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Mainstream Obscurity

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"A classic is something everyone wants to have read and nobody wants to read."

Mainstream Obscurity is what happens to a famous successful work intended for a wide general audience, that succeeds so well and becomes so known, that paradoxically, despite its fame, it remains relatively unknown to the general public. Sure it lands on every critic's top 10 list, has a fantastic word of mouth on many amateur review sites, and is one of the most truly well-known works in media, and some part of the media (the Iconic Outfit, Iconic Item, Signature Scene) is known by Pop-Cultural Osmosis. Thing is, these elements become so overexposed that a lot of people might think they've seen it, or might even feel they don't have to see it, but individuals can't name things about it beyond these famous well-known aspects. A good example is a famous witticism that an intellectual is someone who can listen to Gioachino Rossini's William Tell Overture without thinking of The Lone Ranger note .


When the work has become so famous that "everybody else knows about it", yet no one has actually read or been exposed to that work, that work is wallowing in Mainstream Obscurity. People, groups, art movements, and entire genres can also be swallowed by Mainstream Obscurity. A "famous author" can be widely read, best-selling but largely unread, widely quote-mined, or just well known for "being an author". Iconic movie stars have their image reproduced in so many other places that it is easy to recognize their faces or get what part of them is being parodied and alluded to, without having to ever watch any of the movies they starred in. If a character portrayed by an actor (or that version of a character, if an adaptation) becomes more famous than their portrayer, the actor's name may be completely unknown to all except trivia buffs and paradoxically lead to extreme typecasting to the extent that an actor can't escape being pigeonholed, or rather mine it for the rest of their life. Likewise, people can be widely aware of an artistic movement or genre, but unable to describe what it was about.


For this trope to hold meaning, a few conditions need to be met. It must be mainstream. Defining the mainstream is hard but a workable definition is that what is mainstream is the general knowledge and awareness in culture and society that people can have without having to go out of their way. A work for general audiences appeals to people who may not have, for instance, played other games, known or seen or heard of other works in said genre or other works in the said franchise, and likewise never have read a comic book, or listened to albums and artists of the given music genre. Likewise, one should not assume that a work is more famous than it actually is. Some works are likely not intended for mainstream appeal or mainstream audiences in the first place. For instance, works of philosophy, science, anthropology, and other social sciences, are not intended to be best-sellers, they are meant to be read and perused by peers and educated readers, and are likewise published in philosophical and scientific journals. Some scientists and philosophers owing to their great social and political influence end up becoming famous, their witticisms become proverbial in society by Memetic Mutation and so become a "known name" to people outside their field, but the fact is their works were never reasonably and realistically expected to be read unhindered by the non-specialist. So for instance, while Darwin is a famous scientist, and one cannot call him obscure simply because the majority of people who know his name haven't read his works. It would only be obscure if he is unknown among scientists and biologists, which obviously is not true.


Works from obscure fields or appealing to a rarefied demographic such as exploitation films, children's cartoons, Le Film Artistique are likewise not intended for mainstream appeal. The fact that some works become famous and known outside their intended audience is a case of coming Out of the Ghetto or having a Multiple Demographic Appeal rather than truly being obscure. Likewise, School Study Media features works and authors include bestselling authors from the 19th Century, and while many of them were once mainstream and obscure today, their appeal is strictly True Art Is Ancient.

The reverse of Fan Myopia. Often happens when a Cult Classic becomes so well known for being a cult classic (due to Popcultural Osmosis) that the cult classic becomes mainstream. They may have started as an Acclaimed Flop. This can, of course, lead to Adaptation Displacement and Beam Me Up, Scotty! and also often results in "Common Knowledge". See also Praising Shows You Don't Watch, where people, well, do exactly that. Some of these can also be well-known for historical controversy. See also Small Reference Pools. Likewise, The Greatest History Never Told for eras and periods which are known about to various degrees but go under-represented. Also see Unbuilt Trope where works which are well known and famous tend to surprise people who decide to actually learn about stuff, likewise, Lost in Imitation where certain works are adapted so often, and often based on certain well-known additions rather than the original work. See also, The Theme Park Version which describes how certain events, people, and figures are Flanderized to a series of signs. See also Obscure Popularity for when the work has a large following despite being obscure beyond it.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Grave of the Fireflies is a famously brutal depiction of the horrors of war, conveniently explaining why no one ever gets around to watching it.
  • Osamu Tezuka is considered the "god of the manga." However there are many people (including anime fans) who know of his legacy and works, but have never read any of them; especially Astro Boy, who is one of, if not the most recognizable manga characters of all time (and the first one to have a successful mainstream anime adaptation). Indeed, while Tezuka wrote many, many series over his life, chances are that aside from Astro Boy, the only one you've probably heard of is Kimba the White Lion, and that's only because of the accusations of The Lion King ripping it off.
  • The anime adaptation of AKIRA (which is far better known than the manga) has been hailed as one of the greatest animated films of all time, made $49 million at the box office and is very iconic, but there are plenty of people (mostly those who weren't around for the initial release of the film) who are familiar with the major scenes and the memes they've spawned but have never actually watched the movie themselves and have no idea what the plot is about.
  • Digimon is well-known as Pokémon's rival series note  — and that's about it. It's rather impressive to be able to even name one Digimon, much less several. note  To add, Digimon itself is only seen as a "rival" of Pokémon in America. In Japan, the people know the two are completely different franchises with different focus despite both having Mons.
  • Bokurano is well known as "Evangelion but even more depressing", along with being very philosophical, but few people have actually seen or read it.
  • This trope even works in Japan: Ghost in the Shell was met with critical acclaim in Europe and the USA, yet in Japan not so much. So it's no surprise that when Japanese actually talk about it, praising it about its greatness so they can associate with westerners, they might admit to having never actually seen the movie.
  • Air: Everybody knows that Misuzu dies, but not many have actually watched a single episode of the series.
    • And while we're in the same universe, CLANNAD ~After Story~. How many people can mention anything other than Nagisa's and Ushio's deaths?
    • Detailed information about Kanon doesn't come up very often either, outside of internet memes like the infamously-Off-Model "am I kawaii uguu face" (which was actually the 2006 version edited to look like the lower-budget 2002 version). At least with the other two in the series (AIR and CLANNAD), people can name one or two plot points or characters, but they don't even know that "uguu" is actually from something.
  • Monster is regarded as one of the best anime of all… but not watched by many.
  • Now and Then, Here and There is mentioned a lot, but watched as much as Grave of the Fireflies.
  • Unsurprisingly, Texhnolyze is so dark and depressing that only a handful of people ever bring themselves to watch it.
  • Everyone knows the famous Falcon Punch scene from F-Zero: GP Legend, but how many have actually watched the series? 4Kids acquiring, butchering, and dropping the series didn't help matters either.
  • Within Belgium you have one based on Bakugan Battle Brawlers. Many people in Belgium have heard of it (though not necessarily liked it) and at least know that Bakugan is a game, but it is rare to find someone who has actually played it, let alone has the materials that are necessary to play with it. When a Belgian says that they exclude someone for not having a Bakugan they are simply searching for an excuse to exclude someone without outright telling the reason.
  • Wolf's Rain is likely writer Keiko Nobumoto's most famous work after Cowboy Bebop, but falls into the category of critically acclaimed and well-known but little seen outside of a small core of diehard fans due to its reputation for being really cryptic and really, really sad.
  • Sure Saikano is known for being depressing, but it isn't actually watched or read that often.
  • Shadow Star has a bit of a reputation for its graphic violence and Lolicon and Shotacon-ish elements, but the quality itself is rarely discussed, probably since there aren't a lot of people who have actually read it.
  • Haibane Renmei was a well-known anime during the 2000s and was frequently cited on "must watch" lists. However, few people that praise it actually got around to watching it. Official streaming and home rereleases have helped this a bit though.
  • Pokémon Adventures is "the" Pokémon manga to people, thanks to it being the longest-running one to have official translations in various countries. People know it's Darker and Edgier than the anime and even the games, but much else evade even many hardcore Pokémon fans. It doesn't get discussed much even on Pokémon forums.
  • Carnival Phantasm ironically causes this towards Tsukihime. At the time of release in 2011, Carnival Phantasm was a web original anime that was created as a celebration of the two popular Type-Moon Visual Novels set in the Nasuverse: Tsukihime and Fate/stay night. Both series received equal billing at the time of release. Since then, however, Fate has grown into a Cash Cow Franchise, much to the consternation of fans of the other works in the Nasuverse. While Fate received new wildly popular anime adaptations that pushed the franchise's popularity to new heights, Tsukihime was left in the dust with both its reboot Visual Novel and Melty Blood sequel undergoing massive delays (both of which have been released in 2021, over decade after the reboot was announced). These days it's not uncommon for people's knowledge of Tsukihime to be limited to this specific series.

