Stuck in Their Shadow

"Shadows are in reality, when the sun is shining, the most conspicuous thing in a landscape, next to the highest lights."
John Ruskin

One character of equal importance to the plot is pushed out of the spotlight and stuck in the shadow of another character.

Distinct from Lesser Star, where equal credit is given for unequal work. This trope is about equal work that results in unequal credit. Compare with Breakup Breakout: Two characters team up, then eventually split up. One makes it big, and the other is all but forgotten.

Compare Overshadowed by Awesome and Always Second Best where the character in the spotlight REALLY is better than the character in the shadows.


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     Anime and Manga  

  • Kotetsu T. Kaburagi/Wild Tiger serves as an example in Tiger & Bunny's Show Within a Show, HeroTV. While they do about the same amount of work as a hero team, it's Barnaby Brooks Jr. that gets all the publicity, interviews, photoshoots, fans and credit. This is taken to its logical conclusion in the thirteenth episode when Kotetsu pulls a Batman Gambit that allows Barnaby to take down Ouroboros terrorist Jake Martinez, and the public completely ignores his contribution to the fight. He's naturally a bit annoyed by this.
  • In-universe example in Berserk: despite being instrumental in many battles throughout the hundred-year-war, most of the public do not know Guts's name, or indeed that of anyone in the Band of the Hawk outside their leader, Griffith. Everyone that meets him, friend or foe, is merely pulled along by his charisma and into the currents of his own mighty dream. This eventually causes Guts to leave the group entirely, as he feels he can never truly discover himself as long as he is within Griffith's shadow.


  • Marx Brothers: Groucho and Harpo Marx have always been the most prominent names in the group. If you're lucky they may remember Chico too. The one that everyone forgets is Zeppo (though, granted he only appeared in their movies until Duck Soup (1933) and was usually the straight member.)
  • Wayne's World is named after Wayne, however, Garth is no less important in the scheme of things, gets about equal screen time, and provides just as many memorable lines.
  • An in-movie example occurs as a running gag in Monsters, Inc.. Whenever Mike appears in the media he is always covered up by something, like the barcode of a magazine or the company logo in a commercial. (Meanwhile, Sullivan is always front and center.) Whenever this happens, Mike initially appears shocked but then talks excitedly about being in print/on TV, never even noticing the unfortunate circumstances.

     Live-Action TV  

  • Monty Python's Flying Circus: Ask most people to name all the members of Monty Python and you're bound to hear John Cleese first, then Eric Idle, Michael Palin, and maybe Terry Gilliam, but Graham Chapman and to a lesser extent Terry Jones are only known primarily by Pythons' fans. There is a bit of historical irony here, because John Cleese (who formed one of the writer teams with Graham Chapman) felt that he was doing all the work and Chapman was getting all the attention.


