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Protagonist Title Fallacy
Barney: The Karate Kid's a great movie. It’s the story of a hopeful young karate enthusiast whose dreams and moxie take him all the way to the All Valley Karate Championship. Of course, sadly he loses in the final round to that nerd kid. But, he learns an important lesson about gracefully accepting defeat.
Lily: Wait, when you watch The Karate Kid you actually root for that mean blonde boy?
Barney: [sarcastically] No, I root for the scrawny loser from New Jersey who barely even knows karate. [seriously] When I watch The Karate Kid I root for the karate kid, Johnny Lawrence from the Cobra Kai dojo!

This is a Common Fan Fallacy associated with Character Titles. It works as follows:

The work is titled X; therefore, X is the protagonist.

As common as Protagonist Title is, this is simply not always the case.

This is a Sister Trope of I Am Not Shazam. The difference is that, in these cases, the confusion arises from the title of the work referring to someone other than the protagonist, such as a secondary character or antagonist. Viewers know who the person is but incorrectly assume said person is the protagonist.

  • I Am Not Shazam: People correctly know which character is the protagonist but think the title refers to that protagonist's name.
  • Protagonist Title Fallacy: People correctly know to whom or what the title refers but wrongly assume that the eponymous character is the protagonist because his/her name is the title.

When done with a Secondary Character Title, this can lead to the hero being Demoted to Extra, making the adaptation an unintentional Perspective Flip.

When done with an Antagonist Title, this guarantees Draco in Leather Pants, as the reader or viewer assumes the villain is actually the one they're supposed to root for. Ron the Death Eater easily follows for the true protagonist(s). If this is done intentionally, it's not an error but deliberate invocation of Evil Is Cool.

Compare other forms of Title Confusion. Contrast Protagonist Title, which is when the work's name really is the protagonist. When someone in media doing a report on a fictional work commits this fallacy, it crosses with Cowboy Bebop at His Computer. When protagonists gradually switched over time, this crosses with Artifact Title. May be a result of Wolverine Publicity. See also Fandom Berserk Button.

Examples

    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • In A Certain Magical Index, Touma is the protagonist, not Index (who is still the second most important character). Index's importance fades so much after the first volume that there's a common rumor that the author had originally intended to change which character's name was in the title with each volume, but the editors shot down the idea for the sake of title recognition. Mikoto "Railgun" Misaka is the protagonist of the spin-off A Certain Scientific Railgun, however.
  • Some fans argue that, being the name of the series, Soul Eater Evans must therefore be the main character and so worthy of the most attention. Yet it is not he, but his meister Maka Albarn who gets the most page-time of the two. To make matters more confounding, those who haven't read this interview with Atsushi Ohkubo (on a French site, no less) wouldn't know that the title doesn't refer to the character named Soul Eater at all, but rather the general concept of a "Soul Eater", namely Kishin Asura, the heroes' ultimate, soul-eating enemy.
  • Doraemon. The main character is actually Nobita.
  • Samurai Champloo is another arguable example. The title, chanpuru refers to an Okinawan dish that is a fusion of various things. Since Mugen is also from Okinawa and incorporates a "Chanpuru" sword style, people assume he is the protagonist. (It doesn't help that Mugen is an expy of Spike, the protagonist of Cowboy Bebop.) Actually, Fuu fits a bit better. It is her motivation of finding "the sunflower samurai" that drives the plot.
  • Kagome is the protagonist and POV character of the show InuYasha. Although Inu-Yasha is the other half of the Battle Couple and gets about the same amount of screen time.
  • Axis Powers Hetalia has stopped focusing on the Axis or Italy long ago.
  • The Lyrical Nanoha franchise was almost never about the title character. Much more, each installment is the story of the "villains" whom Nanoha (and the previous seasons' villains) is to befriend to smithereens in it and, to a lesser degree, of younger heroes she serves to inspire. It's quite telling that the franchise first really kicked off when Fate Testarossa was introduced almost half-way through The Original Series. Still, each installment faithfully keeps her name in their titles, even ones that hardly feature her at all.
  • Medaka Box: Despite being the title character and The Hero, more often than not she seems to be more of a plot device to be observed by people, especially Supporting Protagonist Zenkichi than the actual protagonist of the series.
  • Mobile Suit Gundam SEED Destiny is an unusual examplenote ; the pilot of the Destiny Gundam (Shinn Asuka) was the protagonist, but shortly before he upgraded to the Destiny his spotlight was stolen by Kira Yamato, protagonist of the previous series, and Shinn ended up becoming a Hero Antagonist.
  • The middle segment of Robotech is often referred to as Robotech Masters which is the name that the Comico comic book series used for those issues. The Masters were the antagonists. The story actually centered on the adventures of Dana Sterling and the 15th Tactical Armored Squad. Sometimes, fandom will refer to that segment of the series as the Southern Cross segment being that the Army of the Southern Cross was the Earth Defense Organization (as well as a reference to the anime's original title: Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross).

