If you blink you might miss them, and that would be a shame, because some of the funniest, coolest, most clever moments at the movies come when a director or producer throws a brief turn by a big star, without warning, into their film. Alfred Hitchcock, who had a nod-and-wink walk-on in every single one of his own films (including “Lifeboat,” which took place entirely in a tiny dinghy), is the patron saint of the cameo. Here are twenty one-scene wonders that might’ve amuse even Hitch.
Arnold Schwarzenegger, “The Rundown”
Time of Cameo: 1:38
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has led a more interesting and unusual career than what was initially expected when he first leaped from the WWE to the big screen in “The Scorpion King,” which positioned him to be the heir to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s action hero throne. Nonetheless, it’s a clever and somewhat classy passing of the torch that occurs in the opening minutes of “The Rundown” when The Rock enters a bar to crush some skulls. As the former wrestling star passes through the crowd, the former California governor appears to tell The Rock to “have fun.” Schwarzenegger seems to have followed that advice himself since because while the ex-Terminator was in office, he did cameos for friends in “Around the World in 80 Days,” “The Expendables” and “The Kid & I” to satisfy his acting urges. Meanwhile, Johnson has performed similar favors by appearing in “You Again” for his “Game Plan” director Andy Fickman and “Reno 911: Miami.”
Meryl Streep, “Stuck on You” Time of Cameo: 28:58, 1:44:42
Despite their resume of broad comedies, the Farrelly Brothers have worked with Oscar winning actresses before – Renee Zellweger starred in “Me, Myself and Irene” and Gwyneth Paltrow donned a fat suit for “Shallow Hal.” And Streep isn’t even the only Oscar winner in “Stuck on You” since Cher also has a small role in the conjoined twins comedy. While both Silkwood stars appear in the film, steals it after two scenes that spoof her legendary reputation as the idol of Greg Kinnear’s character, Walt, an aspiring actor. After politely shooing Walt away at a restaurant, Streep returns at the end of the film to play Bonnie Parker opposite Walt’s Clyde Barrow in a musical adaptation of the bank robbers’ biography. Streep’s Olive Oyl-esque falsetto as Parker is pitch perfect and “The Devil Wears Prada” star literally dances off with the movie.
Takashi Miike, “Hostel” Time of Cameo: 54:37
Miike, the prolific Japanese horror director behind “Audition” and “Ichi the Killer,” isn’t exactly a household name in America. Still, for those in the know, Miike’s appearance in Eli Roth’s slaughterhouse thriller “Hostel” is unforgettable. Roth’s film was obviously influenced by Miike’s horrific imagery and he returned the favor to Miike by casting him as a tourist who leaves the film’s house of torture in – what else? – an ominous stride, saying in fractured English, “Be careful, you could spend all your money in there.” Considering the painful piano wire torture finale of “Audition,” the audience can only imagine what he’s talking about. (No clip available.)
Marshall McLuhan, “Annie Hall” Time of Cameo: 12:25
Woody Allen didn’t invent the cameo, but he certainly took it to another level in Annie Hall. When Allen introduces Marshall McLuhan, the communications theorist behind the concept “the medium is the message,” to an ill-informed media studies professor pontificating behind him in line for the movies, he not only cleverly blurred the lines of reality and fiction, but lives out the fantasy of millions of moviegoers. Sure, other notable professors have shown up in odd places in cinema before – African-American and religious scholar Cornel West showed up in “The Matrix Reloaded.” But when Allen looks directly into the camera to introduce McLuhan, he created one of the unlikeliest movie stars in the Canadian professor and with the widespread notoriety of the scene, he proved that the medium really was the message.