    Comic Books 
  • If you ask any random person on the street across the English-speaking world to name a superhero, most could identify Batman, Superman and Spider-Man. The fact that the latter belongs to a different company and universe (Marvel Comics) was not a widely known fact (at least until the Marvel Cinematic Universe). Indeed, non-comic fans will often wonder why Batman can't team up with Spider-Man. A lot of superhero comics like Fantastic Four, X-Men, The Avengers, Captain America, Captain Marvel (the original, now Shazam), The Flash, Wonder Woman, Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, Judge Dredd... are better known through their movie and TV series adaptations than the comics they originally appeared in. Most of the general audience - especially outside North America - knows up to nothing about these characters but: "yeah, they are superheroes who fight crime, I guess." Compare them to series like Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man, where a majority can at least tell you something about the characters or the backstory.
  • Amazing Fantasy issue 15 featured the very first appearance of Spider-Man ever, and it's one of the three most famous comic book issues in the history of superhero comics. However, most people who've heard of it don't know that it contained several back-up one-shot stories apart from the Spider-Man adventure, and even fewer have read any of them.
  • If you name a female superhero, Wonder Woman shows up often as an instant response, and most would know that she's Greek, has a Lasso of Truth, and flies an invisible plane (at least to those who remember the Lynda Carter TV show). Ask people about her Rogues Gallery and supporting cast, however, and that number drops. People can name multiple aspects of that information for Batman and Superman thanks to the success of multiple iterations. Wonder Woman had one TV show devoted to her, then an appearance in Justice League which streamlined her background (making Hades her Arch-Enemy and not Ares) and largely used her as part of an ensemble cast of a Shared Universe rather than a hero in her own right as did the DC Extended Universe. note  She finally got her own film in 2017.
  • Relatedly, everyone has the same general concept for the storylines of the heroes but said the concept is stuck somewhere in the 1970s to 1980s, and in the case of a large number of Retcons, confusing even among comics fans.
  • Superman:
    • Superman is arguably the most famous superhero around. Most of the traits people associate Superman with (godlike power, the Fortress of Solitude, the Phantom Zone, Supergirl, Krypto the Superdog, Zod, the Legion of Super-Heroes, multiple varieties of Kryptonite) were created during the Silver and Bronze Ages. The general public ignores that most of them were retconned out when DC rebooted Superman in 1985 and made their way back to the comics very slowly. Later additions to the mythos are mostly unknown by mostly everyone.
    • They'll know that Lois Lane is Clark Kent's friend and Superman's girlfriend who has no idea they're one and the same, unaware that they've been married for a long time in comics media, that she's fully aware of his secret identity, and that in DC Rebirth, they came back to the married (and with a child) status. In the introduction to The Death and Return of Superman omnibus, Mike Carlin noted the easiest way to shut down reporters complaining that they were "stealing" Superman from the people was to respond "Well... when's the last time ''you'' bought a Superman comic?"
    • Most people are aware of the existence of Supergirl, and most of them know her name's Kara and she's Superman's cousin. Even before being given her own show in 2015, she had shown up in a live-action film as well as several animated features, shows, cartoons and video games. But ask them about her Rogues Gallery, supporting cast, and relevant storylines, and they'll be hard-pressed to name one. They'll be unaware too that the character remained dead for eighteen years, during which DC tried and failed to replace her with several non-Kryptonian Supergirls.
  • Batman:
    • Unless they've been in a coma for a decade or two, they'll know who Batman is. But you'd be hard-pressed to find someone outside the hardcore fandom who knows that he now has a pre-teen son with the daughter of one of his enemies. Likewise, said enemy and daughter of said enemy, Ra's and Talia Al-Ghul are both relatively new characters and are still not widely used in mainstream adaptations. They were created in the early 1970s but were not adapted until Batman: The Animated Series in the early '90s. It took over another decade for them to show up in The Dark Knight Trilogy and even then they're radically different than their comic counterparts. They remain popular characters in adaptations aimed at existing comics fans but arguably the only comics-accurate versions of the characters in a mainstream adaptation is in the Arkham video game franchise.
    • For example: Ask anyone on the street who Robin is, and if they know at all, it'll be Dick Grayson, who's been Nightwing since 1984. They'll likely be completely unaware that there's been up to five Robins, depending on which comics you're talking about. They may also be unaware of the different identities each Robin has, and mention names like Red Hood, Red Robin, and Spoiler to non-fans and they'll be stumped (though Red Robin might draw jokes for sharing his name with a restaurant).
    • Ask anyone on the street who Batgirl is and they'll name Barbara Gordon if they're able to answer the question at all. She's made appearances in live-action shows, movies, and cartoons. No one will know Barbara wasn't Batgirl for twenty-three years, and they'll be completely unaware of her successors Cassandra Cain and Stephanie Brown, who have identities of their own (the former becoming Black Bat and then Orphan, the latter best known as the Spoiler). This is actually enforced by DC, who rebooted Barbara as Batgirl in order to make sure she's the "default" Batgirl in people's heads.
    • You'd also be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn't read comics that knows that Alfred isn't Batman's only Parental Substitute. His parents' friend, Dr. Leslie Thompkins, is his maternal figure who helped Alfred raise him after their death. Like the al Ghuls, Leslie is a relatively recent addition from the 70s and she's only ever appeared in the flesh in one "mainstream" adaption, Gotham. Even that is a pretty different take on the character. She is Younger and Hipper and Jim Gordon's love interest. She's also not the pacifist she is in the comics and even spends some time as a mob boss. Leslie has been referenced in some mainstream adaptations like the Arkham games but she's only ever appeared physically in two other adaptations, a few episodes of Batman: The Animated Series and the Batman: Gotham by Gaslight animated film. The former is still popular but she's not in any of the famous episodes and the latter is something that's marketed at existing fans. It doesn't help that she has a particularly (in)famous Never Live It Down moment in the comics that required an Author's Saving Throw. note 
  • Green Lantern:
    • He's known as a member of the Justice League and as "Space Police", but most people wouldn't know anything about his character and origins, including the fact that Green Lantern is not a superhero name, but a job title, that there are multiple Green Lanterns of multiple species and multiple planets, and that there are now lantern-themed characters for every color in the rainbow.
    • It was particularly notable when the Justice League TV show was launched in 2001 using John Stewart as the Green Lantern. Some were upset about them changing Green Lantern to a black man. People didn't know that the character was nearing 30 years old, having taken up the ring in the '70s. This, due to the popularity of the Justice League show, led to a large number of people confused by the Green Lantern (2011) trailer, wanting to know why Green Lantern wasn't black!
    • Likewise, Hal Jordan, the Green Lantern with the longest appearances in comics, is the "second Green Lantern". The first is Alan Scott, and the original Green Lantern had magic-based powers. Hal Jordan also disappeared from comics for nearly a decade with his replacement Kyle Rayner actually becoming "the" Green Lantern for many new readers. Of course, the failure of the Green Lantern (2011) film means that Hal Jordan remains overshadowed in the popular imagination.
  • If you ask a random person who the quintessential Avengers are, you'll probably be told Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, and The Incredible Hulk.
    • The problem is that the Avengers for a long time did not have a regular cast and roster. The first ten issues or so of the comics had repeated defections. The Hulk left the Avengers early and was a member of the team for exactly two issues, and unlike other team members did not rejoin for over 40 years after quitting (the team which Hulk had a longer membership in was The Defenders, which was finally made into an In Name Only Netflix series). Captain America wasn't a founding member of the team, he was thawed out of ice in a later issue, and joined the team after that, and for a long time, the two most common founding members were Ant-Man and The Wasp, who were not only Adapted Out from The Avengers (2012) but when finally adapted were made into Scott Lang and Hope van Dyne, both of whom are Legacy Characters.
    • A weird reversal of this occurred when The Avengers was released. A large number of fans believed that the film was odd for not featuring Wolverine or Spider-Man, even saying it's not the Avengers without them. Despite the fact that they were largely the two Marvel heroes most recognizable to the general public, both of them had only been full-time Avengers since 2005, and in fact, a good 40 years of Avengers history barely included either of them (Spider-Man became a reserve member in the early '90s but was rarely used unless all team members were being called in).
    • Likewise, many see the Avengers as the Alternate Company Equivalent to the Justice League, and the prominent super-team. In actual fact, Fantastic Four is canonically the greatest team in the Marvel Universe and were originally intended to be the Marvel take on the Justice League. For most of its publication, The Avengers were far less popular and respected than the Fantastic Four and especially the X-Men and the reason for its regular roster was that it was seen as a dumping ground for B and C-Listers who generally couldn't carry a book or title on their own. Where in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Spider-Man wants to be an Avenger, in the original comics he wanted to join the Fantastic Four (rejected because Reed said they were a family first and team second) and his closest relationship with anyone in the Marvel Universe was Johnny Storm. Granted, this has shifted in later years where the Avengers have become the premier team in the Marvel Universe, but that wasn't until the early '00s and most heroes have been an Avenger at some point in their careers after Marvel started promoting them more (what with the X-Men and Fantastic Four's film rights having been tied to 20th Century Fox for many years).
  • Speaking of the Hulk, the character had fallen into this for most of his early history, up until 1986. While he did have his own successful television series and became something of a counter-cultural icon during the '60s, according to Peter David, the comics themselves suffered from very low sales to the point that the editor Bob Harras told him that Hulk was the book nobody wanted to write and handed it over to David out of desperation. It wasn't until David's landmark run on the title that Hulk comics started selling really well. That said, there are still readers today who feel that Hulk works better as part of an ensemble and that the number of stories he can carry by himself is limited. Truth be told, it still does apply to the Hulk, as there's little knowledge of what his comics version is like outside the fandom. Most people don't know Bruce can turn into a variety of Hulks due to his multiple personality disorder, only one of which has the traditional Hulk Speak and childlike intellect (the Savage Hulk), that Bruce/Hulk has been married a few times, or that they've had two sons and a daughter (Skaar, Hiro-Kala, and Lyra, though Hiro-Kala isn't in any position to turn up easily). People who know the Hulk may not be able to mention one single villain from his Rogues Gallery, or just the Abomination.
  • The Teen Titans suffers from this, especially for modern audiences who are likely more exposed to the 2003 animated series, or for really young audiences who only know the gag version of it. While it was one of the most successful and acclaimed comics of the '80s and has continued in some form to this day, the show was what introduced the team to modern audiences, and has been ingrained in the minds of many non-comic readers as the definitive source. There are several ways this shows:
    • Ask any non-comic fan what the lineup of the Teen Titans is, and if they can name any, they'll say, Robin, Starfire, Cyborg, Raven, and Beast Boy. In reality, this "core lineup" has never existed outside the animated series. In fact, the Teen Titans started in the '60s and the founders were Robin, Kid Flash, Aqualad, and Wonder Girl. Starfire, Cyborg, and Raven hadn't yet even existed at that point. Even during the '80s, which had all of those five as members, it never was limited to just those five. In fact, the membership could get quite expansive as new members would join and the lineup would shift a lot. While other members of the team did appear in the show, they were recurring/minor characters. The main reason why the main team was limited to those five in the show was to avoid having too much to work within what is supposed to be children's television.
      • Tellingly, even the 2003 comic revival meant to capitalize on the show's success and help introduce new readers to the Titans still didn't portray the lineup this way. Sure, it had Cyborg, Starfire, and Beast Boy, and Raven would join later, and it even had a Robin — but that Robin was Tim Drake, not Dick Grayson. Furthermore, it also featured Wonder Girl II, Impulse (who quickly became Kid Flash II), and Superboy. Some may have been confused as to who these people were.
      • A hilarious illustration of this by audiences was during the New 52 relaunch of the Teen Titans. Many fans introduced by the show complained that it had none of the "original" members when the founding lineup was Red Robin, Wonder Girl II, Kid Flash II, Bunker, Solstice, Skitter, and Superboy. The only original member of the Teen Titans that's part of the "classic" lineup is Robin I, who later became Nightwing during his time with the Teen Titans. (The above lineup shares none of its members with the original Titans, or even the New Teen Titans, but still.) While that wasn't the only issue people had, far from it, it still showed how much people knew about the comic books versus the show. Admittedly, it probably wasn't very smart of DC to advertise a "new jumping-on point" and then leave out the most recognizable members of the team...
    • Terra is perhaps the most famous Teen Titan that isn't part of the "Big Five". They know she was a mole sent by Deathstroke/Slade to infiltrate the Teen Titans. They also know she's a Tragic Villain who ultimately regretted what she did and did a Heel–Face Turn before dying. Again, that's strictly a product of the show. While it's true that Terra was an agent sent by Deathstroke (or "Slade") to infiltrate the Teen Titans, and Beast Boy (known as Changeling during this time in the comics) fell in love with her in both versions, the differences are astounding. In the comics, she was irredeemably evil and a Jerk with a Heart of Jerk who wouldn't stop kicking the dog, and her death in the comics wasn't a Heroic Sacrifice, but rather a failed homicide when she tried to kill Deathstroke due to him "betraying" hernote . While the whole scenario was Terra's tragedy in the show, in the comics it was strictly portrayed as Beast Boy's tragedy, not hers. In fact, even Deathstroke was scared of how evil she was.
  • The Barry Allen version of The Flash is widely credited with kicking off The Silver Age of Comic Books in 1956, but for most of the actual Silver Age he was never a top seller — throughout the 1960s all of the Superman stable outsold him by very heavy margins, with even the spinoff Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane titles selling nearly twice as many copies per year. Likewise while the Flash is the Super Speed hero and his Rogues Gallery is the Trope Namer and Trope Codifier (i.e. his group of villains called themselves "the Central City rogues" and that led it to spread), a list of his villains (Captain Cold, Captain Boomerang, Weather Wizard, Gorilla Grodd) usually draws blank stares (though the Arrowverse gave them a bit of a publicity bump). Compounding the issue is the Justice League cartoon where the Flash is the Legacy Character Wally West and there are multiple people confused by why Flash has different names.
    • The Legacy Character aspect especially seems to trip people, as almost nobody outside of comics fandom has heard of Jay Garrick, the original Flash, especially as he's often reworked or Adapted Out in adaptations (or Demoted to Extra, in the case of the CW show). However, during the 2000s, Justice League using Wally West, in what was the Flash's first major showcase to the mainstream audience, Wally West became much better known, making it so if people knew any name, it was his. That was, anyway, until 2011-2020, as after reviving Barry Allen and appointing him the primary Flash again (after 20 years of Wally West fulfilling that role) following a Continuity Reboot that erased every other incarnation besides Barry, DC suddenly made efforts to adapt this version the Flash, causing it to become slightly better known.
  • Matt Groening's Life in Hell strip, an obscure precursor to his more famous offerings. Most Simpsons fans know it exists, or can at least recognize the art style, but far fewer could name any characters or state what it's about. This is lampshaded in one of the comics, where Groening meets a fan who claims to love all his work but doesn't even recognize Life in Hell.
  • Many of the iconic newspaper comic heroes of the 20th century, especially from non-English and non-American nations, fall into this category:
    • Bécassine: In the French-speaking world Bécassine is an icon, one of the oldest comics around. But even though she is easily recognizable in France, most people of later generations have likely never read any of her stories and she is unknown in the rest of the world.
    • Krazy Kat is a cat who gets zipped with a brick by a mouse. Most comic book fans know this, but how many people have actually read these comics of an acquired taste?
    • Little Nemo: Everyone knows the scene where his bed is flying through the night or that he falls out of bed in the final panel, but how many people beyond that have ever read the stories? In this case, the anime movie adaptation, and the NES game based on it (obscure in their own right) are both more well known than the comic.
    • Little Orphan Annie is a well-known early 20th-century comic strip with an iconic art style. Despite this pretty much everything anyone knows about it comes from the first film of the musical adaptation.
  • The phenomenon can also be spotted in comic strips that have ended when the cartoonist died and are better known as publicity stills than for the comics themselves, which are only read by hardcore comics fans or older people who grew up with them. Examples are: Tom Poes, Pogo, Nero, Corto Maltese...
  • Non-Superhero comics from earlier eras have gotten hit hard by this. Little Lulu, and the comics headlining Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge in particular were at their prime some of the most beloved, critically-acclaimed and highest-selling comics of their time, to to the point where their writers (John Stanley and Carl Barks, respectively) became well known themselves in spite of never being credited. These comics have largely been faded out of American culture; Little Lulu isn't well-known amongst the general public, and Donald and Scrooge are more well known for their animated appearances than for their comics appearances. Critics of the medium still hold these comics in high regard, however.
  • Robert Crumb is widely considered to be one of the most influential and important comic strip artists in the world and by far the only underground comics artist to still be a household name. That said, most of the general audience knows him more as that geeky Dirty Old Man in the hat and glasses, an image mostly derived from his comics. In the documentary Crumb (1994) the man himself is giving a slideshow explaining to a college audience the three things he is most famous for, all of them not indicative of the entire scope of his personality and oeuvre: Fritz the Cat, the album cover of Cheap Thrills and the Keep On Truckin emblem. Fritz the Cat is better known nowadays for Ralph Bakshi's film adaptation Fritz the Cat, which Crumb hated and caused him to kill Fritz off permanently in his next comic strip. Cheap Thrills has led him to be associated with the hippie culture, a subculture he never liked, especially not the music. And Keep On Truckin also gave him legal problems because tax administrators thought he held the copyright, which he didn't. Needless to say: all these three things are more indicative of Crumb's work in The '60s than the more mature and personal, autobiographical work he has made since The '70s.
  • Cartoonist Ronald Searle is best known for St. Trinians, a cartoon series he only drew for four years in a versatile career that spanned more than half a century. Try to ask anyone what else he has done in his life and you probably get a blank stare.
  • Most people in the USA may know that The Smurfs, Tintin, and Asterix are universally popular European comics, but know next to nothing about it.
  • Archie Comics is an American icon and the characters are well-known in pop culture (especially the Betty and Veronica dynamic). But how many people have read over five issues, excluding popular spinoffs like Afterlife with Archie or Archie vs. Predator? The fact Reggie is often forgotten by people despite being one of the main five characters really shows people that genuinely read Archie. This often leads to Adaptation Displacement, resulting in people thinking the 1990s Sabrina the Teenage Witch was an original sitcom and not an Archie-verse adaptation.
  • Not too many people will think of The Walking Dead comic book without immediately thinking of the show.
  • Black Canary has screaming powers and she's Green Arrow's love interest. Even many casual DC fans know her design and she's had appearances in various adaptations, but anything besides the basics tends to get mixed up. She's often mistaken for a relatively new character when she (or an incarnation of her) dates back to the 1940s. Even her name has this issue thanks to Arrow popularizing her as "Laurel" (which is her seldom-mentioned middle name) instead of the comic's "Dinah".
  • Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons is interesting in that many people think that it's more mainstream and less obscure than it really is. While the original comic was a success, it never sold as well as Batman: The Dark Knight Returns and for that matter John Byrne's The Man of Steel and it had far less of a cultural impact than The Death of Superman. The adult content and lack of recognizable names, as well as the dependence on a certain familiarity with superhero concepts, gave it a unique niche that made it successful and influential on media creators but it never became a "brand" despite remaining in print since the '80s. Zack Snyder's film was likewise a commercial failure, albeit it still informs most people's ideas of Watchmen even if it made more than a few notable changes despite being generally faithful to the plot and look of the book.
  • This is also true for most of Alan Moore's work. His works sell well and he's famous but they remain for the most part niche and cult works, better known by their movie adaptations. Even then, of the movies based on his works, only V for Vendetta became a commercially successful adaptation, which was again very different in significant respects from his comic. His most famous period is still the DC Comics era, which was only a brief five year stretch from his earlier career, and even then The Killing Joke is his most influential work (inspiring Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan) despite the fact that he wrote more stories on Swamp Thing and Superman than on Batman (that is to say, more than two).
  • Spawn is probably the most famous modern superhero to not be from either of the Big Two, with a veritable heap of merchandise, two notable adaptations, appearances in Soul Calibur II and Mortal Kombat 11, and a design that is incredibly iconic and very often mimicked or parodied. Whenever 1990s superheroes are discussed, Spawn is almost always one of the first names. Yet when you ask people anything about him (his real name, his origin, his powers, his villains, his big storylines), you tend to get a blank stare. At most, people might know Angela (because Marvel currently owns her) and Violator (who was in the movie), or be loosely aware that the stories deal with Hell, but that's about it. Many people are even surprised to hear that the series is still going, and it tends to only get attention for the occasional Milestone Celebration. For instance, it surged to the top of the sales charts for its 300th issue... and the month before that, it had been in 327th place with 2,547 copies sold, which put it below obscure indie books that don't even have a page on this wiki, My Little Pony spinoffs, and the prior month's issue of Batman: Last Knight on Earth.
  • Similar to Spawn, you have Marvel's own supernatural hero, the Ghost Rider. He has an extremely cool design and powers, is one of the best remembered antiheroes, and had two films. However, almost nobody is familiar with his supporting cast, with the fact that there have been at least four other Ghost Riders other than Johnny Blaze (one of them female even), and it doesn't help that he lacks iconic-enough storylines and the backstories of the Ghost Riders themselves are inundated with multiple retcons and convoluted plots. People will be able to tell you that he's a skeleton on fire that can burn villain's souls with his stare... and that's the extent of it. This extends to his villains; people are familiar with Mephisto and Blackheart, and then hardly anyone else. And the first is a villain shared with the Marvel Universe as a whole, to the point most people are familiar with Mephisto through his involvement in the infamous One More Day with Spider-Man, rather than any actual storyline with Ghost Rider, while the second is probably better-known for popping up in Marvel vs. Capcom (solely because Capcom liked his look) than any Ghost Rider storyline. One of the more telling cases of it is that even fairly experienced comic writers tend to get his powers wrong; in particular, the Penance Stare has a habit of being completely resisted by characters who really shouldn't be able to do so. Another telling fact is that a lot of his most known characteristics (the Penance Stare, the chain, the leather jacket) came from the Ghost Rider after Blaze, Dan Ketch.

