Top 10 Surprise Cameos In Film

Cameos can be so much fun! A good “surprise” cameo should be memorable but not distracting. Dan Grant takes a look at his top 10 surprise cameos in film including Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bob Hope and Bill Murray.

A surprise cameo can sometimes be a nudge and a wink to the audience. There’s just something gratifying about seeing another actor or director in a film but for a brief moment. Cameos are usually not advertised and many times they even go unmentioned and they are rarely in the closing credits. I wanted to include Tom Cruise’s cameo in Young Guns, but it is so quick and he is in such heavy costuming that you really don’t recognize him. But if you were unaware of Tom Cruise’s cameo in Young Guns, just look for it on You-Tube. The reason for his quick 3-second cameo is that he was visiting Emilio Estevez on set and they were just getting ready for one of the big shootouts. Cruise asked if he could be in the shootout as an extra. Estevez loved the idea so they got Cruise into cowboy gear and he gets shot and killed in a fabulous blaze of glory.

10. Channing Tatum

This Is The End

Top 10 Surprise Cameos In FilmAs far as shocking cameos goes, this has to be the most shocking. Danny McBride has been banished from his group of friends basically for trying to sabotage them every chance he got. When they finally meet up with him again, he is now the leader of a group of Mad Max rejects who also have chosen cannibalism as their way of survival. McBride also has a man on a chain dressed to look like the Gimp from Pulp Fiction. McBride tells his buddies that he basically uses this gimp as his sex slave. When he takes off his hood to reveal that he is Channing Tatum, you don’t know how to feel. First you laugh, then you gasp, then you laugh some more.

9. Ryan Reynolds

A Million Ways To Die In The West

Top 10 Surprise Cameos In FilmAfter appearing in Ted, Seth McFarlane thought it would be funny if Ryan Reynolds could appear again briefly in A Million Ways to Die in the West. I’m a pretty big Reynolds fan so seeing him just show up, get shot and then die was pretty funny to me. Liam Neeson walks into a bar and wants to know who’s having an affair with his wife. He points a gun at the throng of people in the bar and then points it at Reynolds and asks him if it was him who was having the affair. Reynolds just shrugs his shoulders before getting shot by Neeson.

8. Neil Patrick Harris

Harold And Kumar Go To White Castle

Top 10 Surprise Cameos In FilmNPH, as he is now known to his legion of fans, was simply the baby faced doctor on the American TV show Doogie Howser M.D. back in his early career. On the show he plays a precocious teenager who also happens to be a licensed physician. After the show, he had difficulty getting work in Hollywood because no one could see him as anything but the young baby faced doctor from the show. All that changed when Kal Penn and John Cho meet up with Harris, playing himself, but as a sleezy and lethal womanizer. His cameo in White Castle is funny, but his cameos in the follow up Guantanamo Bay and the 3D Christmas are stuff of legend. He of course plays against type and that’s what makes the cameo so shocking and downright hilarious. It also propelled his career into a different stratosphere.

7. Arnold Schwarzenegger

The Rundown

Top 10 Surprise Cameos In FilmThis is one of those blink and you’ll miss it cameos. In 2003, The Rock Dwayne Johnson was still very new to Hollywood. This was his first real starring role. He had done The Scorpion King before that but this was his chance to headline a film all by himself. The Rock plays a bounty hunter and in the scene with Arnold, he is heading into a club to retrieve one of the bad guys. Arnold walks by him and just says, “Have fun.” The rumour is that Arnold is ceremoniously passing the action hero torch to The Rock in this five-second scene. He just looks at him quickly and gives him the line. Of course in context, he is telling him to have fun trying to retrieve the bounty on this man or trying to bring the man in. But what he really meant, according to rumour is that he should have fun being the next action hero. Thirteen years later, it looks like The Rock has definitely taken heed of Arnold’s request.

6. Ben Stiller

Anchorman

Top 10 Surprise Cameos In FilmIt’s tough to choose one cameo from this film or even from the sequel, because there are so many worth mentioning. Ben Stiller’s quick and brief appearance in the news anchor rumble scene is the scene stealer of the film. Here, he plays a Spanish news anchor with a porn mustache and feathered hair. He brings a whip to the fight and spouts off nonsense. The whole scene is nonsensical but it’s also one of the most iconic scenes in comedy. Stiller was the creme de la creme as he followed up cameos by Luke Wilson, Vince Vaughn and Tim Robbins.

