Supporting characters are incredibly important to any movie. They add important context to the story and can help further explain the motivations of the main character. They are so important, in fact, that the Academy Awards started giving out a Best Supporting Actor/Actress award way back in 1937, at the 9th Academy Awards. These days, those awards are considered among the most prestigious Ocsars available, alongside the Best Actor/Actress, Best Picture, and Best Director awards.
In some cases, we can’t help but be captivated by the supporting character. We wonder what the story looks like from their point of view, as it’s often drastically different than the actual protagonist. In that spirit, we starting thinking about how some movies would have looked if the supporting characters were actually the lead. Just imagine the following 10 movies as completely different stories, if written from the perspective of the supporting roles.
Staff Sergeant Sean Dignam – The Departed
The Departed has tons of star power throughout, especially since Hollywood A-Listers Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio take on the starring roles, with the incredibly talented likes of Jack Nicholson, Martin Sheen, Alec Baldwin, and Anthony Anderson all having notable roles. However, we’re so much more curious to know more about Mark Wahlberg’s Sean Dignam, the man who heads up Boston’s undercover investigation unit.
Dignam is a short-tempered, foul-mouthed, no-nonsense kind of guy. Some of the movie’s most memorable lines come from his mouth (“I’m the guy who does his job. You must be the other guy”). He’s clearly very stressed, as his job is to organize and maintain those officers who end up in deep undercover roles, like DiCaprio’s character of Billy Costigan. Really, Sgt. Dignam might be the only guy who actually found out the truth after the brutal and deadly conclusion to the film. Watching him come to that realization would have made one helluva alternate movie.
The Four Hoursemen – Now You See Me
We know what you’re thinking. And yes, technically the magical/theif group the Four Horsemen are among the stars of 2013’s Now You See Me. However, the way the story gets told leads us to believe that the real stars of the movie are FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) and French Interpol agent Alma Dray (Melanie Laurent), who are tasked with trying to stop the robberies.
The thing that makes Now You See Me an inferior heist film to something like Ocean’s Eleven (or any other decent heist movie), is that we never see the story from the perspective of the Horsemen themselves (played by Jessie Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher, and Dave Franco). We don’t know their motivations and get no insight on how they go about planning their elaborate trick thefts. There’s an attempted pay-off at the end when a giant twist ending is revealed, but it’s too late. The movie could have been a lot better with the Horsemen as the stars, getting a better backstory and more screen time, and Ruffalo and Laurent in supporting roles trying to stop them.
Tony Stark – Captain America: Civil War
You could argue that Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) is the star of any Marvel movie he appears in, even when they include the large ensemble cast in The Avengers movie. However, this movie is about Captain America — it’s right there in the title! And while the movie is ultimately about Captain America sticking to his principles and becoming a wanted man (in the eyes of the government), while also exploring the relationship with his best friend Bucky Barnes aka the Winter Solder, it’s Stark’s character development that truly shines in this film.
Civil War begins with Stark burdened by guilt, a result of thousands of innocent lives lost in Sokovia (and other places) due to the formation of the Avengers, and specifically the creation of Ultron. The United Nations wants Stark and his superhero buddies to succumb to government oversight, and Stark agrees that the Avengers could use some checks and balances. The end result is man torn between supporting one of his best friends or doing what he believes is right in his heart. If you’ve seen the movie, you know which one he chooses.
Civil War does an okay job explaining Stark’s overall motivations, to the point that some people even nicknamed this movie Avengers 3. However, Stark is still a supporting character in this one, even if he’s a supporting character who is more than capable of being the star.
Agent Smith – The Matrix Trilogy
We all know that The Matrix movies are ultimately about Neo saving humanity from the machines, and Keanu Reeves does an excellent job of playing The One. And even though the story gets needlessly complicated towards the end, these films still generally hold up as one of the better original stories in a movie era that largely depends on sequels, prequels, remakes, and reboots. It could be argued that a studio these days would never gamble over $60 million on an unproved IP, written and directed by an unproven pair of brothers.
The most interesting character in the entire franchise, though, is actually Agent Smith (Huge Weaving). Originally designed by the machines as a sort of anti-virus program against humans invading the Matrix, Agent Smith is later liberated after being defeated by Neo. He becomes a rogue virus, replicating himself throughout the Matrix. He becomes a major disruption, and the machines have no choice but to agree to Neo’s demands in exchange for a promise to defeat Smith once and for all.
Agent Smith is a character with deep layers, unique motivations, and incredible skill. Maybe The Matrix sequels should have spent less screen time on underground raves and the nonsensical ravings of The Architect, and more on what was happening with Agent Smith.
Hank Marlow – Kong: Skull Island
Hank Marlow, played briefly as a young man by Will Brittain but mostly as an older John C. Reilly, plays in important role in the 2017 monster adventure Kong: Skull Island. He has been stranded on Skull Island for 29-years, ever since his place went down in WW II, and learned a great deal about the Iwi natives who worship Kong as a god. He even crashed landed alongside a Japanese pilot, a member of the enemy side, although the two were forced to put their differences aside in order to survive in a strange new environment.
Unfortunately, when the rest of the cast comes along (and Skull Island does have an impressive cast, including Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, Brie Larson, and a handful of others), Marlow gets relegated to the background. But there’s so much story that could have been told! How he and his enemy-turned-ally managed to become brothers, befriend the natives, and learned so much about Kong and the Skullcrawlers. Sadly, it feels like a missed opportunity. However, since Marlow survives the film (which is part of Legendary Pictures’ new MonsterVerse), there’s a chance to see more of the character in future installments, including Godzilla: King of Monsters (2019) or Godzilla vs. Kong (2020).