    Comic Strips 
  • Blondie is the name of Dagwood Bumstead's wife. This is confusing to some kids who read the comics, which mostly (but not always) follow Dagwood, and assume that "Blondie" is a Gender-Blender Name in this case. This has elements of Artifact Title in that, although Blondie is still a character (and thus this is a Secondary Character Title), in the very beginning Blondie was the protagonist.
  • Funky Winkerbean is a Secondary Character Title. The strip was originally an ensemble comic with no single protagonist (Funky being one of the teenage characters), but since then the title of protagonist has settled on Funky's best friend, Les Moore.
  • Keeping Up with the Joneses was a popular strip in the early 20th century, and its title remains a common vernacular phrase to this day. But the strip's main characters were the McGinises; the eponymous Joneses were their (never-seen) neighbors.
  • The original protagonist of Judge Parker was Judge Alan Parker. Soon after the strip started, though, the character of Sam Driver was introduced, and nowadays he and his wife are the main characters.
  • Barney Google and Snuffy Smith can go for years without featuring the first title character — so much so that some local newspapers now just refer to the strip as Snuffy Smith, period.
  • The London Evening Standard used to run a cartoon strip called Clive about the mishaps of a teenage boy. As time went on, the strip far more often focused on Clive's ten year old sister Augusta. In the last few years of its run, the strip was renamed Augusta.

    Films — Animation 
  • AKIRA. The main characters are actually TETSUO! And KANEDA!!
  • Princess Mononoke is the nickname for San, the human girl raised by wolf gods. However, the main character is Ashitaka.
  • Finding Nemo: While the eponymous character does gain development, it's fairly clear his father Marlin is the protagonist. After all, it would be pretty hard for the movie to be about Nemo searching for himself.
  • Disney's Sleeping Beauty: The actual protagonists are the three fairies — a Perspective Flip for the better that the merchandising is still unaware of.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In The Thin Man, the title refers to the person detective Nick Charles (who is out of shape in the book) is seeking. In the later sequel movies, it refers to Charles.
  • Dr. Strangelove: The title character is more of a Dr. Exposition than anything else.
  • Ichi the Killer: The main character is named Kakihara (Ichi is an assassin hired to kill him), but many people make the mistaken assumption that Kakihara is Ichi since his face is on the posters and home video covers rather than Ichi's.
  • Beetlejuice: Antagonist Title; the main protagonists are actually the Maitlands (Adam and Barbara). The eponymous character actually only appears for about 11 minutes of the film.
  • While Rocky is a major character in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, he's not the protagonist, nor the antagonist. That honor goes to Brad and Janet, and to Dr. Frank-N-Furter, respectively.
  • The protagonist of the Oliver Stone film JFK is not President John F. Kennedy. Kennedy only appears in the movie in camera footage and in a doctor's flashback as a corpse. The protagonist of the story is Jim Garrison, the DA investigating JFK's assassination (who does bear a few similarities to the real Jim Garrison, though not many).
  • In The Third Man, the title character does not appear on camera until the second half of the film, and even then it's only for about ten minute's screentime. The protagonist is Holly Martins, played by Joseph Cotten. The confusion is cemented further by the fact that said title character is now one of the most iconic film villains of all time, verging on a One-Scene Wonder (especially as it's one scene in particular that everyone remembers).
  • Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971) was really more about Charlie. And Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005) focused more strongly on Willy Wonka.
  • In Rachel Getting Married, the protagonist is Kym, Rachel's sister.
  • The Last Samurai refers to all those who fought in the Satsuma Rebellion, not Tom Cruise. Part of the confusion is that Samurai can refer both to a single warrior and to a group, in this case it was the latter. A fact completely lost on the translators of many countries:
    • In Sweden, they named the movie Den siste samurajen (the explicitly singular form); the plural form would be De sista samurajerna.
    • In Russia, Posledniy samuray, instead of Poslednie samurai.
    • In Italy, L'ultimo samurai, instead of Gli ultimi samurai.
    • In Spain and all the Spanish-speaking American countries, El Último Samurai instead of Los Últimos Samurais.
  • TRON is a Secondary Character Title. The main character is Kevin Flynn (played by Jeff Bridges).
  • The Legend Of Bagger Vance: Wolverine PublicityWill Smith gets top billing and his God in Human Form character is in the title, but he plays guru and caddy to the protagonist, Rannulph Junuh.
  • The Big Lebowski complicates this even further by having two characters who both have the surname "Lebowski", one of whom is the protagonist, and the other an antagonist. The main character is The Dude, not the titular character (the Dude is named Lebowski, but it's made clear in the film that the "big" Lebowski is the other guy).
  • Gunga Din is named after the water boy who accompanies the main characters (his character is fourth-billed in the movie). The confusion is understandable, especially since the film is very loosely adapted from the Rudyard Kipling poem of the same name. However, Din does successfully warn The Cavalry of the Thuggees' impending ambush, thus ensuring a British victory in the battle that follows. And while he is shot down and killed by the Thuggees almost immediately afterward, he (at last!) moves to center stage in the film's final scene, where he is posthumously inducted into the army.
  • Searching for Bobby Fischer has Josh Waitzkin as the main character. Bobby Fisher isn't a character - who appeared after the movie stating that he had not "received one thin dime for the totally exploitative Paramount Pictures 'rip-off' full-length feature film".
  • In The Mad Adventures of Rabbi Jacob, the protagonists are Victor Pivert and Mohammed Larbi Slimane. You could say that Rabbi Jacob is just a minor character, except that Pivert (Louis de Funčs) impersonates him for most of the movie, hence some confusion.
  • In Oscar, the title character is repeatedly mentioned but goes completely unseen until near the end, where the story has gotten so ludicrous that by the time he appears, nobody cares about him any more.
  • The Lone Ranger is a Secondary Character Title, as much of the film is actually focused around his sidekick Tonto.
  • Freddy Got Fingered. The main character is called Gord Brody. The title stems from a plot point in the film in which Gord accuses his dad of fingering his mentally disabled brother, Freddy.

