Breakout Character

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Hmmm. Something has changed about who's important enough to be on the cover, and where...

Gandy Goose: "Nobody remembers me! Why are you still popular?"

Mighty Mouse: "Well...some of us are built to last!"
Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures

What's a writer to do when a minor character that he created for a show suddenly becomes much more popular than the other members of the cast? Why, re-write him as a (if not the) main character of course!

This is that character. Usually starring in a sitcom, the Breakout Character quickly grabs hold of the audience's attention and writers take advantage of this energy. Someone who was once a one-note C-character (such as a Satellite Character or a Living Prop) becomes a central part of the regular cast. Often liable to lead to a Spin-Off, or be subject to becoming an Adaptational Badass.

When a character gets a larger, but still in a supporting role because of the fanbase, that is simply an Ensemble Darkhorse (which they also are even if they don't get any increased role). Ascended Extra is when a character gains any sort of increased role regardless of the character's popularity (or lack thereof). When a character simply takes over the existing show, see Spotlight-Stealing Squad.

It isn't always good though. Sometimes if a character breaks out too much they risk become a Creator's Pet .

Compare to Breakup Breakout. Contrast The Artifact.

Examples of Breakout Character include:


Advertising[edit | hide | hide all]

  • Although the Geico Gecko was always the main character of his own commercials, he started out as a complainer, annoyed that the company's name was similar to his own, causing him to get calls from prospective customers. When he proved sufficiently popular, he became the company's mascot (justified by a commercial that actually depicts him getting hired as the company spokesman...spokesreptile?), the focus of most commercials, and, inexplicably, changed accents. The Geico Cavemen were so popular they got their own show. Of course, that didn't last very long.
  • In one campaign, commercials for Capital One credit cards featured rampaging Barbarian hordes, who would mercilessly attack anyone not bearing the correct card. Because Barbarians are more interesting than shoppers, they quickly became the main characters of these commercials, using the cards themselves to stock up for their various acts of mayhem.
  • Sugar Bear, the mascot for Super Sugar Crisp (now Super Golden Crisp) cereal, started as the least-of-the-least on a cartoon show sponsored by Post. Of the characters in that show, he's the only one still in use.
  • In the UK, the character Aleksandr Orlov, a meerkat, was created to advertise an insurance comparison site called "compare the market.com", presumably based on the idea that "compare the market" and "Compare the Meerkat" sound similar if you say them in a silly accent. The character has become a huge success, spawning his own franchise (books, toys, general merch etc...). He's even been interviewed on a talkshow, despite being a CGI character. His wikipedia page is actually longer and more detailed than that of the company he was created to promote.
  • Isaiah Mustafa, the Old Spice Man was initially just one of several Old Spice ads airing on television. The popularity and Fountain of Memes caught on like wildfire, leading Old Spice to launch an entire marketing blitz centered around Mustafa.


Anime and Manga[edit | hide]

  • Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha
  • Hiei from Yu Yu Hakusho was originally meant to be a one-shot character (this is clear in his first appearance), but he proved so popular with fans that he was given another appearance - and continued to prove popular enough with fans to make him a main character, complete with his own plotlines and backstory.
  • Code Geass - Jeremiah Gottwald was supposed to die early in the series' run, but proved to be so popular that he was allowed to survive and become a more important character than originally planned.
  • Slayers: Zelgadis the chimera and Amelia the princess were protagonist duo Gourry and Lina's allies for a couple of novels and were eventually replaced. When the anime began branching off from the novels, chimera and princess had proven popular enough to become as major characters and as integral to the story as Lina and Gourry. All adaptations of manga and games have followed suit with this. The replacements, on the other hand, are virtually unknown.
    • Xellos the demonic priest is also this combined with Ensemble Darkhorse; he only appears in five books (cameoing in the last one); like Zelgadis and Amelia above, he became more integral as the franchise expanded.
  • Vegeta from Dragonball Z was originally supposed to be just the Big Bad for the Saiyan saga, but proved to be so popular among the fans that Akira Toriyama continued using him and turned him into the Anti-Hero as a result.
  • Osu! Karate Bu - Anti-Hero Yoshiyuki Takagi from the manga was originally the mentor of the original main character, Tadashi Matsushita. Takagi became so popular with readers, that the author decided to make him the main character, reducing Matsushita to a supporting role.
  • In-universe example: in Macross Frontier, Ranka manages to pull this off in a movie adaptation of the events of Macross Zero, playing the role of Mao.
  • Martian Successor Nadesico had Ruri "Former Trope Namer for Little Miss Snarker" Hoshino, a Bridge Bunny whose popularity was such that it was even noted in the anime itself (Ruri figure doll by the in-universe Otaku, anyone?). Once The Movie rolled around, guess which character had replaced Akito as the main character?
  • Shikamaru Nara of Naruto started off the series as being one of the definitive darkhorses. Following the surge of popularity, Shikamaru was given more prominence and Character Development in the series. Come Shippuden, he finally was upgraded to being a Main Character, even given an entire arc dedicated to him.
  • To LOVE-Ru - The sequel series took fan favorite Golden Darkness and promoted her to the co-protagonist position, alongside Momo.
  • Syaoran Li of Cardcaptor Sakura. Originally a secondary character, Syaoran became a more prominant friend (and later love interest) for Sakura, with some later episodes revolving more around his perspective than the title character. Like Sakura, Syaoran also provided the basis for several other CLAMP characters, many of them just as (or more) prominant than the former. Somewhat ironically Nelvana and WB attempted to endorse Syaoran as co lead for the Cardcaptors' dub to appeal to male audiences early on in its run.
  • In One Piece, Chopper. Most likely due to him being the most marketable character. (So much that some believe 4kids skipped arcs just to get to Chopper so they could rake in the cash) What really brought him out was the Chopperman bits. So much so that he now has his own spinoff manga series!
    • He's a relatively mild example, as he was intended to be one of the (currently) 9 main characters from the start. But the author probably didn't expect him to become that iconic.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh!
    • A non-character example: the Duel Monsters card game, which was originally meant as just one of many games played throughout the series, but eventually became so popular that the series was given a Retool to make it the only game that mattered- even the few games played that weren't Duel Monsters were still about battling monsters. This carried over to the sequel series, where there's not even a hint of any other games.
    • Or, for a character example, Kaiba, who was made to be a one use enemy for the Duel Monsters chapter and got to come back as a larger villain due to popularity, then as one of the most important characters after that, tied to the Pharaoh's backstory itself.
  • Accelerator from A Certain Magical Index was a villain who slaughtered 10, 031 clones and was eventually stopped by the protagonist, but he was so popular with the fanbase that he was given a chance to atone for it. Ever since then, he's become the Deuteragonist of the series.
    • Mikoto Misaka is a straighter example and even got her own spin-off series that is arguably more popular.
  • Yomi from Ga-Rei.
  • Kumagawa Misogi is a truly outstanding example of this. Introduced as The Dreaded several chapters before his appearance as the second big bad, he then proceeds to be essentially the biggest, most destructively psychopathic troll the series had seen up to that point. However, through a combination of interesting character traits and fourth wall breaking humor he rocketed to the top of the second character poll, beating out the second place character (Kurokami Medaka, the main character) by several times the amount votes. His pinup in the poll results has him crying tears of joy at finally winning (and, probably, achieving his wish to see all the female characters in naked aprons). He's even getting his own spin-off!
  • In Gunslinger Girl, Triela. Originally a secondary character, she replaces Henrietta as the central character in season 2 of the Anime.


