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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.