  • As the picture above demonstrates, most people seem to think Macklemore is a solo artist, and not part of a duo. Ryan Lewis is the producer, but most people aren't sure what he does. The fact that Macklemore is the face of most of the music videos, often the only one present (if Lewis is present, he's mainly in the background), further proves this.
  • Three Tenors have sometimes been referred to as Placido Domingo, Luciano Pavarotti, and "that other guy".
  • John Deacon of Queen is usually thought of as "the other one" compared to the more outgoing, Large Ham members of the band. Actually, in almost any other band he would have been Lead Bassist (Type A), but as it happened he worked with people who just wouldn't be outdone. Still, he penned several of their big hits, and contributed enormously to the songs he didn't write: Brian May says that after his retirement, Queen lacks a kind of magic that Deacon used to bring.
  • John Entwistle of The Who, regarded by many as the greatest bass player of all time, is certainly a lot better-known than the bassists of most famous bands, but still nowhere near as famous as Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey or Keith Moon.
  • John McVie, the bassist for Fleetwood Mac, is probably the least known member of the group in spite of being half of its namesake and one of only two members who have been in the band since it started, especially compared to singer-songwriters Lindsay Buckingham, Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie, original bandleader Peter Green and co-group namer Mick Fleetwood.
  • Ask any person about who was in Nirvana and they will pretty much forget Krist Novoselic. Kurt Cobain is almost equally as famous as his own band, Dave Grohl formed Foo Fighters and escaped what would have otherwise been a fade into obscurity.
  • John Paul Jones, the bassist (noticing a theme?) of Led Zeppelin.
    • Though he did like being able to walk around cities without being recognized while the rest of the band couldn't leave their hotel room without being mobbed by fans, since most people didn't know what he looked like.
    • This is also a general philosophy of many bass players, that you should play in such a way that it provides a framework for the guitarist, singer, and keyboardist to do their stuff without distracting the audience. Essentially if you're doing your job well no one knows you're there, until you flub, disconnect from the mix, what have you, and then your absence is immediately noted. See this video of Franz Ferdinand.
  • Of "The Jackson Five", Michael Jackson was obviously the most famous. Ask who the other four members are, and most could get Jermaine, Tito, and Marlon. Poor Jackie Jackson.
  • Stephen Morris and Gillian Gilbert of New Order. Not as well known as front-man Bernard Sumner or Bassist Peter Hook, they even called their spin-off band "The Other Two."
  • On a more macro level, there's are entire swaths of musicians that aren't talked about. Who plays the instruments during a Backstreet Boys concert? Who wrote Céline Dion's hits? Who records, mixes, engineers Katy Perry and uses Auto-Tune to make people believe she can sing? What is a Record Producer? These people provide contributions to the music industry that are absolutely vital, but it's an easy bet that the average troper reading this entry hasn't once spared them a thought.
    • Electronic producers like David Guetta, Calvin Harris, Avicii, and Zedd have largely averted this by being credited on all of their hits.
    • Played straight with rapper Macklemore & his producer Ryan Lewis, to the point that many people think it's a solo act rather than a duo..
    • "Weird Al" Yankovic's band is a case where some might know, if only because it's the same since the 80s.
  • Guitarist Andy Summers and drummer Stewart Copeland of The Police were largely overshadowed by bassist/singer/songwriter Sting. Oddly enough, whilst they didn't receive the same individual credit, the band as a whole was far more popular than Sting's solo career.
  • Operatic librettists. Traditionally, operas were written in two stages: a librettist would write the libretto (Italian: little book) containing the script and lyrics, and then basically hawk it out to a composer, who would set the whole thing to music. Also traditionally, the composer would be listed as the creator of the work, with the librettist listed as a secondary figure, and usually known only to opera buffs. There are only two well-known exceptions to this: W. S. Gilbert of Gilbert and Sullivan, and Richard Wagner, who wrote his own librettos.
  • Aerosmith is divided by fans into the Toxic Twins (frontman Steven Tyler and lead guitarist Joe Perry) and the Less Interesting Three or LI3 (rhythm guitarist Brad Whitford, bassist Tom Hamilton and drummer Joey Kramer).
  • Art Garfunkel of Simon & Garfunkel, to the point of being the former Trope Namer for Lesser Star. It was renamed to keep Real Life examples off the page, but it's just as well because Garfunkel wasn't actually an example of that trope, but rather this one—and, even then, mostly by virtue of Paul Simon's Breakup Breakout.
  • Alex Lifeson of Rush is as talented at Neil Peart and Geddy Lee but still gets this. A rare example of the lead guitarist being less memorable than the drummer and bassist.
  • Nearly everyone who's performed with Eric Clapton. Ginger Baker of Cream has somewhat escaped this, and Steve Winwood and Duane Allman are famous for other projects as well, but most of the others are mostly known for performing with Clapton, despite often being quite talented in their own right. (Ironically, Jack Bruce of Cream was better known than Clapton during the band's initial period of activity, but Clapton had a massive Breakup Breakout).
  • To an extext, Pantera bassist Rex Brown is often forgotten among his former band-mates, becoming specially obscure after the break-up of Pantera, as he did not side with either Phil Anselmo nor Dimebag Darrell and Vinnie Paul in their feud.
  • Rage Against the Machine has an excellent, almost jazzy rhythm section in Tim Commerford and Brad Wilk; however, they are both largely overshadowed by Zack de la Rocha, who in turn is overshadowed by Tom Morello, primarily due to Morello's incredibly innovative guitar playing style and remaining in the spotlight through Audioslave whereas de la Rocha faded into obscurity.
  • Jermaine Jackson and Kelly Rowland both found success as solo artists following the dissolution of their respective groups only to be completely overshadowed by a fellow [[Music/Beyonce ex-bandmate]]. In fact, while Michael and Beyoncé are more recognized for their solo work than as part of a group, Jermaine and Rowland are famous in the exact opposite way.
  • The 2010s saw a massive revival of teen heartthrobs and boy bands in the pop music world. Dozens and dozens have aimed for commercial success, but only three have actually hit superstardom: Canadian pop-R&B singer Justin Bieber, British-Irish boy band quintet One Direction, and Australian pop-punk group Five Seconds Of Summer. Compare that to the glut of acts who have fallen flat on their face in their attempts to break through: JLS, Mindless Behavior, Cody Simpson, Greyson Chance, Jacob Latimore, Big Time Rush, The Wanted, Union J, District 3, Emblem3, Midnight Red, IM 5, Austin Mahone, Conor Maynard, Jake Miller, The Vamps, Rixton, Shawn Mendes, and Troye Sivan, just to name a few.
  • Lady Gaga's decline in popularity, going from being the proclaimed "Queen of Pop" to just another act who's only known for "being weird", had this as the exact cause in 2013. After the massive success of Born This Way she took a two year break, but when she was supposed to make her return to rule, she fell flat on her face. Simply put, between Miley Cyrus shocking the world with her "good girl gone bad" act in the summer, Lorde taking the world by storm in the fall, Beyoncé ruling the winter with her surprise album, and Katy Perry continuing her success throughout, Gaga simply couldn't find room to generate any buzz. Considering that her whole appeal relies entirely on buzz, that is very bad. The meteoric rise of Ariana Grande, Iggy Azalea, And Meghan Trainor, and Taylor Swift's successful transition to pure pop was the final nail in the coffin. She's no longer the "Queen of Pop", she's just a former pop-star who can't catch a break.
  • Hollywood Undead has J-Dog, Charlie Scene, and Danny (the ones everyone can name) competing for Face of the Band. Deuce fit too, before he left and was replaced by the latter. It's a safe bet that Funny Man and Johnny 3 Tears get their dues too, but what about that sixth member that almost never provides lead vocals? That's Da Kurlzz, who many people can't name.
  • Linkin Park to many people is lead vocalist/metal screamer Chester Bennington, rapper/multi-instrumentalist Mike Shinoda, and four other guys. Guitarist Brad Delson may get recognition, if only for the Funny Afro (despite the fact that he co-founded the band), while turntablist Joe "Mr." Hahn was a pretty well known in their earlier days for his DJ scratches but today is just in the background. As for drummer Rob Bourdon and bassist Dave "Phoenix" Farrell? Not so much.
  • Haim is a pop-rock girl band centered around sisters Alana, Danielle, and Este Haim. But who's that one guy you see drumming in background at their concerts? That's Dash Hutton, their unrelated friend. Despite being an official member, he's rarely seen in promotional material.
  • Sleigh Bells has Derek E. Miller who plays all the instruments, produces the albums, writes the songs, and basically does all the heavy lifting, but is completely overshadowed by Alexis Krauss, who only sings. This is a bit odd, since the band is well-known for the amazing instrumentation used to create all sorts of wild sounds. Having a Ms. Fanservice as the lead singer can count for a lot.
  • Mark Ronson is a very successful producer in the UK, but never had a hit in the US until 2014/15 with "Uptown Funk!". Unfortunately, outside the UK he was completely stuck in the shadow of its featured vocalist, global pop superstar Bruno Mars, and it's universally seen as his song rather than Ronson's. His name is literally a footnote, and even the music video put all attention on Mars with Ronson only making cameos. The situation got so bad to the point that the song's parent album, Uptown Special was a colossal failure outside the UK and Ronson never set foot on a non-British singles chart again. (A similar situation has happened with the Amy Winehouse-sung "Valerie", although it was nowhere near as bad as with "Uptown Funk!")
  • Nickelodeon's Victorious was meant to be a vehicle that would launch the music career of its star Victoria Justice. It certainly launched a music career alright, just not hers. Instead, supporting actress Ariana Grande started a massively successful career as a pop sensation, producing numerous hits and platinum albums. Her meteoric rise to fame has completely eclipsed Justice (and the other five cast members), and her whole Nickelodeon roots for that matter. In fact, she's easily the biggest celebrity Nickelodeon has ever produced in its entire existence.

