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Billing Displacement

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Leprechaun cover, pre- and post- Jennifer Aniston's career taking off.
"When released, Warwick Davis (of Willow and 'third Ewok from the left' fame) was the closest thing Leprechaun had to an actual celebrity... Less than a year later, their token eye candy actress Jennifer Aniston made good and landed a network sitcom. The show was kind of a hit, and by the final season of Friends, Aniston was earning the entire budget of Leprechaun per episode. On the new DVD cover, she finally got co-billing with the midget in scare makeup and tights."
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The tendency of a film to be retroactively linked in the public mind with the biggest name in the film or be marketed as "starring" the biggest name, even if that actor is not the main character (at least from the filmmakers' point of view), and occasionally even if his or her character is very minor indeed.

There are several reasons why this might happen: drumming up a newly famous actor to help advertise the movie, a famous actor given a supporting role (Stunt Casting) to help sell the movie, or a secondary or supporting role gaining more hype than the main role which requires a change in publicity (Ensemble Dark Horse). Sometimes the actual lead actor gets an "And Starring" credit. In extreme cases the actor playing the principal character isn't even mentioned on the poster.

A variation is caused by the repackaging of an older movie with a then obscure, now famous actor prominently advertised. This happened to Satisfaction (1988) which, after Pretty Woman made her famous, was repackaged as Girls of Summer "starring" Julia Roberts and featuring a small appearance by Justine Bateman (who, for those who don't get the joke, was in 1988 a major figure as a co-star in Family Ties but is today better known as Jason's sister) as the lead character.

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Seeing as this is becoming very common, only include examples of where the role is substantially smaller than the actor's billing would suggest, not just where they're not the main protagonist. In an Ensemble feature, this is partially justified provided they are part of the main ensemble and not just a cameo.

In music, it is not uncommon for certain songs to be more associated with a featured guest singer than its official lead artist. Common causes for this include the lead artist being a producer or instrumentalist whereas the guest is providing vocals, a rap song whose chorus is sung by a superstar guest, or just the guest artist being so much more famous than the lead.

Compare Billed Above the Title, Spotlight-Stealing Title, and Wolverine Publicity, where a popular character is deliberately added for the sole purpose of selling a product, whether or not the character is actually relevant to the story. Also compare Award Category Fraud, where a minor role is given an award for a major one, or vice versa.

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Examples:

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    Anime 
  • In the Dragon Ball Z movie Lord Slug, Slug's henchman Zeeun appears in most of the posters and promotion material, although in the actual movie he only appears in one scene near the beginning where he accidentally insults his boss's age, causing Slug to kill him with an energy blast.
  • Cammy is shown alongside Ryu, Ken, and Chun-Li on most of the promotional imagery for Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie (including the Japanese flyer), despite the fact that she has a total screen-time of less than five minutes. Her only notable scene in the entire movie involves her assassinating a British politician while under the influence of mind control.

    Comic Books 
  • One of the covers for Convergence #3 has Thomas Wayne in desperate combat with several Bat villains including a prominently displayed Una Nemo who looks about to stab him. She is so prominent that she and Wayne are the only characters who appear on the smaller banner ads for the issue on Comixology. In the issue itself she is part of the gang that attack Wayne (and is presumably killed when he blows himself up) but has no lines, no close up and the only way the reader can even tell it is her because of her unique look.
  • When NYX was released, X-23 was an Ensemble Dark Horse on X-Men: Evolution, but otherwise largely unknown outside that fandom. She became a Canon Immigrant with this series as a minor character (she doesn't appear until the third issue, and her total lines of dialog could be counted on one hand), and her popularity exploded from there. Later, when NYX was collected in trade paperback, guess who was prominently displayed on the cover at the expense of the series's actual protagonist, Kiden Nixon?
  • The Models, Inc. limited series is a murder mystery starring Marvel's various model characters, most proeminently Millie the Model, but one of those, Patsy Walker, doesn't get a cover - most damningly, #3 falls in to Wolverine Publicity showing Mary Jane Watson, who only appears at the start of the issue! Then there's an alternate cover showcasing Tim Gunn of Project Runway fame, who only appears in a single back-up story that has nothing to do with the actual plot.
  • In general, many instances of Wolverine Publicity fall under this trope. It's extremely common for comic covers to prominently feature an image of a popular guest-starring hero, even if said hero's role in the issue is extremely minor.

