10 Iconic Movie Protagonists Who Were Introduced in Supporting Roles

Not all heroes wear capes…or get top billing, for that matter. Sometimes, a character will appear in a small role in one movie and then effectively be promoted to the lead role in that film’s sequel, spin-off, or prequel. Maybe the writers realized there was still untapped potential with a supporting character, an actor was unexpectedly great in the role, or viewers gravitated towards a supporting character and wanted to see them more.

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These characters were all introduced to fans as supporting characters but became heroes of their own movies later in time. It shows that no matter where you start, you may one day see yourself as the hero of your own story.

Han Solo in ‚Star Wars‘ (1977)

Image of Han Solo from Star Wars

It’s hard to single out one Star Wars character as being the most iconic. Truly, the franchise created by George Lucas is home to countless memorable characters spread out across numerous planets and eras in a far, far away galaxy’s history. Still, few can match Harrison Ford’s Han Solo when it comes to memorability, coolness, and charm. Even Ford’s other iconic character, Indiana Jones, has paid homage to Han Solo.

Everyone’s favorite rogue smuggler with a heart of gold was first introduced as a side character in the original Star Wars, being something of a sidekick (and eventual friend) to the hero, Luke Skywalker, even if Han himself was cooler. He stayed an important side character in Episodes 5-7, and then got his own spin-off movie where he got to be the lead: 2018’s Solo(though as it was a younger version of Han, Harrison Ford did not reprise the role).

Dory in ‚Finding Nemo‘ (2003)

Finding Nemo - Marlin and Dory looking at each other
Image via Pixar

Finding Nemo is a classic Pixar movie that focuses on the overprotective Marlin, a clownfish who’ll stop at nothing to rescue his only son, Nemo after he’s captured and taken away by a scuba diver. Marlin meets numerous colorful sea creatures on his journey to find his son, but few leave the same impact that the short-term memory-afflicted Dory does.

Dory’s the perfect side character, which made the idea of giving her a sequel focusing on herFinding Dory—a somewhat risky idea. Even if that 2016 movie didn’t quite live up to the 2003 original, it does do a good job at showing Dory works almost as well as a protagonist, with her journey to find her parents being quite compelling and emotional in parts.

Jay & Silent Bob in ‚Clerks‘ (1994)


An iconic 1990s comedy about surviving a job you hate, Clerks centers on two friends in their early 20s and the things they do to fight off boredom during their horrifically dull retail jobs. Like real-life retail work, the pair come into contact with numerous eccentric characters throughout any given shift, including two unemployed drug dealers hanging around outside the stores the two protagonists work at.

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Jay and Silent Bob—played by Jason Mewes and the film’s writer/director, Kevin Smith, respectively—are that pair. As fans of Smith know, Clerks is far from the only movie they appear in. Most of the time, the two show up in supporting roles or cameos, but have both been the lead characters in two of Kevin Smith’s movies: 2001’s Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back and its sequel, 2019’s Jay and Silent Bob Reboot.

LEGO Batman in ‚The LEGO Movie‘ (2014)

Will Arnett as Batman and Chris Pratt in The Lego Movie
Image via Warner Bros. Picture

The LEGO version of Batman—expertly voiced by Will Arnett—might steal most of the scenes he appears in during 2014’s The LEGO Movie, but he’s certainly not its protagonist. That duty falls to Emmet Brickowski, a seemingly ordinary LEGO person who becomes wrapped up in a plot to save the (LEGO) world after finding out he might be a prophesied „chosen one.“

Three years later, the popularity of LEGO Batman led to the plastic version of the Caped Crusader getting his own spin-off movie, not so creatively titled The LEGO Batman Movie. Sure, Batman had been the hero of numerous movies before 2017, in both live-action and animated forms, but The LEGO Batman Movie did mark the first time that the LEGO version of the character got in on the action.

