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.)
50. Will Smith | Winter’s Tale (2014)
There have been numerous depictions of the Devil on screen, probably more so than any other character in history, which means there’s a wealth of cameos to choose from. There’s the intensely sinister ones played by Viggo Mortensen and Peter Stormare, the comedic ones by actors such as Rodney Dangerfield, Adam Sandler and Billy Crystal and the surprise I-was-the-Devil-all-along ones by Robert De Niro and Angelica Huston but few are as memorable as whatever the hell Will Smith is doing in Winter’s Tale. Jarring, tonally out of place and completely embarrassing, Smith’s take on Old Scratch is absolutely terrible but it’s that terribleness that makes it great. It takes a special kind of performance to be the one thing everyone remembers about arguably the most forgettable film ever made and Smith more than delivers.
49. Marcel Marceau | Silent Movie (1976)
Most directors use cameos as one off gags that work as either a visual punchline (“hey look! It’s Brad Pitt!”) or ridiculous non sequitur (“hey look! It’s Marshall…McLuhan..?”) but Mel Brooks might be the only director to create an entire film around a single cameo. Silent Movie is a silent movie about the making of a silent movie in which the only person who has a speaking line is the world famous mine Marcel Marceau. It’s certainly not one of Brook’s funniest gags but it might be his most clever.
48. Various Blues Musicians | Blues Brothers 2000 (1998)
Not since We Are the World has there been a bigger waste of musical talent than Blues Brothers 2000. An infamously terrible pile of shit, the film does almost nothing right—from trying to replace Belushi with Goodman, adding in ridiculous supernatural elements and the unnecessary addition of a kid to the team—but what it does get right, is the music. In addition to the numerous musical guests, the film includes an historic amount of blues musicians that had never played together before and will never play together again. Made up of 22 legends, the Louisiana Gator Boys (a blues super group created for the film) includes members such Bo Diddley, Dr. John, Isaac Hayes, B.B. King, Lou Rawls and Eric Clapton, just to name a few. It’s an embarrassment of riches that the movie, quite frankly, doesn’t deserve but honestly, not many films do.
47. Glenn Close | Hook (1991)
Long before annoying cinephiles would pester everyone they knew with trivia found on IMDB, the “did you know Glenn Close was the pirate that got put in the Boo Box in Hook?” factoid was up there with the “did you know that’s actually James Cameron’s hands drawing the naked Rose in Titanic?” and “did you know Dan Ackroyd was in Temple of Doom?” as one of the most used bits of useless movie knowledge at parties in the 90’s. You weren’t anyone unless you regurgitated that fact at every social event you went to and if you really wanted to be cool, you’d hit everyone with the bombshell of “did you know the couple kissing at the end of Hook that start to float because fairy dust lands on their heads are George Lucas and Carrie Fischer?” Thank God we moved past those days.
46. Bob Saget | Half Baked (1998)
“I used to suck dick for coke.” With that one line, Saget completely obliterated the family friendly persona he cultivated over his years on Full House and America’s Funniest Home Videos. Since the film’s release, Saget has completely reinvented himself as a raunchy stand up comic, with his segment in the doc The Aristocrats being by far the most repugnant, which is no small feat considering the point of the doc is for 100 different comedians to tell the same joke but in the most offensive way possible. But before all that, he was the lame ass dork in a couple of lame ass shows, so for him to admit to sucking some dick for drug money, was and still kind of is insane.
45. Robin Williams | The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988)
Taking over for Sean Connery who left the project when the role was edited down, Williams plays the King of the Moon. The disembodied head of an intergalactic despot who floats around space yelling incoherent ramblings and talks so fast, it sounds like gibberish. Basically it’s him as the Genie but without any restrictions. Fun fact: Williams is credited under Ray D. Tutto, which in Italian means “king of everything” and surprisingly, that’s not the weirdest alias an actor has gone by. That honor belongs to Depp, who used the moniker Oprah Noodlemantra for his extremely brief appearance in Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare. Oh showbiz actors, you so crazy.
44. Matthew McConaughey | The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
All McConaughey has to do in The Wolf of Wall Street, is rely information about stock trading to the audience and be charming enough to seduce DiCaprio into the life of white collar crime. That’s it. And for any other actor it would be an easy paycheck, but McConaughey is not any other actor. Starting the scene with an odd chest hitting ritual that was not in the script, McConaughey precedes to then go on long tangents about the virtues of masturbation, openly does drugs in public and talks about fugazis and fairy dust. With only five minutes of screen time, he somehow not only steals the scene from DiCaprio but almost runs away with the entire movie.
43. Sean Connery | Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991)
Not only is this cameo a nod to his film Robin and Marian, in which he played Robin Hood (if that wasn’t clear from the title) but it’s also a reunion with his Untouchables co-star Kevin Costner. Both fun little Easter eggs/inside jokes but neither of which you’ll think of when he shows up on screen. Because when he’s on screen, all you’re thinking is “holy shit, James Bond is King Richard!” Years later, Patrick Stewart would parody the performance in the underrated Robin Hood: Men in Tights.
42. Merv Griffin | The Man with Two Brains (1983)
Wedged in the middle of a love triangle between a word famous neurosurgeon and a conniving gold digger and a brain in a jar, is a reoccurring subplot about the “Elevator Killer,” a sadistic serial killer who attacks women with a syringe filled with window cleaner. As the film goes on, the “Elevator Killer” becomes the main focal point, with the third act being almost all about him. It turns out that the coldblooded psycho hanging just outside of frame, is none other than Merv Griffin. A brilliant bit of absurdism, the reveal might be the craziest thing in the film, which is saying a lot.
(Merv Griffin did not turn himself in)
41. Chris Pine | Stretch (2014)
Playing like a hyper active, drug infused After Hours, Stretch is an underrated entry in the “one crazy night” subgenre that was unceremoniously dumped to VOD due to the studios having no idea how to sell its weirdness to general audiences. The film isn’t perfect by any means, with it suffering from far too many subplots, but what it gets right—namely the cameos— more than makes up for its uneven plot structure. In any other movie, Ray Liotta or Norman Reedus’ cameo’s would be show stopping scene stealers, and while they’re both great, its the uncredited extended cameo by Chris Pine that ends up owning the movie. One half Hunter S. Thompson, one half John McAfee and with a smidge of Gary Busey, Pine’s Karos is an insane multimillionaire deviant who buys what he wants and does what he wants because he can afford it. He’s an unpredictable tornado of perversion and you can tell Pine is loving every second of it.
What do you think of the selection so far? What are some of your movie cameos? Maybe they will show up further on the list!