    Films — Animation 
  • Coraline was a Sleeper Hit stop-motion animated movie based on a near equally popular best-selling children's novel. Many tend to know about the novel and its movie adaptation very well, and are quite popular and acclaimed within their respective fan circles. However, in a strange inversion of this trope, mentioning that there is also a video game and a stage musical based on the story gets surprised reactions.
  • Fantasia: Adjusted for inflation, it's the fourth highest-grossing animated film ever, widely praised as a masterpiece of cinema and art, but not many people today can actually name a segment from it aside from "the Mickey Mouse part", "the one with the mushrooms", "the dancing hippos" and maybe "that scene with the devil guy" or "the centaurs". Additionally, its unique nature makes it pretty much the least known of the five Golden Age Disney films.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Citizen Kane is famous for being regarded as one of the best films ever made. Everyone knows that it's about a businessman named Charles Foster Kane, the "Rosebud" scene, and that It Was His Sled. They might also know that he runs for office at one point, and they might recognize that gif of him clapping. If they're a film buff, they're probably aware that Welles had a feud with William Randolph Hurst over whether Kane was based on him, which led to the film's Award Snub. Past that? Not a whole lot. The names of characters besides Kane, the film's unusual structure, and even basic facts about the plot like what Kane's actual business was, tend to be far less known. One particular thing is that Kane actually owned Rosebud for decades until his death, when many parodies or jokey summaries seem to think he pined for it his whole life and never got it back. A great example of this is in the commonly observed "Plot Hole" of who actually heard Kane say "Rosebud" in the opening scene - something the movie actually does address toward the end, but in a scene far less iconic than the movie's beginning.
  • Dirty Harry is often considered the quintessential gritty cop movie, and is so well known that to this day people make Dirty Harry references whenever Clint Eastwood's name is mentioned. Everyone knows that Eastwood played the role, and they know that he said: "Go ahead, make my day" when begging a perp to give him an excuse to shoot him. They're also familiar with his catchphrase "You feelin' lucky, punk?", even though that's not what he said, nor was it a catchphrase. They know he and his chief were constantly at odds, and...that's about it. Your average person could not name any of the films aside from the first one, the supporting cast, or even Harry's last name! (Callahan, for the record.)
  • The Godzilla films are a particularly good example of this. Due to pop culture status (as well as being one of the biggest movie franchises of all time), it's safe to assume that the majority of people actually know who Godzilla is. That being said, however, try asking someone who isn't a die-hard fan to name at least one Godzilla film and see what happens. Even fans of the genre might not realize that the original Gojira was a dark somber allegory rather than a cheesy "monster on the loose" film, since its original American release as Godzilla (with Raymond Burr) was recut to be exactly that. A subtitled release of the film the Japanese saw back in the 1950s was not available to Americans until this century. It doesn't help that, due to Western media's overbearing popularity, not to mention accessibility, over Japanese productions, a lot of people are only familiar with the 1998 American remake (which, while mostly hated in its native country, was actually quite successful in international markets) and have little to no idea that the franchise, in reality, originated from Japan and has had a firm fanbase way before that movie. This was mitigated a bit with the release of the 2014 American film — at least in that more people know about its roots, not that they would actually want to watch any of the "shoddy Asian rubber monster movies". Even the 2014 film still receives the effect of this. For instance, plenty of people tend to complain about Godzilla's short appearances, which is actually as much as how he appeared in earlier films.
  • Many Academy Award-nominated films are like this, particularly ones nominated for Best Picture. The titles and (usually) the premises become known in the American conscience when they're nominated, and yet, few people can say they've seen more than a couple, maybe even any. This results in many people buzzing about films they have never seen, and probably never will, and this carries on into a new batch of films the following year as the previous winners and nominees are largely forgotten. Then, few years later, rarely anyone can even list the nominees, or who won and why in that particular year.
  • The Rocky Horror Picture Show. American pop culture status has made it so that mainstream audiences are somewhat familiar with the basics of the film. And everyone knows it's the uncrowned queen of Cult Classic films. That, and, playing the Time Warp every Halloween helps. However, again, ask someone who isn't a fan of what the plot of the movie is. Most likely, the answer you'll get is, "Tim Curry in drag." The Audience Participation within the film also counts. Sure, people in general know you're supposed to use props and yell certain lines when watching the movie. But ask anyone who isn't a die-hard fan what you're supposed to say and when!
  • How many people have actually seen Soylent Green? But everyone knows that it's made of people.
  • Film Noir is well known. Few can even list some titles like The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep and Murder, My Sweet. But even these famous titles are little seen except by parody and they give a false impression of Noir Cinema since most of them were second-class movies and only a smaller number of them have a private detective as heroes (most of them have Villain Protagonist). In the case of The Maltese Falcon, the final line, "The stuff that dreams are made of" has even been used in jewelry commercials, which considering the context of the original scenespoilers from the film , this is Comically Missing the Point. For a bonus point, the "Stuff that dreams are made of" line originates from The Tempest but in Pop-Cultural Osmosis, it is associated, as in the case of the Lone Ranger and Rossini, with the Maltese Falcon.
  • Plan 9 from Outer Space is the most famous cinematic example of So Bad, It's Good. Yet more people are familiar with it thanks to Tim Burton's Ed Wood than those who've actually seen it. Outside the USA most people who saw Ed Wood are probably not even aware Ed Wood really existed and his films were really that badly made!
  • Certain actors from The Golden Age of Hollywood were once so ubiquitous that they are little seen by the general public but remain famous on account of countless imitators of their voices, personas, and references to their famous roles:
    • On an individual level, James Dean's career. He's one of the most iconic actors of America, someone who codified the bad-boy teen hero seen in endless American movies. But ironically, the people who tend to see his movies — Rebel Without a Cause, East of Eden, or Giant — are actually quite old, and in some cases, of a much nerdier disposition (i.e. cinephiles) than the archetype Dean embodied and inspired (i.e. the Big Man on Campus cool kid).
    • Can you describe what one of Shirley Temple's films was about without saying something like, "Well, she sang 'Animals Crackers In My Soup' in some movie I don't know the name or plot of"?note  She is more recognizable as a 1930s Hollywood glamour icon than the number of people who saw her movies. Ironically enough, it's likely she is now more famous for her turn in John Ford's Fort Apache known among Western fans and movie-buffs who generally tend to deprecate her work as a Former Child Star (whose Unfortunate Implications were mocked by Graham Greene).
  • Many young people, in general, will often associate a certain actor or director with their latest work because they never bother to watch any of their earlier and (sometimes) better works or are even aware of it. As a result, certain iconic actors and directors are perceived by younger people as "old, uncool has-beens" and they don't understand what made them so important or celebrated in the first place. Robert De Niro and Jack Nicholson appeared in a lot of intelligent masterpieces and good movies in general well into The '90s, but are nowadays usually cashing in checks by trading on their established personas in forgettable fare. (Or playing gimmicky, Large Ham comic-book roles that were often completely anathema to their former screen personae, which many film historians claim began with Marlon Brando's star turn in Superman.) So they are still recognizable to many people, but mostly for being tabloid mainstays or interviewed on the red carpet.
  • This applies to famous comedians from the silent era, many of whom originated iconic bits of slapsticks and visual gags that still get laughs decades and even a century after they are introduced. These gags are reused in countless movies and TV shows, but few have seen the originals:
    • Everybody is able to recognize Charlie Chaplin and knows he starred in slapstick movies. But for modern audiences: how many people have actually ever watched and enjoyed any of his films compared to his international fame? Let alone those who know he didn't really look like the Tramp in real life. (Robert Downey Jr., who played him in the 1992 Biopic Chaplin, was surprisingly similar-looking at that point!)
    • The scene in Safety Last! where Harold Lloyd is hanging from a clock is far more famous than the rest of this film, let alone Lloyd himself. Only a few genuine trivia buffs can tell that Clark Kent's famous look was based on Lloyd's "glasses persona".
    • Buster Keaton: He is most famous today for the landmark gag in Steamboat Bill, Jr. in which the front of a house's facade falls on him, but his character survives because he neatly fits into a small opening. This gag is repeated countless times and still shows up in visual comedy but his films like The General are more obscure, to say nothing of later work like The Cameraman.
    • The Marx Brothers are famous for their dedicated fans and people who actually sat down and watched any of their movies. To the modern, general public Groucho's face may ring a bell, his and Harpo's names may too, but that's about it. Some of their scenes are well-known, like Why a duck?, the mirror gag from Duck Soup, and the crowded stateroom scene in A Night at the Opera, but not everybody may be able to point to them as the originators. Some younger viewers may know them from being references in Woody Allen movies — Allen complained about this when he made Sweet and Lowdown and his lead actress Samantha Morton claimed not to know who Harpo Marx was.
  • Being John Malkovich has an in-universe example with the titular actor (who plays himself). Everyone in the movie admires John Malkovich immensely, and they seem convinced that he's one of the world's greatest living actors. None of them can actually name a movie that Malkovich has been in (except "that jewel thief movie," which Malkovich insists he wasn't in).
  • King Kong (1933) remains one of the most iconic and famous films ever made, but few have actually seen it, especially since the many remakes that followed have kind of worn off the novelty. However put certain images and Signature Scene together — A giant chimp in Manhattan who climbs a tall building, beats his chest in defiance and fights off planes while holding a blonde girl in his fest, and dies by dropping off the tallest building in the world, which at the time it was the Empire State Building. Empire State no longer holds that honor but it remains an iconic building thanks to Kong and is still remembered for being "the tallest" at one point.
  • Places in the Heart — a.k.a. the movie that won Sally Field the Best Actress Oscar in 1985 is far less famous today than her embarrassingly Oscar acceptance speech, which thanks to Beam Me Up, Scotty! is remembered as "You really like me!" (And who remembers the first film that won her the same honor, 1979's Norma Rae? The reason her second win got such an effusive reaction out of her was that she finally felt taken seriously as an actress after starting her career in Gidget and The Flying Nun.)
  • Scent of a Woman won Al Pacino his only Oscar, and is seen as controversial due to being seen as a Consolation Award or as snubbing the likes of Denzel Washington and Robert Downey Jr. It's also known less for the content of the film itself and more for the "HOO-HA" Verbal Tic that the central character utters, something that later became synonymous with Pacino's many late-period bombastic performances.
  • Conrad Veidt originated multiple tropes and lent his face to some of the most memorable villains in popular culture, but few people apart from film buffs and goths have actually watched his films, particularly outside his silent horror ones. Yet everyone knows who Jafar and The Joker are, and has seen characters that look like Cesare. Yep, they're all him.
  • More people probably know that Jason Voorhees wasn't the killer in Friday the 13th (1980) because of that fact being referenced in the opening act of Scream (1996) than because they remember the plot from the original - assuming they actually saw the original in the first place.
  • Singin' in the Rain is one of the most famous and iconic musicals of all time, and it's frequently cited as one of the greatest American films of the 20th century—yet relatively few people born after around 1980 have actually seen it. Case in point: everybody knows that it's a famous musical, and everybody knows that there's a scene where Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds, um...sing in the rain. But signficantly fewer people could describe the plot. If you're actually curious: it's about a silent film star and a chorus girl in 1920s Hollywood who fall in love while trying to make their first talkie musical.

    Literature — Prose Fiction 
  • A Christmas Carol is well-known in the public consciousness because of all of the homages, retellings, adaptations and parodies of the story over the years. Yet few people know anything more than the basic plot structure of "Scrooge hates Christmas," "Scrooge meets three ghosts," and "Scrooge has a Heel–Face Turn." Most people couldn't tell you who Jacob Marley was, who Scrooge's lost lover was, why Scrooge hates Christmas so much, or how class warfare was written into the story. Ask most people what the central theme is, and it'll probably be "Christmas is awesome" instead of "the rich ought to use their money to help the poor".note 
  • The Three Musketeers, despite Adaptation Overdosed - or maybe because of it - is barely known in the original format. Come on, ask a random person who the three musketeers even are - and you will be lucky if they will know Athos and Porthosnote , or, predictably, list D'Artagnan as one of the them. Short from "One for all, all for one" and maybe that Cardinal Richelieu is in it (just as predictably mislabeled as the Big Bad), you will be hard pressed to get even the basic premise of the plot from people.
  • War and Peace is very well known primarily for two things: first, for being an absolute masterpiece, and second, for being a Doorstopper over half a million words long. The sheer length scares people away from reading it, though it was a major bestseller in its day, and among Leo Tolstoy scholars is actually not considered among his best work.
  • Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov is a virtual household name. However, her name isn't actually Lolita in the story. It's a nickname for Dolores (Haze) given by the pedophile Villain Protagonist, and not even her predominately used one. Her other nicknames include Dolly and Lo. The book doesn't really live up to its scandalous reputation, either, being that it's a richly written, highly allusive novel about the clash between decadent Europe and modern America.
  • The Beat GenerationJack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, Neal Cassady — a rebellious band of teens overturning The '50s with works like On the Road, Naked Lunch or Howl 1955, inspiring many rock musicians of The '60s. Certainly, more people know the origin of Steely Dan's name than have actually seen it in Burroughs's book. These guys are often pictured wearing black turtlenecks and Cool Shades and playing bongo drums but this is, in fact, a visual stereotype of a "beatnik" that most of the Beats would never have taken any part in. The actual characteristic Beat "uniform" would more aptly be blue jeans and a plain white t-shirt! note  Likewise, the Beats were not all as rebellious as advertised.
  • Gulliver's Travels: Everybody knows the scenes where Gulliver visits Lilliput, which is often reproduced as children's literature or adapted as a cartoon for all ages. The remaining three sections are obscure, mostly because they can't be watered down for kids and are more obvious as a satire that appeals to older readers.
  • Don Quixote by Cervantes. Although a household name, the classic novel of all time, and the source of the iconic windmill scene. It tends to be more talked about than reading, even among literary scholars...unless you went to school in a Hispanic country where the book is taught to you...maybe even several times through your school career.
    • Jorge Luis Borges wrote a short story Pierre Menard, author of Don Quixote, where the narrator reflects that in philosophy, every theory that intends to describe to the world, over the years become Condemned by History. In the literature, says Menard, this decline is even worse, and puts "Don Quixote" as an example: At the time it was published a book full of Funny Moments, but now, (three centuries after its publication) is used to invoke Patriotic Fervor, to stroke the ego of the Grammar Nazi, and to buy deluxe editions as Conspicuous Consumption. Menard concludes that glory attracts Misaimed Fandom and even worse, Fan Dumb.
  • Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ by Lew Wallace. Yes, the films were based on a book. No, the book is a well-researched but original work of historical fiction, and the title character Judah Ben-Hur was not based on a real person of that era. Everyone knows there was a rather brutal chariot race near the end, but that's often as far as it goes. As for actually reading the book or even knowing about it... that's rather less common. And the classic films themselves possess a similar Mainstream Obscurity to Casablanca or Citizen Kane — many people just know that the 1959 film has Charlton Heston, a chariot race and is long as hell.
  • Arabian Nights. Made even worse by the fact that many old translations were heavily bowdlerised. And well-known tales like "Aladdin" and "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves"? Yeah, they weren't originally part of the work but were added by European translators. So think twice if you think you know Arabian Nights or if it is as popular or beloved among Arabic speaking peoples as it is in the West (they generally look down on it, preferring poetry first and foremost, thank you very much).
  • Zorro presents an interesting case. In the book The History of Mystery by Max Allan Collins, Collins asserts, on page 51, that Johnston McCulley's Zorro rivals Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan for influence. While one can easily find Burroughs novels in mainstream bookstores today, Johnston McCulley's work has fallen out of print. This seems baffling, considering that values dissonance would seem to apply less to Zorro, given that having a Latino (albeit a white Latino) protagonist who seeks retribution for injustice against Native Americans seems progressive. It also seems baffling considering that in the last twenty years, Zorro has had two feature films in theaters, as well as a few TV series, while other properties set in the Old West such as The Lone Ranger and Hopalong Cassidy have remained cinematically inert.note  Also, Zorro costumes still remain quite common for children. Despite all of that, Johnston McCulley's books are now rarely in print.
  • The Sherlock Holmes stories. Plenty of people have read them, but far, far more people are aware of him than have read any of them, or get the wrong impressions from adaptations and sundry works that make him a Victorian superhero. The original Sherlock was a Small Steps Hero who largely tackled small cases rather than solving murder mysteries. Someone like Jack the Ripper is far above his pay grade. Likewise, The Watson is the true protagonist of the books, not Sherlock, and the original Holmes was an asexual cocaine addict.
  • 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Most people know it's about a guy named Captain Nemo who goes around in a submarine and meets/fights a giant octopus. Few could tell you who the narrator and his two friends are, or that Nemo himself is a Sikh.
  • The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. Most people know the names and the basic premise, and the expression for dramatic personality shift that it spawned. There have been over a hundred full adaptations made, as well as countless references in popular culture, usually involving people quaffing potions and becoming monsters. And how many people know that, unlike in any adaptation in any medium, whether serious or parodic, Jekyll and Hyde being two sides of the same man was a surprise ending? This was, reportedly, the basis for the now-lost film The Janus Head, starring Conrad Veidt. The film kept the story intact but changed the characters' names, so nobody in the audience even realized it was a Jekyll and Hyde adaptation until the end, thus preserving The Reveal.
  • Les Misérables is far better known as a musical, and a vast number of people wrongly think that it is set during The French Revolution. It's actually set during the June Uprising of 1832, which ironically would itself be completely forgotten today if not for the actual readers of Les Misérables.
  • Dracula: Obvious, a seminal classic of horror, launching an entire enduring sub-genre, spawning hundreds of adaptations and imitators, and subject to a century's worth of concentrated Adaptation Displacement and Flanderization. Everyone knows Dracula and yet few read it or appreciate its Unbuilt Trope, namely that it suffers from Protagonist Title Fallacy. The true hero is Mina Harker, not the vampire.
  • Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. Although the book is sometimes read in schools, most people know so little about the original story that they confuse the names of the creator and the creature. Many people would be surprised to learn that Frankenstein's monster is actually a genius, or that the original text is much more tragedy than horror, or — most startlingly of all — that there is no Igor.
  • Futility, or the Wreck of the Titan: Everyone knows that it's the book that predicted the RMS Titanic disaster, something marketing has capitalized on heavily (note that its cover features the Titan with its stern raised up in the air, much like Titanic when it sank), but few know that the actual plot is largely about the ship's lookout (one of the few survivors) dealing with the aftermath of the sinking, including the mother of a girl he saved suing him and his superiors drugging him to make sure he can't reveal that they invalidated their insurance policy with reckless sailing.
  • Few novels are namedropped in political discussions as often as 1984. According to one survey, it's also the novel most Brits lie about having read.
  • Conan the Barbarian. Thanks to various movies, TV shows, comic books, video games, Frank Frazetta paintings, Terry Pratchett fans, and countless parodies, everyone knows who Conan is. His name has become synonymous with the big, burly, not-too-bright Barbarian Hero who carries a Cool Sword and runs around in a Loincloth. Relatively few of those people have heard of Robert E. Howard, let alone read any of the 21 short stories and novellas featuring his most famous character (who's actually a broodingly philosophical and extremely crafty polymath). Even among the few who have read Conan stories, many of them are more familiar with the Bowdlerized versions by L. Sprague de Camp and the later Expanded Universe books written by Robert Jordan than they are with Howard's originals. Most people who haven't instantly think of the film.
  • Played straight with Ian Fleming's novels and short stories featuring James Bond; everyone is familiar with the suave superspy, but comparatively few have actually read any of the original series of books. Averted with the movies, as the great majority of moviegoers have seen at least one of the Bond films at some point during the last 50 years. And even for the people who haven't read the books or seen the films, "James Bond" is still synonymous with "sexy British spy who wears a tuxedo and sleeps with countless beautiful women".
  • Catch-22 is much better known for the term it coined than for the novel itself.
  • The Catcher in the Rye. It doesn't help that the novel became more famous (or infamous) for its association with John Hinckley Junior and Mark David Chapman than for any actual content in the novel. It's truly a shame because many people who have actually read the book have found it life-changing, thanks to its rather philosophical meditations & ruminations on childhood innocence. It's not just a "dirty" book.
  • Sax Rohmer and Doctor Fu Manchu, in that cultural sensitivity has hindered keeping the books in print, though Zebra, Dover, and Titan have made efforts, references to a "Fu Manchu" mustache still occur. Of course, Asian-American civic groups have kept the 1960s Doctor Fu Manchu films off broadcast television, and for the most part, nobody's missing much.
  • The Christmas 2012 issue of The Economist described Le Grand Meaulnes by Henri Alain-Fournier as "the most influential unread novel". (This would apply mainly in the Anglosphere and most certainly not in France).
  • Many more people have watched the movies based on The Lord of the Rings and now The Hobbit than have ever read the original Cult Classic books.
  • There is an in-universe example in the Hyperion series. Martin Silenus wrote a poetry book which became extremely popular and sold three billion copies. Yet another serious poetry work of his — according to him and the publisher, a much better one — only sold twenty-four thousand (in a society with a population over a hundred billion). His publisher explains that there are fewer people reading books at all than the number of books sold — but it simply became a fashion to have it at home. Lampshading the trope, she even calls it the "Pilgrim's Progress Effect."
  • While "Kafkaesque" is a popular adjective, most people haven't read Franz Kafka's stories or know much about his writing except that someone turns into a cockroach.
  • Pinocchio, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, The Wind in the Willows, Mary Poppins, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory? They all originated as novels. Peter Pan? A stage play, and then a novel by the same author. The Jungle Book and Winnie-the-Pooh? Short story collections. And ALL of them are best-known to the public via a particular film adaptation (or maybe two these days) and/or the Disney Animated Canon. Coming to the original texts after those can yield a lot of surprises. (Silver Shoes instead of Ruby Slippers? Peter Pan and Pinocchio are colossal jerks?) So few people realize that there are original, definitive versions of the stories that they become, in the public consciousness, fairy tales, and folklore rather than the work of individual authors. Moreover, all of these works have other media adaptations and variations, some to the point of Adaptation Overdosed — especially in their countries of origin — which haven't been subjected to Pop-Cultural Osmosis. (While the best known adaptations of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Alice in Wonderland are still respectively the 1971 musical film and 1951 Disney animation, you might know that Tim Burton directed his own Truer to the Text adaptation of Chocolate Factory and a re-imagining of Alice...but what about the stage version of the former Sam Mendes helmed in London?) Some even have sequels by the original author or authorized by their estatenote  that fly completely under the radar. (Willy Wonka took on carnivorous blob aliens in outer space and won? Dorothy and her family moved to Oz?)
  • James Fenimore Cooper was the first American writer to achieve massive commercial success abroad and to exert an influence on the leading writers of his day. The Spy is considered the first substantial novel of American literature and The Leatherstocking Tales are considered classics that for instance shaped The Western. Yet all the average American reader today will remember is that Mark Twain lambasted him in a polemic essay, but never read one of Cooper's books, let alone checked if Twain's sweeping claims are factually correct or not.
  • The Shadow knows...but virtually no one knows The Shadow. These days, it's a rare bird indeed who have experienced the original Walter Gibson novels, or any of his numerous radio, comic book, and film adaptations (even the Alec Baldwin joint was ill-attended).
  • Pity Uncle Tom's Cabin. It was the second best-selling book of the 19th century in the U.S.note , but is now known only as of the origin of the slur "Uncle Tom", which has little to do with the anti-slavery novel and everything to do with the pro-slavery minstrel parodies of it.
  • The War of the Worlds: Everyone knows that the aliens are downright unstoppable by normal means but get sick and die. Few know that the novel was written in, and set in, Victorian London in the late 19th century and that the bulk of the novel is actually a realistic account of a city and its people attacked by aliens. Thanks to later adaptations which gave it a Setting Update, many assume that it's written in The '50s or originated as pulp fiction when it was actually quite respectable and valued by readers across genres in its day and age. Also, what many miss is that the aliens are not unstoppable because they are invincible, but because the technology at the time was not advanced enough to fight them effectively (one of the tripods gets smashed by pure chance by artillery in the book).
  • The Color Purple has won several awards and has a memetic reputation especially amongst black Americans, yet the actual book itself doesn't get discussed much besides everyone knowing it's a tearjerker. Due to Adaptation Displacement with its more family-friendly 1980s film, most don't realize that the original book is actually a quite adult story with heavy Queer Romance elements.
  • The Elric Saga is one of the most influential works in Fantasy history, and yet it seems to be utterly obscure among most of the modern fantasy fandom, with even only moderately successful recent series having bigger fandoms and being more widely known. That the series has been damn near plagiarized by many much more famous works seems to be unknown to all but Michael Moorcock himself; How many know that the forces of Chaos in Warhammer 40,000 are based almost wholly on those in the Elric stories, to the extent that even the 8-pointed star of Chaos originates from the Elric stories? No to mention the fact that quite possibly every single soul-stealing sword is just a less interesting copy of Stormbringer...
  • Wuthering Heights is generally known just as the tragic love story between the brooding Heathcliff and the doomed Cathy, set amid the wild and windy Yorkshire moors. Pop culture rarely remembers that Heathcliff is largely a Villain Protagonist, more a brutal deconstruction of the Byronic Hero than a straight example. Or that Cathy is no gentle girl to his brooding boy, but just as wild, fierce and cruel as he is. Or that they never roam the moors together as young adult lovers, but only while growing up together as children. Or, least of all, that Cathy dies less than halfway through the book and the second half revolves around a second generation of young people, whom an older Heathcliff abuses.
  • There are a lot of fans of the general style of horror H. P. Lovecraft pioneered, but most peoples' knowledge ends with knowing the names of a few of his more famous monsters, like Cthulhu, the Deep Ones, and Shoggoths. Ask many fans of Lovecraftian horror about the Dreamlands, the Cats of Ulthar, the air-conditioning zombie, and other more obscure elements of his work, and you'll get a lot of blank stares. And that's not getting into the severe racism and classim he expressed in most of his works...

