by Jason Koenigsberg
Cameos have become so commonplace in our movies and entertainment today it is not much of a surprise when we see a famous person make a small, uncredited appearance in a major motion picture or TV show. In fact recently the cameo craze has gotten so out of control we almost expect to see a lot of cameos. Comedies from the Judd Apatow gang are the main offenders of this need to see famous people pop up when you least expect it, but this trend has been increasing steadily over the past decade. It finally reached its breaking point with last years film Anchorman 2 which was basically a parade of cameos and there was not one single episode from last season of Saturday Night Live that did not involve a random celebrity stepping on stage for no reason other than to get a huge ovation from the audience.
Conan O’Brien spoofed this very well with his introductory sketch when he hosted this years MTV Movie Awards.
Cameos used to have more of an impact mostly because they used to be more sparse in films and therefore more of a genuine surprise to audiences. I started thinking about how annoying cameos in films are today and how much I used to enjoy them like Easter eggs on DVD menus. The best cameos are not the ones that are done to simply surprise the audience but also ones that push the story further, create a moment that transcends the film itself or develop the characters deeper. I compiled a list of the ten best cameo appearances I have seen in films and I even added one extra scene just because it did not make the final ten and it is brilliant in that it proves cameos work if you cannot tell at all who the person is. Check out Cate Blanchett in an early scene from Hot Fuzz (2007).
10. Matt Damon in Eurotrip (2004)
Matt Damon has no reason to be in this film but it made the list for not just the absolute random surprise factor of the cameo, but also because his scene involves a song that I guarantee many people were humming as they walked out of the theater. It is a mean spirited song but the presence of Matt Damon makes the situation a lot less harsh and a lot easier to laugh and enjoy this cruel joke.
9. Gene Hackman in Young Frankenstein (1974)
Mel Brooks’ loving tribute to the classic James Wale Frankenstein pictures featured a tenderly funny and poignant scene where the Monster (played by Peter Boyle) meets the blind man who tries to be his friend. In the original it was a touching and tragic scene, with Mel Brooks directing, it was funny and surprising that Gene Hackman, not known for his comedic talents, was cast as the blind man. The result is a great scene in a classic comedy.
8. Tim Robbins in High Fidelity (2000)
This one might not actually count as a cameo since the role involves a few scenes, however Tim Robbins is uncredited for the performance. Being close friends with Jack Black, Tim Robbins has made some memorable cameos over the years (Anchorman, Tenacious D: The Pick of Destiny) however none of his cameos were as hilarious or important to the actual plot as his small part in High Fidelity as the new pretentious suitor for John Cusack’s recent ex-girlfriend. Jack Black also co-stars and he along with John Cusack and Tim Robbins give some of the best performances of their careers. This cameo helped elevate High Fidelity to being not only a great comedy but one of the best films of the new millennium.
7. Kareem Abdul-Jabar in Airplane! (1980)
Another one that might not technically be a cameo considering that Kareem Abdul-Jabar is credited for his work on Airplane! And he has more than just one scene. But how can I ignore the cameo that impacted motion picture comedy more than any other cameo. Now having people that are not actors play roles in films and being self-aware about it is very common. From the Zucker Brothers follow up pictures to almost every Adam Sandler movie, athletes and musicians can find steady work in comedy films if the producers are fans of their work.
6. Charlton Heston in Wayne’s World 2 (1993)
As previously stated comedies are the one genre that overuse and abuse their cameo privileges. Wayne’s World 2 was a worthy sequel to its 1992 predecessor, which was a smash hit at the box office. With a bigger budget for the sequel, that meant bigger stars Wayne’s World 2 featured cameos from Drew Barrymore, Heather Locklear, Kim Basinger and the entire band Aerosmith. Yet the only cameo that resulted in major laughs and is still hilarious over 2 decades later was from master thespian and gun enthusiast Charlton Heston.
