Upon compiling all notes and research, double checking facts I came to one conclusion: I have way too much time on my hands. Odd, considering I'm actually pretty busy, but to compile a list like this, suggestions abound from forum users, other internet sites and my own personal collection was extensive.
Now going through the research and discussions some have on the internet, one thing I noticed is that many seem to not know what a cameo is or what an unbilled role is. They'd put a list of their favorites but fail to realize the people are billed in the opening credits if not on the poster itself. In some cases, the person they felt was a cameo wasn't even famous yet, at the time it was just a role. So a cameo and unbilled roles are really the following:
1) Has to be a "surprise" of sorts. They can't be billed in the opening credits and especially on the poster (post movie credits are fine).
2) It needs to be within the movie itself, not a post-credits appearance tacked on.
3) Unbilled roles act like cameos in both the above points, but are generally larger and more prominent. The effect is still the same: somebody shows up that you weren't expecting.
4) A lot of movies have multiple cameos, so I decided to keep it one per film. Some hard decisions had to be made, but I'll still mention those that might have been slighted for another.
There are a lot of roles people have considered cameos or unbilled roles, but actually aren't. Neil Patrick Harris in Harold in Kumar, Kareen Abdul-Jabar in Airplane!, Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glenross (he's on the poster), Dennis Hopper in Apocalypse Now and even Mike Tyson in The Hangover (in fairness, you can thank the trailers for ruining it). Many, many got taken off the list based on this criteria, much to my disappointment on some (Sorry Mr. Cooper in Prince of Darkness, I loved you in it though) but it allowed for even newer ones to emerge. This isn't a list of every cameo or unbilled actor, but a list of 50 I thought were memorable, significant, entertaining or at the very least, very surprising.
Honorable Mention: Nicholas Cage - Trailer for Werewolf Women of the S.S.
First off, let's go ahead and get the Honorable Mention out of the way. I could have put any number of cameos on this list, but there is no better example of something needing an honorable mention than a cameo in a trailer of a movie that's not a movie. So it was either Tobey Maguire for Tropic Thunder's Satan's Alley or this one: crazy Nicholas Cage as Fu Manchu in Rob Zombie's "Werewolf Women of the S.S."
Actually...this was an easy choice. Awesome cameo. Second choice would have gone to Tom Hanks for The Simpsons Movie, but I couldn't decide if animation should count.
Now on to the actual movies:
50: Brad Pitt - Confessions of a Dangerous Mind
Something simple an easy. A common cameo (to which there are endless out there) is known as a "walk on." There's no lines, nothing for the actor to really do but to just show up and be shot by the camera. There were a lot of examples I could put in for this first slot (for example, there's a ton of zombie movies with walk-on cameos like Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright in Land of the Dead) but I came across this hippie right here by the name of Brad Pitt who is one of three contestants on The Dating Game.
Adding more humor to the scene, as we pan over, is that Matt Damon is sitting next to him as Contestant Number Two. But it's funny just to see him plus Damon on the dating game and it's a perfect example of what a walk on cameo is supposed to do: surprise you.
49: Robert Patrick - Wayne's World
I can't think of many Mike Myers movies that don't have a nice dose of cameos and unbilled roles in them. Wayne's World, How I Married an Axe Murderer, Austin Powers (especially the third one with a good dozen or so including Steven Spielberg). This Robert Patrick one came at just the right time, though. Terminator 2 was a huge, huge hit, and the T-1000 something everyone knew. Here you have Robert reprising (though they don't say it, obviously) his T-1000 role of the biggest action movie ever.
Also, I should give a quick nod to another fun Wayne's World (2) cameo: Mr. Charlton Heston.
Though I think the Alice Cooper one is slightly funnier, but know Alice is billed in the opening credits, sadly.
48: Reggie Jackson - The Naked Gun
Who better to kill the Queen of England than a Hall of Fame right fielder? In what is the only athlete to appear on this list, (as of now, though there are plenty of others such as Dan Marino and Brett Fav..Fave...Favre...yeah that's it) "Mr. October" really comes in out of nowhere as the rest of his team is dogpiling into a major brawl with the Seattle Mariners. Under this distraction, he makes his way to the queen's private box (with little security, I suppose) before being crushed by a fat woman. Just classic.
47: Roger Moore - Curse of the Pink Panther
If only Curse was a better Pink Panther movie, you might have had one of the greatest cameos ever. As it is, it's just good - it is James Bond, afterall, playing Inspector Clouseau, one of the best movie characters of all time made famous by Peter Sellers. The movie was one last effort to continue the Pink Panther franchise (actually it wasn't, but considering Sellers was gone there's not much else they could do). So they threw in James Bond himself, with the plastic surgery plot device, which didn't save the film but made for some fun considering Moore was dealing out Bond movies left and right at the time.
