also is credited as one of the main actors. His character, however, is a foreign legionnaire who only appears in a short mass scene near the end of the movie.
- Antonio Banderas and Carla Gugino in Spy Kids 3 D Game Over. It can be argued that this was the case in the first two as well since the children were the main characters, but, of course, no marketing department on Earth would throw away having two movie stars on-screen for most of the movie. However, in the third one, Banderas and Gugino were only given cameos at the end and were still top-billed.
- Val Kilmer was given top billing for Real Genius, while Gabriel Jarret was the main character.
- Marlon Brando received top billing for Apocalypse Now, despite appearing in the film for less than ten minutes. Likewise, in the "Redux" re-release, at least (didn't see any trailers for the original), Harrison Ford got top billing despite appearing only briefly, in a minor role. The second-billed actor (who was also the only person to be nominated for an Oscar for their role in the film) was Robert Duvall as Lt. Colonel Kilgore, who is on screen for about 15 minutes out of a three-hour movie. The real star, Martin Sheen (the narrator and the guy who's in nearly every scene), is billed third.
- Applies to both the original and the remake of The Manchurian Candidate. Janet Leigh was third-billed for the original, despite having a much smaller (and less important) role than Angela Lansbury (credited as "co-starring"); additionally, Frank Sinatra got top billing even though lesser-known Laurence Harvey played Raymond Shaw, the pivotal character. When the remake came out, once again the actor playing Raymond Shaw, Liev Schreiber, was more talented than well-known, and got third-billing after Denzel Washington and Meryl Streep, and the advertisement for the film made much of Jon Voight's rather small role.
- Surprisingly averted or even subverted in Jason Bateman flick Extract. Ben Affleck has a reasonably big role and is probably the most famous actor in the film but does not appear on the theatrical posters while less famous actors J.K. Simmons and David Koechner do despite playing characters with less screen time.
- While Stardust does seem to give top billing to Claire Danes (who played one of the main characters), Michelle Pfeiffer (as the villain) and Robert De Niro (as a fairly minor character) come before Charlie Cox. The hero. The DVD cover also takes pains to point out that it features Sienna Miller, Ricky Gervais, and Peter O'Toole, all of whom have three scenes at the very most.
- While a main character, Angelina Jolie's name didn't appear on the cover of Hackers until after she'd become famous from other roles. She is, however, a prominent character.
- If you pick up a copy of It Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time you will be disappointed to find out that John Candy only has a handful of lines as a detective's 2nd banana. Heck, he's not even the right age/weight on the DVD menu.
- The DVD cover for the 2009 film Women in Trouble shows a smiling Joseph Gordon-Levitt among other women and Simon Baker. In reality, his appearance in the movie is actually past the very ending credits sequence showcasing his name among the cast and crew and is nothing more than a glorified cameo. His role was expanded in the sequel Electra Luxx, where he is the film's narrator.
- Trailers for Stargate Continuum all overstated Richard Dean Anderson's role as Jack O'Neill in that film, some to the extent of even making him appear to be the main character. He shows up briefly at both the start and ending, and disappears quietly somewhere in the first act, remaining absent for the remainder.
- Intentionally employed by Alfred Hitchcock in Psycho. Janet Leigh was billed as the star of the film, and is the de facto protagonist of the film until she's killed off fairly early on, thus shocking the audience by not just taking their protagonist away, but the most recognizable face in the movie. Arguably Hitchcock's Crowning Moment Of Awesome.
- For the DVD release of Sesame Street Presents Follow That Bird Elmo is featured on the cover suggesting he is an important character, however Elmo's role is very minor; he only shows up in two scenes near the beginning he is seen dancing down the street in the opening song and at the end of the movie he opens a window to a building and sings a verse of the song.
- The movie Primary Colors: actor Adrian Lester (TV's Hustle) is listed FIFTH in nearly all material for the film, despite obviously being the lead character. John Travolta, Emma Thompson, Billy Bob Thornton, and Kathy Bates are all listed above him. Even though Thornton and Bates play much smaller characters, and even Travolta and Thompson (as a fictional Bill and Hillary Clinton) are back-ups to Lester's Henry Burton.
- Although he's not really billed, Brian Molko's face shows up prominently on the DVD cover of Todd Haynes glam rock flick Velvet Goldmine. The members of Placebo only have a small cameo and a few lines, but it seems like the DVD distributors knew their audience.
- Ads for the film Despicable Me give Miranda Cosgrove second billing (possibly to appeal to the film's target audience). In the actual film, she is billed fifth (behind Steve Carell, Jason Segel, Russell Brand and Kristen Wiig) despite being an important character.
- The big-screen version of The Fugitive was originally supposed to feature Julianne Moore as Harrison Ford's love interest. It was eventually decided to reduce her role to a bit part, but Moore still got fourth billing despite only having a couple minutes of screen time.
- Playing for Keeps DVD release had 'starring Marisa Tomei' with a large portrait of her on the left and a cast photo (including her) on the right. Granted the original promotional material featured her as token female among the New York friends.
- Because he wasn't well known at the time, Edward Norton was billed sixth in Primal Fear, despite playing the main focus of the film. As Norton became a big star after the film's release, later home releases billed him second on the cover.
- Arnold Schwarzenegger is confirmed to only have one scene in The Expendables yet he's featured in the trailers as if he's a leading man.
- However he is not shown or mentioned on the DVD cover, unlike Bruce Willis who is on the cover but only has a second "scene" in the form of showing up as a picture on a computer screen.
- The British posters (but not the American ones) prominently feature both Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger, even though they both only appear in one scene and neither is fully seen in the same shot as the other and aren't credited.
- Jet Li was billed third in the sequel, despite only appearing in the opening scene. Meanwhile, the little-known Nan Yu, who has a significant amount of screentime, is billed no less than thirteenth.
- The main trio in the Harry Potter movies always gets the proper billing. However, most of the adult actors are billed before the other students, even when those actors are only on screen for a minute and a half, if that. For example: on the back of the DVD case for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, David Thewlis is billed despite only being in one scene, Timothy Spall is billed despite only being on screen for five seconds without any dialogue, and Warwick Davis is billed despite not really doing much of anything, while Tom Felton, Evanna Lynch, and Bonnie Wright, all of whom frequent the screen, aren't even mentioned (the most egregious here is Tom Felton, who was a major part of the movie and who probably gave the most lauded performance).
