Digital Polyphony

film, games, memories & random thoughts

Top 50 Cameo / Unbilled Movie Roles (Part 2)


Part Two looking at 50 of the greatest movie cameos and unbilled roles over the years. Wrapping down to the final 25, it makes me wish I made it a Top 100 because there's some really good ones that just missed it. Usually it has to do with quality/significance/surprise ratio in some made-up equation in my head - so obviously this isn't everything and I hope you put down some of your favorites in the comments that maybe didn't make it.

If you didn't catch Part One, then click here, otherwise let's wrap this up.



25: David Letterman - Cabin Boy


Now here is something that's pretty interesting. Talk show host David Letterman in one of his very few film appearances (considering Leno has done dozens, that's pretty remarkable). It has since become infamous not because of that, but because it is the most worthless and dumb and pointless, nonsensical cameo to ever exist. Dave knew this too, and for the better part of a year he would randomly cut to the clip during his show and his line "would you like to buy a monkey?" became a pretty popular catch-phrase for a time. He's also credited as "Earl Hofert" - the name of his grandfather.

Letterman did this as a favor for Chris Elliot, and he knew it was a bad movie before anyone and just plays it up.


24:  Kurt Vonnegut - Back to School


"How are you going to write this paper, then?" the question is asked regarding a paper due covering Kurt Vonnegut. 

Door opens, Vonnegut says hello.

Later the paper is criticized with the teacher saying "The person who wrote that doesn't know a thing about Kurt Vonnegut." Nicely done, and Kurt's brief appearance for three seconds is noted as legendary.

If it's so brief, then why so high on the list? It's short and easy to miss if you aren't paying attention. Well, Vonnegut was a notorious recluse (or, at the very least, very elusive) and suffered with depression. The guy rarely was in front of a camera, with this and two other far briefer cameos (that came off of doing this one, I might add) and few video interviews, nobody really saw him that much. He was more a speaker, someone who would narrate something or give a seminar, but rarely enjoyed his picture taken or being around the press. This is one of the few times you actually saw him live and in person on film, not to mention it'sonly  two years after his suicide yeah...a pretty big deal.

Also, Back to School starred Rodney Dangerfield, and Rodney himself had one classic if not unsettling cameo of his own in Natural Born Killers

Also, (wow this entry is getting long) Finding Forrester, a film released much much later, would also take this approach with Sean Connery, who played Forrester, an even more recluse than Vonngegut ever was, suddenly appearing in class. Finding Forrester also had a cameo by Matt Damon at the end...speaking of which.... 

23: Matt Damon - Euro Trip


Do I get points for a segue? No? 

So Damon makes his first appearance on this list and he basically plays his friend Ben Affleck. Damon was one of the biggest stars at the time. He already had an Academy Award, he staked his claim as an action superstar with the Bourne Identity, one of Hollywood's elite with Oceans 11 and his fame was skyrocketing ...and here he is, tribal tattoos and all, playing one of the biggest douchebags you'll see on film and stealing our main character's girlfriend. 

Plus, that song is mighty catchy.


22: Danny Glover - Maverick


Not the best of movies, but a really great nod to the relationship of Glover, Gibson and director Richard Donner. Glover's masked bandit is doing a stick up, and Gibson's Maverick seems to eye him like he knows him. He pulls down the mask and voila! Danny Glover. Even a little "Lethal Weapon" jingle and music cue coincides with it as they both shake it off...though both not entirely sure. This is one of the more fun, certainly tongue-in-cheek cameos that I love, especially being a Lethal Weapon fan. Just seeing these two together outside of that was just incredibly memorable.


21: Joe Pesci - A Bronx Tale


Who better than to play the Don that everyone talks about but we never see than De Niro's (who directed the film) best friend, Joe Pesci.? It's a restrained role, unique because Pesci is often associated with being so over the top, and at the same time beautifully poetic. You see, Pesci's Carmine (a real gangster) is what Callegoro, the main character, could have easily become. Yet, he's looking down at the casket holding the body his friend Sonny, another gangster...and he could have easily have become that as well. Gangster life is mountaintops and pitholes, little in between, and there's something to be said about the old guard and the newer generations here.