    Comic Strips 
  • Parodied in a FoxTrot storyline published the week Return of the King came out: Because Orlando Bloom is in it, Paige thinks the movie is all about him and mistakenly believes the actual plot of the movie is filler.

    Film — Animated 
  • Brave averts with the protagonist, given Kelly Macdonald (Merida) is still the first. But the follow-up isn't Emma Thompson (Queen Elinor, Merida's mother), the second most proeminent character, but Billy Connolly (King Fergus, Merida's father). Though Thompson's speaking part is reduced throughout the movie given Elinor spends most of it turned into a bear.
  • Ads for the film Despicable Me give Miranda Cosgrove second billing (possibly to appeal to the film's target audience). In the actual film, she is billed fifth (behind Steve Carell, Jason Segel, Russell Brand and Kristen Wiig) despite being an important character.
  • For Epic Amanda Seyfried is billed third despite voicing the main character. Though this decision could have something to do with Seyfried having been on a box office cold streak during production.
  • Frozen: Non-Human Sidekick Olaf, who first appears (alive) halfway into the movie, is easily the most visible character on the main poster, while the leads are buried in snow. The DVD switches the focus to Elsa, who gets half the cover despite her being an offscreen presence for most of the second act. In both cases, the film's lead, Anna, is the least noticeable character. Another DVD cover shows only Elsa.
  • In the animated movie Heidi's Song Sammy Davis Jr. receives second billing even though his role is very minor, only appearing as a singing rat who appears near the end.
  • Nicki Minaj and Drake's names appear in trailers and posters of Ice Age: Continental Drift despite having very small roles as part of a mammoth pack. Meanwhile, Wanda Sykes, Keke Palmer, Peter Dinklage and Josh Gad are left off of the marketing despite having sizable roles (Sykes having perhaps the biggest part outside of the three leads).
  • Dustin Hoffman is billed third in Kung Fu Panda 2, even though he only appears at the very beginning and end and doesn't do much more than break two minor characters out of prison off screen. Gary Oldman, the movie's main antagonist is billed fourth while Michelle Yeoh's soothsayer, despite being the main driving force behind both Shen and Po's character's is billed tenth.
  • The DTV film My Little Pony: Equestria Girls – Rainbow Rocks has all its advertising focus on Twilight Sparkle and the rest of the Humane Six fighting the villains. While they obviously play a role in the movie's plot, the actual protagonist is Sunset Shimmer, who doesn't appear at all in the posters or most trailers, despite most of the story following her POV and her redemption story being the central element.
  • The advertising for My Little Pony: The Movie (2017) heavily billed Sia, despite her character Songbird Serenade barely appearing in the movie and being completely unnecessary to the plot. Even the cover to the movie depicts the Mane Seven, the allies who help them save the day, the Big Bad, his dragon and henchman, and Songbird Serenade. It's especially ironic as Sia herself is uncomfortable with public attention and wears her iconic hair to hide her face.
  • The promotional poster for Planes has the main antagonist Ripslinger closest to the front while Rusty, the actual hero of the film, is behind him. This is averted on the cover of the DVD and Blu-ray, where Dusty is properly positioned on the front while Ripslinger is to his right.
  • Ratchet & Clank has not only five actors listed before the first actor from the games, the first of these actors is Armin Shimerman, who plays Dr. Nefarious. James Arnold Taylor (Ratchet) and David Kaye (Clank) are billed at ninth and tenth.
  • Toy Story 3: The villainous Lotso is so significant to the movie that having Ned Beatty billed fourth rather than second or third behind Woody (Tom Hanks) doesn't seem right. While most would probably say that Buzz (Tim Allen) should stay at second, it's debated that Jessie (Joan Cusack) probably should have been billed fourth, not third.

