Movie protagonists, by their very definition, are always front and center with regards to story. But almost every film out there features a number of unsung heroes: those minor characters that simply go about their day. Usually, these minor roles are seemingly unimportant, but every now and then, they hold far more significance than their respective films let on.
Due to pop culture’s fondness for the term, most of us are familiar with the butterfly effect: minor actions that influence the events that follow in major (and often unexpected) ways. It also means that even the most minor of characters can majorly influence their movies, and sometimes they even go as far as to have the entire plot hinge on their actions.
This is made even more impressive by their lack of screen time or limited dialogue. Sometimes, by using just a few words over the span of a minute or so, minor characters can shape the whole movie in the most unexpected ways. Here are 8 examples of just that – minor characters who were way more important than they seemed.
8. War Department Clerk – Saving Private Ryan (1998)
When talking about people who shaped the story of Saving Private Ryan – one of the most iconic World War II movies ever made – you’d probably expect a soldier. Well, while the boys on the front lines were giving their all, there were countless others working to keep the wheels of war adequately greased.
One such woman is shown working in the United States’ War Department, typing up death notices to send to the families of those killed in combat. When she happens to notice an address appear multiple times in succession, she takes it upon herself to look into it. She realizes that the Ryan family of Iowa have lost three of four sons, and that their mother will receive all three letters at once. She brings the letters to her superior, who alerts General George Marshall, who then orders the fourth Ryan to be found and brought home immediately.
The casualties of war were immense, and that woman’s job was undoubtedly hard enough – but had she not made the link between the names and taken it upon herself to alert her superior, young Private Ryan would likely never have been on the receiving end of the film’s rescue mission. Instead, Mrs. Ryan most probably would have received a fourth letter shortly after. The unnamed War Department clerk not only saved Private Ryan, but her actions made the entire film’s story possible – and for that, we salute her.