Small Role, Big Impact

"It seemed that my lot in life was to either have big parts in small films or small parts in big films."
Bruce Campbell, If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B-Movie Actor

Small Role, Big Impact is when a minor character (an "Under-Five" line player, as they used to say) who, through his or her actions or words, has an impact on the story far, far beyond what such a minor character ought to have normally. Note the difference between this and a One-Scene Wonder, a character who has limited screen time but their actions or words have a huge impact on the audience.

This can occasionally overlap with One-Scene Wonder, One-Shot Character, Posthumous Character, The Ghost, Spear Carrier. Also see Plot-Triggering Death, where this person's end is beginning of the story. An Unknown Character takes this trope to its logical conclusion by not having them appear at all.

Contrast with Minor Major Character, which is a main character who has little if any plot relevancy, or very little screentime.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Grisha Jaeger of Attack on Titan. No one has seen hide nor hair of him since very early in the series. Even so, it's heavily implied he knows many mysteries about the Titans, and is the one who gave Eren his Titan Shifting powers, via a mysterious injection. All of this is confirmed through a flashback, plus the reason why he isn't there.
  • Dying Breed rarely appear in BECK, but they inspire both Ryuusuke and Koyuki to push the band to great heights, and Eddie Lee's death causes a Heroic B.S.O.D. from almost the entire music world. Not only that, but rumors of an unreleased song of theirs drive a huge portion of the plot.
  • Choujin Sensen: Even though Haruna is no more than Love Interest of Tomobiki, it was her that encouraged Tomobiki to search up the [Superhuman Game] online and participate the death match (although Tomobiki didn't exactly expect that his life is on the line). You can say that she's the whole reason why Tomobiki starts to fight for his (somewhat pathetic) life.
  • In Detective Conan, Ran's Bumbling Dad Kogoro is the one who indirectly led to Shinichi and Ran first meeting each other, by accidentally breaking Ran's cherry blossom-shaped daycare tag. She tried to make one made of paper and Shinichi, who had kinda taken a liking for her but didn't have a chance to speak to her until then, asked her for one for himself. So if not for him, the plot of the series wouldn't have been set.
  • Dragon Ball:
    • Grandpa Gohan is dead by the series' beginning and only appears in person during the Fortuneteller Baba Saga, but it was his finding Goku and raising him that turned Goku from the future destroyer of humanity to the altruistic All-Loving Hero we know and love. Furthermore, Goku's first born son is named in his honor.
    • Believe it or not, Raditz is essentially the catalyst for the entire second half of the Dragon Ball manga. Had Raditz not remembered his little brother and come to Earth, the entire series would have been turned on its head: Piccolo and Goku would never have teamed up and thus Piccolo wouldn't have joined the Z-Fighters. He may have even remained evil, and continued on with a plan to terrorize planet Earth, had he and Goku not joined forces. Goku wouldn't have trained with King Kai, but merely at his own pace, and would have been far too weak to combat the androids by the time they arrived, assuming he hadn't already died from the heart virus he was to contract. Gohan would never have been trained by Piccolo, and thus would never have become a fighter at all. Vegeta and Nappa would never have received the transmission involving the Dragon Balls, and thus would never have visited the Earth, thus remaining under Freeza's thumb — Freeza himself would also never have been killed, allowing the Cold family to continue terrorizing the universe. And who knows what trouble Babidi would've caused if he'd arrived earlier and unleashed Buu unchallenged. Despite being the weakest villain at the start of the series, Raditz coming to Earth is what allowed the Z series to be what it became.
    • Dr. Gero. He's long dead in Trunks' timeline and is only around for a few episodes as Android 20 before being killed by Android 17. However, it is Gero who created all the androids, including Cell, and his actions turns two timelines into a living hell and nearly destroys the solar system of the main timeline. Literally everything bad that happens in the Android/Cell Saga is his fault.
    • Van Zant, the Ax-Crazy gunman who shot Mr. Satan and Bee, triggers the latter half of the Buu Saga. He only appears in two episodes, but his attack on Mr. Satan and Bee, whom Majin Buu had befriended, directly results in the creation of Evil Buu.
    • As of Dragon Ball Minus, Bardock and Gine. They were the ones to send Goku to Earth. If they hadn't, Goku would have died along with their planet. And without Goku, Pilaf would've become ruler of earth thanks to the Dragon Balls.
    • In Dragon Ball Super, the three muggers who try to rob Goku unknowingly cause the Universe Survival arc.
  • Elfen Lied:
    • Tomoo appears in one episode and one manga chapter, but it was his actions that ultimately played the biggest role in turning Lucy into a bitter figure who hated humanity (namely he beat her puppy to death with a rock/vase and made Lucy watch when he did). Lucy snapped and brutally executed him and his cronies, as well as someone who may or may not have meant to betray her. It was all downhill from there.
    • Aiko Takada has an equally brief appearance, but she's Lucy's second human friend, and it was her death that resulted in Lucy being captured and imprisoned in the Diclonius Research Institute, as well as the catalyst for Lucy's long-running vendetta with Kurama.
  • InuYasha:
    • The demon necromancer Urasue is only around for two episodes, but she has quite the impact on the series, having been the one to resurrect Kikyo.
    • The moth demon bandit Gatenmaru only appears in two episodes as well, but he forces Inuyasha into his Superpowered Evil Side, resulting in his death and the deaths of quite a few of his human minions; it's this incident that finally convinces Inuyasha to give up his plan of using the Shikon Jewel to become a full-fledged demon.
  • Admiral Robert J. Hanner, United Planets Space Force (ret.), from Irresponsible Captain Tylor appears only about four times in the 26 episode series, and only once in a speaking role. However, directly or indirectly, he's responsible for Tylor becoming a starship captain, the Soyokaze crew getting demoted, the war with the Raalgon being able to conclude without additional bloodshed, and his death sparks a Heroic B.S.O.D. from Tylor.
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure:
    • A petty thief named Dario Brando abused his only son and treated him like crap. Imagine for a second; if this petty pick-pocket, a nobody in the grand scheme of the universe, had instead been a Doting Parent who worked hard and treated his family with kindness all his life, Dio Brando, The Tyrant who remade The World, would have grown up to be just another honest yet equally faceless laborman in Victorian London...
      • And more importantly; the Joestar/Kujo family's legacy as Warriors and Heroes would never have been awakened without him finding George, accidentally saving his life, which in turn led to Dio's vicious bullying of Jonathan in childhood. Like-father Like-Son, after all. Though linking with the above, even if the Joestar/Kujo's legacy would never awaken, no threats would come to the world because Dio would grew as a honest man.
    • Gray Fly is the Starter Villain of part 3, and he is never mentioned after his defeat. However, were it not for him, the epic quest across multiple countries that makes up the bulk of the story would have been reduced to a mere plane flight and ended in a few days.
    • Leaky-Eye Luka in Part 5. He only appears for one chapter, has no stand ability, and pretty much defeats himself, but his death is what causes Buccellati to track down Giorno, resulting in the plot between the two of them to take over and reform Passione that drives the rest of the storyline.
      • Similarly in Part 5, Polpo appears in only two scenes (his own stand has more page-time than him,) but his death drives the plot just as much as Luka's, both in the revelation that he had a massive treasure hoard hidden away (that Buccelati uses to boost themselves to Operator status) and the revelation that he was responsible for keeping safe Trisha, the daughter of The Don of Passione, and now that he's dead the responsibility is passed on to Buccellati.
  • Kagerou Project: Tsukihiko, Azami's husband, appears very briefly in the anime, and in only one of the music PVs, yet his love and acceptance of Azami was what lead her to develop her own emotions, resulting in the creation of the Heat Haze World and the Favouring Eyes Snake, born of her love for her husband and child, and the snake that is the key to saving everyone. Azami herself could count, as she is the source of the main cast's powers, and she appears nearly as little as her husband does.
  • The Number Due from Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha StrikerS. Despite being the most minor of the twelve Numbers, she's responsible how the Big Bad Jail Scaglietti got Olivie Sägebrecht's DNA and could create the Sankt Kaiser's clone Vivio Takamachi, who is the Vessel of the Saint's Cradle and the main character of ViVid. Due was Quattro's mentor, the most vicious of Scaglietti's three Co-Dragons, who inherited many traits of Due's psyche and personal ambitions as a result of the time that they spent together. She also provides Bad Guys Do the Dirty Work by killing the TSAB High Council and Regius Gaiz, which goes a long way towards making sure the Bureau doesn't repeat their mistakes.
  • Hibari and Hikari from Mawaru-Penguindrum. For a long time, their only appearances were in the background on advertisements and in the ending credits, and then they showed up briefly in a backstory episode to give some insight into Himari's past. However, they end up being absolutely integral to the ending when they show up for less than five minutes in the final episode to drop off their new album, which holds Himari's favourite phrase and the fate-transfer spell that allows her to live.
  • The bandit from Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid. She only shows up in a single chapter as part of a flashback and isn't even given a name, but meeting her changed Tohru's entire world view and is a big part of the reason why Tohru became Kobayashi's maid.
  • Gundam
  • The Sludge Villain from My Hero Academia is such a Starter Villain that he doesn't even get a proper name in the story, yet his role is crucial, allowing the protagonist, Izuku Midoriya, to meet his idol as well as inherit his superpowers.
  • Rin in Naruto. Her death caused a major villain's Start of Darkness, and by extension nearly every significant event in the plot.
    • Sasuke in The Last. He may have been Demoted to Extra, but if he hadn't arrived in Konoha when he did with Hiashi in tow, then the Hokage Monument would have been reduced to dust, Kakashi and countless others would have been killed and the Raikage would have blown up the moon, killing Naruto and co.
    • Iruka, Naruto's teacher at the Academy, doesn't really have much to do with the series' action. But if it wasn't for his faith that Naruto was a good person and not the Kyuubi reborn, Naruto might well have turned out as Ax-Crazy as Gaara from the All of the Other Reindeer treatment he recieved all his childhood. And it was because of Iruka's teaching and example that Naruto decided to try to befriend the Kyuubi.
    • Zabuza and Haku were the Starter Villains of the series, appearing during the first proper story arc, when the manga's chapters were still in the low double digits, and dying only 15-20 chapters later. Yet, they still had a profound impact on Naruto and inspired him to create his own philosophy that rejected the concept of ninjas as tools, and instead emphasized their existence as human beings... Essentially, if it hadn't been for Zabuza and Haku, Naruto would never have become the Messianic Archetype he eventually turned into. This is much later acknowledged in-series by Kakashi who informs the resurrected Zabuza and Haku that Naruto found his own path in life thanks to them, and Kakshi himself expresses gratitude that they were Naruto's first opponents.
  • Kaworu Nagisa from Neon Genesis Evangelion. Despite only appearing in two episodes, he serves major plot relevance as the final angel and has some of the most poignant scenes in the entire series.
  • Revolutionary Girl Utena has an example in Mrs. Ohtori, the mother of Akio's fiance Kanae and the wife to the actual chairman of the board at Ohtori Academy. She has less than a minute of screen time but every single thing about her ties into all the overall themes of the series. There's even a website which analyzes the symbolism within her first and only appearance, called Mother Dearest.
  • Saint Seiya: Sagitta Ptolemy is just another Silver Saint who shows up for a few minutes and easily dies at the hands of the Bronzies. But not before he embeds one of his arrows in Saori/Athena's heart, giving her only 12 hours to live unless someone shines the light of her shield on her. It so happens that the shield is located at the top of the Sanctuary and the Bronzies have to fight the phenomenally powerful Gold Saints to get to it. That's 30-plus episodes of struggling that never would've happened had the mook Ptolemy not done what he did.
  • Ukina from Tokyo Ghoul. Her existence heavily influences the plot of the series, though she only appears in a handful of flashbacks and little is known about her. An undercover reporter that fell in love with a young Yoshimura, she gave birth to a Half-Human Hybrid while working on investigating V. When she was found out, his superiors forced Yoshimura to kill her as punishment... leading him to retire, and hide their child elsewhere. Yoshimura took control of the 20th Ward, seeking to foster peace between humans and ghouls — taking in Kaneki after his surgery. On the other hand, her journal drove Eto / Sen Takatsuki to seek revenge for her mother... first as the One-Eyed Owl, and later as the founder of Aogiri.
  • The evil alien prince Lacospo in To Love-Ru that hired Yami to assassinate Rito. He only has one episode in the anime, and even less of a presence in the manga, only appearing in a cameo or two, but without him Yami, and later Mea and Nemesis would never have come to Earth.
  • Nanami's father from Kamisama Kiss only appears in the first chapter and a few flashbacks, but it's him running away to escape his gambling debt that leads to Nanami becoming homeless and accepting a strange man's offer of giving her his home. The home turned out to be a shrine, and by giving it to her, he made her the new kami. The plot is about her dealing with this position.
  • Yuri!!! on Ice:
    • The Nishigori triplets provide comic relief and exposition about how figure skating competitions work, but they're still relatively minor characters. However, they're the ones responsible for kicking off the plot by recording Yuri's reenactment of famous figure skater Victor Nikiforov's routine and uploading it online; the video soon goes viral, which catches Victor's attention and leads him to become Yuri's coach.
    • Celestino, Yuri's former coach, is also a minor character, but if he hadn't dragged Yuri to a banquet that Yuri really didn't want to go to, Yuri and Victor would never have met properly, and Victor wouldn't have already been interested in Yuri before seeing the viral video, thus the whole plot would have never happened.
  • Lord Asano is never actually seen in Princess Mononoke, but those are his samurai who are dangerously close to conquering Iron Town, and it may also have been his men that Ashitaka saw brutalizing the countryside before.

