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Great Cameos In Cinema

June 5, 2014

Film + Entertainment | by Francesco Cerniglia


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Cameos are being seen more and more across our film screens and they are having to one-up themselves on each go – and the more ridiculous a cameo, it seems the better. Take 21 Jump Street for example, for which the sequel 22 Jump Street is released this week – Johnny Depp pops up in the finale of the film having spent scenes of the film lurking in the background under masses of make-up work. Completely unexpected but totally heartwarming, Depp’s appearance was as literal as a homage to the original production as you could get and there was something in it for the older and the new fans, that is, a cameo that works. Yet, sometimes cameos can be included to try and prop up a failing feature; a lazy way of getting some laughs or ‘oh, did you see that!’ out of the audience. However, when it works, it works, and here are ten cameos that do just that, from the sublime to the ridiculous:

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Leonard Nimoy, Star Trek (2009): Now, J.J Abrams had to go all out with time-travel in order to get this cameo to work, but he did it. Having young Spock meet older Spock was enough to blow a few minds and unlike most cameos, this one was actually a fundamental part of the story.

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Buster Keaton, Sunset Boulevard (1950): He may only get one line in (“pairs”) but getting Buster Keaton, one of the greatest actors of the silent cinema era, brings with it so much emotional baggage. With Keaton’s star in Hollywood waning with the advent of the talkies, this tragedy about a washed-up film star faded into stardom obscurity delivers a hammerblow of pathos with this cameo.

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Charlie Sheen, Being John Malkovich (1999): Getting John Malkovich to turn to Charlie Sheen for psychological help is one thing, but put it in the middle of the meta-fest that is Spike Jonze’s Being John Malkovich and it fits right in. This is all topped off with a great appearance as an elderly, bald, Hawaiian-shirt-wearing celebrity to add an extra ounce of eccentricity to the end of an already bizarre cinema journey.

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The fight scenes, Anchorman 1 & 2: When the first Anchorman came out, that fight scene began legendary, a key for its cult following, the one where Tim Robbins, Ben Stiller, Luke Wilson and many more battle it out as TV news station rivals in the literal sense and thing’s escalate fast with Steve Carrell’s Brick even killing a guy with a flying trident. In the sequel, everyone in the audience expected another fight scene, it was on the tip of their tongues, but the crew outdid themselves with the cameos they were able to recruit this time around. At the start, I mentioned how cameos were getting more and more ridiculous and over-the-top, this is a prime example of that at its very best.

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Martin Scorsese, Taxi Driver: Okay, I won’t mention Alfred Hitchcock and all of his cameos in all of his films, because it’s overdone, nor will I put Tarantino on the list, though his frequent appearances deserve a mention, or even Peter Jackson whose secretive roles were more of a ‘blink and miss’ type in his Lord of the Rings franchise. But, I will instead go for Scorsese, in his uncredited appearance in his monumental film, Taxi Driver, as a stalking paranoid taxi cab customer spying on his cheating wife.

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Tom Waits, in any film he stars in: From Seven Psychopaths, where he plays a unsuspecting serial killer, to his role as a grumpy coffee drinker and cigarette smoker in Jarmush’s Coffee & Cigarettes – and not to forgot the role he was born to play, the Devil in The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, Tom Waits has a knack for popping in all different kinds of films, be they Dracula or The Book of Eli. There usually isn’t too much fanfare about his appearances but he puts in the effort and there is nothing cooler and more foreboding than hearing his gruff voice creep up on the movie screen.

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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Airplane! (1980): When you get sport stars to play a cameo, it’s usually just that in itself, the type that just pops in for a brief look-in – you don’t expect to give them lines and play an actual role. But in Airplane! LA Lakers legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, in the prime of his career at the time, gave what has to be the greatest movie cameo of an athlete in film. Playing co-pilot Roger Murdoch, the satirical film gives him some great lines and he carries it off effortlessly.

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Bill Murray, Zombieland: It’s often difficult to keep cameos a secret and you never want to spoil one, but it’s been a few years now and I can think I can safely reveal Bill Murray’s role in Zombieland in the final third of the film. The producers must have known they were onto a winner when Bill decided to lend them his time. Although a short role and despite showing up towards the end, Bill seems to get more laughs everyone else in the film – even Woody Harrelson as the badass solo zombie survivor.

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Cate Blanchett, Hot Fuzz: When Edgar Wright and the gang behind Hot Fuzz got their A-list cameo, they decided to cover her up entirely with a forensic suit and a mask and leave her uncredited. Well done to anyone who spotted the Oscar-winning Australian actress when all you had were her eyes and voice to go on in her brief role as the estranged romance of Simon Pegg in the film’s initial scenes.

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Orson Welles, The Muppet Movie (1979): Cameos often provide a chance for serious actors in lighten up – take Tom Cruise stellar comedy performance in Tropic Thunder. But Orson Welles tops the bunch as the cigar-smoking, TV studio head Lord Lew Grade –a sentimental nod to the TV board head by the same name who gave Jim Henson his first chance at television when no-one else would. And the rest was history, as they say.

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Honourable mentions to actors who show up in the films (truly) ‘based on real life events’ – from the real Tony Wilson in 24 Hour Party People, Erin Brockovich in her own film, the friends of Harvey Milk coming in and out of Gus Van Sant’s Milk, and the many more appearances that often go unnoticed to the casual filmgoer. Will 22 Jump Street unveil any new outstanding cameos? Only way to find out is to catch it in theaters tomorrow!

Oliver Smith