Shoshanna Dreyfus – Inglorious Basterds
Like most Quentin Tarantino epics, Inglorious Basterds has any number of stars, including Brad Pitt as Lt. Aldo Raine and Cristoph Waltz as Col. Hans Lands. Arguments can be made for other members of the Basterds too, including Eli Roth, Michael Fassbender, or even Diane Kruger. Much of the movie focuses on the exploits of the Basterds attempting to kill as many Nazi’s as they can, but it can be argued that underappreciated Shosanna Dreyfus (Melanie Laurent) could have been the real of this film.
The movie kicks off with the cold-blooded murder of Shosanna’s family while she is still just a young girl. She reappears much later, as an adult, running a cinema is Nazi-occupied Paris. We learn very little of what happened between Point A and Point B in her life, but we do see her epic plan for revenge come to fruition when she and her boyfriend light the cinema ablaze with all of the high-ranking Nazi officials trapped inside.
Inglorious Basterds is fine the way it is, of course, telling a classic Tarantino tale of alternate history, filled with violence and mayhem. However, a similar movie telling the story of Shoshanna’s long road to revenge would have been equally compelling.
Mystique – X-Men: Apocalypse
Raven Darkholme, better known to X-Men fans as Mystique, often switches sides in the battle between Charles Xavier’s compassion for humans and Erik Lehnsherr’s violent fear of them. In 2016’s X-Men: Apocalypse, she is still firmly planted on the “good” side of the mutant divide. Early on, she rescues Nightcrawler from an underground German fight club. And then she does…. well, a whole lot of nothing.
The story continues on, focusing more on Professor X and Magneto and basically forgetting Mystique exists until the climax, where the sight of En Sabah Nur (aka Apocalypse) choking her within inches of death inspire the other mutants to rally together and defeat him, mostly thanks to the incredibly powerful psychic powers of Prof. X and Jean Grey.
It’s to bad that Mystique’s most important appearance in the whole film involved her being strangled. The image itself was used heavily in marketing the movie, and was widely criticized for portraying “casual violence against women.” Maybe if the movie had have put more focus on Mystique as a star, her importance at the end of the film wouldn’t have seemed so forced or inappropriate.
Aaron Stampler – Primal Fear
Primal Fear may have been Edward Norton’s very first feature film, but it still stands up as one of his best. In fact, he was even nominated for the Best Supporting Actor at the Oscars for his role of Aaron Stampler, a reserved and stuttering alter boy who is accused of the vicious murder of a local Archbishop. The true star of the movie is Richard Gere, who plays the hotshot Chicago lawyer willing to defend Stampler for free in exchange for the celebrity that such a high-profile case will bring.
As the movie goes on, the audience starts to realize that not everything with Stampler is as it seems. He is prone to violent and aggressive outbursts, which appear to be caused by a alternate personality named Roy. The movie ends with a sickening plot twist, as the meek Aaron reveals that he was truly Roy all along, only inventing the stuttering and innocent character of Aaron in order to escape a guilty verdict.
Much of the movie focuses on Gere’s character, his planning for the case, and his relationship with the prosecutor (who happens to also be his ex-girlfriend). However, there’s a lot more going on with Norton’s character. It’s hinted that he suffered years of abuse at the hands of his father, and there’s a direct reference to Stampler being a victim of the Catholic church’s notorious sex scandal. He is both severely damaged and insanely cunning at the same time. We want to know more about what his life was like before (and after) he brutally murdered his own abuser.
Joe Brody – Godzilla
There have been plenty of Godzilla movies over the years, both good and bad. In 2014, a pretty decent version of the classic monster movie was released, and all the trailers and marketing seemed to suggest that Bryan Cranston was the star. That made sense, since it had only been about eight months since Cranston signed off as Walter White on the incredible final season of Breaking Bad. Even though he was only really known for his roles on television (Malcolm in the Middle being his other noteworthy credit), Cranston was probably as hot as anyone in Hollywood at the time.
His character, Joe Brody, loses his wife to a strange incident at a Japanese nuclear power plant. Fifteen years later, Joe is still looking for answers and trespasses in the quarantine zone. After getting arrested, his son Ford comes to take him home. Unfortunately, a giant monster emerges and… kills Joe. That’s it. He gets, like, 20 minutes of screen time. Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) is the actual star of this movie.
It all feels like a big mistake. There’s a solid 15-year gap in the story where Joe desperately searches for answers about why his wife is dead, refusing to buy into the official story of an earthquake. His character is both incredibly smart and extremely emotional. With the addition of Cranston’s excellent acting, an entire movie about Joe Brody could have been even better than the average Godzilla film that ended up being made.
The Joker – The Dark Knight
This one if so obvious, and we don’t even mean it as a criticism against Christopher Nolan’s excellent second Batman movie, The Dark Knight. The late Heath Ledger surprised everyone with the performance of a lifetime as the Joker, one that would gain him a posthumous Oscar win for Best Supporting Actor. And while we wouldn’t change a single thing about this movie, we can’t help but imagine what an alternate telling of the same story would have been like if the Joker had been the main character.
He would be the most unreliable of unreliable narrators, but the audience could potentially follow the events that lead to his descent into criminal madness, and also get a behind the scenes look at how he gathers followers, plans his elaborate terrorist attacks on Gotham, and maybe even a more personal look at his obsession with the Batman. Sadly, Ledger passed away in 2008 just months before The Dark Knight premiered, meaning that we’ll never get another chance to see him reprise his role as the Crown Prince of Crime.