5. Sean Connery

Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves

Top 10 Surprise Cameos In FilmIn another shocking scene but one that ends the film on an incredible high note, Sean Connery plays King Richard, who had been away and almost lost his kingdom to the sheriff of Nottingham. Robin Hood saves the day and he is about the marry the kings cousin. King Richard then shows up and says he will not allow this wedding……UNLESS…he is allowed to give the bride away. It’s a terrific moment reuniting Kevin Costner and Connery who four years earlier had starred in The Untouchables together. Seeing Connery in full King Richard dress made a terrific film even that much better.

4. Danny Glover

Maverick

Top 10 Surprise Cameos In FilmDirected by Richard Donner and starring Mel Gibson, Maverick is a 1994 film about the old west and a poker game. In the scene where Danny Glover has his cameo, he robs a bank that Gibson is in. During the robbery, all played for laughs, Gibson pulls the hanky down from Glover’s face and when they look at each other, the Lethal Weapon theme plays. They both shake their heads and say “Nah”. When Glover makes his getaway, he even says the signature line, “I’m getting too old for this shit.”

3. Bob Hope

Spies Like Us

Top 10 Surprise Cameos In FilmDan Aykroyd and Chevy Chase play two government agents who think they are spies but they are really decoys so that the real agents can do their job. In this scene, they are in the middle of the desert at some kind of refugee camp. They are mistaken for a pair of world renowned doctors. As they begin to meet their fellow medical professionals at the camp, they each go around acknowledging each other as doctors. When the others leave the tent, Chase and Aykroyd are in a state of panic wondering how they are going to pull this charade off, as they are supposed to be performing surgery later in the day. Suddenly, a golf ball whizzes past them and knocks over a vase. Bob Hope then comes through the door and asks them if they mind if he plays through. Just before he leaves he says, “Doctor. Doctor. Glad I’m not sick.” It’s a truly bizaare yet hilarious cameo.

2. Bill Murray

Zombieland

Bill Murray, Zombieland,During the zombie apocalypse, Tallahassee as played by Woody Harrelson, tells his group of friends that he knows a place in Hollywood where they can hold up. They go to Bill Murray’s mansion as Tallahassee tells them that he is the greatest actor of all time. As Harrelson and Emma Stone explore the house, they meet up with a very much alive but zombie-looking Murray. He tells that that he dresses this way so that the undead leave him alone. They then proceed to do a mock scene from Ghostbusters, ripe with Murray donning the power pack and with Ghostbusters music. Murray later gets shot by Jesse Eisenberg who thinks he’s really a zombie. I’m not sure how the filmmakers got Murray to do this part because most things I’ve read about Murray paint him as a cantankerous old fellow but somehow they got him to do a scene from Ghostbusters, dress up like a zombie and smoke a bunch of weed. This makes for one of the greatest cameos in film history, in my opinion. But not quite as good as number one.

1. Matt Damon

Eurotrip

Top 10 Surprise Cameos In FilmThis makes my number one spot on the list simply because there is so little known about it and it is simply one of the biggest WTF moments in the film and WTF cameos I’ve ever seen. I have no idea how or why Damon would appear in this film. In 2004, the year Eurotrip came out, he was in The Bourne Supremacy and Ocean’s Twelve. So what the hell was Damon doing in a high school film singing about a tramp that he slept with behind one of the main character’s back. I’ll let you research that on your own. But it has something to do with a Harvard University connection. The cameo has a bald, tattoo-covered Damon on stage belting out a tune about said “sex kitten”. It’s such a shocking and absurd cameo and it’s in a film that was a box office bomb. But there’s Matt Damon jamming on stage describing in detail all of the behind-closed-door things he does to Scotty’s girlfriend, and of course, Scotty doesn’t know anything about it.

Written & Compiled by Dan Grant

What have we missed? Name your fave surprise cameos in film…

Read more from Dan Grant:
Top 10 Films About The Oppressed Taking Their Revenge
Top 10 Embarrassingly Cringeworthy Moments In Film
Top 10 Supporting Actors Who Always Bring Something Special To A Movie

About the Author
Dan Grant is an author and horror film fan from Canada. His first novel Terrified and Defenseless is now available for e-download from Amazon. Follow Dan on Twitter @baumer72.

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  1. Callum Reply

    I’d totally agree with your choice to include Bill Murray. I loved that sequence in Zombieland. It came out of the blue. I wasn’t expecting it. Same can be said of the Matt Damon cameo. He seems to make a habit of it. Didn’t he show up in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back with Ben Affleck. I love that he’s so willing to point fun at himself. Great choices Dan.

  2. Dan Stephens Reply

    So many good cameos in Anchorman. I agree – Ben Stiller was the best.

