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The tendency of a film to be retroactively linked in the public mind with the biggest name in the film or be marketed as "starring" the biggest name, even if that actor is not the main character (at least from the filmmakers' point of view), and occasionally even if his or her character is very minor indeed.

There are several reasons why this might happen: drumming up a newly famous actor to help advertise the movie, a famous actor given a supporting role (Stunt Casting) to help sell the movie, or a secondary or supporting role gaining more hype than the main role which requires a change in publicity (Ensemble Darkhorse). Sometimes the actual lead actor gets an "And Starring" credit.

A variation is caused by the repackaging of an older movie with a then obscure, now famous actor prominently advertised. This happened to Satisfaction (1988) which was repackaged as Girls Of Summer "starring" Julia Roberts and featuring a small appearance by Justine Bateman as the lead character.

Compare Billed Above the Title, Spotlight-Stealing Title, and Wolverine Publicity, where a popular character is deliberately added for the sole purpose of selling a product, whether or not the character is actually relevant to the story.


Examples of Billing Displacement include:


Anime

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


Film

  • Averted effectively in the opening credits to The Evil Dead, in which Bruce Campbell's name is in the middle of the list: this makes it more difficult to know from early on that he'll turn out to be the final guy.
    • In general, most ensemble casts in horror movies are billed in alphabetical order to hide the surprise.
    • Bruce would later get a top billing on some VHS releases despite having a small part in them (Intruder, From Dusk till Dawn 2).
  • One of the most striking examples: the actual main character in Training Day is Ethan Hawke's rookie rather than Denzel Washington's crooked cop, but Hawke is hardly remembered while Washington won an Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role. Despite playing the main character, Hawke was nominated for a Supporting Role.
  • A similar example to Training Day is Collateral. Jamie Foxx is on the screen for almost the entire movie, but Tom Cruise was billed as the lead. Foxx, like Hawke, was nominated for Best Supporting Actor at the Oscars, though this was arguably to avoid vote interference with his performance in the biopic Ray, for which he won the Best Actor Oscar that year.
    • Ironically, a lot of people thought Cruise would have been a lock for Best Supporting Actor if he had been billed correctly (as his role as a cold-blooded killer was so different from his usual performances).
  • Jennifer Hudson was nominated (and the winner) in the supporting category for Dreamgirls despite being the main character, since she did not get top billing, although she did the a huge And Introducing credit at the end. In a case of Life Imitates Art, Beyonce Knowles, whose character steals top billing from Hudson's character, was the movie's top-billed actress (alongside Jamie Foxx and Eddie Murphy).
  • While averted with the film itself due to her being top-billed and playing the main character (whatever Madonna fans might think), Rosanna Arquette won a Best Supporting Actress BAFTA for Desperately Seeking Susan.
    • In one of the biggest examples of this trope, Orion didn't invite her to the film's premiere (because they didn't want her to be embarrassed by everyone looking for Madonna). And she was IN THE CITY AT THE TIME! And this was the star of the movie, remember. If that isn't Billing Displacement...
  • James McAvoy is the lead in The Last King of Scotland, but Forest Whitaker received a leading actor nomination, and is generally remembered as the star of the film.
  • James McAvoy avoided displacement in Wanted: while Angelina Jolie takes most of the poster and is the bigger star, he's got the top billing.
  • Go is mostly seen as either a Katie Holmes or Sarah Polley flick, when it is actually a Two Lines, No Waiting ensemble. Polley is actually the lead character of one segment but Holmes is a fairly minor character.
  • The video edition of The Third Man has Orson Welles alone on the cover, even though Welles only features in the last 20 minutes or so, and his appearance is supposed to be a reveal. Joseph Cotten is the actual star.
  • In an Orson Welles DVD set, one of the four films is A Man for All Seasons, in which Welles has a cameo as the dying Cardinal Wolsey.
  • The Rock in The Mummy Returns was billed next to Brendan Fraser and had about 10 minutes of screen time with no dialogue, and half of that was Conspicuous CG.
  • Blunt: The Third Man, a British TV movie from the '80s. The video had a big photo of Anthony Hopkins on the cover, so the viewer might presume Hopkins was playing Blunt. Turns out Ian Richardson played Blunt (a real-life Soviet spy), and Hopkins was a supporting character, but Richardson never played Hannibal Lecter, and Hopkins did, so they put Hopkins on the cover.
  • The DVD cover of Knute Rockne: All American features a prominently displayed picture of a young Ronald Reagan; the title character is played by Pat O'Brien. Reagan's line "Win one for the Gipper" is probably the only thing that anybody actually remembers about that movie, though, so perhaps it is for the best.
  • The 1965 movie Operation: Crossbow features George Peppard as an American engineer who assumes the identity of a German engineer in order to infiltrate the Nazi V2 rocket base at Peenemunde. In one short scene, the German engineer's wife, played by Sophia Loren, tracks her 'husband' down and is later killed to prevent her from alerting the Gestapo to the identity theft. Loren's scene is no more than five minutes long, yet she received top billing in the American release (the movie was produced by her husband, Carlo Ponti).
  • The Hairspray movie counts, as it was advertised starring John Travolta (in drag!). Nikki Blonsky gets an "And Introducing" after the long list of all the other celebrities "starring" in the movie. The visual extension of this trope is on the soundtrack cover, which uses pictures of the characters. An odd side effect of this is that the only teenage character above the title is Amanda Bynes, with Brittany Snow, Elijah Kelly, Zac Efron, and Nikki Blonksy underneath it (and Bynes and Snow were 20 when they shot the movie).
  • Recent DVD releases of the 1985 Red Sonja movie has Arnold Schwarzenegger as lead. Brigitte who?
  • Once Upon a Time In Mexico pushes Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek as the "leads," which is understandable since they were the leads in the previous film. In this one, Johnny Depp has far more screen-time, and Hayek is only present in flashbacks.
  • This happens to Bruce Willis a lot:
    • Planet Terror has a small appearance by Bruce "Osama slayer" Willis. The plan was to make it one of those "Wait, Bruce Willis is in this movie?" moments, but it was kinda ruined when he got billed in the poster.
    • In Hart's War, the central character (Hart) is actually played by Colin Farrell. However, at that time Farrell was not enough big name to deserve the first place on the poster. Many (all?) posters in fact were showing only Willis' face.