20: Sean Connery - Robin Hood Prince of Thieves


A cameo that works on so many levels. One being Connery himself played Robin Hood in Robin and Marion. Another being nobody better to play King John...I mean you really can't imagine anyone else so fitting to everything.

His introduction of just his voice says it all - we look to the rear of Robin and Marion's wedding along with everyone else and see him. Connery's voice is iconic, and then we cut to him, kingly looking and all, coming off his horse and giving away Marion to Robin. This is a cameo that probably outdoes the movie it's actually in.

Not to be outdone, Patrick Stewart gave his take as well in Mel Brook's version of the cameo.


19: Huey Lewis - Back to the Future


The tracks that Huey Lewis and the News give for Back to the Future are as much a part of it as the crazy stories of Crispin Glover. Somehow, Robert Zemeckis must have predicted this, and put Huey smack-dab in the middle of a scene. It's the irony that works so well here. Lewis is a judge at the band auditions, Marty's band is playing a Huey Lewis and the News song, and who ultimately rejects them because they're too loud? Huey, who looks right, looks left, then stands up with a megaphone and says "you're just too darn loud." A well thought out cameo to say the least.


18: Don Ameche and Ralph Bellamy - Coming to America


The Dukes, Randolph and Mortimer, originally appeared in the classic 1983 comedy Trading Places, starring Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy and played by legendary Oscar winner Don Ameche and equally legendary Oscar nominated Ralph Bellamy (nominated way back in 1937, I might add). Murphy apparently struck up a good friendship with them because, the story goes, he insisted they have a quick cameo in Coming to America five years later. Not just Don and Ralphy, but them reprising their roles as The Dukes.Towards the end of Coming to America, Murphy hands two homeless bums a bag of cash. "Mortimer, we're back in business" yells, Randolph.

I suppose, in a way, it's like an unofficial sequel to Trading Places. Enjoy the before and after photos.


17: Bob Saget - Half Baked


It all boils down to this line: "I used to suck dick for coke."

And history was made. Why? Well, anyone can tell you that the "real" Bob Saget was pretty unknown at this time. He was still the America's Funniest Home Video/Full House  guy to many people. Then this movie came out, caught on, became a cult hit on VHS and soon gave people a small hint to a different Bob Saget they weren't even aware of. Half Baked had a number of cameos, but really, it all comes down to dicks and coke and you can't think of this film without thinking of that line.


16: Bruce Campbell - Spider Man 2


Ok, a personal favorite here so I'm sure that influencing its position. Everyone knew Raimi would give Bruce another cameo (he cameoed as the ring announcer in the first Spider-Man movie) but I don't think anyone expected to be a rather prominent cameo and one done so incredibly well on behalf of Bruce. It's a great, slight bit of comedy as he nails the moment perfectly as the theatre doorman keeping Peter from seeing Mary Jane's play. Unlike the ring announcer, which was just another character, this role seemed specifically written for Bruce. He's arrogantly perfect, snooty in every sense of the word, and his playfulness with Maguire is timed perfectly.

Bruce (and Sam Raimi) have quite a good amount of cameos between them - and most in the movies of their good friends (whom they helped "break into" the business) Joel and Ethan Coen.


15: Bruce Willis / Julia Roberts - The Player


I could have sworn Willis and Roberts were  credited for this role (playing themselves). Lo and behold, as I went through all the movies doing research, they don't appear. Now the Player had a ton, and I mean a ton of quality cameos, and Willis himself with quite a few cameos of his own under his belt (Oceans 12, Loaded Weapon etc...) but in 1992, when he was one of the biggest action stars in the world, he suddenly appears at the end of The Player (alongside another cameo, Julia Roberts) in a fake movie. This isn't anything new in movies, Pee-Wee's Big Adventure had James Brolin and Morgan Fairchild in a fake movie, and Austin Powers Goldmember had Tom Cruise, Steven Speilberg, Gwenyth Paltrow, Danny Devito and Kevin Spacey.

Yeah, that could be the star-studded winner of fake movie trailers, but what's great about the Willis (and Roberts) trailer is that the movie is very, very self-aware, noting that a movie can't get green-lit anymore unless it stars Bruce Willis or Julia Roberts (the two at the height of popularity at the time). Then we see the movie within the movie and wouldn't you know it, they both are the stars.