    Comic Books 
  • 100 Bullets:
    • Arms dealer Abe Rothstein appears in precisely one issue of a 100-issue series (issue #89), and he's killed at the end of that issue. In said issue, though, we learn that he was the source of Agent Graves' attachés all along. His death signals the end of Graves' "game" with the leaders of the Trust.
    • Joan D'Arcy is one of the less seen Trust heads and the last one to be formally introduced. However, her hiring of the man that kills Rothstein and Javier Vasco is the lynchpin for the beginning of the end.
  • Star Wars: Legacy has Arc Villain Zenoc Quah, a treacherous Yuuzhan Vong Shaper. He only physically appears in a three-issue arc and is killed off at the end of it, but he sticks around just long enough for it to be revealed that it was he who sabotaged the Ossus Project and framed both his own race and the Jedi for it, kicking off the entire plot.
  • Martian Manhunter villain Commander Blanx appeared in a grand total of two JLA stories. In the first of those stories, however, he engineered the destruction of the entire Martian race, transforming J'onn J'onnz from the jovial crime fighter he was in the Silver Age and into the introspective loner he is today.
  • The Green Goblin in The Pulse. He's only in a few issues, but it was his final unmasking.
  • Xiao Meng like most of the Handicapped Warriors/Crippled Legion in The Ravages of Time has a small role relative to the canon cast, the major chain of events in Ravages begins with Xiao Meng sacrificing himself (non-fatally) during a mission: The group's leader Liaoyuan Huo was so distraught by this as to leave the Handicapped Warriors and go freelance, with one of his contracts being an assassination attempt against Cao Caonote , the thwarting of which was immediately followed by a retaliatory purge of the Sima clannote , spurring both Sima Yi's revenge-motivated political ambition and Xiao Meng's participation in Lu Bu's war with Cao Caonote , the former of which coalesced into Sima Yi's long-term plan and the latter of which culminates in one final assassination attempt against Cao Cao, the failure of which endangered Sima Yi's climb to the top so he sold out Xiao Meng to lynching... which both led to Huo's wrecking Yuan Tan's army while searching for Meng's corpsenote , permanently damaging Tan's standing in the Yuan clannote , and to the split between Huo and Yi that led to Huo permanently taking up his cover identity: Zhao Yun.
    • Assuming that the dream that opens the first chapter and is referenced multiple times after is actually the canon ending of Ravages, then the chain of events begun with Xiao Meng's self-sacrifice ends with Zhao Yun killing Sima Yi over fifty years after Meng's death.
  • Scooby Doo Team Up: The Great Gazoo. He shows up at the end of the crossover with The Flintstones to send the meddling kids back to their own time but he mistakenly sends them to the Jetsons' time, allowing the next issue to happen.
  • In Bamse, two characters fit into this in Vargen's sad backstory. The first one is a lady, who recognizes the very young Vargen as the boy, who helped a gang of thieves with stealing her purse, so she calls the shop where Vargen works and gets him fired. And there is also the shop-keeper himself, who tells poor Vargen "once a thief, always a thief" before he fires him. None of these two characters had more than a few lines, but by refusing to give a young orphan a second chance, they were the ones who made Vargen become the most infamous criminal in the area, until Bamse was able to make him reform many years later.
  • Green Arrow villain Veronica Dale, aka Hyrax, was a minor villain who appeared in a single story before dying, but in that single story she accomplished what no other villain had ever been able to do: she killed Oliver Queen. And he stayed dead for eight years, pretty impressive for a B-list hero.
  • The Spider-Man villain Belladonna appeared for all of one plotline, and wasn't much of a challenge for Spider-Man. The wall-crawler crossed paths with her when she tried to kill a Corrupt Corporate Executive who had ruined her business. The name of that executive? Roderick Kingsley, alias the Hobgoblin. Belladonna's attempts to murder Kinglsey left him determined to never be that vulnerable again, prompting him to look for ways to defend himself. The Hobgoblin went on to become one of Spider-Man's defining villains in the 1980s, in his prime ranking with the likes of Norman Osborn and Doctor Octopus.