    • The Siege prominently features Bruce's face on the cover art, despite the fact that he plays a fairly minor (albeit very important) character who only appears in about 15 minutes of the film.
    • Willis's face receives undue attention in some video releases of Loaded Weapon 1 where he makes an uncredited Cameo appearance.
    • Willis received top billing in Sunset, but James Garner actually has much more screen time during the movie.
    • Surprisingly Inverted Trope with Pulp Fiction; his billing on the poster is "and Bruce Willis" at the bottom, and is in smaller font than other names. He gets even worse treatment in the film's actual credits. Yet, he probably gets the most screen time in the film (aside from Vincent Vega).
    • In some countries, The Last Boy Scout left Bruce Willis's co-star Damon Wayans off the posters.
  • Superman had Christopher Reeve billed below the title, and Marlon Brando and Gene Hackman above. Margot Kidder is also billed very late in the credits, despite having the pivotal Lois Lane role. The latter is a result of everyone after Reeve being in alphabetical order.
  • Satanic gives both Jeffrey Combs and Angus Scrimm prominent billing. Their combined screentime comes to less than eight minutes.
  • The old video cover for The Little Shop of Horrors had Jack Nicholson on the back, even though he was little more than a cameo. To make matters worse, the picture used was from The Shining (you can guess which one). Another cover only featured Nicholson on the front.
  • Advertising for Executive Decision gave equal billing to Kurt Russell and Steven Seagal, despite Seagal having a relatively minor role and not even being cited in the opening credits. This may have been a deliberate decision to throw the audience off when Seagal is killed off very quickly.
  • Though Flying Down To Rio is now remembered as the first of the Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers movies, neither was the star of the picture; Dolores del Rio was.
  • The top billing for Batman and Batman and Robin is for the villain (Jack Nicholson/Joker and Schwarzenegger/Mr. Freeze).
    • Justified with the former in that Nicholson's Joker was essentially the star of the movie.
  • On the cover of The Scorpion King 2: Rise of a Warrior Randy Couture's image gets the most space and only his name is shown. The credits still list protagonist Michael Copon first.
  • The Rocker is a fairly mild case; while the trailer does show that Rainn Wilson plays the main character, it implies that Josh Gad's part is the most important of the younger band members, and that he is after Emma Stone's character. Actually Teddy Geiger has the larger, more dramatic role and it is he who ends up with Stone.
  • In the 1996 version of Hamlet features a number of big name stars in glorified cameos. Robin Williams got his name on the poster, but only played Osric, an extremely minor character whose few minutes of screentime are spent mostly delivering messages.
  • When Popeye came out in 1980, the makers of the 1977 comedy Can I Do It 'Till I Need Glasses decided to re-release the film with scenes featuring the now-famous Robin Williams that were cut when it first came out. Naturally, they exploited this in the advertising, even though he had only two segments. He sued them and later video releases had his scenes removed again. At least until the DVD came out.
  • The Fast and the Furious is mainly remembered as a Vin Diesel flick, although the main character was actually the role played by Paul Walker. In the 2009 installment, Michelle Rodriguez gets top billing with Jordana Brewster, Vin Diesel, and Paul Walker, but Rodriguez gets about five minutes of screentime before getting the bridge dropped on her.
  • Woman Haters was a short subject released in 1934 that was meant to showcase Marjorie White, and her name's the only one on the initial title card. She does appear, and is a central player, but these days it's known as the first film from Columbia featuring The Three Stooges (albeit not in their actual stooge roles).
  • The Forbidden Kingdom was advertised as starring Jackie Chan and Jet Li (who both play supporting characters), not even mentioning Michael Angarano, who played the main protagonist. The trailers barely even featured him, marketing the film as a "Chan vs Li" showdown rather than the old kid-transported-to-ancient-time standby.
  • The Retroactive Recognition version of this has occurred with some older movies where Jackie Chan appeared in minor roles. For example, 女警察 (The Policewoman), a crime / action film from 1973 starring Yuen Qiu and Charlie Chin, was later reissued on VHS / DVD under several different titles (one of which was Rumble in Hong Kong, an obvious case of Translation Matchmaking), with Chan's name on the front cover. Similarly, in The 36 Crazy Fists (1977), he was credited as "stunt coordinator" and appeared on-screen only as an extra, but the front cover of some DVD reissues are misleadingly designed to present him as the leading actor and/or the director.
  • Robin Williams used pseudonyms for his appearances in The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, Shakes the Clown (Film), and The Secret Agent to avoid this trope.
  • In the poster for Vicky Cristina Barcelona Penelope Cruz gets joint top billing with Javier Bardem and Scarlett Johansson above a photograph of the three of them. Her character is important and the performance won an Oscar, but Cruz herself actually only appears in less than a third of the film. Rebecca Hall, who played the far more prominent character of Vicky, does not appear on the poster at all and her name is billed with the minor supporting roles. (This is averted with the posters for most Woody Allen films - and on the opening credits of the film itself; as with many of his films, the stars are listed in alphabetical order and have all their names on one card.)
  • In The Prestige, Rebecca Hall had about the same number of scenes as Scarlett Johansson but Johansson was on all of the advertising while Hall was never seen in the advertising.
  • In some ads for the The Town, Rebecca Hall was billed below Blake Lively (despite Hall playing the lead female while Lively is only in fifteen minutes of the film).
  • Home video releases of Carrie have John Travolta given top billing alongside Sissy Spacek, even though his character was a fairly minor one.
  • Adam Baldwin's role in Full Metal Jacket has been played up on DVD covers a lot more since Firefly.
  • There was a lot of hype about Drew Barrymore starring in Scream, with equal billing to Neve Campbell. Barrymore dies in the first 10 minutes. This was intentional to establish that Anyone Can Die.
  • The Aussie coming-of-age comedy Flirting stars Noah Taylor and Thandie Newton, but on the DVD cover Nicole Kidman (who has a supporting role) is pictured front and center, with Taylor and Newton off in the background.
  • One of the big reasons the 1984 film D.C. Cab bombed was that it was marketed as a Mr. T vehicle, despite the fact that Mr. T's character was peripheral at best. It got so bad that in some other countries, it was called "Mr. T and Company".
