Cast lists are used to give credit to the professionals and creators responsible for the production. In an ongoing work, audiences can draw a connection between characters and their actors, which can reveal a Plot Twist when the cast list is shown. This is frequently related to the unexpected return of characters from an earlier era of the work, but can be related to Two Aliases, One Character and many other surprises as well.
Note that both opening credits and ending credits apply for this trope. Cast lists from outside sources like IMDb contribute to the spoiler effect, revealing Plot Twists to people not watching the work, and are why this concept is marked as a Trivia item. The actor may be a complete unknown outside of the work, because it is the presence/absence of their name that communicates a spoiler to the audience.
The single character version of this is the Walking Spoiler. See also Chronically Killed Actor (we know a character will die because the actor always plays dead characters), Contractual Immortality (we know an actor's character survives because of the contracts the actor signed), Narrowed It Down to the Guy I Recognize (the character has to be important because the actor is well-known), and Typecasting / Meta Casting (actors are known by their roles, and the work plays with those known roles).
Warning: because of the nature of this trope, spoilers below are unmarked.
- In 9 to 5, the opening credits boldly list (featuring?) Sterling Hayden as Chairman of the Board. Early in the movie, someone comments that they've never met the CEO in the 10+ years they've worked there. But the viewer is now certain that he will appear, which kind of spoils an important plot point.
- The film version of Watchmen ran into this problem with the character of Rorschach, played by Jackie Earle Haley. In the original Watchmen comic, Rorschach remained masked and glimpses of his face were hidden for most of the story, as even his hero friends didn't know his civilian identity. Throughout the comic there was this red-headed man who appeared homeless and holding a sign reading "The End Is Nigh" and could be seen in the background of a number of other scenes, and even has an exchange with a recurring newspaper vendor. It is intended to be a big surprise when Rorshach is unmasked and revealed to effectively be a Recurring Extra, with his real name Walter Kovacs. This works fantastically in comic form because they are not played by recognizable actors, but as such in the movie anyone in the audience who knows Haley would question why he is walking around with a sign.
- Marvel Cinematic Universe
- Bucky Barnes supposedly died in Captain America: The First Avenger, but the actor's name, Sebastian Stan, shows up in the opening credits to the sequel, Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
- Agent Coulson dies in The Avengers, but his actor, Clark Gregg, is listed predominantly in the opening credits for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. because Coulson was revived and became the boss of this group of agents.
- The IMDB credits for Justice League spoiled the fact that Superman's death in Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice wasn't gonna stick.
- Warrior Cats features a Dramatis Personae called the "Allegiances" at the start of every book, listing every character and which group they're in. Occasionally the list reveals warrior names, births, and retirements long before they happen in the actual book, or the existence of character in the list spoils a plot point: for instance, SkyClan being listed in Ravenpaw's Farewell spoiled that Ravenpaw was going to learn about and travel to the long-lost Clan.
- Charmed has one the other way around in "Sand Franscisco Dreamin'". Phoebe is having nightmares about being chased by a masked attacker with a chainsaw. She suspects it's Cole but the fact that Julian McMahon isn't in the credits spoils that it's not.
- Doctor Who
- For the episode "The Bells of Saint John", the cast list was revealed before the episode aired, listing Richard E. Grant as "The Great Intelligence", after he had previously been "destroyed" in the episode beforehand, which ruined The Reveal at the end of the episode.
- Fans quickly noticed that the creepy orderly "Razor" in "World Enough and Time" didn't have a Radio Times credit, while John Simm's Master, who showed no sign of appearing despite the heavy publicity about his return, did. In a Doctor Who Magazine interview Steven Moffat said they could have made up an actor whose name was an anagram of "John Simm" as John Nathan-Turner had done in the Eighties (see aversions below), but the fans would immediately have looked him up on IMDB and not found anything.
- In Legends of Tomorrow season 2, Leonard Snart had already met his demise in the penultimate episode of the previous season. So his actor's name, Wentworth Miller appearing at the start of the episode ruined the twist of his surprise return.
- In the Power Rangers universe, particularly the original MMPR series, if a new student begins showing up regularly, it's a safe bet that a cast member is being replaced. Which one? Easy to tell. Look at the clothes the new student is wearing, and match the color. They'll also be listed in the closing credits of the episode.