     Professional Wrestling  

  • Pedro Morales is one of the biggest stars of his era and the first Latin American to win a "recognized" World title. Unfortunately, Bruno Sammartino was also in his era and Morales was never truly accepted as a worthy successor by the World Wrestling Federation fans. This wasn't such a big deal at the time, but as the WWF systematically destroyed every other territory it could, it retroactively made Pedro being in Bruno's shadow in one territory have more impact on his image.
  • Marty Jannetty: Following the breakout of the Rockers, Shawn Michaels would go on to become a future WWE Hall of Famer and win multiple championships while Janetty would fade into obscurity.
  • Tarzan Goto is considered one of the founding fathers of FMW but was simply unable to draw without Atsushi Onita's help, leading him to job in attempts to build credibility in younger wrestlers, giving them a chance to draw whenever Onita wasn't around. Goto would go on to run his own "Shin" FMW shows in an attempt to become a top draw himself.
  • As a singles wrestler Kyle O'Reilly's Ring of Honor career has often been derisively compared to his former Tag Team partners Davey Richards and Adam Cole. As a tag team wrestler however, he's found much more success with Bobby Fish as reDRagon than he ever did riding either of their coattails.
  • Ted DiBiase, Jr: Was initially labeled the breakout star of Legacy but instead Cody Rhodes would go on to become one of the longest reigning Intercontinental Champions as well as one of the WWE's top heels. DiBiase, on the other hand was relegated to WWE Superstars territory.
  • The first lucador CMLL gave the Mistico gimmick to became the undisputed top draw in not only the promotion but the entire nation, with strong arguments that he was the breakout star of the planet. That argument fell apart when his success in Latin America and Asia was followed up by the disastrous Sin Cara gimmick in WWE, which coincided with CMLL trying again by giving the Místico gimmick to Dragon Lee, who merely drew decent critical response and financial gain. The Dragon Lee gimmick in turn went to a rookie luchador who took everyone by surprise and became one of CMLL's foremost stars, leaving the first Dragon Lee stuck in two shadows.