14: Tim Robbins (and Luke Wilson/Ben Stiller/Vince Vaughn if you want) - Anchorman


In a film with a ton of cameos left and right, the four newsanchors from rival networks were the standouts. But one in particular seemed not like the others: Tim Robbins. Guys like Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn and Luke Wilson are almost expected in a movie like this (Vaughn certainly had the biggest role, but still unbilled). Tim Robbins, though, was a gleeful surprise and what's better is how he utterly sold it. His looks. His attitude. Just a perfect cameo that seriously comes out of nowhere. You can put all four on there if you want, but really it's the presence of Tim Robbins that is so funny. Just look how angry he is.


13: Steven Spielberg - The Blues Brothers


The film is building and building to a climax. Jake and Elwood have to get to the Cook Counter Assessor to pay the tax bill on their "mission from God." Who is there waiting for them but the biggest director of all time: Steven Spielberg. Plus he's eating and sandwich and has this rather funny expression on his face that says "oh...didn't see you there." I guess Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind weren't big enough for him and he wanted to be in one of the best comedies of all time, and I'm sure Spielberg's casting of Belushi in 1941 led to this somehow. A few years later, Spielberg would return the favor with an often overlooked cameo of Dan Aykroyd in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Funny how things are interconnected like that in Hollywood.

Given, Spielberg was a few years away from Raiders of the Lost Ark and ET, but his star was certainly shining bright in 1980, people knew who he was and it's just completely out of nowhere he would show up in his only acting role of the man's career (though he did appear in the background of some movies here and there, including Vanilla Sky, The Lost World, Gremlins and Temple of Doom).

12: Martin Sheen - Hot Shots Part Deux


Quite the thoughtful and smart cameo here as Martin Sheen reprises his infamous role in Apocalypse Now and begins to infiltrate his voiceovers with his son, Charlie, as it seems Apocalypse Now is happening a the same time as Hot Shots. It caps the cameo off with "I loved you in Wall Street." I remember, at the time when seeing this as a kid, I didn't get the references. Now, as a lover of film, it's just a really smart little cameo.



11: Gus Van Sant, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon - Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back


Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back  was a movie full of cameos (George Carlin, Will Ferrell, Alanis Morissette, Jason Biggs, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Tracy Morgan, Chris Rock, etc...). That was sort of the point of the entire thing. Yet the one that struck me as the standout was the one of Gus Van Sant, who is just sitting back counting his money, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon who are playing themselves and shooting the film Good Will Hunting 2: Hunting Seasons...a movie I would gladly pay money for because seeing Will Hunting blowing people away with a shotgun is just all kinds of amazing.

Oh, Smith also gave a quick cameo to Wes Craven on top of it all, who gave a cameo to the characters Jay and Silent Bob in Scream 3 the year before.




10: Gene Hackman - Young Frankenstein 


Still a favorite of many, Gene Hackman was riding high in the 1970s and took up the offer to do a cameo in Mel Brook's classic Young Frankenstein. Hackman followed up films The French Connection, The Conversation and The Poseidon Adventure to give a few minutes as the old blind man who just makes Peter Boyle's monster have a worse day than he already was having. From lighting his finger on fire to pouring hot soup in his lap, Hackman arguably steals the show of the entire movie. It's not just a great cameo but a great comedic turn by him (for someone so known for dramas at that point).



9: Tom Cruise - Tropic Thunder


It's easy to not include Tom Cruise's Les Grossman on this list. Afterall, he and director Ben Stiller more or less worked together to keep the character and Tom's participation in the film a secret. It's manipulative but at the same time ingenious. Stiller and Cruise completely understood the point of an unbilled role: to utterly shock and surprise. As it turns out, they hit it right on the head and Cruise ended up giving one of his most memorable performances in years as a send up to a certainly Hollywood producer.  I'm more impressed with the smartness surrounding keeping it all secret than anything, though.


8: Will Ferrel - Wedding Crashers


Sometimes, a cameo can really steal the show, and Will Ferrel surely does in Wedding Crasher. So much so that I had to double check he wasn't billed. It turns out he wasn't and so enters one of the funniest and darkly humorous performances the guy has ever given. He plays a man who not only crashes weddings to get women...but soon turns to crashing funerals which opens a whole other door or immorality.

