Top 5 Movies Where The Title Character Isn’t
The Main Character
There’s a long tradition in movies of naming a film after a character. Actually, it predates movies. I’m not an expert on the classics but I’m pretty sure King Oedipus is a character in Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex. But usually, the title characters have pretty significant parts in the works after which they are named. When we reviewed Oliver! for Two Drink Cinema we realised that the young orphan Twist is actually a relatively minor part in the movie. He doesn’t do much and stuff just kind of happens around him. So we thought we’d come up with our Top 5 Movies Where The Title Character Isn’t The Main Character.
5. Beetlejuice (1988) – IMDb Score 7.5
Geena Davis and Alec Baldwin are ghosts caught between worlds in this 1988 Tim Burton flick, with only Michael Keaton’s title character to guide them through it. We reviewed it recently and we realised that Betelgeuse, the character, isn’t actually in the movie that much. It’s just that most of the iconic scenes and moments in the film feature Michael Keaton. His portrayal and the actions of the character have a pretty big impact on the story and our memory of the movie as a whole.
4. The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) – IMDb Score 7.4
Brad and Janet find themselves stranded on a dark, stormy night with only an odd castle as a refuge. The odd, cross-dressing Dr. Frank N Furter introduces them to Rocky, his muscle-bound pet project. Rocky isn’t sighted in this cult classic until the movie is well and truly underway and in terms of title characters in a musical, not singing until song number 6 (and never having another solo number) makes him a pretty minor part. Those gold hotpants are worth naming the film after though let’s be honest. Our review of Rocky Horror can be found below.
3. The Wizard Of Oz (1939) – IMDb Score 8.1
Dorothy finds herself stranded in Oz and is told to seek The Wizard to find her way home. The eponymous wizard doesn’t appear until 47 minutes into the movie (although I had to confirm that from a couple of sources because it feels longer). With the movie only running for 1 hour and 52 minutes that’s a fair wait to see the guy that the film is named after. This one we haven’t reviewed, but I’m sure we’ll get to it.
2. Kill Bill (2003) – IMDb Score 8.2
The story of The Bride’s vengeance on the leader of a deadly assassination squad really doesn’t feature the title character at all. You’d think the fact that this is my second favourite flick would put this on the top of the list but when you see number one you’ll realise I went by movie quality and regard rather than just the fact that I like it. I’ve included both movies in one (as Tarantino intended). In the first movie, we see him only in silhouette and in the second only in the opening and closing sequences.
1. The Godfather (1972) – IMDb Score 9.2
Based on Mario Puzo’s novel featuring the story of a mafia family, this 3-hour epic only features the title character for around 40 minutes. We’ve mentioned this on numerous occasions and discussed the fact that despite the limited screen time it was enough for him to win the Best Supporting Actor Oscar. The character is also a cinematic icon and is one of the most well-known and most-quoted characters of all time.
5. The Adventures Of Priscilla Queen Of The Desert (1994) – IMDb Score 7.5
A group of drag queens jump in a bus named Priscilla and head across the outback in this iconic Aussie comedy. But come on! The bus doesn’t even have any lines and you’re naming the film after her? Really? The story follows the folks on the bus more than the actual bus, but I guess naming the movie “The Adventures of Four Drag Queens In The Desert” isn’t quite as catchy. Nevertheless, the vehicle is an icon of Australian cinema.
4. The Exorcist (1973) – IMDb Score 8.1
A mother begins noticing some odd changes in her daughter. When medical helps comes up with nothing she turns to Father Merrin for help. The film’s named after him, the poster features him, but Max Von Sydow’s most iconic character really only features heavily in the final act, once it gets really serious. He’s in most of the movie but our memories of the film, 50 years on, certainly feature Regan more than Father Merrin. The story does culminate in an exorcism led by him, so we’ll allow it.
3. Kill Bill Vol 1 (2003) – IMDb Score 8.1
Bill is the reason the whole thing happens but we follow The Bride’s journey to seek him out. Uma Thurman really is the star of the film. David Carradine is an iconic actor in the genre and the casting of him in this role is a great call by Tarantino even though three other actors came pretty close. Brett doesn’t count these movies as one and, to be fair, Bill is in far less of Vol 1 than Vol 2 so I can see what he’s going for here.
2. Rebecca (1940) – IMDb Score 8.1
Hitchcock’s 1940 film based on the Daphne DeMaurier novel, is more about the memory of Rebecca than the actual character herself. Joan Fontaine plays the second wife of Max De Winter (Laurence Olivier) who lives in the shadow of the deceased Rebecca, De Winter’s first wife, throughout the film. While we’ve avoided movies where the title character isn’t in it at all, this one’s in because of the impact the shadow of Rebecca has over the story and the characters.
1. The Wizard Of Oz (1939) – IMDb Score 8.1
It’s another film where the story is about the journey to find the man, rather than the man himself. There are references aplenty but the appearance only comes late and, when you think about it, he doesn’t do too much. He just tells the characters that what they wanted was inside them all along, he’s not even actually magic!
Bend It Like Beckham (2002) – IMDb Score 6.7
A young British girl is working her butt off trying to impress on the football pitch and convince her parents she can Bend It Like Beckham. He’s not actually in the movie but his status is the goal of the young ladies aspiring to football greatness in this flick. It also stars Parminder Nagra so it wins Brett’s vote for the ER connection.
Oliver! (1968) – IMDb Score 7.4
A young orphan boy travels to London to seek a better life (which isn’t hard considering he was born in the workhouse). We mentioned it in our review episode below but he’s really such a minor part of this film despite the title and the longevity of the story. Things happen around him and because of him, including the whole of London dancing along, but there’s not much to him really.
Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008) – IMDb Score 7.1
Jason Segel heads to Hawai’i to get over his breakup with TV star Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell). Unfortunately, she’s staying at the same resort. This modern comedy classic starring some iconic actors doesn’t give Bell’s character a lot of screen time though. Lee wanted to put this in his list but considering the title alludes to the desire to move on from the character he left it out.
Waiting For Guffman (1996) IMDb score 7.4
A local theatre troupe is preparing their annual performance in this Christopher Guest mockumentary and the director Corky St Clair, played by Guest himself, is anxiously awaiting the arrival of Mort Guffman, a Broadway producer. Guffman’s reserved seat in the local hall isn’t taken until the very last minute, with a quirky twist to end it all.
The title character is a pretty prestigious position in storytelling and filmmaking. Occasionally it’s taken by an iconic character, and occasionally by someone who almost blends into the background, as we thought was the case in our review of Oliver!, which you can listen to below.