Some viewers didn't realize Kamina wasn't the central protagonist of Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann until his death in Episode 8. It turns out that Simon is the main character.
Double subverted in The Tower of Druaga. Neeba is shown to be the leader of his group early on with Jil showing up as a mysterious badass... who then gets knocked out within five seconds of first encountering an enemy and has a sort of goofy flashback for most of the first episode about how his journey started... which turns out to be a dream while the rest of his party saves him. His brother, Neeba is seems to be the real hero, for much of the early show. Then his brother turns out to be the Fake Ultimate Hero, and the second arc supplants him with Jil.
A running joke in Yuru-Yuri, where 'main character' Akari worries constantly on her complete lack of screen time, character traits, and presence. Although she leads the opening segment, she's always interrupted, ignored, or distracted by something. Once or twice, she only appears to tell the audience that she won't be in the rest of the episode.
"I'm Akaza Akari and I'm still the protagonist!"
Waku from Bokurano is presented in a way that couldn't be mistaken for anything other than the classic Hot-Blooded shonen Kid Hero. At least until he dies after piloting the robot in the second episode (first volume of the manga).
Played with in Baccano!, where Carol insists that Firo is the protagonist because he's "main character-ish." Given the deliberatelydisjointed nature of the series (in the anime anyway, the source books are much more chronological), as well as the ridiculously huge cast of "main" characters, she manages to be completely right and way off the mark at the same time.
If one defined "main character" based on screen time alone, Isaac and Miria would fit.
In Nobuhiro Watsuki's Crescent Moon in the Warring States, the protagonist is actually Isshinta, not Hiko Seijuro as many readers believe
The demon-hunting squad you're introduced to in the first episode of Ga-Rei -Zero-. They're all distinctive, have some interesting chemistry and seem like a skilled bunch. They all die. At the end of that very same episode. They were included on promotional material
Legend of Galactic Heroes has two main characters: Reinhard von Lohengramm of the The Empire and Yang Wenli of The Alliance. While Yang Wenli IS the most important character of the democratic cast, he's assassinated three-quarters of the way through - completely changing the dynamic of the show. Yang's protégée Julian succeeds him in the last season while Reinhard is a protagonist throughout.
For the first dozen volumes of the manga and all of the anime, Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicles seems to be a typical shounen series about strength and determination, centering on typical shounen hero Syaoran with the other characters in supporting roles. However, that changed when Syaoran turned out to be a clone and puppet of the Big Bad, splitting off from the party and going to wreak evil havoc. At that point the focus of the series switched to former motivational love interest Sakura, at least until SHE died several volumes later.
Clone Syaoran can still be considered to be the main protagonist for the first half.
While we're on the subject of Naoki Urasawa, Richard Braun is this for Monster. Not an entirely straight example, because he isn't this way for the series as a whole, just for an arc that takes up volumes 5-9. Still for that arc, this trope definitely applies.
And back to Urasawa, Plutotells the story mostly from Gesicht's point of view for the first six volumes - up until his murder. Epsilon and then Atom take on the mantle of the hero, though Gesicht's memories play a role in the final confrontation against Pluto.
Aaaaand while we're on Urasawa, Billy Bat now has the death of Kevin Yamagata, after which Kevin Goodman takes over as the true protagonist.
In The Daughter of Twenty Faces, the audience is lead to believe that the main characters are the crew of sympathetic thieves that Chizuko hooks up with. Then comes Episodes 6 and 7, where most of the thieves are killed and Chizuko is sent back to Japan. It's there that we meet Chizuko's real supporting cast; Shunka and Tome.
In The World Is Mine, we meet the two Villain ProtagonistsToshiya and Mon driving down the highway, with Mon having sex with a flashy-looking high school girl. She describes herself to the audience as if she'll be the protagonist ("My name is Miho, seventeen years old, love sex!") and is then pushed out of the car into oncoming traffic. The real female protagonist is a plain-looking girl and one of the few people that Mon doesn't want to rape or kill (Mon actually curls up into her lap and falls asleep like Berserker Rage Ranma).
From the same author of Baccano!, Durarara!! has Mikado Ryuugamine who may look like he's the protagonist because he was the focus for the first episode. You might be thinking "huh, so we get to see Ikebukuro from the eyes of a Naïve Newcomer". Until you see his biggest secret.Word Of God says that Celty is the protagonist of the series, not Mikado.
The majorly Broken Base of Gundam SEED Destiny always seems to be fighting over the problem of who exactly the main character was. While Shinn Asuka gets all the best combat scenes, pilots a Gundam painted in the traditional white/blue/red/yellow color scheme usually used to signify a main character, and is front and center in most promotional material for the show; the Older and WiserKira Yamato takes Shinn's place as the front-and-center character halfway through the show and is portrayed as having the moral high ground over Shinn, who is supporting a character whose stated goal is the elimination of The Evils of Free Will. A fairly famous Flip Flop of God has named Athrun Zala, a character who goes from being Shinn's mentor to Kira's Lancer around the point that the change in perspective happens as the main character of the story. While there has been much Fan Wank over this idea, citing it as an Ass Pull, it does make some sense in context; as A) a large amount of the story is dedicated to Athrun's crisis of faith over having to side with his former ZAFT comrades against The Kingdom he defected to in the previous series (due to said kingdom deciding to give in to the corrupt Federation), B) The change in series' perspective from pro-ZAFT to pro-Three Ships Alliance comes around the time when Athrun had learned of the Big Bad's master plan and jumped ship to rejoin Kira in hopes of stopping him, and C) Athrun is the one who engages and defeats Shinn (who by this point had become a very dangerous Dragon) in very emotional single combat right before the end of the war (Kira meanwhile, is busy curbstomping the local Evil Genius).
It doesn't help that Shinn eventually gets the titular Destiny Gundam as his Mid-Season Upgrade.
Also, the Destiny TV Movies were narrated from Athrun's point of view.
In the credits for Destiny, Shinn was billed first for the first 47 episodes, with Athrun getting second billing. For the final three episodes and Final Plus, Kira received top billing and Shinn was knocked down to third billing. For the TV Movies, Athrun received top billing, and Shinn was billed second.
In the second "season" of Takemitsu Zamurai, a bandit leader named "Glass-eyed Tetsuzo" is set up to be the new antagonist after landing in jail. Unfortunately he's Too Dumb to Live and kicks previous antagonist Kikuchi awake. The next morning, Tetsuzo is found with his head twisted off and Kikuchi is now the owner of a pretty marble, which he eventually uses to burn the prison down and escape.
The sequel to Black Butler sets up Alois Trancy and Claude Faustus as the new Master and Butler duo, until Sebastian comes back, and Ciel is brought back to life. All in the first episode. After all of the marketing A-1 Pictures has done for Alois and Claude, it turns out that it was done to hide the fact that Sebastian and Ciel would be returning. Bravo.
Gohan, Videl, and Goku in the 13th Dragon Ball Z movie, Wrath of the Dragon. Not a death example, but after the first act, the focus switches from them to Trunks and Tapion and stays there for the rest of the film.
The First Episode of Shiki follows Megumi as the central character and her life around the village. She's dead by the end of the episode
Emerging: Since she appears on the cover and since the first chapter revolves around her, it's very easy to mistake Akari for the series' protagonist. She gets infected with the disease at the very beginning of the story, and from then until the very end does nothing except lying in her hospital bed looking miserable. Her family doctor becomes the hero.
Puella Magi Oriko Magica, had an odd case. For starters, the title character isn't even on the cover of the first volume. In fact, it's an Antagonist Title; Oriko is the villain. The real protagonists, at least in the first volume, are Kyouko and Yuma, the girl who actually was on the cover. Mami functions as a secondary protagonist. And then in the second volume, Homurabecomes the protagonist.
Gen literally says "I think the human protagonist is actually Homura." in an interview.
Takashi of All Rounder Meguru is clearly the star of the prologue, and his storyline is the heaviest and most dramatic element of the series, but Meguru's the one with his name in the title.