    Literature — Other 
  • Hamlet is one of Shakespeare's best-known plays, and many people will probably be able to quote a couple of scenes, like "To be or not to be" or Alas, Poor Yorick. But most will never have read the play or seen it performed on stage. They just know that everyone dies, and it had something to do with Yorick. This can be extended to all Shakespeare plays, though a few of them (including Hamlet) are often taught at schools in English-speaking countries (frequently accompanied by field trips to see them performed). The most blatant Shakespeare example is actually Romeo and Juliet. It seems to be remembered by pop culture as a tragic tale of true love, and the "Wherefore art thou Romeo" scene, but otherwise you'd be hard-pressed to find someone who knows the plot in any kind of detail.
  • Everyone knows about Sun Tzu's The Art of War, which could arguably be the most well known military book ever, mostly after it was discovered and adopted by corporate schools and businessmen and repurposed as a self-help book. But they almost certainly haven't read it in full, and probably don't even know that it's very short and reads mostly like a poem.
  • Likewise, Clausewitz' On War and Guderian's Achtung - Panzer! are known for just two things. That they are important works about military strategy and tactics and that they were written by Germans. In the case of "On War", maybe someone will be able to recall its most famous quote — War is the continuation of politics by other means.
  • The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, though it's pretty common reading in colleges, although even there, a few of the Tales tend to be skipped since for logical reasons, it is incomplete and only a few of the tales are even really good (and some of them are anti-semitic).
  • Paradise Lost. Most people know the name and can quote "Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven," though they don't know from the context that it's not supposed to be taken at face value, especially since Satan doesn't really reign anywhere. Hell is his prison, not his palace.
  • Even among communists, Karl Marx was hardly widely read. Anti-Communists frequently act as if Das Kapital (it is famous for its German title as opposed to "Capital", its English title) is the Bible for Commies. In truth, the most widely read work of Marx is The Communist Manifesto precisely because it is short, and it was a summary intended for general readers and so simplifies Marx's complex ideas. Das Kapital is an incomplete work, only the first volume was published in Marx's lifetime, and it's a 500+ page book of dense economic theory full of tables and formulae, not amazing socio-economic rhetoric.
  • Niccolò Machiavelli. Everyone has heard of him, or at least the adjective that he spawned. Few have actually read the treatise that earned him his reputation, The Prince, and even fewer have read any of his other stuff.
  • Dante Alighieri's The Divine Comedy is known for its basic plot structure, and for its first episode Inferno, which overshadows Purgatorio and Paradiso note . Even most people who have read Inferno never bother to read the other two books. Bonus points if they know it's 'Inferno' written by Dante, and not just Dante's Inferno. More points to people who are aware that it isn't official church canon; then again, it is the (co-)Trope Namer for Word of Dante.
  • Classical authors, and any work by them that you can name. Many people know the plot of Homer's The Odyssey, but few have actually read a translation of the epic poem. You probably already know what manner of nasty surprise awaited Oedipus Rex, but how many know the rest of the story, or even the name of the author? Homer's Iliad, Virgil's Aeneid, Ovid's Metamorphoses — all famous works, but few get further than the names. Only one classical author comes anywhere near managing to avoid this trope — our old friend and multiple trope namer Aesop, whose fables, Bowdlerised as they might be, are still read to kids all over the world. The Coen Brothers managed to adapt The Odyssey into O Brother, Where Art Thou? without ever reading it.
  • It should be noted that in most of Europe (meaning France, Belgium, and Germany, for instance) Latin works avert this due to being taught in Latin classes, which are popular with students seeking higher forms of language education. With Greek works however it is played straight, while they get passing reference in Latin and some excerpts are read in their translated forms they are only feverishly analyzed and studied in Greek lessons, which scare most people off due to the foreign alphabet.
  • Faust isn't a straight example, being derived from German folk legends, with no definitive, seminal work moving it into the literary canon. However, most subsequent works did derive from the plays by Marlowe (The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus, 1604) and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (Faust, 1808/1832), and, more importantly for this trope, the majority of people know Faust entirely through Popcultural Osmosis, and few have read any of the source material. Unless you're German. Unlike most classic works on this page, Goethe's Faust is the one book everyone has to read in school in Germany. Even if it's just a few passages. Bonus points for the fact that the younger generationnote  is more likely to link the name Faust with various Western Animation series of the 2000s and The New '10s.
  • The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon. It is a rather hefty beast, running to six volumes. Historians do read it, as it is still considered authoritative in many respects, and also because it is the earliest such work to actually reference and cite sources. We tropers tend to pick up the title through Pop-Cultural Osmosis, amplified by the fact that every title with "decline and fall" or "rise and fall" is, ultimately, a Shout-Out to it.
  • Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time has sold more than 9 million copies and is probably the first thing people think of when anyone mentions Stephen Hawking (aside from his voice), but is often cited as an example of an "unread bestseller". Hawking mentions this in his 2013 autobiography My Brief History, stating that "It has been suggested that many people bought the book to display on the bookcase or on the coffee table, without having actually read it". Those who have read the book tend to mock others for making a big deal since it is indeed a "brief" history, a short book on physics for the general reader, with highly simplified language free of jargon, and many simple analogies.
  • Hunter S. Thompson is the first name that anyone thinks of when the term "Gonzo journalism" is thrown about, and "Fear and Loathing in X" has become a veritable pop-culture snowclone, but you'd be hard-pressed to find many who've read the book in question (there's also an element of Adaptation Displacement at play here) or any of his other works. In fact, many so-called "fans" of Thompson like him more for the fact that he was a Cool Old Guy who liked to smoke, drink, take drugs and shoot his gun a lot, rather than having read any of his novels.
  • In the same vein there is William S. Burroughs. Loved by many Rock and Punk Rock fans for being an open heroin user, yet most have never been able to get past a few more pages of Naked Lunch and are thus unaware that even Burroughs himself wasn't always that positive about being addicted to heroin.
  • Oscar Wilde is best known for being jailed for being gay and a lot of witty sayings. His work? Not that famous to most people, who seldom read it. Even The Importance of Being Earnest, which still turns up quite frequently in stage and screen adaptations, is little known, and most know the gimmick of The Picture of Dorian Gray.
  • George Bernard Shaw: A man with a beard who liked to take Refuge in Audacity. Does anyone know or attend any of his plays? That is, besides Pygmalion, and even that one probably mostly due to film adaptation which has arguably itself moved into this.
  • Samuel Beckett is known for Waiting for Godot and most people know two characters wait for Godot, who never arrives. His other plays are not as well known, and the novels, which are what defined his literary career...well, they tend to make James Joyce look accessible.
  • Many fairy tales also fall into this trope. Most people know only the classic stories and not the more obscure tales by The Brothers Grimm, Arabian Nights, Charles Perrault, Hans Christian Andersen and/or Joseph Jacobs. Even the more iconic stories are better known in bowdlerised versions, made popular by Walt Disney and Shrek, which often have little to do with the originals. The general public has never read the entire collected fairy tales of these authors from the first page until the last and would probably be amazed that a lot of these stories aren't exactly that child-friendly due to Values Dissonance.
  • Nostradamus' Prophecies: Many people have heard of Nostradamus and know he predicted future events, but the amount of people who've actually tried to read his "Prophecies" (even in translation) is much, much lower. Anyone who ever did quickly comes to the conclusion that none of it is as clear, accurate and specific as his reputation pretends it to be.
  • Most people have heard of Edgar Allan Poe, a.k.a. the guy who invented the gothic horror genre. Not so many have actually read any of his works. Even fewer know of his poetry (except The Raven), parodies, detective storiesnote , or fondness for cryptography.
  • Rosemary Wells is known as the creator of Max and Ruby. But not that many people have read the original book versions or read other books written or illustrated by Wells.

    Live-Action TV 
  • This is true of virtually the entire Joss Whedon oeuvre: his film of The Avengers was his very first work to achieve mainstream popular success. The foremost example is Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Because of its attractive star and support from critics, it's not exactly ignored by the press. The name also makes it very memorable. Finally, there's generally a lack of A) canonical vampire slayers and B) female leads in genre programs, so Buffy the character usually finds a niche in pop culture conversations. However, the show itself was never highly watched in its prime. People also don't remember some of the highlights of Whedon's early career, such as writing a good deal of the dialogue for Toy Story. And practically no one has ever heard of his father and grandfather, even though they were also television writers (and the grandfather actually wrote for Leave It to Beaver!).
    • Ironically, the above also applies to the 1992 film that introduced the world to the Buffy character in the first place. There are probably plenty of non-Buffy fans who are vaguely aware of its existence, having maybe seen it in a video store once or twice...but they couldn't mention anyone who was in it, despite one of those people being Luke Perry. Or another one of those people being Paul Reubens. Or two more of those people being Ben Affleck and Hilary Swank!
  • The CW seems to be all about this. "TV to talk about," but not necessarily TV to see. Gossip Girl, for all its buzz, rarely draws more than a couple million viewers a week. Averted with Supernatural and Arrow to an extent.
  • Likewise, AMC's Mad Men and Breaking Bad are standard name-dropping fare for people wanting to seem cultured, but continue to get mediocre audiences (even for cable) for shows with so many Emmys. Though the latter ultimately averted this near the end of the series note  Having its first 5 seasons streaming on Netflix and excellent word-of-mouth no doubt helped to promote it to a wider audience in time for the Series Finale. AMC's third hit series, The Walking Dead, on the other hand, averted this from the beginning.
  • There are very few people who have seen acclaimed shows like The Wire in full, yet because it is the general opinion of critics, they immediately proclaim them "the greatest TV show ever made" after watching the first few episodes. This is silly, given that it's a very slow-burning show which takes several episodes to get going. In general, shows on HBO and Showtime tend to have this problem, in part because they are higher tier networks that people have to pay extra for, thus meaning that most people can't see them legally unless they watch them on DVD or even digitally (either via downloading or streaming).
  • This often occurs with certain episodes of some TV shows, many people have probably seen these shows since they often relive in syndication and on TV Land long after cancellation, but not necessarily episodes often cited as classics.
    • Most people could probably say that "Lucy Does a TV Commercial" is commonly considered the best I Love Lucy episode, but not anything beyond about it besides the obvious said in the title.
    • Similarly The Mary Tyler Moore Show episode "Chuckles Bites The Dust" has often been cited as one of if not the funniest TV episode of all time...but how many who are aware of that "fact" have even seen it or any episode of the show? In a similar vein, the show's theme song and opening sequence are far more recognizable than anything about the actual show.
    • Even the case for more recent shows. Everyone who was born before or during Seinfeld was on the air has seen an episode in syndication at least once, but that's not necessarily "The Soup Nazi". However, everyone can state the basic premise of the episode or quote the character's famous catchphrase.
    • Ellen is almost always thought of as "that show where the lead character came out". If you were very young or not yet born in the '90s, you might be forgiven for assuming it was, from beginning to end, a show about a woman coming to terms with her sexuality, when in fact for three seasons it was a somewhat run-of-the-mill Seinfeldian "comedian gets a sitcom"-type show, and it wasn't until the end of the third season that she came out, then spent exactly one season focusing on her being an out lesbian before being canceled.
  • Everyone knows Twin Peaks was weird and focused on the question of who killed someone named Laura Palmer, but not much beyond that is remembered. This may be for the best, since it prevents the killer's identity from becoming common knowledge, allowing new viewers to properly experience the mystery for themselves. And it actually got terrific ratings in its day, and its third season "The Return" is seen as a fitting Grand Finale.
  • The Prisoner (1967) was the show with the guy and the giant balloon, right? And he had, like, a jacket, and he was a number or something?
  • Monty Python's Flying Circus: most people know Monty Python only for their films and even in that case solely for Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The amount of people who actually watched the TV series is far lower. It's safe to say that although Monty Python has a small, but dedicated geeky fan base the general public has probably only watched about half an episode of the in total four seasons before deciding it's too weird or they just didn't get it. Probably more people are familiar with their most popular and accessible individual sketches, like the Dead Parrot, Lumberjack Song, Nudge Nudge and The Ministry Of Silly Walks, which are frequently compiled out of context — and often heavily edited — on DVDs or web video channels than the more obscure Reference Overdosed Anti-Humor sketches.
    • Similarly John Cleese and maybe Michael Palin are the only Pythons most people can recognize by face and name. The others' faces will ring a bell if you've watched any of their episodes or films, but only dedicated fans will be able to name them.
    • There are also many (primarily non-British) people who have never seen the TV show or the films and are (passingly) aware of the Python phenomenon as merely a crude pastiche of countercultural Deranged Animation and quirky humor that only nerds could possibly understand. Many assume it's all completely incomprehensible and don't bother to even watch it.
  • Just about everybody in the world knows who the Power Rangers are, but the only incarnation everyone can identify is Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers, to the point that if you mention "Power Rangers" to somebody it will probably be the first thing that comes to mind. But with that being said, it's extremely difficult to find non-fans who can name any of the other seasons. And while most people will recognize the color-coded ranger characters, far fewer will be able to know the human identities behind them.
  • Hannah Montana is an even bigger victim of this than Victorious or Wizards of Waverly Place. Even when the show was still running, it was famous for being Disney Channel's Flagship Franchise, and the pop idol it spawned with the title character, but not a lot more. It was to the point that people would call Miley Cyrus "Hannah Montana" even when the show had nothing to do with it. Nowadays, it's best known for being the show Cyrus was on before she later became a solo pop star and was Overshadowed by Controversy in 2013 for her infamous behavior. To this day, few people can actually name any of its characters besides the title character (including the "normal" persona of the lead character, Miley Stewart) or its other five lead actors (with the possible exception of Billy Ray Cyrus; in the context of being the "Achy Breaky Heart" guy or Miley's dad rather than being on the show), or know anything besides the basic premise, yet they know it exactly for what the show would spawn into. As for people who grew up watching the show frequently as kids, this may be a subversion. Many a Disney Channel watcher at the time knew the names of the actors on all their shows via the frequently airing "You're Watching Disney Channel" bumps and the several appearances in commercial breaks.
  • That '70s Show: Although it still is a Cult Classic, mainstream audiences probably know it better as the show that Ashton Kutcher, Mila Kunis, and "that girl from Orange Is the New Black" (Laura Prepon) were on before becoming more famous.
  • The Mickey Mouse Club is overall mostly known for the theme song and its "Mouseketeers". The '90s version is only known to the mainstream for Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, and Christina Aguilera appearing on the show before they became household names. (It isn't nearly as well known that Ryan Gosling was on the show as it is with the former three). Amusingly, not only were none of the original cast members (the show actually premiered in the very late '80s), but the first three weren't even the first pop stars who had their careers launched by the program. ("The Party", anyone?) The 1950s original? Good luck finding anyone under the age of 65 who remembers it for anything other than Annette Funicello boob jokes.
  • Ultraman: In the west, the eponymous hero is a decently well-known character with a recognizable appearance and a reputation for battling giant monsters and being very popular in Japan. Other than that, people really don't seem to know anything about him and the Ultra Series. Even on this very wiki, people will call every different Ultra Series and every individual Ultra hero just "Ultraman" under the assumption that there was a single long-running show in the 60s and 70snote  featuring different versions of the same character.
  • Anything related to Doctor Who prior to its revival in 2005. More people know it for scaring kids enough to make them hide behind the sofa despite its cheesy special effects than for its plotlines or most of its characters, and it's rare for a pre-revival Doctor that isn't Tom Baker's (the Fourth, who did have the longest tenure) to be referenced. Additionally, there are a number of individual stories that suffer from this. For instance, more people can tell you that "The War Games" introduced the Time Lords in its final episode than can describe the plot of the first nine episodes of the story leading up to it.
    • Doctor Who is mainstream enough that almost everyone is aware of the name and basic premise, but few outside the fandom know of the spinoff shows Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures, or that the former is decidedly not family-friendly.
  • Degrassi: The Next Generation. Most people will be aware of it because it was Drake's show before he became a famous rapper. Not a lot of people outside the core demographic will be able to tell you about the show.
  • The PBS show “ZOOM” is pretty well known, but neither incarnation received any official release. The original version hasn’t been broadcast since the early 80’s and only recently have any full episodes appeared online. The revival hasn’t been broadcast on PBS in almost a decade and a half; most episodes didn’t appear online in their entirety until about 8 years after it went off the air. On top of that, most episodes only aired around 10 times (due to PBS phasing our older seasons for whatever reason), making the episodes that are still missing very hard to find.
  • Arrowverse: The shows that formed the Arrowverse have a dedicated cult fandom, and due to being adaptations of DC Comics superheroes they're very well known, however despite this, thanks to the shows never having high viewership numbers they're pretty much only known for their titular characters. This is not helped by how much the franchise underwent significant Seasonal Rot as time went on, to the point that much of the viewership dropped the shows and later instalments became so Overshadowed by Controversy that in some cases, like Batwoman (2019), people are probably more aware of the behind-the-scenes drama than details of the show itself. Muddying things further, the shows are largely based around B-list superheroes who had rarely if ever gotten serious attempts at adaptations, causing these shows, despite their obscurity, being the only thing people know about the respective characters. Given the aforementioned Seasonal Rot and the Adaptation Deviation, fans of the franchises attached tend to be a little peeved at this state.
  • Victorious was very popular during its initial run, with viewing figures at its peak comparable to its more fondly remembered counterpart iCarly, and it did well enough with viewers to launch an (admittedly short-lived) spin-off crossing over with said counterpart. But compared to other Nickelodeon tween sitcoms, it's mostly only remembered for its shipping drama, a few screenshots that had a long afterlife on Tumblr, and as "that kids show where Ariana Grande played a supporting role before she became a mega-star."

