Some movies contain subplots that end up being more interesting than the main storyline in the narrative. This isn’t so much an indication of the primary plot being bad or unengaging as it is a sign of the quality of entertainment found in the supporting storyline. Sometimes this is due to a clever concept in the script, a memorable supporting performance, or precision in filmmaking, but the best are often a combination of each. In some cases, these subplots overshadow the main storyline of a film and leave audiences wanting more once they are over, often even wishing for the storyline to have its own movie.
Whether the film itself was a masterpiece or somewhat less than perfect, these subplots are either an asset or a saving grace. Sometimes a gem of a supporting storyline is buried in an otherwise forgettable film. And even the best films can contain an unexpectedly successful subplot that accidentally outshines the main storyline. Which of these films have subplots you wish the entire film had revolved around? Vote up your favorites!
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The Main Plot: The main storyline of The Silence of the Lambs involves young FBI agent Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) searching for a serial killer who skins his victims known as Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine).
The Subplot: Imprisoned psychiatrist and cannibalistic serial killer Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) provides Clarice with clues to help her hunt for Buffalo Bill before he is able to escape imprisonment.
Why It’s So Interesting: As terrifying as Levine is as Buffalo Bill, Hopkins easily overshadowed the main villain of The Silence of the Lambs with his iconic performance. The 2001 sequel Hannibal continued the character’s storyline as the main narrative, allowing Hopkins to reprise his award-winning role.
- Photo: 20th Century Fox
The Main Plot: The story within the story being told by a grandfather (Peter Falk) to his sick grandson (Fred Savage) is primarily focused on the romance between a farmhand named Westley (Cary Elwes) and a young woman named Buttercup (Robin Wright). When the young lovers become separated, Westley must rush to save Buttercup before she is forced to marry the evil Prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon).
The Subplot: Before the wedding, Buttercup is taken by three outlaws, one of which is Spanish fencing master Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin), who is seeking revenge for the death of his father at the hands of an unknown six-fingered man. The man is revealed to be the sadistic Count Rugen, an underling of Humperdinck.
Why It’s So Interesting: One of the most memorable and quotable lines in The Princess Bride is “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” Revenge narratives are already compelling, but Patinkin’s performance and the sheer absurdity of the search make the payoff all the better. An entire film dedicated to this mission would have been a treat for the grandson and audience alike.Watch on
- Photo: Warner Bros.
The Main Plot: Teenager Danny Noonan (Michael O'Keefe) works as a caddie at the Bushwood Country Club, where he witnesses a rivalry between Al Czervik (Rodney Dangerfield), a loud-mouthed real estate developer, and the country club’s snobby co-founder, Judge Elihu Smails (Ted Knight).
The Subplot: While the two enemies plan a golf competition to end the dispute, an unstable groundskeeper named Carl Spackler (Bill Murray) hunts a gopher doing damage to the golf course.
Why It’s So Interesting: Spackler’s efforts to exterminate the rodent by any means necessary, including a high-pressure hose, are the highlights of Caddyshack. A large part of this is due to Murray’s delightfully unhinged performance. Though Spackler is one of the smaller roles in the film, only interacting with a primary character in one scene, he ends up being the one people associate with the classic comedy.
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The Main Plot: The main storyline of Up involves an adventure to South America taken by a retired elderly man named Carl and Russell, a young "Wilderness Explorer” who accidentally joins him. They become involved in the search for a rare bird, whom Russell names Kevin.
The Subplot: The film opens with a collection of scenes that show the progression of Carl’s relationship with Ellie through all their life events together. Beginning with their meeting as young children, their relationship continues to deepen until they grow old together and Ellie passes.
Why It’s So Interesting: The montage of Carl and his wife Ellie growing old together is brief, but is easily the best part of Up. Their romance is so realistically presented and sweetly depicted that audiences would likely have enjoyed an entire film about the relationship instead of just a brief opening sequence.Watch on