Dustin Diamond, “Made” Time of Cameo: 50:25
The joke simply wouldn’t have worked if “Made”’s producer Peter Billingsley, who is best known as Ralphie from “A Christmas Story,” would’ve done the cameo. But that was the backup plan for the Vince Vaughn-Jon Favreau mob comedy, if Diamond couldn’t make it to New York to shoot a scene in which Vaughn and Favreau find themselves on the wrong side of the velvet rope at a night club. When the club’s bouncer lets in Screech from “Saved by the Bell” instead of Vaughn and Favreau’s character, Vaughn goes ballistic. “It’s very subtle and it comes at a very tense point in the script,” says Favreau. “Everything’s starting to go bad and there he goes walking through and played it perfectly and was a great sport about it.”
Brad Pitt and Matt Damon, “Confessions of A Dangerous Mind” Time of Cameo: 42:37
Granted, Damon hasn’t received the distinction of being People Magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive yet, but that didn’t stop two-time sexiest man alive George Clooney from casting “The Bourne Identity” star with their mutual friend and two-time sexiest man alive Pitt as two hapless bachelors in his directorial debut about “Dating Game” host Chuck Barris. Although Damon might’ve felt like the odd man out between Pitt and Clooney, he still was a tad more attractive than J. Todd Anderson, the storyboard artist for “Confessions” who doesn’t exactly have the look of a movie star, but appears in the film as bachelor number three. When the bachelorette inexplicably chooses Anderson over Pitt and Damon, the camera pans past the two movie stars, complete with ’70s combovers and dejected glares.
David Letterman, “Cabin Boy”
Time of Cameo: 9:13
Of course, Letterman immortalized his minute long cameo in the 1994 Chris Elliott cult comedy classic during his hosting stint at the 1995 Oscars. The “Late Show” host made his only on-camera film appearance for his friend Chris Elliott, who had been a writer during Letterman’s time on NBC. Credited as “Earl Hofert,” a name he would use again for his voice cameo in “Beavis and Butthead Do America,” Letterman played a stuffed monkey salesman who sells his wares on a port, but is mentally out to sea. Thanks to the clip he played on the Oscars, Letterman now has something more famous than his trademark gap toothed grin – his now-infamous line, “Would you like to buy a monkey?”
Bruce Willis and Julia Roberts, “The Player”
Time of Cameo: 1:52:08
Of course, movies about the film business almost always have celebrity cameos – even bad ones such as “Burn Hollywood Burn” lured Sylvester Stallone and Harvey Weinstein, and “Paparazzi” scored Chris Rock and Vince Vaughn. So when Robert Altman directed the definitive Hollywood satire, he seemed to cast every notable name in the business at the time from Cher to Jack Lemmon to John Cusack. But he saved the best for a true Hollywood ending when two of 1992’s box office draws, Julia Roberts and Bruce Willis, star in “The Player”’s film within a film, the death row drama “Habeas Corpus.” Willis bursts through a gas chamber to save a wrongly convicted Roberts from the death penalty as Susan Sarandon and Peter Falk watch on. Both a celebration and indictment of the town it came from, the finale brilliantly skewers the industry with two of its biggest names.
Bruce Springsteen, “High Fidelity”
Time of Cameo: 43:34
Since the Stephen Frears-helmed adaptation of Nick Hornby’s novel of the same name is all about music, the film wouldn’t be complete without a cameo by an actual musician. Yet it’s still a surprise when the Boss himself shows up to inspire John Cusack’s Rob to revisit all of his past relationships with women. Springsteen, sitting and picking his guitar, tells the listmaking record store owner to “give that big final good luck and goodbye to your all-time top five,” a reference to his own song “Bobby Jean.” And who’s going to refuse the Boss? We’ll just say his cameo would make our top five any day.
Will Smith, “Jersey Girl”
Time of Cameo: 1:20:28
Kevin Smith had originally written the cameo of a celebrity father for Bruce Willis during his “Bruno” musical period during the mid-1980s, but had to lose it after the Armageddon star passed on appearing in the film. So the “Clerks” director shifted the time period to the mid-1990s to accommodate The Fresh Prince turned box office king who gives some parental advice to Ben Affleck when Affleck attempts to resurrect his flagging PR career. The irony of the scene? Affleck’s character lost his job in the first place after his young daughter’s need for a diaper change leads to a disastrous press conference for Smith during his rapping career. Light, funny, and poignant, the short scene between the two fathers near the end of the film is as sharply written as anything the actors have ever performed and they play it beautifully.
