Feb 23 2010

The 8 Best Unexpected and Hilarious Cameos in Comedies

Published by at 12:00 pm under Lists,Movies

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I just recently saw Zombieland, and there was a certain cameo in the movie that was, in a sense, more memorable than the movie itself.  It’s not often that a cameo by a big star in a movie is kept under wraps, as information and spoilers are more accessible than ever, and if a movie does has a cameo by a big star, that movie’s trailer will often feature that star so as to suck in more viewers.

There aren’t too many instances of really memorable – and funny – cameos by big stars that go unnoticed.  Everyone knew about Mike Tyson appearing in The Hangover since he was featured prominently in the trailers, and the cameos that do manage to somehow stay below the radar are appearances by actors or celebrities who aren’t all that “big.”  So even though the Chuck Norris/William Shatner/Lance Armstrong cameos in Dodgeball, for example, were unexpected, they also weren’t that big of a deal.

I went ahead and compiled a list of what I think are the eight best unexpected and hilarious cameos in comedy movies.  My criteria was pretty simple: the cameo has to be totally unexpected (this, obviously, can be rather subjective), and the person appearing in the cameo has to be a pretty big star, regardless of his or her field.  It should go without saying that there will be some major spoilers below, but for the seven of you that actually read the introductory paragraphs to these lists, you’ve been warned.

Bill Murray in Zombieland

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The cameo that inspired this list.  Bill Murray – arguably the greatest comedic actor of all time – was nowhere to be found in any of Zombieland‘s previews and showed up in the movie totally unexpected.  Sure, the “BM” on the gates to his ornate home may have been a hint, but did anyone really expect Tallahassee and Columbus to stumble upon the man himself?  And even as himself, Bill Murray was hilarious, donning zombie makeup so as to fit in with the rest of the undead, and even taking a little time to play some Ghostbusters with his biggest fan, Tallahassee.  Even his death was funny, as pointed out by Wichita.  Zombieland was a pretty entertaining flick, but Bill Murray without a doubt stole the entire movie.

Tom Cruise in Tropic Thunder

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It took me a few moments to realize that the fat producer with the potty mouth who was supposed to be a caricature of Harvey Weinstein was actually Tom Cruise.  You don’t normally associate Tom Cruise with comedy, but maybe that’s why this cameo was so memorable.  If screaming at any and everyone who crossed his path and demanding Diet Cokes wasn’t enough, dancing to Ludacris put his performance totally over the top.  Good for Tom Cruise for allowing himself to let loose and play a truly silly role for the sake of some laughs.

Tom Cruise in Austin Powers in Goldmember

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Yes, another Tom Cruise cameo.  How the opening scene that featured Tom Cruise, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kevin Spacey,Danny DeVito, and Steven Spielberg was kept quiet I have no idea.  When Goldmember came out, Cruise was arguably the biggest A-lister around (this was before his meltdown on Oprah), and it was surprising to see him dressed as Austin Powers and playing a the role of the super spy in a meta version of the film.  Definitely clever, definitely memorable, and pretty damn funny, too.  DeVito as Mini-Me was a great touch, obviously.

Will Ferrell in Wedding Crashers

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Maybe I should have expected a Will Ferrell cameo in a movie starring Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson, but I never saw his role as the legendary “funeral crasher” coming.  Many people have grown tired of Will Ferrell and his man-child act, but perhaps the fact that his role in Wedding Crashers was limited to just a few brief minutes makes it all the more memorable.  Will Ferrell has done several cameos over the years, but none come close to his giving advice on how to score chicks at funerals and cursing at his mother at the top of his lungs for meatloaf.

David Bowie in Zoolander

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There are quite a few great cameos in Zoolander, by both models and actors alike, but none have a greater impact than David Bowie showing up just in time to judge Derek and Hansel’s walk-off.  Bowie isn’t particularly huge these days, but he’ll be cooler than all of us even when he’s in his 90s.  I think people forget just how awesome David Bowie was; he allegedly slept with Mick Jagger and still managed to marry a supermodel.  Suffice to say, he was the perfect guy to judge a walk-off, and his inclusion in Zoolander is one of the best cameos in a comedy.  And if you don’t believe me, just listen to your friend Billy Zane.  He’s a cool dude.

Kurt Vonnegut in Back to School

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I was a bit hesitant to include Vonnegut on this list for his cameo in Back to School, but really, who hasn’t read Vonnegut, either for school or for pleasure?  In terms of literary stars, there are few bigger than Kurt Vonnegut.  So when his cameo served as a sort of punchline to Thornton Melon’s having to write a paper on Kurt Vonnegut, it was both hilarious and totally out of the blue.  “Whoever did write this doesn’t know the first thing about Kurt Vonnegut!”