The first chapter of Arata Kangatari and its debut cover page on the magazine it's serialized in would have you believe that Amawakuni Arata is the main character, but he isn't - it's Hinohara Arata, who's not even on said cover.
The first episode of Popotan starts out with Daichi discovering the real protagonists' mansion as he explores a field. He walks inside... It's dark, and lit only by a Christmas tree... Suddenly, "UNA!" He runs into the hallway, having been startled by Unagi, and runs into the bathroom door as Ai comes out wearing only a towel. It's from here on that we meet all the real protagonists as he frantically attempts to flee the house. He is present during the last minute of the episode, after the girls leave, but is only ever seen again in episode 7 (as an adult, except for flashbacks) and the last episode (when Ai travels back to the time she and her sisters first met him).
In Basara, everyone thinks that a boy named Tatara is The Chosen One—he fits the prophecy to a T—until the king he’s supposed to overthrow hears about him, rides in, and takes his head from his shoulders. Tatara's twin sister Sarasa, who grew up in her brother’s shadow and has basically been forgotten about by almost everyone, rises up to take his place. Literally.
In Attack on Titan, after vowing to exterminate all the Titans because one of them ate his mother and after joining the army, Eren is devoured while trying to safe his friend Armin. Subverted when he is later revealed to have survived and transformed into the Rogue Titan attacking other Titans.
Sket Dance begins with Teppei's first day in his new school and meeting the eponymous Sket-dan. Then the chapter ends and he never appears again aside from a few cameos.
In Vexille, the first half of the movie is spent with Vexille, who's part of a force that's about to stage a covert operation against an isolationist nation. The second half of the film reveals the protagonist to be Maria, a character who wasn't introduced in the first half. Indeed, pretty much everything Vexille was trying to do didn't matter at all. Maria's the one who knows what the stakes are, has devised a plan to thwart the villain, and has gathered together a group of people to execute said plan. She has a direct and personal connection to the villain, as well as people on her side who she has to work against to gather resources and manpower to pull off her scheme. The story in the second half continues to be told from Vexille's point of view, yet her main contribution is to have things explained to. And to pilot the Mecha.
Ginga Nagareboshi Gin started out with Daisuke as the protagonist and was your typical A Boy and His Dog story.. Eight episodes in it had a Genre Shift when the attention changed to his dog, Gin, and Gin ran off to join a pack of feral dogs. Daisuke doesn't appear again until the tail end of the series and is nowhere in the sequel anime.
Similarly, Gaiman's The Sandman gave us a Decoy Antagonist with Roderick Burgess, the warlock who imprisons Dream in the first issue. He seems to be set up as the Big Bad, or at least as a major antagonist. Then it turns out that the first issue spans 70 freakin' years. By the end of issue #1, Burgess has died of old age, and his son Alex is a harmless, senile old man. After Dream escapes, he leaves him in a permanent nightmare and never sees him again.
2000 AD's Shakara begins with a human thinking he's the Last of His Kind after the Earth is destroyed. He's killed on page 2, by the protagonist.
Used to great effect in Origin, in which it turns out that the kid who looks like a young Wolverine, is nicknamed "Dog", and has the surname "Logan", isn't the one who grows up to be Wolverine. The real young Wolverine is actually James Howlett, who starts out as a sickly rich kid living in a manor house in Alberta—though Dog is heavily implied to be his half-brother (and may or may not be connected to Sabretooth in some way).
The Mask comics is a very good example of this. Stanley may be the first person to wear the Artifact of Doom but he is not the main character. It is debatable after the 2nd series of books whether the wearer of the mask is the main character or if it is Kellaway (the Sympathetic Inspector Antagonist). And Big Head is just The Big Bad.
The first Azrael miniseries begins with what appears to be the title character being shot and killed in the first few pages. As it turns out, this was the main character's father and the mantle is a Legacy Character.
James Robinson's Star Man series had a similar opening with a superhero being killed in the first two pages, only for his brother to take up the mantle.
In a third act switch, Archangel Cameron in Archangels: The Saga. He's the main character for the first seven issues and for the epilogue of the 9th, but in Issues 8 and 9, the famous archangel Michael is summoned by God to issue the Big Bad's final defeat and he becomes the new focus character.
In the Ultimate Marvel universe Ray Connor, the kid who takes up the Daredevil identity after the death of Matt Murdock. We're given an issue dealing with his origin and background and the book makes it seem like he's being positioned as a major character in the mold of previous Legacy Characters...but then at the end of said issue, he gets bitten by a vampire.
Transformers: Wings of Honor: Follows Metalhawk's group (with The Hero being the Naïve Newcomer Dion), and Onslaught's in their war against the growing Decepticon uprising lead by Deathsaurus. In the final few comics, Onslaught's team reneges, and kills half of Metalhawk's team, with Dion defeating their combined form. Then the protagonist switches to Magnum, the leader of the Elite guard which Onslaught and his men wiped out. He and the rest of the survivors, including Dion, fight Deathsaurus and beat him. Deathsaurus turns out to be a Decoy Antagonist, and is beaten and overthrown by the true antagonist Megatron. Megatron leads an attack on the Autobots, fatally shooting Dion and Magnum. Alpha Trion takes them, and rebuilds Ultra Magnus from one of them, while the other dies, and Ultra Magnus welcomes the true hero of the war, Optimus Prime.
In Noob, being the player whose Day In The Life is shown at the beginning doesn't guarantee being the focus for the rest of the comic.
In Seventy Two Hours, Nick Savini and Tamyra Carpenter are set up as the protagonists and main couple...up until the fourth chapter, where Nick unwittingly blows himself up and Tamyra gets shot in the heart.
Marty in No Antidote. He's only really there to tie the Pokemon in his team (including the real protagonist, Bulbasaur) together.
The Trope Codifier (if not the Trope Maker) and easily the most famous example is Psycho. Marion Crane is set up as the main character through the first half of the film. Then she takes a shower. She's the reason Hitchcock asked for a "no late admission" policy, as he thought that if people entered the theater late and never saw the star actress Janet Leigh, they would feel cheated. Leigh's agent didn't want her to take the role because of how quickly the screen time ended. Leigh's response was "Ah, but who are they talking about the rest of the film?"
Hostel primarily focuses on Josh, the nice, shy, virginal guy for most the film before killing him and revealing Paxton, who'd be among the first to die in most horror movies, as the lead and survivor.
In Fargo, Jerry Lundegaard seems to be the main character, as would be typical for the Coen brothers' ordinary-schmuck-commits-a-crime-gone-wrong genre, until Marge Gunderson is introduced about a half hour into the film.
Marlon Brando had star billing and a Best Actor Oscar for his role as Vito Corleone in The Godfather, but he was gunned down less than forty minutes in and spent a good deal of the rest of the film lying in a hospital bed before dying of a heart attack. His son Michael was the hero of the film.
Quentin Tarantino takes this to the point of having an entire decoy cast in the Grindhouse film Death Proof. Half of the movie focuses on a bunch of characters where they very distinctly focus on one character who just screamsFinal Girl only for her and all of the characters introduced to be killed off all at once. After that the rest of the movie focuses on a completely different bunch of characters in a completely different area, and filmed in a completely different style. It was like watching a sequel to the movie in the middle of the first one!
In the original Alien movie, Sigourney Weaver's Ripley was not played as the main protagonist. For the first half of the movie, the presumptive lead was Captain Dallas AKA Victim #3. In fact, Sigourney Weaver was probably the least famous actor in the cast. John Hurt, the most established actor, dies first.
Alderson in Cube. The beginning of the movie shows him getting up and beginning to explore his surroundings... only to be unexpectedly sliced into cubes moments later. The movie pulls it again by making Quentin looks like the heroic protective leader-type within the group before pulling a Face-Heel Turn. Worth, who initially appears to be an Anti-Hero, eventually steps up to be the true protector of the survivors.
In Deep Blue Sea, the adventurer/executive played by Samuel L. Jackson gets bitten in half by a shark. And later, Saffron Burrows who got billing as the lead character, is the only character on the cover and posters and looking like the presumed Final Girl... gets eaten. It wasn't written that way, but the test audiences felt she shouldn't survive after causing that much death.