     Video Games  

  • Diddy Kong from the original Donkey Kong Country. He can do everything Donkey Kong can do, with the exception of defeating a specific kind of enemy (Krusha), and is even far superior in some aspects such as running faster, swimming more precisely, and making long jumps better. You could beat the entire game playing as Diddy alone and probably have an easier time of it. However, canonically, he's Donkey Kong's "wannabe sidekick" and didn't get his chance to shine until the sequel Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest, where he was in turn overshadowed by his newbie companion...
    • Dixie Kong in Diddy's Kong Quest may be a little slower than her boyfriend, but other than that barely-noticeable detail, she surpasses him in every way. Not only is she a more precise jumper and swimmer, she can do the famous ponytail twirl, wherein she hovers to the ground slowly by using her long ponytail as a propeller. This game is a little fairer because it makes it crucial to play as either one character or the other at specific times, but it may also be worth mentioning that in her own game Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong's Double Trouble!, she was not surpassed by Kiddy Kong.
  • Banjo-Kazooie is a little weird about this. Ask anyone who the star is, and most will say it's Banjo, even though the titles of three out of five games also include his partner Kazooie. The second game, Banjo Tooie, opts for a silly title pun instead of recognizing the second lead's name (it's even lampshaded by Kazooie herself at the end of the first game), and Banjo Kazooie Grunty's Revenge mentions her name although she isn't in it for the first few worlds. Indeed, in the first two games, Kazooie's the one doing the majority of attacking and acrobatics when the two are teamed up, with Banjo mostly just doing the walking around and (in the first game) the Claw Swipe and Roll (the second game replaced the Claw Swipe with another attack by Kazooie and had Kazooie assist with the Roll).
  • Being stuck in the shadow of his father Cao Cao has been Cao Pi's story path since his debut in Dynasty Warriors 5; he doesn't get a break even in the crossover game, as the warriors of Wei are still more loyal to Cao Cao (who is outright presumed dead until near the end of the plot) than to him in the first game, and he has to share an uneasy spotlight with his father in the sequel (though in the final battle Cao Cao does officially hand the baton over).
  • Luigi has incorporated this into his character. Initially a Palette Swap of Mario, even after he underwent Divergent Character Evolution he failed to get a starring role in anything except the Luigi's Mansion series and the poorly received Mario is Missing!. The canon now portrays him to be just competent as his brother (albeit significantly more cowardly), but perpetually ignored for his contributions.
  • Thanks to Dissidia: Final Fantasy, Xande has become this in favor of Cloud of Darkness. This is despite Xande was the Big Bad for most of the game, while Cloud of Darkness was a Giant Space Flea from Nowhere that didn't appear to have much involvement until the very end.

     Web Original  

  • The FreddieW videos are made by both Freddie Wong and Brandon Laatsch, though Brandon's less heard of because Freddie's name is on the channel and stars in most of the videos.

     Western Animation  

  • The Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies Road Runner cartoons have an incredibly blatant example. It's all about Wile E. Coyote and his ridiculous plans for catching and eating the bird. He probably gets three times as much screen time as the Road Runner in every cartoon.
  • In both the book and film versions of Who Framed Roger Rabbit, the story focuses more on the human detective, Eddie Valiant. In the book, he was Eddie's shifty client, and although he was pivotal to the story, the focus was clearly on Eddie and his investigations. In the movie, Roger gets the plot rolling, but after that his job consists mostly of hanging around with Eddie and acting goofy. Even in his cartoons in-universe, Roger gets second billing behind Baby Herman, even though (like Wile E.) he gets the lion's share of the laughs. Never more blatant than when he saves Eddie's life (if only momentarily) at the Gag Factory, then drops right back down to "goofy" again without so much as a thank-you on Eddie's part - although his wife, Jessica, whom he also saved, at least gives him some of the respect he's desperately been trying to earn.
  • In-universe example from Avatar: The Last Airbender: despite that he is the eldest child and heir to the throne, Zuko is constantly overlooked by his father in favor of his obscenely talented younger sister. This becomes one of the main driving forces of his personality within the show.
    • However, in a trope reversal, we discover though Character Development that Azula thinks she's stuck in Zuko's shadow when it comes to their mother's love. It's the driving force behind Azula's negative actions towards her brother and the reason why she has a mental breakdown in the end.