David Hasselhoff, “The Spongebob Squarepants Movie” and “A Dirty Shame”
Time of Cameo: 1:04:27 and 1:18:00, respectively
The Hoff couldn’t have possibly predicted that he would appear in a kids’ film and an NC-17 film in the same year. However, that’s exactly what happened in 2004 when “The Spongebob Squarepants Movie” and “A Dirty Shame” enlisted the former “Baywatch” star to parody his image. In “Spongebob,” Hasselhoff dons the red swimtrunks once again to rescue the animated Spongebob and his sidekick Patrick when they wash up on live action shores, making an already surreal film that much more so. As for his turn in John Waters’ “A Dirty Shame,” the actor really stretched for his art, or at least his bowels. Taking his cue from the film’s title, Hasselhoff excretes death from above when he’s in an airplane restroom and his feces goes airborne. As Waters joyously relates, “I didn’t know I had the nerve to say to David Hasselhoff on the fourth take, ‘could you strain a little?’ And I did and I used that take.”
Alice Cooper, “Wayne’s World”
Time of Cameo: 1:03:00
After Wayne and Garth go to an Alice Cooper concert with backstage passes with thoughts of half naked women and shots of Jagermeister dancing in their heads, the last thing they – and the audience – expect is a history lesson on Milwaukee from the shock rocker behind “Welcome to My Nightmare.” With his exceptionally literate summary of the city’s appeals and perfect diction (pronouncing it “mill-e-wah-que”), Cooper could’ve easily earned him a job at the Wisconsin Board of Tourism, earning bonus points for knowing the city is named after the Algonquin phrase meaning “the good land.” When Wayne and Garth bow and utter their famous catchphrase in Cooper’s presence, we know we’re the ones that aren’t worthy.
Christopher Walken, “Gigli”
Time of Cameo: 33:11
Walken has a reputation for being a scenestealer, whether it’s in his brief role as a Sicilian mob boss in “True Romance” or his inexplicable appearance in “The Country Bears.” Honestly, Walken could’ve taken up at least five spots on this list with his one scene wonders. But we’re choosing Gigli because we’re guessing you haven’t seen it. (And ordinarily, we wouldn’t blame you.) In a post-“I need more cowbell” world, Walken seems more open to parodying his own strangeness and the actor turns what should be a routine visit as an inquisitive detective into a transfixing meditation on Marie Callendar’s. After interrogating a perplexed Ben Affleck, Walken suggests that they “go down to Marie Callendar’s,” then waxes philosophically, “get me a big bowl of pie, some ice cream on it…mmmm, good. Put some on your head. Your tongue would slap your brains out trying to get to it.” The line, like the scene itself, doesn’t make much sense or fit into the rest of the film, but it does leave you needing more Walken.
Tom Cruise, Gwyneth Paltrow, Danny DeVito, Kevin Spacey and Steven Spielberg, “Austin Powers: Goldmember” Time of Cameo: 2:04
New Line handed out a picture of Dr. Evil with the word bubble “zip it” to critics reviewing the third Austin Powers film – not referring to a potential negative review of the film, but instead to protect the film’s star-studded opening sequence. Since the cat’s been out of the bag for a few years though, we don’t fear Dr. Evil’s wrath for discussing the cavalcade of stars that appear in “Goldmember”’s first few minutes. Even in a film where everyone from Katie Couric to The Osbournes make cameos, it’s still an impressive sight to see Cruise playing the titular British spy opposite Paltrow as femme fatale Dixie Normous in “Austinpussy,” an all-star film within a film. Moments after an action packed car chase that feels completely out of place for a Powers film, the camera pulls back to reveal “Austinpussy” to be a Steven Spielberg helmed project with Spacey and DeVito starring as Dr. Evil and Mini-Me respectively. And as much as we hate to say it, we’d prefer to see that film to “Goldmember.”