Sarge in the Doom movie has a psychotic break and later (for unrelated reasons) turns into a demon. He even lampshades this when he is caught by the demons and shouts out "I'm not supposed to die!", because he assumed he was the main character.
Friday the 13th 2009Continuity Reboot has a group of teens slaughtered by Jason in the beginning and then introduces another group of teens including obvious Final Girl Jenna. Jenna is the Decoy Protagonist and is abruptly killed off twenty minutes before the end. The actual Final Girl is Whitney, one of the girls from the first group whom Jason took alive.
The first Feast movie has the characters named "Hero" (Life Expectancy: Pretty Good. Occupation: Kicking Ass) and "Heroine" (Occupation: Wear tanktops, tote shotgun, save day. LIFE EXPECTANCY: Hopefully Better Than The Last Hero) both end up dying, the former a few minutes after being introduced. The second Heroine (Occupation: Career waitress, single mom. Life Expectancy: Expects nothing from life. upgraded to Occupation: Heroine #2. Life Expectancy: Let's hope for the best) is the one to make it through, even after her son is eaten. Needless to say, this movie loves subverting the Sorting Algorithm of Mortality.
Jim Ogilvie in the first of The Stepfather films. He spends most of the film looking for his sister's killer and in the end, when he does finally find the stepfather, he's knifed in the stomach before he can even pull his gun out.
Lucius Hunt is clearly the protagonist of The Village, right up until he is stabbed viciously and his blind girlfriend Ivy must make the journey to rescue him that takes up the rest of the film. Notably, this is the only plot twist in the film that isn't telegraphed very early on and actually feels twisty as a result.
A rare third-act POV switch in Death Becomes Her: Bruce Willis's character takes over as the protagonist, leaving the previous main characters played by Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn sidelined until the movie's coda.
In the first movie we're introduced to Freddy through Tina's dreams, hearing about Tina's fears in regards to the nightmares, and generally being led to believe that this movie will be about Tina's escape from Freddy. And then she's the first member of the group to die.
Part four starts out focusing on Kristen, the protagonist of the previous film, but she is rather quickly killed off and focus completely shifts to her schoolmate Alice.
In Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare the apparent main character confronts Freddy, telling him that he knows that he's his son. He promptly learns, the hard way, that Freddy had a daughter.
The 2010 remake employs a use of this trope. Kris is actually the second victim but most of the first twenty minutes focus on her and the actual heroine, though already introduced only becomes important after Kris is killed.
This works significantly less well considering the real heroine Nancy shares the same name as the original's heroine
In another Wes Craven film, the trailer for the first Scream movie had audiences assuming that Drew Barrymore's character Casey was a main character. She's killed in the first ten minutes.
Played with in Scream 4. Jill is set up as an Expy of her cousin Sidney, her actions mirroring those of Sidney in the first film, and everything seems to be on the way for her to become the Final Girl. Turns out she's the killer.
A Perfect Getaway. The seeming main characters are not only not the protagonists, they turn out to be the villains. The actual protagonists only show up twenty to thirty minutes into the film.
The Spectre Of Freedom by Luis Buñuel does this repeatedly. (If you can call the characters protagonists in the first place...)
Most people assume that Aurora is the protagonist of Disney's Sleeping Beauty and get annoyed that she is so underdeveloped. It was planned for her to be a protagonist, but the final film has the three fairies as the protagonists and basically do most of the stuff for both Aurora and Phillip.
Ilios from Lucio Fulci's Conquest is The Chosen One, possesses one of the few bows in the film's world, and is on The Quest. He tends to screw up and gets rescued by his sidekick, Maxz. And then the minions of the Big Bad kill him and Maxz takes up his bow, completing the quest.
During the first 1/2 hour of The Boys from Brazil, it seems pretty clear that Barry (Steve Guttenberg) is the main character. Then he has a run in with some Nazis...
The slasher flick/cop movie Maniac Cop focuses largely on Detective Frank McCrae (Tom Atkins) as he tries to track down a killer who dresses as a police officer, for about the first forty-five minutes. Then the Detective is killed and the focus shifts to Officer Jack Forrest (Bruce Campbell) for the remainder of the movie.
The opening scene of The Hurt Locker focuses on Thompson, played by Guy Pearce, who seems to be the hero until he dies and gets replaced with the real main character.
Unless you had seen the poster or trailer for the first Bring It On movie, the opening sequence would lead you to believe that Big Red is the main character. Then, mid-song, the focus shifts to Torrance. Granted, Torrance is there in the first part of the song too, but she's off to the side or in the background. No one dies, but it otherwise fits this trope.
Mindhunters: Christian Slater's character gets killed first.
At the end of Sucker Punch, the protagonist Baby Doll has a revelation that the movie isn't actually her story at all, but actually Sweet Pea's. She sacrifices her own freedom for Sweet Pea once she realizes she was only ever meant to be the catalyst for Sweet Pea's escape from the mental asylum.
Unless you view the movie as a nested series of traumatic dissociation within Baby Doll's own mind, in which case all the other girls we see in the Burlesque and High Fantasy scenes are fractured aspects of her consciousness, which kinda changes the entire meaning of the film.
The horror movie Scarecrow 2 started off with an older farmer telling a flashbacked story about how the titular monster murdered his father when he was a kid to a reporter. It sets up as if he's (one of) the main protagonist(s), but he's chopped up by the scarecrow to the point of Ludicrous Gibs while handcuffed to a hospital bed within 20 minutes of the opening credits.
Watch the first hour of The Return, and it's pretty clear that Ivan is the main character. Watch the final 20 minutes, and it's pretty clear that Andrei has taken over the role. According to Word Of God, Andrei was the main character for the entire movie, but was metaphorically "hidden in the shadows" up until that point.
In Saving Private Ryan, the audience is led to believe that the man entering the cemetery in the present day is Captain John Miller, and that the 95% of the film set in WWII is Miller's flashback. Then Miller dies in the final battle, and it's revealed that the man in the cemetery is actually Private James Ryan, who has spent the whole movie recalling the story of how Miller saved his life.
In Blindness, it might appear at first the movie's main character would be the Japanese man, or the Doctor, but after a while it is made clear that the Doctor's Wife is the real main character of the story.
In One Day, given that the movie, at first, appears to focus primarily on Emma, she appears to be the protagonist. However, with about fifteen minutes of the film to go, she gets hit by a truck and dies, completely transferring the focus to Dexter.
In MacGruber, the title character assembles a super-team of secret agents. They are then promptly packed into a car and blown up, to be replaced by a rag-tag team consisting of MacGruber, Vicki St. Elmo and Dixon Piper.
A superhero appears at the beginning of Kick-Ass, prepared to make the dive of a skyscraper. He's hailed by a bad-ass soundtrack and the voice-over about superheroes. He dies from the fall. And the movie moves on. Turns out he was just some random crazy person.
Mike from Killer Klowns from Outer Space. He survives the whole movie, but his role as The Hero is usurped early on by Dave the policeman, who becomes the only character in the entire film to kill any of the klowns, and he never gets it back.
Done surprisingly well in Bollywood movie Dum Maaro Dum where the whole movie focuses on ACP Vishnu Kamath((Abhishek Bachchan)'s attempts to root out the drug traffickers. He suddenly gets killed by a corrupt cop about 3/4th into the movie and a supporting character DJ Joki(played by debutante Rana Daggubati) assumes the lead role and ends up foiling the Big Bad's plan
Although Jamie is clearly the main protagonist in Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers, we're led to believe that Rachel will once again be at her side for the duration. She's one of the earliest victims in the film. Then, the annoying girl who you'd expect to die first (Tina) ends up outliving her friends (bar Jamie).
Laurie Strode in Halloween: Resurrection. After being the main protagonist in 3 films, she's the first victim in the final outing.
The President's daughter from Spy Kids 2, whose prologue made the film look like if it was actually about her and her adventures at an amusement park full of wacky CGI rides.