- Also, the adult actors seem to be credited in alphabetical order by last name. As such, the ending credits of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban bill Julie Christie, who has one scene, above all the rest of the cast except for the trio while David Thewlis, who probably has the most screen time of the adult cast in this installment, gets billed towards the end.
- In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, Michael Gambon appears only in flashbacks and in the grave which Voldemort breaks in and in Part 2, Gary Oldman only appears briefly as a spirit in Part 2.
- The theatrical run for No Retreat No Surrender gave top billing to a pair of budding martial arts phenoms, Kurt McKinney and Jean-Claude Van Damme. McKinney's character is the focus of the entire movie and is onscreen all throughout. Van Damme's character appears twice, a very quick action sequence at the beginning and the big fight at the end (which lasts about 15 minutes), and he has something like 3 lines. Even better, the current video release has Van Damme alone on the cover.
- Red has Mary-Louise Parker billed sixth despite having the most scenes in the film outside of Bruce Willis' character.
- The direct-to-video movie The Kiss bills Terence Stamp, Billy Zane, and Eliza Dushku before the main character, played by Francoise Surel. Zane has maybe fifteen minutes of screen time, and Dushku maybe twenty.
- Alex Borstein gets a starring credit in Bad Santa her role is little more than a cameo as a mother waiting in line for Santa at the beginning.
- The American remake of Shall We Dance seems to make a big deal about Nick Cannon and Ja Rule being in the film. Each actor appears in only one scene of the film (and in Ja Rule's case, he's an Advertised Extra with no purpose to the plot).
- A bizarre case in Easy A. Though Emma Stone is billed first in all advertising and plays the lead, she is billed last in the actual film (getting an And Starring credit).
- Bela Lugosi is fourth-billed in Ninotchka. He has one scene that's not even a One-Scene Wonder.
- The urban film First Sunday has Tracy Morgan billed below Katt Williams despite Morgan having far more scenes and being more well known than Williams.
- The 2010 adaptation of True Grit does this big-time. Hailee Steinfeld doesn't get her name on the poster (although at least she does appear on them) and was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress role. This despite the fact that she was the lead character, she narrates the film and has the most lines and appears in the most scenes. Admittedly she's very young and doesn't have much other acting work to show, but it's kind of ridiculous that she got bumped on the poster for Josh Brolin, who only appears for the last section of the movie, where he has about the same amount of screentime as Barry Pepper, who is barely featured. In the film she gets an "And Starring" billing, as it is her first.
- At least one VHS release for the Brendan Fraser film Encino Man makes it seem as though the film is about Pauly Shore's relationship with an unfrozen caveman he finds in his backyard, and the wacky hijinks that ensue. Pauly Shore is actually a supporting character, with Sean Astin's character having more of a central focus with the relationship to Fraser's Link. Astin is barely mentioned on this cover. Naturally, this release preceded Astin's more recent recognition due to Rudy and The Lord of the Rings.
- In Hope Floats Kathy Najimy gets a card to herself during the opening credits despite her only scene in the film being the very first one - which, in fact, comes before said opening credits. On the other hand, Rosanna Arquette (who also only has one scene in the film - the same scene, in fact) goes uncredited.
- The Italian comedy Bodyguards - Guardie del corpo gives Cindy Crawford third-billing, but she doesn't appear until the last 30 minutes.
- Tobin Bell (Jigsaw), due to being the icon of the franchise, gets top billing in Saw 3D despite having a grand total of two minutes screentime.
- Dustin Hoffman is billed third in Kung Fu Panda 2, even though he only appears at the very beginning and end and doesn't do much more than break two minor characters out of prison off screen. Gary Oldman, the movie's main antagonist is billed fourth while Michelle Yeoh's soothsayer, despite being the main driving force behind both Shen and Po's character's is billed tenth.
- Jamie Lee Curtis has top billing in Halloween: Resurrection, but it doesn't stop her character from being a Decoy Protagonist.
- In many of Bunraku's advertisements, Gackt gets billed behind Woody Harrelson, Demi Moore and Ron Perlman. The latter three do play significant roles, but Gackt is one of the main protagonists. In some ads, he doesn't even get any mention. Presumably, this is because Gackt is a fairly unknown celebrity in the West, but the lack of recognition for one of the film's two main heroes is definitely noticeable.
- In The Hangover Part II Jeffrey Tambor is billed below the leads but still above the likes of Jamie Chung despite having less than three minutes of screentime.
- Absolute Beginners (1986) properly billed Eddie O'Connell and Patsy Kensit as the leads, but third billing went to David Bowie, whose character is just one of several antagonists in on an evil scheme. He gets two short scenes and a longer segment focused on a Disney Acid Sequence. But he was by far the biggest name in the cast (even more so outside of the U.K.), and he also wrote and performed the movie's Title Theme Tune, so he was key to its promotional campaign. The theatrical trailer was really a Video Full Of Film Clips with Bowie as the focus of its wraparound story.
- Perhaps understandably the posters for Bridesmaids really ran with the bridesmaids theme, depicting all five of them (plus the bride) which was why male lead Chris O'Dowd (Officer Rhodes) doesn't appear, despite playing a more important character than Wendi McLendon-Covey (Rita) or Ellie Kemper (Becca).
- In the Spaceballs trailers and DVD, director Mel Brooks, who plays two secondary characters, is given top billing. Protagonist Bill Pullman is fourth, after Brooks, John Candy (who plays his sidekick) and Rick Moranis (who plays the villain).
- Despite playing the central antagonist and featuring heavily in the trailer, Roger Allam's name cannot be found on the poster or DVD box credits for Speed Racer. His name does appear (very far down) in the end credits, but he doesn't get credited with the other main cast in the main credits at all. Those who were included? Kick Gurry, Benno Furmann, Hiroyuki Sanada and Rain. Little-known actors (in the US, anyway), and in much more minor roles.
- This is due to the actors' names listed in alphabetical order.
- Sean Penn is billed second in The Tree of Life but is in about five minutes of the entire movie. Jessica Chastain, who has many more scenes in the film (on par with top-billed Brad Pitt), is billed third.
- And it happened again with The Debt. Chastain is billed third (behind Helen Mirren and Sam Worthington) despite having the most scenes. Mirren does play the older version of her character so that would likely explain her higher billing.
- Richard Lester's 1966 anti-war film How I Won The War stars a very young, pre-Phantom Of The Opera Michael Crawford in the lead role. The movie is best known for being John Lennon's first dramatic, non-Beatles role as Private Gripweed, a relatively minor role.