    Fan Fiction 
  • In a Digimon fan fiction Zero 2 A Revision, Demon from the original timeline only appeared in one chapter explaining Shaun's backstory but it is ultimately his manipulations and genocide of the Digidestined that drove Shaun into trying to Set Right What Once Went Wrong, and subsequently starts the whole Zero 2 universe.
  • A few characters in Angel of the Bat appear to be this, but have actually had large roles, just off-camera. (Deacon Blackfire only appears in a flashback but did a lot to create the Big Bad The Seraphim, Joshua Lebowitz only has a few scenes but has spent years in defiance for The Seraphim etc.). But Jason Todd/ Red Hood's role in the story is simply acting as a hired killer for a few scenes. Despite this, defeating him helps bring closure to Stephanie's story arc and his knowledge of infiltrating The Seraphim's base is what leads to one of the two climaxes.
  • In Final Fantasy VII fanfic The Fifth Act, Yuffie is only present for a few scenes and is only there as the Plucky Comic Relief. But she makes a huge impact as Cloud rescuing her gets him an audience with the Emperor of Wutai, her father. Her habit of stealing materia saves her father's life and forces Cloud to work a diplomatic solution when assassinating her father for his Honor Before Reason stubborness was not a option. Cloud manages to convince Lord Kisaragi to surrender to Shin-Ra on his own terms which in turn attracts further attention from Shin-Ra. Further attention from Shin-Ra gets him recruited into the company in turn turn has major consequences in the latter half of the story.
    • Young Cloud is only present for two chapters but he's privotal in getting the elder Cloud's cover to fall part and his rescue of Kunsel tells the rest of the cast where Cloud is being held.
    • Vincent has very few scenes but he turns the Turks against Hojo and is the one who kills him.
  • The The Loud House fanfic Requiem For A Loud has Adrien, a boy slightly older than Lincoln, who suffers from an advanced form of Leukemia. He only appears in chapter 5, but both this meeting and the letter he writes Lincoln later mark a turning point for Lincoln, and the story as a whole, since it causes Lincoln to accept his fate and try to make the most of the time he has left.
  • In Birth of An Abomination, the canon Ruby only appears in one scene after she is shattered, so she doesn't even have lines, but it's because of her that another Ruby joins the Crystal Gems and a third Ruby is motivated to get revenge on Sapphire and kills Greg, essentially starting the rest of the series.
  • In True Heroes, Mighty Mom and Dyno Dad are never seen, and if the author had plans to reveal what happened (outside of a throwaway line where the Nega-Chin implies he killed them), the author quit writing before they came to fruition. It's there disappearance that leads to the Crimson Chin to take Timmy in as Cleft, which leads to the events of the series proper.

    Films — Animated 
  • The Little Green Aliens in Toy Story 3, upon rescuing the toys from the incinerator.
  • For the entire Toy Story trilogy: Andy. He doesn't do much as a character, but the main characters' entire lives and motivations revolve around him.
  • Edna Mode from The Incredibles. She appears three times, all in the first half of the film. She's the one who alerts Helen to her husband's moonlighting hero work, and convinces Helen to go track Bob down.
    • From the same film, Bomb Voyage. He's the one who throws the bomb onto Buddy, which causes the train crash, which helps lead to the Super Registration Act, and is part of Buddy's impetus for turning into Syndrome.
  • Ellie in Up, whose death is responsible for Carl's attitude for most of the film, and the real estate agents who drive Carl to fly his house to South America.
  • "Frightening" Frank McCay in Monsters University only shows up in the beginning of the film but he is the one who encouraged Mike to become a scarer in the first place, thus setting off the plot of this film and the next one.
  • The Good Dinosaur: Forrest Woodbrush briefly shows up to try to adopt Spot and that's what prompts Arlo to name the "critter".
  • The anonymous sentry on the Great Wall in Mulan. Facing down Shan Yu, he defiantly lights the signal beacon on his tower that alerts the others that they're under attack. Without that, it might have taken a lot longer for the army to realize the Huns had invaded.
  • Disney's Sleeping Beauty took a creative twist by making the good fairies the main characters instead of the titular princess; as such, Aurora herself only has eighteen lines in a movie whose entire plot revolves around her.
  • Susan Hegarty the rescue lady in Lilo & Stitch. She was the person who oversaw Lilo's legal adoption of Stitch. The rest of the film and its franchise would have turned out very differently if she denied the adoption.
  • If it weren't for Gru's nosy neighbor Jillian setting him up on a terrible blind date in Despicable Me 2, Gru would not have realized that he has feelings for Lucy.