  • Classical Music generally suffers from this. The composers have become proverbial household names, their famous works are reduced to a few famous pieces that are repurposed as ad-jingles, ringtones, or Standard Snippet and are often known or heard via Parody Displacement and Pop-Cultural Osmosis.
    • Johann Sebastian Bach is widely seen as a high point of classical music, but the most recognized work by him is the opening tunes of Toccata and Fugue in D minor. Among aficionados, the authorship is still up for debate to be attributed to him on that piece.
    • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart has a huge body of work, but is mostly reduced to the first few notes of "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik", the "Requiem", the "Queen of the Night" chorus from The Magic Flute, his 40th Symphony, his 25th Symphony, and Rondo Alla Turca. To most people, he is just a Child Prodigy in a wig. And Amadeus hasn't done his reputation much good either. The general public nowadays has the impression he was a cross between a genius and a Manchild with an obnoxious laugh who spoke with a very thick American accent.
    • Most people can recognize the first few notes of "Für Elise" and his Ode to Joy from the Ninth Symphony, but have never heard the rest of the music that follows. Everyone knows Beethoven's grumpy face and knows he was deaf.
    • Antonio Vivaldi is best known for The Four Seasons, but usually only the opening movements of Spring. That he wrote other music too is totally unknown.
    • Also sprach Zarathustra by Richard Strauss is best known for the "Sunrise" segment, famously used in 2001: A Space Odyssey and by Ric Flair, but the rest of the score is totally unknown.
    • Edvard Grieg's score for Peer Gynt is often reduced to simply the "Morning Mood", "Aase's Death", "Anitra's Dance" and "In the Hall of the Mountain King". That the work has more pieces than that is usually not known, let alone that he composed other stuff too. On the flip side, his music is far more famous and reproduced more often than Henrik Ibsen's masterpiece, so there's that.
    • Igor Stravinsky is well known as one of the most famous, important, influential and versatile classical composers of the 20th century. Despite that he is just known for snippets from The Firebird and The Rite of Spring and in the case of the latter only for the huge riot that broke out during the premier in 1913. That he also composed less brutal music is mostly unknown, let alone that the majority of his oeuvre was in fact quite accessible neoclassical music.
  • Bob Marley is known for popularizing reggae and Jamaican culture as well, but... a very known misconception on the Internet is that he wrote or performed every traditional reggae music ever recorded in the 20th century. Yes, even reggae music recorded after 1981, like this song recorded in 1993.
  • Richard Wagner. You definitely know "Ride of the Valkyries" from Die Walküre and the "Bridal Chorus" from Lohengrin (though probably without the words), and you might know "The Pilgrims' Chorus" from Tannhäuser (though it isn't performed in one chunk like that in the opera) or the "Liebestod" from Tristan und Isolde, but that will be about it. He wrote 113 compositions, including 13 operas (most of which were rather too long, making their Mainstream Obscurity understandable).
    Wagner has great moments but dull quarter hoursGioachino Rossini
    • What little most people know of Wagner's music is because it's been used in other places—Apocalypse Now and the Looney Tunes cartoon "What's Opera, Doc?" for "Ride of the Valkyries," and weddings for the "Bridal Chorus". Check out the Classics section of Standard Snippet for these and other bits of Wagner that you never knew you knew.
    • "Liebestod" is an example on its own. It is one of the more famous bits of Wagner, a notable finale and dramatic death scene from someone who put a lot into his dramatic deaths. It is a true test of both the musical director and the female lead to be able to do it justice. Now, how does the tune go?
  • Maurice Ravel: Known for solely the "Boléro", which is almost a Black Sheep Hit, as the rest of his oeuvre sounds totally different.
  • Camille Saint Saëns: Apart from "Danse Macabre" and "Carnival Of The Animals" it almost seems as if he didn't do anything else in his life.
  • Erik Satie: Hailed as one of the great innovators of classical music, yet apart from "Trois Gymnopédies", which can be heard on soundtracks once in a while, his music isn't that well known to the general public.
  • Edward Elgar: In the UK he is known for the "Land Of Hope And Glory" march from "Pomp & Circumstance", which is still played annually to bring up Patriotic Fervor during the Last Night of the Proms and other official UK national manifestations. In the US he is known for the same melody but associated with college graduations and Macho Men. So it's safe to say that that one section of the entire "Pomp & Circumstance" march is more well known than anything else he ever did. "Nimrod" from the Enigma Variations is also a standard snippet, but it's open to question how many people actually recognise it as his.
  • Gustav Holst: "The Planets" is one of the most popular musical works of all time and has been plagiarized so often by other composers, especially on movie soundtracks that depict science fiction or battles that most people probably assume he stole it from them instead of the other way around. It's also his only famous work, more well known than the composer itself.
    • Within "The Planets" itself, everybody knows how Mars and Jupiter go, and there must presumably be another five, but...
  • Aaron Copland is one of America's most celebrated composers, yet only "Hoedown" and "Fanfare For The Common Man" may ring a bell when played on a CD.
  • Swan Lake by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: the first name people think of when it comes to ballet, note  but that's often as far as it goes. Music-wise, the Overture, the Waltz, and the Cygnets Dance get out in the public consciousness somewhat, but that's out of a running time of around two hours. Comparatively few people have seen the entire ballet (even on TV), or are aware of its characters, plot or composer.
    • As for some of Tchaikovsky's other works, you'd likely recognize the swooning string lines from his Romeo and Juliet Fantasy-Overture and the rousing finale of the 1812 Overture (a melody which first shows up early in the piece), but those are mere snippets of pieces which both stretch well over fifteen minutes. And many Americans also run the risk of attributing the latter as a piece written about their own War of 1812 and not Napoleon's Russian invasion, despite the liberal use of the French national anthem and Russian folk tunes to symbolize the warring armies.
  • Jazz: Many jazz icons are well known, but when it comes to attributing individual works to them most people are unable to name one. Even in Louis Armstrong's case, they'll probably name "Hello Dolly" and "What A Wonderful World", which are just songs, not jazz compositions, and Armstrong is well known for his distinctive singing voice and not as a trumpeter which is what his work in Jazz is based on.
    • Miles Davis is that guy in the Cool Hat, Cool Shades who faced his audience backward during concerts. Some may be able to name Kind of Blue or Bitches Brew, but that's about all most people know about this iconic jazz legend.
    • Dizzy Gillespie's face with the bulbous lips when he played the trumpet is more iconic than the number of people who can identify his name, let alone one track by him.
    • Glenn Miller: One of the most famous big band leaders of all time, yet apart from "In the Mood" and "Moonlight Serenade" most people wouldn't recognize much of his work, and if they know about him, it's for his mysterious disappearance.
  • Steve Vai is probably the most well-known example in rock, since he is constantly cited as one of the best guitarists ever, and yet none of his songs or albums are well known by anyone who hasn't specifically looked them up. Not far behind is Joe Satriani, often compared to Vai, whose album Surfing With The Alien is more famous, yet is not known for any particular tracks.
    • Vai and Satriani are well-known as sidemen and band members, Vai as a member of David Lee Roth's band from 1986-88 and as a one-time member of Whitesnake, and Satriani as a sideman for Mick Jagger and as a member of Chickenfoot. Then again, Chickenfoot is probably best known as that supergroup with Joe Satriani in it, so we're right back to where we started.
  • Swans were merely a cult band for a while. But in 2012 when The Seer was released to great acclaim and in 2014 when To Be Kind hit #37 on the album charts, they became shorthand for "that one obscure rock group with Gira and stuff".
  • Many of the most critically hailed rock and pop albums of all time are mostly known either for their cover artwork, their name, or the one hit song on the record:
    • Most people recognize The Velvet Underground & Nico for its Andy Warhol banana cover, but only rock fans can name any of its tracks ("I'm Waiting For The Man" is the only track to get airplay despite not being single). Thanks to covers such as R.E.M.'s versions of "There She Goes Again" and "Femme Fatale" and Japan's version of "All Tomorrow's Parties", tracks from the album are known by people who were already fans of those bands before they checked out the Velvets.
    • The cover of Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols is the iconic image of punk but any tracks other than "Anarchy in the UK", "God Save the Queen" and "Pretty Vacant" are fairly obscure. "Holidays In The Sun" was a single at the time but has not managed to get the airplay the others did, even after their renewed popularity. Outside Punk Rock circles, most people who know next to nothing about the genre have all heard of the Sex Pistols and will likely namedrop them if they have to talk about punk music. Yet in many cases, it will be wrong assumptions. For instance: nobody within the Sex Pistols ever wore a punk mohawk or had a safety pin through his nose, yet many people assume they did, because, hey they are punkers right? Johnny Rotten once said, "I don't know why everybody thought we wore leather jackets, we couldn't afford 'em."
    • Radiohead's OK Computer has been named the best album of the '90s, but, again, few people can name a single track from it except "Karma Police", "Paranoid Android" and "No Surprises"". It remains fashionable to list Kid A as one of the best albums of the 2000s, yet nobody comments on that many of the tracks.
    • Not just individual albums, but the whole of a band's oeuvre can suffer from this. Jethro Tull for example. Epically long and prolific career, but known only for (a) the image of Ian Anderson playing the flute standing on one leg, and (b) the opening guitar riff from Aqualung, and (c) Living in the Past — a song which the band have often said that they are sick and tired of and regret having written, exactly because it's all many people ever think of when thinking of Tull (made worse by the fact that it was an Old Shame song that didn't become a hit until several years after it was recorded).
    • Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon is one of the most well-known rock albums ever made, and a common candidate for Pink Floyd's best album, with its cover in particular being one of the most widely-parodied out there and practically a cultural shorthand for "classic rock fan and/or stoner." It's even inspired famous conspiracy theories, such as that it syncs up to The Wizard of Oz. Yet most people would have a harder time naming a specific song on the album, outside of maybe the One-Woman Wail of "Great Gig in the Sky"; "Money" was the most commercially successful song on the album and only charted to #13. When people think of great Pink Floyd songs, they're far more likely to think of tracks from Wish You Were Here or The Wall, neither of which have achieved the same level of cultural penetration. Part of it is that many of the songs on the album are decidedly radio-unfriendly and meant to work as part of the album as a whole, with many instrumental pieces or deliberately unpleasant or dissonant elements (the opening song, "Speak to Me", is a sound collage that spends a chunk of time in silence).
  • Almost everyone will at least recognize one of AC/DC's Standard Snippets (the opening riffs of "Back in Black", "Highway to Hell" and "Thunderstruck" in particular) when they hear it. Back in Black is the second-highest selling album of all-time (behind only Michael Jackson's Thriller), putting Akka Dakka in contention for the title of "most-successful band ever", but most non-Australians under the age of 25 would only know them from Iron Man and Megamind.
  • Richard Thompson, with or without Linda, is a world-renowned guitarist and always has several albums on best-of lists, but few people can name any of his songs. He has been called "the best guitarist nobody has heard of".
  • Slayer: "The most talked-about band that no one actually listens to." Reign in Blood is hailed as their best, but how many people outside the metalhead community have ever tried to listen or analyze it?
    • Similarly, Anal Cunt are a band well known for their (jokingly) obscene titles and noisy screaming (ironically more well known than many legitimate grindcore artists), but very few people have bought one of their albums.
  • You know the Epic Riff from "Smoke on the Water" from Machine Head? If you know anything at all about music or have ever heard anyone learning the guitar, or even just play rhythm games, you know that riff. However, Deep Purple is surprisingly obscure nowadays for such a prolific and popular band. And the riff itself is lifted from a Gil Evans jazz piece.
  • Marilyn Manson is known mostly because of how offended the collective Moral Guardians of The '90s were at his very existence. A lot of people will know his cover of "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)" and his song ""The Beautiful People", but nobody will know that The Beautiful People is from a concept album, Antichrist Superstar, that there were two more after that, that they tell a continuous story when listened to in reverse from release order, or who the protagonists of those albums are. Even less will know about Manson battling depression and suicidal thoughts for most of his life, his history of self-harm, or his relationship problems.
  • The song "Linus and Lucy" (the unofficial theme for the Peanuts animated specials) actually has a jazz section in the middle that most people never noticed (and it is a shock when people learn to play it).
  • Leonard Cohen's name comes up frequently as one of the top songwriters of the past 50 years. But ask the average person on the street if they can name even one song he wrote; don't be surprised if the responses are mostly blank stares. There is a good chance your average person would at least recognize "Hallelujah" if played it due to its frequent covers or uses in TV shows and film, though they might not be aware it's by him. The most famous cover version of it — by Jeff Buckley on his album Grace — is in itself a cover of John Cale (ex Velvet Underground)'s own cover arrangement from one of his solo albums, a fact which very few know about, even though Cale's version was featured in Shrek (as done by Rufus Wainwright).
  • The most popular bands in metal (System of a Down, Megadeth, Iron Maiden, Slipknot, Metallica (possibly the biggest metal band), etc.) are generally able to be named by the average person. However, it's rare to find a non-metal or non-rock fan who's actually listened to them.
  • Cannibal Corpse. There are few people out there who haven't heard their name before, but the average music fan's knowledge of them is ignorance at its finest. It's not uncommon to hear fans of mainstream metal call them out as noisy trash, meaning that despite being the most famous name in death metal by far, only those who actually like death metal know anything about their actual music rather than just about their controversial cover art.
    • Their current singer George "Corpsegrinder" Fisher is one of the most famous people in death metal music, if partially due to his huge neck. What most non-fans don't know is that he was not their original singer or songwriter; Chris Barnes was. In fact, Barnes was responsible for the band's most famous and controversial material, so it's entirely possible that the average person associates Corpsegrinder with songs that weren't even his!
  • Frank Zappa: An instantly recognizable rock musician, down to his mustache, and widely hailed as an innovative and creative musical artist, whose scope goes well beyond the narrow boundaries of rock alone, with influences from Jazz, Classical Music, Doo-wop and World Music. That said, he is still mostly ignored, overlooked or misunderstood by the general public, rock fans, and critics. The number of people who actually listened to his work, let alone enjoyed it, is staggeringly low. Mostly because he never received much airplay on radio and TV and never had any real hits, besides "Bobby Brown Goes Down" from "Sheik Yerbouti" in Europe, which was a number 1 hit in Norway at the time. His biggest hit in the USA was "Valley Girl" (1982) note , which even led to the Valley Girl phenomenon, much to Zappa's hatred. When "Valley Girl" became an unexpected national phenomenon with a lot of Misaimed Fandom from people who didn't get that it was meant as a Satire Zappa regretted ever recording it. He never released it on single nor performed it live. None of these two songs give a good scope of Zappa's iconoclastic style as they are both pretty straightforward novelty songs. Even among those who actually like Zappa, there are still fans who only like a couple of his albums, and downright dismiss some parts of his gigantic and versatile oeuvre. Or they only know him for naming two of his children "Dweezil" and "Moon Unit".note 
  • Hank Williams: the most important and influential country musician before Johnny Cash, but how many music fans are familiar with his work? Time Magazine even put a compilation album by him, Turn Back the Years: The Essential Hank Williams Collection in their All-Time 100 Albums list, which praises the most essential and timeless music albums of all time. Yet outside the USA and country music fan circles most people don't know anything about his work.
  • Carole King: This artist has the best-selling solo album by a solo artist on her name note . King's Tapestry has been bought by millions of people, praised by critics, yet has never reached the same amount of mainstream notability other famous albums did. Nowadays most people born after 1980 have probably never even heard of Carole King!
  • Captain Beefheart: One of the most influential alternative musicians of all time, widely praised as one of the great innovators and frequently namedropped, covered, and respected by the biggest names in Indie, Punk Rock, New Wave Music, Grunge, Avant-garde Music or Alternative Rock. Yet he is virtually unknown to the general audience. Most people who listen to his music find it too dissonant to listen to. Even his fans won't listen much more than a few times a year to stuff like Trout Mask Replica.
  • Many artists who are generally seen as groundbreaking, innovative or important and pop up in a lot of historical chronicles and/or Top 100 lists are sometimes only music critics' darlings and virtually unknown or nothing more than a name to other listeners: The Residents, Sonic Youth, MC5, Thelonious Monk, Lee Scratch Perry, King Tubby, John Zorn, Joni Mitchell, Bonnie Raitt, The Electric Prunes, Can, Neu!, Os Mutantes, JJ Cale, John Cale, Velvet Underground, Holger Czukay, David Sylvian, Jah Wobble, Mr. Bungle, Public Image Ltd.,...
    • Even with pop music acts this can be the case. Most people are only familiar with the pop music they grew up with during their childhood, teenage years, and perhaps college period. As they grow older and don't quite listen to much hit parade music anymore they may be aware of the newer pop stars, but more because of their coverage in the popular press. At this moment, for instance, people can be aware of Madonna, Justin Bieber, Rihanna, or Britney Spears more because they frequently make headlines, without actually having heard one note of their music.
  • While Dave Brubeck may be well known for his composition "Take Five" (actually by Paul Desmond), much of his other work is not well known outside of jazz circles. Brubeck composed more mainstream jazz pieces in addition to his wild metered signature piece.
  • The Grateful Dead: If you have to name a cult rock band they are perhaps the best example, due to their fanbase even having a special nickname ("Deadheads") and many of them religiously attending their concerts. They are also most people's idea of hippie music. Yet, when all of that is said and done: how many songs or albums can you name by this group (aside from "Touch of Grey")? That's right, the Grateful Dead are nowadays actually more famous as an iconic hippie band, stoner band, and/or concert experience than for their songs or albums.
  • Lou Reed's album Metal Machine Music is notorious among rock fans, but the amount of people who actually listened to it, let alone from beginning to end, is practically nil. And not surprising, really: It's a double LP with nothing but guitar feedback and continuous droning.
  • John Lennon's first solo album with Yoko Ono, Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins, is probably better known for the cover than the content on the record. Back in 1968 many people listened to it once, then never played it again. It's literally nothing but an uninterrupted recording of them talking and making noise. But at least this album has some notability, while the two experimental follow-ups Unfinished Music No. 2: Life with the Lions and Wedding Album are almost entirely forgotten. Snippets of recordings are sometimes used in documentaries about Lennon and Yoko, but that's about it.
    • The same goes for Yoko Ono herself. She is the most recognizable Avant-garde Music and performance artist in the world, but almost nobody has listened to any of her albums. And if they did they usually didn't like it.
  • The Fugs are one of the better-known counterculture bands of The '60s, notorious for their Refuge in Audacity lyrics which even got them shadowed by the F.B.I., yet to the average music fan, they are fairly obscure nowadays.
  • Hell, take any famous easy listening melody that you frequently hear on the radio, in advertising spots, movies or TV series and chances are that most people will instantly recognize the melody and sing along to it, but won't be able to tell you who wrote it, who sang it and/or what the title is. In some cases, they are quick to associate it with the film, commercial or TV series they saw it in and assume it was specifically written for the occasion.
  • Shaman is Santana's most successful album of the new millennium, but aside from "The Game of Love" and "Why Don't You & I" (and don't expect people to remember the Chad Kroeger version), good luck finding anybody's who's actually taken the time to listen to the album. Heck, the same problem exists with Supernatural; aside from the #1 mega-hit "Smooth" nobody can name any other songs on the album (including its other #1 "Maria Maria")
  • Anyone who has spent any amount of time watching movie trailers can recognize "O Fortuna," the Standard Snippet of the Carmina Burana. The vast majority of these people will not know that said snippet is actually just the first (and last) movement of 25. The full version is made up of medieval poetry in German and Latin.
  • The Roots are among the most acclaimed and respected hip hop groups in existence and have also been Jimmy Fallon's house band since 2009. Yet, aside from "The Seed (2.0)" and the Grammy-winning "You Got Me", you're unlikely to find a non-fan who's familiar with any of their music. Todd in the Shadows, in fact, described them as "a group people say they like but don't actually listen to."
  • Al Jolson was one of the most famous and popular singers of the first half of the 20th century, but today he is only remembered for appearing in The Jazz Singer, the first "talkie" ever made, and being the best example of a Blackface singer.
  • Ravi Shankar: The world's most famous and recognizable Indian musician. Most people will know him through his association with The Beatles, but are unaware that he already had a long career before he met them and/or that he didn't simply vanish from existence after the 1960s were over. Classic movie fans know him for his work as a composer on Satyajit Ray's films.
  • Tech N9ne has a dedicated and outspoken fan base, that tends to congregate in certain corners of the internet and make themselves known. He's sold two million albums but released a total of 16, but only one song of his has ever charted on the Hot 100 (only briefly, and only because it featured 2 Chainz and B.o.B). Chances are if someone has heard his music, it's probably through one of the many movies, TV shows, and video games his music has been featured in.
  • El-P has been a longstanding figurehead of underground hip-hop whose various projects have all been highly celebrated and whose rapping and production work are both held in high regard, while Definitive Jux (which he ran) was home to numerous other major figures in the underground, namely Del Tha Funkee Homosapien, Aesop Rock, Cage, Cannibal Ox, and Mr. Lif. However, as far as the mainstream is concerned, he's one half of Run the Jewels and nothing else.note 
  • Weezer's second album Pinkerton. When it was released in 1996, it was widely considered to not only be inferior to their debut but also one of the worst albums of that year, period. However, over time it grew to be considered their best work. Its release got a perfect 100 score on Metacritic. That being said, however, it still managed to reach platinum status twenty years after its release, and you'd be hard-pressed to find a non-fan who can name one song off the album. Not helped by the fact that its lead single "El Scorcho" actually got banned from many radio stations and MTV. Its only other single, "The Good Life", actually did get some recognition in The New '10s for being featured in Watch_Dogs. But still, few people talk about any specific songs on the album when compared to how much they talk about the album itself.