- Children of Men bills Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, and Michael Caine as its main stars. In actuality Julianne Moore's character gets shot through the throat and dies about 20 minutes into the film, while Micheal Caine only has two scenes, and dies at the end of the second. To be fair, they did at least have the decency to bill Clive Owen above the two of them, seeing as he is actually the main character and unlike the others who die early on, Theo actually makes it through most of the film and only dies from a gunshot wound in the last few minutes.
- A DVD release of the 1940 Western Santa Fe Trail implies that the film is about a friendly rivalry between soldiers Ronald Reagan and Errol Flynn for the affections of Olivia de Havilland. The film is actually about Errol Flynn chasing infamous abolitionist John Brown (played by Raymond Massey, who isn't mentioned on the DVD cover). The Gipper is little more than Flynn's sidekick.
- Michael Caine's name is listed last on the Inception poster, while Dileep Rao is never mentioned, even though he appears on the poster whereas Caine does not. Rao plays Yusuf, one of the six key characters in the mission, while Michael Caine's character has a grand total of two scenes and five minutes of screentime, and has overall less importance to the story. Even Lukas Haas, who played Nash, the architect at the beginning of the film, deserves to be on the poster more than he does.
- Hayden Panettiere is prominently displayed on the DVD packaging of two of her pre-Heroes movies, Shanghai Kiss and as shown in the page image The Good Student (formerly called Mr. Gibb); though not the lead in either she plays one of the main characters in the former and even sings at the end, whereas she only appears for about 10 minutes in the latter (though her kidnapping is what kicks the plot into gear, the guy from Wings in the background is the movie's real star). On the other hand, the Disney Channel Original Movie Tiger Cruise - in which Hayden plays the main character and has top billing, and which also has Bill Pullman and a pre-iCarly Jennette McCurdy - has to this day never been issued on any format.
- Mark Hamill gets top billing in the first of the live-action Guyver movies, despite the fact that he plays a supporting character who gets killed off near the end.
- Anyone going into Layer Cake after looking at the film's DVD cover, movie posters, or American TV ads will be surprised to learn that Sienna Miller is not, in fact, a major character. She actually only appears in a few scenes and was billed third from last in the film's actual opening titles.
- Averted in The Big Year. Steve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson get equal billing above the title so to avoid the trope.
- Liv Tyler has third billing for each part of The Lord of the Rings, despite 10-15 minutes in each.
- Leprechaun was Jennifer Aniston's first film, so she didn't receive any fanfare on the poster. The DVD release, after Friends made Aniston a household name, not only gave Aniston top billing, it added her to the cover shot and changed the film's tagline (from "Your luck just ran out," to "Her luck just ran out.")
- Nancy Allen gets second billing (under Robert John Burke) in RoboCop 3, despite having less screentime than Rip Torn (who appears in more scenes than her), and despite being killed off a third of the way through the film.
- In Aussie crime flick Animal Kingdom Joel Edgerton gets second billing despite his character being killed off about 20 minutes in.
- Almost any recent copy of the thriller He Knows You're Alone is guaranteed to feature, prominently displayed somewhere on the cover, a credit along the lines of "Starring Tom Hanks" in spite of the fact he's a rather minor character with less than five minutes screen time. Better versions bill it as "Tom Hanks in his first movie role," which is technically the truth.
- Mazes and Monsters gets a lot of this too. Technically Hanks was top billed and his character could be considered a lead, but the film was really more of an ensemble piece. The usual current DVD covers feature a picture of Hanks that's much more recent than the 1982 date of the film, superimposed over a sort of Standard Fantasy Setting labyrinth, thereby also misidentifying the actual nature of the film.
- Fourth-billed Woody Strode played the title character in the Western Sergeant Rutledge. Star Trek's Jeffrey Hunter was top-billed.
- Drew Barrymore is top-billed in the animal film Big Miracle but second-billed John Krasinski is the actual main character, a news reporter who breaks the news story that drives the plot.
- An oddity in both posters for Me and Orson Welles - on the US one Claire Danes gets top billing with Zac Efron second and Christian McKay third. On the UK one the largely unknown McKay (who, coincidentally, is British) goes first, then Danes, with Efron getting an 'and' credit. This is despite Efron playing the lead character and being the biggest name in the cast.
- Neary all the trailers for Hugo made it look like Jude Law's character played a major role. In reality, he's a Disappeared Dad who only appears in a short sequence of flashbacks early on (at the end of which he dies).
- Denzel Washington is top billed in Safe House and was all over the film's advertising. The actual lead is Ryan Reynolds (who took a back seat in all of the marketing due to the failures of Green Lantern and The Change-Up).
- The Film of the Book of Stormbreaker has Ewan McGregor billed with the main cast as Ian Rider, the protagonist's uncle, who dies before the opening credits!
- Love Actually is an big ensemble film so inevitably some actors were going to get displaced but even so the film poster has a few good examples of this; Keira Knightley is pictured and billed but Andrew Lincoln (who shared all her scenes) isn't and Thomas Sangster (who had more screentime than either) doesn't appear either. Kris Marshall and Lúcia Moniz are likewise absent despite starring in their own subplots while One-Scene Wonder Rowan Atkinson gets listed.
- In Germany the same poster and DVD cover - featuring ten faces - was used, except that the picture of Martine McCutcheon (the Prime Minister's love-interest), who is not well-known in Germany, was replaced by that of Heike Makatsch (who plays Alan Rickman's homewrecking secretary).
- In Spawn, John Leguizamo gets top billing but Michael Jai White (who gets second billing) is actually the main character, while Leguizamo is the main antagonist.
- In The Golden Compass, Nicole Kidman, Eva Green and Sam Elliot are billed before Dakota Blue Richards who plays the main character. Quite confusing when you realize Eva Green has about two scenes and Sam Elliot has around 20 minutes while Nicole Kidman plays the villain who all but disappears during the second act. Daniel Craig is also billed before Ian McKellen despite Craig having around 10 minutes screen time and McKellen playing the voice of one of the film's heroes.
- Michelle Trachtenberg plays the main character in Ice Princess and is the only cast member to appear on the poster. She's third-billed (behind Joan Cusack and Kim Cattrall) and gets an "And..." credit to boot.