Will has done his share of cameos across the board, but this one is surely his greatest.



7: Bob Barker - Happy Gilmore


Still fondly thought of to this day, it's not just a Bob Barker cameo (and to my knowledge the only film he's ever appeared in over his many, many decades as a celebrity) but it's Bob Barker beating up Adam Sandler...and beating him up handily. 

I remember this the big buzz when this movie came out.The commercial trailers showed Bob Barker beating the hell out of Adam Sandler. Spoiling the cameo, sure, but even knowing that - when that scene started up in Happy Gilmore a big grin probably stretched on everyone's faces. Seeing this old man that we've known for decades as a game show host completely out of character and utterly destroying someone in a fight was absolutely hilarious.


6: The Three Stooges/Buster Keaton/Jerry Lewis...all of 'em - It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World


It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World is a celebration of comedy, and it brought together some of the biggest comedy stars in the history of cinema...and a majority for only a few seconds at a time. Jack Benny, Ethel Merman, Jerry Lewis, Buster Keaton, The Three Stooges, Alan Carney, Moe Howard, Jimmy Durante, Don Knotts, Carl Reiner, Norman need all fingers and toes to count them all. My personal favorites were Jerry Lewis and Buster Keaton, but all made the movie incredibly fun and would influence movies for years to come with the idea of a cameo becoming more and more popular. You have to really give a nod to the Three Stooges, though. They hadn't been together in quite some time when this movie came out. It wasn't the first film to really throw in cameos and bit parts, Around the World in 80 Days took a similar approach (though it also billed a good portion of them with few as "surprises") but it was the first really good film to do it.


5: Bill Murray -  Zombieland


The most recent film on the list and easily one of the best ever. Bill Murray's appearance was not only a great cameo that lasted for a good amount of time, it was so great that spoiling it to someone was considered bad form as if they just revealed Darth Vader is Luke's father.

With some great bits of dialogue, Murray certainly having a lot of fun playing himself, references to all the good (and bad) stuff Murray has done and a sudden and surprising outcome to everything during a screening of Ghostbusters makes this insanely memorable and most people's favorite part of the entire movie.


4: Steve Buscemi - The Wedding Singer 


Have you ever been to a bad wedding?  I think Steve Buscemi had whenever he agreed to do a brief, but incredibly memorable cameo, in The Wedding Singer as the drunk, hateful and bitter "Best Man...the Better Man!"  Less than four minutes into the film, Buscemi cuts in, drunk, takes the microphone and makes, lets just call it, a "tasteless toast" for his brother, the groom that involved lost cars, rehabs, beating up landlords, Puerto Rican prostitutes and claiming they'll be divorced in a year.

Uncomfortable, unsettling, and entirely realistic if you've ever been to a wedding before. Buscemi plays a drunk to perfection.

The Wedding Singer also had another classic cameo by rocker Billy Idol, which in the grand scheme wasn't quite as shocking considering the movie is a celebration of 1980s music if anything, but still quite memorable due to some good dialogue and a very sweet song. In the one cameo per movie rule, though, I had to go with a drunk Steve Buscemi.


3: Martin Scorsese - Taxi Driver


I'd like to think that Scorsese desperately tried to find the right person to deliver the dialogue he wrote. It's certainly a mouthful. After some time, he probably said "screw it, I'll do it" and ended up giving us a great cameo. It's one of those scenes that makes you feel uncomfortable, maybe start even seeing the world as Travis Bickle sees it as Scorsese plays such an asshole sitting in the back of Bickle's cab and telling him he wants to kill his wife. What's more surprising is how good he is in the role and how "into" it he is. Scorsese did a few acting parts here and there (Kurosawa's Dreams a personal favorite) but his cameo in his own film was still his best and memorable.


2:  Kevin Spacey - Seven


How can this one not be in the Top Ten, it's certainly the best unbilled performance of all time? Hell, number one, even? I'd have no problem putting it even number one. So why didn't I?

I don't know, just roll with it.