Tom Cruise, “Young Guns”
Time of Cameo: 1:39:12
We know Cruise already appears on the list in “Austin Powers: Goldmember,” but we couldn’t resist giving the “Top Gun” star another nod since his appearance in Young Guns almost doesn’t count. Yet when Cruise arrived on the set of his pal Emilio Estevez’s Young Guns as a social call, he realized he had never been in a gunfight on screen, which is exactly what Estevez was happening to be shooting at the time. Following a call to the makeup department who would outfit Cruise in mutton chops and a mustache, the actor is nearly unrecognizable as a cowboy who appears on screen only long enough to be shot by Casey Siemaszko. The split second appearance may be the only scene in Cruise’s cannon more freezeframed than his nude scene in “All the Right Moves,” and as for Estevez, he returned the favor with a much more meaty role in Cruise’s “Mission: Impossible.”
Dustin Hoffman, “The Holiday”
Time of Cameo: 1:35:31
According to director Nancy Meyers on “The Holiday”’s DVD commentary, Hoffman was having lunch next door to the Brentwood Blockbuster Video before he wandered onto the set of the Kate Winslet comedy out of natural curiosity about the adjacent film shoot. Coincidentally, Winslet and co-star Jack Black were shooting a scene in which Black, who plays a film composer in the film, recounts the greatest film scores of all time, one of which happened to be “The Graduate.” Hoffman, who knew Meyers because their daughters were friends, agreed to appear in his street clothes in the scene after Black hums a few notes of Mrs. Robinson, and then deadpans, “I can’t go anywhere.” As Meyers says in the commentary, the scene gets the biggest laugh in the film and Hoffman hits the highest note.
Danny Glover, “Maverick”
Time of Cameo: 26:55
One of the easiest ways to an effective cameo is an onscreen reunion and since Robert Redford and Paul Newman have yet to resurrect Butch and Sundance onscreen, we’ll have to settle for Riggs and Murtaugh. People forget that “Lethal Weapon 4” seemed like a pipe dream in 1994 when Maverick came out, so when Glover busts into a bank to rob it after Mel Gibson stages a fake robbery of his own, it’s a nice tip of the hat to the franchise that Maverick director Richard Donner started with Gibson and Glover as the boys in blue. This time, on the wrong side of the law, Gibson pulls down the bandana that masks Glover’s face and does a double take when he sees his partner from “Lethal Weapon.” Gibson, who would make a cameo himself as a tattoo artist in “Father’s Day,” quickly dismisses the recognition, but audiences had a moment of deja vu that would last forever.
Julianne Moore, “The Ladies Man”
Time of Cameo: 50:22
Moore has quite the reputation in Hollywood for being a sweetheart, but we’re afraid that sometimes that niceness gets her into trouble. Such is the case with her appearance midway through “The Ladies Man,” which we can only assume came about since she appeared in the Saturday Night Live skit the film was based on and felt an obligation to Lorne Michaels. Like “Gigli,” which also made our list, this cameo is only for the morbidly curious, but Moore plays an old conquest of Leon the Ladies Man (Tim Meadows). Speaking with the breathiness of Marilyn Monroe, the actress almost makes you forget that she appeared in “The End of the Affair” after she changes into a clown costume, complete with a red nose and horn, and literally honks because she’s horny for Leon. But we know behind the white face and the blue mascara are the tears of a clown.
Vin Diesel, “Fast and the Furious 3”
Time of Cameo: 1:36:31
In retrospect, we’re not even sure to call it a cameo if an actor who appeared in a previous film in a franchise comes back only to relaunch the franchise, but we’re bending the rules for the most satisfying cameo of the summer of 2006 (and we’re including Geoffrey Rush’s shoulder turn in “Pirates of the Caribbean 2” on that list.) Although not as many people saw Dominic Toretto make his triumphant return to racing, those who did understood how bizarrely poignant it was to see Diesel, who turned his back on the series for a $20 million payday to star in “xXx,” revisit the role that made him famous for scale. As director Justin Lin says on the film’s DVD commentary, Diesel’s cameo brings the whole “Fast and the Furious” world together when Toretto pulls up to race Lucas Black’s Sean Boswell at the end of the film. It may be brief, but we’d say it’s Diesel’s best performance since the original “Fast and the Furious.”