  • Lana Del Rey is known primarily as a celebrity and cultural icon rather than a singer. That, and her remixed "Summertime Sadness" radio hit.
  • Björk is well-known to the public for being weird, being from Iceland, and her infamous swan dress. That's it. You'd be hard-pressed to find someone who can name one song from her (except maybe "It's Oh So Quiet", which is both a Black Sheep Hit and a Cover Version). In fact, she's only had two songs enter the Hot 100, and both of them fizzled out in the 80 range.
  • The only thing most people know about girl group G.R.L. (aside from maybe their feature on Pitbull's "Wild Wild Love") is that one of its members committed suicide.
  • Rock and roll singer The Big Bopper is remembered for exactly two things: his hit "Chantilly Lace" and dying in the same plane crash that killed Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens.
  • In the early 2010s, Skrillex became somewhat iconic on the internet, particularly in meme culture, as the face of modern EDM (particularly dubstep). However, his mainstream success has always been very scant, and his only major hits came with the Bieber collab "Where Are U Now" and the Suicide Squad song "Purple Lamborghini" Compare that to DJs like David Guetta, Calvin Harris, Zedd, DJ Snake, and The Chainsmokers, whose songs dominated the charts throughout the 2010s, but never received the same type of attention as Skrillex did for his image and persona.
  • On that same note, Deadmau5. He's very well-known to the public for his iconic mask, being Canadian, and well, being a DJ. Most people, however, can't even name one of his songs.
  • Nero is seen as the Ensemble Dark Horse of dubstep. Not bad, considering that their album never charted on the Billboard 200.
  • Avicii is one of the biggest EDM names in the world, but mainstream audiences will be hard-pressed to name a song of his that isn't "Wake Me Up!", with "Levels" being a possible exception.
  • The Wu-Tang Clan is a unique kind of band where the general public is more likely to be familiar with their logo and for being influential to Hip-Hop than they are with any of their songs.
  • Kiss. They wore weird makeup and costumes and sang "Rock 'N' Roll All Nite" and "Shout It Out Loud." Which means their only albums remembered by anyone (if even that) are Dressed to Kill and Destroyer, respectively. Neither was the band's earliest or even most popular album. People also don't much remember that their career went through a non-makeup phase between 1983 and 1996, during which they had at least a handful of radio hits. Amusingly, their 1980 concept album Music From the Elder is so obscure that the band members themselves can't remember how to play it!
    • KISS is so affected by this that most of what people think they know about the band is actually false. Gene Simmons is often thought to be the frontman. He actually shares duties with Paul Stanley, though Simmons is more outspoken off-stage. Few people remember that they made a film (KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park) or that there were more members than just Stanley, Simmons, Ace Frehley, and Peter Criss. Some believe that they were, or at least pretended to be, Satan worshipers, a rumor starting that their name was even an acronym for "Knights in Satan's Service" (the band members have routinely said the name isn't an acronym for anything). Finally, KISS is often thought of as a "heavy metal" band, when in fact their music could be, at best, considered "hard rock", and often included soft, gentle songs like "Beth" or "Forever".
  • Derek Taylor is a deceptively influential figure among guitarists whose approach to tapping and legato (accomplished through what he refers to as the "Spock technique") has been copied by many, many players over the years. However, most guitarists using his techniques would be hard-pressed to name anything that he released even though they're familiar with his approach.
  • Hollywood Undead is very well-known for their creepy masks, the fact that they combine rap with rock, being a MySpace band, and for making party tracks. But not too many people can actually name any of their songs, nor will they know about their serious tracks in their later albums that go hand-in-hand with the party tracks. The fact is, they haven't had any hit on any format, but are still well known for their appearances.
  • The Eagles of Death Metal are best known in the mainstream for being the band playing at the Bataclan Theatre in Paris on at the time of the November 13, 2015, terrorist attacks, or for being a backing band on some songs from Kesha's album Rainbow. Far fewer people will be familiar with their music.
  • Great White — best known for being the band playing from the dead Rhode Island nightclub fire.
  • Despite being a highly prolific producer, British musician Mark Ronson is known outside his home country for one thing: being the actual lead artist on the 2015 megahit "Uptown Funk!", which is almost universally associated first and foremost with its far more well-known guest star Bruno Mars.
  • Destiny's Child was massive back in their late-'90s to early-'00s prime, but nowadays they are known solely for being Beyoncé's former band. Even people who do remember their music won't be able to name its other members (even Kelly Rowland, who had a successful career of her own.)
  • Conway Twitty was one of the most enduring figures in Country Music in The '70s and The '80s, with a huge catalog of 40 #1 hits (second only to George Strait). But could anyone in the modern-day say anything about him other than "that guy that they kept doing Cutaway Gags to on Family Guy" or possibly "that guy with the really deep voice who sang 'I'd Love to Lay You Down'"?
  • Nitty Gritty Dirt Band is one of the longest-lasting Country Music bands, having performed without interruption since 1966, with multiple albums and awards to their name. But could your average person name any song of theirs besides "Fishin' in the Dark" (except maybe "Mr. Bojangles" or "An American Dream", both of which were big pop hits that predated their full-on transition to a country band), or even name one of the band's many members? Some people may not even know anything about them except that time George W. Bush mangled their name and the lyrics to "Stand a Little Rain" at an awards ceremony (as referenced by Dave Barry).
  • Willie Nelson is an American cultural icon widely known for his hippie appearance, distinctive vocals, and predilection for marijuana. However, the only songs of his most people can name (assuming they can name any) are "Always on My Mind", a polished pop ballad that's something of a Black Sheep Hit, and Signature Song "On the Road Again." Almost no one outside of hardcore country fans has heard the landmark '70s albums like Phases and Stages, Shotgun Willie, and Red Headed Stranger that made him an outlaw legend.
  • Flo Rida is a rapper mostly known for his top 40 hit songs about partying in clubs like "Right Round", "Low", and "Club Can't Handle Me" but you'd be hard-pressed to find someone who's actually listened to an entire album from beginning to end or someone who can name any songs besides his hits. The same deal can be said for Pitbull, really.
  • Motörhead is very well-known across the world, even to non-metal listeners, for its frontman Lemmy, who had a well-documented appearance and lifestyle, having themes about sex, drugs, and gambling, their song called "Ace of Spades", being influential to the metal in general, and Lemmy ultimately dying at 70. That being said, considerably fewer people have actually listened to their music or can name any other song of theirs besides "Spades" or their Triple H entrance themes, even if they know about the band. As an example of this, the band is often thought of as being "Lemmy + 2", as if the other two were throwaways. While it was true that he was the only original member, the final lineup was stable for over twenty years.
  • Vocaloid:
    • Ask anyone in the anime circuit who Hatsune Miku is and they'll be able to recognize her and her design in a heartbeat. They may even know some of the more popular songs from the circuit or some of the other non-Miku Vocaloid characters, especially thanks to the influence of things like the Project DIVA series. Now ask them to name the people who actually made the songs. Chances are, they'll at most know the song by the Vocaloid providing the vocals (e.g. "a Miku song"), and only people within the fanbase or devoted fans of specific musicians will know who were the actual people responsible for composing them. (In fact, there are many cases of more casual listeners who listen to the music and are active fans of the characters but don't bother to look into it.) This extends so far that many people outside the active fanbase (including active DIVA players who don't have exposure outside the game) aren't aware that the vast majority of Vocaloid music isn't commissioned by a company and is mainly just indie music by individual people that happened to get popular on the Internet.
    • Evillious Chronicles is well-known for the "Story of Evil" arc, beginning with the song "Daughter of Evil," and maybe you'll know that that arc was part of a "Seven Deadly Sins" series... but far fewer people know that the roles the Vocaloids play in these songs became established characters and it was actually the first "Vocaloid-based original canon" that led to others like Black★Rock Shooter, Shuuen No Shiori Project, and Kagerou Daze. In fact, "Story of Evil" is a very minor part of a sprawling canon, though merchandise, adaptations, and eventually the Grand Finale noticed that it was much more well-known than the rest and gave Riliane (who? Oh, right, "Daughter of Evil Rin") and her story arc a big shot of Wolverine Publicity.
  • This is the reason why Germans Love David Hasselhoff is known as "Rammstein is popular in America" in the German version of this wiki. The band has sparked multiple controversies in its home country that brought it into the mainstream despite most people only know a few songs. So when an American metalhead brings up Rammstein to a German, they're either talking to a metalhead who thinks It's Popular, Now It Sucks!, or a non-metalhead who doesn't get why people keep asking about this mainstream band in particular.
  • While pretty much everyone on the planet knows who Eminem is and what he looks like, as well as being able to name one of his hit songs, few people who aren't into rap music have actually taken the time to listen to a full album from him. Whenever you encounter people discussing his lyrics or rapping ability in-depth, it's almost always amongst people in the hip-hop fandom; if someone knows him for any reason other than his music, it's likely for being everywhere in the late 1990s and early 2000s due to the controversy his lyrical content stirred up. This sometimes results in very strange outcomes, like segments of his self-proclaimed fandom who don't realise he's a comedy rapper, or fans who claim he's better than other rappers because he doesn't rap about drugs.
  • Frank Sinatra. One of the most celebrated artists of the twentieth century, virtually everyone knows who Ol' Blue Eyes is, what his voice was like, the fact that he was a member of the Rat Pack, etc., but comparatively far, far fewer people have actually listened to an album or could name a song of his that isn't "My Way" and maybe one or two others.
  • Bowling for Soup is a decently recognizable band thanks to their part in the early to mid 2000s Pop Punk scene and their involvement in various children's media from that decade like performing the themes to Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius and Phineas and Ferb. Despite this, very few people have actually listened to anything from them besides "1985", or possibly "High School Never Ends" and "Girl All The Bad Guys Want"; only one of their albums were even certified.
  • Madness is a very good example of this. Ask anyone in the US if they've heard of Madness, and they'll say no. Ask them if they remember "Our House" and they'll always say yes. It doesn't help that that song was in heavy rotation on MTV back in the day, and the only song of theirs that got popular over here. ("It Must Be Love" charted too but that seems to be Vindicated by History.)