Viggo Mortensen's character in Daylight, an adventurer who becomes the de-facto leader of the survivors, is killed while trying to look for an exit of the collapsed tunnel, coincidentally just as Sylvester Stallone's character arrives.
The Star Wars prequel trilogy is about Anakin Skywalker but he doesn't actually appear until half way through the first movie. For most of The Phantom Menace Qui-Gon Jinn seems like the main character.
With A New Hope, Luke Skywalker doesn't appear until around 20 minutes in. C-3PO and R2-D2 are the focus of the movie until then.
Luke can actually be seen as the Decoy Protagonist of the saga as a whole: he's clearly set up as the hero of the original trilogy, but when viewed alongside the prequel trilogy, it becomes clear that the series is actually about his father Anakin's rise, fall, and eventual redemption.
Silver Tongues opens with Rachel and Alex, a newly married and already fraying young couple on their tense honeymoon. A few minutes in they run into a couple in their 40's and have dinner with them. The older couple turn out to be con artists who trick Rachel and Alex into believing they are swingers, manipulate the frustrations the younger couple have and leave the newlyweds with a seemingly broken marriage. The plot then sticks with the con artists as they run into other people - Rachel and Alex are never seen or mentioned again after the first act.
In Bram Stokers Dracula, Jonathan Harker appears to be the heroic protagonist for the first quarter until the focus shifts to his fiancee Mina for the rest of the film and Jonathan fades into the background as a supporting character. Mina is even the one who vanquishes Dracula in the end.
Pitch Black had Carolyn who dies at the end and its Riddick who ends up starring in his own movie.
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus starts with Anton as the protagonist at the film's beginning. Then it's Tony in the middle of the film. The ending makes it clear that the film's protagonist all along was Parnassus himself.
The cop at the start of Ultraviolet looks like the typical Big Brother Is Employing You hero. He goes on about the harshness against hemophages and believes the whole thing is just a witch hunt. Then, he gets infected and his partner shoots him dead.
In By The Sword, in the first half, we seem to focus more on students Erin Clavelli and Jim Trebor and their romance at the fencing school. About halfway through, they become more background characters and shown as differences in teaching styles between the real main characters, Max Suba and Alexander Villard.
Evil Dead clearly sets up Scott to be the likeliest to the survive the story. As the story continues he's the one who is continuously doing things, trying to save the rest of the groups lives and eventually decides to go get help only for the camera's focus to shift to Ash, the character who's defining moment up until this point had been getting trapped under a bookshelf. Scott makes it back...but not in one piece
Evil Dead in the 2013 Reboot it sets up David as the group leader and protagonist. He leads the group, and takes charge. The shift occurs when Mia changes from the dead to the living, and David is killed.
Grave of the Vampire starts off with a vampire attacking a young couple (killing the man, raping the woman). A police detective, after hearing the woman's story, goes to the cemetery. So far, so good. It doesn't end well for him.
Sean Bean is the most established actor and in one of the lead roles in Equilibrium. He gets killed early on.
Which is kind of a trend for Sean Bean. In numerous other movies and shows, he seems to be set up as the main character (at least to an unexperienced audience), only to be killed or turned into the villain. Or both.
Rare antagonist example in GI Joe The Rise Of Cobra. A lot of fans familiar with the mythology expected the Doctor to actually be the Rise of Cobra version of Doctor Mindbender. Only at the end, was it revealed that the Doctor is actually Cobra Commander.
Citizen Kane is a double subversion. Even though Kane is the title character, he's actually the person we learn about through multiple third-person perspectives of him, since he died at the beginning. The real protagonist is Jerry Thompson, whose goal throughout the film is to find out what "Rosebud" meant.
In Star Trek: Into Darkness, it's actually Spock who defeats Khan, not Kirk. The movie focuses on Spock's growth as a character through Kirk's actions. Unlike most cases though, Kirk doesn't stay dead.
Contrary to what the advertising for Now You See Me suggests, the Four Horsemen aren't the leads, Agent Dylan Rhodes is, though they (and Thaddeus Bradley, for that matter) are Deuteragonists. Taken to a new level when you learn that Dylan is the fifth Horseman.
The Place Beyond The Pines: The film follows Luke for the first hour of the film, until he's killed. The film then follows the police officer who kills him and then Luke's son fifteen years later. There is no real main character.
In the book Hexwood, we are first introduced to Ann Stavely, a 14-year-old-ish girl recovering from a long illness, who lives in a small town. About halfway through, the protagonist switches to a 20-something fashion designer from the heart of the galaxy. It turns out she was just hallucinating that she was the girl, Ann, due to the effects of a powerful magical artifact.
Brave New World features perhaps one of the most iconic examples of this: we are initially led to believe the protagonist of the story is Bernard Marx, as the novel focuses on him being a misfit in the World State and his questioning of its ideals. Then, as soon as Bernard and Lenina arrive at the Savage reservation, we are introduced to John the Savage and the novel focuses more and more on John while Bernard fades into the background.
The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson features a particularly spiteful example: as the book begins, we're introduced to a thuggish cyberpunk protagonist straight out of the low-rent sci-fi movies of the late Eighties, complete with spiffy black leather clothes, skull-mounted nanotech weapons, and life of petty crime. Within a hundred pages he's been gruesomely executed for armed robbery, and his neglected four-year-old daughter turns out to be the book's real heroine.
Battle Royale tries to fool readers, making them think that Shinji Mimura will be the hero. He dies, and Shuya is obviously the hero after that point
Each and every prologue is told from the point of view of a character who turns out to be a Sacrificial Lamb, but that's just the warm-up.
The main act is Eddard Stark, the Lord of Winterfell and leader of the protagonist-heavy Stark family. While we see many points of view, the main action of the story centers around Lord Eddard; he gets loads of character development, hints at a fascinating past, the works. And then the Lannisters chop his head off.
The Stark Family in general. They certainly become less central to the plot some time after the third part, as members die and the roster of POV characters expands. There's also no saying that they're going to remain the designated "good guys" either.
To a lesser extent, Viserys Targaryen. In any "normal" fantasy story, he'd go through his Break the Haughty process and earn his throne through learned humility and wisdom. In this one, he gets his crown of gold, all right...
Robb Stark and the other victims of the Red Wedding.
Beric Dondarrion has all the makings of a major player, but by the end of the fourth book, it's obvious in hindsight he was just there to put the pieces in place to advance Catelyn's storyline.
Played straight in Ben Bova's Moonrise. The first half of the book has playboy astronaut Paul Stavenger as the main character, only to have him die about half way through. Following a Time Skip, Paul's less interesting and Marty Stu-esque son assumes the role of protagonist.
In the first Marcus Didius Falco novel, the spirited young noblewoman who encounters Falco, Sosia, seems to be the second protagonist, but then she's murdered. The actual second major character and Falco's love interest is her cousin, Helena.
The Course Of Honour appears to be Caenis' story, but in reality, it's the story of the rise of Vespasian, seen through Caenis' eyes.
Highly pronounced in Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strangeand Mr Norrell, where the titular Jonathan Strange is not introduced for 250 pages, before proceeding to gobble up most of the spotlight.
The Cavaliers Series Oxford Blood opens with Stephanie French, social climber extraordinaire, attending the Cavaliers Summer Party and having Archie, the heir to a dukedom declare his love for her. And then Archie is turned into a vampire and kills her to complete his transformation. From then on, the action skips a year and focuses on Harriet, Stephanie’s cousin. Although Stephanie continues to have a major influence on the story, most notably by being the major motivation for Archie’s murder spree.
Though he doesn't die, in Guards! Guards! quite a few pages are spent making it look like Carrot is going to be the main character of the story, having all the traits of the classical hero, before Sam Vimes takes over as protagonist, not just of the book, but of the City Watch series. This was how it was intended to be, before Terry Pratchett realised Vimes had more character and switched protagonists.
The Zero Game: The apparent protagonist is murdered four chapters in, with the narration switching to his friend.
In the Doctor Who novel Prisoner of the Daleks, Stella seems like a perfect companion figure for the Doctor, but she gets killed off by Chapter Three. This sets the Darker and Edgier tone for the book.
