The main characters aren’t always the ones who make the movie or show. Sensational actors can bring side characters to center stage and make them highly compelling and unforgettable, even when standing next to magnanimous main characters and talented actors. Check out 27 side characters who completely stole the spotlight.
1. M'Baku in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
Threading his formidable physicality with surprising comedic timing and spurts of true sincerity, Winston Duke made M'Baku a self-contained must-see event each time the character graced the screen in both Black Panther movies. With the absence of T'Challa in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, his presence was appreciated even more.
2. Stephen Warren in Django Unchained
Samuel L. Jackson's turn as a witty, but deeply self-hating house slave was oddly magnetic at every turn. He didn't get as much screen time as other characters, but once he popped out, he was meme material for years.
3. Hans Landa in Inglorious Basterds
Christoph Waltz plays Hans Landa in Inglorious Basterds and completely steals every scene he is in. The film is packed with talent, but he portrays this villainous character so well that it’s impossible not to get chills and a pit in your stomach every time he speaks.
4. Mona Lisa Vito in My Cousin Vinny
My Cousin Vinny is another phenomenal movie with many talented actors, but no one holds your attention the way Marisa Tomei does. She’s funny and feisty in every moment but also fiercely intelligent, making her an irresistible character.
5. Princess Carolyn in BoJack Horseman
Amy Sedaris voices Princess Carolyn in the animated series BoJack Horseman and delivers an outstanding performance in every scene. Her voice is distinct and boisterous in the best way, making you cackle out loud one minute and feel teary-eyed the next.
6. Rafi in The League
Jason Manzoukis is far from a main cast member on The League. Instead, he plays Rafi, an unhinged character who pops in and out of the show to cause hilarious chaos and envelop the audience. Honorable mention for his role as Derek in The Good Place!
7. Joker in The Dark Knight
Of course, the Joker is an important character, but the movie is supposed to be about Batman. Nevertheless, Heath Ledger doesn’t just steal every scene; he steals the entire movie. Christian Bale is great, but no one in the film holds a candle to the intrigue of Ledger’s Joker.
8. Miles in The Holiday
The Holiday follows two women, played by Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz, as they find love on a quirky vacation in one another’s homes. Jack Black is one of the love interests, and he shows his rom-com chops, proving he can play soft and dramatic roles, not just hilarious goofballs.
9. Dean Craig Pelton in Community
Jim Rash plays the Dean of Greendale in Community and undoubtedly nails every scene he is in and captures the audience’s attention. Saying he steals the scene is an understatement, as he becomes the embodiment and entertainment in every shot he’s in.
10. Sandy Lyle in Along Came Polly
Philip Seymour Hoffman is almost always the best thing in every movie he does, but he’s especially ridiculous and entertaining in Along Came Polly. He steals every scene from Ben Stiller and Jennifer Aniston, as he plays an absurd adult who never shuts up about his child acting career.
11. Barney Stinson in How I Met Your Mother
Honorable mention goes to Jason Seigel in How I Met Your Mother, but Neil Patrick Harris wins this round. Barney is an insanely unique and peculiar character, and Harris portrays him amazingly. Ted who? Am I right? The show would be nothing without Harris.
12. Jake’s Mother in I’m Thinking of Ending Things
Another fabulous actress who steals the show in every project is Toni Collette. She is sensational in everything from The Sixth Sense to Hereditary, but her role in I’m Thinking of Ending Things is much smaller but still as compelling as ever.
13. Walter Sobchak in The Big Lebowski
The Big Lebowski is another film with plenty of big stars, but John Goodman is always the best character in the scene. Again, this is far from the only film where he steals the show. He’s irresistible in everything from Community to Confessions of a Shopaholic.
14. Nigel in The Devil Wears Prada
Stanley Tucci is easily one of the most beloved actors of the 21st century, and he is positively phenomenal in every role he takes on. But his portrayal of Nigel in The Devil Wears Prada is particularly lovable, and that’s an accomplishment next to Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway.
15. Marianne Bryant in Easy A
Easy A is a hilarious film with many fabulous stars, including Stanely Tucci, Penn Badgley, and Patricia Clarkson. But Amanda Bynes’ crazy religious character is wildly funny, and every line she delivers is dripping with irony. From her mannerisms to her facial expressions, she bewilders and entertains in every scene.
