It's too late when they don't have time to do anything else. The Hollywood "superhero movie" genre has a tendency to introduce new characters in the last seconds of the movie itself. Sometimes it's a promise of a new arch, sometimes it's about a linked story (albeit loosely) or a foreshadowing of what/who is to come. But it only works when the next movie of the genre is close...and it has been overused. For the work that just ends when a new character is introduced, and it's meant to be "central" to the action , this late apparition is more of a disruption. The plot resolves almost by a unconnected agent that shows up just to close the story- that is forced and somehow demands a continuation. Ending the work like that and NOT presenting a continuation of some sort is a form of sadism, while presenting one too late or too shallow leaves the reader disappointed. For quality works- something that "superhero movies" are generally NOT- a forced continuation/ promise of revealing why the "main character" appears in the last seconds of the movie is tolerable and became a trope of the genre.
Another extreme and somewhat specific case is teenage fiction presented as short animated series or even graphic novels or "manga" as they are called. These sometimes come as formulaic as can be, trope after trope, the only original points being character design and quirks but generally following typical "plot formulae" to the letter. Here sometimes as a move meant to disrupt the archetypal construction, we have main characters that appear late, just like the Wizard of Oz, characters from the shadow that everyone talks about but no one knows, or even (main!) characters that die right in the middle of the action and then their role is simply taken by a new or existing character. Mainly in Chinese works this debases the main character's value. The work is original because the invested feelings of the reader are trampled when the "main character" is revealed to be for all intents and purposes a normal person that just happened to be central to the story up to one point, but "life goes on without them" just fine and in fact this is beautifully illustrated by having all the story continue with someone else filling in the role of hero, adventurer, protagonist or so on.
I discuss such "works" here because I see these tendencies pass into mainstream literature and film-making and, at least to me, they appear to violate some tenets of good story-writing, as : don't write "story of X" while having X appear on the last page, unless they are present-by-absence - in other people's stories, by past actions /consequences, etc, a sort of "present absence"; second one: stories like " and that's how I met your mother" - beginning well too early or unrelated and somehow drawing impossible tangents and spanning long periods of time are overused; the "cloud atlas" thing was, bad or good, written once, and don't re-do it...don't kill X at the beginning of the story of X and have the story continue from collected memories of selected characters, don't break the story in two and begin with the middle, faking the omniscient narrator perspective: look, this is X, and he's hanging for dear life on the tail of a shark.. now let's see how X got here, but first, let me tell you who X is and why do we care..and then after the movie's basically done, get to the start sequence, stupidly and quickly explain the situation and solve it in seconds, the end- no, that is not good either.
So long story short- a "main" character is a main character for a reason.He/She/It must do something important for the story, and not only for the end, we must follow this character through the story and have the narrative make us care about them. Otherwise I will throw again a good Hollywood example: massive battle movies, like those following historic battles of the Roman empire for example- they do look at the leaders, at remarkable heroes, etc but nobody cares about soldier # 321 from the tenth row of can't remember what auxiliary unit that has seen Caesar on a sunny day in a certain month of May.In fact, nobody cares about the collective character " the X-th cohort" unless it is paramount to the action.But if you were to write a novel with 1000 main characters, each soldier in that cohort, describe their movements and what happened from their perspective...Original but after a while everyone confuses soldier #321 with soldier #500 because...nothing much sets them apart and are given equal weight and they're so many..and they kinda all do the same thing at the same time so what is the main character doing. Wait, who is the main character? And then let's say you decide to introduce Caesar that happens to pass by and personally take command briefly before the battle ends. Too little too late- and although he would have made a good main character, he isn't, not from a reader's POV.
So write main characters so that they are interesting, worth investing feelings into, worth remembering and following. They therefore must be individualized, not too many, present for a significant portion of the story so that it makes sense to call them "main character", and try and avoid tropes like Chekhov's Gun,the Wizard of Oz,"this is how I met your mother" , Story of hero X (where the hero X is long gone and everyone just remembers him/her),and that insidious meme of "anyone can be a protagonist/ the protagonist dies mid-action AND NOTHING STRANGE HAPPENS" - or "life as usual". These have been massively over-used and bring about unwanted comparisons and debasing to other nice ideas that may be written in. So no "too late for action" main characters,no " 1001 main characters and each replaceable/interchangeable" , no "disposable heroes" that really get done in really early on with no consequences, no " best in the world until X happens"/ cheap redemption stories with the character changing so totally and abruptly that the story would better be given to two separate characters...unless a fully explainable story of transformation takes place.