    Mythology and Religion 
  • Christianity:
    • A lot of quotes are attributed to The Bible that are actually by others. Many people think certain sayings, such as "The Lord helps those who help themselves," "Love the sinner, hate the sin," or "Cleanliness is next to Godliness" are Biblical, when they really aren't. Others are in the Bible but frequently misquoted—a big one is "Money is the root of all evil," which is actually "Love of money is the root of all evil."
    • A lot of concepts that are considered "Biblical" are actually taken from Paradise Lost or The Divine Comedy. For example, nowhere in the Bible does it say that Satan's name is Lucifer.
    • Most people could probably summarise pretty well the first two books of the Bible — in other words, from Creation to Moses coming down from Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments. What happens for the rest of the Old Testament, when exactly does Christianity cut off from Judaism... that part is much less well known.
    • And about that Creation story: most people don't tend to know off the top of their head that there are two accounts of creation, and most English-speaking Christians don't know that Noah's "two animals of each kind" were actually fourteen in one (canonical) verse.note 
    • Many people are vaguely familiar with the account of Job, but most of them think he was tested by God to see if he would stay faithful. He was actually tested by Satan, who was trying to claim that humans only served God for selfish reasons.
    • Stuff like the Ten Commandments, and other parts of the Book, as well as the Christ-Narrative, told in The Four Gospels and which parable and episode come from which is a little obscure. Then there's the issue of translations since the most widely known version of the Bible in the English-speaking world is the King James Bible, which modern Biblical scholars consider inexact as a translation, albeit accomplished as a work of literature and important for the influence on the English language.
    • Have you ever heard of St. Evagrius Ponticus? No, you haven't? Well have you ever heard of the Seven Deadly Sins? If yes, then you would be pleased to know Evagrius is the guy who came up with it.
  • The myth of Lilith is one story that makes an inordinate amount of appearances in pop culture, especially as Adam's supposed first wife. However this tale of her comes from a little-known book called the Alphabet of Sirach - which was a satirical work.
  • For Judaism, there's the Talmud, a text that everyone is aware of but almost no one has actually read. Then again, just because this particular collection of jurisprudence is concerned with religious rather than secular law doesn't make it not a bunch of legal briefs.
  • Islam:
    • In a lot of countries, especially nations like India, and even parts of the West, it's quite a surprise that Islam is an Abrahamic religion and that Muslims consider Biblical patriarchs and figures like Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Moses, David, and Jesus their prophets. This is because, on account of colonialism and the historical lack of deeply rooted Muslim community in the West, Islam is considered an Eastern religion within Asia and Europe, while Christianity, and to a lesser extent Judaism, are considered Western religions, and the origin of Islam tends to blur those distinctions.
    • It's common to assume that The Qur'an is to Muslims what the Bible is to Christians or believe that Islam is similar to Christianity in practice and institutions. In actual practice, Islam in multiple societies tends to be far looser in doctrine and practice, having little in the way of organization and centralization common even in Protestant sects. As such there are not many Muslim adherents who have read their Holy Book all the way through.
    • In the case of the Quran, one must make a distinction between reading the Quran and understanding the Quran. You see, the Quran is conventionally read in Arabic, even in Muslim-majority countries where Arabic is not the local tongue. In Afghanistan in particular, this issue is compounded by the problem of widespread illiteracy. In rural Afghanistan, you can expect to find that the mullahs — that is, the people who are supposed to be interpreting the Quran for the local people — are illiterate themselves. For those who are curious, the three largest Muslim-majority nations, Indonesia, Pakistan and India, are not Arabic nor do they have Arabic speaking Muslims.
    • The hadiths (sayings attributed to the Prophet Muhammad, transmitted through his family, friends, and wise men) are even more obscure than the Quran outside of the Muslim community itself, even though they essentially shaped up the faith as it is. Many infamous things that Islam tends to get associated with nowadays (e.g. ban of physical representations of the Prophet, iconoclasm, full-body covering for women) actually came from the hadiths, not the Quran.
  • Hinduism is one of the world's largest practicing religions, and the only classical polytheistic religion still being practiced uninterruptedly (as opposed to Graeco-Roman and Norse paganism), having adherents that are more than a billion worldwide. Yet most in the West know very little about the religion, or its famous epics, and the few times Indian religion is represented in Western media, it's either in the context of British colonialist fiction (which is swallowed uncritically by Western Anglophilia) or something like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom which is entirely inaccurate from beginning to end, or it's conflated with Buddhism which has far less in common with it than say, Christianity has with Judaism.
  • Satanism is a religion/practice that everyone knows about but very few (outside of the Neo-Paganism and Wicca communities, which get confused for and conflated with Satanism by the general public) know what it actually is or stands for. Special mentions go to those who believe Satanists worship Satan, are all goth, and/or associate it with Dungeons & Dragons.
    • As mentioned, Neo-Paganism, subfaiths, Wicca, and witchcraft (all of which can and often do overlap but don't necessarily) all suffer the same fate, though to a lesser degree in that fewer people are familiar with Neo-Paganism. Wicca + witchcraft plays this entirely straight, given that most people's associations with both come from Buffy.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • Chris Benoit is a household name to wrestling fans yet the only thing mainstream audiences know about him is his murder-suicide case. It doesn't help younger fans that WWE has done all they can to erase him from history.
  • WCW was once on-par with WWE (then WWF) on the mainstream pro wrestling scene, but then they went out of business in 2001. While some things about it are common knowledge, such as Hulk Hogan's Face–Heel Turn, the New World Order storyline, a few high-profile matches, and the catastrophic mismanagement that caused it to go out of business in the first place, there probably aren't very many wrestling fans under the age of 30 that have actually watched a WCW match, unless its due to Bile Fascination (since anytime the promotion is mentioned today, it's almost never with kindness) or they walked in on their parents' nostalgia trip.
  • Don't expect anyone who is not a Smart Mark to have seen ECW, the distant number three to WWF and WCW in the 1990s, and not many more have heard of it. The best one can hope for is maybe "that guy with the ponytail who was named after Jean-Claude Van Damme, and really did look a lot like him."
  • This is quite common in pro wrestling. Since pro wrestling has taken a sharp decline in mainstream popularity since the late 90s/early 2000s, there are many wrestling legends who are so well-known that even non-fans will likely have heard of them (i.e. Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, André the Giant, "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, The Rock, Goldberg, The Undertaker) but far fewer people will have actually watched them wrestle a match. And The Rock is better known as "Dwayne Johnson: Hollywood Star" to general audiences rather than as The People's Champion, even though his wrestling career is why he's famous in the first place.

  • Radio dramas such as The Lone Ranger and Dragnet featured prominent adaptations in other media which have helped perpetuate the prominence of these franchises. While these show generally had high ratings as radio shows in their initial runs, syndication of these radio shows in later decades (after the 1960s) did not seem as prominent.
  • The Goon Show is hugely influential; it launched the careers of Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan, inspired most of the Monty Python team and their contemporaries, and codified many of the "zany Sketch Show" tropes. But does anyone actually listen to it much these days?
  • So many people have heard of Rush Limbaugh, and yet so few Americans outside his target audience have listened to him, that when a website listed "the ten most racist things Rush Limbaugh has said", all but one of which were made up out of whole cloth (and the tenth wasn't actually a racist statement but was an example of Rush Limbaugh talking about race, so close enough) few questioned its authenticity. Actually, much has been said about "racist, sexist, fascist, right-wing talk radio" by people who never listen to it.
  • The War of the Worlds by Orson Welles is known for the famous panic attack that convinced people of New Jersey that a real alien invasion was imminent. Not many have actually heard the broadcast or appreciated how radical and revolutionary its use of sound and narrative is, or that it's a fairly faithful adaptation of H. G. Wells' book.

  • Cricket is a major sport in the Commonwealth, with its World Cup being the third-largest sporting event after the FIFA World Cup and the Summer Olympics. In America, it is usually seen as a very slow game or seen as a quaint British pastime and colonial white-man game.
    • This is a major surprise to actual cricket fans since, in international cricket, the English team is widely considered a Paper Tiger that tend not to do well in major tournaments (having never won the World Cup prior to 2019, and even then the way they won it, the boundary tiebreaker, proved controversial enough to have the rules changed)note . Likewise, some of the most famous teams in cricket history are the West Indies (an all-black team that won major titles in Test and ODI titles and set most of the records, and won the first two international world cups), while the International Cricketing authority inaugurated the first sporting boycott on apartheid, South Africa, in 1968-69 over their refusal to allow England's Basil D'Oliveira to play on tour. While in modern times, the biggest cricketing nations, and the line's share of viewership, comes from the Indian Subcontinent (India, Pakistan, Sri-Lanka), where cricket is played by street-kids across all villages and cities, and in numerical terms, is played by more people, and more non-white people, than baseball and basketball.
    • Part of the reason is that while cricket is a major international sport it is only played by a small number of nations (for a long time it was 9, but then became 12), the fact that these nations include England, South Africa, Australia, the West Indies, and the very large population center that is the Indian Subcontinent allow it to punch far above its weight in terms of viewership and coverage, but with the exception of Australia and England, most cricket-playing nations aren't developed nations so they tend to be under-reported in global sports coverage, and the few cricketers that are known in the Anglophone, are from Australia and England.
  • Golf is a proverbial sport for rich people, politicians, and those with time on their hands. The Golf club is an Iconic Item (often used in movies as a weapon), and the most famous golfer is Tiger Woods but most people can't tell you the nuts-and-bolts aside from the fact that getting a hole-in-one is a big deal since it's not as visually dynamic as other games (even Chess usually has opponents facing one another across a playing field).

    Tabletop and Card Games 
  • The mere concept of Tabletop RPG vs. general public. At best, you can get answers somewhere around the lines of "fantasy game of pretend", but any sort of more detailed answers are far and between. General confusion with video games is also to be expected.
  • Call of Cthulhu is essentially the tabletop cultural shorthand for Total Party Kill, so the relative dearth of people that have actually played it is possibly more a matter of intentionally avoiding it than anything else.
  • Many gamers have heard of "Friend Computer" and "Commie Mutant Traitors," but few of them have actually played Paranoia.
  • For the public at large, Dungeons & Dragons and Magic: The Gathering. Everyone's heard of them, but non-gamers are unlikely to know anything about how the games are played and probably couldn't identify which one is which—even though the only thing the two have in common is that they're both fantasy-centric.
  • Rifts has been dubbed "the most popular game that no one plays." It has an interesting world and cool artwork, so lots of gamers own a few of the books, but Palladium Books' Metaversal System is generally considered rather clunky, so few people actually play it.
  • Monopoly is argubly the most famous board game in existence, and probably the first thing that comes to mind when the average person thinks "board game." However, many aspects of the game, such as auctioning off any property that a player lands on but doesn't want to buy, are virtually unknown, and others, such as winning a pile of money by landing on Free Parking, are actually common "House Rules" rather than official rules of the game. And very few people know that it was originally invented as a condemnation, not a celebration, of capitalism.

  • While it's popular with kids and has a sizeable adult fanbase, go up to any fan of other girls' series who whine about Moe Anthropomorphism, High School AUs, or puns infecting their series with spinoffs, and ask them if they've ever actually seen Monster High — whether it's generation 1, generation 2, retconned material, or even the reviled Lisi Harrison books — or even read the back of a doll box. The answer is usually no.
  • My Little Pony has been one of the most popular toy lines since the early 1980s; however most adults would be hard-pressed to remember a single pony that doesn't come from My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magicnote . This is because the series had lots of characters but, up until G4, they never tried to focus on any one character. Take, for example, Firefly. She is likely the most well-known G1-G3 pony but only appeared in one rarely aired My Little Pony TV Special and the obscure British My Little Pony comics. In late My Little Pony (G3) the "Core 7" was created but this only lasted a little over a year before Friendship is Magic came out. This lack of focusing on characterization led to the belief that the series is nothing but interchangeably cutesy ponies.
  • BIONICLE fans call this phenomenon "the Red One". The franchise was one of the biggest toy hits of the early 2000s, had an enormous multimedia push including LEGO's first foray into movies, and is credited with helping pull the company out of bankruptcy. It went on for 10 years and had an expansive lore and story, with dozens of books, comics (America's most widely circulated comic series at the time), four movies, multiple video and online games and a host of short stories. Yet to most people, BIONICLE was just a weird toy line of colorful robots like "the Red One" or "the Blue One" (descriptions that apply to dozens of different characters) or "the ones that could turn into balls." Many were unaware that it had a story or named characters at all, or that the title had an actual meaning. The one part of the story that became somewhat recognized by lay-people is the movie Mask of Light, as it was more easily accessible than any books or comics. But ask most hardcore fans and they'd tell you the movies actually paint a very inaccurate and surface-level picture of the brand.