    Literature 
  • Connor in Assassin's Creed: Forsaken. He is right at the front prominently displayed, despite only appearing for a few chapters near the end. Main character Haytham is a blurry image in the background.

    Music 
  • Mike Will Made-It nearly went top 10 on the Hot 100 with "23", almost entirely on the back of Miley Cyrus's post-VMA hype.
    • Miley's guest appearance as even a backing vocalist on a hit song released by a (relatively) unknown rapper, producer or in Borgore's case, dubstep artist seems to generate most of the publicity for the songnote  to the point it more-or-less is considered a Miley song by the public.
  • Bizarrely, "Coming Home" by Diddy-Dirty Money is mostly associated with Skylar Grey, despite her being virtually unknown and Diddy a superstar.
  • "Control" by Big Sean is primarily known as a Kendrick Lamar song due to his infamous attack verse in the middle of the song.
  • Songs by EDM performers that have a guest vocalist are a good place for this trope in action:
    • Pretty much any David Guetta song featuring a famous guest vocalist is predominantly associated with said vocalist. "Sexy Chick"? Akon. "Without You"? That's Usher. "Turn Me On" and "Hey Mama"? Those are by Nicki Minaj. "Titanium" initially averted this, as guest vocalist Sia was generally unknown at the time. When she became more popular on her own the song quickly became associated with her.
    • Calvin Harris' hits, aside from the ones he sings on his own or those with an obscure vocalist (i.e. John Newman on "Blame"), also qualify.
  • "The Hanging Tree" by James Newton Howard featuring Jennifer Lawrence. When the song charted in the Hot 100 in late 2014, the entire media, including Billboard themselves, hyped up Lawrence getting her first charting song, and relegated Howard, a highly prolific composer also making his chart debut, to a mere footnote.
    • Though Howard being credited is itself Billing Displacement, as while it's seen as part of his score he didn't compose the song (the Suzanne Collins lyrics as published in Mockingjay were set to music by The Lumineers' Jeremiah Fraites and Wesley Schultz).
  • "I Need A Doctor" may have become Dr. Dre's biggest hit since the 1990s, but the song is generally more associated with Eminem.
  • "La La La" and "Latch" are, at least in North America, better known as Sam Smith songs than as hits by Naughty Boy and Disclosure, respectively. In Europe, particularly the UK, both acts are much more successful, with Disclosure having had two other top 10 hits and a #1 album. And although Naughty Boy hasn't had another big worldwide hit, its success predated Smith's own breakout and is remembered on its own merit.
  • "Lighters" is an interesting case. Most people are aware of Eminem being on the song, and that Bruno Mars sings the chorus, but few people aside from Eminem's biggest fans know who the other rapper is (that would be Royce da 5'9") or that it's actually a song by the Eminem-Royce duo Bad Meets Evil.
  • The 2008 song "Live Your Life" was overwhelmingly seen as a Rihanna song in the eyes of most listeners, despite the fact that T.I. reached #1 with parent album Paper Trail and was coming off the success of "Whatever You Like."
  • The only reason "Lolly" was able to go Top 20 on the Hot 100 was because Justin Bieber was a featured artist. Maejor Ali, the official lead artist, had almost no pull in the song's success.
    • Similarly, "Where Are U Now" by Jack U, "Cold Water" by Major Lazer, and "Let Me Love You" by DJ Snake only became Top 10 hits because of Bieber being the lead singer.
  • As time went on, "Nothin' on You" and "Billionaire" have become more and more associated with Bruno Mars, as his career launched into the stratosphere, and less and less with respective lead artists B.o.B. and Travie McCoy.
    • This seems to be happening now with "Uptown Funk!" It's actually by Mark Ronson featuring Mars, but most Americans have never heard of Ronson before and think of it as a Mars song.
