Generally, when a character’s name appears in the title of a movie, they are expected to be the main character. Since the title is the first thing people will know about a movie, it makes sense that a name in a given title should be the main character’s name, right? This is especially prevalent in a time when superhero movies are especially popular, as most of those that focus on a particular superhero are named after the hero (Batman, Spider Man, Captain Americaetc.).
The vast majority of the time, you’d be forgiven for assuming that the name in the title is definitely the main character’s name, but there are times when it turns out that’s not the case. Far from being an exhaustive or complete list, here are 10 notable films where the name in a film’s title refers to a secondary (or even minor) character.
The cult classic high school black comedy movie Heathers goes beyond the reference to a secondary character in its title, given that the title refers to three secondary characters. That’s because the film is about a group of girls – three of whom are named Heather – with the fourth girl, Veronica (played by winona ryder) being the protagonist of the film.
The title works, considering how close the three Heathers are and the fact that they’re all individuals that Veronica and her strange new friend JD target after kicking Veronica out of their friend group. Things spiral out of control when JD begins to go overboard, becoming the film’s antagonist.
Certainly, Michael Keaton steals the show with her performance as the titular character in beetle juice (although the character’s name is spelled Betelgeuse; it may have been changed for the title to make the pronunciation clearer). But being the most memorable character doesn’t necessarily equate to being the main character.
This is because the main characters are actually played by Geena Davis and Alec Baldwin. They portray a recently deceased couple who are now ghosts and are trying to prevent a new family from moving into the house they occupied during their lifetime. Betelgeuse is part of their plan and has a big impact on the film’s plot despite not being the protagonist.
‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’ (1975)
You could say that Brad and Janet are the main characters of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, given that the plot involves them stumbling upon a bizarre castle while stuck in the rain on a cross-country drive. On the other hand, the mad scientist Dr. Frank-N-Furter is arguably the main character, as he is the most important inhabitant of the castle and the driving force behind much of what happens inside.
Anyway, Rocky Horror himself is definitely not the main character of the film. The film may be named after him – and he features for much of the second half – but he is ultimately just one of Dr. Frank-N-Furter’s unusual creations; the film is not explicitly his story.
‘dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb’ (1964)
Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb may have an extremely long title, but it still can’t find a place to mention its main character. Granted, maybe that’s because it’s more of an ensemble film, featuring many characters who all have to try to stop nuclear war from breaking out and ending the world.
In the film, the legendary Stone Sellers plays three characters, and the one with the least amount of screen time ends up being the titular character: Dr Strangelove. He’s a less extreme example of a secondary character in a film’s title, given that he’s an incredibly memorable character and the film doesn’t have an obvious protagonist, but due to the role quite small that Strangelove ends up playing, it still matters.
“Pursuing Amy” (1997)
by Kevin Smith third movie, Chasing Amy, remains one of his best (and probably the most mature). The plot centers around two comic artists; Holden and Alyssa. After becoming friends, Holden begins to develop feelings for her, but then finds out that she is a lesbian, which eventually complicates their friendship.
Amy ends up being a character who is only mentioned in dialogue and not seen on screen. The usually silent recurring character Silent Bob (played by Smith himself) has a long monologue about an ex-girlfriend named Amy, with many of his words ringing true for Holden’s situation. She can have an impact on the movie, but due to her absence, she’s about as far removed from a true protagonist as you can get.
‘Forget Sarah Marshall’ (2008)
The titular Sarah Marshall is an important character in this 2008 romantic comedy, but the protagonist is certainly by Jason Segel character, Peter. Unsurprisingly, the movie revolves around him wanting to get over her, because she’s an ex-girlfriend of his, and their breakup was particularly hard on him.
He goes on vacation to rejuvenate himself emotionally and move on, only to find her there with her new boyfriend. He’s an important character, sure, but the film follows Peter and is arguably the most likable (and interested in) him throughout.
“Who Framed Roger Rabbit” (1988)
A lot of Who Framed Roger Rabbit the cast is made up of animated characters, but its protagonist is an ordinary old human, Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskin). This works to the film’s advantage, as his involvement in investigating a conspiracy surrounding Roger Rabbit – a “toon” – is made funnier due to his annoyance with the animated characters who inhabit the world around him. .
Roger Rabbit accused of a crime he didn’t commit is what kicks off the plot, but he’s ultimately Eddie’s sidekick. Again, this is also for the best, as Roger Rabbit is a high-energy, often irritating character that works best in small doses. He’s great as a supporting character here, and if the movie had focused directly on him, it might have been a bit too much.
‘The Big Lebowski’ (1998)
One of the best films made by the Coen Brothers, The great Lebowski is about a man named Jeffrey Lebowski. He is played by Jeff Bridgeswho is technically a taller than average guy, at 6ft 1in tall. Despite this, Bridge’s Lebowski isn’t actually the Lebowski mentioned in the film’s title.
It turns out that the “Big Lebowski” mentioned in the title is another Jeffrey Lebowski, an older man who is a millionaire and is looking for his kidnapped wife, and he hires Jeffrey Lebowski from Jeff Bridge to look for her. Confused? Don’t worry – the Coens treat the plot as a joke (and intentionally chaotic at that), and the film is much better enjoyed as an unpredictable, offbeat, highly quotable comedy.
“The Bride of Frankenstein” (1935)
Yes, Frankenstein is not the monster; it is the scientist. But Bride of Frankenstein involves the creation of a female companion for Frankenstein’s monster, and since she rejects (and never marries) the monster, arguably the title refers to how the bride is made by Frankenstein, the scientist; it is of his making.
All this to preface that no matter how you say it, the bride is far from the star of the film. Her screen time is surprisingly minimal, as she only makes a proper appearance in the final five minutes of the film. That’s still enough to make a significant impact, and she’s become a legendary movie monster in her own right.
‘Rachel Gets Married’ (2008)
With a poster that is mainly occupied by by Anne Hathaway face next to title Rachel is getting married, you’d be forgiven for assuming Hathaway played Rachel. That’s not the case, however, as Hathaway plays Kym, a recovering drug addict whose sister is named Rachel, with the film primarily concerned with Kym’s social anxieties and struggles fitting in with her family during the marriage celebrations.
It’s a great character-driven drama, and Hathaway’s Oscar-nominated performance might just be the best of her career so far. Rachel is also an important supporting character, along with the rest of Kym’s family members, but the focus is on Kym, and Hathaway’s performance comes across as the film’s most memorable aspect.
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