  • In the 1998 film Small Soldiers, Kirsten Dunst gets top billing despite playing the love interest of the protagonist.
  • Before Rocky, Sylvester Stallone participated in a mediocre porno called A Party at Kitty and Stud's (he was Stud). After Rocky, the producers changed its name to The Italian Stallion to capitalize on Stallone's success.
  • Death Race 2000 featured David Carradine in his first post-Kung Fu role, naturally giving him top-billing, and appearing on the poster. A young Stallone appears in a strong-supporting role as the antagonist "Machine-Gun Joe" Viterbo (which doesn't even crack the Top 10 of stupidest names for a Stallone character). His only other major film to date had been The Lords of Flatbush. When the movie was re-released for DVD, Stallone was added to the cover, sharing the top-billing with Carradine.
  • In Juno, the trailers and posters for that film heavily promoted Michael Cera's involvement, giving him and Page co-star billing, when in fact his role was relatively minor, and fairly passive, in the movie. At the time, Cera was famous for his role in cult TV comedy Arrested Development, while Page was arguably less well-known.
  • Willow follows the adventures of the character of the same name, played by Warwick Davis, and only leaves his perspective to show what the villains are plotting. However, Davis gets third billing to Val Kilmer and Joanne Whalley, both playing supporting characters.
  • Inglourious Basterds is an ensemble piece, but if any of the cast could claim to be the most important character it would be either Melanie Laurent's Shosanna and/or Christoph Waltz's Colonel Landa. Naturally, Brad Pitt is billed first and is the star of the trailers.
  • Sky Captain and The World of Tomorrow was advertised heavily with Angelina Jolie in the trailers and giving her third billing, even though she shows up fairly late in the film and essentially has a glorified cameo.
  • The film The Mighty was heavily advertised using Sharon Stone and Gillian Anderson in the trailers, despite them having relatively minor supporting roles in the film. The DVD cover features photos of them, along with Gena Rowlands and Harry Dean Stanton, who were also minor. Elden Henson, whose character NARRATES the film and is obviously the main focus, is billed 7th in the opening credits.
  • The Independent Film Channel advertised Before Night Falls as "starring Johnny Depp," when in fact he only appears in three scenes.
  • The trailer of Abel Fererra's Fear City misrepresents Billy Dee Williams as a hard-edge cop trying to solve a bunch of Jack the Ripper-type murders taking place in New York City, and Tom Berenger as the apparent psychopath killer. Berenger is actually the main character, Williams is a Sympathetic Inspector Antagonist, and the killer is an unmentioned third party, none of which is ever unclear in the movie.
  • Martin Freeman, who played Arthur Dent (the main character) in The Hitchhikers Guide to The Galaxy, was listed fourth in the opening credits.
  • Farrah Fawcett got top billing in ads when Logan's Run hit television, even though she had a bit part as an airheaded nurse.
  • R&B star Usher is featured prominently on the poster for The Faculty despite his role being a glorified cameo.
  • In the animated movie Heidi's Song Sammy Davis Jr. receives second billing even though his role is very minor only appearing as a singing rat who appears near the end.
  • Balls of Fury is sometimes mistakenly quoted as "Masi Oka's movie" (as can be seen here), despite the fact that he only plays a men's room attendant.
  • Every ad for Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland on the Internet proclaims that the film stars Johnny Depp. Well, the movie is not called The Mad Hatter, so even though he gets a fair amount of time, the protagonist is Mia Wasikowska as Alice (she gets an And Starring credit, and is the second name in the credits, behind Depp).
  • The James Bond spoof Casino Royale 1967 features as an added extra that a rather large number of characters are all renamed "James Bond". Everyone remembers Woody Allen and Peter Sellers between them stealing the show. Top billing on-screen goes to David Niven. So memorable was his performance, that most people's reaction to hearing this is "Was he even in it?" Also, Jean-Paul Belmondo is credited as one of the main actors. His character, however, is a foreign legionnaire who only appears in a short mass scene near the end of the movie.
  • Antonio Banderas and Carla Gugino in Spy Kids 3. It can be argued that this was the case in the first two as well since the children were the main characters, but, of course, no marketing department on Earth would throw away having two movie stars on-screen for most of the movie. However, in the third one, Banderas and Gugino were only given cameos at the end and were still top-billed.
  • Val Kilmer was given top billing for Real Genius, while Gabriel Jarret was the main character.
  • Marlon Brando received top billing for Apocalypse Now, despite appearing in the film for less than ten minutes. Likewise, in the "Redux" re-release, at least (didn't see any trailers for the original), Harrison Ford got top billing despite appearing only briefly, in a minor role. The second-billed actor (who was also the only person to be nominated for an Oscar for their role in the film) was Robert Duvall as Lt. Colonel Kilgore, who is on screen for about 15 minutes out of a three-hour movie. The real star, Martin Sheen, is billed third.
  • Applies to both the original and the remake of The Manchurian Candidate. Janet Leigh was third-billed for the original, despite having a much smaller (and less important) role than Angela Lansbury (credited as "co-starring"); additionally, Frank Sinatra got top billing even though lesser-known Laurence Harvey played Raymond Shaw, the pivotal character. When the remake came out, once again the actor playing Raymond Shaw, Liev Schreiber, was more talented than well-known, and got third-billing after Denzel Washington and Meryl Streep, and the advertisement for the film made much of Jon Voight's rather small role.
  • Surprisingly averted or even subverted in Jason Bateman flick Extract. Ben Affleck has a reasonably big role and is probably the most famous actor in the film but does not appear on the theatrical posters while less famous actors J.K. Simmons and David Koechner do despite playing characters with less screen time.
  • While Stardust does seem to give top billing to Claire Danes (who played one of the main characters), Michelle Pfeiffer (as the villain) and Robert De Niro (as a fairly minor character) come before Charlie Cox. The hero. The DVD cover also takes pains to point out that it features Sienna Miller, Ricky Gervais, and Peter O'Toole, all of whom have three scenes at the very most.
  • While a main character, Angelina Jolie's name didn't appear on the cover of Hackers until after she'd become famous from other roles. She is, however, a prominent character.
  • If you pick up a copy of It Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time you will be disappointed to find out that John Candy only has a handful of lines as a detective's 2nd banana. Heck, he's not even the right age/weight on the DVD menu.