  • "Scream & Shout" took off in America thanks to Britney Spears and The X Factor. will.i.am was starting to fade to irrelevancy at that point, so he wasn't really responsible for the song's success. He wasn't overshadowed as badly in Europe, though.
  • "Take Care" is the title track to Drake's second studio album and its biggest hit. It's better recognized as a Rihanna song.
    • Drake's been at the other end of the spectrum as well. "Tuesday" by I Love Makonnen featured a guest verse from Drake. Google search trends make it clear that the public mostly identifies it with Drake.
  • Brian Jones Presents the Pipes of Pan at Jajouka. He only produced it, but he doesn't appear anywhere on the actual album; the project was performed entirely by the Master Musicians of Jajouka, a Moroccan folk group.
  • This happens in music videos at times. For Coldplay's video "Magic", actress Zhang Ziyi and director Jonas Akerlund were billed before the title.
  • The 2000 single "Out Of Your Mind" by True Steppers featuring Dane Bowers and Victoria Beckham (the subject of a much-publicised UK "chart battle" with Spiller's "Groovejet", which it lost), was generally at the time and almost universally now, thought of purely as a Victoria Beckham single.
  • "Meant to Be" by Bebe Rexha topped the Hot Country Songs charts in December 2017 simply because Florida Georgia Line is featured on it. The song had negligible country radio airplay at the time, but strong all-genre downloads and the presence of a country music act on guest vocals allowed Billboard to qualify it for the country charts. Subverted in 2018 when the song was actually released to country radio, causing it to become a #1 hit on Country Airplay as well.
  • Originally, Tracy Lawrence's 2007 hit "Find Out Who Your Friends Are" was a solo song, and it performed slowly on the charts due to it being an independent release by a former 90s act who was already well past his prime. But after he remixed the song to feature both Tim McGraw and Kenny Chesney on guest vocals, it started taking off and became his first #1 hit in eleven years. In addition, virtually all recurrent play for the song is the version with McGraw and Chesney on it.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • Posters for upcoming pay-per-view events will often feature one of the most popular Divas (WWE) or Knockouts (TNA) as mascots for the event, even if the woman in question never appears in the show at all. The worst case was when Candice Michelle posed on the poster for the 2007 edition of Cyber Sunday, despite the fact that she'd injured her neck a few weeks earlier and wasn't seen in WWE again for several months.
    • Although there was justification for that because posters are made several months in advance, so of course an injury to an advertised superstar kinda renders that poster moot. Still falls under the trope when someone like Maria Kanellis would appear on a show's poster but not on the show itself because there's no place or story for them; these posters are simply for eye-candy.
  • Semi-justified (and even a kind of Fridge Brilliance) in the case of the poster for the 2006 Royal Rumble. It showed the entire McMahon family - Vince, Shane, Stephanie, even Linda - dressed as Roman patricians in the Colosseum (other than the fact that the event was being held in Miami, Florida, one of the most "Latin" cities in the United States, the ancient Roman motif wasn't really relevant). As it happens, Vince and Shane do make an appearance during the Rumble match, conspiring to eliminate Shawn Michaels from the contest - but Edge, John Cena, Kurt Angle, Mark Henry, and Royal Rumble winner Rey Mysterio were certainly more important.
  • The Undertaker appears on the Armageddon 1999 poster, a pay per view he didn't even attend.
    • Obviously more understandable in a wrestling context than most of the other examples on this page, promotional items are printed months in advance and in examples like the above plans change due to injures such as the one the Undertaker suffered in the run up to the Armageddon PPV.

