The Countdown: Top Ten Movie Cameos

| September 19, 2016

One thing I really hated about the latest Ghostbusters movie was the forced cameos throughout.  Except for Ernie Hudson, who I think was a good payoff at the end.  Bill Murray’s role was underwhelming, Dan Aykroyd’s cab driver appearance made no sense, I barely noticed Annie Potts until she screamed “what do you want” for no reason at all, and I was already out of the theater by the time Sigourney Weaver did whatever she did.  Somehow I doubt it saved the rest of the film.

A good cameo is extremely tricky.  You want it to elevate the narrative, give the audience a euphoric feeling, and never ever be too distracting.  The cameo has to fit in perfectly and stand out, it often has to achieve a nostalgia while being original, and it has to be jarring enough while fitting into the tone of the rest of the movie.  That being said, it was incredibly easy for me to put together this top ten list and pretty easy to rank them.  Some of these cameos only last a few seconds, but they do a lot to elevate the rest of the film and enhance my personal enjoyment of them all.

Honorable Mention:  Brad Pitt and Matt Damon – Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002)
Dir. George Clooney
Even Charlie Kaufman, who wrote the screenplay for this, doesn’t care for the movie and how Clooney shut him out of the process, but I still like it, and even though Pitt and Damon don’t speak during their scene of being match game contestants who are defeated by a sappy, ugly, possibly Russian spy third contestant, it always makes me laugh.

Honorable Mention:  Jamie Foxx – A Million Ways to Die in The West (2014)
Dir. Seth MacFarlane
I’ve raved about this movie on a previous list because while I’m in the minority I think it’s very funny in a stupid way.  There are a couple of fun cameos, but when Jamie Foxx shows up at the very end presumably as Django from Django: Unchained and kills a racist fair game operator, it’s somehow the perfect button on this absurd western comedy.  People die at the fair.

10. Stan Lee – Deadpool (2016)
Dir. Tim Miller
It’s always a treat to see Stan Lee show up in the various marvel properties, whether they’re MCU, Fox, or Sony productions, film or television, and while some of them are difficult to spot, most are prominent appearances from the comic book legend and general badass.  His appearance in Deadpool has to be my favorite, where he plays a DJ at a strip club.  It’s the most out of place given Lee’s reputation and age, which plays perfectly into the film’s meta elements.

09. John Cusack – Adaptation. (2002)
Dir. Spike Jonze
Adaptation is one of my favorite films.  Sometimes I list it as my favorite but recently I often put it in second place.  Also, I tend to not like John Cusack in most things, but this movie takes place during the production of Being John Malkovich and while on set, the screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (Nicolas Cage) sees Cusack, gives him a little wave, and Cusack just goes back to work without any acknowledgment.  I could probably go on for 1000 words just about the significance of this moment and how the real Kaufman views himself in creating this character, but I’ll just say that these few seconds are perfect filmmaking and a fantastic use of a cameo.

08. Emma Watson – This is The End (2013)
Dir. Seth Rogan and Evan Goldberg
This is a movie that is defined by its cameos.  I don’t really care about the principal characters and their annoying nonsense throughout most of the movie, but the cameo performances that come and go throughout as this apocalyptic version of Hollywood devolves into the thunder dome are really fun.  It’s difficult to pick a favorite between Michael Cera, Channing Tatum, and even The Backstreet Boys, but as soon as I thought of Emma Watson, the decision was obvious.  This is one of the first things Watson did outside of the Harry Potter films and when she shows up, freaking out and cursing up a storm while threatening everyone with a sword, it was the perfect contrast to Hermione Granger and showed the world that she has this amazing range.

07. Matt Damon and Ben Affleck – Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (2001)
Dir. Kevin Smith
Not only is this a great pair of cameos, it’s one of my favorite comedy scenes ever put to film.  Affleck and Damon play themselves on the set for Good Will Hunting 2: Hunting Season which is like a lot of sequels in that it is a point by point remake of the first one, and unlike typical sequels in that our two heroes start gunning down people they argue with in bars.  Also love that they got Scott William Winters to reprise his role from Good Will Hunting.