Comic Books[edit | hide]

  • Admiral Gar Stazi of Star Wars Legacy. Introduced basically to explain what happened to a pre-existing galactic faction, his appearance featured some memorable examples of badassery, prompting the author to write more and then some more stories about him. By the end of the series, he basically has his own secondary plotline, spanning one third of the issues.
  • Scrooge McDuck was first created by Carl Barks as a rich Long-Lost Uncle Aesop character who invited his nephews to his cottage for Christmas. He was brought back because his greedy, misanthropic nature and personal wealth could drive stories by playing him as an antagonistic supporting character, but he slowly evolved more and more into a protagonist as he gained more character depth beyond "rich and greedy", eventually becoming the former Trope Namer for Mr. Vice Guy. Among many fans, he's more popular than Donald Duck, spawning Scrooge-centric works such as The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck and DuckTales (1987).
  • The Adventures of Tintin
  • Back in the early to mid 1980s, The X-Men comics were known for their ensemble cast. Everyone was allowed their moments to shine. However, Wolverine eventually became popular, and over the next decade or so, he not only had his own solo comic, but also seemed required to be in every X-Men comic (and plenty of other ones) as well. It got to the point where one writer even lampshaded this by including one scene where Wolverine said he couldn't be in every X-Men subgroup. In adaptations, the franchise has made a complete shift from "X-Men" to "Wolverine and some other guys in the background." Can you say Wolverine Publicity? Wolverine wasn't even an X-Men character originally to begin with. He was originally meant to be a one-shot nemesis for the Incredible Hulk.
  • Spider-Man
    • Amazing Spider-Man #42: Peter Parker has a blind date with the neighbor's niece, Mary Jane Watson, whom the writer and artist intend as a minor character to play second banana to the real love interest, Gwen Stacy. But when in the final panel Mary Jane's face is finally seen and she says the much-quoted words "Face it, tiger, you just hit the jackpot!", the letters calling for her to become Peter's girlfriend start coming. Stan Lee and John Romita eventually discover that no matter what they do, MJ is more popular with the readers than designated love interest Gwen. To cut a long and complex story short, 250 issues later Mary Jane finally consents to become Spider-Man's wife.
    • Amazing Spider-Man #129: The Jackal, an established villain has duped some crazy vigilante into attacking Spidey. The story's finishes and thus we'll probably never hear from him again...
    • Two alternate universe characters, Spider Girl and Ultimate Spider-Man, were suppose to be a one-shot and a mini series respectively. Sales and fan response were so positive that Marvel decided to create an entire alternate universe and a line of comics for both characters, The Marvel Comics 2 and Ultimate Marvel.
    • Heck. Spidey's one himself. he was Originally a character in Amazing Fantasy 15, and wasn't intended to appear again. The fans liked him so much from this short apperance he got his own series, and nowadays he's easily one of the most popular and recognizable comic book characters in history.
  • Static of the Milestone Comics line. Originally created as one series among many during the companies run in the 90's, Static started off as a fan favorite. Later on, he was even star of the, at the time, company's swan song; Static Shock: Rebirth of the Cool. Due in part to his cartoon series, Static has gone on to become the most well known and famous of the Milestone characters, and has since become the poster child of the line.
  • Vincent Van Goat from Quantum and Woody. Originally intended as a one-issue gag, he became so popular that fans brought goat-themed toys, drawings, and memorabilia during promotional tours.
  • Marv from Sin City proved popular enough in the very first story that the series switched to being told in Anachronic Order so that he could reappear after getting killed off.
  • Dick Grayson, the first Robin, and formally Batman. He started off as a kid sidekick in the 1940's, finally officially becoming his own hero in the 1980's in the Teen Titans comics. Geoff Johns and Dan DiDio went on to later describe him as "The Heart and Soul" of the entire DC Universe.
  • Magog, an anti-hero from the DC Elseworld graphic novel Kingdom Come was so well-liked among fans (and the writers themselves) that he eventually got his own series and was incorporated into the main DCU.
  • The Smurfs made their debut as one-shot supporting characters in Johann and Peewit, a Belgian comic book about a heroic king's page and his jester sidekick. The pair went on adventures that often featured magical creatures of the author's invention. The Smurfs were one such group of creatures, and were only intended to appear in one story. They became so popular, however, that the author kept bringing them back, and within a year they had received their own spin-off series, which completely eclipsed Johann and Peewit in popularity.
  • Dr. Robotnik became this in Archie's Sonic X comic. It got to the point where Robotnik was practically the main character and the series was more about the many misadventures he and his robot mooks get into than about Sonic himself. Quite impressive considering that he was a side character at best when the series started.
  • Swerve, a formerly minor background character, has become this in IDW's recent Transformers comic largely because he's totally hilarious, spending all of his time making snarky comments and lampshading the many tropes and cliches that everyone else stubbles into. He also gives the greatest idea for a prank ever, moving around the furniture in someone's room while their sleeping then pretending that nothing changed the next day (he also says that he's planning on taking it up a level by wheeling the victim into another room while their sleeping]]).


Film - Animated[edit | hide]

  • Cruella de Vil, Cruella de Vil... What does it say that the 1961 animated version treated her simply as the villain, but the '90s live-action films were essentially a Villain Based Franchise focused on Cruella? In fact, Cruella was the only human character to return in the live-action sequel. Of course, this was compounded by the dogs not talking in the live-action versions, although they still had Amplified Animal Aptitude. Ironically, the original book had a sequel in which Cruella only had a small role.
  • In the animated movie The Emperors New Groove, Yzma's servant Kronk delivers many of the film's funnier moments. Because of this, and partly because he was voiced by the deep-voiced Patrick Warburton, Kronk was popular enough among the fanbase to be the main character in the sequel, Kronk's New Groove.
  • Iago from Aladdin. His popularity has grown to the point that he's arguably more iconic than Aladdin himself, and he even has a Heel Face Turn. Only the Genie rivals him in popularity.
  • Timon and Pumbaa from The Lion King. They got their own TV show, a POV Sequel, and have tons of fanart dedicated to them, far more than Simba, Nala or Mufasa get.
  • Despite being almost pure comedy relief, the Penguins and King Julien from Madagascar and its sequel were so obscenely popular that they got their own Spin-Off, The Penguins of Madagascar. Nobody really cared that it seemed to take place in a completely Alternate Universe (there's no feasible way the two series can co-exist) - the characters are just that awesome.


Film - Live-Action[edit | hide]