    Theatre 
  • The King and I was originally conceived as a star vehicle for Gertrude Lawrence, who got top billing (and note that the show's title is "The King and I"). It's probably for the better that Yul Brynner was so memorable as the King, as Lawrence died during the original Broadway run.
  • Al Pacino in a recent run of The Merchant of Venice on Broadway.
    • To be fair though, the order that parts are listed in the Folios for all of Shakespeare's plays are a little odd.
    • The usual method is to divide characters by gender and then list them by social prominence. So if there's a king who only appears in one scene and your main character is a merchant, the king gets top billing.
  • The Phantom of the Opera almost always bills the actor playing the Phantom first and gives him the final bow, despite the fact that Christine is clearly the protagonist, is on stage for nearly the entire show, and in most productions, the actress playing her does only six of the eight shows a week due to the demanding nature of the part.

    Video Games 
  • A lot of hype was given to Patrick Stewart appearing in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. He dies at the end of the tutorial mission.
    • Many critics felt the same way about Liam Neeson in Fallout 3. While he lasts longer than Patrick Stewart's Emperor Septim, he appears in surprisingly few missions and dies before the main quest is half over.
    • In both cases, it was considered Worth It by the fans, especially so for Neeson, whose character performs a Heroic Sacrifice
  • In Grand Theft Auto IV, Timothy Adams got third billing as Brucie Kibbutz, who has no involvement in the main plot of the game.
  • You can expect FMV Games to do this whenever there is a Hollywood-level actor on-screen even for a couple of minutes. Some examples include:
    • Black Dahlia, which has Dennis Hopper in a small role.
    • Under a Killing Moon prominently displays the three best-known professional actors involved on the back of the box, though they all have little screentime. These are all relatively minor celebrities, such as Margot Kidder, who is best known for playing Lois Lane in the four consecutive Supermanmovies.
    • Ripper put Christopher Walken, Karen Allen, Burgess Meredith, and John Rhys-Davies on the cover art, none of whom portrayed the main character. Scott Cohen, the protagonist of the game, is billed fifth in the ending credits.
  • A lot of attention was given to the fact that the Mean Girls Nintendo DS game (which was most likely cancelled at the last minute, at least in America) left Lindsay Lohan - who played the main character - off the cover art, showing just the original Plastics. Lohan is a big name, just not in a good way.
  • Fi in The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword gets what is essentially top billing, being featured prominently on the cover and in promotional materials. While she is a major presence, she's really just an Exposition Fairy who has little bearing on the plot, unlike Midna in Twilight Princess.
  • DC Universe Online has three possible mentors for both heroes and villains. On the hero side, it's Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. On the villain side, it's the Joker, Lex Luthor, and Circe. Again, the box shows the mentors. Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Joker, Lex Luthor... and Catwoman.
  • Knights of the Old Republic: The second game has Darth Nihilus dominating the cover. Unfortunately, he only appears in two scenes and contributed little to the game's plot!
    • Atris is in a similar position to Nihilus. In promotional art she even appeared literally opposite of him, both as the counterpart face of the Lightside of the Force on the official site and elsewhere, and shown doing battle with him in a couple of art pieces. On the cover, she is also shown battling a random Sith assassin. However, not only does she also have only two or three major appearances, but in none of those appearances does she battle Nihilus or any Sith whatsoever. In fact, ironically enough, she actually serves as more of an obstacle to the Player Character in those brief appearances that she does make, and in her last appearance, it turns out she had been corrupted by the Darkside of the Force, and briefly serves as a full-fledge minor antagonist.
  • Final Fantasy XIII-2: Lightning, the protagonist of XIII, was featured very heavily in the promotion of the game. Heck, she's also on the front cover of the OST and all regional box art, has dozens of posters, was featured in almost every trailer (in fact, she was the focus of the announcement trailer), etc. How much screen time does she have? She's in the intro (about 20 minutes including gameplay), she narrates here and there, and she makes a few appearances throughout the rest of the game making for a total of 30 minutes of screen time with a bit of narration. Meanwhile, Serah (her sister) is billed as the main protagonist (Lightning is actually billed last on the credit roll) along with her companion, Noel. It is these two whom you see for a majority of the cutscenes and who you play as for 99% of the game.
  • Although Resident Evil 6 features an ensemble cast of protagonists, Leon S. Kennedy gets the most focus in promotional ads. Some have argued that three of the playable characters being new, Sherry came back after being seen in an earlier game from 1998, and Chris being recently seen in Resident Evil 5 and Resident Evil: Revelations have put Leon in the top spot because Leon is the most recognizable and prominent of the Resident Evil cast, by dint of his rather distinguishable look and starring in two of the most financially and critically successful games in the series. But it's unnerving, given that 6 is the first game that features Leon and Chris together.
  • Mickey is at the first plan on the cover of Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days. In game, he only appears in one short cutscene.
  • Dissidia Final Fantasy has a big Ensemble Cast of Final Fantasy heroes, with every hero of roughly equal importance to the story (with the closest character to being a protagonist actually the Warrior of Light from the original, Final Fantasy I). However, the ending credits list Cloud and Sephiroth's names first, due to their game being the fan favourite; and then lists all the others in numerical order.
  • The boxart for Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure puts the titular character to the right side of the group lineup while Stealth Elf takes dead center.
  • Despite not portraying one of the game's eight playable protagonists, Peter Stormare is billed second in Until Dawn, below Hayden Panettiere (the most recognisable member of the cast and playing the character with the most Plot Armor, since Sam is not in mortal danger until the final act); fourth-billed Brett Dalton plays Mike, who gets more screen time than anyone else.
  • While Kevin Spacey does portray an important character in Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, he gets top billing over literally everyone else in the cast. In fact, in the credits, only Spacey is listed by the character he portrayed. Troy Baker, who plays the game's protagonist, is dead last in the credits.
  • In Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fueled, Tiny Tiger has been moved up from fifth in the original game to third in the new character select, likely due to his popularity as a Speed-class character.