This was also done in the Virgin Missing Adventures novel Time of Your Life, focusing on the Doctor's first adventure after Trial of a Time Lord. Angela is set up as the new companion, only to get killed pretty quickly. Instead it's Grant Markham who ends up as a companion by the novel's end.
In the classic Greek Antigone, the titular character seems to be our main until... Well, she is a Tragic Hero. Creon, the only character to have appeared in all of the Theban plays, takes the spotlight. Ergo, trope is Older Than Feudalism.
In The Night of the Generals, during World War II, an officer of German military intelligence is investigating a series of murders of prostitutes, and comes to the conclusion that the killer is a German general. Two-thirds of the way through the book, he confronts the murderer, and is killed. Years later, a friend of his, who had a very small role in the story before this point, takes up the case and brings it to a successful conclusion.
Jack Vance's Lyonesse trilogy begins with the birth and upbringing of the spirited Princess Suldrun. At about the halfway point of book one, however, she dies. The rest of the series divides its focus amongst a number of other characters, including her lover, son and father.
Robert Silverberg's The Alien Years begins with an alien invasion from the perspective of a resourceful pilot. He's killed in the first chapter, and the rest of the novel focuses on his brother's family.
Orson Scott Card uses this at least a couple of times. In Xenocide, Qing-jao is the focus of the storyline on Path. She doesn't die, (she does have her OCD/godspoken-ness taken away though) but she's very handily displaced by Wang-mu towards the end of the book, and though Wang-mu appears as a main character in Children of the Mind, Qing-jao does not. Also, in Empire, we meet Reuben Malich, who is basically the hero of the whole book except he gets unceremoniously shot in the face about two-thirds the way through, and Cole has to finish his work. Bonus points for the paperback version of Empire because it happens right before a page turn.
Card also uses it, by degrees, in Hart's Hope, which begins centuries before the protagonist is born, with the story of a baron who overthrows his king. Orem, the hero, isn't born until roughly one-third into the 300 page novel.
The first chapter of The Phantom of the Opera novel centers around a Brainless Beauty named La Sorelli, who is given a disproportionate amount of detail describing her physical appearance, personality, and history for someone who turns out to be one of the most insignificant characters in the book. This is particularly Hilarious in Hindsight considering the losses the real heroine Christine endures to her personality in adaptations, reducing her to The Ingenue who vaguely resembles La Sorelli, personality-wise.
Andrew Phelan in The Trail of Cthulhu. It seems like he'll be something of a Supporting Protagonist or an Action Survivor, witnessing the bizarre goings on that may or may not be connected to his mysterious new employer, Professor Shrewsbury of Miskatonic University...but that's only for the first chapter. After this, he is no longer the POV character and eventually all-but-disappears entirely. He doesn't die, though, and considering this is a Cthulhu Mythos yarn, that's really saying something.
Arthur Machen's short story, "The Dover Road". The first two thirds of the story stars Professor Warburton as he tries to come to grips with a bizarre phenomenon he and his colleagues have witnessed. Warburton eventually gathers up enough evidence to come up with a rational-enough solution that completely satisfies him. The focus then turns to one of the other witnesses, Ian Tallent, who had previously taken up all of 2-3 sentences in the story. Ian notices that Warburton's proposed solution fails to address certain aspects of the case and spends the remainder of the story doing some investigating of his own.
Machen did this again in his novella, The Terror where he makes himself the main character for the first few chapters before being demoted to mere Greek Chorus.
From The Kingdoms of Evil: Pon, who appears to be a Farm Boy on his way to seek his fortune. You know, before he's slaughtered.
Sara Douglass's Wayfarer's Redemption series takes an interesting take on this. The main protagonist of the first three volumes is Axis. Initially, it seems that his love interest is Faraday. However partway through the series, Axis falls in love with and marries Azhure, relegating Faraday to a supporting role. the first half ends on an apparently final note with Axis defeating Gorgrael, after Gorgrael kills Faraday and tears her body apart in a hopeless attempt to distract Axis. Then the second half begins with Axis retired and the kingdom in the hands of his eldest son Caelum. The first volume strongly pushes Caelum as the main protagonist, Only for him to be rather unceremoniously cut down by Qeteb, turning over the reins of the series to his disgraced younger brother, DragonStar. Oh, and Faraday returns from the dead to become Drago's love-interest.
Margo Smith is the hero of the first Time Scout book. Skeeter Jackson steps in for the second and carries much of the rest of the series.
Eponymous character of Narrative PoemPan Tadeusz (Sir Thaddeus) by Adam Mickiewicz, Tadeusz Soplica is set up to make readers belive he is the main character, but as the story progress it becomes more and more apparent that real protagonist is Preist Robak also known as infamous Jacek Soplica.
Shadow is technically the main character of American Gods, in that he is the viewpoint character, but his role in the story is largely the same as that of Alice; that is to say, he watches as the plot happens around him, occasionally pausing to say, "Gosh, that's unusual," but by and large he neither actively contributes to the plot unless deliberately roped into it by someone else nor does he react as though he seriously believes he's involved. It's really Mr. Wednesday's story at the end of the day (well, there's a strong argument that it's actually Mr. Nancy's, but he's letting Mr. Wednesday borrow it).
There are two of these in the Mistborn series. In the first book, though the main viewpoint character is Vin, the story is about Kelsier and his rebellion. Then he dies and Vin takes on the main protagonist role. A variation happens in Hero of Ages when Vin sacrifices herself to destroy Ruin and it turns out that Sazed is The Chosen One, though the core thrust of the narrative is still centered around Vin.
Jin Yong loves this trope. A majority of his Wu Xia novels start around an apparent protagonist, only to reveal (sometimes several chapters later) that it is not. First comes to mind should be The Smiling Proud Wanderer (笑傲江湖) when the audience should be fooled to view Lin Pingzhi as the protagonist while it is actually Linghu Chong.
In The Walking Dead: Rise of the Governor, the two main characters are Philip and his ineffectual brother. Philip is the name of the Governor in the comics and it seems apparent that the novel is about him. Before it ends, however, Philip is killed and Brian takes on his name. Thus, the story was about him.
The original novel version of The Unholy Three has the titular, murderous three as the main characters until the fourth or fifth chapter; afterward, the focus switches to a young man named Hector who has the misfortune of crossing paths with the three. Averted in the movie adaptation (coincidentally Lon Chaney Sr's only sound picture), where the focus remains on the three even after Hector is introduced.
Cynthia Voigt's third Kingdom novel, The Wings of the Falcon, pulls this. Oriel is a dashing, brave, fantastically charismatic young man who is clearly the perfect candidate to win the heart of the princess and save the Kingdom. Until, of course, he dies in a duel about 3/4 of the way through the book. His always-in-the-background best friend, Griff, gets a rather abrupt promotion to Hero after that.
In the first Empire of the Ants book, the Ants part of the story starts from the perspective of a young male named 327, and follows him as he forms a team with female 56 and asexual warrior 103683... he is killed in the middle of the book, and his two partners take over as the main characters. And again later, 56 becomes queen and is reduced to secondary character then killed, while 103683 serves as the main character for the remaining of the trilogy.
Ensign Tom Davis in the opening chapter of Redshirts
Les Misérables opens with a book detailing Bishop Myriel's life and philosophy, firmly establishing his character. Then in the second book comes bursting through his door a certain parolee named Jean Valjean...
In Quofum, Ersa Trellenberg is the initial viewpoint-character, and seems to have all the elements — unique appearance and backstory, adventurous but responsible, UST with the expedition's only female crew member — expected in a heroic protagonist. Then he catches a lethal sonic blast to the forehead.
Fade to Blue by Sean Beaudoin appears to have two protagonists, Kenny Fade and Sophie Blue. But later in the book, it's revealed that Kenny doesn't exist. He's a virtual life that Sophie has been living.
Reckless briefly appears this way, but it's ultimately subverted.