  • In the first Friday the 13 th Jason was supposed to have drowned before the events of the film. His mother is actually the killer in this film. However, the writer saw the movie Carrie and wanted a shocker ending, so Jason crawls out of the lake at the end of the movie. Sequels would have Jason as the main character, though he did not get his iconic hockey mask until the third movie.
  • The Pink Panther was originally meant to be about David Niven's jewel thief character, with Inspector Clouseau bumbling antagonist. Then a last-minute casting change put Peter Sellers in the Clouseau role, and the rest is history. Let's face it, the whole thing ended up turned around. The thief, the antihero, the glamour romance interest and the plot all end up being forgotten in favour of Clouseau. The animated Pink Panther that appeared in the opening credits to the movies ended up as an independent character.
  • Phil Coulson from the Marvel Cinematic Universe is the very definition of this trope. In the first Iron Man, he's had a quite a minor role as a SHIELD agent. Insanely positive fan reaction to his character got his role somewhat expanded in Iron Man 2, and in Thor and The Avengers he's outright one of the central characters. It gets better: The guy headlines his own short films, has his own comic book series, and from the looks of it, is getting bigger and bigger.
    • To a lesser extent Iron Man himself fits this primarily because before the movies came out, he was gradually being shifted into the background. While he was still a mainline superhero in the Marvel Universe, people just wanted to see everyone else more. Then the movies came out and suddenly, Iron Man is one of the biggest things ever to exist.
    • Loki of Thor and The Avengers, mostly due to Tom Hiddleston's portrayal and has a dedicated, slightly insane and growing fanbase.
  • Star Wars
    • Han Solo. George Lucas wanted Luke Skywalker to be the hero that everyone else just supports, but the public just went for Han. Doesn't hurt that it was Harrison Ford, even before he was big.
    • Even Darth Vader is one of these. In the first movie, he barely even appears, and when he does, he's usually being subordinate to Grand Moff Tarkin. In early drafts of the script, he was even killed in the Death Star trench run, nor was he intended to be Luke's father. Fortunately, however, Lucas decided to insert a shot of him escaping as a Sequel Hook, and he ended up becoming the big villain of the series, enough to warrant a three-movie-long Start of Darkness arc.
    • Admiral Piett is a more minor example. Viewers found him so sympathetic in Episode V that he was written in to Episode VI to reprise his own role as Admiral of Vader's fleet... and then he dies.
    • Boba Fett became so popular a decent chunk of the prequel trilogy's second film was dedicated to his own coming of story. Plus, you know, he became the sole genetic basis for the Grand Army of the Republic, one of the single most influential factions in the entire Star Wars saga. He was popular enough that he was even digitally added into a restored scene of A New Hope when Lucas released the Special Editions of the original trilogy.
  • Slimer from Ghostbusters didn't even have a name in the original film, yet he wound up the mascot of the cartoon series and franchise. The 3rd season of the cartoon series was even titled Slimer! and the Real Ghostbusters. His semi-official name during production of the first film was Onionhead, but the fans nicknamed him Slimer and it stuck.
  • Captain Jack Sparrow, of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. The original intention was for the series to focus on the adventures of up-and-coming pirate Will Turner. Jack was meant to be a freewheeling, accidental mentor, with a large role only in the first film. But Johnny Depp ended up re-imaging Jack in such a fascinating way that he dominates the first movie. His increased role continues into the sequels until the fourth film, where he's the only star and the previous main characters are not present.
  • Aldous Snow from Forgetting Sarah Marshall who got his own movie, Get Him to The Greek.
  • Tropic Thunder - Les Grossman, the foul mouthed movie producer has his own movie in the works.
  • Clerks - Jay and Silent Bob are originally bit characters. Smith put them again in Mallrats only because he wanted to see Jason Mewes play Jay one more time. According to his blog, he had no idea they were so popular at all until the screening of Mallrats at 1995 San Diego Comic Con. After that, he felt confident enough to put them as bit characters again in Chasing Amy, to give them a more prominent part in Dogma, and finally to make a whole movie about them: Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. And, of course, they made their return in Clerks II.
  • Burt Gummer, a supporting character in the original Tremors, wound up stealing the franchise so completely that the TV series never bothered to give leads Kevin Bacon or Fred Ward so much as a Continuity Nod.
  • American Pie - Stifler starts out as a supporting character, establishing himself as a jerkass who is only interested in sex. In the sequel, he actually gets involved in the main plot, getting much more screen time even though he continues to be the same selfish jerk throughout the entire film. The third movie goes much further, with Stifler's ultimate transition into Jerk with a Heart of Gold which took up most of the film's plot.
  • Tommy Lee Jones' version of Deputy Gerard in The Fugitive was so popular that he got his own sequel, U.S. Marshals.
  • Sharpey Evans from the High School Musical films, despite being the Designated Villain, proved so popular that she ended up getting her own spin-off film in which she's the protagonist.


Literature[edit | hide]

  • Slappy, the Demonic Dummy of Goosebumps fame was a minor character in the first Night of the Living Dummy book, but in the sequels was brought back as the primary villain.
  • Discworld
    • Samuel Vimes was originally intended to be a minor character in City Watch sub-series, with Carrot being the major character. Suffice it to say, Samuel Vimes is likely only beaten by Death and the Librarian for the number of books he's in.
    • Death. He started out as a joke in The Colour of Magic. He appears in nearly all of the books, sometimes as a main character.
  • The Lumatere Chronicles: Froi. He begins as an immoral thief and supreme Butt Monkey who just cannot catch a break, and deserves it to a degree as well, but he grows on the group of Exiles when Finnikin and Evanjalin save him from slave traders. He begins to speak the language of Lumatere, albeit poorly. Later on, he helps gather the Lumateren exiles from around the continent in order to regain the kingdom and helps to rebuild Lumatere as well. In book two, Froi of the Exiles, he takes center stage and the readers are shown just how much Character Development he's gone through.
  • Rupert Psmith was a supporting character in PG Wodehouse's school-story Mike, but quickly eclipsed the stolid protagonist to become the star of the novel. In later books he is the central character. As Evelyn Waugh wrote: "One can date exactly the first moment when Wodehouse was touched by the sacred flame. It occurs halfway through Mike ... Psmith appears and the light is kindled which has burned with growing brilliancy for half a century."
  • The novels Relic and Reliquary have Batman-like, super-competent FBI Agent Pendergast as the tertiary main character (who didn't even manage to appear in the film of the book). The authors subsequently made him the main character of their next several books. Note that this wiki's own page for the series even bears his name.
  • Reginald "Turnip" Fitzhugh from the Pink Carnation series by Lauren Willig. In the first few books, he's a very minor character—young and handsome, but so daft and foppish that no one takes him seriously. He appears in a few society scenes, but has nothing to do with the plot. Turnip was so popular with fans, however, that Willig gave him his own book, The Mischief of the Mistletoe.
  • The Icewind Dale Trilogy was originally supposed to be about Wulfgar and his friends, one of whom was a dark elf named Drizzt Do'Urden. The first book is pretty much like this, the second book has everybody pretty much share the spotlight, and by the third book Drizzt has clearly become the star. Salvatore followed up with The Dark Elf Trilogy, a prequel series which told Drizzt's life story before he met the others, cementing Drizzt's status as The Hero.
  • Albert Campion in the series of novels by Margery Allingham. He was originally just a minor character in The Crime at Black Dudley, but Margery Allingham found him so fascinating that he became the lead character in a series of novels.
  • Interview with the Vampire is Louis's story, with Lestat as a villain and supporting character (he's actually absent for a good chunk of the novel midway). But thanks to all the positive feedback he got in Interview, Rice saw fit to not only make the sequel from Lestat's POV, but to pretty much make him the protagonist of the whole damn The Vampire Chronicles series.
  • Ramona Quimby, star of Beverly Cleary's beloved book series started off as a minor character in the Henry Huggins series.


Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • Lizzie Sutton from Lincoln Heights became young teen actress Rhyon Nicole Brown's breakout role.
  • Arthur 'The Fonz' Fonzarelli from Happy Days is such a good example, few people know it is an example at all. Happy Days originally was written around Ron Howard's Richie Cunningham character with Anson William's Potsie as his co-lead. The Fonz character was only supposed to be an incidental character, but his popularity grew so dramatically that the network even tried to change the title to Fonzie's Happy Days until Henry Winkler himself (along with the rest of the cast and the director) protested it. Most of the plots did begin to revolve around The Fonz character and the Animated Adaptation did end up being called the The Fonz and the Happy Days Gang.
  • Doctor Who
    • The Doctor did receive top billing as early as the very first episode. However, only from the second season onwards did the show really start to revolve around him.
    • Jack Harkness was so popular that a spinoff series followed not too long after.
    • Rory Williams is so popular, many viewers believed (with very good reason) that he would be the title character in "A Good Man Goes to War". And with the Doctor telling Kovarian that good men don't need rules and it's not a good idea to find out why he has so many, it basically was.ds
    • Sarah Jane Smith, who also later gained a spinoff.
  • The character of Mimi on The Drew Carey Show was originally only supposed to appear in the pilot.
  • Steve Urkel on Family Matters. The degree to which Urkel the Extroverted Nerd took over the show is hard to exaggerate. It's not uncommon to hear people refer to it as The Urkel Show.
  • Barney Fife on The Andy Griffith Show.
  • Paul and Jamie's respective families on Mad About You.
  • Arnold Jackson from Diff'rent Strokes.
  • Arthur Daley from the United Kingdom comedy-drama Minder.
  • Barnabas Collins from Dark Shadows, who was originally slated to be staked within a few weeks of his first appearance.
  • Avon from Blakes Seven.
  • Nasir, the Saracen in Robin of Sherwood. Originally a Dragon for the Big Bad in the pilot, actor Mark Ryan's Badass portrayal was so full of win that the series creator wisely gave him a Heel Face Turn so that he joined the Merry Men. Kevin Costner's Robin Hood later borrowed Nasir and altered his name after a crewman pointed out possible copyright infringement.
  • Kramer from Seinfeld - He is considered by many fans to be the most popular character of the series.
  • Mighty Morphin Power Rangers - Tommy Oliver, originally the Sixth Ranger, eventually took leadership throughout Seasons 2-3, completely ignoring the Super Sentai franchise's tradition of having the Red Ranger as the leader, demoting him to sub-leader status (granted, the actor who played the original Red Ranger was already leaving the show). When Jason leaves, his replacement Rocky, the first Rookie Red Ranger, is such in colors only. He eventually became Red Ranger himself in Power Rangers Zeo and part of Power Rangers Turbo, establishing the Red = leader status quo. There was much rejoicing when he returned for Power Rangers Dino Thunder (as the Black Ranger.)
  • J.J. Evans from Good Times. This was made even worse when two of the main characters were either killed off or temporarily gone, making J.J. even more of the focus of the show. The original star, Esther Rolle, actually left the show over it and only came back on the condition that they clean up the J.J. character.
  • Miss Piggy on The Muppet Show. Also Gonzo, whose role has expanded over time, especially in the movies, where he is one of Those Two Guys or the Lemony Narrator, but later had an imaginary film regarding his origins/species, in which he was co-protagonist. He also had an expanded role in Muppet Babies as a Dogged Nice Guy toward Miss Piggy.
  • Star Trek: Voyager
    • The Emergency Medical Hologram ("the Doctor"). It help that he was the only character more or less written consistently, and with some Character Development in that entire show.
    • Seven Of Nine ended up being another one after she joined the show partway through, and for totally different reasons than what the producers intended.
    • Interestingly, according to internet reviewer SF Debris, Neelix was originally created with this role in mind. It didn't work out so well.
  • Deep Space Nine - Quark and Garak became a lot more popular than anticipated.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation had Worf. Watching the first season it's clear he doesn't really have a whole lot to do other than being a Klingon hanging around the bridge and glowering at people to indicate the series was in The Future! compared to The Original Series. By later in the run entire main story arcs were devoted to the character, changes in the setting of the Star Trek universe (such as the Klingon Civil War) revolved around him, and that carried over to Deep Space Nine, which made him the only character to be a regular in more than one Star trek series.
    • John de Lancie's Q was another one: the character is the only one to have appeared in all three of the contemporaneous Star Trek series in a major role in the episode (as opposed to a quick cameo).
  • Stargate Atlantis's Dr. Carson Beckett was originally just billed as a supporting character but ended up in almost every episode of the first season, leading to the producers upgrading him to lead status for the second and third. They then tried to kill him off but fan attachment was strong enough that, in Daniel Jackson-esque fashion, he was brought back as a recurring character.
  • Dennis Finch (David Spade) in Just Shoot Me.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer
    • Spike was originally scheduled to die concurrent with Drusilla's restoration to power in "What's My Line". That plan lasted exactly as long as it took to note the audience reaction to his first two episodes.
    • The entire ex-Sunnydale cast of Angel. They got their own show.
    • Faith was originally scheduled to commit suicide out of grief shortly after accidentally killing Deputy Mayor Finch, a sort of tragic lost soul foil to Buffy and nothing more. Except that the audience loved seeing her as a hero... and as a villain... and as a hero again... and, well, they just like seeing Faith do anything. Which is why she's going strong well into season 10 of the continuation comics.
    • Jonathan. He was always shown as a generic Sunnydale student until he turned out be evil. But then not evil. In any case, more important than originally thought.
    • Anya. Originally a literal Monster of the Week, she was such an interesting character that she got a second episode outing, then was repurposed as Xander's rebound love interest. Joss Whedon did try to write her out on more than one occasion, but kept bringing her back.
  • Elmo from Sesame Street was a minor (originally unnamed) background Muppet in the show's early years before becoming the focus of the show and the Creator's Pet.
  • Melrose Place - Both Marcia Cross (Kimberly) and Heather Locklear (Amanda), with Kimberly stealing the crown in particular with her antics on the show...
  • Lost - Ben. He was originally meant to be a minor Other who would appear in only three episodes. Extremely positive reception made this extend to eight; then it went to being a series regular (the original leader of the Others was rewritten to be Ben) and one of the show's most important characters. The same applies to Desmond: originally meant to only be in the first three episodes, his popularity made them bring back Desmond, focus the two hour finale on him, and make him a series regular next year.
  • Dallas - J.R. Ewing was only supposed to be a supporting cast member, with the thrust of the storyline revolving around the feuding families. J.R. quickly stole the focus and the producers admitted he had become the breakout character of his series.
    • Also Ciff Barnes, Donna Culver, and Clayton Farlow to a much lesser extent as all three were only guest stars before they became part of the cast.
  • Scrubs - The Janitor became a Breakout Character. He was intended to be a background character to torment J.D. (if the show ended before the first half of the second series, he was going to be a figment of J.D.'s imagination), but the creators quickly (and thankfully) realized how awesome he was and included him in the main cast.
  • Newhart: "Hi. I'm Larry, this is my brother Darryl, and this is my other brother Darryl."
  • Family Ties was supposed to focus on the parents. The kids, especially Alex, quickly stole the spotlight.
  • Heroes
    • Hiro Nakamura.
    • Sylar's popularity conflicted with the fact that season 1 was about killing him, so bringing him back sort of made everything from that season seem pointless and makes his presence increasingly unneeded...
  • The Man from U.N.C.L.E. - An example of a successful Retool which made a minor character into a Breakout Character: The original premise had Napoleon Solo working alone, with Illya Kuryakin intended to be only a minor recurring character. Kuryakin struck such a chord with the show's fans, however, that he was raised to one of the leads.
  • The West Wing - President Bartlet was only supposed to be a recurring character, with the show focusing on the White House Senior Staff. But when Martin Sheen's performance wowed the production team, the show was retooled to make Bartlet a part of the ensemble.
  • Bernardo and Cañizares from the Spanish Camera Cafe, though they don't appear that much lately.
  • Derek Reese on The Sarah Connor Chronicles due to Brian Austin Green's haunting portrayal, when his character gets killed off it begins a fan hemmorhage.
  • Chuck Bass in Gossip Girl. The show originally gave him a similar role in the book as a date raping villain while also having him as Nate's sidekick. However his astounding popularity has led to him taking center stage to the point where Nate (who is the main male character of the books) seems to have mostly been shoved into the background while Chuck Bass is developed into a more likable character through his relationship with Blair and redemption plotline.
    • Blair is an even more prevalent example. Early on Serena was the main character but Blair quickly passed her for that title
  • Sophia Petrilo of The Golden Girls was original intended to be an occasional Drop-In Character, but test audiences loved her so much that she was made an equal to the other three.
  • Abby on NCIS.
  • Gibby on iCarly.
  • In Season 4 of Supernatural, Castiel was only supposed to appear in a few episodes and then another character was to take his place as Dean's angel guide. However, general consensus decided he'd become the Ensemble Darkhorse. Even though he'd only gotten less than 40 minutes of screen-time at that point, the episode "On the Head of a Pin" (4.16) featured him heavily and 4.20 ("Rapture") centered on his vessel, Jimmy. In Season 5, Misha Collins (Castiel's actor) was promoted to regular status.
  • Barney Stinson on How I Met Your Mother.
    • Which is actually an example of Fridge Brilliance, since Barney's prominence does interfere with Future!Ted's story about meeting his future children's mother...but it's completely realistic that Ted's life isn't conveniently tailored to somehow be completely thematically compliant with the story of the mother, and Ted can't cut out important parts of his life just because he wasn't the most important figure in those events.
  • Abed on Community.
    • Also Troy and Chang. More and more of the series' gags tend to revolve around these three characters.
      • Unlike most shows however, Community has avoided the Spotlight-Stealing Squad nature of it. Considering most humor comes from Troy and Abed however, it wouldn't be uncommon for those not familiar with the series to think those two are the main characters.
    • You could call The Dean one as well. After all, he went from a recurring secondary character in the first two season to a series regular, featured in the title sequence, for Season 3.
  • Snooki on Jersey Shore, which is an unusual example considering Jersey Shore is a reality show. The same thing happend with Zlatko in the first season of the german Big Brother.
  • The first "Celebrity Jeopardy!" sketch on Saturday Night Live was written to showcase ... Norm Macdonald's Burt Reynolds impression. Darrell Hammond as Sean Connery was just to round out the players.
  • Guy of Gisborne from the BBC's Robin Hood was never a minor character (and the actor had top billing, behind only Robin himself and Marian until she was killed off), but halfway through the first season the writers develop a serious man-crush on him and his relationship with Marian. By season three, the show may as well be called "Guy of Gisborne."
  • Glee
  • Xena: Warrior Princess - Xena originally started out as a villainous warlord in Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. The fanbase loved her so much that she got her own show, which in time eclipsed the old show in popularity.
  • Zachary Smith from Lost in Space became so popular that the show's producer, Irwin Allen, created an Expy of Smith in his later series Land of the Giants.
  • Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory is pretty much the new Urkel.
  • Farscape - Chiana was intended to die at the end of her first episode. Instead, she became a main character for the rest of the show's run.
  • Are You Being Served - The original concept was originally to have Mr. Lucas and Miss Brahms as the leads, being the younger and more "normal" characters. However, the more flamboyant Mrs. Slocombe and Mr. Humphries stole the spotlight.
  • Jazz in Fresh Prince of Bel Air was originally just a guest star to call back to Will's earlier career in music. He eventually became a main character.
  • Phoebe in Charmed. She was really just there in the first two seasons as a background character but fans loved her and in season 3 she was given the main plot arc while Prue was shunted aside and eventually killed off when the actress left the series.
    • Leo Wyatt and Cole Turner also became breakout characters respectively. However, Cole was eventually dropped in the middle of the fifth season.
  • Klinger in Mash started as a one-note bit part in a handful of Season 1 episodes; by the end of the series, he'd been promoted to the main cast, replacing Radar as Company Clerk.
  • When Law and Order SVU began it was quite clear that despite the largish cast, everyone was there really as secondary characters to Benson and Stabler. Then people started noticing Fin Tutuola. While the original pair stayed the main focus, Ice-T's Fin had several episodes and even a significant story arc and arch-enemy, sometimes to the point that the main pair barely make an appearance.
  • Benson on Soap, notably, he was spun off into his own show before he could become a Spotlight-Stealing Squad.
  • Jill Monroe in Charlie's Angels. Despite the fact that she only starred in the first season, she is considered by many fans to be the most popular.
  • Frasier Crane was originally supposed to be in Cheers for only a few episodes, but because of his popularity, he became a main character. When the series ended, he starred in a Spin-Off show.
    • Lilith Sternin also counts as originally she was only supposed to appear in one episode.
  • Niles Crane in Frasier.
    • To a lesser extent Bulldog, he started off as a guest star, but fans liked him enough that he became a part of the main cast. However, the producers eventually dropped him when he started appearing in less episodes. He continued to appear occaisonally.
  • Dylan Mckay in Beverly Hills, 90210.
    • Also Kelly Taylor, to a lesser extent.
  • Doug Ross in ER.
    • Several members of the cast introduced later in the series also became breakout characters.
  • Lt. Columbo began life as a throwaway character from an episode of a short-lived anthology series called The Chevy Mystery Show. Here he was played by Bert Freed. That particular episode, "Enough Rope", was later remade as a Made for TV Movie titled Prescription: Murder, which marked Peter Falk's debut as the character. Even then, the murderer, played by Gene Barry, was envisioned as a Villain Protagonist with Columbo intended as a supporting character. Instead, Gene Barry's character became simply the first of many murderers to be outwitted by Lt. Columbo.
  • Kelso on That '70s Show. He began as one of the lower-tier main characters and later surpassed Topher Grace as the star.
  • Camille Saroyan in Bones was supposed to die in "The Man In The Cell" but she'd become so popular they kept her.
  • Brooke Davis on One Tree Hill. She went from not even being in the pilot to slowly surpassing Lucas as the star of the show.
  • Desperate Housewives: Orson Hodge went from being a one-off character, to a short-term villain, to a main character for 4 seasons.
  • Zack Morris started off as a supporting character for Good Morning Ms. Bliss with the title character, a teacher, being the actual main character. The series got retooled into being the super popular Kid Com, Saved by the Bell, with Zack being promoted to the starring role, and the rest was history.
  • After poor reception and his crippling (for a car show) inability to talk and drive being discovered during production, Chris Evans role in Top Gear (2016) was significantly cut in exchange for an expanded role for the less poorly received Chris Harris.

