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[[quoteright:350:[[WesternAnimation/MyLittlePonyFriendshipIsMagic http://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/FIM_Luna_3395.jpg]]]]
[[caption-width-right:350:[[ColourCodedForYourConvenience The one on the left.]]]]

The term "Dark Horse" has its origin in horse racing. A relatively unknown horse would be risky to place bets on, compared to a horse with a known track record, because the gamblers would be "in the dark", so when an unknown horse won a race it was called a "DarkHorseVictory." The term is also used in politics to describe a lesser known candidate who does better than expected in an election.

This trope is used to describe a side character making up part of the Ensemble, either a non-lead secondary character or a mere FlatCharacter, who then becomes [[PopularityPower unexpectedly popular]] with the fandom (sometimes, even more than the lead characters) depending on [[PeripheryDemographic who]] and [[GermansLoveDavidHasselhoff where]] the {{Fandom}} is, as well as what the other characters are like in comparison (for example, the hero is not as popular because they're too much The Everyman). Often, this can happen because the character has very few character traits, allowing fans to imagine this character to have traits that they like. The Ensemble Darkhorse can sometimes be viewed as the character equivalent of a CultClassic.

The writers or producers may be tempted to {{Retool}} the show's premise to [[BreakoutCharacter put them]] [[SpotlightStealingSquad in the spotlight]]. Sometimes this works, but usually it's a bad idea for two reasons, both relating to what happens when you take a supporting character and move him or her into TheProtagonist's position. The first is that writers often "adjust" the character so that they can fit into a conventionally heroic role in the process [[BadassDecay destroying the unconventional traits]] that made the character an Ensemble Dark Horse in the first place. The second is that if the writers don't do this, traits that were entertaining in a secondary character may become grating and unpleasant in TheProtagonist.

However, it's still good business to bring Dark Horse characters back, even if they were originally meant to be featured for only a short time. Thus, episodes which do not specifically require a certain character will be more likely to use the Ensemble Dark Horse.

Occasionally, if an antagonist becomes a Dark Horse, the writer may decide to have them perform a HeelFaceTurn in situations where the only other option is being killed by the protagonists. However, if the series doesn't have an end planned, it's more likely that they'll just [[ExitVillainStageLeft escape]].

If the Ensemble Dark Horse ''becomes'' an important character, they're now a BreakoutCharacter. See also AdaptationalBadass, AscendedExtra, MemeticBystander, LowerDeckEpisode, ADayInTheLimelight, OneSceneWonder, and UnpopularPopularCharacter. CreatorsPet is the polar opposite, a character who the writer grows fond of but the fans do not. An antagonist who becomes popular despite the author's intentions is DracoInLeatherPants an example of MisaimedFandom. The natural extension of this is the SpotlightStealingSquad. ''Major'' characters who end up overshadowing their castmates often fall under FaceOfTheBand, whether they're the true lead character or a supporting member who ends up overshadowing the lead (a la [[Franchise/StarWars Darth Vader]] or [[WesternAnimation/FamilyGuy Stewie Griffin]]).

* EnsembleDarkHorse/AnimeAndManga
** ''EnsembleDarkhorse/DragonBall''
** ''EnsembleDarkHorse/{{Gundam}}''
** ''EnsembleDarkhorse/MyHeroAcademia''
** ''EnsembleDarkhorse/{{Naruto}}''
** ''EnsembleDarkHorse/{{Pokemon}}''
* EnsembleDarkHorse/ComicBooks
* EnsembleDarkHorse/ComicStrips
* EnsembleDarkHorse/FanWorks
* [[EnsembleDarkHorse/AnimatedFilms Films Animation]]
** ''EnsembleDarkhorse/{{Zootopia}}''
* [[EnsembleDarkHorse/LiveActionFilms Films Live-Action]]
** ''EnsembleDarkHorse/StarWars''
*** ''EnsembleDarkhorse/StarWarsExpandedUniverse''
*** ''EnsembleDarkhorse/StarWarsLegends''
** EnsembleDarkhorse/MarvelCinematicUniverse
* EnsembleDarkHorse/{{Literature}}
** ''EnsembleDarkHorse/ASongOfIceAndFire''
* EnsembleDarkHorse/LiveActionTV
** ''EnsembleDarkHorse/DoctorWho''
** ''EnsembleDarkHorse/GameOfThrones''
** ''EnsembleDarkhorse/{{Supernatural}}''
* EnsembleDarkHorse/{{Music}}
* EnsembleDarkHorse/MythsAndReligion
* EnsembleDarkHorse/ProWrestling
* EnsembleDarkHorse/{{Theater}}
* EnsembleDarkHorse/TabletopGames
* EnsembleDarkHorse/{{Toys}}
** ''EnsembleDarkHorse/{{Transformers}}''
* EnsembleDarkHorse/VideoGames
** ''EnsembleDarkHorse/FinalFantasy''
** ''EnsembleDarkHorse/{{Kirby}}''
** ''EnsembleDarkhorse/LeagueOfLegends''
** ''EnsembleDarkhorse/TheLegendOfZelda''
** ''EnsembleDarkHorse/MegaMan''
** ''EnsembleDarkHorse/{{Pokemon}}''
** ''EnsembleDarkHorse/SonicTheHedgehog''
** ''EnsembleDarkHorse/SuperMarioBros''
* EnsembleDarkHorse/VisualNovels
* EnsembleDarkHorse/WebAnimation
* EnsembleDarkHorse/WebComics
* EnsembleDarkHorse/WebOriginal
** ''EnsembleDarkhorse/EpicRapBattlesOfHistory''
* EnsembleDarkHorse/WesternAnimation
** ''EnsembleDarkhorse/BatmanTheBraveAndTheBold''
** ''EnsembleDarkhorse/EvilConCarne''
** ''EnsembleDarkHorse/MyLittlePonyFriendshipIsMagic''
** ''EnsembleDarkHorse/TheSimpsons''
** ''EnsembleDarkHorse/SouthPark''
** ''EnsembleDarkHorse/StarWarsRebels''
** ''EnsembleDarkhorse/StevenUniverse''
** ''EnsembleDarkhorse/TotalDrama''
** ''EnsembleDarkhorse/{{Transformers}}''
* EnsembleDarkHorse/{{Other}}
* EnsembleDarkHorse/RealLife