46: David Bowie - Zoolander
Who better to judge a fashion "walk off" than David Bowie?
Seriously, who? The man has always had a knack for fashion, looking debonair and possibly making you think naughty thoughts without even saying a word. David has a pretty prominent role here, some good dialogue and seems perfectly set in his rather "god-like" presence. Because it's the first like it to appear on this list, Zoolander is one of numerous movies in recent years that throw cameos out there left and right (Zoolander getting most of them out there in the first ten minutes). Some are just bad, but some are actually funny if not thoughtful. I still think many movies overuse it, though, but those that do it right, really do it right. David Bowie was one that was right and in the right movie especially.
45: Donald Sutherland - Kentucky Fried Movie
Billed in the final credits as "the clumsy waiter," Donald Sutherland followed up his prolific (and award nominated) roles in films such as MASH, Don't Look Now and Kelly's Heroes by being, well, a clumsy waiter. Stumbling around, falling, slap stick has never been so hilarious, and most the time you don't even realize it's him. An absolute movie-stealing cameo.
44: Jack Nicholson - Broadcast News
Our first actual "unbilled role" (there's not a lot on this list) is a classic. When Jack Nicholson first appears in Broadcast News, you almost have to do a double take. His first appearance is on a television screen, a small one at that. Then, as the movie progresses, we start to see more and more of him and his character Bill Rorich starts to emerge from his pedestal in front of the camera and starts to see the world behind it - the real news people that tell him what to say and how to say it....they may even get him to smile at a piece here and there. I suppose this lofty position of Bill reflects that of Nicholson and his own celebrity status: more a person you see on television and you sometimes forget he's real.
Broadcast news also had a very brief appearance by the next entry:
43: John Cusack - Stand by Me
Stand by Me came out right in the middle of Cusack's 1980s fame. It's post Sixteen Candles, The Sure Thing and Better Off Dead (which really put him on the map) and right before Hot Pursuit and Say Anything. Rob Reiner liked his star in The Sure Thing, it seems, and seeing as he was on the rise asked him to play as the older brother in Stand by Me. A rising star just giving a good day's work for the guy that gave him his first starring role: that's called paying your dues, and what's interesting is that Cusack's role isn't comedic but a very touching dramatic turn.
42: Hunter S. Thompson - Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
There are a lot of movies about real people where the actual person it's about shows up in a cameo. Larry Flynt played a judge in The People and Erin Brockavich had a quick cameo in the movie of her own name. While going through a club in Vegas, strung out on god knows what at that point, Depp's voice over simply exclaims "mother of God, there I am!" He eyes a man sitting a table, dressed exaclty like him...and yes, it is him, only the real him as in the real Hunter S. Thompson. What better way to have Thompson actually appear in a movie about him than as a hallucination?
Oh, and don't discount Gary Busey's appearance as the highway patrol man. That one, too, was a classic and as unsettling as only Gary Busey knows how.
41: Buster Keaton - Sunset Boulevard
The masterpiece that is Sunset Boulevard puts in three quick cameos during three Hollywood stars from eras past: Anna Q Nilsson, HB Warner and the legendary Buster Keaton. In an act of complete self-awareness, their scene is shot with this voiceover:
"Sometimes there's be a little bridge game at the house at a twentieth of a cent a point. I'd get half of her winnings. Once they ran up to seventy cents, which was about the only cash money I ever got. The others around the table would be actor-friends - dim figures you may still remember from the silent days. I used to think of them as her "Waxworks."
This is one cameo, I think is better if you actually just watch it.
40: Peter Jackson (and Cate Blanchett) - Hot Fuzz
Certainly a "blink and you'll miss them" cameo if there ever was one. Both Jackson and Blanchett appear in the sequences of explaining who Nicholas Angel (Simon Pegg) is. Blanchett is pretty obvious, she plays his ex girlfriend (and has a breathing mask over her face through their scene) but you can recognize the voice if you're familiar with it. Jackson, though, is a little tougher, but once you realize it's him, it's hilarious. He plays the insane Santa that stabs (as you can see) Simon Pegg through the hand in the opening parts of the movie.
Plus crazy Santas are just funny.