  • The DVD cover for the 2009 film Women in Trouble shows a smiling Joseph Gordon-Levitt among other women and Simon Baker. In reality, his appearance in the movie is actually past the very ending credits sequence showcasing his name among the cast and crew and is nothing more than a glorified cameo. His role was expanded in the sequel Electra Luxx, where he is the film's narrator.
  • The original Alien movie has Sigourney Weaver at second billing, after Tom Skerritt, whose character dies two-thirds of the way through the movie. This has the advantage of disguising the fact that Weaver's character ends up as the Final Girl.
  • Trailers for Stargate: Continuum all overstated Richard Dean Anderson's role as Jack O'Neill in that film, some to the extent of even making him appear to be the main character. He shows up briefly at both the start and ending, and disappears quietly somewhere in the first act, remaining absent for the remainder.
  • Intentionally employed by Alfred Hitchcock in Psycho. Janet Leigh was billed as the star of the film, and is the de facto protagonist of the film until she's killed off fairly early on, thus shocking the audience by not just taking their protagonist away, but the most recognizable face in the movie. Arguably Hitchcock's Crowning Moment of Awesome.
  • For the DVD release of Sesame Street Presents Follow That Bird Elmo is featured on the cover suggesting he is an important character, however Elmo's role is very minor; he only shows up in two scenes near the beginning he is seen dancing down the street in the opening song and at the end of the movie he opens a window to a building and sings a verse of the song.
  • The movie Primary Colors: actor Adrian Lester (TV's Hustle) is listed FIFTH in nearly all material for the film, despite obviously being the lead character. John Travolta, Emma Thompson, Billy Bob Thornton, and Kathy Bates are all listed above him. Even though Thornton and Bates play much smaller characters, and even Travolta and Thompson (as a fictional Bill and Hillary Clinton) are back-ups to Lester's Henry Burton.
  • Although he's not really billed, Brian Molko's face shows up prominently on the DVD cover of Todd Haynes glam rock flick Velvet Goldmine. The members of Placebo only have a small cameo and a few lines, but it seems like the DVD distributors knew their audience.
  • Ads for the film Despicable Me give Miranda Cosgrove second billing (possibly to appeal to the film's target audience). In the actual film, she is billed fifth (behind Steve Carell, Jason Segel, Russell Brand and Kristen Wiig) despite being an important character.
  • The big-screen version of The Fugitive was originally supposed to feature Julianne Moore as Harrison Ford's love interest. It was eventually decided to reduce her role to a bit part, but Moore still got fourth billing despite only having a couple minutes of screen time.
  • Playing for Keeps DVD release had 'starring Marisa Tomei' with a large portrait of her on the left and a cast photo (including her) on the right. Granted the original promotional material featured her as token female among the New York friends.
  • Arnold Schwarzenegger is confirmed to only have one scene in The Expendables yet he's featured in the trailers as if he's a leading man.
    • However he is not shown or mentioned on the DVD cover, unlike Bruce Willis who is on the cover but only has a second "scene" in the form of showing up as a picture on a computer screen.
    • The British posters (but not the American ones) prominently feature both Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger, even though they both only appear in one scene and neither is fully seen in the same shot as the other and aren't credited.
  • While not as blatant or outrageous, viewers were led to believe that Lil Kim and Usher would have bigger parts in She's All That but the pair probably take up five minutes of screen time between the two of them. It was for the the best.
  • The main trio in the Harry Potter movies always gets the proper billing. However, most of the adult actors are billed before the other students, even when those actors are only on screen for a minute and a half, if that. For example: on the back of the DVD case for Harry Potter and The Half Blood Prince, David Thewlis is billed despite only being in one scene, Timothy Spall is billed despite only being on screen for five seconds without any dialogue, and Warwick Davis is billed despite not really doing much of anything, while Tom Felton, Evanna Lynch, Matthew Lewis, and Bonnie Wright, all of whom frequent the screen, aren't even mentioned (the most egregious here is Tom Felton, who was a major part of the movie and who probably gave the most lauded performance).
    • Also, the adult actors seem to be credited in alphabetical order by last name. As such, the ending credits of Prisoner of Azkaban bill Julie Christie, who has one scene, above all the rest of the cast except for the trio while David Thewlis, who probably has the most screen time of the adult cast in this installment, gets billed towards the end.
  • The theatrical run for No Retreat, No Surrender gave top billing to a pair of budding martial arts phenoms, Kurt McKinney and Jean Claude Van Damme. McKinney's character is the focus of the entire movie and is onscreen all throughout. Van Damme's character appears twice, a very quick action sequence at the beginning and the big fight at the end (which lasts about 15 minutes), and he has something like 3 lines. Even better, the current video release has Van Damme alone on the cover.
  • Red has Mary-Louise Parker billed sixth despite having the most scenes in the film outside of Bruce Willis' character.
  • The direct-to-video movie The Kiss bills Terrence Stamp, Billy Zane, and Eliza Dushku before the main character, played by Francoise Surel. Zane has maybe fifteen minutes of screen time, and Dushku maybe twenty.
  • Alex Borstein gets a starring credit in Bad Santa her role is little more than a cameo as a mother waiting in line for Santa at the beginning.
  • The American remake of Shall We Dance seems to make a big deal about Nick Cannon and Ja Rule being in the film. Each actor appears in only one scene of the film (and in Ja Rule's case, he's an Advertised Extra with no purpose to the plot).
  • A bizarre case in Easy A. Though Emma Stone is billed first in all advertising and plays the lead, she is billed last in the actual film (getting an And Starring credit).
  • Bela Lugosi is fourth-billed in Ninotchka. He has one scene that's not even a One-Scene Wonder.
  • In Ghostbusters, Ernie Hudson (fourth Ghostbuster Winston Zeddmore) is billed eighth, after Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Sigourney Weaver, and Harold Ramis, as well as Rick Moranis (neighbor/Keymaster Louis Tully), Annie Potts (secretary Janine Melnitz), and William Atherton (Walter Peck of the EPA).
    • This isn't completely insane, although it seems strange to anyone coming to the film from its animated spin-off where he's one of the main characters: Winston doesn't appear until two thirds of the way through and is very much a supporting character. Whether he's less important than all of them is more debateable...