Matt Damon in Eurotrip

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Sort of like Tom Cruise’s cameo in Tropic Thunder, it took me a couple of seconds before I said to myself, “Wait a minute…is that Matt Damon?!?!”  Shaved head, pierced, and tatted up, Damon looks the part of the punk rocker that plays at the graduation party, which is a far cry from his usual clean-cut image.  I imagine this role was a lot of fun for Damon, and it’s really one of the few things I actually remember about Eurotrip.

Gene Hackman in Young Frankenstein

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Young Frankenstein was made four years before I was born, so I have no idea whether or not Gene Hackman’s cameo was unexpected at the time of the film’s release.  It certainly surprised me when I saw it, though, especially since Gene Hackman is generally considered a dramatic actor, and even his comedic roles like in The Royal Tenenbaums aren’t straight comedy.  What’s even more interesting is that up to this point in his career, Hackman was solely a dramatic actor and had even won an Academy Award for his role in The French Connection three years earlier.  Nevertheless, Hackman’s cameo as the Blind Man come in perhaps the funniest scene (although I still prefer Puttin’ on the Ritz) in a very, very funny movie.  I guess now is as good a time as any to point out that I think Gene Hackman is one of the most under-appreciated actors, ever.

Are there any I forgot that should be on this list?  I didn’t include Neil Patrick Harris in Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle because he’s not really that huge a star (he’s really known to just our generation), but I’m guessing some will point out his omission.





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65 responses so far

  • Name required, indeed!

    Will Ferrell’s cameo in The Goods was the only comedic scene in that entire movie.

    What about Little Richard in Down and Out in Beverly Hills?

  • Josh

    I still laugh hysterically at Tom Cruise in Tropic Thunder. I didn’t realize it was him until about half way through the film. I was sitting there in the theater going, “I know he is in this, where the hell is he?” and after like three scenes of him being it, my jaw dropped.

    And the Bill Murray cameo caught my entirely off guard. So awesome.

  • Lyre

    Stan Lee’s cameo in Mallrats!

  • Jeff

    Some others that come to mind are:

    George Lucas in Beverly Hills Cop III
    David Letterman in Cabin Boy

    There are lots of athlete cameos, some of which are very funny, but not as big a deal when big actors pop up in cameo roles.

  • Madison

    @ Jeff

    The only athlete cameo I found really surprising (and incredibly funny) was Brett Favre in Something About Mary. It worked so well simply because Mary kept referncing her old ex, Brett, and no one would have guess she was referring to Favre. Come to think of it, it should probably have been included!

  • Bert

    Actually, I would argue that the primary reason that NPH has become so much more popular in recent years is exactly BECAUSE of his cameo in Harold & Kumar. Which, incidentally, is near the top of my list of “Movies I expected to be really shitty but turned out to be pretty hilarious”.

    And as for Zombieland, it seems one simply can’t go wrong with a comedy starring Woody and Bill Murray. My count gives them a score of two-for-two so far. My suggestion? Give Woody a cameo in Ghostbusters III. That would pretty much guarantee non-suckitude.

  • Madison

    @ Bert

    Totally agree on your NPH theory.

  • Sam

    Ryan Seacrest in Knocked Up surprised me. Mostly because he was this foul-mouthed little asshole and everyone knows who he is because of a family oriented show. Same thing with Bob Saget in Half Baked, I couldn’t believe Mr. Full House himself would say something like “have you ever sucked a guy’s dick for weed?”

  • Josh

    Here’s one that I just thought of… every single cameo in Fanboys. That entire film was just one big cameo. Out of all the cameos, though, Silent Bob being Jay’s pimp was probably the best one. Up there, too, were Seth Rogen’s contrasting Trekkie and Star Wars fanboy characters who hate the other side with a passion and Shatner’s appearance.

    Not to mention Ray Park and Danny McBride showing up in Skywalker Resort.

  • Tishy

    I’m surprised no one mentioned Bob Barker in Happy Gilmore. When that movie came out everyone was running around saying “The price is wrong, bitch.”

  • Cheryl

    Awesome list! As soon as I read it the first image to pop into my head was Chuck Norris in Dodgeball….”Thank you Chuck Norris”

  • NY not NYC

    I always though a ‘cameo’ was a bit part, but played by an overly famous person. Like, Bob Barker or Chuck Norris in Happy Gilmore or Dodgeball.

    They don’t have to be ‘golfer #2′ or ‘judge #3′, they want to be.

    Tom Cruise was part of Tropic Thunder, yeah? I mean, I wouldn’t call the producer a bit part, he had more lines than the director did.

    Kick out Tropic Thunder – bring in Neil Patrick Harris (in the first, not the second), and you got a nice list.