Aldous Snow in ‚Forgetting Sarah Marshall‘ (2008)

Image Via Universal Pictures

Forgetting Sarah Marshall is a movie that follows Peter Bretter, a musician who’s trying to move on past a particularly heartbreaking breakup with a woman named Sarah Marshall. He goes on vacation to try and distract himself and heal emotionally but soon finds out Sarah has done the same, and gone to the same place as him…and has brought along her new boyfriend with her.

That boyfriend is Aldous Snow, a flamboyant (and arrogant) rock star from Britain, played memorably by Russell Brand. He made enough of an impression in the role that just two years later, he got to reprise the role as the star of his spin-off, in 2010s, Get Him to the Greek.

The Minions in ‚Despicable Me‘ (2010)

pjimage (87)

For better or worse, it can’t be denied that some people seem to like the Minions. They were first introduced as the underlings to the supervillain, Gru, in 2010’s Despicable Me. They proved very popular, so they naturally returned for Despicable Me’s first sequel in 2013 and its second in 2017.

But the filmgoing public apparently couldn’t get enough of Gru’s Minions. So they got to be the title characters of not one, but two spin-offs: Minions in 2015 and Minions: The Rise of Gru in 2022, both of which were prequels to the main Despicable Me series. For whatever reason, these gibberish-speaking, yellow, jellybean-shaped morons don’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon…

Black Widow in ‚Iron Man 2‘ (2010)

Scarlett Johannson as Black Widow in Iron Man 2

It wouldn’t surprise anyone to learn that Iron Man 2’s main character was Iron Man/Tony Stark. The sequel to the MCU movie that started it all wasn’t as good as the first one, but it did hold value for serving as a proper introduction to some new characters that would prove to be essential parts of the Marvel film series going forward.

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These included Nick Fury, who’d only appeared in a quick cameo at the end of the first Iron Man before Iron Man 2, and Natasha Romanov/Black Widow, who’d end up being one of the original six members of The Avengers. The latter even got her spin-off movie where she was the lead, though not until 2021…better late than never, maybe?

Inspector Clouseau in ‚The Pink Panther‘ (1963)

Image via United Artists

It might be surprising to learn that Inspector Clouseau—famously portrayed by Peter Sellers throughout The Pink Panther film series—was not the lead character of the first film. 1963’s The Pink Panther sees him as a supporting character who does a hopeless job of investigating the film’s main character, a master jewel thief.

It even gets to the point where Clouseau ends up being framed for a crime, with the villainous lead character getting away with his actions. Given Sellers made such a great impression, though, this didn’t stick, and Inspector Clouseau was made the lead of several Pink Panther sequels.

Wonder Woman in ‚Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice‘ (2016)

Wonder Woman in Batman v Superman_ Dawn of Justice - 2016

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was the first real crossover in the DCEU, and not just because it saw the legendary Batman and Superman going head-to-head. It also introduced Wonder Woman into the series, even though the role was ultimately fairly minor and just one small part of a huge, somewhat unwieldy movie.

At least she got a chance in the spotlight in 2017’s Wonder Woman, which naturally focused on her. It was a prequel of sorts, telling her origin story, and was also a rare superhero movie that largely took place during World War One.

Black Panther and Spider-Man in ‚Captain America: Civil War‘ (2016)

Black Panther and Spider-Man in Captain America_ Civil War - 2016

Given Captain America: Civil War already had so many characters in it that it almost felt like an Avengers movie, it’s surprising it found room to introduce two new heroes into the MCU. The 2016 film ended up introducing both T’Challa/Black Panther and Peter Parker/Spider-Man.

Both were highlights of the movie and ended up getting their first solo movies in 2017 (for Spider-Man) and 2018 (for Black Panther). Sure, most viewers were familiar with the character of Spider-Man well before Civil War, but it and 2017’s Homecoming served as the first movies in which Tom Holland’s version of the character appeared. In addition, Civil War introduced Black Panther to general audiences, and his appearance in this film and subsequent one cemented his status as an icon.


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