16. Street Urchin’s Mother in Broad City
Speaking of Patricia Clarkson, she gives an extraordinary performance on one episode of Broad City. She plays the exhausted mother of a 40-year-old emo kid who still lives at home and gives a somehow hilarious but depressing performance.
17. Dwight Schrute in The Office
While some may see Rainn Wilson’s Dwight as one of the main characters, if not the main character, in The Office, he’s technically supposed to be number four on the call sheet. Michael, Pam, and Jim fall short compared to the enigmaticness of Dwight Schrute.
18. Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean
Many people assume Captain Jack Sparrow is the main character in this movie franchise, but the films were supposed to be more focused on Will and Elizabeth. So, Johnny Depp literally stole the show and became the leading character for the entire franchise.
19. Megan in Bridesmaids
Melissa McCarthy is one of the best modern comedians and nails every role she is in, but her performance in Bridesmaids is close to perfection. Her character is raunchy but intelligent, unhinged but wise, and tough but empathetic, and she’s easily the most lovable character in the film.
20. Les Grossman in Tropic Thunder
Tom Cruise plays Les Grossman in Tropic Thunder, and every scene he is in is positively hilarious and captivating. He is not part of the main cast but is still one of the best characters in the whole film, which is saying a lot because his co-stars included Ben Stiller, Robert Downey Jr., and other big names.
21. Mark Hanna in The Wolf of Wall Street
Matthew McConaughey also has a very small side role in The Wolf of Wall Street, but every one of his scenes is absurd and unforgettable. His intensity and unhinged delivery of lines makes the character come to life in the most ridiculous way.
22. Desmond Hume in Lost
Lost is full of compelling characters and admirable actors, but Henry Ian Cusick, who plays Desmond, gives an emotional and memorable performance. Desmond is one of the most complex and fascinating characters in the show despite his relatively small role.
23. Jacob Palmer in Crazy, Stupid, Love
Stealing the spotlight from Steve Carell is no easy feat, but Ryan Gosling does it in every single scene. He’s funny and charming throughout the movie and leaves his very talented co-stars, like Emma Stone, in the dust with his lovable performance.
24. Kitty Foreman in That ’70s Show
Debra Jo Rupp plays Kitty Foreman in That '70s Show, the mother of Eric and Laurie. She is insanely funny in every scene, delivering a peppy and motherly performance that makes you adore her in every way possible. Honorable mention goes to Red Foreman!
25. Love Quinn in You
Victoria Pedretti plays Love in the second and third seasons of You. Her character doesn’t last, as none of Joe’s lovers live very long, but her performance is sensational. She is one of the most captivating characters and puts Penn Badgley in the shadows.
26. Roy Schlieffen in Palm Springs
J.K. Simmons tends to steal the spotlight in every movie and show he appears in, but he’s particularly incredible in Palm Springs. He plays an irate man who was pulled into a time loop by Andy Samberg’s character and continuously enacts violent revenge. He’s funny, edgy, and, in the end, a big softie.
27. J.D. in Thelma & Louise
Brad Pitt was just a baby when he appeared in Thelma & Louise as the wandering cowboy named J.D. He was charming and adorable while also being a young hottie. His appearance is brief, but it’s hard not to fall in love with him in the first minute he’s on screen.
Veronica is a food, fashion, and entertainment writer from Boston, MA, with a passion for all things lifestyle and culture. She graduated from Boston University in 2019 with a bachelor's in English literature. From Anna Wintour to Angelina Jolie to Alton Brown, she has her finger on the pulse of all things Hollywood and celebrity.
If she's not in the kitchen crafting new recipes, then she's binging the latest HBO series and catching up on the hottest trends in Vogue.
She has written for and been syndicated by publications like The Weather Channel, The Daily Meal, The Borgen Project, The Good Men Project, The Express, MSN, Wealth of Geeks, and Not Deer Magazine. Her writing experience ranges from global news articles to celebrity gossip pieces to movie reviews to homemade recipes and more.