The third book in The Inheritance Trilogy, The Kingdom of Gods, plays with this; Shahar Arameri would appear to be the main character alongside the godling Sieh - she dominates the description on the jacket copy, at any rate - but she actually gets shunted aside about 260 pages in to make way for her twin brother, Dekarta. (However, the author did state that she wanted to emphasize the plot, and thus the movers and shakers of the plot, rather than the romance angle...)
Live Action TV
Buffy's "The Wish", in which case poor Cordelia gets killed halfway through and the story moves on without her.
Jack from LOST was originally meant to be one of these, played for the single episode by a big-name actor- Michael Keaton being a top choice- to reinforce the audience's assumption that he was the main character. Executives decided that the audience would feel betrayed and tune out if he was promptly killed. Thus, Jack was made the actual leader of the group and a regular, thus necessitating a cheaper actor.
An early Lexx episode begins with a man drifting through space in a small shuttle, playing a radio message which details his backstory and the plight of his home planet "Gworim". Then the Lexx runs him right over, and nobody even notices due to his comparatively small size.
In the very first episode Brian Bostwick play Thodin the leader of the rebellion. He would have been the obvious hero if it had been the type of story to have that sort of thing.
Non-death example: The Thick of It begins with a minister entering his office, greeting his staff, and getting ready for a meeting with Malcolm. Then, in the meeting, Malcolm suddenly forces him to resign. Quick cut, and the new minister (and the show's protagonist) appears. Basically, rather than Anyone Can Die, this is Anyone Can Be Sacked.
Non-protagonist example: Kawalsky was only character from the film to return aside from Jack and Daniel, in addition to being made the head of SG-2. He gets more screentime in "Children of the Gods" than Teal'c (who went on to be in the most episodes of any cast member) and was played up as being a regular character in the show. Unfortunately, he gets taken over by a Goa'uld at the end of the pilot and dies in the second episode.
The Wire features an extended example: in the first season, D'Angelo Barksdale is the POV character for the criminal side of Baltimore, as McNulty is for the cop side. However, he's killed off early in the second season, while McNulty lasts through the entire show and other criminal figures step into the spotlight. This seems natural, as Baltimore drug dealers tend to live short lives.
Multiple layer example in the first episode of Saul Of The Molemen. The opening credits feature S.T.A.R. Team who promptly dies seconds later in a meteor shower. Follows the replacement credits for Johnny Tambourine... who is a complete moron. Then opening credits for The Molemen (as a funyn sitcom)... and finally the real credits for Saul himself.
Season 15 of The Amazing Race had Zev & Justin, who, when compared to similar editing of teams in previous seasons, appeared to be set up for a run late into the race, including a burgeoning rivalry with Maria & Tiffany, that is until they lost a passport in leg 4.
Revolution: Ben Matheson in the pilot from this new series. The show spends the first several minutes centered around him and you would think he would become the main character who ends up knowing how the blackout started and trying to atone for his sins. Instead, he gets shot before the first commercial break, and his daughter steps in as the real protagonist.
24's final season plays with this: after transitioning to Villain Protagonist, Jack still played a central role in the season's plot, but the show actually gave focus on Chloe while his screentime notably became more limited in the final episodes, making the real hero of the season her. This even comes into play after Jack's Heel-Face Turn in the series finale, as he is wounded and spends most it offscreen being held captive while Chloe's efforts to expose the season's conspiracy and eventually save him are given the greater focus.
Oz's Dino Ortolani, a young Italian mafioso who's introduced as the "sponsor" of series protagonist Tobias Beecher in the pilot episode. Roughly half of the pilot's plot is devoted to him, heavily hinting at a character arc involving his struggle with his own violent nature and his relationship with his family on the outside. But then he's abruptly burned alive by his enemies at the end of the episode, hammering home the fact that Anyone Can Die in Oswald Penitentiary.
The music video for "Weird Al" Yankovic's "White and Nerdy" (parody of Chamillionaire's "Ridin'") started out with two black gangsters riding a car before they meet a nerd mowing his lawn. From there, the focus was on the nerd.
The promotional video for Orange Range's "O2" (the first opening of the second season of Code Geass), is also this, with a hint of Deconstruction. The story follows a Samurai in love with his lord's Geisha and having a secret relationship with her, with the band members guest starring as a Ragtag Bunch of Misfits just going about their everyday lives. The samurai saves her the first time from a group of thugs through some quick thinking, but when actually forced to fight, he didn't possess the strength to save her. It fell onto the band to save them ala Big Damn Heroes and using a variety of skills from their careers (Hiroki's a thief with Super Speed, Yoh's a skilled ronin, ect.) The video ends with Orange Range as the heroes and implies that the geisha broke it off with the samurai afterward, since he wasn't her Knight in Shining Armor after all.
Acts of the Apostles at first focused on the Apostles particularly Peter before switching to the exploits of Paul in chapter 26.
There are two Books of Samuel, which feature the prophet Samuel. He dies before the first one is over; the books are mainly about King David, whom Samuel appoints on God's command.
The D&D adventure Vecna Lives! famously pulled this one. The players start in the roles of the Circle Of Eight, the most powerful archmages in the world— guys who have spells in the rulebook named after them. But the very first encounter is a Hopeless Boss Fight, all the archmages end up dead, and the players must switch to a less-powerful backup team and still save the day.
Jaller was one of these twice in BIONICLE- once for Takua/Takanuva (in-universe more than to the audience, since everyone else thought that he was The Chosen One aside from himself and Takua), and the other for Matoro. The first time, he got killed (but got better), and the second time was something of a subversion as Matoro performed a Heroic Sacrifice, causing the real hero to die instead of the decoy.
Haytham Kenway of Assassins Creed III, is playable through the first three memories. The kicker is that He turns out to be a Templar, and becomes an antagonist for his son Connor.
In L.A. Noirefor the last three missions, control is switched over to his fellow marine Jack Kelso, who investigates the Suburbian Redevelopment Group as Cole is stonewalled by the corrupt police department. Cole is later killed in the final mission, and a flashback of Kelso ends the story.
One of the rare occurances where the decoy protagonist is playable most of the game. However, the story is really how Cole's drive as a marine and a detective spurred Kelso to do the right thing and that Jack had a lot to learn from his rival, who was neither his friend nor his enemy.
Harry Mason seems to be the protagonist of Silent Hill 1 at first, but as the game goes on it becomes clear that the main focus is on Alessa Gillespie. Harry actually has very little importance to the plot, until he kills Alessa. In two of the endings, at least.
Silent Hill 4 has two examples of this. You start the game playing as Joseph Schreiber, gone mad from The Room's influence. After the prologue, you start playing as Henry Townshend... who still turns out not to be the protagonist, as most of the game focuses on Walter Sullivan.
Happens again in Silent Hill Origins. Travis crashes his car at the edge of the titular town and stumbles right into the tangle of events surrounding what happened to Alessa (though of course he does have to deal with his own problems as well).
And again more famously in Silent Hill: Shattered Memories. The game switches back and forth between a first-person therapy session set in the present and third-person gameplay starring Harry Mason, making it look like Harry's reminiscing of Silent Hill while under therapy. The end reveals that the patient was Cheryl, Harry's daughter, and that the third-person PC was but a figment of Cheryl's imagination, distraught over her father's death many years ago. The therapy sessions weren't meant to cure Harry's trauma, but Cheryl's denial over Harry's death.
In WWE 12, when the player first starts the "Road To WrestleMania" mode, the first person they plays as is John Cena, they make it look like you're gonna have to wrestle The Undertaker, so Cena comes out... only to get Brouge Kicked by Sheamus.
In Everlong, the main character Brad was... well, the main character, until he suddenly vanishes as the evil spirits within him took over him, causing him to because Brainwashed and Crazy, take a Face-Heel Turn and end up being killed by the Big Damn Heroes. Ohnoes.
Infamously in Metal Gear Solid 2, the game starts you off with the series' main hero, Solid Snake investigating a new Metal Gear. After this intro mission, you skip several years into the future and control Raiden, eventually meeting Snake again as he becomes the Cynical Mentor and the Double Agent by pretending to be one of the military.
Likewise in Birth by Sleep, Ven resembles Sora and Roxas in several ways, but the plot actually revolves more around Terra, and Aqua does the more traditional heroic deeds.