  3. Dan Grant Reply

    Thanks Callum. Yes, Damon did the cameo in Jay and Silent Bob, but then again that was for friend Kevin Smith, who produced Good Will Hunting. An even funnier cameo is director Gus Van Sant in JASSBSB, where he is the director of the terrible looking sequel to Good Will Hunting, where he is too busy counting his money to even care about directing the film.

  4. Kyle Reply

    It just goes to show how much fun a good cameo can be. Love Murray’s in Zombieland.

  5. Mark Fraser Reply

    Great topic for a list. Admittedly I haven’t seen many of these.

    Gene Hackman made a couple of interesting cameos – one in Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein and the other in Warren Beatty’s Reds (their relationship harked back to Bonnie and Clyde).

    Others that come to mind:

    Bruce Willis in Loaded Weapon I and Oceans 12.

    David and Keith Carradine in Mean Streets.

    Martin Scorsese in The King of Comedy (a bit of a Hitchcock moment, but as the TV producer/director/whatever he does point out that Rupert Pupkin’s material is quite funny).

    George Clooney in The Thin Red Line.

    The Three Stooges in It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad Mad Mad Mad World (probably my favourite – Jerry Lewis also had a strange slapstick moment in this one).

    Walter Matthiau (forgive spelling) in both Earthquake and JFK.

    Harrison Ford in the sequel to American Graffiti (where he played a motorcycle cop).

    Vincent D’Onforio (as Orson Welles) in Ed Wood.

    Mark Harmon in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (Ellen Barkin was also good as the waitress).

    David Bowie in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.

    • Rory Reply

      Love some of these Mark – Bowie in Fire Walk With Me was a typical bit of subversive genius on the part of both Lynch and Bowie. Bowie’s part in the underrated Into The Night is almost a cameo too but he has a couple of scenes so it’s not really characterised as such. But Vincent D’Onofrio in Ed Wood is a brilliant addition (speaking of underrated, D’Onofrio doesn’t always get the attention he so deserves) and you’re right about Scorsese in The King of Comedy.

  6. Rory Reply

    As always, a great idea for a top 10 Dan G and you’ve pretty much nailed it when it comes to funny cameos. Bill Murray and Matt Damon’s little entries into Zombieland and Eurotrip are so much fun. You’re right about Damon’s being a bit strange. I must admit, I haven’t seen Eurotrip but I have watched the cameo on YouTube (like most people who weren’t particularly interested in that movie).

    The Sean Connery choice is an interesting one. I didn’t think much of it at the end of Robin Hood but then again you’ve got the brilliance of Alan Rickman over-shadowing all others in Prince of Thieves.

    My other favourite on this list is Danny Glover in Maverick – great film, great little scene, especially for Lethal Weapon fans.

  7. CineGirl Reply

    Some great cameos (at least the ones I’ve seen). Zombieland’s good fun and the Bill Murray scenes so wonderfully complement the film’s sense of humour. Some of the others are a bit more “oddball” such as Channing Tatum and Ryan Reynolds. All good fun though. Good choices Dan.

  8. Dan Reply

    Some fantastic choices on here Dan – you have to love Bill Murray’s efforts in Zombieland. So brilliantly self-aware and because of it so funny. Danny Glover – perhaps because it’s so fleeting – is another one of my favourites from your top 10.

    I’m surprised you missed the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Martin Sheen cameo in Hot Shots Part Deux. Perhaps it’s worthwhile mentioning simply because of its reference to one of the great Vietnam War movies (of course I’m talking about Apocalypse Now).

    Another funny one – Tom Cruise as “super cool” Austin Powers in Goldmember.

    How about Christopher Walken in Pulp Fiction.

    There’s also the oft-forgotten “oh no, not again” moment with John Hurt re-enacting Alien in Spaceballs.

    When speaking of Matt Damon I’d have to go with the scene in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back when he and Affleck turn up for Good Will Hunting 2: Hunting Season! No doubt both of these acclaimed actors are game for a laugh (and happy to poke fun at themselves).

  9. Callum Reply

    Some others I’ve thought about:

    Charlton Heston in Wayne’s World 2

    Chuck Norris in Dodgeball

    Will Ferrell in Wedding Crashers

  10. Dan Grant Reply

    Mark Fraser: You touched upon many of the other cameos I looked into. JFK was loaded with terrific cameos. John Candy was another stand out for me in that film as well as Home alone and a slew of others.

    Callum: Norris and Ferrell were terrific in those films you mention.

