In a dramatic production, an ensemble cast is one that comprises many principal actors and performers who are typically assigned roughly equal amounts of screen time.[1] The term is also used interchangeably to refer to a production (typically film) with a large cast or a cast with several prominent performers.[2]


In contrast to the popular model, which gives precedence to a sole protagonist, an ensemble cast leans more towards a sense of "collectivity and community".[3]


Further information: List of films with an ensemble cast

Ensemble casts in film were introduced as early as September 1916, with D. W. Griffith's silent epic film Intolerance, featuring four separate though parallel plots.[4] The film follows the lives of several characters over hundreds of years, across different cultures and time periods.[5] The unification of different plot lines and character arcs is a key characteristic of ensemble casting in film; whether it is a location, event, or an overarching theme that ties the film and characters together.[4]

Films that feature ensembles tend to emphasize the interconnectivity of the characters, even when the characters are strangers to one another.[6] The interconnectivity is often shown to the audience through examples of the "six degrees of separation" theory, and allows them to navigate through plot lines using cognitive mapping.[6] Examples of this method, where the six degrees of separation is evident in films with an ensemble cast, are in productions such as Love Actually, Crash, and Babel, which all have strong underlying themes interwoven within the plots that unify each film.[4]

The Avengers, X-Men, and Justice League are three examples of ensemble casts in the superhero genre.[7] In The Avengers, there is no need for a single central protagonist as each character shares equal importance in the narrative, successfully balancing the ensemble cast.[8] Referential acting is a key factor in executing this balance, as ensemble cast members "play off each other rather than off reality".[3]

Hollywood movies with ensemble casts tend to use numerous actors of high renown and/or prestige, instead of one or two "big stars" and a lesser-known supporting cast.[citation needed] Filmmakers known for their use of ensemble casts include Quentin Tarantino, Wes Anderson, and Paul Thomas Anderson among others.


Ensemble casting also became more popular in television series because it allows flexibility for writers to focus on different characters in different episodes. In addition, the departure of players is less disruptive than would be the case with a regularly structured cast. The television series The Golden Girls and Friends are archetypal examples of ensemble casts in American sitcoms. The science-fiction mystery drama Lost features an ensemble cast. Ensemble casts of 20 or more actors are common in soap operas, a genre that relies heavily on the character development of the ensemble.[9] The genre also requires continuous expansion of the cast as the series progresses, with soap operas such as General Hospital, Days of Our Lives, The Young and The Restless, and The Bold and the Beautiful staying on air for decades.[10]

An example of a success for television in ensemble casting is the Emmy Award-winning HBO series Game of Thrones. The fantasy series features one of the largest ensemble casts on the small screen.[11] The series is notorious for major character deaths, resulting in constant changes within the ensemble.[12]