      • What is insane is that Moranis gets top-billing over him in the sequel! Weaver being on the poster again makes sense, she is featured in most of the film and is a major character, but Louis role in the second is much smaller and Winston, being part of the team from the start, is much larger.
  • The urban film First Sunday has Tracy Morgan billed below Katt Williams despite Morgan having far more scenes and being more well known than Williams.
  • The 2010 adaptation of True Grit does this big-time. Hailee Steinfeld doesn't get her name on the poster (although at least she does appear on them) and was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress role. This despite the fact that she was the lead character, having the most lines and appearing in the most scenes. Admittedly she's very young and doesn't have much other acting work to show, but it's kind of ridiculous that she got bumped on the poster for Josh Brolin, who only appears for the last section of the movie, where he has about the same amount of screentime as Barry Pepper, who is barely featured. In the film she gets an "And Starring" billing, as it is her first.
  • At least one VHS release for the Brendan Fraser film Encino Man makes it seem as though the film is about Pauly Shore's relationship with an unfrozen caveman he finds in his backyard, and the wacky hijinks that ensue. Pauly Shore is actually a supporting character, with Sean Astin's character having more of a central focus with the relationship to Fraser's Link. Astin is barely mentioned on this cover. Naturally, this release preceded Astin's more recent recognition due to Rudy and The Lord of the Rings.
  • In Hope Floats Kathy Najimy gets a card to herself during the opening credits despite her only scene in the film being the very first one - which, in fact, comes before said opening credits. On the other hand, Rosanna Arquette (who also only has one scene in the film - the same scene, in fact) goes uncredited.
  • The Italian comedy Bodyguards - Guardie del corpo gives Cindy Crawford - the Cindy Crawford - third-billing, but she doesn't appear until the last 30 minutes.
  • Tobin Bell (Jigsaw), due to being the icon of the franchise, gets top billing in Saw 3D despite having a grand total of two minutes screentime.
  • Dustin Hoffman is billed third in Kung Fu Panda 2, even though he only appears at the very beginning and end and doesn't do much more than break two minor characters out of prison off screen. Gary Oldman, the movie's main antagonist is billed fourth while Michelle Yeoh's soothsayer, despite being the main driving force behind both Shen and Po's character's is billed tenth.
  • Jamie Lee Curtis has top billing in Halloween Resurrection, even though her character appears for a mere ten minutes of screentime.
    • Although to be fair, this might be to disguise the fact that her character is finally Killed Off for Real.
  • In many of Bunraku's advertisements, Gackt gets billed behind actors Woody Harrelson, Demi Moore and Ron Perlman, despite the fact that the latter three actors play bit-parts in the film, while Gackt plays one of the main protagonists. In some ads, he doesn't even get any mention. Presumably, this is because Gackt is a fairly unknown celebrity in the West, but the lack of recognition for one of the film's two main heroes is definitely noticeable.
  • In The Hangover Part II Jeffrey Tambor is billed below the leads but still above the likes of Jamie Chung despite having less than three minutes of screentime.
  • Absolute Beginners (1986) properly billed Eddie O'Connell and Patsy Kensit as the leads, but third billing went to David Bowie, whose character is just one of several antagonists in on an evil scheme. He gets two short scenes and a longer segment focused on a Disney Acid Sequence. But he was by far the biggest name in the cast (even more so outside of the U.K.), and he also wrote and performed the movie's Title Theme Tune, so he was key to its promotional campaign. The theatrical trailer was really a Video Full of Film Clips with Bowie as the focus of its wraparound story.
  • Perhaps understandably the posters for Bridesmaids really ran with the bridesmaids theme, depicting all five of them (plus the bride) which was why male lead Chris O'Dowd (Officer Rhodes) doesn't appear, despite playing a more important character than Wendi McLendon-Covey (Rita) or Ellie Kemper (Becca).
  • In the Spaceballs trailers and DVD, director Mel Brooks, who plays two secondary characters, is given top billing. Protagonist Bill Pullman is fourth, after Brooks, John Candy (who plays his sidekick) and Rick Moranis (who plays the villain).
  • Sean Penn is billed second in The Tree of Life but is in about five minutes of the entire movie. Jessica Chastain, who has many more scenes in the film (on par with top-billed Brad Pitt), is billed third.
    • And it happened again with The Debt. Chastain is billed third (behind Helen Mirren and Sam Worthington) despite having the most scenes. Mirren does play the older version of her character so that would likely explain her higher billing.
  • Richard Lester's 1966 anti-war film How I Won The War stars a very young, pre-Phantom Of The Opera Michael Crawford in the lead role. The movie is best known for being John Lennon's first dramatic, non-Beatles role as Private Gripweed, a relatively minor role.
  • Children of Men bills Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, and Michael Caine as its main stars. In actuality Julianne Moore's character gets shot through the throat and dies about 20 minutes into the film, while Micheal Caine only has two scenes, and dies at the end of the second. To be fair, they did at least have the decency to bill Clive Owen above the two of them, seeing as he is actually the main character and unlike the others who die early on, Theo actually makes it through most of the film and only dies from a gunshot wound in the last few minutes.
  • A DVD release of the 1940 Western Santa Fe Trail implies that the film is about a friendly rivalry between soldiers Ronald Reagan and Errol Flynn for the affections of Olivia de Havilland. The film is actually about Errol Flynn chasing infamous abolitionist John Brown (played by Raymond Massey, who isn't mentioned on the DVD cover). The Gipper is little more than Flynn's sidekick.
  • Michael Caine's name is listed last on the Inception poster, while Dileep Rao is never mentioned, even though he appears on the poster whereas Caine does not. Rao plays Yusuf, one of the six key characters in the mission, while Michael Caine's character has a grand total of two scenes and five minutes of screentime, and has overall less importance to the story. Even Lukas Haas, who played Nash, the architect at the beginning of the film, deserves to be on the poster more than he does.
  • John Travolta is given top billing for Pulp Fiction; like Inglourious Basterds, it's an ensemble piece, but arguably the most important character is Vincent's more competent partner Jules Winfield (played by Samuel L. Jackson).
    • Vincent is however the only character to appear in all the parts of the film (even if in The Gold Watch his appearance is short) and is one of the main characters of all the rest, thus earning it.