- Played with (Zig-Zagged and de/re-constructed) in Supergirl. Laura Benanti as Kara's mother, Alura Zor-El, is credited in episodes after the Pilot in which she sends Kal-El and Kara to Earth from dying Krypton, which sets up viewers to think that there's going to be a surprise resurrection. Benanti, it's later discovered, also plays Alura's Evil Twin Astra, who survived on Fort Rozz. However, Alura does make later appearances, but these are as a duplicate consciousness retrieved from the Krypton pods and Fortress of Solitude.
- Supernatural fans memorize the actor names for recurring characters, so when they watch the opening credits and see a familiar name, they already know that the associated character will be showing up later in the episode.
- Babylon 5 suffered this in the episode "A Tragedy of Telepaths", in which the appearance of Caitlin Brown's name in the opening credits spoiled the episode's revelation that her believed-dead-for-two-seasons character Na'Toth was still alive.
- Game of Thrones put Joe Dempsie in the opening credits in one Season 7 episode, spoiling that character's surprise return.
- Poirot has it with the IMDB page for After the Funeral. They do try to hide it (a prominent character is not listed on the first page, though it only makes the viewer more suspicious) but if you go to the "Full Cast and Crew" section, you find out that the same actress plays Miss Gilchrist and Cora (actually, Miss Gilchrist impersonating her).
- The play Bondage by David Henry Hwang features two actors in full-body S&M gear, playacting a variety of racial stereotypes and race-based scenarios. The actual ethnicity of the couple is The Reveal, so the names of any recognizable actors attached to the project would automatically be a spoiler.
- April Ryan was seemingly killed in the ending of Dreamfall: The Longest Journey, but it was already announced that her voice actress returns to work for Dreamfall Chapters "in some capacity".
- Played with in Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots: the credits goes through the cast list, which ends, only for one final line of the cast list to appear, and it's a character who hasn't even appeared yet: "BIG BOSS: Richard Doyle." Big Boss then appears in The Stinger that immediately follows.
- Cartoon Network often uses a form of Credits Pushback where episode-specific credits are replaced with credits that cover the entire series's voice cast. For ongoing series, this can reveal the existence of a character long before they were meant to be revealed.
- Parodied in an episode of Family Guy that depicts an episode of Law & Order. As he characters ask themselves who the murderer could be, the credits on the bottom of the screen read "Special Guest Star: Jimmy Smits", and the characters turn toward the viewer and point down at the credit.
- Jack Palance played Curly in City Slickers, but Curly died. In the sequel, Jack returns as the twin brother.
- Guardians of the Galaxy featured a surprise cameo appearance in The Stinger by Howard the Duck. To avoid giving away the surprise for any members of the audience who were actually reading the credits while waiting for the Stinger, the credits for the voice actor and Howard the Duck's creator were held off until Howard was onscreen.
- Kevin Spacey requested that he not be included in the opening credits to Se7en, because his character does not appear until two-thirds of the way into the film and he wanted his appearance to be a surprise to the audience (also averting Narrowed It Down to the Guy I Recognize in the process). He is listed first in the end credits to the film.
- For the 1972 film adaptation of the play Sleuth, in which a character with a large amount of screen time is revealed to be one of the other characters in disguise, the opening titles include a decoy credit attributing that character to a non-existent actor.
- Star Trek III: The Search for Spock featured Leonard Nimoy in the opening credits as a director (not an actor) because his character (Spock) had died in the previous film.
- Star Wars: The Phantom Menace averted the It Was His Sled spoiler of who Darth Sidious is by not putting that name in the closing credits. The actor still received credit because they played both roles of the Two Aliases, One Character.
- Angel deliberately withheld Juliet Landau's credit to prevent a spoiler where her character Drusilla appeared to turn Darla back into a Vampire in the final scene of an episode.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Tara's actress (Amber Benson) was finally Promoted to Opening Credits in the episode "Seeing Red", solely in order to increase the shock to the audience when she was killed off in it. Joss Whedon had wanted to do the same thing for the character Jesse in the two-part premiere, but it didn't happen because of budget issues.
- Doctor Who: During the period when John Nathan-Turner was showrunner in the Eighties, there were several occasions when the surprise reappearance of an old villain was disguised by crediting the actor under an anagrammatic alias.
