The dictionary defines a cameo as a brief appearance of a known person in a work of the performing arts, typically unnamed or appearing as themselves, which is just ambiguous enough a definition to leave it up for interpretation. The most important aspect of a memorable cameo appearance (besides the celebrity component), is the unexpected. A scene that comes out of nowhere and takes you by surprise but yet, the whammy element isn’t in the definition. And It’s generally accepted that a cameo is relegated to one scene but again, that’s also not in the definition, nor does it specify how long is too long.
So, the first thing I had to do was to define what a cameo was based on my own set of parameters and then go from there. I came up with two rules, which were:
1) the cameo in question could extend past one scene but it couldn’t run past 5 minutes (give or take) and the special guest star couldn’t partake in any important scenes. Pretty much meaning, if you cut their scene out of the film, the film would still work.
2) uncredited roles were automatically considered unless they were integral to the plot (I.e., no Kevin Spacey in Seven or Edward Norton in Kingdom of Heaven)
With that out of the way, I now present you with the 50 Greatest Movie Cameos Of All Time.
(And since cameos, by their very nature, are supposed to be surprises, consider this your spoiler warning.)
40. Jack White | Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (2007)
Chockablock with cameos galore, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story might be the only film to give It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World a run for its money. It has musicians playing themselves, musicians playing other musicians, a metric shit ton of uncredited cameos and Patrick Duffy. While most would point at the appearance of the Beatles as the best bit of the bunch, let me ask you two questions: 1) are any of them the King? and 2) can any of them cut a man in half with karate? I didn’t think so.
39. Keith Richards | Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007)
Since Johnny Depp used the distinct drunken mannerisms of Richards to create his Captain Jack Sparrow, having the Rolling Stone show up in the latter sequels as his father was a no-brainer. The infamous keeper of the code, Richards’ Captain Teague instantly commands the attention of every man in the room. Not because of his willingness to immediately kill anyone who breaks the sacred pirate law without batting an eye but because you can tell just by looking at that grizzled, chewed up piece of bubblegum he calls a face, that he’s seen it all, done it all and lived to tell the tale. So when he talks, you listen.
38. Alice Cooper | Wayne’s World (1992)
“We’re not worthy!” “We’re not worthy!” Wayne Campbell (Mike Myers) and Garth Algar’s (Dana Carvey) chant as they pay reverence to the rock God is more than iconic enough to make the list but once the worshipping stops and Alice starts rattling off random Milwaukee facts, the scene instantly jumps from a memorable catchphrase to an all time great scene. Surprisingly, Alice Cooper has actual comedic timing, a fact you’d have no way of knowing based on his performances in both Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare and Prince of Darkness.
37. Tom Cruise and Co. | Austin Powers in Goldmember (2002)
Since the Austin Powers franchise was quickly becoming known for its guest stars, Goldmember had to really go all out in order to one up the previous two entries and go all out it did. The film starts off with an action packed car chase that ends with the reveal that Powers is not Mike Myers but is, in fact, Tom Cruise. After three more A list cameos (Gwyneth Paltrow, Danny DeVito and Kevin Spacey), the audience quickly realizes that what they’re watching is not Goldmember but a star studded film-within-a-film called Austinpussy. The scene pulls back to show Powers working on a film about his life that happens to be helmed by none other than Steven Spielberg. Although the gag is pretty much stolen from Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, it’s utilized much better here.
36. Robert De Niro | American Hustle (2013)
American Hustle is a hollow film filled with flashy performances that all scream “gimme that Oscar” and provides almost no insight into the scam the film is about, nor offers any explanation as to what the scam actually is. The entire film feels like a desperate attempt to bring home the gold but the one element that doesn’t ring false, the one thing that actually feels legit, is De Niro as real life gangster Victor Tellegio. Bringing a lifetime of experience to the role, De Niro takes a minuscule role and injects it with so much gravitas, he easily becomes the best thing about the film.
35. Cate Blanchett | Hot Fuzz (2007)
While not as brief as the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo by Peter Jackson (as a switchblade wielding Santa no less), Cate Blanchett’s role in Hot Fuzz lasts barely a minute and due to her wearing a hazmat suit, goggles and a respirator, is nearly unrecognizable. Why would an Oscar winning actress sign on for an uncredited bit part for free? “Because I thought it was funny.”
34. Nicolas Cage | Grindhouse (2007)
Arguably the greatest cinematic experiment of all time, Grindhouse was a double feature consisting of two feature-length segments, Rodriguez’s Planet Terror and Tarantino’s Death Proof, and was bookended by fictional trailers. It was a shotgun blast of exploitation excitement and while both films offered their own levels of enjoyment, the biggest crowd reaction would be from the unexpected cameo in the trailer for Rob Zombie’s Werewolf Women of the SS. I don’t think I’ve seen a crowd lose their shit harder than when “and Nicolas Cage as Fu Man Chu” popped up on screen. I had to see the film three times in order to hear what he says and outside of something about “…his mecca”, I still don’t know. It’s sudden, it’s unexpected and its hilarious.
33. Will Ferrell | Wedding Crashers (2005)
Since the characters of Wedding Crashers are already morally bankrupt enough to crash someone else’s special day in order to get laid and get free food, rock bottom needs to be far worse than just a lonely bar hopping montage. Enter Chaz Reinhold–a hearse honey hunting, meatloaf eating, uber douche who watches cartoons all day and still lives with his mother. He’s a loud mouth, obnoxious ass who preys on the emotionally weak and then uses them for sex. He’s an absolute jerk off but since he’s played by Will Ferrell, he’s one of the funniest characters ever.
32. Leonard Nimoy | Star Trek (2009)
Riding the line between supporting character and extended cameo, Nimoy’s screen time in the 2009 Star Trek reboot is sustainably more than its sequel but since that film sucks and his role in this is better, the rules were bent for his inclusion. Admittedly, his introduction isn’t perfect (he just happens to know exactly where Kirk will be at the exact time he’d be there, even though there’s absolutely no way for him to have that knowledge) and he does little more than act as a Deus Ex Machina, none of that matters when he’s on screen. Nimoy is one of the few actors that can make techno babble or inane exposition sound exciting but more importantly, he is the face of Star Trek. Which means there was no better person to pass the torch to the next generation.
31. The Princesses | Ralph Breaks The Internet (2018)
Ralph Breaks the Internet is a pointless sequel that does nothing interesting with its premise and feels like it was written by old men who have absolutely no idea what an “online game” is or how the internet works at all. It’s painfully out of touch, with most of its humor coming from cat videos and Jackass level stunts. But it’s not all garbage. The Princesses are unquestionably the jewel in the middle of the shit heap. For the first time ever, every official Disney princess was brought together with all but one being voiced by the original actress. It’s a monumental feat made even more impressive by the fact that Disney allowed the writers to lampoon their tropes and poke fun at their images. It’s a scene so good, it became the focal point of the marketing.
What do you think of the selection so far? What are some of your favorite movie cameos? Maybe they will show up further on the list!