    Literature 
  • The Scarlet Pimpernel: Secondary Character Title; the Scarlet Pimpernel's wife Marguerite is the protagonist.
  • The Phantom of the Opera: Antagonist Title; Christine is the protagonist of the original novel, though it's told chiefly through Raoul's point of view.
  • Quincas Borba: Or is it?
  • Barnaby Rudge: Secondary Character Title. The novel doesn't have a real central protagonist, but Barnaby plays second fiddle to the Chester and Haredale families.
  • The Ugly American: While there are "ugly Americans" in The Ugly American, particularly Joe Bing, the character known as "the Ugly American" in the book is actually quite clever and culturally sensitive.
  • Charlotte's Web: The title spider is more the mentor to the protagonist, Wilbur.
  • Dracula: Antagonist Title; Jonathan and Mina Harker are the main protagonists.
  • The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: Dorothy is actually the protagonist.
  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame: The original French title, "Our Lady of Paris", averted this, naming the book after both the cathedral and Esmeralda, who one could make a good claim for being the protagonist. But since the name of the cathedral, Notre Dame de Paris, is left untranslated in other languages, the pun was lost. Looking for a new title, an early English translator chose "The Hunchback of Notre Dame", naming the book after an interesting, but fairly minor character, a deaf, insane henchman of the antagonist. As a result, Quasimodo is the main character in nearly every movie adaptation.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Tin Man: Secondary Character Title; Cain is simply the focus of a secondary character arc.
  • Abigail's Party. Abigail doesn't appear, nor do we see her party. The actual party is one thrown by her neighbours, which her mother attends.
  • Life With Derek: The protagonist is Casey, and the title refers to her new life with her step-brother.
  • How I Met Your Mother. The series itself is an example. Except for her ankle for a brief moment in one episode, we don't actually get to see the Mother until the last scene of season eight and she does not become a proper character in the show till season nine.
    • And as Ted's kids point out at the end of the finale, the Mother is barely a character in the story at all; the story really demonstrates Ted's love for Robin.
  • Gossip Girl. Although for a few episodes in season five Serena was Gossip Girl.
  • Good Luck Charlie. The protagonist is named Teddy.