  • Hayden Panettiere is prominently displayed on the DVD packaging of two of her pre-Heroes movies, Shanghai Kiss and The Good Student[1] - though not the lead in either (the packaging for The Good Student bills her above the film's actual star Tim Daly), she plays one of the main characters in the former and even sings at the end, whereas she only appears for about 10 minutes in the latter. (On the other hand, the Disney Channel Original Movie Tiger Cruise - in which Hayden plays the main character and has top billing, and which also has Bill Pullman and a pre-ICarly Jennette McCurdy - has to this day never been issued on any format.)
    • In 2009, she made the film Carmel-by-the-Sea - eventually released Direct to DVD as The Forger, the cover of which features her in second position to Josh Hutcherson (who is in fact the star of the film) and billed above Alfred Molina and Lauren Bacall[2]. On the film's credits, Hayden receives "And..." billing.
  • Mark Hamill gets top billing in the first of the live-action Guyver movies, despite the fact that he plays a supporting character who gets killed off near the end.
  • Anyone going into Layer Cake after looking at the film's DVD cover, movie posters, or American TV ads will be surprised to learn that Sienna Miller is not, in fact, a major character. She actually only appears in a few scenes and was billed third from last in the film's actual opening titles.
  • Averted in The Big Year. Steve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson get equal billing above the title so to avoid the trope.
  • Liv Tyler has third billing for each part of The Lord of the Rings, despite 10-15 minutes in each.
  • Robin Williams tried to avert this for Aladdin; he specifically requested that he wouldn't be given top billing, and the character Genie wouldn't be given more space on the poster than Aladdin, (that is, the main flippin' character). Disney knew the selling power of Williams, though, so they acquiesced to his demands just long enough to get the performance out of him, then promptly did exactly those things he told them not to. He was so mad that Dan Castellanetta replaced him in the sequel and the TV series that followed (Williams did return for the second sequel after Disney changed its higher-ups and bribed him with some gifts such as a Picasso painting)
  • Leprechaun was Jennifer Aniston's first film, so she didn't receive any fanfare on the poster. The DVD release, after Friends made Aniston a household name, not only gave Aniston top billing, it added her to the cover shot and changed the film's tagline (from "Your luck just ran out," to "Her luck just ran out.")
  • Nancy Allen gets second billing (under Robert John Burke) in RoboCop 3, despite having less screentime than Rip Torn (who appears in more scenes than her), and despite being killed off a third of the way through the film.
  • When Catch That Kid would be shown on ABC Family back when High School Musical was at the height of its fame, Corbin Bleu would be mentioned prominently in the commercials leading up to the movie being shown, as he had a big part in High School Musical. He is one of the three kids in Catch That Kid, but the main character is certainly supposed to be the one played by Kristen Stewart. After Twilight came out and made Kristen Stewart a household name, however, the marketing on the channel for the movie changed significantly.
  • In Aussie crime flick Animal Kingdom Joel Edgerton gets second billing despite his character being killed off about 20 minutes in.
  • Almost any recent copy of the thriller He Knows You're Alone is guaranteed to feature, prominently displayed somewhere on the cover, a credit along the lines of "Starring Tom Hanks" in spite of the fact he's a rather minor character with less than five minutes screen time. Better versions bill it as "Tom Hanks in his first movie role," which is technically the truth.
    • Mazes And Monsters gets a lot of this too. Technically Hanks was top billed and his character could be considered a lead, but the film was really more of an ensemble piece. The usual current DVD covers feature a picture of Hanks that's much more recent than the 1982 date of the film, superimposed over a sort of Standard Fantasy Setting labyrinth, thereby also misidentifying the actual nature of the film.
  • Fourth-billed Woody Strode played the title character in the Western Sergeant Rutledge. Star Trek's Jeffrey Hunter was top-billed.
  • Drew Barrymore is top-billed in the animal film Big Miracle but second-billed John Krasinski is the actual main character, a news reporter who breaks the news story that drives the plot.
  • An oddity in both posters for Me and Orson Welles - on the US one Claire Danes gets top billing with Zac Efron second and Christian McKay third. On the UK one the largely unknown McKay[3] goes first, then Danes, with Efron getting an 'and' credit. This is despite Efron playing the lead character and being the biggest name in the cast.
  • Neary all the trailers for Hugo made it look like Jude Law's character played a major role. In reality, he's a Disappeared Dad who only appears in a short sequence of flashbacks early on (at the end of which he dies).
  • Denzel Washington is top billed in Safe House and was all over the film's advertising. The actual lead is Ryan Reynolds (who took a back seat in all of the marketing due to the failures of Green Lantern and The Change-Up).
  • The Film of the Book of Stormbreaker has Ewan McGregor billed with the main cast as Ian Rider, the protagonist's uncle, who dies before the opening credits!
  • Love Actually is an big ensemble film so inevitably some actors were going to get displaced but even so the film poster has a few good examples of this; Keira Knightley is pictured and billed but Andrew Lincoln (who shared all her scenes) isn't and Thomas Sangster (who had more screentime than either) doesn't appear either. Kris Marshall and Lúcia Moniz are likewise absent despite starring in their own subplots while One-Scene Wonder Rowan Atkinson gets listed.
  • In Spawn, John Leguizamo gets top billing but Michael Jai White (who gets second billing) is actually the main character, while Leguizamo is the main antagonist.
  • In The Golden Compass, Nicole Kidman, Eva Green and Sam Elliot are billed before Dakota Blue Richards who plays the main character. Quite confusing when you realize Eva Green has about two scenes and Sam Elliot has around 20 minutes while Nicole Kidman plays the villain who all but disappears during the second act. Daniel Craig is also billed before Ian McKellen despite Craig having around 10 minutes screen time and McKellen playing the voice of one of the film's heroes.
  • Michelle Trachtenberg plays the main character in Ice Princess and is the only cast member to appear on the poster. She's third-billed (behind Joan Cusack and Kim Cattrall) and gets an "And..." credit to boot.
  • The DVD cover for the 2006 film Simon Says gives top billing to Crispin Glover and Blake Lively, while relegating Margo Harshman to "with" status. Glover is indeed one of the film's stars, as is Miss Harshman... unlike Miss Lively, who only appears in the last few minutes (interestingly, on the film's poster she's billed seventh - the movie was produced by her father, and several other Lively friends and relatives appear in the film).