    Films — Live Action 
  • Apollonia in The Godfather was barely seen despite being Michael's wife back in Italy. Her death at the hands of a car bomb drove Michael to become the Corleone's head Don for the entire trilogy.
  • Craig and Mary-Ann, the two teens in the opening of Sleepaway Camp who accidentally cause the boating accident that kills most of the Baker family and kicks off the entire franchise. There's also Aunt Martha, who only appeaars in a handful of scenes, and is the reason why Angela, or rather Peter, kills.
  • Babe: Pig in the City has Snoop the airport sniffer dog. He only appears briefly, but in his limited screen time when demonstrating how he does his job at the airport, he unintentionally misinforms the airport security that Esme and Babe are carrying illegal substances and gets them temporarily arrested. This causes them to miss their connecting flight and the whole plot of the movie kicks off from here.
  • The Blind Seer in O Brother, Where Art Thou? is only in the movie for a couple of minutes or so at the beginning of the film, and for less than a minute at the very end, but his initial scene sets up the adventures of the main characters.
  • In the 1999 movie version of A Midsummer Night's Dream, Hippolyta (the vanquished Amazonian Queen marrying Duke Theseus) is mostly a background figure. However, in the movie when the Duke and his party discover the lovers in the morning, Hippolyta pulls Theseus aside and has some words with him, which go unheard by both the audience and other characters. Afterward Theseus announces that the lovers may marry according to their own wishes, rather than according to the decree of their families.
  • Ricardo Montalban once said that he almost passed on coming back for Star Trek II because, as it is written in the script, Khan is actually only onscreen for about fifteen total minutes over the course of the entire movie, and his actual spoken dialogue is pretty minimal as well when compared to the main characters. But then he realized, as he read the story, that Khan's impact on the other characters is present on every single page of the script, and immediately agreed to reprise the role. (It's worth noting that Khan's name hadn't been put in the title yet.)
  • In The Third Man, the chillingly evil Harry Lime is at the center of the plot but appears for less than 10 minutes on screen. Orson Welles plays him as just a normal guy you wouldn't look twice at, and takes three seconds in a search-light and a somewhat sheepish 'you caught me' grin to completely upstage Joseph Cotten's excellent performance and steal the film.
  • Jack Palance had a film career of 50 years and over 70 movies, but when he died in 2006, one film role consistently stood out in all the obituaries and tributes dedicated to him: the role of the taunting, smiling hired gun Jack Wilson in Shane. Palance's Wilson is widely regarded as the definitive Western bad guy. Total screen time: eight minutes. Total words spoken by Wilson: less than fifty, but he makes the most out of two of them: "Prove it."
  • Sarah Paulson's single scene in Serenity sets up the whole third act of the film.
    • As an interesting bit of trivia, for this reason Joss Whedon cut down the role of the Operative as Mr Exposition, because he thought it was just far, far scarier for him to to be the Implacable Man, and he isn't being implacable when making speeches about Mal as the worthy adversary.
  • Everything that transpires in the original Star Wars trilogy can be attributed to the actions of the gunner on the Star Destroyer at the beginning of A New Hope who decides not to shoot the pod that C-3PO and R2-D2 are in.
    • Darth Vader himself is only on screen for twelve minutes, in the two hour long "A New Hope", but he's the one who strikes Kenobi down, kills most of the Rebel Fighters attacking the Death Star, and has a strong connection to the Force. It's no wonder that his role became much larger, in the following Films!
    • Darth Maul, for all his popularity, does precisely one thing in The Phantom Menace: kill Qui-Gon Jinn. By doing so, he ensures Anakin is taught by a newly-Knighted Jedi instead of a wise Master with decades of teaching experience, which plays a huge role in his frustration with the Jedi Order and inability to deal with his phenomenal powers, which in turn plays a huge role in his eventual fall and transformation into Darth Vader.
  • In Top Gun, It's because of Cougar's Heroic B.S.O.D. in the beginning that Maverick and Goose get to go to Top Gun.
  • The Emperor in Onmyoji is hardly in it bar a couple of scenes in which he does very little that's useful, but it's his rejection of Sukehime that leads to most of the villain's attempts to kill the imperial family via her angry father and her eventual transformation into a demon.
  • Mink in Miller's Crossing only has two short scenes (one of those over the phone), and dies less than halfway in, and yet his "relationship" with both Bernie and Eddie Dane sets off a large part of the plot.
  • Dom DeLuise as Bernie the agent in The Muppet Movie gets only a few minutes near the start of the film, but kicks off the plot by convincing Kermit to go to Hollywood and get into showbiz.
  • James Bond:
    Bond: I admire your courage, Miss...?
    Trench: Trench. Sylvia Trench. I admire your luck, Mister...?
    Bond: Bond. (lights cigarette) James Bond.
    • Even though everyone pictures Donald Pleasence as Ernst Stavro Blofeld, he only plays him in one film, You Only Live Twice, and even then his face is only revealed for less than a half-hour.
  • The Wicked Witch of the West appears onscreen for only about nine minutes of the 101-minute runtime of The Wizard of Oz (with Margaret Hamilton's other character, Miss Gulch, appearing for about three minutes). And yet she is without question the character in the film who has had the greatest impact on popular culture, being remembered as one of the most frightening villains in movie history, and is the Trope Codifier for the Wicked Witch. Both Wicked and Oz: The Great and Powerful are plainly inspired by her portrayal.
  • In The Bourne Identity, Clive Owen has only 3 minutes of screentime as "The Professor", and he never talks until his final scene, almost a half-hour from the end, in which he delivers the series' Arc Words "Look at us. Look at what they make you give."
  • WarGames: The missile crewmen played by John Spencer and Michael Madsen in the beginning. It is due to their disagreement during the opening simulation that NORAD decides to replace the missile crews with the WOPR system.
  • The plot of The Gods Must Be Crazy gets underway when an airplane pilot, who never speaks and whose name we never learn, finishes drinking from a Coca-Cola bottle and then throws it out the window, down to the Kalahari Desert below. When the bottle is discovered by a tribe of Bushmen, it triggers a social revolution that results in violence breaking out in Bushman society for the first time, prompting the protagonist to save his village by taking the bottle hundreds of miles across the desert and throwing it into the Atlantic Ocean. Along the way, he encounters white people - and black people too, for that matter, since the Bushmen are technically of a different African racial stock - for the first time, gets his first glimpse of 20th-century Western society, and almost single-handedly captures a band of revolutionary terrorists who had already come close to overthrowing the government of Angola.
  • In Big Daddy, the character of Kevin Gerrity (Jon Stewart) is onscreen for only 20 minutes at the most - less than a quarter of the movie's running time - yet the crux of the film's plot hinges on the protagonist being mistaken for him, a mistake that Gerrity himself can't clear up because he's out of the country for most of the story. He then shows up unexpectedly during the climax and resolves the plot for a happy ending at literally the last possible second.
  • Most of the 1963 Disney film Summer Magic takes place in and around a little country house in Maine sometime before World War I. The house is being leased by the absentee landlord Tom Hamilton, who, despite being at the very least the third-most powerful person in the town, does not appear until less than 30 minutes before the movie ends - and even when he does, it takes a scene or two for him to actually be identified by name.
  • A very young Rita Moreno appears in Singin' in the Rain as Zelda Zanders exactly four times, the first three with no lines; once as part of the red carpet procession of stars at the premiere of "The Royal Rascal" (accompanied by "J. Cumberland Spendrill III, that well-known eligible bachelor"); once dancing at the after party with some other rich old guy; once watching the "Beautiful Girl" sequence; and once when she sets the climax in motion, leading Lina to the sound studio where Don and Kathy are celebrating the last dub of Lina's lines with a long, passionate kiss.
  • The titular Beetlejuice is considered one of Michael Keaton's greatest performances, and the character is still so iconic that he gets referenced often in popular culture nearly 30 years later. Also, he's on-screen less than eighteen minutes.
  • Anthony Hopkins' first appearance as Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs last for roughly fifteen minutes. It is an iconic villain role that made him famous and spawned a sequel and a prequel with the actor.
  • Samuel L. Jackson's role as Nick Fury is one of the more famous roles in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as he has appeared in many of the movies and in a few episodes of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. Despite this, he is usually a One-Scene Wonder, appearing in a single scene, some of which, are The Stinger for those films. He likely only has about one hour of screentime spread out throughout the first two phases of the franchise.
  • Despite being one of the title characters of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the Winter Soldier himself does not appear in as many scenes as one would think and has barely any dialogue. Despite this, his presence and the emotional impact that he has on Steve (both of his personas) can be felt through the entire film.
    • In an even smaller role, the anonymous SHIELD tech who delayed launching the Insight helicarriers long enough to allow Cap to stop them truly saved the day, considering just how little time Cap had left when he succeeded.
  • Back to the Future:
  • The Navy SEALs in Zero Dark Thirty don't appear until the last 20-30 remaining minutes, yet they are the ones who finally raid Bin Laden's compound. The SEAL who kills the very man barely has any dialogue, has little screen time and isn't as prominent as his team members.
    • There is also Debbie, a young analyst and admirer to Maya's work, who gives the information that Abu Ahmed may have faked his death because his deceased brother looked like him, prompting the CIA to track him and lead to his home: Bin Laden's compound.
  • Matthew McConaughey's Mark Hanna from The Wolf of Wall Street only appears in the first half of the film, yet he is one of the main influences to Jordan Belfort to be a ruthless broker and a substance abuser.
  • The plot of Saving Private Ryan is kicked off by one woman typing up condolence letters in an office. Through sheer coincidence, she types up the three brothers' letters at once and brings it to the attention of her superior. She has no lines and does not appear past this scene, yet this is what inspires the government to arrange for the fourth brother to be brought home.
  • The Hunger Games: Primrose "Prim" Everdeen isn't present for most of the plot, but it's because of her that Katniss ends up in the Games in the first place.
  • The Uncle in The Innocents, played by Michael Redgrave, appears only for about five minutes at the beginning, but features constantly in Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr) and the housekeeper's conversations. The fact that Miss Giddens is attracted to him also drives a major plot point, namely Miss Giddens' attraction towards the nephew, Miles, who resembles his uncle very much. Ultimately, the children's tragic fate is as much due to Miss Giddens' warped psychology as the Uncle's constant absence, as he might have dismissed Miss Giddens before the situation went out of control.
  • Home Alone
    • The first film has the McAllister's neighbor who comes over to watch them leave. While he's curiously checking the transportation shuttle out he gets mistaken for Kevin during a headcount, which is what results in Kevin being left alone.
    • Lost in New York:e The man whose coat is identical to Peter's. If not for his presence at the airport, Kevin wouldn't have entered a plane to New York.
  • In The Big Short, Lewis Ranieri only appears in a flashback scene in the first few minutes of the film. However, because he was the person who first suggested the idea of mortgage-backed securities in 1977, he is responsible for the inflation and eventual bursting of the housing bubble that drives the actions of every major character in the rest of the film. Jared Vennett even observes in his opening narration that most people have never heard of Ranieri, and yet he has had a greater impact on our lives than the social media revolution.
  • The salvation of the human race in Independence Day can be traced back to Julius Levinson. While he might appear unassuming as David's sarcastic father, he is able to drive his son all the way to Washington to warn David's ex-wife and the President, which is how they're able to survive. Later, Julius rambles on about Area 51 and its captured spaceship...only to learn that it's totally true. Finally, while David is in a drunken despondent haze, Julius inadvertently gives him the idea to plant a computer virus in the alien mothership in order to allow humanity to fight back.
  • The Joker in Suicide Squad. Firstly, as shown in Flashback, he's responsible for turning Harleen Quinzel into Harley Quinn. His attempted Gunship Rescue of Harley from the Squad is the start of the mission, which had been going (relatively) smoothly until then, going all to hell, and Harley uses his apparent death to trick Enchantress, claiming she will join the mad god in exchange for Joker being brought back to life... so she can get close enough to cut Entrantress' heart out, giving the Squad a chance to save the day.
    Bruce Wayne: Maybe it's the Gotham City in me. We just have a bad history with freaks dressed like clowns.
  • In The Hunt for Red October, it's one of the low-ranking sub's cooks who singlehandedly prevents Raimey's plan to defect (with the sub) from going smoothly, kicking off the second half of the thriller.
  • The first Lancelot is in Kingsman: The Secret Service for only two scenes at the start, but it's his death what kicks off both storylines given that it opens the position for a new Lancelot and prompts Harry to finish his mission.
  • Friday the 13th Part III: Shelly is little more than The Prankster and one of Jason's many victims, but it's his hockey mask that Jason acquires, netting him his iconic look for the rest of the series.
  • TRON Dr. Lora Baines (later, Dr. Lora Baines-Bradley) is on screen for less than ten minutes in the first film, and is Sequel Non-Entity in both canons (TRON 2.0 kills her off, TRON: Legacy canon effectively exiles her in Washington DC). However? She co-invented the laser that gets the protagonists to Cyberspace. She's the one who convinces Alan to warn Flynn, she's the one who solidifies them into a Power Trio and comes up with the plan to break into Encom. Oh, and she wrote Yori, who is this trope in her own right (designing, building, and piloting the Solar Sailer, using her connection to Dumont to get Tron access to the tower, etc.)

