Top 10 Movie Cameo Appearances
Your movie’s rolling along, a character is reading a newspaper, and then, on the underside of the paper, you quickly catch a glimpse of the director, Alfred Hitchcock. Hitchcock is, of course, the most famous of cameos, appearing in some small way in almost all of his films. (TRIVIA FOR THE HARDCORE FANS: which of his films do not include a Hitchcock cameo?)
The Oxford Dictionary defines a cameo as “a short literary sketch or portrait,” and in the latter 20th Century, in regard to film, this definition has included a “small character or short appearance that stands out from the other minor parts, usually with a famous or identifiable person, somewhat incongruous to the action. “
That being said, here are my Top 10 Movie Cameo Appearances. Feel free to add your own – as I’m sure my favorites differ from yours.
Top 10 Movie Cameo Appearances
Johnny Depp, 21 Jump Street (2012)
We love certain actors because as good as they are, they don’t always take themselves too seriously (See Bill Murray). From his time in movies following his breakout role as teen heartthrob on 21 Jump Street, Depp did everything to distance himself from the part – which was why his return at the very end of the Jonah Hill/Channing Tatum comedy as Officer Tom Hanson working undercover (and alongside partner Peter DeLuise) was so sweet. Pulling off a latex mask and shooting it up against the motorcycle gang he has infiltrated, Depp really seems to enjoy himself, all the way to his untimely death in a steady stream of bullets.
Bill Murray, Zombieland (2009)
Speaking of Murray, no one’s entire career could play as a cameo as much as his. Even his scene stealing role in Tootsie was uncredited (at the time, he felt his name would be a distraction). From photo-bombing random people to playing in park kickball games, no one lives the cameo ethos like Bill Murray. So it’s an uber-meta surprise when the film’s post-apocalyptic gang breaks into his mansion (with his initials “BM” emblazoned on the front gate) and finds him, as himself, posing as a Zombie to trick the zombies. Things get even more outlandish when he dies during a screening of Ghostbusters in his home theater, and goes one final step further when Woody Harrelson’s character asks “Bill Murray” to quote his line, “Au Revoir Go-Ferr” from Caddyshack.
Sean Connery, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991)
Ridiculed to this day for the terrible miscasting of Kevin Costner as Robin of Locksley, he with the Midwestern twang barely hidden under his “on again off again” British-lite accent, the prescient director Kevin Reynolds knew that the third act reveal of King Richard the Lionhearted would have to be both impressive and distracting from Robin Costner. So when cinema royalty Sean Connery dismounts his steed, he carries the heft and gravitas needed to deliver the necessary rewards. Rumor has it he demanded (and got) a big payout for the day’s work, but to keep this mediocre remake afloat, it’s worth it.
Dan Aykroyd, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, (1984)
In the “blink or you’ll miss it” category, Jones and his entourage, on the run from Shanghai criminals, hightail it from a nightclub to the airport where a cargo plane awaits. A colleague of Jones briskly escorts them to the plane, explaining the last minute travel accommodations. Shot in a wide, if you don’t recognize the voice, or see the movie on a big enough screen, you might miss that it’s Dan Aykroyd, given this 10 second cameo as a thanks for the credited but tiny part Aykroyd gave Spielberg in The Blues Brothers movie. These are the types of cameos I like, as they don’t take away from the film (See Mike Myers in Inglorious Basterds) but if you catch them, feel like a long lost Easter egg.
Howard Jarvis, Airplane! (1980)
If you were a teenager and in the audience in 1980, the gag of a passenger in a driver-less cab left in the airport’s white zone with the meter running was hysterical, mainly because the passenger was played by Howard Jarvis. Who? Jarvis was the co-sponsor of Southern California’s Prop 13 tax measure that is still enjoyed by homeowners today. He was famous enough in 1978 that he warranted the cover of Time Magazine. Today, you probably wouldn’t know the name, let alone the face, so the joke just plays as the funny punch to an earlier gag, when Jarvis delivers the final line after the credits roll, “I’ll give him just 5 more minutes.” If this means absolutely nothing to you, that’s all right. I’m just old.
Kevin McCarthy, Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
When a sequel not only inserts a cameo of one of the original’s lead characters, but uses it to further its own story, you have experienced craftsmanship on a whole other level. The 1956 original ends with McCarthy, now a madman, screaming to anyone who will listen ”They’re here! They’re here already! You’re next!” so it makes perfect sense in the sequel for the same raving lunatic to be screaming the same thing, right into the windshield of the protagonists. Apt and aptly sinister! Also look for a cameo of the original director, Don Siegel.
Roman Polanski, Chinatown (1974)
It probably does not fall under the true heading of a cameo, but, as we’ve seen, the term itself has proven to be difficult to define. As the gangster gunsel who slices Jake Gittes’s nostril, Director Polanski may only be in two scenes, but the visual damage he inflicts on Jack Nicholson is apparent through the rest of the film – a director making his mark both in front of, as well as behind, the camera.
Gene Hackman, Young Frankenstein (1974)
Again, hardly a cameo, but uncredited, Hackman’s scene with Peter Boyle as the blind man who attempts to befriend the monster is one extended (and hilarious) vaudeville routine. It’s all about the final line, and Hackman’s, “Wait! Don’t leave! I was going to make espresso!” is perfection.
The Three Stooges, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963)
It’s almost impossible to pull one stand-out cameo from a film whose entire 192 minute running length is one long string of cameos, but The Three stooges deliver. As a plane, poorly piloted by Mickey Rooney and Buddy Hackett, prepares to crash, the ground crew calls in the fire department. And the reveal: Stooge One, Two, then Three, standing at the ready, outfitted in fire gear, is all they do and all you need to see. How do you top a film of mayhem with the kings of mayhem? You just have them stand there.
Charlie Chaplin, A Woman of Paris (1923)
In 1923, Charlie Chaplin’s Little Tramp was not only the king of the box office, but the most recognizable character in the world. So it was a big risk for Chaplin, the director, to make a film in which he doesn’t appear. He wanted to make a serious film, and a project for his leading lady, Edna Purviance, to prove her true acting chops. The film was a flop, but has since been regarded as a strong argument for his status as one of the greatest film directors in history. Ever the ham, Chaplin couldn’t resist making a “blink if you miss it” cameo as a train porter. It doesn’t distract from the film, but if you know it’s coming, you recognize Chaplin almost immediately.