In Kingdom Hearts 3D, for the most part Sora and Riku share heroic deeds pretty evenly. Then in the last world, Sora is almost corrupted by Xehanort and falls into a coma. The last boss is Riku facing Ventus's armor that has been tainted by darkness, with Sora inside of it.
In Star Wars: Rogue Squadron 2, you start out playing as Luke Skywalker for two and a half missions, but when Luke's Snowspeeder gets shot down in the Battle of Hoth he gets replaced by Wedge Antilles, on Hoth and in subsequent missions. As we know, this is because while Luke survived, he didn't regroup with the others, so it was up to Wedge to lead Rogue Squadron.
Locke of Final Fantasy VI, while Terra gets the main focus of the story in the World of Balance, its Locke that is in the traditional protagonist role. He is locked into the party for most of the game's first half and plays a role in both Terra's and Celes's stories. However, Celes becomes the protagonist in the World of Ruin and while Terra gets forced into the ending if you don't recruit her, Locke can miss the ending entirely. He is one of the last and hardest to find party members you re-recruit and his role is diminished quite a bit in the second half. While Kitase said that there is no main characters, it's Terra and Celes that come the closest to it.
Final Fantasy X has Tidus say in the beginning "Listen to my story". You then spend most of the game hearing about Yuna and her pilgrimage, Yuna and her Aeons, Yuna's duty and her goal .. until you reach Zanarkand. This is when Tidus really screws the rules and became more the leader. Not insignificantly, Yuna eventually says "This is our story."
In Final Fantasy XII, Reks, a level 3 soldier and the brother of the protagonist, is this as you briefly control him through the castle, and fight empire enemies in attempt to save the king during the prologue.
This seems to run in his family - while the player spends the rest of the game controlling Reks' younger brother, Vaan, it quickly becomes clear that Vaan is not the protagonist. Despite filling a typical JRPG young plucky hero trope, the story is clearly centered around Ashe, Basche, and Balthier (the latter of whom frequently proclaims himself the leading man.) Vaan even comes to this conclusion for himself eventually. Vaan serves as the player's viewpoint into the other major characters, since he's largely an outsider to the nature of the political and social state Ivalice - something the other characters use for insight into their own problems. The game ends with Vaan eventually setting out on an adventure in his own right. The sequel, Revenant Wings, finally let him have the role of protagonist in earnest.
This is pulled with Golden Sun's Isaac, despite the fact he doesn't die. You begin the first game controlling him as a silent protagonist, only for the second game to shift POV to Felix, revealing that his quest was the one saving the world, making Isaac a Decoy Protagonist who is actually an antagonist (unwittingly). Then, at Jupiter Lighthouse, the whole situation is explained to Isaac, and he joins forces with Felix for the finale.
The first Modern Warfare game has Sgt. Paul Jackson, who seems like he's going to be a second protagonist for the entire game until he's killed by a nuke. After this, the story focuses entirely on Soap's squad.
Practically exaggerated in Modern Warfare 3; the game has three decoy protagonists. The first is Derek 'Frost' Westbrook, who's the decoy decoy protagonist. His missions aren't of any critical importance to the A plot, but he doesn't die along with the rest of his squad by the end of the game. The real decoy protagonist is Yuri, who used to be Makarov's partner until his Heel-Face Turn. (Guess what happens in the end?) And then there's Soap, who was the original protagonist in the first two game's after the decoy protagonists were killed. But in this game, he dies before you even have the chance to play as him. So who's the real protagonist in the series? Captain Price. You only get to play as him twice.
Done twice in Baten Kaitos, first when it's revealed that Kalas is The Dragon, and Xelha takes over, and then second when Kalas experiences a Heel-Face Turn and rejoins your party.
The Prelude to The Godfather game starts with you playing Johnny Trapani, but he gets gunned down within minutes. The real player character is his son after a Time Skip.
Total Overdose pulls this twice. The first level is an older man... who is neutralized mysteriously. Then it's his son, who gets laid up in the hospital. Then it's the twin brother who takes up the guns and starts shooting everything.
In Hybrid Heaven, you begin the game as Diaz. Except you are not Diaz, you're just in his body and get yours back about an eighth of the way through the game. Diaz is, in fact, a major villain.
Yggdra Union starts out with a princessrunning for dear life from an enemy army, accidentally costing the leader of a band of thieves his fortress, and begging him to help her take her country back. Although you start out playing as thief Milanor and this looks like your classic Luke-and-Leia setup, Princess Yggdra becomes the player character very shortly after. Milanor himself remains a completely static character until the penultimate chapter, and is shunted into the role of mentor and sidekick. (The player does take control of him during certain points of the story where Yggdra isn't where the action is, however.)
Milanor's presence in the story at all, compared to his relative unimportance to the plot, is probably due to the need for a surrogate for male players—who might be uncomfortable at the idea of playing a game from the perspective of a (very feminine) girl.
Taken to a ridiculous extent in Kuon. For nearly the entire game, you have two phases—yin and yang—to choose from, each starring a different girl. By the time you've completed them both, one protagonist is a zombie and the other one is almost dead. The true hero of the game is Abe no Seimei, an exorcist who is only been mentioned in passing up to the point you start playing her phase.
The opening cutscene of Company of Heroes shows a group of American soldiers landing on Omaha Beach. They bravely charge the beach only to get mowed down to the last man. Then a second landing craft comes in, and it's these guys who turn out to be the protagonists.
Fatal Frame 1 and 4 do this. Mafuyu is a playable character in the intro chapter of the first game, then spends the rest of the game wandering around Himuro mansion while his younger sister Miku takes over as the main character. Likewise, Madoka is the first playable character of the fourth game, but she is killed at the end of the prologue chapter and goes on to become one of the hostile spirits who the other protagonists (Ruka, Misaki, and Choushiro) have to fight at some point.
Steambot Chronicles does a variant of this trope. In the optional tutorial stage, you play as Mallow, the hero's childhood friend.
It does it during the tenth game, Radiant Dawn as well. A direct sequel to the ninth game taking place in the post-Path of Radiance world. It seems that Micaiah is the main character of this game. Then part 2 rolls around, with Queen Elincia and her gang. Then part 3 Ike shows up and kicks ass, as usual. THEN you get his story, which leads into a plot about killing a goddess. Guess who gets shifted pretty much Out of Focus for the rest of the game? No points for guessing Micaiah. That's right. The main character isn't even mentioned IN THE GAME MANUAL.
At first glance, Sonic Battle is about Sonic and his friends messing around with Emerl, a cool robot that mimics their combat abilities. As the cast rotates babysitting Emerl and he starts developing an emergent personality, it gradually becomes apparent that Emerl is really the protagonist. The majority of Cream's and Shadow's chapters near the end of the game are played as Emerl, and the final chapter is his solo attempt to stop Eggman's plot.
Played with in Chrono Trigger, depending on how the game is played. The main character, Crono, dies halfway through the game. The player has the choice of either going back in time and preventing his death or continuing the game without him.
Agarest Senki has Leonhardt himself. He is the protagonist of the first generation, but when you finish his chapter, he gets to be sealed in a pillar with the three Love Interests. Then his son Ladius gets to be the protagonist of his chapter but also gets sealed after his chapter is done with his three Love Interests. Same thing happens to Thoma and Duran in the third and fourth generation. Duran's son Rex then becomes THE TRUE protagonist for the rest of the game itself.
In Dead Space Extraction, you first play as a mining employee, who first notices the necromorphs showing up. At the end of the first level, he's killed and his mantle of PC is taken up by the leader of the expedition that killed him.
Similarly in Dead Space 3 you start off playing as a new character named Private Kaufman. After the breathtaking opening, Kaufman is murdered and the game shifts to another time and location where the real main character, Isaac Clark, is introduced.
Done brutally in Halo: Reach where SPARTAN B-312, AKA Noble Six has the same combat rating as the Master Chief and, like John, is also chosen by Cortana to be her carrier. Unfortunately, Six dies on Reach, affirming a comment Cortana made in Halo 3. What separates Six and John is luck.