  • Watson's friend Stamford has about two lines, doesn't make it past the first chapter of A Study in Scarlet, and is promptly never seen again. But he introduced John Watson and Sherlock Holmes to each other, resulting in their forming a life-long friendship, and kicking off one of the most well-known and enjoyable mystery series of modern literature.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire:
    • Balon Greyjoy is one of the eponymous monarchs in the War of Five Kings. He barely has any time interacting with the POV characters, and appears in only small parts of two chapters in the second book, and doesn't reappear before dying off screen in the third. However his decision in the second book to go to war with the North rather than joining them effectively ends the chances of that king to win their war.
    • Mirri Maz Duur only appeared in four chapters (three episodes) of A Game of Thrones, including the one where she is killed. The only POV character she interacts with is Daenerys. However, her actions become not only the driving force behind much of Daenerys's story arc, but also the reason that dragons (and in turn, stronger magic), have returned to the world. (Given that said dragons are expected to defend the Wall against the Others, Mirri Maz Duur might end up having a greater hand in saving Westeros than anyone besides Daenerys.)
    • Lord Walder Frey appears in only three chapters of the series (or episodes of the show). He is still able to orchestrate a Wham Episode in which he helps win the war for his side by killing off several important characters.
    • Lysa Arryn has very little pagetime, but while Saying Too Much in her last chapter she reveals that she is directly responsible for the events that lead to the War of the Five Kings (murdering Jon Arryn, causing Robert to ask Ned to be his Hand; implying the Lannisters as his murderer to Catelyn causing her to eventually take Tyrion captive and anger Tywin Lannister).
    • Lyanna Stark only appears as a statue and in the memories of Ned Stark, but she had one of the largest influences in the plot: her kidnapping led to the death of Ned's father and brother and Robert's Rebellion, her death turned Robert Baratheon into a depressed man whose disdain for ruling caused no short end to problems and she might be mother to Jon Snow, a character whose role in the books has been incredibly important.
  • Hannibal Lecter from The Silence of the Lambs. He's a minor character in the novel (and in the film he's on screen for only fifteen minutes or so), and yet he drives the plot forward on several occasions all by himself. (Amusingly, Anthony Hopkins set a record by winning the Best Actor Oscar in the shortest amount of screen time.)
    • This is even more the case in the preceding novel, Red Dragon. Unlike his relationship with Clarice, which formed the real meat of Silence of the Lambs, his relationship with Will Graham is mostly restricted to a mutual hatred. He appears on a total of seven pages, and new scenes had to be written for him in the Edward Norton adaptation to justify his billing. His actions continue impact the story long after his final appearance, however.
  • Lily Evans really isn't in much of Harry Potter, but her actions drove the entire characterization of Snape, and her Heroic Sacrifice set up the entire plot.
    • The eponymous Goblet of Fire only gets a couple appearances early on the book and then is (almost) never mentioned again. It, however, kickstarts the book's main plot.
    • Narcissa Malfoy in the latter Harry Potter books. In terms of facetime and notoriety, she takes backseat to her husband and son and mostly just another snobby wizard supremacist. However, in the sixth book, her binding Snape to the Unbreakable vow is ultimately responsible for the climax of the story. And in book 7, her willingness to lie to Voldemort about Harry's death is what gives Harry the chance to win the war once and for all.
    • Kreacher. When screenwriter Michael Goldenberg tried to adapt him out, J. K. Rowling told him that doing so would put a Spanner in the Works of the seventh film. (Goldenberg can be forgiven for attempting it, since Kreacher's one plot-critical moment had, at the time, not yet been published.)
  • Sasha in Warriors: The New Prophecy. Although she only appears once or twice, she mothered the villain's children, who go on to become super important characters.
  • The Maltese Falcon: General Kemidov is The Ghost, but even before the story begins, when Gutman wanted to buy the McGuffin, he realized that it would be important and replaced it with a Mock Guffin that the gang found very easy to steal, making him the real Magnificent Bastard of the story.
  • The Lord of the Rings books are full of this. You have characters like Erkenbrand, a Marshall of Rohan leading the troops that Gandalf collects to save everyone at Helm's Deep, or Ghan-buri-Ghan, a Noble Savage tribesman who leads the Rohirrim around an ambush so they can arrive at the Battle of the Pelennor Fields in time and at full strength. And, all puns aside, let's not forget that three of the shortest and least competent characters are the ones who won the war—Frodo, Sam and Gollum.
  • Also occurs in The Hobbit with characters like Bard, and elsewhere as well — Tolkien was obviously very fond of the idea that everyone, not just the protagonists or the most powerful beings, can have a major influence on the world.
  • Arianna Ortega in The Dresden Files interacts only with Harry, and appears in a grand total of three chapters before biting it. Her plans result in Harry damning his soul forever, and sets the plots for book 12 and 13 in motion.
    • The minor Red Court Vampire "Bianca St. Claire" only appears in Books 1 & 3. However her falling out and subsequent attempts at petty revenge against Harry both start off the war with the White Council and eventually gives Harry the opportunity to wipe out her entire species. Whoops?
    • He Who Walks Behind. He is a powerful demon knight on the levels of being a Physical God. As of book 14 Cold Days, he was only in a single chapter flashback in book 13 Ghost Story. Besides that, he was referenced maybe five times in the entire series. But his actions in Harry's past, the brutal murder of a gas station attendant Harry tried robbing drove him to avenge the little guy and develop the Chronic Hero Syndrome that would make Harry face down forces that no mortal had tried challenging before.
  • The Story Within a Story in Hans Brinker, or The Silver Skates about a boy plugging a dike with his finger and preventing a flood is more famous than the actual story of Hans Brinker and his skates.
  • Clarisse McClellan from Fahrenheit 451 is obscurely written out of the story very early on; however, her influence on Guy Montag instigates the entire plot and every event that happens therein. (Some adaptations even write her back in later.)
  • In the present-day The Wheel of Time, Aginor is one of the least appearing, least accomplished members of the Forsaken ( he dies twice without accomplishing much that's noteworthy). In the backstory, on the other hand, he created the Shadowspawn races, meaning he was responsible for most of the mooks the heroes fight and for untold suffering caused by his "children" over the millennia.
  • In the Fear Street spin-off series Fear Street Seniors, the first actual senior to die was Danielle Cortez. She only appears in a few pages and doesn't even receive the courtesy of a yearbook entry until the sixth volume, which is three books after her death, but the fact remains that she dies on the very first day of the new school year, which sets the mood for the rest of the school year. Her death is the harbinger for the rest of the seniors who die throughout the year.
  • The ghost of James Incandenza in Infinite Jest doesn't even have any lines, but single-handedly sets almost the whole novel's plot into motion which culminates in the apocalypse.
  • Primrose "Prim" Everdeen from The Hunger Games in the first book. She isn't present for most of the plot, but it's because of her that Katniss ends up in the Games in the first place.
    • And by extension, Katniss's role in those Games were what ended up sparking the rebellion.
  • In Looking for Alaska, the title character has a boyfriend, a college student named Jake, who is repeatedly referred to throughout the book but actually seen a grand total of once. Nevertheless, his influence is felt throughout the story, his existence being the reason Alaska and protagonist Miles never act on their feelings for each other, causing no shortage of angst for him (and, it's implied, her as well). And then, just when you've probably forgotten him, a phone call from him at exactly the wrong time about exactly the wrong subject causes something very, very bad to happen.
  • An unnamed Medusan native who wandered into the human enclave on the planet and ended up dead due to a drug overdose was responsible for much of the Honor Harrington series. It was his possession of a firearm that shouldn't have been possible for the native population to develop on their own and ravings about a religious leader that alerted the Manticorans something serious was going on. The resulting series of events secured Harrington a promotion and the notice of her superiors, which put her into position for more critical events that the junior captain of an old destroyer wouldn't have been.