Ensemble casts are also very common in children's television. Unlike in other television genres, children's shows make heavy use of non-human characters, such as animals, dragons, aliens (usually Martians), space cadets, monsters, fish and other marine creatures, fairies, superheroes (many of which are non-human), ancient and martial arts warriors, imaginary friends, ninjas, land, air and aquatic vehicles, vampires, witches, mummies, zombies, franken-people, pirates, cowboys, secret agents, insects, robots, dinosaurs, furry creatures, puppets, androids, humanoids, detectives, mutants and even human-animal hybrids, among other non-human creatures. The casting process is only involved when there is an occasion of humans interacting with non-human characters; for the non-human characters, creation is usually from scratch by a team of writers, then their sketches are sent to the creators for approval; in animated series, the characters are entirely created by writers (except for comic book and story book-based shows, as there is (usually) no need for creating new characters, though some are adapted to television audiences), and, not counting voice actors, there was no need for any casting processes; the Muppets that were intended for Sesame Street, and the title-character from Blue's Clues, were respectively created by Joan Ganz Cooney and Jim Henson, and Angela C. Santomero, Todd Kessler and Traci Paige Johnson, for edutainment purposes; Cartoon Network's Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends consists of a large cast of many different imaginary friends, including protagonists Bloo, Cheese, Coco, Wilt and Eduardo, many of which were created by Craig McCracken; Nickelodeon's Rugrats features a variety of characters, mainly the eight leading protagonists: Tommy, Dil, Chuckie, Phil, Lil, Kimi, Angelica and Susie; Tommy, Chuckie, Phil, Lil and Angelica were featured since the show's inception in 1991, while Dil, Kimi and Susie were introduced in the second season of the series and the first two installments of the show's film trilogy, respectively; two fellow Nickelodeon shows, SpongeBob SquarePants and The Fairly OddParents, consist of large casts of marine life and magical creatures, respectively, including respective leading protagonists, SpongeBob, Patrick and Squidward, and Cosmo, Wanda and Poof; the first three seasons of Canadian cartoon series Total Drama consist of a large cast of characters, namely the show's hosts Chris McLean and Chef Hatchet, as well as a diversity of competitors commonly known as "Generation One": Beth, DJ, Gwen, Geoff, Lindsay, Heather, Alejandro, Duncan, Tyler, Harold, Trent, Bridgette, Noah, Leshawna, Katie, Sadie, Ezekiel, Cody, Sierra, Eva, Owen, Courtney, Justin, Izzy and Blaineley. Chris and Chef continued to appear as the hosts of every season, while many of the original characters only returned in a spin-off series, Total Dramarama (despite having yet to return to the game, they became the most well-known cast of the show); one other example of a children's show that involves human casting process and non-human character creation is Barney and Friends; Other examples of shows that exclusively involve casting processes include Drake & Josh, iCarly and True Jackson, VP; Other shows that exclusively involve non-human character creation include Tom Ruegger and Steven Spielberg's Animaniacs, Tiny Toon Adventures, and Freakazoid!, as well as Cow and Chicken, Hey Arnold!, The Proud Family and The Replacements.

See also


  1. ^ Random House: ensemble acting Linked 2013-07-17
  2. ^ Steven Withrow; Alexander Danner (2007). Character design for graphic novels. Focal Press/Rotovision. p. 112. ISBN 9780240809021. Archived from the original on 2023-04-21. Retrieved 2009-09-05.
  3. ^ a b Mathijs, Ernest (March 1, 2011). "Referential acting and the ensemble cast". Screen. 52 (1): 89–96. doi:10.1093/screen/hjq063. Archived from the original on March 8, 2021. Retrieved June 15, 2020 – via
  4. ^ a b c "Ensemble Film, Postmodernity and Moral Mapping". Archived from the original on 2018-08-13. Retrieved 2020-06-15.
  5. ^ "Intolerance (1916)". Filmsite. Archived from the original on 2019-10-29. Retrieved 2020-06-15.
  6. ^ a b Silvey, Vivien (June 5, 2009). "Not Just Ensemble Films: Six Degrees, Webs, Multiplexity and the Rise of Network Narratives". FORUM: University of Edinburgh Postgraduate Journal of Culture & the Arts (8). doi:10.2218/forum.08.621. S2CID 129196139. Archived from the original on April 24, 2021. Retrieved June 25, 2014 – via
  7. ^ Child, Ben (April 23, 2012). "Avengers Assemble disarms the critics". The Guardian. Archived from the original on November 11, 2018. Retrieved December 19, 2016 – via
  8. ^ "Joss Whedon talks in depth about the ensemble cast of 'The Avengers'". November 19, 2011. Archived from the original on 2017-05-28. Retrieved 2020-06-15.
  9. ^ Ford, Sam (15 September 2008). "View of Soap operas and the history of fan discussion | Transformative Works and Cultures". Transformative Works and Cultures. 1. doi:10.3983/twc.2008.042. Archived from the original on 9 February 2022. Retrieved 15 June 2020.
  10. ^ "The Survival of Soap Opera (Part Two):The History and Legacy of Serialized Television". Henry Jenkins. 7 December 2010. Archived from the original on 2021-08-30. Retrieved 2020-06-15.
  11. ^ Campbell, Scott (June 10, 2014). "David Cameron: 'I'm a Game of Thrones fan'". Archived from the original on May 7, 2019. Retrieved April 5, 2018 – via
  12. ^ Brereton, Adam (June 12, 2013). "The Game of Thrones: Nobody wins, everybody dies". ABC Religion & Ethics. Archived from the original on January 11, 2019. Retrieved June 15, 2020.