- The DVD cover for the 2006 film Simon Says gives top billing to Crispin Glover and Blake Lively, while relegating Margo Harshman to "with" status. Glover is indeed one of the film's stars, as is Miss Harshman... unlike Miss Lively, who only appears in the last few minutes (interestingly, on the film's poster◊ she's billed seventh - the movie was produced by her father, and several other Lively friends and relatives appear in the film).
- Steve Burns plays the lead in NetherBeast Incorporated, but is left off the billing. Likewise, Jason Mewes gets top billing but isn't featured much.
- The Ghost and the Darkness gave Michael Douglas top billing despite Val Kilmer being in the lead role. Douglas taking over as producer had a lot to do with that.
- The DVD cover of Newsies does not include Christian Bale's name on the front, instead crediting only Robert Duvall (who played the villain), and Ann-Margret (who sang two songs). Bale's name does appear on the Blu-Ray cover, since his popularity increased tremendously by the time this movie came to Blu-Ray.
- Nicki Minaj and Drake's names appear in trailers and posters of Ice Age: Continental Drift despite having very small roles as part of a mammoth pack. Meanwhile, Wanda Sykes, Keke Palmer, Peter Dinklage and Josh Gad are left off of the marketing despite having sizable roles (Sykes having perhaps the biggest part outside of the three leads).
- The trailer for Killing Them Softly makes no mention of Ben Mendelsohn despite being one of the main characters and having the most footage in the trailer outside of Brad Pitt. Subverted, however by the ending credits, which bill Mendelsohn third.
- Joan Allen and Albert Finney in The Bourne Legacy. Albert Finney isn't even in the movie, save one piece of archive footage.
- For a Disney Channel (in the UK) premiere screening of Confessions Of A Teenage Drama Queen in 2012, Megan Fox and Adam Garcia were billed first, with the film's actual star Lindsay Lohan given And Starring treatment (despite Lohan having the most footage in the trailer).
- The radio spots for The Man with the Iron Fists strangely de-emphasized Russell Crowe's lead role in the film and gave top billing to Lucy Liu (possibly due to her connection with Quentin Tarantino, who produced this film and directed Liu in Kill Bill).
- The DVD for Chaplin with Robert Downey, Jr. mentions it starring "the stunning Marisa Tomei" despite her having roughly seven minutes of screentime.
- Arguably present in Spring Breakers. Selena Gomez is billed second only to James Franco (and is the first name on the poster art), above Vanessa Hudgens and Ashley Benson. Gomez's character leaves the film halfway through, whereas the ones played by Hudgens and Benson (unlike Franco's) stay alive all the way to the end. However, prior to her exit and the introduction of Franco's character, the film is primarily focused on Gomez.
- Eli Roth got top billing in Aftershock, but gets killed off shortly after the film reaches the hour mark. The fifth billed Nicolás Martínez and the sixth billed Lorenza Izzo survive longer than most of the actors billed above them, with Izzo even outlasting Martínez.
- Though not the worst example, Amanda Seyfield was rarely mentioned during promotion for Les Miserables (2012). Anne Hathaway on the other hand was promoted heavily. Anyone whose seen the musical knows Seyfield's character boarders on Deuteragonist while Hathaway's character is barely present at all.
- Universal more than likely limited Seyfried's role in the marketing since she had been in a number of recent flops and the studio likely felt that her appearance would limit the audience (Universal did the same thing on Safe House by barely showing Ryan Reynolds in the ad campaign).
- Similarly, Samantha Barks and Aaron Tveit were the only members of the main cast to be left off the trailer's list of actors and to not have their own mini-posters, although anyone who is familiar with the story knows that Eponine is arguably as important as Cosette (Seyfried) and that Enjolras leads the revolution.
- And speaking of the revolution, in a more general case of Never Trust a Trailer, it is hardly glimpsed in most of the trailers but plays an enormous part in about half the movie.
- Ashley Tisdale is billed as one of the main characters in Aliens in the Attic but she plays a supporting character who only becomes relevant to the main plot during the climax.
- What to Expect When You're Expecting: In the posters, Brooklyn Decker is billed below Cameron Diaz, Elizabeth Banks and Jennifer Lopez, but they are also billed above Anna Kendrick. In the movie itself, however, Kendrick is one of the main characters while Decker plays a supporting role in the story of Wendy (Banks's character).
- A subversion: While Ben Stiller had a major role in Heavyweights, his image wasn't initially on the film poster. However, with the 2012 Blu-ray re-release, a photo of his character has been superimposed on the cover (and larger than the pre-teen characters), obviously because of his fame ever since the movie came out in 1995.
- The Thin Red Line has George Clooney billed fifth from the top of the poster. He only appears at the end for about two minutes.
- Although this is due to the actors on the poster being billed alphabetically.
- Reign of Fire has Matthew McConaughey billed first, Christian Bale billed second and had most of its ad campaign focused around the former. In the actual film, Bale is the main character while McConaughey is more of a supporting character. McConaughey's character doesn't even make it to the end. Though to be fair, Bale receives top billing in the ending credits.
- Max von Sydow is billed second in The Exorcist despite only appearing in the prologue and the last twenty minutes of the movie. Linda Blair and Jason Miller are the main focus of the movie and billed under von Sydow, the reason for this being that neither actor was well-known at the time (Blair had only appeared in two movies before this and Miller was a stage actor).
- Richard Boone is listed as a main actor on the DVD cover of John Wayne's The Alamo, although he is listed as a "guest star" in the opening credits of the actual movie. Boone, starring as Sam Houston, has less than ten minutes of screentime: a monologue at the beginning where he entrusts Colonel William Travis to lead the defenders of the Alamo, and a brief bit near the end where he is informed by Smitty, one of the Alamo's messengers, that no help is coming.
- Freddie Prinze, Jr. (as Fred) and Sarah Michelle Gellar (as Daphne) are billed above Matthew Lillard (as Shaggy) who has roughly more screen time in Scooby-Doo.
- This Is the End gives top billing to James Franco and Jonah Hill, when the third billed Seth Rogen and the fourth billed Jay Baruchel are the main characters.
- For Epic Amanda Seyfried is billed third despite voicing the main character. Though this decision could have something to do with Seyfried having been on a box office cold streak during production.
- Now You See Me: Jesse Eisenberg gets top billing, but Mark Ruffalo's character has the biggest amount of screentime. But then, that might just be intentional misdirection.