    Western Animation 
  • The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes!:
    • Amazon's listing for the sixth and final volume the American DVD releases gives top billing to the Incredible Hulk, who only appears in two of the twelve included episodes.
    • Their listings for the first four volumes give top billing to voice actors instead of fictional characters, but never to Iron Man's voice actor, Eric Loomis.
  • A bit of an odd example in Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law: the episode "The Dabba Don", a parody that imagines The Flintstones as The Sopranos, had an opening credits sequence that parodied the Sopranos opening. Barney Rubble gets second placement in the credits, despite only appearing in one cameo scene and the Twist Ending. Given said Twist Ending reveals he's the real mafia boss and not Fred, it makes a little more sense. Conversely, Harvey Birdman, despite being the title character of the series, and being co-protagonist alongside Fred Flintstone, only gets fifth billing. Phil Ken Sebben (who only appears in one scene), and Peanut (who's Harvey's assistant) get higher billing than him.
  • On Llama Llama, Jennifer Garner, as the Celebrity Voice Actor of Mama Llama is billed on her own screen in the credits as "Starring the voice of MAMA LLAMA - Jennifer Garner." Everybody else, including Shayle Simons as lead character Llama Llama is billed on the next credits screen, "Also starring the voices of."
  • On Miss Spider's Sunny Patch Friends, for his role as Spiderus, Tony Jay is billed above everyone else as "Featuring Tony Jay as Spiderus" and appears above everyone else except for "Kristin Davis as Miss Spider," who gets her own credit before everyone else. This is despite the fact that Spiderus doesn't even appear at all in some stories and, when he does, he often only appears in a minor guest role.
  • Cablevision's listings for The Loud House list Fred Willard, the voice of Pop-Pop, as the main actor, despite the character not appearing in every episode, likely because he is the most well-known name in the cast of the show. His name even showed up on an early listing for The Casagrandes, as well as the Casagrande-centric episode "No Show", which he has no presence in either.

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