Newspaper Comics[edit | hide]

  • Popeye - Popeye the Sailor started out as a minor character in Thimble Theatre, which had been running for ten full years before he was introduced. The strip was originally about the adventures of a money-hungry slacker named Harold Hamgravy, who traveled the world in search of riches. Popeye originally showed up as a generic sailor who was hired by Hamgravy for a treasure hunting voyage. He wasn't supposed to show up again after the end of that story arc. Instead, he ended up becoming so popular that the strip was eventually renamed after him. Poor Hamgravy was demoted to minor supporting character status, and to add insult to injury, Popeye even stole his girlfriend, Olive Oyl!
    • This history is lampshaded in the live-action Popeye movie. As the story opens, Olive has just dumped Hamgravy.
      • In fairness, though, Hamgravy is kind of a jerk, and only dated Olive because her family is rich (and would routinely dump her for wealthier women, only to come crawling back after they rejected him.) Popeye, on the other hand, is always true to his lady.
  • The very aptly named Opus of Bloom County and its follow-up comic strips was originally a fairly flat gag character, not intended to ever be seen again after his week-long plot was resolved, but fan reaction quickly led the author to make him the main character of the strip.
    • Years later, Breathed mused in one of his books about the nature of the breakout character: "You can't design an Opus; they're the sort of characters who come knocking at your door in the pouring rain at 3 in the morning. [The author's] job is to figure out which ones should be let in and allowed to stay."
    • Funny thing is, he almost accidentally made another one—by making the worst possible deliberate attempt: Bill the Cat. Many long storylines in the later years of the initial strip featured only Bill and Opus, with the rest of the crew having barely more than cameos—such as the 'Deathtongue' stories.
  • Snuffy Smith. He started out as a one-shot character in Barney Google, a comic about a luckless gambler. A 1934 storyline took Google to a hillbilly mountain community called Hoot'n Holler, where he met Snuffy and his family. Google was only supposed to be there for a few weeks, but Snuffy proved so popular that Google permanently relocated there. The comic was renamed "Barney Google and Snuffy Smith" and Google's part in the strip became smaller and smaller, until he was written out altogether. Despite his name being in the title, Google has only appeared in the strip twice in the past 20 years.
    • This was actually the second time this had happened to the strip. A decade prior to this, Google's horse, Spark Plug, proved incredibly popular, and ended up becoming the focus of several storylines and a huge amount of merchandise (with the strip temporarily renamed "Barney Google and Spark Plug.") When Snuffy took over the comic, he adopted Spark Plug as his horse.
  • First, it was Robotman. Then, it was Robotman...and Monty. Then Robotman got put on an intergalactic bus, and now it's just Monty.
  • In the early Peanuts strips, Snoopy acted like an ordinary dog, and wasn't a key character.
  • Nancy was originally called Fritzi Ritz and about a flapper.
  • British newspaper strip Flook (1949–84) featured Flook (a creature) and Rufus (a boy) as main characters. But there was a short period back at the start (before Rufus found and named Flook) when the strip was called Rufus.
  • Dick Cavalli's Morty Meekle was eventually taken over by (and renamed after) what was originally a minor character, Winthrop.
  • In the early years of FoxTrot, the strip equally focused on the five members of the family. Come the late 90's, and Jason's pretty much the main character.
  • The crocodiles from Pearls Before Swine. Zebra originally contacted his predators through letters in the early days of the strip. Wanting to cut out the middleman, author Stephen Pastis had a fraternity of crocodiles (Zeeba Zeeba Eata) move next door. Their complete incompetence in killing Zebra became the comic's new and most popular Running Gag (besides long, confusing puns of course).
  • Krazy Kat and Ignatz Mouse began as minor characters in George Herriman's earlier strip The Dingbat Family.