- The Lone Ranger lists Johnny Depp, who plays the sidekick Tonto, as the leading name in nearly every ad and poster. Despite expectations, he doesn't overshadow Armie Hammer's role as the titular hero. It may have something to do with Depp doubling as executive producer.
- The promotional poster for Planes has the main antagonist Ripslinger closest to the front while Rusty, the actual hero of the film, is behind him. This is averted on the cover of the DVD and Blu-ray, where Rusty is properly positioned on the front while Ripslinger is to his right.
- For We're the Millers Jennifer Aniston got top billing over Jason Sudeikis.
- In the closing credits of The Shop Around the Corner, Margaret Sullavan gets top billing over Jimmy Stewart who had been in several hit movies prior to this one.
- In Italy, two separate posters for 12 Years a Slave (that were unauthorized by the distributor) were released that gave more emphasis on either Brad Pitt's or Michael Fassbender's face (said actors have merely small roles in the film), while downplaying leading man Chiwetel Ejiofor's presence in these ads. The film is about slavery in America, and the backlash that ensued prompted the distributor to pull these posters.
- Matthew McConaughey was billed fourth in The Wolf of Wall Street and was prominently featured in the trailer, despite appearing in a grand total of three scenes in a three hour movie.
- Christopher Lee is always billed as the star of Circus of Fear (usually followed by Klaus Kinski), but his role is comparatively minor and the central character is actually Inspector Elliot, played by Leo Genn.
- Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis are billed as the stars of the 1949 film My Friend Irma in the DVD release. Actually they are very much supporting characters to the real star Marie Wilson, who played Irma in a hit radio sitcon of the same name. Incidentally the title refers to neither Martin nor Lewis but Jane, the character played by Diana Lynn. The unfortunate Lynn is the film's narrator and has more screentime/plot importance than Martin and Lewis but doesn't even get her name on the DVD cover, let alone her picture.
- Kate Upton is third-billed on The Other Woman 2014 (after Cameron Diaz and Leslie Mann), but she doesn't appear until quite some time into the movie. But this is more justified than billing Nicki Minaj above Taylor Kinney, whose character (Mann's brother and ultimately Diaz's partner in love) is more important to the story.
- Juliette Binoche is billed fourth in the opening credits of Godzilla (2014), despite having less than ten minutes of screentime. Not to mention having her character killed off early in the movie.
- In X-Men: Days of Future Past, Anna Paquin only appears with no lines in a brief cameo, but is listed higher than Peter Dinklage and Ellen Page, whose characters have plenty of screentime and are essential to the plot. The reason is because most of her scenes were cut and will only appear in the DVD release.
- The Charge Of The Light Brigade's protagonist is David Hemmings as Captain Nolan. He's listed sixth on the credits, behind Trevor Howard, Vanessa Redgrave, John Gielgud, Harry Andrews and Jill Bennett. While this can be justified under the seniority principle, Hemmings has far more screen time than all but Howard.
- Connor in Assasin's Creed Forsaken. He is right at the front prominently displayed, despite only appearing for a few chapters near the end. Main character Haytham is a blurry image in the background.
- With the departure of Grissom in CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, the top billing went to Laurence Fishburne, who plays newcomer Dr Ray Langstrom. While several cast members outrank him both in rank, importance and time on the show, Laurence Fishburne gets the top billing, being the most well known star on the bill.
- And then, when Fishburne left, Ted Danson came in, again with top billing. Justified as, unlike Fishburne's character, Danson's character comes in as the supervisor to the team (as Catherine was demoted after the LA incident.)
- Wings is increasingly being thought of as the show Tony Shalhoub was in before Monk. Shalhoub is prominently featured on the cover art for all Wings DVD releases despite the fact that his role was relatively minor, and in the case of the Seasons 1 & 2 set, that he was only in a single episode on the set.
- The VHS release of Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 3 Part 2 has Spike and Drusilla on the spine. Drusilla doesn't appear at all in Season 3 and Spike is in one episode. On Part 1.
- More recent DVD releases of Season 3 include Spike's picture on one of the discs but omit Oz, despite Spike appearing in only one episode as mentioned and Oz being a main cast member that year.
- The Doctor Who episode "Closing Time" has Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill billed as main characters, despite only appearing in a 30-second cameo.
- Some promos for reruns of Gilmore Girls say things like "Melissa McCarthy is cooking up some comedy on Gilmore Girls," when she had been a supporting cast member and over a third of the episodes don't even include her character (additionally, Gilmore Girls is a Dramedy rather than pure comedy). While the actual stars Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel have had decent careers since the show, McCarthy is now better known than either of them for her lead role in the sitcom Mike And Molly and lead roles in a couple of hit comedy movies.
- There have also been promos for Roseanne reruns that make a big deal about Johnny Galecki's role in the show. Galecki played a minor recurring character, David, who was not even ever in the opening credits, but later became well-known as an excellent Straight Man (or Only Sane Man) in the hit comedy The Big Bang Theory. (On Roseanne, his role was as a Straight Man as well).
- State of Play (yes, the original British series) was admittedly a who's who of great British actors. However, leads John Simm and David Morrissey don't even appear on the covers of some European releases. Instead, the more well-known Bill Nighy and James McAvoy grace the cover despite playing minor roles. (And in an instance of Covers Always Lie, the Finnish release states it's an "English police series" instead of a political thriller involving mainly journalists, and very few policemen).
- Many Tweenie-Bopper Jonas Brothers Fans were thoroughly disappointed to find that the Jonas Brothers didn't star in Camp Rock, only Joe Jonas did. Disney Channel had announced many times in the trailers for Camp Rock that it starred the Jonas Brothers, failing to mention the fact that two of them were only minor characters and appeared very briefly.
- When most people think of the Angels In America Mini Series and don't know the source material, they think the leads are Al Pacino, Meryl Streep, and Emma Thompson, because those three got top billing. Of course, Emma Thompson has indisputably the smallest role of the main eight actors, but she's a bigger star than Justin Kirk, never mind if he plays the main character, so she gets the top billing, and he gets snubbed a Golden Globe nomination because people only realized halfway through voting that he belonged in the Lead and not Supporting category.
- There was a two-part mini-series/made-for-TV movie called Meteor on NBC. Each part was two hours long, and Christopher Lloyd and Jason Alexander were given top billing for both parts. Sounds reasonable, right? It would be, except Christopher Lloyd's character dies less than half an hour into the first part.