     Real Life  

  • Frank James, Jesse James's brother, has become relatively obscure in modern culture and exists largely in Jesse's shadow, even though the two were equally infamous in the old West and committed their criminal acts as a pair. It turns out an alliterative name counts for a lot.
  • Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels penned The Communist Manifesto together, but Marx is the only one directly associated with it (with Marxism being another name for communism), while Engels is unknown to many who don't study Marxism.
    • Engels is somewhat better known in the UK for his seminal work On The Condition Of The Working Classes In England, which was the first serious academic survey of urban living conditions in the age of industrialisation. It took forty years for anyone to get around to an English translation, but it was still relevant enough to influence a lot of British political and economic reformists well into the 1920s.
  • After one of the authors of Off-White became a real life example of this trope, they tried to avert this by doing things like alternately posting pages on both their deviantart accounts.
  • Many kids with older siblings tend to feel this way, sometimes into adulthood.
  • Ever heard of Christian Friedrich Henrici (aka Picander, his pseudonym), the lyricist for Johann Sebastian Bach's cantatas? Chances are even those who are into Bach's music haven't heard of him. Picander (as he is known on The Other Wiki) wrote the lyrics for many of Bach's religious and secular cantatas, yet he is obscure to all but the most learned Bach scholars. Part of the reason why he is so unknown is because it is general practice to attribute a classical work to the one who has composed the music; hence, Picander is unknown while Bach is always in the spotlight.
    • Bach also had composers create the melody line for each cantata movement; Bach would then create the actual music for the movement based on that melody. Such melody composers remain even more obscure than Picander.
  • Was the story of New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning, compared to his highly praised older brother, Peyton Manning. That was before he led the Giants to two Super Bowl victories over Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, the first when the Patriots were undefeated and at the peak of their team's prime. Now Peyton Manning, who only won one Super Bowl, is desperately trying to catch up.
    • It should be noted that no serious fan of the game considers Eli to be superior to Peyton. He has made a name for himself, yes, but a careful observer would notice that the Giants' defense performed far better in their runs than the Colts' ever did, bailing out Eli when he laid up the occasional stinker of a game, whereas Peyton has constantly had to carry his teams by himself.
    • It doesn't help that ever since the younger Manning won his second Super Bowl, he's played horribly inconsistently.
  • Everyone who is familiar with Dungeons & Dragons (and many who aren't) knows who Gary Gygax is. You'd have to look harder to find someone familiar with Dave Arneson, despite him being more influential in creating the tabletop RPG (he was the one who had the idea in the first place and wrote the original rules set; Gygaxnote  helped develop the rules, did most of the work necessary for publishing the game, and knew someone (Brian Blume) who could fund the venture). It seems to have gotten a bit better after Arneson's death, though.
  • Lauren Faust gets way more credit from fans of The Powerpuff Girls and Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends than her husband Craig McCracken, and he made the shows, she just worked on them.
  • The 2012 United States Olympic Women's Gymnastics team. Jordyn Wieber, Aly Raisman, and Kyla Ross did not gain nearly as much publicity as Gabby Douglas and McKayla Maroney (the former for her actual gymnastic accomplishments and the latter because of an internet meme.)
    • Same deal with the 2008 team. Shawn Johnson and Nastia Liukin pretty badly overshadowed the rest of the squad. Alicia Sacramone remains a gymternet favorite, but Chellsie Memmel, Samantha Peszek, and Bridget Sloan are almost entirely forgotten by all but the hardcore fans.
    • Find someone who isn't a lifelong gym fan and ask them to name all members of Atlanta's Magnificent Seven. Their response will probably be, "Dominique Moceanu, Shannon Miller, Dominique Dawes, that one girl who hurt her ankle, and.... uh...." Poor, poor Amanda Borden, Jaycie Phelps, and Amy Chow.
  • The 2014 Nobel Peace Prize was won by Malala Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi, but it was the former who got all the media attention as the latter was ignored.
  • Chiwetel Ejiofor starred in the movie 12 Years a Slave but got overshadowed by his co-star Lupita Nyong'o.