  • Nick

    I know I’m dating myself, but Steven Spielberg had a cameo in The Blues Brothers which was a complete surprise.

  • MacGyver1138

    I just watched Zombieland last night, and that Bill Murray cameo was awesome. You gotta love a guy who can make you laugh with his last breath.

  • Jess Woods

    Dude, WIll Ferral is Amazing! Always has been

    Jess
    http://www.complete-anonymity.cz.tc

  • Ben

    What about James Taylor in Funny People? “Fuck Facebook”!

  • DArren

    How about Bily Crystal in Princess Bride….hilarious..lol

  • Dave

    One absolutely hilarious one that comes to mind is Brad Pitt in Tarantino’s “True Romance”. Seeing him play the part of the couch ridden stoner was hilarious despite only having a few lines in the move.

  • Madison

    @ Darren

    Yes. Best suggestion I’ve heard yet.

  • snichael

    How about:
    –Shirley MacLaine in Albert Brooks’ “Defending Your Life” (in a video introducing the recently-deceased to someplace called the Past Lives Pavillion, where all the reincarnations of everyone in the Universe are stored and can be ‘played back’)
    –Marshall McLuhan in “Annie Hall”, whom Woody Allen conveniently pulls from behind a sign in a theatre lobby to refute some blowhard in line behind him who has been totally misrepresenting McLuhan’s theories
    –Jack Benny in the 1960s film version of the musical “Gypsy”, striding offstage into the wings just as Rosalind Russell/”Mamma” is doing a voice-over about ‘awful vaudeville comedians…’

  • John

    Morgan Fairchild and James Brolin in “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure”

  • mitchfitt

    how about the many cameos in the surprisingly ok “the new guy” – vanilla ice, gene simmons etc…

    also, “little nicky” was full of cameos. tarentino, ozzy, henry winkler, dana carvey etc etc…

  • MDS

    How about Christopher Walken in Pulp Fiction? The watch speech was one of his best.

  • drew

    how bout glenn close in hook…. the boo box!!

  • Lauren

    Billy Crystal had a substantial part in Princess Bride, not a cameo. Same as Chris Walken in Pulp Fiction. Sure, because of the structure of both these films, their parts didn’t span the entire two hours of the movie, but they were full parts none-the-less.
    And Brad Pitt? He was not a big name actor when he was in True Romance. Therefore, not a cameo.

  • James

    Bruce Springsteen in High Fidelity, totally bizzare cameo and a totally brilliant film

  • yo

    Marshall McLuhan in Annie Hall. Woody Allen pulls him from out of nowhere to chastise an obnoxious know it all standing behind him in line.

  • LuWhat

    Where is Lance Armstrong in dodgeball?

  • jason

    The Mythbusters in The Darwin Awards.

  • riley

    Hackman’s cameo in Young Frankenstein was totally unexpected. Keep in mind, this was in the days long before the internet where even most movie critics would not reveal these types of scoops even in their initial reviews.

    The 1960s classic comedy “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” featured a string of classic cameos including Jack Benny’s typical one take…and with disaster awaiting at the airport, a cross screen shot of a trio you’d want standing by, able and ready to handle the fire equipment…The Three Stooges (Moe, Larry and Curly Joe)

  • Roy Skopp

    Yeah, the best of the lot is missing.
    Lance Armstrong in Dodgeball

  • Corn

    I’m sure whining will ensue because he wasn’t famous then, but Jeff Goldblum’s “cameo” in Annie Hall will always be one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen.

    Also True Romance is just jaw-droppingly full of amazing cameos (or very small roles if you’re being picky). Christopher Walken as the mobster, Dennis Hopper gives one of the best speeches ever, Gary Oldman playing a white, jive-talking pimp, and SAMUEL JACKSON talking about eating various orifices before being shot by Gary Oldman about fifteen seconds later. Incredible.

  • Itaintrite

    Come on. No Clerks 2 cameo? Ben Affleck? Matt Damon? That guy from that whatsitsname show? I thought that was pretty funny.

    There’s actually a list of all the movies with Mart Damon making a cameo appearance :)

  • http://www.fred.com Fred

    Charlton Heston in Wayne’s World 2.

    A true cameo and truly surprising.

  • Adam

    Billy Idol as himself in The Wedding Singer.

    Steve Buscemi as the guy with the list of people he is going to kill in Billy Madison.

  • JWed

    I agree with most of the list. My favorite cameo of all time has been Matt Damon in Eurotrip. Mostly just because its so out of his normal spectrum of acting. I wasn’t totally taken away by Cruise in his cameos mostly because I’ve seen him do funny stuff before (i.e. MTV Movie Awards with Ben Stiller). Although I do want to know…why the hate on Eurotrip? That movie is pretty funny, even better than Road Trip…so why the hate? I suggest you go back and watch it again so you can remember how funny it actually is.