- In episode three of "Castrovalva", the Portreeve is credited as played by "Neil Toynay" to disguise the fact that he's the Master (played by Tony Ainley) in disguise. Likewise, in episode one of "Time-Flight", Khalid is credited as played by "Leon Ny Taiy"; it's Tony Ainley again. A lot of fans were not fooled, arguably playing this trope straight.
- The character of Sir Gilles Estram in "The King's Demons" was credited in advance publicity as played by "James Stoker" (an anagram of "Master's Joke"), but the actual episodes credit Tony Ainley normally because the reveal that he's the Master in disguise occurs at the end of episode one.
- In episode three of "Remembrance of the Daleks", the Dalek Emperor is credited as played by "Roy Tromelly"; episode four revealed that he was none other than Davros, played by Terry Molloy.
- "Time-Flight" also has a weirder one, intended as an inversion of this trope. It's the story after the companion Adric died, but Nathan-Turner was worried fans would figure that out from the fact that the actor's name appeared in the Radio Times listings for "Earthshock" but not the ones for "Time-Flight". So he arranged a small illusory cameo for the character in "Time-Flight" for the sole purpose of ensuring the actor's name was included in the listings for the story.
- In a much-earlier one-off example, the first episode credits and the Radio Times cast lists for both episodes of the 1960s story "The Rescue" credited a fictitious actor, "Sidney Wilson" (a Shout-Out to two BBC executives), as playing the villain Koquillion. This was, as usual, to avoid hinting at the story's big plot twist, that Koquillion was another character in disguise, although in this case not a returning one.
- When House had a group of 30+ doctors following around Dr. House, the permanent characters were not listed in the opening credits of Season 4 episodes.
- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Some episodes noticeably omitted guest star Salome Jens from the opening credits, because her appearance as a villain in those episodes would have spoiled the plot. As a tradeoff, her name was prominently displayed first in the closing credits, before the main cast credits.
- Star Trek: Discovery: Unsuccessfully attempted. The Klingon character Voq subsequently infiltrates the Discovery crew as a human named Ash Tyler, with both "characters" played by the same actor, Shazad Latif. In the early episodes of the series, Voq was credited on-screen and in media cast lists as being played by a fictitious actor, "Javid Iqbal". Unfortunately, in the age of the internet, it didn't take long for fans to notice that "Iqbal" had no other film or TV credits and no other internet or social media footprint, leading almost all of them to guess the twist. After the on-screen twist reveal, Latif confirmed that "Javid Iqbal" had been his father's name.
- Stargate Atlantis had a famous instance where the credit for Torri Higginson, who made a surprise return in the final moments of an episode, was removed to the end. However, instead of saying "Special Guest Star" or anything it was just a caption with her name, positioned after the episode and before the usual end credits, to emphasize the fact that her credit really belonged up at the front of the story.
- Twin Peaks removed Piper Laurie's name from the second season's credits after her character Catherine Martell's apparent death in the first season finale, and credited the fictitious "Fumio Yamaguchi" as playing Japanese businessman Mr. Tojamura... who is Catherine Martell in disguise. In episodes after the revelation the real credit was returned.
- In one of several plays called The Butler Did It there is no butler character, but a butler is listed in the cast in order to not spoil the reveal that the maid did it.
- In the play Sherlocks Last Case there are two actors listed in the cast list and have bios, neither of which are in the actual play, in order to avoid certain spoilers.
- "Walter Plinge" and "George Spelvin" (and feminised variations) are the fictitious actor names traditionally used in, respectively, British and American theatre cast lists when it is necessary for plot reasons to hide the fact that one actor is playing two roles, especially if they are the same person in-story as well. Of course, this means that theatre geeks may be clued in to the spoiler anyway.
- In the first Blazblue game, the Arcade mode credits has the voice actors' names for Hakumen and Nu being put as question marks. Only after beating Story Mode that their seiyuus are revealed: the same as Jin's and Noel's.
- The trailer of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, mentions the voice actors and their character's name; save for one: Jason Isaacs, who plays The Man Behind the Man, Satan.
- The Amazing World of Gumball: When David Warner voiced Rob, he was usually credited in the title card as a Special Guest (even for a very brief appearance in "The Love"). However, Rob's appearance in "The Bus" was as The Man Behind the Man, so Warner's credit was held back to the regular voice cast for that episode.