    Video Games 
  • Thanks to No Backwards Compatibility in the Future, many early-generation video game classics are relatively underplayed. This applies to titles like Metroid (1985-1986), or even games as recent as Final Fantasy VII (1997). Both Nintendo and Sony have taken some steps to avert this through the Virtual Console and the PlayStation Store respectively, but not all titles have been made available through these systems (most notably, EarthBound until April 2013). The growth of Digital Distribution and services like that provide ports of retro games to modern operating systems have helped in recent years.
  • Sega suffered from this for a while, as their attempts to counter Nintendo's monopoly in the US with the Sega Master System failed (as compared to Europe and South America, where they had much more success). Even the Sega Genesis struggled for a time until Sonic the Hedgehog debuted in 1991. Sega then suffered from this again with the Sega Saturn as Sega fumbled repeatedly with everything from marketing to distribution; many of the greatest games on the Saturn (such as the first game in the Sakura Wars series) never reached North America thanks to Bernie Stolar's "no 2D" policies. The Sega Dreamcast only ran from 1998 to early 2001, but conversely many of its' games are still well-remembered and the console has a devoted cult following. Even today, many people only know about Sega for Sonic, the Genesis, the DreamCast, and more recently the Yakuza series than anything else they've worked on outside of those.
  • Story of Seasons fans are quick to cite Harvest Moon 64 as the best game in the franchise, and as one of the better games on the Nintendo 64, but few fans have actually played it. Most fans began around Friends of Mineral Town or later. It took a long time for the game to be released on Virtual Console and it is an expensive Nintendo 64 title, so Keep Circulating the Tapes was a problem for fans who wanted to play it.
    • With the release of Stardew Valley, you can find a whole lot of people with opinions and "familiarity" with the Harvest Moon franchise solely via the homage-imitation that Stardew Valley is, assuming it's just identical in terms of gameplay.
  • Zero Wing entered the mainstream because of its hilariously bad translation of the intro...but very few people know anything about the actual gameplay, or have ever played the game itself.
  • Panzer Dragoon at least was this. It was visible on many top 100 games lists and is considered to be the best game on the Sega Saturn, but many have not played it. It helps that only 10,000 copies were printed in the US, making it a hard find even then (although to be fair it fared better in Europe and Japan).
  • Ace Attorney has a large fanbase, but to the general public it's only known for Phoenix Wright and the Objection! meme. Good luck finding someone who isn't a fan that can name any character besides Phoenix Wright, or knows anything about the gameplay.
  • Platform-exclusives get this big time:
    • GoldenEye (1997) is considered a landmark first-person shooter released on the Nintendo 64 console and often shows up on the best-of lists. Yet most people who play FPS games are more familiar with other landmarks like Doom or Half-Life than that game. Not helping is that while Doom and Half-Life are still very accessible via digital distribution platforms, the only legal way to play the original GoldenEye 007 today is to buy an N64 and a copy of the game second-hand. (A remaster of the game was planned at one point, but was Screwed by the Lawyers.)
    • Crysis is famous for its insanely detailed graphics, equally infamous for the insanely expensive PCs needed to run them, and that's about it. Conversations about Crysis that don't involve its graphics are rare, and Crysis is the go-to example to use for the "PC Master Race" in a forum argument. It's been described as "the only game that gets talked about more than it gets played".
    • The System Shock series is considered one of the best horror-themed shooters to be released on the PC. However, almost nobody had ever played the series prior to its rerelease on Steam and GOG in 2013. There are many reasons to why the series didn't achieve mainstream success from its PC-exclusivity to its lack of physical copies since 2001 to simply being a very unforgiving and obtuse game in general. In fact, most are more familiar with its Spiritual Successors Bioshock (i.e. System Shock UNDER THE SEA) and Dead Space, which were released on both PC and Consoles.
  • Chrono Trigger is one of the most beloved games on the SNES, as well as one of the most highly acclaimed RPGs of all time. While it sold an at-the-time respectable 300,000 copies in the US, its commercial success and mainstream recognition (read: recognition among casual gamers) aren't anywhere near its popularity with hardcore gamers and old-school JRPG fans (ironically, the easy-to-learn mechanics and tightly-written story make it one of the more accessible old-school RPGs out there for casual players).
  • The entire fighting game community knows Street Fighter II as the grandfather of fighting games, but it is relatively untouched by the younger generation.
  • Capcom's Darkstalkers has a cult following over the years, but is solely known for Morrigan Aensland, the sexier-than-sex succubus who has appeared in more crossover games than her own. Good luck finding someone who can name any other characters besides maybe Lilith, her moe sister or Felicia, a near-nude Cat Girl. Possibly Hsien-Ko as well due to her appearance in Marvel vs. Capcom 3, and Jedah for appearing in Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite. They probably won't know anything about the gameplay either. For non-fighting game enthusiasts, the series is Best Known for the Fanservice, and not much else.
  • The Bullet Hell genre is well-known for its displays of beautiful enemy-projectile art, and the notorious lengths to which Final Bosses, True Final Bosses, and Bonus Bosses will go on the hardest difficulties to push the player and the hardware to their limits; just look up videos of Touhou or CAVE Final Bosses on YouTube and you'll find some videos with hit counts of at least 7 digits showcasing the hardest bosses in various games. Perhaps because of the sheer intimidation factor, comparatively few are willing to actually play the games and get familiar with each game's specific quirks and gimmicks.
    • Touhou also has the added honor of its characters and music being mainstream while the games themselves remain in obscurity, at least outside Japan. With the sheer amount of fan content (fanart, remixes, fanime, etc) it's almost impossible not to have encountered it at least once, knowingly or not. Those who do realize that the fanart and remixes are derivative works tend to assume that it's from an anime. Even amongst those who count themselves as fans, it's not uncommon for someone to have never actually played the games.
  • The Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games and New Super Mario Bros. series sell better than "core" Super Mario and Sonic the Hedgehog games, but you wouldn't know it from how gamers discuss them. The Olympic spinoff only gets discussed in passing or for laughs, while most discussions on the NSMB series come down to complaints that it's too stagnant or that it's inferior to the 3D Mario games like Super Mario Galaxy or Super Mario Odyssey.
  • Due to its Periphery Hatedom by Pokémon fans, Yo-Kai Watch has a comparable reputation to Digimon. Everyone knows it's a Cash Cow Franchise mon series that rivals Pokémon (mainly in Japan), but that's about it. You'll be hard pressed to find non-fans who can name any youkai besides Jibanyan and Whisper or discuss what the plot is. To the mainstream, Yo-Kai Watch never evolved past the original series, despite the fact Yo-kai Watch: Shadowside and Yo-kai Watch 4 revamped the cast and gave the characters new designs.
  • While the Persona series was never really mainstream outside of gaming circles to begin with, the inclusion of Joker from Persona 5 in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate somewhat places the franchise in this territory; due to the Smash Bros. series being a household name to the point that even non-gamers have at least heard of it, many people have pointed out that millions of people who have never heard of the Persona games will now know Joker solely because of his inclusion in the game. Amongst gaming and RPG fans however, the later 3 Persona games are well known and held as amongst the best JRPG games one can play, while the first two games are known for simply starting the franchise and mostly played by those just wanting a classic take on Persona.
    • Meanwhile, Persona's parent series is often only known among Persona fans as... Persona's parent series. For those that do know about Shin Megami Tensei, they generally only know about its Morality System, that most games in the series are set After the End, that the Abrahamic God features as the Final Boss of multiple installments, or just that it's generally Nintendo Hard and quite "edgy." As far as actually playing it is concerned, it's very niche. (Most likely due to the aforementioned reputation of difficulty.)
      • Really, the most people know about mainline SMT is from the widely popular "Featuring Dante from the Devil May Cry Series" tagline that was added on some versions of SMT III: Nocturne to promote the crossover. While the meme and Dante himself are hallmarks on the web, a lot of people have forgotten what game Dante was actually being featured in, much less what it was about.
  • Dead or Alive has the Xtreme Beach Episode spinoff games that are well known for the fanservice and being controversial because of the fanservice. What one can actually do in the game besides look at hot girls isn't really known, as people on the web are either too embarrassed to own it or feel content with just ogling the girls through screenshots and clips.
  • SNK in general, while not having the same popularity as Nintendo and Sega during the 90s, was nonetheless seen by hardcore gamers as a giant in the arcade and home console industries, until the fall of their original incarnation at the Turn of the Millennium. Thanks to various buyouts and rebrandings, they've continued to make new games to varying degrees of frequency, but didn't enjoy as much recognition worldwide to the point that their mascot Terry Bogard's inclusion in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate was mostly seen as a complete surprise, leading the game's director Masahiro Sakurai to explain the Neo-Geo's history to new players viewing Terry's gameplay showcase. Otherwise, the most people know about this game is that it stars Ms. Fanservice Mai Shiranui, who remains beloved on the internet due to being a popular choice for cosplayers and artists to draw.
  • The first two games in the Fallout series qualify. The fan base now primarily consists of people who only know this series from the third game onward. Even before the third game came out, a lot of people knew the series primarily from setting details like its Raygun Gothic aesthetics, bottlecap currency, Nuka-Cola, and mutants. (Funnily, Nuka-Cola isn't given any noteworthy spotlight in either of the first two games; it's pretty easy to go a whole playthrough without seeing anyone mention it.). Fallout Tactics goes as far as it had been de-canonised by Bethesda, solely due to its obscurity to general public - and if people heard about it at all, they will only be aware it's "that one where you are member of the Brotherhood of Steel", but no idea how different it is in play or what's the plot even about.
    • Directly related with earlier Fallout case would be Wasteland. People will know that it's a Genre Popularizer and the first cRPG to be set in post-apo and maybe even that due to copyright issues, Black Isle made Fallout instead of simply Wasteland 2. Some more avid fans of Fallouts might also be familiar with the references made to Wasteland in the first game. But playing it, hell, even managing to boot it (at least before a version for modern OS was released)? Forget it. General public? Never even heard about the game in the first place.
    • The relative obscurity of the first two Fallouts goes so far, Brian Fargo had to address it directly in marketing campaign for Wasteland 2 - not only Wasteland isn't derivative of Fallout, but Interplay made Fallout 1 and 2. While the commercial was humorous, it's based on an actual conversation Fargo had when trying to find a publisher for Wasteland 2:
      Brian Fargo: ... and that's why we made Fallout instead.
      Publisher: Interplay made Fallout 3? I loved that game
      Brian Fargo: No... we made Fallout 1 and 2.
      Publisher: There was a Fallout 1 and 2?
  • A lot of people are familiar with The Legend of Zelda CD-i Games, given how much they were used for YouTube Poop or just general Bile Fascination-focused content. It's harder finding people who can tell you what the games looked like outside of cutscenes or how they played, and harder still to find someone who can remember any cutscenes besides the opening and ending ones of Wand of Gamelon and Faces of Evil, or Morshu's appearance in the latter. And chances are, the only thing people can tell you about Zelda's Adventure is that it existed. If they're more familiar with the other games, maybe they'll remember it starred Zelda, had a top-down perspective, and used live-action cutscenes instead of animated ones, and nothing else. This makes sense considering that Nintendo has gone out of therefor way to bury them and both copies of the games and the system they were released for are very hard to find.
  • The Ys series is one of the oldest, most long-running and most-distinguished series of JRPGs ever made, with Ys: Ancient Ys Vanished ~ Omen being released in 1987 and Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana coming out in 2016, with countless ports, remakes, and a prequel, Ys Origin. But until the Playstation 2 port of Ys VI: The Ark of Napishtim was released in 2005, the games were practically unknown in the West. Only 3 prior games (the Sega Master System port of Ys I, the TurboGrafx-16 port of the first game game and Ys II compiled and Ys III on the SNES, Sega Genesis and TurboGrafx) had been released in English at all before Napishtim, none of which had particularly set the sales charts on fire, leaving the series only known to die-hard import and fan-translation fans for 14 years. While it's somewhat better-known now, it's still considered a Cult Classic series, despite a long and storied pedigree that puts it in the same conversation as the likes of Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest and particularly The Legend of Zelda, which Ys was once considered a serious rival to in the field of Action RPGs.
  • As of the late 2010s, Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic has become this. It is no longer obscure information that Super Mario Bros. 2 is a Dolled-Up Installment of Panic, to the point that those who still think otherwise have become a source of mockery; but good luck finding someone who has actually played the original gamenote 1 , what with being Famicom Disk System-exclusivenote 2  and all.
  • Many people know CyberConnect2 for their anime fighters, and assume that they exclusively work on Naruto games, especially with how well their Ultimate Ninja games perform. But if you were to ask people about their other works without looking it up online, chances are you'll be met with confusion (and possibly the occasional Asura's Wrath and .hack). The fact that their older library never see any rereleases of any kind does not do them any favors.
    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • Voice Actors. Everyone remembers their voices, and some may know their names but they are otherwise obscure personalities.
  • With the disappearance of nearly all western animation from North American television that's older than the late 1990s or early 2000s, a great many classics, like Looney Tunes, Tom and Jerry and the Classic Disney Shorts, have fallen into this. The former two still air on channels dedicated to legacy programming like Boomerang, but they still fall into this because: A) Boomerang is on a high cable package that many households wouldn't have (especially since an increasing number of households are ditching cable services altogether), and B) the airing times are inconsistent and usually during hours when children are either asleep or in school. note  This makes it harder for modern children to familiarize themselves by watching them on TV. And with them hidden so deep away on streaming services that you need to actively hunt for them to find them, few kids today will have watched them directly, only seeing them on merchandise, reboots, or as references by newer media.
  • Betty Boop is more known today for appearing on merchandise than for appearing in short films. Ask anyone what Betty ever did in her cartoons, besides saying "boop-boop-be-doop" and getting stalked by horny old geezers, and you'll get a blank stare.
  • Casper the Friendly Ghost is a friendly ghost who doesn't want to scare others... and that's about it. Ditto Richie Rich who is known... for being rich.
  • Felix the Cat: One of the oldest, most iconic and enduring cartoon characters of all time. Yet, how many people under 30 have ever seen one of his cartoons of the silent era? Apart from that: how many people could actually tell you anything about Felix's personality, or his supporting cast? The reason the series even remains known is simply by the power of inertia since the series is so firmly rooted in the public consciousness and animation culture.
  • The Flintstones: Everyone can recognize this Stone Age family, and most people can also recognize the Rubbles (sometimes also the Great Gazoo). Most people also know Fred's Catchphrase, "Yabba Dabba Doo!" But with the show being off the air for years, how many younger people have watched a single episode of the show, or can name any of the secondary characters? Nowadays, they're mostly known for their breakfast cereals (Fruity Pebbles and Cocoa Pebbles), children's vitamins, or for the fact that shows like The Simpsons wouldn't exist without it.
    • The Jetsons fall into this similarly. Everyone can recognize the family of the future, and most people can also recognize their household robot Rosie (sometimes also George's boss, Mr. Spacely). But how many have actually watched a single episode of the show, or can name any of the secondary characters?
  • Popeye: People know that Popeye is strong, eats spinach, has a girlfriend named Olive Oyl and an archenemy named Bluto. They may also know that he has a friend named Wimpy who loves hamburgers and an adopted son named Swee'pea. They may not know that he originated in a comic strip, nor that he starred in over 200 short cartoons from the 1930s to the 1950s, much less be able to name any of them or tell you what happens in them outside of "he gets into fights, gets his butt kicked, eats spinach, gets a Heroic Second Wind and wins".
  • Most people know that Steamboat Willie is Mickey Mouse's first sound cartoon and the film that launched the Disney empire. The opening Signature Scene of Mickey whistling and steering the boat is considered one of the most iconic scenes in the history of animation and has since become the ident for Walt Disney Feature Animation early in the 21st century, but how many are familiar with the rest of the plot?
  • Woody Woodpecker: Everyone recognizes the character and can mimic his Signature Laugh, but actually being able to name any of the side characters or stories is less easy. Many kids today seem to know him more from his association with the Universal Studios theme parks than from having watched his short films (though it should be noted that he is not subject to this in Brazil, where he is basically that country's equivalent to SpongeBob SquarePants).
  • Droopy is often considered one of the most iconic cartoon dogs. Ask anyone what Droopy ever did in his cartoons besides saying all his catchphrases and you probably get a blank stare. Nowadays, he's better known for being "that sad dog that keeps appearing in modern Tom And Jerry productions" than for his own cartoons.
  • Yogi Bear: He is a bear who is smarter than the average bears, has a friend named Boo Boo and steals pick-a-nick baskets. That's about all the general public of today knows about these cartoons, and they know even less (if anything) about his fellow Hanna-Barbera TV stars of The '60s onward such as Huckleberry Hound, Quick Draw McGraw, etc, who are far more obscure to younger audiences than Yogi. Not that there haven't been efforts to combat this; a 2010 film adaptation of Yogi Bear did modestly well, and while Yogi is the star of Jellystone!, that show seems determined to feature as many Hanna-Barbera characters as possible.
  • The Pink Panther: Once a very famous cartoon character thanks to the film franchise around Inspector Clouseau, but since no new movies in this vein are made and the old Pink Panther cartoons aren't shown on TV anymore (neither is his short-lived 1993 reboot nor the 2010 reboot), he is probably better known as some vague advertising character or for his Character Signature Song.
  • The number of people who've actually watched Donkey Kong Country for its plot likely pales in comparison to the number of people who know about the show due to its Fountain of Memes status, courtesy of its bizarre animation, zany quotes, and surprisingly catchy songs.
  • Mr. Magoo is referenced in fiction a lot as the butt of practically every blind joke. The fact that he's an old, visually challenged man is just about the only thing modern audiences know about him.

  • You could find fifty people with opinions about Roe v. Wade strong enough to provoke violence before you met a single one who'd actually read it. Or know what the ruling was actually about besides just "abortion". Or that there was a companion decision the same day called Doe v. Bolton which was just as influential if not more so.Summary 
  • Almost every single journal article about autism references Leo Kanner's original description of autism. Many of them go on to summarize his paper with comments that make it obvious that they haven't read it, such as claiming that he described low functioning autism (in reality, his subjects showed a wide range of ability, with one being clearly high functioning). Hans Asperger's article gets this a bit too since no one seems to notice that modern criteria for Asperger Syndrome are noticeably different from his conception of the condition.
  • Unless you're talking to an actual Constitutional Law scholar, odds are that most people who talk about the Constitution and what different Amendments mean in different contexts have not actually read the entire document or can tell you what all the different Amendments are. This is also true for many European constitutions; you'd be lucky to find an average person on a German street who knows at least 3 articles on the Grundgesetz (the first and most important of them being "Human dignity is untouchable.")
  • Among language-learning circles, this trope tends to go for languages without a large speaker pool but that are tied to an oppressed or otherwise romanticized population. On language-learning websites, many users have languages like Basque, Irish, Ainu, Catalan, Icelandic, and Navajo in their "wanted" lists, or claim a low degree of proficiency, but never get any further because it's so difficult to find materials and, well, they don't really care that much.
    Navajo has less to do with the Navajo being romanticized—they're not, they essentially have no real presence to the rest of the world's consciousnessnote —and more to do with Navajo being a sampler of "weird" linguistic features. Learning Navajo is linguistics on Legendary, so people pursue knowledge of it for the sake of bragging rights.note 
  • There are many celebrities out there who often appear in tabloids, media, and TV shows, and whose faces and names will be recognized by many, despite most people not being able to actually explain why they are exactly famous. Socialites like Zsa Zsa Gabor, Paris Hilton and people who became well known due to just appearing a lot in the media without actually doing something for it are a good example. But the phenomenon can also be observed with other celebrities. Often people will recognize somebody and want an autograph or take a picture with him, despite the fact that they don't really know who this person is or what he is famous for. They just know him from somewhere. In some cases, they even confuse them with other celebrities. Jeff Goldblum has discussed this on occasion, noting that he is frequently mistaken for Harold Ramis (who died in 2014) or asked if he's "still doing that acting thing" in The New '10s.
  • Salvador Dalí once told a reporter that he didn't really feel like "the most famous painter in the world", because most people who encountered him did recognize him, but weren't sure "whether he was a singer, a film star, a madman or an author."
  • Similarly Pablo Picasso is universally recognized as a quintessential visual artist, his name used as a byword to describe someone's artistic talents (Why you're a regular Picasso!). Yet, hardly any ordinary person would be able to name or specifically recognize a single painting by him.
  • Frida Kahlo is a known face in the feminist movement and hailed as an example of an early feminist artist, but pretty much all the people who praise her and reference her have no idea of what her works were, they seem to only recognize her face... but most of her works were self-portraits anyway. Most notably is her image being used as an example of feminism when her most famous work is her journal rather than her paintings and said journal is stuffed with declarations of her love towards the painter Diego Rivera and all the drama that ensued from it, and it reads more like the diary of a lovestruck teenager. Think about it. The most famous work of a feminist painter is the diary filled with her destructive relationship with a cheating man. But wait, there's more—Frida Kahlo is hailed as a feminist icon because she used to cheat on Diego Rivera and she would also get drunk and smoke, therefore all her feminist cred is based on her habits and none on her work.
  • If you follow the news regularly, there are many people whom you might recognize as "a politician", but if they're not the head of state, it can often be tough to recall precisely who they are and what their official function is. For example, the only member of Barack Obama's second-term cabinet that most people can name is John Kerry, and even then, most people only knew about him beforehand because he ran against George W. Bush in the 2004 presidential election.
  • Anna Nicole Smith could have been an exception to the "socialite" stereotype above. Many forget that she was famous from the very beginning of her career, and not for showing up in the tabloids for no reason. She was Miss May for Playboy in 1992 and Playmate of the Year after that, and then became a model for Guess Jeans - despite being nearly 6 feet tall and weighing 150 pounds (making her the single tallest and heaviest Playmate in the magazine's 60+ -year history), and thus totally anathema to the "waif" models so popular in the 1990s. These were noteworthy accomplishments, relatively small though they were. But then her (much older) husband died, and the court battle for his estate overshadowed everything else... and then came the grotesque weight gain and the reality show...
  • Lenny Bruce is universally acknowledged as the ur-figure of modern stand-up comedy. Every comedian points to him as the original "transgressive," anything-goes humorist whose seminal routines begat Richard Pryor, George Carlin, Steve Martin, Andy Kaufman, and everything else that differentiates modern stand-up from the days of Bob Hope & Danny Thomas.
  • La muette de Portici is one of the most recognizable operas in Belgium ever due to its influence on the Belgian fight for independence. During the 20th and 21st century it was rarely performed there. Now pretty much everyone knows what it accomplished, but no one can tell what was in the opera, to begin with.
  • Pinball as a whole. Everybody can recognize a pinball machine, with its iconic shape. Everybody can recognize the classic bells and chimes they emit.note  Everybody knows that when the ball comes back down, you push a button to engage a flipper to send the ball back up so it can bounce around things. But ask a random person on the street to name even one machine, and chances are they cannot. Sometimes, you'll get The Addams Family. On rare occasions, you'll get Terminator 2: Judgment Day or Jurassic Park (Data East). If anyone can name anything past that, then they're either 1) a pinball fan, 2) a trivia person, 3) saw a machine when younger and remembered it fondly, or 4) stumbled across a machine by accident and remembered its name. Because of the near extinction of arcades, pinball is notoriously difficult to find—even veterans who have been playing pinball for decades have trouble knowing where to find them—and so most people are unaware that pinball machines are still being designed and manufactured today, and by at least five companies.note 
  • Non-American media and media in another language tends to be under-reported simply because Global Ignorance filters everything by the perceptions and received ideas of Eagleland, who define the "global mainstream" rather than the regional and local mainstream of various nations:
    • The English language is spoken by at least 460 million people (as a first language; people who speak it as a second language are much more numerous). The population of China, and so the population of Mandarin speakers, is more than a billion, and yet Chinese-language media and general Chinese culture are far more obscure globally than even Japanese-language media (whose population is barely a tenth of China's and is aging and shrinking moreover), to say nothing of Western media.
    • Bollywood is one of the world's biggest movie industries and produces more movies on a yearly basis than Hollywood does, and one of its big stars, Shah Rukh Khan, is the eighth highest-paid actor in the world and listed by Newsweek as one of the fifty most powerful people in the world, and he is famous across India, which has a population of 1 billion-plus (three times that of the USA's population), yet he's still obscure by global standards compared to, say, the up-and-coming cast of the latest Spider-Man movie.
  • Plenty of 2D Japanese series, be it through manga, anime, games, or books, tend to have fiercely loyal fanbases and equally as iconic character designs. While these characters may show up in mainstream every once in a while, expect them to not have any information beyond being "anime" characters, even when the closest thing to "anime" some might have gone as far as a promo video or cutscene.
  • Most people in the United States can't really think of anything that Millard Fillmore accomplished as president. As a result, he has become very well known for the fact that he's not well known for anything else. This really goes for all the U.S. presidents other than the ones of recent memory and the big names (Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Roosevelt, Kennedy, etc.) If you're not a history buff, you probably don't know anything about, say, Martin Van Buren, Franklin Pierce, or James Buchanan other than "He used to be President."
  • Benjamin Franklin is absolutely a household name and is known as one of the United States' founding fathers, but most people would be hard-pressed to come up with any specifics other than "He's on the $100 bill" and "He wanted the turkey to be the national bird instead of the eagle." More than a few people mistake him for a former president.