    Dan Stephens: I definitely thought of Sheen and Cruise as well. I thought his cameo in Tropic Thunder was quite awesome too.

    Thanks Rory. What about you? Any cameos stand out in your mind?

    Same with you CineGirl?

    • Rory Reply

      The man, the legend – Christopher Walken in True Romance.

  11. Dan Grant Reply

    Christopher Walken could probably make a list in every category he qualifies for.

  12. Dan Reply

    Having watched the excellent (and underrated/under-seen) Ninth Configuration from writer-director Bill Blatty last night for the first time in many years I’d add Blatty to my possible additions to this top 10. It’s a reoccurring mini role he has in the film but the main scene he has is much like any other “surprise” cameo – very funny but totally authentic within the absurdity of the film’s dark, comic tone.

  13. Courtney Reply

    Channing Tatum in This is the End…total surprise. Loved it!

  14. Jez Reply

    Fun list. Loved Murray in Zombieland.

  15. MARK FRASER Reply

    ALSO PLUS

    10 Cameos by a Film Director (in no particular order)

    10. Martin Scorsese in either Taxi Driver (where he appears twice), Gangs of New York (as a member of the NY aristocracy) or Quiz Show (as a corporate executive).

    9. John Huston in The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (as Grizzly Adams).

    8. Steven Spielberg in The Blues Brothers (the perplexed desk clerk at the end of the big car chase).

    7. Samuel Fuller in The American Friend (a gangster who gets pushed down some stairs).

    6. Michael Bay in Armageddon (a NASA scientist … see Dan, I’ve managed to squeeze it on to another list).

    5. Jean-Luc Godard in Breathless (as the guy who alerts the police regarding Michel’s whereabouts).

    4. Fritz Lang in Contempt (as himself; Godard also turns up again as his assistant director).

    3. David Cronenberg in To Die For (as the assassin; he’s also a priest in Resurrection).

    2. Oliver Stone in The Doors (Jim’s UCLA film tutor; he also turns up as a TV reporter in Born on the Fourth of July, a stockbroker in Wall Street and himself in Dave).

    1. Werner Herzog in Jack Reacher (as a killer – more of a leading role, really … it’s about time someone cast him as a Germanic–sounding villain).

    • Dan Reply

      A game I like to play is “spot Hitchcock” in his films. Often they’re blink-and-you-miss-them moments.

      Speaking of Scorsese, I thought his mother was terrific in her cameo appearances in his films. My favourite being Tommy’s mother in Goodfellas.

  16. Dan Grant Reply

    Martin Scorsese once said David Cronenberg looked like a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon and after that Cronenberg cast himself in two of his own movies as a doctor.

    It’s fun seeing directors in movies. It’s even rumored that in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Lucas and Spielberg were the men behind the newspapers, in the airport scene near the beginning.

  17. Paul Reply

    Love some of these choices especially Bill Murray. It was a surprise he showed up but it was even more surprising to see the Ghostbusters homage.

  18. Dan Grant Reply

    As with many top tens, we are really just scratching the surface with awesome cameos. You could probably do a top 100. There are so many others have mentioned this thread and even more that haven’t been mentioned. I personally enjoy a good cameo, especially when it’s not known that person is going to be in the movie.

    Just quickly off the top of my head here are a few others that I think are worth mentioning.

    Robin Williams in Dead Again
    Jerry O’Connell in Can’t Hardly Wait
    Molly Ringwald in Teenage Movie
    Martin Sheen in Hot Shots part Deux
    And one of my favorites….JT Walsh in Outbreak

  19. Dan Reply

    Channing Tatum is making a habit of cameos. Watched The Hateful Eight for the first time last night (great, great film – one of QT’s best) and while his appearance wasn’t a “surprise” given his name was in the opening cast list, it’s still a colourfully short and breezy addition to the film and comes when you’re not expecting it.

  20. Dan Grant Reply

    Good point, Dan. I definitely wasn’t expecting him in that role and it kind of shocked me when he showed up. Same thing when Jonah Hill showed up in Django.

    Since I covered anchorman, might as well mention the sequel. The brawl scene in that film has some terrific cameos, my favourite being Jim Carrey and Marion Cotillard playing the Canadian news team who, as they are trying to kill you, apologize every time. Not sure how funny it was to an international audience, but it got a lot of laughs here.

  21. Dan Grant Reply

    In terms of bad cameos, I found all of the cameos in the new Ghostbusters to be very distracting and completely unnecessary. The only one of the original cast I liked was Sigourney Weaver. The others were kind of pointless.

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