    Live Action TV 
  • Game of Thrones:
    • Lyanna had one of the largest influences in the plot: her kidnapping led to the death of Ned's father and brother and Robert's Rebellion, her death turned Robert Baratheon into a depressed man whose disdain for ruling caused no short end to problems and casts a constant shadow in his marriage to Cersei. And most of all, she is mother to Jon Snow, an incredibly important character.
    • Wyman Manderly shows up for about one short scene at the end of the sixth season, but after Lady Mormont declared her endorsement of Jon Snow as King in The North, his agreement is what catalyzes the motion.
  • In Lost, Jacob never appeared onscreen until the end of the fifth season... in an episode in which he was killed at the end. In the next season he appeared just a handful of times as a ghost or in flashbacks. Nevertheless, he is one of the major characters in the Myth Arc of the series.
  • Even people who haven't seen 24 are likely aware of the cultural phenomenon that is Mandy (aka "Naked Mandy"), the cold, ruthless Chess Master assassin who routinely evaded capture only to make a sudden, shocking, bombastic return when the heroes least expected her. Fans of the show, however, know that she only ever appeared in seven episodes, almost never for more than one scene, and she only ever made two "shocking returns" (and it was never a surprise for any of the heroes - none of them met her or knew who she was until her last arc in Season 4 - only for the audience). Still, she did make quite a splash whenever she did show up, most notably in the Season 2 finale, where in her one minute of screentime she managed to single-handedly turn the upbeat, triumphant ending into a horribly uncertain Downer Ending.
    • There's also Conrad Haas who only appears in one episode (the Season 5 premier), but he made a tremendous (and shocking) impact on the season/show as a whole by assassinating former president David Palmer..
    • Mitch Anderson is a minor villain in Season 4 whose appearances can be counted on one hand. But by the final time he appears he ends up shooting Air Force One and putting the current President out of commission... causing the series' iconic villain Charles Logan to get sworn in his stead. Logan winds up causing trouble for rest of the show, even if it's only indirectly for the season he's absent from, and all of it can be traced back to what Anderson did.
  • In the opening scene of Orphan Black, Sarah Manning sees a woman who looks exactly like her, Beth Childs, at a train station. Then Beth throws herself in front of a train and Sarah steals her identity, kicking off a series of events that soon leads to the revelation that they are clones, the whole premise of the show. Although Sarah spends most of the first season pretending to be Beth, she has only properly appeared since the opening scene in a video and a brief dream sequence. Her death plays a major role in the arcs of Paul Dierden and Art Bell, and her presence is very much felt even well into the third season.
  • Judah Botwin is dead before Weeds even begins, and he only appears twice, briefly, in video footage taken before his death. However, it quickly becomes clear that he had a very stabilizing influence on his family, who almost immediately begin acting out once he's gone. His wife, with no idea how to provide for the family in his absence, turns to dealing marijuana, and his sons begin exhibiting sociopathic behavior, particularly Shane, for whom Judah was one of the only people who truly understood him and encouraged him to be himself, and area in which his mother is clearly out of her depth.
  • Phil Davis appeared on Merlin in a guest spot that lasts no more than five minutes. In that time he mortally wounds King Uther, a major character who had been on the show since the beginning, and changes the entire course of the show.
  • Doctor Who:
    • Harriet Jones, Prime Minister (yes, we know who she is), played by Penelope Wilton, appears in a grand total of four episodes. In the third of those, the Doctor's reaction to something she does changes the entire course of history and has serious consequences for the next three seasons of that show and all of Torchwood. Then, despite having been thoroughly screwed over by said Doctor, she proceeds to help save the world with a tear-jerking Heroic Sacrifice. She's also a Four-episode Wonder, as she's one of the most iconic supporting characters of the new series and a fan favourite.
    • Cass, in the "Night of the Doctor" minisode. She appears in Doctor Who for all of six minutes, most of which is after her death. But her death is what pushes the Doctor over the Despair Event Horizon and into participating in the Time War, which had a HUGE impact on the rest of the series.
  • From Hannibal:
    • Garrett Jacob Hobbes, the serial killer known as the Minnesota Shrike. He appears as the primary antagonist of the first episode, and his crime spree is stopped by the end of the episode when he is shot to death by protagonist Will Graham. However, the guilt Will feels over killing Hobbes, combined with the guilt Hobbes' daughter Abigail feels for having an indirect hand in her father's murders, contributes a great deal to both Will and Abigail's storylines in Season One. The incident also sets up the Arc Symbol of the raven-feathered stag, and foreshadows the climax of Season Two.
    • Neal Frank. He's a Posthumous Character whose death is a major part of Dr. Bedelia du Maurier's story arc and was established to have been a patient who died under her care and led her to retire from active practice. The flashback episode reveals that Hannibal was his actual therapist that he was seeing for insomnia. Instead, Hannibal hypnotized him into choking when he gets upset, and he was actually nothing more than another innocent victim caught in Hannibal's games. Bedelia was even going to prescribe the same therapy he was getting from Hannibal when he complains to her about his treatment. When he calls her out on it and starts to choke, she shoved his tongue down his throat instead of saving him. In other words, she lied about his death, which throws all of her previous characterization for a loop and implies she's actually Not So Different from Hannibal when she's talking to Will Graham.
  • Jessie Taylor (Angel Coulby of Merlin) in Dancing on the Edge, whose role is to sing and get murdered, but remains one of the most memorable aspects of the miniseries.
  • Once Upon a Time:
    • Zelena's birth father appears in only one episode, simply as a palace gardener disguising as a prince. He seduces Cora and gets her pregnant, but does not appear again except asking for a bribe. Because of the illegitimate pregnancy, Cora abandons Zelena in the forest - which leads to her getting taken to Oz and becoming the Wicked Witch of the West.
    • Dorothy Gale likewise only appears in one episode. All she does is arrive from Kansas and mistakenly throw the water on Zelena. However she acts as a Face Heel Door Slam and Zelena turns down her redemption and sets out on her path to villainy.
    • The Duke of Weselton courts Princess Helga and then makes a pass at her older sister Ingrid. In trying to save her sister from an attack, Ingrid accidentally kills Helga and is sealed in an urn by her other sister Gerda.
  • Band of Brothers shows Moose Heyliger being shot in a case of Unfriendly Fire by an unnamed sentry. The man in real life was quickly transferred to another regiment for his own safety and does not appear in the series again. Nonetheless this results in the incompetent Norman Dike being put in charge of Easy Company through the Battle of the Bulge. Many men lost their lives (or limbs) due to the man's poor leadership skills.
  • John Colicos played Kor, the first ever Klingon, only once on Star Trek: The Original Series before reprising the role decades later on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, yet his Genghis Khan-influenced performance set the standard for all Klingons throughout the whole franchise.
  • Breaking Bad: Combo was killed mid-way through season 2 after only a few lines, but his death caused Jesse and Walt to hire Saul as their lawyer, which had a huge impact on the plot - among other things, Saul was the one to hook them up with Gus. And then he affects the plot again in season 3 when Jesse meets someone related to the kid who killed him. A flashback reveals another major contribution made by Combo: It was actually he who procured the RV for Walter and Jesse, as Jesse had secretly blown all the RV money partying.
    • Brock Cantillo. He may be a little kid with very few appearances, but when Jesse found out Walter poisoned him back in Season 4, he permanently cuts ties with Walter and becomes a significant threat.
    • Dr. Delcavoli. He's only used as exposition for Walt's cancer, barely being seen for the first two seasons. However, his treatment helped Walt's cancer enter remission; it may have altered Walt's attempts to break bad in the meth business since he assumed that he would die and leave his family a sizable amount of cash before going in too deep.
  • In How I Met Your Mother, the Mother's First Love Max isn't even seen on-screen but his death was enough for the Mother to swear off dating and be unable to move on in any relationship.
  • Before Batman the Riddler had all of two appearances in the comics, neither in over a decade. Frank Gorshin's performance single-handedly saved the character from obscurity, the Riddler himself is considered a core villain in Batman lore, with most adaptations drawing heavily on Gorshin's version of the character.
  • In Gotham, Jerome only shows up in a few episodes, dies in the third episode of Season Two, and also causes enough chaos that watching a video recording of his antics causes people across Gotham to snap, thus making Jerome, in all likelihood, the inspiration for a certain clown.
  • In NCIS, Ari Haswari first appeared two-thirds of the way through the first season, and wasn't actually named until his second appearance in the season finale. He dies in his fifth appearance, in the second episode of season three. Over his five appearances, he crippled Ducky's fist assistant, causing Jimmy (who is still on the cast as of season 14) to replace him, killed Kate, causing Ziva (who stayed on the show until the beginning of season 11) to replace her on the team, and people Ari had connections with keep running into Team Gibbs and impacting their lives (such as Ari's half-brother showing up and murdering Gibbs' second ex-wife Diane), even though he's been dead for a decade now.

    Mythology and Religion 
  • Eris in Classical Mythology's Trojan War cycle. All the other gods were invited to a wedding, but as the goddess of chaos, she was excluded. She responded by sneaking up to the reception and throwing in a golden apple that read "For the Fairest." Three goddesses fought over it, and chose Paris, the prince of Troy, to judge their beauty contest. He chose Aphrodite, but only because she bribed him with the love of the World's Most Beautiful Woman, Helen. Unfortunately, Helen was already married, and when she and Paris ran off, her husband Menelaus led all of Greece to war against Troy. The end result? Ten years of fighting, Troy being razed, and even many of the victors dying or suffering on the journey back home.
    • For that matter, Helen herself; she only has a few scenes in The Iliad, and mostly just lounged around in Troy while everyone fought over her. Even Paris wasn't the city's main fighter; his brother Hector was the protagonist of the Trojans' side.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • WWE is by nature a male-centered show, with the Divas usually not having a major impact on the main-event storylines. However...
    • Did you enjoy watching Monday Night Raw between 2002 and 2005? Well, you have Stacy Keibler to thank for a small part of that. In 2002, Keibler came to Thursday Night SmackDown as General Manager Stephanie McMahon's executive assistant. But what no one knew at the time was that Keibler had actually been signed to Raw, and was only on SmackDown as Raw General Manager Eric Bischoff's corporate spy. While in Stephanie's office, Stacy forged a number of documents that made it appear as if certain SmackDown Superstars had, like her, actually contracted with Raw; fatefully, two of these Superstars were Batista and Randy Orton. This didn't result in anything huge at first, as Batista became a "Deacon" and one of Keibler's allies in the Dudley Boyz faction while Orton was injured soon after his debut and had his career sidelined for the rest of the year. But in early 2003, Triple H and Ric Flair introduced both of these men as the junior members of their new "Evolution" stable. Batista and Orton proved quite useful to HHH, to say the least: they helped him retain his World Heavyweight Championship for far longer than he deserved, and against the likes of Scott Steiner, Booker T and Goldberg. They also played a crucial role in causing Kane to lose the match whose stipulation was that he would have to unmask, costing Kane what last shreds of his sanity remained so that he turned against his brother and former ally The Undertaker and buried him alive - causing 'Taker to be resurrected as his "Deadman" persona once again in 2004 after having been a biker character for the past four years. And of course, Evolution would set the stage for the titanic power struggle between HHH and Orton, which started in 2004 and continued off and on for nearly five whole years after that! (The two wouldn't bury the hatchet permanently until 2013, when they joined forces as members of The Authority.)
    • Alicia Fox killed Edge in 2008. Well, indirectly, and only temporarily. It was the videotape of her being romanced by the Rated-R Superstar on the day of his wedding to then-General Manager of SmackDown Vickie Guerrero (leaked by Triple H during the ceremony) that caused Vickie to turn vindictively on her fiancé and rehire the Undertaker (who had been permanently banished from WWE about a month earlier), whom she then pitted against Edge in a Hell in a Cell Match at that year's SummerSlam. In that main-event match, the Undertaker chokeslammed Edge right through the ring to create a hole and then caused flames to erupt from the hole, signifying that Edge had literally been sent to Hell. But bringing 'Taker back was the worst possible thing that Vickie could have done, since the "Deadman" turned his wrath on her as well as Edge (he having much more reason to hate her, after all). His attempt to choke Vickie's soul out of her body resulted in The Big Show turning heel to save her, which in turn resulted in Big Show becoming Vickie's new boyfriend until Edge returned and sparking a bitter feud between Undertaker and Big Show that lasted for the rest of the year and partly continued into 2009.
    • AJ Lee has perhaps exerted the greatest direct influence on WWE of any Diva in history. An inadvertent blow to the neck from Big Show nearly crippled her, turned boyfriend Daniel Bryan into an overprotective and possessive jerk, and ultimately caused Bryan to lash out at Lee for nearly everything she did, including his losing the World Heavyweight Championship in 18 seconds to Sheamus at the 2012 WrestleMania. Daniel's cruelty apparently caused AJ's mind to snap, resulting in her behavior becoming ever more erratic and her profile on television to rise, as airtime was steadily eaten up by her bizarre antics. Indeed, AJ was transformed into such an outrageous scene stealer that Vince McMahon appointed her General Manager of Raw later that summer - much to the chagrin of Daniel Bryan, who had assumed that she had agreed to marry him in the ring when in fact she had accepted the GM position. This cruel prank in turn caused Bryan to lose his mind, which in turn led to him having to seek psychological group therapy along with Kane...which culminated in the two of them forming a comedic tag team called "Hell No" that turned both characters face again. This marked the beginning of Daniel Bryan's true rocket to stardom in WWE, making him so popular that not only did he go on to win the WWE Championship three times, but when he was respectively excluded from and (relatively) quickly eliminated in the 2014 and 2015 Royal Rumble Matches, fan disillusionment ran so deep that the WWE Universe turned virulently on the men who did win those matches: Batista and Roman Reigns. While Batista turned this situation into heel heat for what eventually led to Bryan's title win at [WrestleMania 30, Reigns is still heavily booed despite being a face, and has had to acknowledge that fact within kayfabe. Also affected by AJ-mania? The New Day, an enormously popular trio that might have not existed if Big E Langston was never given the role he got in the Ziggler/Lee faction. Not to mention, the breakup and solo success of the members of The Shield, as without the formation of Authority and the return of Evolution, which can respectively be attributed to Bryan's rise to popularity and the outcry over Batista winning the Rumble, their arc would not have played out the same.