39: Paul Rudd, Justin Long, Jason Schwarzman and Jack Black - Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story
Like a lot of comedies of this type (Anchorman, Dodgeball etc...), this movie is just full of cameos. Musicians such as Jackson Browne, Eddie Veddar and Lyle Lovette play themselves, actors have brief bit roles like Morgan Fairchild, Patrick Duffy, Jane Lynch and Ed Helms. The most memorable are thanks to four bits of inspired casting. Jack Black as Paul McCartney, Jason Schwartzman as Ringo Starr, Justin Long as George Harrison and Paul Rudd as John Lennon. What's more is all four weren't even credited in the post-credits, which is even stranger even for cameos especially of that caliber. It's probably the most popular scene in the film, and also one of the funniest as Dewey Cox suspects there might be trouble brewing with the Beatles.
38: Dan Aykroyd - Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
Half the time, people don't even realize it's him, yet he's in the movie rather up front and prominently. How can you not recognize his voice as he rushes Indiana, Willie and Short Round to the waiting plane? Well, I didn't for years until someone actually pointed it out to me (not the first time...cameos and unbilled roles tend to always be discovered at odd times - even in movies you've seen countless ones). What's great is that he is actually a perfect fit for what that role needed. Fast talking, a bit comedic and maybe a little overweight on the side.
37: Frank Sinatra - Cannonball Run II
If you look at the opening credits and the poster itself, you'll notice the gang's all here. Sammy Davis Jr. Shirley Maclaine, Dean Martin...but the chairman of the board is strangely not attached (in hindsight, that was probably a good move seeing as how the movie is pretty awful). So it must have been a surprise when he suddenly shows up in the movie (along with other assorted cameos as Cannonball Run movies were more or less based on the cameo-infused It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World) as himself. It's a bit of a toss up between Sinatra and Jackie Chan's cameo here, both playing themselves, and both really coming out of nowhere. This is also not Sinatra's only cameo, he had a pretty cool one in Around the World in 80 Days as well, but this is noted for Sinatra's final film appearance and alongside his Rat Pack brethren at that, so it holds quite the significance.
36: Larry Flynt - The People Versus Larry Flynt
Irony, if done right, can be genius. Whoever decided that the real Larry Flynt would be the judge in the film version about Larry Flynt, presiding over him with gavel in hand, should get a raise. He's sitting there judging himself, and boy does he not look happy - but Larry Flynt never looks happy so that's true to form. I love this bit of inspiration, and this is ironic cameo usage at its best (though some other ironic cameos coming up are just as good).
Brooks knew how to put in cameos when the time was right, and Silent Movie is full of them. Liza Minelli, Paul Newman, Burt Reynolds...but the show stealer is James Caan as the two bumbling filmmakers pursue stars to star in their movie. Caan's trailer is off-balance, and wouldn't you know it? Dom sneezes sending the entire thing rocking and rolling with all four going every which way. The door then swings open at the right time where Mel, Dom and Marty are in a pretty, shall we say, "interesting" position with James Caan. Politically incorrect as only Brooks can do.
I wish that bad screencap of mine did the scene justice.
34: Yul Brynner - The Magic Christian
It's one thing to have a cameo, it's another thing to make that cameo as a transvestite club singer singing to Roman Polanski. It's a black comedy, barely that, but it's most notable as Yul Brynner, the "man's man" really belting out the song given to him. It's a bizarre movie, certainly, but this cameo is so striking it goes down as legendary. Maybe he should have been Anna and not the king of Siam.
Also, John Cleese and Grahm Chapman also show up, though they weren't quite as famous as they would soon become.
33: Quentin Tarantino - Little Nicky
Talk about utterly random. Tarantino usually plays one kind of role: some variation of himself. Here he goes off the deep end playing a blind preacher who rants and raves with the best of them. Some don't even realize it's him because he is so outlandish, but when they do a smile surely stretched across their face to see Tarantino just be absolutely ball-out nuts and the constant barrage of bad things that befall him.
I also have to address the utterly fantastic costume he's in. I mean, talk about scary. If you saw him on the street, you would run for the hills...what's more is that it seems, strangely, a natural fit for the aueteur.
32: Samuel L. Jackson - Kill Bill vol 2.
Is it surprising? No, not really. But it's pretty damn cool (that and I was looking for more cameo's/roles to fill out some slots). Well, Sam is already pretty damn cool, but here it's a combination of his coolness with the fantastic way the scene with him is shot. The cigarette from his mouth and the way the smoke floats in the air. The outfit and the dark glasses. The black and white film. The lighting and shadow. It's one of the best shot scenes in the entire Kill Bill epic and his presence is just all about exuding the cool - like a suave calm before the storm really hits when The Bride's old "friends" show up.