- The Green Hornet TV series is best remembered for being one of Bruce Lee's earlier acting roles in America before becoming a huge film star in Hong Kong, even though he only played the sidekick to the title character played by Van Williams. Certain home video releases of the series advertise the show as "The Green Hornet: Starring Bruce Lee as Kato" and show Bruce Lee's face taking most of the cover. In Hong Kong, the series was even aired as "The Kato Show".
- The Queen, a 2009 series of British docudramas detailing pivotal events from the life of Queen Elizabeth II prominently featured the "five leading British actresses" playing the monarch, to the point that no other cast members were even mentioned on the website. It was strange then that Emila Fox, the actress playing the queen in the first episode, actually appeared less than the second billed (in the credits)/mostly ignored (in the promotional material) Katie McGrath, who played Princess Margaret.
Sci-Fi SyFy Channel miniseries Alice was hyped with commercials advertising Tim Curry and Kathy Bates. Bates plays the villainous Queen of Hearts, so that could be considered acceptable. But Curry has a grand-total of three minutes of screen-time in the first act. The main characters (Alice and Hatter) are played by relative unknowns.
- Jessica Alba is mentioned twice on the cover of The Secret World of Alex Mack, despite her only having a bit part as Alpha Bitch in a couple episodes.
- A more retroactive example, Miranda Cosgrove and Jerry Trainor are billed as the topped stars of the Drake & Josh Christmas Special even though Drake Bell and Josh Peck are the title characters.
- Jennette McCurdy also had a very small role before she became Sam on the show on a very obscure movie that didn't even see the light of day. After her success in the show, the people who made the movie tried to release it again on the back of Jennette's new found star power. It led to her denouncing the movie for being misleading.
- Disney Channel does this a lot with their teen stars who were in movies in the 90s or early 2000s who now star in a show. When they show some movie that the actor had a minor part in, they will bill them as the top stars (similar to the iCarly example above). For example, when they showed Spy Kids 2 and Spy Kids 3, they advertised it like Emily Osment (Lily on Hannah Montana) was the star, despite the fact that she was almost a minor character. To quote one of the trailers "Spy Kids 3 starring Emily Osment... and a bunch of other famous people."
- They did the same with their original movie Tru Confessions. The star and focus of the movie was Clara Bryant. All of the advertising focused on how it was Shia LaBeouf's "most dramatic role ever," and you'd never know it wasn't a movie all about his character.
- Noah Wyle of ER had a small part in the film A Few Good Men. When the movie was aired on NBC, at the height of ER's popularity, he was included in the promos along with Tom Cruise and Demi Moore.
- The back of the box for ER's fifteenth season has all of ER's most popular previous regulars such as Noah Wyle, George Clooney, Sherry Stringfield, Julianna Margulies and Eriq La Salle ahead of the regulars for that season, even though some of the aforementioned stars only appeared in one episode (out of twenty two).
- The series Tripping Over features a Five-Man Band of twenty-somethings, across London and Sydney. The DVD cover, while displaying those five characters, only credits the most famous of them, Daniel MacPherson, and three well-known actors (Brooke Satchwell, Rebecca Gibney and Lisa McCune) playing Satellite Characters.
- St. Elsewhere is a Ensemble Cast series with Denzel Washington just one of many and even listed next to last due to the alphabetical credits. However, on the DVD set as Washington front and center on the cover sleeve.
- Something similar is done with 21 Jump Street, which was also an ensemble piece. In fact for much of the run, Holly Robinson (Peete) was probably a more prominent cast member than Johnny Depp (helped by the fact that she was the only cast member to stay for the entire run).
- In fact, for the fifth season DVD sets go so far as to have Depp as the main focus on the cover despite the fact that he only appears in one episode, and it's leftover from season 4!
- For the fifth season of 24, Carlos Bernard is billed fourth in the main cast behind only Kiefer Sutherland, Kim Raver, and Mary Lynn Rajskub (when he appeared in an episode anyway), and he's even credited second after Kiefer Suterland on the back of the DVD box. However, he has barely any screen time in the season and was (until a retcon in a later season) killed off midway through it.
- Christina Ricci receives top billing on Pan Am, although the character played by Kelli Garner (who's given And Starring status) is more important to the storylines.
- At the beginning of The 10th Kingdom, Ann-Margret is listed among actors who appear throughout the entire miniseries, yet she doesn't actually appear until the very end. The same goes for Camryn Manheim as Snow White, who other than a Dream Sequence appears only in part four.
- In Earthsea, Amanda Tapping is credited among the other major actors, but her actual screentime is literally under ten seconds.
- Madeleine Stowe is billed first in Revenge, but Emily Van Camp has the starring role.
- A similar case on Once Upon a Time, Ginnifer Goodwin is billed before Jennifer Morrison. While Morrison's Emma Swan is the protagonist in the present day timeline, Goodwin's Snow White is most often the focus character in the past/flashback timeline.
- Admirably, some TV shows do avert this:
- The opening titles on each episode of Charmed are different depending on which regulars appear.
- Heroes and Eastwick list the regulars in alphabetical order (which is why some episodes of the latter carry the credit "starring ashley benson" and others "starring jon bernthal" (the typeface for the credits is all lowercase), although this makes an exception of Paul Gross, who always has "And" status), and only list regulars if they actually appear in an episode in original (i.e. not stock) footage. (That said, Santiago Cabrera did get credited for an episode where he only appeared in stock footage.)
- Smash: Debra Messing gets top billing, but Katharine McPhee and Megan Hilty are the real stars.
- In the first season of Once Upon a Time Raphael Sbarge is credited as a regular despite only appearing in 10 episodes (season one has 23), one of which was only as a voice actor. By comparison, Meghan Ory is in 18, despite being a recurring cast member. (In season two, Sbarge was demoted to recurring and Ory promoted to regular... although the latter wound up appearing in less episodes than she did in season one before leaving.)
- Glee: Amber Riley recieves top billing despite only having small appearances in three episodes so far this season. Naya Rivera, Mark Salling and Harry Shum Jr. also recieve top billing despite only appearing in half of the episodes. Newcomers Jacob Artist and Melissa Benoist have had important roles in every episode and are still listed as "guest stars".
- Actors being billed as main cast members despite numerous absences is nothing new for the show. Jessalyn Gilsig (Terri) is easily the biggest offender, appearing in six episodes of the second season, one of which was a one-line cameo, despite being credited for every one. Starting in Season 4, however, it started bleeding over to the rest of the cast, with a large portion of the now-college-aged cast missing strings of episodes and being shoehorned into others while the new cast members continue to consistently appear and receive their own A-plots.