Radio[edit | hide]

  • Douglas Adams originally intended Marvin the Paranoid Android to be a one-off character in the Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy radio series; he supposed that there were only so many jokes you could get out of a robot with Eeyore-like depression.
  • Hey, man, this is Donnie Baker. I was a know-nothin' redneck that owned a boat and worked as a stockboy under that dumbass Randy. Then I started callin' The Bob and Tom Show. Now the chicks can't keep their hands off my pork rind. I swear to God they can't.
  • Karl Pilkington, from The Ricky Gervais Show, for a real life example. Originally the show was just a vessel for Ricky Gervais and his partner in crime Stephen Merchant. Then they discovered the machinations of their producer's mind and the entire thing changed gear. Karl Pilkington quickly became the focus of the show, and his thoughts (and mad stories) have since been compiled into books, and even a TV series.


Theater[edit | hide]

  • The popularity of Sir John Falstaff in Henry IV, parts I and II inspired Shakespeare to write a play around the character, The Merry Wives of Windsor.


Video Games[edit | hide]

  • Wario in Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins created to symbolize the development team's dislike of developing for a series they did not create. However, the guy became popular and ended up getting a spin-off which eventually lend to his own ongoing series Wario Land. And if that wasn't enough, that series became so popular, Wario received another ongoing spin-off series called Wario Ware, which has typically become one of Nintendo's flagship franchises to showcase their console's unique features. Not bad for a one shot Evil Counterpart/Rival.
  • Illidan Stormrage appears in only one level and one cutscene in Warcraft III. The Addon Frozen Throne and the World of Warcraft expansion Burning Crusade are all about him being Badass. The latter, by turning him from an Anti-Hero to an Omnicidal Maniac, seems to have taken the edge off his popularity somewhat.
  • Axel was an important villain in Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories and was intended to carry over to Kingdom Hearts II as the tutorial boss. However, both fans and the staff liked him too much, and his role was extended into Kingdom Hearts II's main scenario. Now 358/2 Days has been released, which features Axel as a primary protagonist...and Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep brings him back as his "original self", Lea. At this point, it's almost a given that he's going to be a mainstay of the series.
    • He's back again in Kingdom Hearts 3D, or rather Lea is back, but he looks like Axel without his face tattoos.[1] Oh, and he gets his own Keyblade at the end.
  • Touhou often has Ensemble Darkhorse characters that return to become playable characters with enough Popularity Power. Often, the Battle Butler of the previous game returns as a playable character, while Phantasmagoria of Flower View featured the return of Yuka, and popular demand for her to appear in the eleventh game (Subterrainian Animism) apparently pushed ZUN to put Sanae in as a heroine of the twelth game, Undefined Fantastic Object. Subterrainian Animism even featured a selectable partner for the heroines just to get fan favorites like Suika, Patchouli, and Nitori in the game, when they would otherwise be forced out.
    • The best example of this from the series however, is Cirno, the lovable Baka of the series. From her lowly start as a Stage 2 Boss, her popularity grew to the point where she received her own game: Touhou 12.8: Fairy Wars
  • Some say Zero, Ensemble Darkhorse of Mega Man X is this, seeing as he was a supporting character in his first appearance, and promoted to main character status as the series progressed, especially getting his own series that further showed his awesomeness. There's a twist, though: Zero was supposed to be the main character (in other words, Mega Man X himself), but was "demoted" because his creator, Keiji Inafune, was told that Zero looked too different from the original Mega Man.
  • Aigis from Persona 3 is given the spotlight plenty of times throughout the course of the game, but no more often than anyone else in the main cast. But she was such a hit with fans that she was made the main character of the game's direct sequel, The Answer.
  • The Rabbids from the Rayman series. Most people don't know about Rayman, while the Rabbids have their own games.
  • Half-Life's 'Barney' Security guards, not only did they get an expansion pack (Blue Shift) where the player takes the role of one, but they are personified in the next game by one of the support cast (Barney, arguably only second to Alyx as a player companion).
  • In Super Robot Wars Original Generation, the canon route is obviously Ryusei Date's. But Kyosuke Nanbu proved to be way too popular that he and his girlfriend Excellen Browning are promoted into main characters by the second game.
    • Sanger Zonvolt is this. At his debut, he is one of The Dragon to the Big Bad that just appear near the end of the game. In the next game, hes the protagonist of Super Robot route. In the next game, hes an important character. In Super Robot Wars Original Generation, he become the Stealth Mentor to the group, and then the second game have his Evil Twin and an exclusive route for his story.
  • In Final Fantasy IV, Kain was merely The Lancer to The Hero Cecil, but proved to be an Ensemble Darkhorse. In the game's sequel The After Years, Cecil is Demoted to Extra while his son Ceodore is the protagonist. However, a sizable part of the storyline focuses on Kain and his battle with his Evil Twin who is masquerading as him.
  • Vincent Valentine from Final Fantasy VII was popular enough to warrant his own game.
  • In Final Fantasy XI, Shantotto started off as just a rather random NPC with a series of somewhat humourous quests and being involved in the black mage quests. Then she made a cameo towards the end of the Windurst missions and some of the Chains of Promathia missions. Then she was a major character in Treasures of Aht Urhgan and appeared in some minor events (such as being the main enemy in a fight against some of the female characters). Then she represented the game in Dissidia Final Fantasy. Then she got her own storyline expansion centered just around her.
  • In Final Fantasy III, the Big Bad was Xande, an Evil Sorcerer who wanted to destroy the Crystals to regain his lost immortality by stopping time. The final boss that appeared when he died, Cloud of Darkness, was a Giant Space Flea From Nowhere that was your typical Omnicidal Maniac. However, in Dissidia Final Fantasy the Cloud of Darkness appeared over Xande, and they used a never before seen artwork of her as the basis for her design, revealing she was a Fetish Fuel Station Attendant. At this point Xande is pretty much just a vague memory for the fanbase, and the Cloud of Darkness is regarded as the true villain of her original game.
  • Exdeath (the Big Bad to the aforementioned Gilgamesh's Dragon) becomes this himself in Dissidia 012 Duodecim, the prequel to Dissidia Final Fantasy. In the first Dissidia, thanks to the power of incomprehensible battle quotes and hickory-smoked lines, Exdeath became a Sealed Meme In A Tree and went from one of the most-overlooked villains in the series to one who gave longstanding fan-faves like Kefka and Sephiroth a run for their money. It's unknown how attentive Square Enix was to his overnight surge in popularity, but given that VOID! jokes run abundant in Duodecim, it's a safe bet that they knew. On top of this, his control of the manikins led to the permanent deaths of every newcomer not named Gilgamesh or Prishe, as well as Team Chaos' victory in the 12th cycle.
  • Shadow the Hedgehog was so popular that SEGA brought him back to life well, sorta in Sonic Heroes, and then gave him his own game.
  • Sergeant Johnson of Halo. Originally intended to be a homage to the Drill Sergeant Nasty stock character type, became so popular that Bungie retconned his death in the legendary bonus cutscene to add him into Halo 2.
  • In the Castlevania series, most of the games focus on the efforts of the Belmont family to do away with Dracula once and for all. In 1989's Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse, we are introduced to Alucard, the Dark Lord's prodigal son. Here, Alucard didn't really amount to much, seeing as he was a generic-looking vampire who threw weak fireballs. However, when he resurfaced eight years later in Symphony of the Night (the series' revisitation into the now iconic Metroidvania style and widely considered to be the Magnum Opus of the series alongside Rondo of Blood), revamped as a Badass, stoic White-Haired Pretty Boy with a slew of nifty tricks and weapons (as well as strong, yet conflicting ties to his father and mother), he instantly became so popular that he's now just as synomyous with the series as the Belmonts, Dracula, and Death are. It doesn't help that he's basically immortal, thus meaning that he's the sole recurring hero with the greatest chance to be in any game should his presence be required (i.e. his appearance in the Sorrow games as Genya Arikado).
  • Darkstalkers' Morrigan Aensland became not only popular enough to promote herself to the status of protagonist, but she became iconic to the point that there are few Capcom crossover titles that don't include her. By the turn of the 21st century, most gamers easily knew who she was, just not where she came from.
  • Tron Bonne from Mega Man Legends, the Gadgeteer Genius Tsundere member of the Quirky Miniboss Squad. Her popularity not only gave her the starring role of her own Spin-Off game, The Misadventures of Tron Bonne, but also led to her appearing in various Capcom crossovers. In fact, she has made the most appearances of ANY character from the Mega Man franchise in these fighting games, even moreso than the titular Blue Bomber himself, due to the swapping between the different Mega Man incarnations and Zero.
  • GLaDOS from Portal. She was originally intended to only speak in the Relaxation Chamber at the start of the game; playtesters liked her so much, Valve decided to use her throughout the game. She became synonymous with the Portal franchise and was even the final boss of the first game.
  • Georg from Suikoden II was just one of the characters of the 108 needed to be recruited. However, his backstory by having Richmond investigate him proved to be popular to fans so much that in Suikoden V, set a few years before Suikoden I, Georg became one of the main characters. The rest is history.
  • In Mass Effect, it was obvious the spotlight was supposed to be on your two human squadmates. They both got lots of screentime, were the major romance options (Liara sort of played second fiddle), and were your first two partners. Instead, fans centered on Tali, Garrus, and Wrex. In the sequel, the three of them get lots of screentime and plot relevance, while the surviving human is Demoted to Extra.
  • While not more popular than the main characters, Murray the Mighty Demonic Skull was only intended to be in one scene of The Curse of Monkey Island. The beta testers liked him so much that the developers added him to several other scenes and subsequent games (as a bouncer for Planet Threepwood in Escape from Monkey Island and locked up in a treasure chest inside a giant manatee in the third episode of Tales of Monkey Island).