Live-Action TV

  • With the departure of Grissom in CSI, the top billing went to Laurence Fishburne, who plays newcomer Dr Ray Langstrom. While several cast members outrank him both in rank, importance and time on the show, Laurence Fishburne gets the top billing, being the most well known star on the bill.
    • And then, when Fishburne left, Ted Danson came in, again with top billing. Justified as, unlike Fishburne's character, Danson's character comes in as the supervisor to the team (as Catherine was demoted after the LA incident.)
  • Wings is increasingly being thought of as the show Tony Shalhoub was in before Monk. Shalhoub is prominently featured on the cover art for all Wings DVD releases despite the fact that his role was relatively minor, and in the case of the Seasons 1 & 2 set, that he was only in a single episode on the set.
  • The VHS release of Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 3 Part 2 has Spike and Drusilla on the spine. Drusilla doesn't appear at all in Season 3 and Spike is in one episode. On Part 1.
    • More recent DVD releases of Season 3 include Spike's picture on one of the discs but omit Oz, despite Spike appearing in only one episode as mentioned and Oz being the much more prominent character
  • State of Play (yes, the original British series) was admittedly a who's who of great British actors. However, leads John Simm and David Morrissey don't even appear on the covers of some European releases. Instead, the more well-known Bill Nighy and James McAvoy grace the cover despite playing minor roles. (And in an instance of Covers Always Lie, the Finnish release states it's an "English police series" instead of a political thriller involving mainly journalists, and very few policemen).
  • Many Tweenie-Bopper Jonas Brothers Fans were thoroughly disappointed to find that the Jonas Brothers didn't star in Camp Rock, only Joe Jonas did. Disney Channel had announced many times in the trailers for Camp Rock that it starred the Jonas Brothers, failing to mention the fact that two of them were only minor characters and appeared very briefly.
  • When most people think of the Angels in America Miniseries and don't know the source material, they think the leads are Al Pacino, Meryl Streep, and Emma Thompson, because those three got top billing. Of course, Emma Thompson has indisputably the smallest role of the main eight actors, but she's a bigger star than Justin Kirk, never mind if he plays the main character, so she gets the top billing, and he gets snubbed a Golden Globe nomination because people only realized halfway through voting that he belonged in the Lead and not Supporting category.
  • There was a two-part mini-series/made-for-TV movie called Meteor on NBC. Each part was two hours long, and Christopher Lloyd and Jason Alexander were given top billing for both parts. Sounds reasonable, right? It would be, except Christopher Lloyd's character dies less than half an hour into the first part.
  • The Green Hornet TV series is best remembered for being one of Bruce Lee's earlier acting roles in America before becoming a huge film star in Hong Kong, even though he only played the sidekick to the title character played by Van Williams. Certain home video releases of the series advertise the show as "The Green Hornet: Starring Bruce Lee as Kato" and show Bruce Lee's face taking most of the cover. In Hong Kong, the series was even aired as "The Kato Show".
  • The Queen, a 2009 series of British docudramas detailing pivotal events from the life of Queen Elizabeth II prominently featured the "five leading British actresses" playing the monarch, to the point that no other cast members were even mentioned on the website. It was strange then that Emila Fox, the actress playing the queen in the first episode, actually appeared less than the second billed (in the credits)/mostly ignored (in the promotional material) Katie McGrath, who played Princess Margaret.
  • The Sci-Fi Sy Fy Channel miniseries Alice was hyped with commercials advertising Tim Curry and Kathy Bates. Bates plays the villainous Queen of Hearts, so that could be considered acceptable. But Curry has a grand-total of three minutes of screen-time in the first act. The main characters (Alice and Hatter) are played by relative unknowns.
  • Jessica Alba is mentioned twice on the cover of The Secret World of Alex Mack, despite her only having a bit part as Alpha Bitch in a couple episodes.
  • A more retroactive example, Miranda Cosgrove and Jerry Trainor are billed as the topped stars of the Drake and Josh Christmas Special even though Drake Bell and Josh Peck are the title characters.
    • Jennette McCurdy also had a very small role before she became Sam on the show on a very obscure movie that didn't even see the light of day. After her success in the show, the people who made the movie tried to release it again on the back of Jennette's new found star power. It lead to her denouncing the movie for being misleading.
  • Disney Channel does this a lot with their teen stars who were in movies in the 90s or early 2000s who now star in a show. When they show some movie that the actor had a minor part in, they will bill them as the top stars (similar to the ICarly example above). For example, when they showed Spy Kids 2 and Spy Kids 3, they advertised it like Emily Osment (Lilly on Hannah Montana) was the star, despite the fact that she was almost a minor character. To quote one of the trailers "Spy Kids 3 starring Emily Osment... and a bunch of other famous people."
    • They did the same with their original movie Tru Confessions. The star and focus of the movie was Clara Bryant. All of the advertising focused on how it was Shia LaBeouf's "most dramatic role ever," and you'd never know it wasn't a movie all about his character.
  • Noah Wyle of ER had a small part in the film A Few Good Men. When the movie was aired on NBC, at the height of ER's popularity, he was included in the promos along with Tom Cruise and Demi Moore.
  • The series Tripping Over features a Five-Man Band of twenty-somethings, across London and Sydney. The DVD cover, while displaying those five characters, only credits the most famous of them, Daniel MacPherson, and three well-known actors (Brooke Satchwell, Rebecca Gibney and Lisa McCune) playing Satellite Characters.
  • St Elsewhere is a Ensemble Cast series with Denzel Washington just one of many and even listed next to last due to the alphabetical credits. However, on the DVD set as Washington front and center on the cover sleeve.
  • Something similar is done with 21 Jump Street, which was also an ensemble piece. In fact for much of the run, Holly Robinson (Peete) was probably a more prominent cast member than Johnny Depp (helped by the fact that she was the only cast member to stay for the entire run).
    • In fact, for the fifth season DVD sets go so far as to have Depp as the main focus on the cover despite the fact that he only appears in one episode, and it's leftover from season 4!
  • For the fifth season of Twenty Four, Carlos Bernard is billed fourth in the main cast behind only Kiefer Sutherland, Kim Raver, and Mary Lynn Rajskub (when he appeared in an episode anyway), and he's even credited second after Kiefer Suterland on the back of the DVD box. However, he has barely any screen time in the season and was (until a retcon in a later season) killed off midway through it.
  • Christina Ricci receives top billing on Pan Am, although the character played by Kelli Garner (who's given And Starring status) is more important to the storylines.
  • At the beginning of The Tenth Kingdom, Ann-Margret is listed among actors who appear throughout the entire miniseries, yet she doesn't actually appear until the very end. The same goes for Camryn Manheim as Snow White, who other than a Dream Sequence appears only in part four.
  • In Earthsea, Amanda Tapping is credited among the other major actors, but her actual screentime is literally under ten seconds.