31: Arnold Schwarzenegger - The Rundown
One of the quickest on this list, The Governator himself reminds us what the Rock needs to do in movies like this: "have fun" he says, passing him in a bar. It's what Ahnold based his career on, and we're all thankful for that because some of the best action movies came from the "have fun" philosophy. It was also just great seeing Arnold again, one of the biggest stars of all time giving a kudos to the future generation of action stars.
Then the Rock faded out of the action genre and started doing family films. C'est la vie
30: Glenn Close - Hook
Now this is one it seems few really ever know about, because (like Peter Jackson) the person doing the cameo is meant to be unrecognizable. Yet, when you find out who they are, you go back and actually look to see it - and even if it's a movie as bland as Hook, you still will pop it in and sower for the scene where Glenn Close is decked out in a full, very impressive beard. If you look at those distinct eyes, though, you can easily see Alex Forrest's icy cold stare.
This is one of those cameos that, once you're told who it is, you can't look at the scene the same way ever again. Of course, that would imply you're watching Hook again...lord knows why you'd be doing that, I guess.
29: Chuck Norris - Dodgeball
Dodgeball had its share of cameos. Williams Shatner, Lance Armstrong to name a couple others. But it's Chuck Norris that really kind of steals it here. It's how this cameo is really handled that makes it work so well. The final vote comes down to the final judge, pan over, and it's Chuck Norris taking time from round-house kicking people to judge a Dodgeball tournament. "Thank you, Chuck Norris" indeed.
28: Marshall McLuhan - Annie Hall
An often referenced and parodied cameo scene, though there's probably a good portion of people that have no idea where all those parodies come from. The scene itself is a little hard to explain, but basically Allen is waiting in a line for a movie and can't stand the guy jabbering on behind him; rambling about anything and everything. He steps out and starts talking to the camera, then the guy follows him and somehow Marshal McLuhan is brought up. "You don't know anything about Marshall McLuhan," exclaims Allen, who then goes off on his own tangent and pulls McLuhan out of a corner to help his argument. Then we pan over, and there's Marshall McLuhan:
"I heard what you were saying...you know nothing of my work."
"Boy, if life were only like this," says Woody to the camera. If only cameos were done that well also, Mr. Allen.
27: Orson Welles - The Muppet Movie
"Sandy, prepare the standard rich and famous contract for Kermit the Frog and company."
There's a good amount of cameos in this classic, Bob Hope, Mel Brooks, James Coburn, Madeline Kahn, Big Bird (who's film had a number of cameos as well) Richard Pryor, Milton Berle... the list is pretty extensive but one really, really stuck out above the rest as the final cameo of the movie: Orson Welles. The strange, often reclusive and impossible to fully understand Mr. Welles really comes out of left field here - both because he rarely made appearances in movies anymore and because it's, of all thing, a movie staring the muppets - really validating their pop culture status at the time.
I also have to give a quick nod to Steve Martin as the waiter (with fine Idaho wine). A very prominent cameo from him, and a funny one at that. In only choosing one, though, I had to go with the legend.
26: Keith Richards - Pirates of the Carribean: At World's End
There's a ton of musicians left off the list (even in Part Two) such as Bruce Springsteen in High Fidelity, Ian Brown in Harry Potter, Alanis Morissette in Dogma, Snoop Dogg in Half Baked or Elvis Costello and Mos Def in Talladega Nights. It makes me wonder if the classic Billy Idol from Wedding Singer will make it - for some reasons musician cameos are certainly the most common. I originally had Alice Cooper on the list here, but as it turns out he was billed for Prince of Darkness in the opening credits, same with Ozzy Osbourne in the easily forgettable Trick or Treat from 1986, so I went with my third choice: Keith Richards. In other words, there are a ton of musicians that show up in movies, and maybe at some point I'll do a list just of those (Meatloaf in Tenacious D for the win)
Anyways, for years it had been noted what inspired Johnny Depp's performance as Jack Sparrow.
"Captain Jack Sparrow is like a cross between Keith Richards and Pepe Le Pew." - Depp
Sparrow is really one of the great movie characters, even if the movies he was in weren't always great. But to get Richards to play his dad in a (rather dark and uncomfortable) cameo is art imitating life at its finest and strangely seems to bring everything full-circle as Richards enters the scene, strums his broken guitar and looks every bit of an elderly Jack Sparrow. What sad is they didn't even have to put him in a lot of makeup...that's just Keith.