06. Daniel Radcliffe – Trainwreck (2015)
Dir. Judd Apatow
I know the guys at The Countdown are pretty lukewarm on this movie, but I thought it was hilarious.  Certainly the funniest Apatow movie since Forgetting Sarah Marshall and I give full credit to Amy Schumer’s script and performance.  I was delighted to then see Daniel Radcliffe show up in a clip from an artsy, pretentious, black and white romance within the movie called The Dogwalker.  I love when Radcliffe does comedy because he has a real talent for it.  I hope one day we do a list of fictional movies created in real movies that we would like to see.

05. Liam Neeson – Ted 2 (2015)
Dir. Seth MacFarlane
Let’s not beat around the bush: Ted 2 is a garbage film.  The only funny jokes are repeats from Ted, which I do really like, and the rest of the film is a pseudo-philosophical discussion of civil rights that never quite reaches the poignancy it’s shooting for.  That being said, the scene where Liam Neeson shows up to by a box of Trix cereal from Ted’s grocery store is staggeringly funny.  Neeson’s another guy who doesn’t do comedy often but has a gift for it.  I also recommend his cameo on the Ricky Gervais series Life’s Too Short.  I’m laughing just thinking about it.

04. Tim Robbins – Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (1999)
Dir. Jay Roach
I find the Austin Powers series more than a little annoying.  Certainly better than Mike Myers’ later work, but the first film was considered for the AFI top 100 films list and that blows my mind a little.  There are definitely funny things in them, but nothing as perfect as Tim Robbins playing the president in this film and joyfully laughing at Dr. Evil’s demands for a hundred billion dollars because “this is 1969 and that amount of money doesn’t exist.”  Him going on to be terrified by footage from Independence Day is pretty great too.

03. Chuck Norris – Dodgeball (2004)
Dir. Rawson Marshall Thurber
I was already having a good time with Dodgeball when I first saw it in the theater, but somehow when Chuck Norris shows up to determine that Average Joes should be allowed to play in the final match is next level funny to me.  More than Norris’s performance, it could honestly be Vince Vaughn’s delivery of his line “Thank you, Chuck Norris.”

02. Will Smith – Jersey Girl (2004)
Dir. Kevin Smith
No one is more surprised than me by how much I love this film.  I avoided it for years because it was universally despised by critics, but when a friend talked me into checking it out, I thoroughly enjoyed it.  It’s sweet, it’s funny, the characters a great, the performances are great.  It’s not what you would expect from Kevin Smith, and I always appreciate directors who actively slip outside of their comfort zone.  And the whole time I was just hoping Will Smith would show up, so when it happens, I was blown away, and the scene he has with Ben Affleck is one of the best things Smith has ever written/directed.  Perfect.

01. Martin Scorsese – Taxi Driver (1976)
Dir. Martin Scorsese
Directors often make little cameos in their own work to give the audience a little chuckle, but this scene with Scorsese maybe deserves an Oscar more than anything the man has ever done.  No, that’s crazy talk; the man’s a genius and should have a shelf of academy awards, but he could have gotten an acting Oscar for this.  He dominates a scene with one of the greatest actors who has ever lived talking about mutilating his cheating wife with a hand gun.  It’s deeply disturbing and I’m sure countless people tried to talk him into casting a more reputable actor in such a pivotal role, but God bless Scorsese for stepping in and crushing it.  Phenomenal.

Come back next week for another list of the best and worst of film and TV.  In the meantime, be sure to check out The Countdown: Movie and TV Reviews where every podcasts are caught.

About the Author:

Joe Sanders Joe Sanders is a podcaster, playwright, and college instructor in Kalamazoo, MI. He has a master's degree in playwriting and a bachelor's degree in creative writing from Western Michigan University, where he currently teaches thought and writing, and is the host of the Quote Unquote Guilty podcast, part of the Word Salad Network.
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