  • Madison

    @ JWed

    I didn’t hate it, I just don’t remember finding it that funny. I’ll give it a fair shake next time it’s on. I really don’t have anything against that movie, but like I said, the Damon scene shocked me.

    Thanks for reading.

  • Madison

    @ Fred

    Good call…VERY surprising.

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  • C

    Can we establish the definition of a cameo first? 1. Less than 2 minutes of on screen time. 2. Meant to be funny, ironic, or at least a twist that the actor wouldn’t normally be a part of. 3. Something that doesn’t play a major part of the plotting of the movie, a throwaway part. In other words, much of the stuff you listed above aren’t cameos, they’re just short parts in movies.

  • Madison

    @ C

    Not according to your own personal definition, no.

    How about enjoying the list for the funny scenes that were mentioned instead of getting your panties in a bunch over the technical definition of a “cameo.”

    Amazing how some people hate to enjoy anything.

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  • Levi

    no meatloaf?

  • Anonx

    Nice article! Id like to throw out: The Rock’s cameo in Reno 911 Miami. Funny and surprising as hell!

  • Gman

    Marcel Marceau… The famous mime, with the only spoken word in “Silent Movie” by Mel Brooks. Genious.

  • Chili Pope

    Dude, Brad Pitt in Being John Malkovich. He’s on screen for less than a second, and the look on his face is priceless.

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  • Candee

    Bill Murray is probably the best one yet. I went to go see it in the theater and when they were at the gates my brother jokingly shouted out, “Bill Murray!”, and then bam. There he was. It was hilarious.

    I always love that Quentin Tarantino does some part in his movies…though I guess that’s not unexpected of him.

  • floppytall

    The goat in Freddy vs Jason.

  • Canada Eh

    I can’t remember the movie but the main character is at the bus stop and the bus pulls up.The door opens and Ray Charles was the bus driver.

  • MacGyver1138

    @ Canada Eh: I don’t remember which movie that was but he was also in Blues Brothers. That movie was full of cameos from just about every famous R&B singer/performer at the time.

  • http://www.youtube.com/FuzzySoulTiger FuzzySoulTiger

    Bill Murray in Zombieland was a tremendous hit! Showed what an MVP he is. But lets not forget, the Blues Brothers was the king of cameo appearances! That movie is still enjoyable today as it was seeing it at the show back then!

  • bspalding

    I thought a cameo was typically just one or two scenes, with the “cameo” actor having few or no lines. One example that comes to my mind is Werner Herzog as one of the faces in the water in What Dreams May Come. It was unexpected, an odd choice, and a neat thing to see. Probably not big enough for this list though.

  • Ollie

    Marshall McLuhan in Annie Hall was pretty WTF.

  • SheQuon

    Ya know, women do cameos too. Bette Midler was hilarious in Get Shorty. Gloria Allred randomly showed up in Rat Race. And Shirley MacLaine was willing to poke a little fun at her beliefs in Defending Your Life.

  • Loves To Spooge

    How can you leave out the many cameos in the Blues Brothers?!

  • Kayla

    Dustin Hoffman in The Holiday with Jack Black, Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet. (video shop scene)

  • TouchDownHero

    Will Ferrel in East, Down And Bound. Never before have I seen Ferrel in a TV series, so that surprised me – almost as much as his long flowing white locks in it!

  • Britt

    Edward Norton in The Invention of Lying as the creepy cop accepting $5400 bribes. Awesome.

  • Boopa

    Steve Buscemi in the wedding singer…SO FUNNY

  • warhol

    Edward norton in Modern family. That i did not expect, the cameo itself,ore the type of character he played.

  • danfan

    ed norton in modern family was fuckin genius, he plays the bassist from spandau ballet loool.

    eddie izzard in velvet goldmine. also placebo in that film aswell.

    michael winterbottom’s Twenty Four Hour Party People is cameoageddon, easily just as many famous people in that film as blues brothers. Mark E smith of the fall, Howard devoto of the buzzcocks, Tony martin himself, both sean and paul ryder of the happy mondays, the drummer from the stone roses, rowetta, the actual vini rielly, mike pickering, dave gorman, and like so many more i can’t remember.

  • http://www.homebrewforwii.com homebrew for wii

    Ya know, women do cameos too. Bette Midler was hilarious in Get Shorty. Gloria Allred randomly showed up in Rat Race. And Shirley MacLaine was willing to poke a little fun at her beliefs in Defending Your Life.

  • Caz

    Oh yes, good old Gene Hackman. Good to see another Young Frankenstein fan :)

  • ct

    I really liked Ben Stiller’s cameo as a fireman in Orange County. It’s not a really well-known movie, but it’s funny and he did a good job in that.

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