- Power Rangers has never put a voice actor in the opening credits if said actor did not also do suit acting. This means that major villains (and some mentors) from more than half of the franchise get billed as guest stars.
- Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers: The Alien Rangers mini-series continued crediting the vacationing main cast alongside their child counterparts, and the titular Alien Rangers, along with young Bulk and Skull, were simply listed as guest stars.
- Power Rangers Zeo: In the episode "No Business Like Snow Business: Part 1", Amy Jo Johnson is credited as a guest star, despite only appearing in a Stock Footage flashback.
- Power Rangers in Space: Despite appearing alongside Paul Schrier and Jason Narvy in every one of their scenes, Jack Banning was left out of the opening credits until Narvy left the show the following season.
- Power Rangers Lost Galaxy: Russell Lawrence and Melody Perkins were always at the end of the credits with the rotating cast, instead of being credited as heroes. And because of legal reasons, Valerie Vernon was never removed from the credits for the period of time in which her character was gone from the show.
- Power Rangers Dino Thunder: Ismay Johnston was credited as a guest star for every single episode, despite having dual substantial roles as both Mission Control and owner of the Local Hangout that season.
- When The Outer Limits was released on VHS, the tape packages sometimes gave top billing to well-known actors who played supporting characters (such as Edward Asner in "It Crawled Out of the Woodwork" and Happy Days' Marion Ross in "The Special One").
- Deadwood has Timothy Olyphant as the pilot's apparent hero getting top billing, even though Ian Mc Shane quickly becomes the show's central figure and antihero, with more lines and screentime than Olyphant in almost every episode.
- In The Sopranos, Lorraine Bracco has second billing, above Edie Falco. It's almost justifiable in Season 1, where they both have very large roles (with Falco's still being larger), but in every other season it's Billing Displacement given Bracco's relegation into the background. In a billing proportional to screentime in the series, Bracco should probably even be below Michael Imperioli and Tony Sirico too.
- Boardwalk Empire places any new cast members at the end of the opening credits, even when they end up among the top five or so most prominent characters of a given season, like Bobby Cannavale in Season 3, Jeffrey Wright in Season 4, or Jack Huston and Gretchen Mol in Seasons 2-4.
- Firefly lists Sean Maher 7th in the credits, when he probably has the second-largest role after Mal. They seem to have made a point of listing the original crew before the three people who join them in the pilot.
- Arrested Development credits Alia Shawkat before Tony Hale and David Cross, even though she gets less to do in every season AND was less famous prior to the show.
- Mad Men Season 5 lists Jessica Pare (Megan) 12th, even though she has by far the second-largest role in the season.
- Who's the most prominent sight on the DVDs for Rawhide? Why, Clint Eastwood, natch, whose character is secondary. Now who was the real star of the first seven seasons of Rawhide? The much-forgotten Eric Fleming.
- Though in fairness, Eastwood did take top billing in the final season.
- In the Lifetime movie, Kristin's Christmas Past, Debby Ryan is given third billing, despite the fact that her character only appears in one scene and doesn't play a significant role in the story. It's really more or less a cameo appearance.
- On the covers for DVDs of Call the Midwife, none of the nuns are featured, even though they are all major characters — and one of them is played by Jenny Agutter, to boot! This is especially egregious with season 2, when Dr Turner is on the cover; this is probably because of his romantic arc of the season, but you'd think they'd give cover space to Sister Bernadette (his romantic partner) as she's even more important to the plot than he is.
- Jennifer Jason Leigh is featured on the cover of the 9th season DVD set for The Waltons even though she only appeared in one episode.
- For a long time, promotional material for The Big Bang Theory (TV spots, print ads, billboards, etc.) would have Penny front and center, while Sheldon, Leonard, Howard, and Raj were almost always far off in the background, giving the impression that the show is more or less about a hot blonde girl that a bunch of nerds fawn over. Then again, Sex Sells, and this show relies on it.
- You Cant Do That On Television, a kids' sketch comedy show from Canada which become the first huge hit for the kids' cable channel Nickelodeon, running for 10 seasons and 143 episodes, is probably remembered now as "that show Alanis Morrisette was on", though she only appeared in five episodes.
- "The All-New Mickey Mouse Club" or "MMC", which aired on Nick's rival (and repeat offender, see above) The Disney Channel, featured Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, and Christina Aguilera, among the cast of pre-teen/teen performers or "Mousketeers".
- Disney even cashed in on their popularity by releasing a "Best Of" DVD featuring highlights from their appearances as opposed to full seasons/episodes.
- The 1975-78 Thames Television sitcom Get Some In! was originally presented as a vehicle for Tony Selby (who later found fame as Sabalom Glitz in the Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy eras of Doctor Who), but Robert Lindsay, who played a major character but was not the star, receives top billing on the DVD release as a result of his starring roles in such series as Citizen Smith and My Family. Selby has likened this to releasing a Doctor Who DVD in which he is billed above Colin Baker.
- In all the promos for Zyuden Sentai Kyoryuger 100 Years After, as well as the DVD/Blu-Ray box, they focused on the future Kyoryuger team, with only a magazine promo mentioning that they spend more time using their ancestors' powers.
- Parodied in a FoxTrot storyline published the week Return of the King came out: Because Orlando Bloom is in it, Paige thinks the movie is all about him and mistakenly believes the actual plot of the movie is filler.
- The Pink Panther pinball, a very loose adaptation of The Return of the Pink Panther, prominently features the jewel thief on the backglass, relegating the Pink Panther to a small background character.
- The "Luci" Premium Edition of AC/DC has the lavender-skinned Horny Devil on the backglass, leaving the rest of the band as background silhouettes.
- Posters for upcoming pay-per-view events will often feature one of the most popular Divas (WWE) or Knockouts (TNA) as mascots for the event, even if the woman in question never appears in the show at all. The worst case was when Candice Michelle posed on the poster for the 2007 edition of Cyber Sunday, despite the fact that she'd injured her neck a few weeks earlier and wasn't seen in WWE again for several months.
- Although there was justification for that because posters are made several months in advance, so of course an injury to an advertised superstar kinda renders that poster moot. Still falls under the trope when someone like Maria Kanellis would appear on a show's poster but not on the show itself because there's no place or story for them; these posters are simply for eye-candy.