  • Joe in Show Boat. It helps that he has one of the best Broadway songs ever written, "Ol' Man River."
  • It's easy to forget that Tybalt from Romeo and Juliet is only in about 3 scenes in the play. But as Isaac Asimov pointed out succinctly in his analysis of the play, without Tybalt, the rest of the play's events would never have happened.
    • Remember that there was more than one friar? Of course not, because Friar John is in one scene and has about five lines. But because he fails to deliver a letter to Romeo, the tragedy of the climax is allowed to unfold.
  • Jessica, daughter to Shylock in The Merchant of Venice, has very few lines, but the whole play hinges on her elopement and her conversion to Christianity, which drive her dad over the edge. Whether she's seen as a "good" or "bad" character is a key decision when staging the play, and directors tend to give her plenty of extra stage time to pray in Hebrew or look tragic. Lorenzo could also be seen this way—besides being the boy who steals Jessica, he has one of the play's best soliloquies ("How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank...")
  • In The Magic Flute, the Queen of the Night only appears in three scenes, which include both of her extravagant coloratura arias.
  • In The Winter's Tale, Antigonus was supposed to kill a small baby, but, unable to do so, he left it in the wilderness instead (mostly because he was eaten by a bear before he could do anything else). That baby ends up being the hero of the story.
  • During "At the End of the Day," a song in Les Misérables, a nameless factory worker snatches a letter from Fantine for no particular reason and reads it aloud to taunt her. The letter reveals that Fantine has an illegitimate daughter, which in turn gets her fired, which in turn forces her into prostitution, which in turn prompts Valjean to pity her, which in turn makes him on the scene to save a man from a runaway cart, which in turn makes Inspector Javert reveal that a man he thinks is Valjean has been arrested, which in turn makes Valjean decide to turn himself in and promise to care for the dying Fantine's daughter, which in know what, it's probably easier to simply say that the Nameless Factory Worker is the most important character in the show.
  • The titular character in The Phantom of the Opera thoroughly dominates the musical - and yet is only onstage for 30-40 minutes of a two and a half hour production.
    • Also, Joseph Buquet really doesn't do much while he's alive besides loom about the place, tell the corps de ballet scary stories about the Phantom and set up the Chekhov's Gun of the Punjab lasso - but his shocking death is the final nail in the coffin of Christine deciding the Phantom is bad news and choosing Raoul; all (further) hell breaks loose from there.

    Video Games 
  • Bane in Batman: Arkham Asylum. His only appearance is a brief, yet epic confrontation, but his Venom serum is the catalyst for the game's plot.
    • The same could be said for the Electrocutioner in Batman: Arkham Origins. The fight with him ends with you hitting him and him hitting the ground, and then he's unceremoniously killed off by the Joker, but the weapons you get from him, the Shock Gloves, have a heavy impact on the rest of the game. Not only are the Shock Gloves just that awesome, but they also allow Batman to save Alfred's life, as well as enable him to get around the Joker's Sadistic Choice by Taking A Third Option.
  • Dangan Ronpa has Chihiro Fujisaki, while he quickly dies, becoming the victim of the second case, effectively the 4th death of the game. It turns out that he used the old laptop the group found in the library to create an AI of his image that can hack and collect information inside the network of the school, eventually saving Makoto's life from his execution and helping the group to get out of the school. By the second game, it turns out he was the one that developed the New World Program, as well as setting up the basis for the AI Chiaki that helped Hinata.
  • The "Oriental Gentleman" from Grand Theft Auto III, an unnamed man who just so happens to be a prisoner in the same police convoy the player character is in - the fact that the game consists of typical Grand Theft Auto fare rather than the player being behind bars for the whole game (or at least a few minutes, considering the series) is because the Colombian Cartel decided to hold up the convoy and take this one prisoner.
  • High Templar Karass of Starcraft II fame. He and his men meet up with Zeratul, help him fight through the zerg, and then he and his remaining troops pull a Last Stand Heroic Sacrifice to allow Zeratul to escape. Yet those few minutes, he and his men might have saved the universe.
  • Grand Marshall Garithos from Warcraft III posthumously became this once certain events in World of Warcraft transpired. His fantastic racism was one of the key factors that drove the Blood Elves from the Alliance, causing a small number of them to join will Anti-Villain Illidan Stormrage, and the rest to eventually side with the Horde. To a much lesser extent, he helped Sylvannas Windrunner retake the capital of Lordaeron, which led to it being taken by the Forsaken, though in this case Sylvannas actually promised to hand the city over to him and betrayed him when she was done using him.
  • In MOTHER 3, Hinawa, Lucas and Claus' mother, is only seen in the prologue of the game then dies offscreen during Chapter 1. Even so, she has a big impact in the story afterward, since she later saves Lucas' life through her father's dreams, then helps bring Claus to his senses despite him being robotically controlled.
  • Reddas in Final Fantasy XII. His backstory reveals that he was the one Judge who nuked Nabradia with nethicite, and that leads to such a hatred of it that he destroys the Sun-Cryst, banishing the Occuria's influence from Ivalice and, in a sense, completing the Big Bad's not-so-evil plan.
  • Fallout 3: The player character's mother, Catherine. She has roughly 3 lines, dies within a minute of your birth, and is the driving motivation for James' escape from the vault (and try and restart Project Purity) and, consequently, your reason for doing the same.
  • Fire Emblem Awakening, as is the norm for the series, has a massive cast with most of the characters having little to no actual part in the storyline. Early on in the game, Maribelle, who herself has only a slightly larger part than most of the other playable units and loses all plot relevance shortly into the game, is held hostage by Plegia and used as a scapegoat to start its war with Ylisse, kickstarting the storyline as a whole.
    • Previously in Binding Blade and Blazing Blade, there's also King Desmond of Bern. What he did was to be a downright abusive father to his son Zephiel, at first The Ace and overall Nice Guy. It took only one chapter for his appearance, and then sent assassins to have him dead. It failed because of the heroes. But he did not repent, and even tried to kill him one last time off-screen. The result? By Binding Blade, Zephiel ended up being disillusioned with humanity thanks to his father's actions to him and becomes a ruthless tyrant and tried to take down the whole continent with the power of dragons, many innocents die... all because one father just refuses to have an epiphany of what an asshole he has been.
    • Fire Emblem Fates has Layla in the Birthright path's Chapter 12, who asks the cast for help since she needs to go visit her dying mother. Thing is, she's a very famous songstress and her biggest "fanboy" is none other than the Big Bad in the route, so the cast uses this as a chance to disguise their own songstress Azura as Laylea and then attempt to kill said Big Bad, which triggers the whole fight in the chapter and brings a new character in the scene (Kaden the Kitsune, who joins the group because he owes Layla a favor from before).
  • The G-Man of Half-Life fame features, in the main, only in the intro and outro cutscenes of each game — his other appearances are mostly of the "you spot the G-Man in the distance, he walks behind a corner and vanishes" variety. (He does have a significant scene in the middle of Episode 2 when he gives Gordon a "heart-to-heart".) Everything about him is mysterious, but he's widely suspected of being responsible for, literally, the entire plot of the series from start to finish.
  • First Lieutenant McPherson of the Damned 33rd, from Spec Ops: The Line. Because of him, Walker decides to buck orders and turn Delta Squad's recon mission into a rescue op. And when they actually find him...
  • Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days: Riku spends most of the game absent, and when he does show up occasionally he doesn't do much. However, his interactions with Xion make her realize that she needs to give up her existence and return to Sora so he can wake up.
  • PAYDAY 2 has Hoxton, one of the characters from the first game, thrown in jail after being caught by the FBI. Nobody knows who ratted him out until the Hoxton Revenge heist comes into play. Said rat turns out to be Hector, who is just a contractor for the PAYDAY gang that offered jobs for money and is nothing more beyond that. Hector worked with the gang without any of them knowing that he was the one that got Hoxton caught by the police. The crew winds up having to do a few jobs for The Dentist, who has information and power to help the crew get Hoxton out of jail. After the events of the Hoxton Breakout heist where the crew frees Hoxton, they go over the FBI server they stole and find out where Hector is hiding. Once the crew discovers that Hector is the traitor, they waste no time killing him and Bain is shocked to see that someone unassuming like Hector was the one that ratted out Hoxton. Hector's actions caused the crew dynamic to be changed since they had to replace Hoxton with Houston and they had to jump through a lot of hoops just to get Hoxton freed.
  • Persona 5 has Shiho Suzui, who commits suicide early in the game as a result of Kamoshida's sexual harassment of her. Before she jumped, the protagonist and Ryuji were unsure if they should steal Kamoshida's heart, since they didn't know much about the cognitive world at the time and wondered if stealing his heart might inadvertently kill him. When they learn she jumped because of Kamoshida's abuse, that gives them the resolve to change his heart. Her suicide also motivates Ann to join them for the sake of revenge. This eventually spirals into them becoming the Phantom Thieves of Hearts who bring justice to those too high in power to be brought to justice by conventional means. If she hadn't jumped, Kamoshida's Palace would've remained intact, and the initial party wouldn't have been motivated to bring justice to those in power.
  • The Ghosts in Xenoblade Chronicles X only appear in the opening cutscene as one side in the war that destroys Earth and later as the side that attacks the White Whale, causing it to crash on Mira. Pretty much none of the plot would happen without them, but they aren't even named in the game with the name "Ghost" comming from the game's Japanese artbook.
  • The Joker from Injustice: Gods Among Us only appears in a single cut-scene in the game itself and the first four panels of the prequel comics before being killed by Superman but it is ultimately his actions to nuke Metropolis, murdering Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen, and corrupt Superman that kickstarted the whole events of Injustice universe. Of course, there's another Joker running around, but he's from the main universe.
  • Pokémon Sun and Moon has Mohn, caretaker of the Poké Pelago islands. He's heavily implied to be the former Aether Foundation president and Lusamine's husband, who disappeared in an Ultra Wormhole years ago and was never seen again. His disappearance turned his wife into a sociopath gone cuckoo for Ultra Beasts, and thus several years of child abuse and the entire plot of the game happens as a result. And yet you'll never see him outside of Poké Pelago, which is an entirely optional feature.
  • Doug Swallow form Ace Attorney. He's a victim of a tutorial case in third game with just a few seconds of screentime. But his attempt to warn Phoenix about Dahlia is what not only saved Phoenix from Dahlia and lead to her arrest but also to Phoenix meeting Mia and becoming her apprentice which in turn made him responsible for significant part of the original trilogy.
  • Knights of the Old Republic: Trask Ulgo is dead before the end of the tutorial level, charging into a hopeless battle against Darth Bandon in order to buy the Player Character time to escape. There's a passing mention by a Hutt in game about the "Ulgo" noble house of Alderaan. Come Star Wars: The Old Republic, that incident drives almost every arc on Alderaan! A distant relative of Trask's declares himself king, and asserts Alderaan's independence from both the Republic and the Sith Empire, with Trask remembered on Alderaan as a martyr who was betrayed by both factions.
  • Kass's teacher from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. An unnamed Posthumous Character, he is responsible for teaching Kass the various songs the latter uses to guide Link in uncovering Shrines. Furthermore, a century ago he was a Hopeless Suitor for Princess Zelda who resented Link for being the object of her affections instead of him; Kass's revelation of this makes it clearer than at any other point that she was in love with Link.

