Protagonist Vs Main Character: Is There A Difference?


The term protagonist is theatrical term used in Ancient Greece to signify the character that made the first appearance on the stage and was the focal point of the story. This terms is still prevalent in theatrical circles. The term main character is more commonly used in film and TV to mean the same thing. Often they are used interchangeably and are almost always the same character. However, there are subtle differences between the two.

The protagonist is more thematically bound to the story because they both drive and undergo change. Protagonists generally undergo the main character arc; emotional, intellectual and spiritual growth. They emerge at the end of the story as more evoked people. Protagonists must have a distinct goal, the higher stakes and the greatest obstacles. it is their story and they are the reason it exists.

They are the effective hero of the story and garner the most audience emotional connection.

If the protagonist and main character are separate characters, the former is the most essential.


The main character basically refers to the character with the most screen time. The story unfolds through the main characters eyes. They drive the plot through their point of view. Although the protagonist experiences the character arc, the story is told through the main character’s point of view. They are the one’s telling and driving the story while the protagonist experiences the story. They have a much deeper connection.

When they aren’t the protagonist, they drive the plot rather than the thematic spine of the story. They often don’t undergo specific character growth, but rather act as a catalyst for the protagonist to grow.

Consider Andy Dufresne who is the main character in The Shawshank Redemption and Ellis Redding who is the protagonist as an example.

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5 Comments Add yours

  1. James Limas says:

    As in “Titantic” (1997), where Jack is the Main Character and Rose is the Protagonist. Similar to “James Bond” where he is the Antagonist/Main Character and Dr. No, et al, is/are the Protagonist(s). Thank you!

  2. The Exorcist is a perfect example here. The mother would be considered the main character, while the young priest the protagonist as he goes through the biggest change. Incredible script.

  3. Claire says:

    Seven is another example that springs to mind – Brad Pitt’s character is the main character, but it’s Morgan Freeman who goes through the fundamental change.

  4. WrightGirl says:

    The Great Gatsby is another example. Gatsby would be considered the Protagonist and Nick the Main Character

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