    Music 
  • Jethro Tull was a 17th century agriculturist; Ian Anderson is the lead singer of a band with the same name.
  • The J. Geils band was named after its guitarist, not its lead singer. Some people mistakenly assume Peter Wolf is J. Geils.
  • The Dave Clark Five is named after the group's drummer; Mike Smith was the lead singer.
  • Van Halen is named after the band's guitarist, Eddie Van Halen (and both his brother Alex and his son Wolfgang have played in the band). The lead singers are David Lee Roth and Sammy Hagar.
  • Many people thought that britpop band Travis is named after its singer. Actually they called it after Harry Dean Stanton's character Travis Henderson from the film Paris, Texas.
  • Although Debbie Harry is blonde, she is not nicknamed "Blondie", except (to her annoyance) by fans confusing her with her band.

    Theatre 
  • Gilbert and Sullivan operettas:
    • Iolanthe, the character of Iolanthe actually doesn't do too many important things.
    • The Mikado, the eponymous character doesn't appear until well into the second act.
    • Trial By Jury, the jury acts as a (heavily biased) Greek Chorus to an ensemble cast; the beleaguered Edwin may almost stand as a protagonist.
    • The Pirates of Penzance are not protagonists, although a former one of their number is.
  • From William Shakespeare:
    • Julius Caesar. Caesar is in only three scenes; the protagonist is Brutus.
    • Henry IV parts 1 and 2 are mainly about Henry's son Prince Hal (later Henry V) and his relationship with his friends, including the legendary Falstaff.
    • In Cymbeline, the protagonist is Cymbeline's daughter, Imogen.
    • Othello. The plot revolves around Villain Protagonist Iago, and the ruinous effects of his schemes on the title character.
  • Fiddler on the Roof: The protagonist is Tevye the milkman, who neither plays the violin nor stands on a roof. The Fiddler is a walk-on character with very few appearances and no spoken lines. (He functions as a metaphor for the show's theme of balancing tradition and modernity and the situation of the jews in the country.)
  • Bye Bye Birdie: "We love you, Conrad," but you're not the protagonist of this show. That would be Albert (though Ann-Margret as Kim steals the spotlight in the movie version). Birdie himself is portrayed in the movie by obscure character actor Jesse Pearson, who gets secondary billing.

    Video Games 
  • Lufia: Secondary Character Title, and she's only in the first game, so in sequels it becomes an Artifact Title.
  • Applies to the first two games of the Atelier Iris subseries. The protagonists are Klein Kiesling in Eternal Mana and Felt and Viese in The Azoth of Destiny. Only in Grand Phantasm is the titular character a protagonist.
  • In the The Legend of Zelda games, the titular princess isn't the protagonist but the player character, Link, who often has to save her if she's in the game at all.
  • In the Metroid series, the protagonist is Samus Aran and Metroids are the aliens that she hunts down.

    Web Comics 
  • Schlock Mercenary is very much an ensemble comic, and if any one character can be said to be the protagonist, it's Captain Tagon, not Sergeant Schlock.
    • May overlap with Artifact Title, as Schlock was a central character in the early years, when they had a smaller cast and he was the crew's only genuine alien with very novel abilities and habits.
  • Rusty and Co.: Rusty the rust monster is the adorable mascot of the comic, but as far as the stories go, Mimic is the main protagonist.
  • The titular character of Tonja Steele started as a main character but drifted into the background as the comic continued. This was actually depicted as preferrable to her, as the supporting cast got saddled with serious, emotional storylines and wangsting, while Tonja and her daughter had lighthearted madcap adventures in the background.
  • Invoked in Urban Underbrush, where Scatter thinks that Charlie Brown is named Peanuts.

    Western Animation 

In-Universe Examples:

Live-Action TV
  • In How I Met Your Mother, Barney Stinson combines this with Misaimed Fandom, making bizarre and often disturbing justifications for how a film's actual villain is supposedly the title character and why he roots for him. Specifically, he roots for Hans Gruber in Die Hard ("Charming international bandit. In the end he dies hard. He's the title character."), Johnny Lawrence in The Karate Kid, (he describes Daniel as a scrawny loser who barely even knows karate, hence Johnny is the real Karate Kid) and the Terminator (who is, after all, the title character). Strangely, he does not apply this to The Breakfast Club, and only roots for Vernon because he wears a suit.


Possession Implies MasteryCommon Fan FallaciesPublic Medium Ignorance
Protagonist TitleTitle TropesPublisher-Chosen Title
Praising Shows You Don't WatchYMMVProtection from Editors
Praising Shows You Don't WatchYMMV/Home PageProtection from Editors

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