5. Martin Scorsese in Taxi Driver (1976)
Directors making small appearances in their own films are nothing new (Hitchcock was the master of this and I could write an entire top ten list based on just his cameos in his own films) and even the most elusive directors have done it (listen closely and you hear Stanley Kubrick’s voice over a radio in Full Metal Jacket). Scorsese has made blink and you miss him appearances in a number of his pictures from After Hours (1985) to Gangs of New York (2002), yet no other director’s cameo made such an indelible mark on the actual film. When he plays a passenger in DeNiro’s cab and describes to the driver what he is going to do to his adulteress wife, it is harrowing, chilling and one of the most shocking scenes in a deeply disturbing motion picture. This is a tremendous scene that encapsulates what our anti-hero Travis Bickle is going through at night when he drives his taxi through the seedy streets of Manhattan.
4. John Hurt in Spaceballs (1987)
Now to lighten the mood a little bit, let us return to the comedic genius of Mel Brooks. The only director featured twice on this list, his science-fiction movie farce Spaceballs remains one of the most quoted and referenced of all his films. Spaceballs is primarily a spoof of Star Wars however it does throw in comedic jabs at other science fiction like Star Trek, Planet of the Apes and most notably Ridley Scott’s 1979 thriller Alien. The reason Alien stands out the most among the other films spoofed in this picture is because of the cameo. Somehow Mel Brooks managed to get John Hurt to replay his iconic scene where the creature bursts out of his chest. The fact that it is the same actor spoofing his own scene from another film is brilliant, this concept had been repeated since (see Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back) however never as memorably as John Hurt saying “not again”.
3. Danny Glover in Maverick (1994)
Mel Gibson was a big star in the 1980’s and 90’s and a lot of it had to do with his partnership with Richard Donner who directed him in all four Lethal Weapon films. Obviously his on-screen partner in those films was Danny Glover and together their chemistry was undeniable. There was really no role that Mr. Glover could have had in the film version of Maverick yet director Richard Donner cleverly found a way to incorporate Glover into a film with one of the funniest and most tongue-in-cheek cameos from any film other than Woody Allen’s breaking of the fourth wall moment in Annie Hall (1977).
2. Sean Connery in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991)
This list has it’s share of award winning and legendary actors from Cate Blanchett to Charlton Heston. Sean Connery may be the biggest name to make a cameo on this list. But when you really think about it, what other actor would be suitable to play King Richard the Lionheart in the biggest and highest grossing Robin Hood film to date. The only appropriate actor would be Sir Sean Connery and in his brief appearance in the closing scene, he did a masterful job. In true Connery fashion, he played it off and donated his one-day salary to a charity in Scotland. His presence provided the perfect closing to a rousing adventure picture.
1. Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Rundown (2003)
Now this scene fits my definition of a perfectly necessary cameo. This is The Rock Dwayne Johnson’s second starring vehicle and to this day it is still his best film. This cameo is perfect because unlike so many cameos, it is not a distraction; it comes in the first thirty seconds of the movie so nothing has happened yet. What also makes this cameo great is it’s subtly which is the last thing one would ever expect from a scene involving The Rock AND Arnold. But director Peter Berg played it cool and hit all the right notes with this film starting with its opening scene. Schwarzenegger’s appearance serves to be more than just a cameo, with his “Have fun” line, it represents the passing of the torch from one action star about to embark on a new journey as the governor of California, to another action star who was about to leave the world of professional wrestling behind and was just getting his feet wet as a legitimate movie actor. Time will tell if Dwayne Johnson has become the new Arnold Schwarzenegger or if there ever will be another star quite like Arnold Schwarzenegger but this passing of the torch moment is one that should be admired because this set the standard for what a cameo in a movie should be. Not for cheap applause or to get people to say, “hey look! Its so-and-so!” Cameos should be used to drive the story, further develop characters or in very special cases make a clever tongue-in-cheek reference about the film or about motion pictures in general.