It's not as though people didn't know who Kevin Spacey was at the time Seven came out. He was a well-known, Academy Award winning actor (The Usual Suspects the year before). His name left off the credits and posters was purely intentional and purely for effect - as great unbilled roles so often are. After all, if you say "and Kevin Spacey" during the opening or on the poster, you'd already allowing preconceived notions of the character - this is an example of smart tactics by the filmmakers and (amazingly) the marketing department who could have easily sold it as Spacey's Oscar follow-up film but instead left him off completely. Spacey is just one of the finest actors of his generation, and his turn as a psychopathic "John Doe" is frightening, menacing and one of the best things about the film entirely.

But, you might say, it was really Seven (or Se7en as the kids call it) that put him on the map. Even though this isn't about how famous someone is or isn't necessarily, I'll disagree because he was more than famous at the time. Still, it's about unbilled roles (other than post credits), memorable ones at that, and it's either Kevin Spacey or Ned Beatty in Network, whether you want to debate their fame or not. 


1: Alfred Hitchcock - 37 Films


Yeah, it's predictable here, but really...there's just no comparison. Hitchcock was the master of what's known as a "walk on cameo." 37 total spanning decades of filmmaking - Hitch's self-aware cameos were sometimes as notorious as the movies themselves.

What's most memorable is playing "Where's Alfred" when you watch a Hitchcock movie.The man loved to play this game with the audience, and the audience loved to play it, especially by the 1950s and 60s when his cameos were notoriously fun and interesting. It's sometimes hidden, sometimes obvious and almost always tongue-in-cheek because Hitch himself has a pretty creative sense of humor most of the time ranging from a newspaper ad for the "slim fit" in Lifeboat to dog walking, playing with babies, sitting next to Carey Grant on a bus or struggling to board a train in time to fit his giant bass on it. So not only were they large in number, they were also creative and fun and a pure example of great cameos.


A note of some more popular "cameos" and "unbilled roles."

Ben Stein in Ferris Bueller's Day Off - up for debate, but I don't know if his star was famous enough to be a cameo. It certainly launched his Hollywood acting career, though.

Christian Slater in Star Trek VI - yes, that is him and almost as random as the David Letterman cameo.

Stan Lee in Marvel Movies - as time goes on and as Lee does more and more, he'll get up there thanks to his walk-on cameos that will build and build. It's always fun to see him, though, most recently as "Larry King" in Iron Man 2. If I were to choose one of his, it would be him playing himself in Mallrats. Even though his picture is on the poster, it's strangely not in the billing lines or opening credits.

Totals - Doing the tally, it came down to Will Ferrel and Matt Damon, and it seemed Damon kept cropping up more and more from Eurotrip to Che to Finding Forrester to Jersey Girl to Jay and Silent Bob to Confessions of a Dangerous Mind to Chasing Amy. Bruce Willis seemed to be up there as well.

Not a ton of female actors - I found this very, very strange, but there were very few, prominent female actors cameos (and even fewer real-life female celebrities like the real Erin Brokovich). I alluded to a few here and there, but all in all the number is quite small. I have no idea why that is, but I think it has to do with the "fraternity" mentality men have because many of the cameos on this list are intertwined with past relationships and other cameo appearances.

Mel Brooks is the master of cameos. So many of his movies had so many to choose from, and Brooks's cameo in The Muppet Movie was a hard one to leave off. 

Tom Waits in Dracula - a favorite, but is it an unbilled role? The problem here is there's no opening credit sequence where smaller roles like Tom's would be noted, however he's not on the poster at the same time. Plus, is he big enough for people to know who he is? I love that performance, though. Discuss if you like.

Who would have gotten the 51st spot if it went just one over? That would have been Edward Norton in Kingdom of Heaven. A great performance and an important character if you've seen the Director's Cut especially.

Mike Tyson in the Hangover - A popular recent one, but compared to others it just wasn't in the running. Sorry for all the fans of it, but Mike Tyson knocking out a character isn't as funny as Bob Barker knocking out a character. A great cameo nonetheless (though the trailers did a great job utterly spoiling it - but it's not the only one that spoiled cameos in their movies - Happy Gilmore, the recent Expendables trailer, etc..)


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