  • Feferi of Homestuck. In the alpha timeline, she doesn't get up to much, aside from establishing the dreambubbles by using her connection with the Noble Circle of Horrorterrors. The Feferis from other timelines are implied to have had a much bigger impact on their timelines, with one even ascending to God Tier, but aside from that, she's a minor character.
  • Nebula: Ceres appears for only two comics and has no intelligible dialog at all, but through their actions ends up changing the status quo massively enough that afterwards Nothing Is the Same Anymore.
  • In The Order of the Stick, Fyron Pucebuckle (and his son?). Technically, Roy is trying to avenge his/their death(s), despite having never met him/them. Fyron was his father Eugene's mentor before being killed by Xykon; Eugene swore a Blood Oath of Vengeance, and after he died (of natural causes), Roy took up the duty to continue it. The thing is, in the process he discovered that Xykon is threatening the whole cosmos, so by now Fyron's death is sort of an afterthought. (Fyron himself only gets any characterization in Xykon's origin story.)
  • Stand Still, Stay Silent:
    • A couple of troll-inflicted injuries have a long-term impact on the story, while the trolls that inflicted them were killed within a chapter of being introduced.
    • Torbjörn's boss, who only appeared in a flash-back. He's the one who informed Torbjörn of just how valuable Old World books were, and made him realize how much money he could make by getting his hands on some and selling them.
    • Ensi Hotakainen, so far. To quote Onni during Lalli's My Greatest Failure flash-back:
    Onni: Grandma made one mistake, and see where that got us.

     Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • Dr. Henry Killinger has only three major appearances (with bit roles in few others) in The Venture Bros., but in each of those appearances, plays a significant role in shaping the Venture universe.
    • His first appearance in season 2's I Know Why the Caged Bird Kills has him rebuild the Monarch's organization and reunites him with Dr. Girlfriend. These events lead up to their marriage at the end of season 2 and their evil-doing abilities have gone up a a few levels ever since.
    • His second major appearance in season 3's The Doctor is Sin has him attempt to do the same thing for Doctor Venture and Venture Industries, but ultimately serves to give Venture a Heel Realization. Venture's Jerkass tendencies have been slightly lessened ever since, though he still falls into the Jerkass with a Heart of Gold category more often than not.
    • His third appearance in the pre-Season 6 one-hour special All This and Gargantua-2, has him helping to build up and expand the Revenge Society into a legitimate super villain organization. He also kills the Investors and saves the Guild of Calamitous Intent after the Sovereign tries to Kill 'em All. It's a major shakeup in the Venture universe, to be sure.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender:
    • Fire Lord Sozin was the one who started the war and Fire Lord Azulon probably did the most damage during said war, both were dead before the start of the series and got one flashback episode each, but otherwise are only occasionally mentioned.
    • The past Avatars as well, most notably Roku and Kyoshi.
  • Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated has a few:
    • Harlan Ellison. He appears in a grand total of two episodes (though he's referenced as being on vacation in a third), and the first doesn't appear to be particularly significant to the show's Myth Arc. The second? It's the show's series finale, where he proves to be instrumental to resolving the plot. After the kids rewrite reality by erasing the Evil Entity, Ellison turns out to be the only other person who remembers the old reality, thanks to his experiments in speculative fiction. The show then ends with the kids accepting an invitation to travel to Miskatonic University, where Ellison works as a professor, and planning to solve mysteries under him as the new "Mr. E".
    • Danny Darrow. He only appears in the flesh in "Escape From Mystery Manor", but he also gives the gang the very first Planespheric Disc that they ever get their hands on. And much later, it's revealed that he's the lone surviving member of the Mystery Fellowship—the direct predecessor to the first Mystery Incorporated. Danny's appearance gives us our first real idea of how long the mystery-solving organizations have really been around, and the story of his descent into madness gives us our first real glimpse of the corrupting power of the Evil Entity. Even when Danny's not directly around, Darrow University is a major location in Crystal Cove, and the site of the collapsed Darrow Mansion is considered a major Crystal Cove landmark, reminding us of the Darrow family's enduring legacy. He's important enough that we get to hear about his ultimate fate in the new timeline in the series finale, with the revelation that he grew up to be dean of Darrow College and turned his family's old mansion into a historic site.
    • Abigail Gluck. She's a Posthumous Character, and only her corpse actually appears in the flesh. But she was also the Evil Mentor to Professor Pericles, and her amoral teachings apparently led directly to his Start of Darkness in his early days, and she was the original inventor of the fearsome Kriegstaffelbots that make up the bulk of Pericles' army after he recovers her old factory. Alongside Danny Darrow, she's one of just two characters from previous mystery-solving organizations (other than the first Mystery Inc.) to play a direct role in the series.
  • Walker in Danny Phantom only appears as an antagonist three times, but he's responsible for making Danny a Hero with Bad Publicity.
    • Freakshow might have been one, had it not been for Status Quo Is God. In his second (and last) appearance, he's responsible for revealing Danny's secret identity to everyone, including Danny's parents. However, after defeating Freakshow, Danny pushed the Reset Button on everything.
  • Blue Zircon only appears in one Steven Universe-episode, but she reveals that the circumstances surrounding the death of Pink Diamond don't make sense, and voices that the most likely culprit is not Rose Quartz, but one of the other Diamonds. She is then immediately poofed by Yellow Diamond.

Alternative Title(s): Minor Role Major Impact