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When an actor—usually the lead, but occasionally someone with a prominent and memorable supporting role—and (almost) always the most famous person involved in a production—is listed more prominently in the credits and all promotional material than even the title of the work itself.
A trope mostly associated with the cinema, but actually dating back at least as far as 19th-century theatre. Very often, the project in which our actor is appearing is a "star vehicle"—crafted specifically with him or her in mind. This is especially true in television, where the show itself will likely be named after our star. This is a classic litmus test as to whether the actor is a bona-fide A-lister, or just a prolific character actor or product of the Hollywood Hype Machine.
In most New Media (such as early television, Video Games, and web series, among others), this tactic is used if they manage to recruit someone that people actually recognize, even if by Hollywood standards the actor is fairly low on the totem pole.
This can also apply to non-performed media, such as Literature or Comic Books, with the writer or artist's name taking precedence over that of their latest creation. With writers, it's commonly with those whose turnover rate is only a few months and who sell based more on name recognition (mainly at airports), while artists are the flavor of the month and are jumping from title to title (often even if it's only for the cover).
Note that, in Music, all musicians are billed above the title of the album or single as a matter of course, so please don't add any examples there.
Compare And Starring. When multiple actors are Billed Above the Title, it's also an example of All-Star Cast. Actors who fall under this trope may also be guilty of I Am Not Leonard Nimoy. Billing Displacement can result in someone being Billed Above the Title in later releases even when they weren't originally. Also compare In Case You Forgot Who Wrote It, which is when the author of a work which is being adapted receives top billing.
- Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, and Paul Henreid in Casablanca. Henreid refused to take the thankless role of Victor Laszlo unless he was billed alongside Bogart and Bergman.
- Will Smith in pretty much all of his movies. Hancock is a good example.
- Likewise, Arnold Schwarzenegger in many of his movies. He is often billed simply as "SCHWARZENEGGER", because it looks really good on a poster. The late, great Don LaFontaine once said that Schwarzenegger's name was his favorite to say with The Voice.
- Just about every film Robin Williams is in.
- Just about every film Jim Carrey is in.
- A famous one that bombed: Ben Affleck in Pearl Harbor.
- Weird case: Cobra is titled "Stallone Cobra" in Brazil because of this.
- Audrey Hepburn was granted this for Roman Holiday after Gregory Peck told his agent that, despite her not appearing in any prior major motion pictures, she should receive high billing for her Oscar-worthy lead performance.
- Marlon Brando in Superman, who took the role of Jor-El in exchange for both this trope and Money, Dear Boy, and infamously provided one of the laziest, most wooden performances of his career.
- Similarly, Jack Nicholson in Batman, for whom top billing was a small price to pay: He is the highest-paid actor in history for a single film (his estimated payday in lump sum plus grosses plus merchandising was $60 million, and that's not adjusted for inflation). To his credit, though, he does put in a much better performance than Brando.
- Stephen King is probably the most famous example in modern literature. His name takes up half the cover of the book sometimes.
- Terry Pratchett made fun of this at one point, saying that such books are usually pretty bad- and then he himself became one of the authors who always gets this.
- Tom Clancy. Any book of his has his name in large print right at the top.
- Jim Butcher has been getting this on more recent releases.
- In fact, there are really too many examples of this to count. Bonus points if the real title is relatively small.
- On the Daily Show John Stewart pointed out to Bill O'Reilly that he should consider getting a new cover designer because the title of his book reads, "Bill O'Reilly Killing Lincoln."
- Mary Higgins Clark.
- "Bob Newhart in The Bob Newhart Show". (In Newhart, his name came after the title.)
- "Bill Cosby in The Cosby Show".
- Richard Dean Anderson in Stargate SG-1
- "Judd Hirsch in Taxi". Odd in that the show was not tailored specifically for him, though he was the nominal lead, he was also part of a strong ensemble cast. Also, in the years since the show's cancellation, his co-stars Danny DeVito, Christopher Lloyd, and Tony Danza have all enjoyed greater success than he.
- "Elizabeth Montgomery in... Bewitched!" This one had the extra prominence of being spoken aloud by an announcer.
- Similarly, "Jackie Gleason... The Honeymooners!"
- In season 1 of Space: 1999, both Martin Landau and Barbara Bain are billed ahead of the show title. Not so seasion 2.
- "Angela Lansbury in Murder, She Wrote."
- Bill Bixby was credited ahead of the title in The Incredible Hulk.
- In classic Doctor Who, the Doctor's face (from partway through the Second Doctor's tenure) was always shown ahead of the title—arguably billing for the actor since (per usual BBC policy at the time) actors were never credited in the opening titles.
- In the new series, the actor playing the Doctor and the actor/actress playing the companion are both billed ahead of the show title, emphasizing the program's giving a stronger showing to the assistants. The two-part episode "The Stolen Earth"/"Journey's End" took things to an extreme by flashing the names of not only the lead actor but FIVE companion actor names before the show title.
- Series produced by Quinn Martin Productions (or QM Productions, to be accurate) usually avoided this trope regardless of how well known the actors were at the time; the only exceptions, curiously, were both for stars called Robert (Forster in Banyon and Conrad in QM Productions's final series A Man Called Sloane).
- Carroll O'Connor and Jean Stapleton in later seasons of All in The Family. Before-the-title billing was originally offered only to O'Connor, who insisted that it also be extended to Stapleton. This also carried over into Archie Bunker's Place.
- Chuck Norris is Walker, Texas Ranger
- Mark Hamill in Wing Commander IV, though not in Wing Commander III. Both games had an All-Star Cast, but Hamill was the lead (and, technically, the most famous actor).
- Almost everything Sid Meier has ever worked on since at least the mid '90s has borne a title starting with Sid Meier's [Whatever].
- Dreamworks Animation, which has always been very fond of Celebrity Voice Actor, took that to its logical conclusion and fell hard for this trope with Shrek and Shark Tale - to the point where there was a backlash (Critics panned Shark Tale partly for this reason). They continue to use celebrity voice actors, but they've given them less exposure in their more recent films.