Newspaper Comics

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


Professional Wrestling

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


Theatre

  • The Rodgers and Hammerstein musical The King And I was originally conceived as a star vehicle for Gertrude Lawrence, who got top billing (and note that the show's title is "The King and I"). It's probably for the better that Yul Brynner was so memorable as the King, as Lawrence died during the original Broadway run.
  • Al Pacino in a recent run of The Merchant of Venice on Broadway.
    • To be fair though, the order that parts are listed in the Folios for all of Shakespeare's plays are a little odd.
    • The usual method is to divide characters by gender and then list them by social prominence. So if there's a king who only appears in one scene and your main character is a merchant, the king gets top billing.


Video Games

  • A lot of hype was given to Patrick Stewart appearing in The Elder Scrolls IV Oblivion. He dies at the end of the tutorial mission.
    • Many critics felt the same way about Liam Neeson in Fallout 3. While he lasts longer than Patrick Stewart's Emperor Septim, he appears in surprisingly few missions and dies before the main quest is half over.
  • You can expect Full Motion Video games to do this whenever there is a Hollywood-level actor on screen even for a couple of minutes. Some examples include:
    • Black Dahlia, which has Dennis Hopper in a small role.
    • Under a Killing Moon prominently displays the three best-known professional actors involved on the back of the box, though they all have little screentime. These are all relatively minor celebrities, such as Margot Kidder, who is best known for playing Lois Lane in the four consecutive Superman movies.
  • A lot of attention was given to the fact that the Mean Girls video game left Lindsay Lohan - who played the main character - off the cover art, showing just the original Plastics. Lohan is a big name, just not in a good way.
  • Fi in The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword gets what is essentially top billing, being featured prominantly on the cover and in promotional materials. While she is a major presence, she's really just an Exposition Fairy who has little bearing on the plot, unlike Midna in Twilight Princess.
  • DC Universe Online has three possible mentors for both heroes and villains. On the hero side, it's Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. On the villain side, it's the Joker, Lex Luthor, and Circe. Again, the box shows the mentors. Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Joker, Lex Luthor... and Catwoman.
  • Knights of the Old Republic: The second game has Darth Nihilus dominating the cover. Unfortunately, he only appears in two scenes and contributed little to the game's plot!
  • Final Fantasy XIII-2: Lightning, the protagonist of XIII, was featured very heavily in the promotion of the game. Heck, she's also on the front cover of the OST and all regional box art, has dozens of posters, was featured in almost every trailer (in fact, she was the focus of the announcement trailer), etc. How much screen time does she have? She's in the intro (about 20 minutes including gameplay), she narrates here and there, and she makes a few appearances throughout the rest of the game making for a total of 30 minutes of screen time with a bit of narration. Meanwhile, Serah (her sister) is billed as the main protagonist (Lightning is actually billed last on the credit roll) along with her companion, Noel. It is these two whom you see for a majority of the cutscenes and who you play as for 99% of the game.

Notes

  1. formerly called Mr. Gibb
  2. somewhat different from the last film with Panettiere and Bacall, Scooby-Doo And The Goblin King
  3. who, coincidentally, is British
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