Murray: ...and the forces of darkness will applaud me as I STRIDE through the gates of Hell carrying your head on a pike!
Guybrush Threepwood: Stride?
Murray: Alright then, ROLL! ROLL through the gates of Hell... Must you take the fun out of everything?


Web Animation[edit | hide]


Webcomics[edit | hide]

  • Ray and Roast Beef from Achewood. Originally two of a trio of cats (along with Pat) who fancied themselves "the dirtiest dudes in town" and basically existed to be a bad influence on Phillipe. So interchangeable were they in the early years that Beef was billed simply as "the other cat," notable only for being "not Ray, and not Pat." But soon the three of them began to develop their own personalities, the trio became a duo (with Pat evolving into a sanctimonious vegan) and the strip began to revolve around the friendship between laid-back Ray and eternally depressed Beef.
  • The little blue thing in Something*Positive was simply a one-off joke for Life with Rippy until...well...fans started liking the bastard. He'd eventually become Kharisma's imaginary "NEW FRIEND!" What the hell were the fans thinking?
    • Probably the same thing they were thinking with Rippy himself...who was a one-shot one-panel gag in S* P, and he'd eventually get his own gag series.
  • Loopy church-girl Joyce stole the spotlight in Roomies, with most storylines centering around her. Willis tried to write her out by having her inducted into secret alien-fighting organisation SEMME, but it backfired. Once SEMME was in the picture, Willis found it more interesting than the college life premise, and It's Walky! was the result. She then stole the spotlight again in It's Walky!, as the strip mutated from being primarily about Walky to being primarily about Walky and Joyce's relationship.
    • Joyce now appears to be stealing the show again in Dumbing of Age; she didn't appear as much in the early comics, but currently about half the comics include her, and she often gets more attention than the other characters when she appears. More blatantly, there's the giant-picture-of-Joyce ad banner, and this.
      • Word of God has called Joyce the main character of Dumbing of Age.
  • Fox and Collin from Friendly Hostility were originally minor characters on the author's previous webcomic, Boy Meets Boy. Now that Friendly Hostility is over, the writer's started Other People's Business which has Leon, a minor character from Friendly Hostility as a major character, and Collin reduced to the background.
  • The Midnight Crew originally started as Evil Counterparts of the Problem Sleuth characters that appeared in a few non-canonical strips drawn for donations. They became so popular that they started appearing frequently as a Show Within a Show in Homestuck, then became playable during an Intermission arc between Acts 3 and 4.
    • Said intermission is canon - the Midnight Crew are the exiles of the Trolls, who are Breakout Characters in their own right..
    • They also have counterparts in the kids' session. Spades Slick's counterpart / alternate universe past self, Jack Noir, ultimately became the Big Bad.
  • In Dead of Summer, the integration of The Protomen was secondary, as originally, the characters in Book 2 were going to be just a group of people who lived underground. The Protomen's willingness to be in the comic, however, suddenly gave these people names and faces. They soon became major characters, and have drawn many fans to the site for the sole reason that they're the Protomen.
  • Zexion in Ansem Retort became increasingly more popular in Ansem Retort, to the point that Season 3 revolved entirely around him. Nearly everything in the comic ends up focusing on him and/or Axel
  • Arthur the duck and Gramp in Sheldon. Weeks can go by without seeing the title character.
  • Zig Zag from Sabrina Online. A decade after her introduction, she's gone from "just Sabrina's boss" to being just as prominent a character as Sabrina herself.
    • Yeah, but Zig Zag was invented by Max Blackrabbit, a friend of Sabrina creator Eric Schwartz, and was already established with a backstory and porn career when Schwartz asked to use her. She's more of a permanent crossover character, and was pretty well destined to rub up against Sabrina in the way that she does.
  • Kel from Rogues of Clwyd Rhan. She first appeared as indentured servant to the Green Knight, joined the Rogues when they overcame him, and spent a year or so snarking in the background (with stringy hair) before growing a personality (and nice head of ginger locks), and becoming one of the principal characters.
  • Helmeted Author. Did you know that he wasn't originally even a character to begin with? When he first appeared, he was supposed to be just THE Author with a helmet. The Dave just decided to give him his own comic. Helmeted Author Quips were so popular that Helmut became the Big Bad of the series, eventually possessing Bob.


Web Original[edit | hide]

  • The Slender Man took off by means of this trope. Originally, there was (and still is) a thread on the Something Awful forums devoted to photoshopping normal photos with ghosts or monsters hidden somewhere in there, with one intent being to dupe real life paranormal organizations. Eventually, one member posted two photos of a tall, thin man with no face who had tentacles instead of arms. Slendy gradually took over the thread because he was, more than any of the other ghosts and monsters, genuinely terrifying, and thus, a meme was born.
  • The Spoony Experiment - Dr. Insano started as a one-off character in a made-up 'Previously On' montage. He was brought back in Spoony's Final Fantasy VIII review series, and now he's one of the most popular and iconic characters among That Guy With The Glasses' repertoire.
  • In The Lazer Collection, Doctor Octogonapus made a single appearance. The sequel has him making several appearances, and in the third, there's an actual storyline and he's the antagonist.


Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • Woody Woodpecker - Woody first debuted in the Andy Panda short "Knock Knock" but ended up becoming so popular that he immediately spawned his own series of shorts, quickly eclipsing the cute little panda on popularity.
  • Donald Duck upon his second appearance, (and his first on a Mickey Mouse cartoon) where he effortlessly steals the picture away from everyone. It wasn't long before he became much more prominent on the cartoons than the Mouse himself....or pretty much every other Disney character.
    • The same can be said for Daffy Duck upstaging Porky Pig (a Breakout Character himself).
      • And then Bugs Bunny upstaging Daffy. This was even adapted into their characters.
  • Timmy in South Park was initially intended as a one-shot character, but proved so popular that he was brought back again and again, and even made it into the opening in series six, after the departure of Kenny. However, after his brief moment in the sun, he quickly receded into the background again. These days, he is hardly used at all anymore.
    • TIMMY!
    • Jimmy ultimately proved to be the more popular differently-abled character, likely because he can say more than just his name and a few other catchphrases.
    • South Park has even better examples: First and foremost, there's Butters, who went from background to minor to the fourth most prominent character on the show. Then there's Randy Marsh, who went from a geologist simply named "Randy" to "Stan's dad" (thus giving him a recurring role) to arguably being right behind Butters in terms of prominence.
    • If you guess that the next episode will be a Stan & Kyle, Kyle & Cartman, Cartman & Butters, or Randy (& maybe Stan) episode, you will be right 80% of the time. The remaining 20% are episodes about the boys as a group or the odd supporting character (usually Jimmy or Kenny).
  • GIR in Invader Zim. He is certainly the favorite among the majority of fans, even to the point that it really annoys his voice actor when people ask him to do something like sing the Doom song. And aside from that, Nickelodeon still makes lots of GIR-themed merchandise, and now they've reached the point where they have to make up new quotes just to put on T-shirts.
  • While Animaniacs was always intended to be a series of shorts with many different characters, the incredible popularity of the Pinky and The Brain shorts led to them appearing in significantly more episodes than the other skits. They were also the only ones to spin-off into their own show.
  • The Simpsons ruthlessly parodied this concept in an episode where Bart accidentally becomes a cast member and breakout star of the Krusty the Clown show. The Simpsons are breakout characters from The Tracy Ullman Show.
    • Homer Simpson is a straight example as originally Bart was the main focus of the show.
      • However, even though Homer took over the role of the most prominent character from Bart, the show was actually at it's peak of popularity (in terms of ratings at least) back when Bart was the main character.
  • Parodied in the Futurama episode, Bender Should Not Be Allowed On Television, where Bender, nonplussed with his role as a comatose robot due to a horrendous audition, suddenly busts out and begins chewing up the scenery and engaging in all manner of incorrigible behavior. In spite of deviating from the script (not to mention that Calculon never does retakes), the show finds some of its highest ratings ever, and Bender becomes a sensation.
    • Bender himself is something of a straight example too.
  • Family Guy has Stewie, whose character has developed much over the course of the series. He's been voted one the greatest fictional villains of all time.
  • Xiaolin Showdown. Raimundo pretty much stole the show from Omi, being the character with the most development, and if anyone still wasn't sure of his status as the new main character...The finale proved them wrong.
  • Shego from Kim Possible started out as a flat sidekick to Dr. Drakken, got a personality while being inserted into the pilot after the creators heard her Voice Actor Nicole Sullivan, and was so popular that she and Drakken became the most featured villains in the series.
  • Metalocalypse - Charles Foster Ofdensen wasn't even in the first episode and remained a relatively minor character for the first few episodes of the show, but slowly became not only a great straight-man foil for the band but became an incredibly popular character in his own right as well as a genuine member of the main cast, leading up to several spotlight moments in Season 2 and culminating in his Heroic Sacrifice at the very end of the S2 finale. He gets better.
  • Darkwing Duck character Morgana Macawber ("Macabre") and her weird undead family were introduced as a set of villains who disappeared (for many years, within the context of the episode) when their house vanished at sunrise at the end of the episode. Morgana's family was never seen again, but she herself returned without explanation to play both a villain and later a hero, developing into a series semi-regular and Darkwing's Love Interest. Similarly, villain Negaduck was originally an Evil Twin of Darkwing's who was accidentally created from his own body and was re-absorbed back into him at the end of the episode. Series creator Tad Stones liked the character so much that he was brought back to be Darkwing's Arch Enemy and was eventually established as being another Darkwing from a parallel reality called "the Negaverse". When the writers asked how they should explain Negaduck's return following his "death" in his debut episode, Stones replied, "What do you mean, 'how'? He's back. We did it."
  • In The Fairly OddParents, Dark Laser started out as a one shot villain, only existing so the writers could do a Homage to Star Wars. Then he showed up as a Continuity Nod the next season. Then, suddenly, in season six he was elevated to a full time villain, and a regular part of Timmy's Rogues Gallery.
  • Harley Quinn of Batman the Animated Series. Joker's Perky Female Minion who was madly in love with him. Despite her sidekick status, she became so popular that she became one of the main characters in the Gotham Girls Web Series, and when she was brought into the main comic continuity, proceeded to become one of the main characters (if not the main character) of several comic series, such as the Harley & Ivy mini-series, the Harley Quinn comic book series which ran for three years, and the ongoing Gotham City Sirens. She even became the main villain in the Birds of Prey TV adaptation even though she's not prominent in the original comic.
  • Tigger was a secondary character in the original Winnie the Pooh books, appearing only in the second book, The House At Pooh Corner. In the Disney adaptations, he got bigger and bigger roles until he ended up as the franchise's main star apart from Pooh himself. He even gets top billing in My Friends Tigger and Pooh. Not to mention his own movie.
    • Ironically The Tigger Movie also began the expansion of simiarly minor character Roo's role, with him gaining much larger spotlight in later movies and also his own Direct to DVD movie. Pooh's Heffalump Movie also arguably featured Roo more as the main protaganist than the title character.
  • Tinkerbell being practically the second mascot of Disney after Mickey Mouse (appearing in many commercials and in the studio's Vanity Plate), has become a Breakout Character and now stars in a series of her own.
    • And if you're a guy, Grumpy's got you covered. It seems the Disney characters with the the most attitude tend to be breakout characters.
      • Which leads to the creation of Stitch...
        • And its own Breakout Character Angel.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender has both Sokka and Iroh. In the original drafts both were meant to have smaller supporting roles, with Iroh actually becoming a villain, but since both the voice actors and writers did such a good job bringing them to life they got bigger roles than first intended; Iroh in particular.
  • Lugnut and Bulkhead from Transformers Animated have both become favorite characters in the larger Transformers canon. The former has been retconned into the G1 animated movie, while the latter has become a main character in Transformers Prime.
    • Before them came Sunstorm, a random yellow background Seeker from the original cartoon that eventually gained characterization in the comic continuity.
  • Roger from American Dad originally started out as an alien who lives with the Smith family as well as being forced to stay within the house and didn't have much major importance to the plot. Later in the series, he was more outgoing through the use of disguises and is one of the more prominent characters. Recently, he's the second most prominent character after Stan, and is now one of the most popular characters on the show.
  • I Am Weasel started out as a supporting act to help compliment Cow and Chicken. The shorts were eventually spun off into an independent series that even outlasted C&C.
  • Perry the Platyus is this for Phineas and Ferb. Merchandise is made in his likeness in buttloads.
  • A couple of KaBlam!! examples include Loopy and Prometheus and Bob. Not only have they lasted through the entire show, but Life With Loopy had a Kablam! special dedicated to it while Prometheus and Bob was nominated for the show's own Kablammy award (Which was won by ALN) and was planned to be adapted into a film (It was canceled due to lack of interest).
  • Rarity in My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic is slowly becoming this, judging by the amount of episodes dedicated to her. Similarly Rainbow Dash has appeared as a main or prominant focus in several Season Two episodes.
    • Applebloom was originally a very minor character in early episodes, before forming a friendship with background characters Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo. "The Cutie Mark Crusaders" have seven episodes devoted solely to them thus far and have notable roles in several other character's stories. By season 5, they are arguably as close to being main cast members as the Mane Six themselves are.
    • And over in the Equestria Girls spinoff we have Sunset Shimmer, who started out in the first EG movie as one of the most bland and forgettable antagonists in the MLP franchise. Given the usual proclivities of the franchise it was not that surprising that she'd show up in the Equestria Girls: Rainbow Rocks sequel as a reformed ex-villainess trying to find a place amongst the main cast... but they likely weren't expecting her to catch on with the audience so much that they were able to commission a third movie, with Sunset Shimmer as the primary character and Princess Twilight Sparkle reduced to only a cameo at the end!
  • Batman the Brave And The Bold has Aquaman, which they even acknowledge in the fourth-wall shattering Grand Finale.
  • Numbuh 5 from Codename: Kids Next Door. She went from barely speaking (outside of A Day in the Limelight) in the first season to being pretty much the main character by the time the series ended.
  • In the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics, Leonardo was the leader, Donatello and Raphael were each a Creator's Pet... and Michelangelo was just the fourth turtle. Then when Mirakami-Wolf adapted the comics into a cartoon, Mike had much more to do, specially as he went from "fun-loving yet serious" to "party dude" and provided most of the series' comedy.
  • Gus Griswald from Recess was just another member of the main six, and by the end of the series, he had the second largest amount of episodes focusing on him (with T.J. in the lead)
    • Mikey, to a lesser extent.
    • Miss Finster and Principal Prickly became this, with the latter getting a pretty big role in Recess: School's Out and the former getting more merchandise. Miss Grotke on the other hand just became an Ascended Extra with a Periphery Demographic and the show left it at that.
  1. or it's Axel without his tattoos but calling himself Lea. Kingdom Hearts is a very complicated fandom.