Master Chief also has far more combat experience than Noble Six, being a SPARTAN-II who's been in the military for about 35 years, as opposed to Six's 13 years as a SPARTAN-III.
Not to mention Cortana and Halsey both favoured the Chief a good bit, and that there's a good chance they never knew about B-312 or the entire SPARTAN-III Project at all, save for their suspicions.
Persona 2 starts out with five protagonists: Tatsuya, Michel, Ginko, Maya, and Yukki. However, Yukki ends up being a decoy protagonist for Jun, a.k.a. Joker, who joins your party near the end of the game.
Fate/EXTRA has one of the most tragic uses of this in recent videogame history. You spend the prologue playing as an average high school student who quickly gets swept up in the Holy Grail War. Depending on how many optional scenes you unlock, he manages to discover several secrets that are crucial to the future plot. Then, when the time comes for his trial in the prelims, he fails miserably. As in, he isn't even able to get a single attack before the enemy Servant effortlessly cuts him down. The prologue ends with the dying student tearfully begging that someone, anyone will remember his name and who he was. The most tragic part is, thanks to how Eliminations in the War work, no one ever will.
Not even the player. His name is never revealed, so not even the player can remember him, so he dies as alone as any video game character can ever be: cut off even from the player. Massive Player Punch when you realise this.
In killer7, the titular group are seven split personalities all within a crippled man in a wheelchair named Harman, who is the protagonist. Then the ending comes, which reveals that the leader of the seven personalities and the only one who is shown normally exist seperately of Harman, Garcian, is actually the one with the split personalities under his control, and Garcian himself is the split personality of the ruthless assassin Emir Parkreiner, and he killed Harman and the recessive six personalities, gaining Harman's power of invoking those personalities and carrying the weapons of the rececssive six in his briefcase. Their counterparts created by the US military work similarly. Handsome Red, the supposed leader of the Handsome Men, fights Harman, the supposed leader of the killer7. The last of the Handsome Men-killer7 duels is between Handsome Pink, the real leader of the Handsome Men, and Garcian, which foreshadows Garcian being the true protagonist.
Hotline Miami features a hitman ("Jacket") as its protagonist for the majority of missions, but it's Biker, the boss at the phone station who solves the mystery behind the answerphone messages. Given that Richard is an Unreliable Narrator, one assumes that Biker survived their encounter, and went on to kill the villains.
Mother 3 starts with a brief prologue where you play as Lucas, and also control Claus for the first battle of the game. (After the first main chapter, Claus is never seen again until the end of the game, except for as the Masked Man.) The first main chapter has you play as Flint as he looks for his wife and kids, and then for Claus a second time. (Again, Flint is never seen again until shortly before the game ends.) Chapter 2 focuses mainly on Duster, who actually is one of the core protagonists, but not the main one of those four. Chapter 3 is about Salsa, who afterwards, is only seen again at Chimera Laboratories. From chapter 4 onward, after the three-year skip, you play as Lucas, the boy you started the game as.
Crysis: Nomad? Alcatraz? Nope. It was Prophet's story all along.
Yesterday starts you playing as a young, idealistic man named Henry White, the heir to a multi-million dollar fortune who wants to use his money to help the homeless. He gets captured by a crazy but named Choke who talks to mannequins and wants to subject Henry to a witch trial (either he dies like a good person or survives like an evil and is shot), only to be saved by his friend, who kills Choke. Then, it's revealed that Henry is a serial killer who tortures hobos for fun, while Choke is an immortal who keeps coming back to life as a young man with no memories.
Reimu, Byakuren, and Toyosatomimi no Miko from Touhou: Hopeless Masquerade are this. The game's premise sets up the three as the main protagonists, trying to gain the faith of the Human Village for their own religions, but in actuality the incident turns out to be the cause of Hata no Kokoro who's on a quest to find her lost Mask of Hope, which her interactions with the other characters help her develop as a Youkai.
Clive Barker's Jericho starts off with Devin Ross as the only controllable character, who dies within less than an hour of playing the game and then commands his team from beyond.
Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors has Junpei. Notably, he's still the main character, but just before the final puzzle it is revealed that you have been playing as Akane, not him, for the entire game.
Taken Up to Eleven in Higurashi: When They Cry. After Keiichi has been the main character for three arcs spanning the first 13 episodes, his spotlight is taken away for the rest of the series, with three arcs devoted to Akasaka, Shion, and Rena. Then the first episode of Kai focuses on Akasaka and Ooishi. Then we get an arc centered around Satoko. The eventual main character? Rika Furude, a True Companion who had received the least attention prior to the reveal. Keiichi still plays a critical role, though, as a source of inspiration and courage.
Fate/stay night opens with Tousaka Rin's narration as she attempts to summon her Servant in preparation for the Grail War. Perhaps if she'd received the Saber she hoped for, she may have continued the protagonist. Instead, she got an older version of the protagonist.
Shin-Wu from Noblesse plays a red herring until the supporting protagonist Raizel shows up. While Shin-Wu is still prominent in the Noblesse S lite novel, he has been relegated to the background of the comic as comic relief & as a DistressedDude
In The Mitadake Saga, we're initially led to believe that Zaraki Yagami is the protagonist. He's the first character we focus on and the first chapter is about him getting a weapon to defend himself with. Then, just as he's done so, he suddenly drops dead of a heart attack, showing the real protagonist, Zero Nanaya, the true weight of the situation.
"What is this? A sci-fi thriller or a goofy buddy movie?"
In Sonichu, it seems like Sonichu would be the main character, but the attention quickly shifts to the creator Chris Chan himself. Almost every adventure Sonichu and his friends go on is something that happened in Chris's life. The comic is basically a big metaphor for how Chris wishes he could go back and do things differently.
The Æon Flux short "War" is built around this trope. It begins by following Aeon Flux, who is quickly shot to death. The story then follows a quick succession of new "protagonists," each displaying typical lead character traits before getting unceremoniously killed.
Played in a similar manner for Rufus in The Dreamstone with the pilot episodes establishing his role as assistant to the Dream Maker and having Took a Level in Badass to stop Zordrak. While some early episodes still play with this idea, the spotlight slowly drifts towards the Urpneys and Rufus' competence and pathos dwindle in favor of making him a Hero Antagonist no more significant than the other residents of the Land Of Dreams.
Subverted in the episode Aisle 8A. Bobby is the main character for the first act, then the focus shifts to Hank for the second act, and finally back to Bobby in the third act.
Hank and the Great Glass Elevator starts with Hank dealing with the guy's antics in a trip to Austin for Bill's birthday, then it's set up for the episode to focus on him when he moons Ann Richards (It Makes Sense in Context). After this, Bill take the blame and the rest of the episode focuses on him.
Mickey Mouse in Pluto's Judgement Day. Despite the short claiming that Mickey is the main character, it's actually his dog Pluto that is the main focus of this short. Mickey actually punishes Pluto for chasing a cat around his house, and as a result the dog starts to have a nightmare about him going to Hell.
In fact, Mickey ends up being this in a lot of his shorts due to the supportingcharacters being more popular and having personalities that work better for comedy.
An extreme example of this is the cartoon Donald and Pluto. According to the opening titles, it's a Mickey Mouse cartoon, yet he is nowhere to be seen! (It can be assumed that it takes place in his house, but that's pure conjecture.)
The Simpsons does this regularly. Often the episode starts out with a plot that seems to be going one direction, but then a side detail creates a new plot that may focus on different characters. For instance:
The episode "A Milhouse Divided" starts out centered on Milhouse's parents' divorce, but when Homer and Marge begin to have similar marital troubles, the narrative changes to revolve around them instead.
In "Blood Feud," when Mr. Burns is dying, only Bart has a matching blood type to transfuse to save him. Later, Bart is sent only a thank you note and Homer steals the rest of the episode when he objects to Mr. Burns' minimal reward and sends an insulting letter to his boss. From then on, Bart becomes nothing more than his dad's sidekick, and doesn't do anything significant except for a prank call to Moe's Tavern.