- Semi-justified (and even a kind of Fridge Brilliance) in the case of the poster for the 2006 Royal Rumble. It showed the entire McMahon family - Vince, Shane, Stephanie, even Linda - dressed as Roman patricians in the Colosseum (other than the fact that the event was being held in Miami, Florida, one of the most "Latin" cities in the United States, the ancient Roman motif wasn't really relevant). As it happens, Vince and Shane do make an appearance during the Rumble match, conspiring to eliminate Shawn Michaels from the contest - but Edge, John Cena, Kurt Angle, Mark Henry, and Royal Rumble winner Rey Mysterio were certainly more important.
- The Undertaker appears on the Armageddon 1999 poster, a pay per view he didn't even attend.
- Obviously more understandable in a wrestling context than most of the other examples on this page, promotional items are printed months in advance and in examples like the above plans change due to injures such as the one the Undertaker suffered in the run up to the Armageddon PPV.
- The Rodgers and Hammerstein musical The King And I was originally conceived as a star vehicle for Gertrude Lawrence, who got top billing (and note that the show's title is "The King and I"). It's probably for the better that Yul Brynner was so memorable as the King, as Lawrence died during the original Broadway run.
- Al Pacino in a recent run of The Merchant of Venice◊ on Broadway.
- To be fair though, the order that parts are listed in the Folios for all of Shakespeare's plays are a little odd.
- The usual method is to divide characters by gender and then list them by social prominence. So if there's a king who only appears in one scene and your main character is a merchant, the king gets top billing.
- A lot of hype was given to Patrick Stewart appearing in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. He dies at the end of the tutorial mission.
- Many critics felt the same way about Liam Neeson in Fallout 3. While he lasts longer than Patrick Stewart's Emperor Septim, he appears in surprisingly few missions and dies before the main quest is half over.
- In both cases, it was considered Worth It by the fans, especially so for Neeson, whose character performs a Heroic Sacrifice
- In Grand Theft Auto IV, Timothy Adams got third billing as Brucie Kibbutz, who has no involvement in the main plot of the game.
- You can expect Full Motion Video games to do this whenever there is a Hollywood-level actor on screen even for a couple of minutes. Some examples include:
- Black Dahlia, which has Dennis Hopper in a small role.
- Under a Killing Moon prominently displays the three best-known professional actors involved on the back of the box, though they all have little screentime. These are all relatively minor celebrities, such as Margot Kidder, who is best known for playing Lois Lane in the four consecutive Superman movies.
- Ripper put the four best known actors on the cover art, none of whom portrayed the main character. Scott Cohen, the protagonist of the game, is billed fifth in the ending credits.
- A lot of attention was given to the fact that the Mean Girls video game left Lindsay Lohan - who played the main character - off the cover art, showing just the original Plastics. Lohan is a big name, just not in a good way.
- Fi in The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword gets what is essentially top billing, being featured prominantly on the cover and in promotional materials. While she is a major presence, she's really just an Exposition Fairy who has little bearing on the plot, unlike Midna in Twilight Princess.
- DC Universe Online has three possible mentors for both heroes and villains. On the hero side, it's Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. On the villain side, it's the Joker, Lex Luthor, and Circe. Again, the box shows the mentors. Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Joker, Lex Luthor... and Catwoman.
- Knights of the Old Republic: The second game has Darth Nihilus dominating the cover. Unfortunately, he only appears in two scenes and contributed little to the game's plot!
- Atris is in a similar position to Nihilus. In promotional art she even appeared literally opposite of him, both as the counterpart face of the Lightside of the Force on the official site and elsewhere, and shown doing battle with him in a couple of art pieces. On the cover, she is also shown battling a random Sith assassin. However, not only does she also have only two or three major appearances, but in none of those appearances does she battle Nihilus or any Sith whatsoever. In fact, ironically enough, she actually serves as more of an obstacle to the Player Character in those brief appearances that she does make, and in her last appearance, it turns out she had been corrupted by the Darkside of the Force, and briefly serves as a full-fledge minor antagonist.
- Final Fantasy XIII-2: Lightning, the protagonist of XIII, was featured very heavily in the promotion of the game. Heck, she's also on the front cover of the OST and all regional box art, has dozens of posters, was featured in almost every trailer (in fact, she was the focus of the announcement trailer), etc. How much screen time does she have? She's in the intro (about 20 minutes including gameplay), she narrates here and there, and she makes a few appearances throughout the rest of the game making for a total of 30 minutes of screen time with a bit of narration. Meanwhile, Serah (her sister) is billed as the main protagonist (Lightning is actually billed last on the credit roll) along with her companion, Noel. It is these two whom you see for a majority of the cutscenes and who you play as for 99% of the game.
- Although Resident Evil 6 features an ensemble cast of protagonists, Leon S. Kennedy gets the most focus in promotional ads. Some have argued that three of the playable characters being new, Sherry came back after being seen in an earlier game from 1998, and Chris being recently seen in Resident Evil 5 and Resident Evil: Revelations have put Leon in the top spot because Leon is the most recognizable and prominent of the Resident Evil cast, by dint of his rather distinguishable look and starring in two of the most financially and critically successful games in the series. But it's unnerving, given that 6 is the first game that features Leon and Chris together.
- Mickey is at the first plan on the cover of Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days. In game, he only appears in one short cutscene.
- Dissidia: Final Fantasy has a big Ensemble Cast of Final Fantasy heroes, with every hero of roughly equal importance to the story (with the closest character to being a protagonist actually the Warrior of Light from the original Final Fantasy). However, the ending credits list Cloud and Sephiroth's names first, due to their game being the fan favourite; and then lists all the others in numerical order.
- The Other Side: Ethan is billed as a main cast member in Season 2, despite the fact that he only appears in 4 episodes. Georgia, Mr. Livingston, Brent, Talia and Texas all appear in more episodes than him, despite being listed as guest stars.
- Amazon's listing for the sixth and final volume of The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes American DVD releases gives top billing to the Incredible Hulk, who only appears in two of the twelve included episodes.
- Their listings for the first four volumes give top billing to voice actors instead of fictional characters, but never to Iron Man's voice actor, Eric Loomis.
- Flash Sentry, Twilight Sparkle's potential love interest from Equestria Girls, suffered from this big time. He was in all the promotional material, yet in the movie he plays a rather small (though still important) roll with considerably few lines. However when you consider the hate this guy got, this might have been for the best.