George Lucas, “Beverly Hills Cop 3”
Time of Cameo: 27:16
There’s something irresistibly funny about George Lucas as a petulant man-child pouting ‘hey!…’ as Eddie Murphy’s Axel Foley steps in front of him in line at a theme park. (After all, “Star Wars” fans said the same thing when Lucas tinkered with their beloved trilogy.) Of course, it may be one of the only laughs in the ill-fated “Beverly Hills Cop 3,” but it wasn’t the first time director John Landis tapped one of his auteur friends for a cameo in one of his movies. In fact, Landis had previously cast Steven Spielberg as a lowly office clerk in “Blues Brothers,” and Atom Egoyan as a studio security guard in “The Stupids,” to name just two. But we still have to award the Best Landis Director Cameo to Lucas, who is credited as “Disappointed Man.” That even beats Lucas’ earlier work in Spielberg’s “Hook” as “Man Kissing on Bridge.”
Shirley MacLaine, “Defending Your Life”
Time of Cameo: 1:06:17
Albert Brooks has been particularly fond of cameos in the films that he’s written and directed. In “The Muse,” he enlisted the help of directors James Cameron, Martin Scorsese, and Rob Reiner to vie for the services of a creativity guru played by Sharon Stone. Brooks also created a memorable appearance for George Kennedy as the star of a sci-fi film plagued by poor sound editing in “Modern Romance.” But Brooks’ biggest coup was getting Shirley MacLaine to appear as herself in “Defending Your Life,” a comedy about the afterlife in which the dead get to revisit their previous incarnations in a place called The Past Lives Pavillion. MacLaine, famous for her belief in reincarnation, introduces the living dead tourists to their past lives in an the infomercial-like experience that earns the film’s biggest laughs.
Lance Armstrong, “Dodgeball”
Time of Cameo: 1:09:32
Athletes are a staple of the cameo trade and it’s a win-win proposition for most. Instead of suffering through pages of stilted dialogue — think Shaquille O’ Neal did in “Kazaam” — most athletes can find comfort in one scene that play off their persona. The Farrelly Brothers are the kings of the sports star cameo, having cast everyone from Tom Brady in “Stuck on You” and Anna Kournikova in “Me, Myself and Irene” to arguably the most famous athlete cameo of all time, Brett Favre in “There’s Something About Mary.” Still, we think director Rawson Marshall Thurber might’ve inheirited the crown with his use of cancer survivor and then well-respected Tour de France champ Lance Armstrong, who belittles Vince Vaughn after Vaughn gives up on his team at a dodgeball tournament. “Dodgeball” star and producer Ben Stiller was the one who made the call to Armstrong to play the part, which comes at a key time in the film for Vaughn’s transformation into a leader. Armstrong tried to work the same magic for Owen Wilson in a dream sequence in “You, Me and Dupree,” but after the perfectly timed turn in “Dodgeball,” it just seemed like sloppy seconds.
Sean Connery, “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves”
Time of Cameo: 2:28:37
Granted, it’s not as cool as seeing Connery once again utter that he’d like his martini “shaken not stirred,” but it was thrilling nonetheless that the “Prince of Thieves” producers cast Connery as King Richard after Connery had previously played Robin Hood in 1976’s “Robin and Marian.” This time around, Connery gives away Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio’s Maid Marian at her wedding to Robin Hood (Kevin Costner). Not only did Connery lend his considerable gravitas to this popcorn film, but he did it in only one day, stopping at the film’s London set on his way back from visiting the Pope. The former 007 donated the money he received for the one-page scene to a college scholarship fund in his native Scotland.