10 Best Movie Cameos of All Time

Cameos. Two minutes of your favorite actor can completely change the experience of the movie you’re watching, forever. Going by the book, a cameo is usually a brief appearance or voice part of a known person in a work of the performing arts, typically unnamed or appearing as themselves. These roles are generally small, many of them non-speaking ones, and are commonly either appearances in a work in which they hold some special significance or renowned people making uncredited appearances. A cameo could be Daniel Craig playing a stormtrooper in ‘Force Awakens’ or a 10 minute long scene featuring Christopher Walken.

Cameos are usually added for entertainment purposes or are a filmmaker’s way to pull a witty prank on the audiences. Some cameos however have had an integral status in the movies they are featured in, elevating them to a great extent. They have made a seemingly conventional plot quite memorable with their flair and precision, and to date are ingrained in pop culture with countless posters and gifs being made out of them. For the list below, I will be looking at cameos from a critical perspective and the legacy they left behind. So yeah, no Stan Lee cameo, the man’s great to watch on screen but either way that particular scene holds no importance or neither does it influence our outlook on the movie. The cameos listed below are the ones I believe were gripping and never for the entirety of their presence, make you feel shoddy about the casting or relevance. I have also excluded a cameo from Buster Keaton, because though it was nostalgic and is dramatically brilliant but it doesn’t quite do the trick with the popularity factor in mind. With that being said, let’s look at the top movie cameos of ever made.

10. Alec Baldwin (Glengarry Glen Ross)

Starting the list with none other than Alec Baldwin for his impeccable cameo in ‘Glengarry Glen Ross’ (1992). Take a hot boiling cauldron, add the heart of Fletcher from ‘Whiplash’, the brains of Hanna from ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ and the cockiness of Donald Trump on Saturday Night Live, and the result is the biggest arse on screen. Blake (that’s how Baldwin was credited). He is supposed to motivate a under-performing sales team, but instead lashes a barrage of verbal assaults that is not only provocative but intimidating to the point where it just feels grim. He also announces that by the end of the week, everyone except the top two salesmen would be fired and no wonder the cast of the movie called it “Death of a F*ckin Salesman”.

This very cameo has been misinterpreted with many people considering it to be motivational and that just negates the purpose of the scene. The scene was meant to show the harshness salesmen have to stomach and how their life transforms into a miniscule opprobrium. This movie is a brilliant study of the deplorable conditions of the sector in the post-70s era, with each character archetypal of a quite financially oppressed section of society.

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 9. Roman Polanski (Chinatown)

For people who aren’t aware, the short edgy man who slashes Nicholson’s nose in ‘Chinatown’ is the director of the film, Roman Polanski. This scene is wonderful and the execution has always left me dumbstruck. The quick cut and the spray of blood covering Nicholson’s face in the span of a millisecond, is a proof of some great editing and surprising use of props (no CGI) and it could have only been carried out by Polanski’s sagacity. There were claims stating the scene was never rehearsed and Nicholson was concerned over the credibility of the switchblade, his concerning eyes were genuine. Contextually, this scene set the tone for the events to follow.

Gittes was a private detective who used to be employed by people to spy on their partners, but this case was unexplored territory for him, he was merely a mouse trapped in his own world unaware or chose to be, about the disconcerting secrets of the men who rule the world. This is another scene that cements Chinatown’s status as the “birth of neo-noir”. A noir film would never depict such a graphic scene and key elements like violence and rape were a huge transition from conventional movies like ‘The Maltese Falcon’ or ‘The Big Sleep’.

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8. Neil Patrick Harris (Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle)

I swear to G.O.D, your conception of Neil Patrick Harris is gonna take a U-turn and then jump in a lake full of hippocampi! Honestly, the real star of this movie was NPH playing the most James Franco-esque version of himself. It was these handful of scenes that got him a role in HIMYM and quite truly gave him the push he needed. One hour into the stoner movie and we meet NPH and come across some ridiculously absurd terminology, from fur burgers to love stains to snorting cocaine that would put Jordan Belfort to shame, Harris completely loses himself. As a viewer who watched this recently, I was as shocked as Harold and Kumar, and the idea of Barney Stinson was cock-blocked from my brain. Sorry for the crude vocabulary, but there’s no other way to describe this performance which deserves to be ranked 4.20 on the best stoner performances of all time. Man, the unicorn scene could single-handedly bind the cameo to this spot.

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7. Alfred Hitchcock (Every movie!)

Alfred Hitchcock was present in almost every movie of his! “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist”. He comes, poof, and like that he’s gone. The footpath, the pet shop, the newspaper or the iconic beginning of ‘The Wrong Man’, he was in the place you would least expect him to be. Hitchcock blended two primary atmospheric horror techniques : the characters’ presence and the viewers’ presence. The most shocking scenes from Hitchcockian films usually depicted two perspectives against the poor victim, the assailant’s and the viewer’s, and they both lingered around for most of the movie.

The true assailant in a Hitchcock film has to be the man himself, pulling the strings like an evil magician, making his perspective the viewer’s and also going to the length of physically being present. He loved some cruel humor and with these cameos, he instated himself as the Kobayashi of his movies. He would draw you towards the scene “Are you watching closely?” and then make you distracted to identify the mastermind and hence in this moment he truly was a lingering unknown presence in your life, and this is why his horror wasn’t limited to the screen. It was all around us.

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6. Bob Barker (Happy Gilmore)

There was a time when Adam Sandler made decent movies and was considered the next big thing in comedy after Bill Murray. One such decent movie was ‘Happy Gilmore’, based on an unsuccessful hockey player Gilmore who discovers a talent for golf and was light-hearted with your normal slapstick scenes. The movie is famous for other reasons though, and that’s Bob Barker’s cameo. Bob Barker was a popular TV show host in the 90s and a household name because of his game show, The Price is Right. Bob Barker plays himself in the movie and partners Gilmore in a golf tournament. Gilmore gets distracted during the tournament because of a fan who incessantly abuses him and thus the pair end up being at the bottom of the list.

Barker blames Gilmore, to which Gilmore responds by punching him in the face. What ensues is just pure comedic action, reminiscent of the street fight in They Live, with Barker floating like a butterfly and stinging the dazed Gilmore like a bee. Gilmore headbutts Barker, knocking him out and says “The Price is wrong, bitch” (a dig at the Barker’s show). But Barker does an “Undertaker resurrection” and knocks Gilmore out cold. This may not be outright hilarious but it is quite wonderful and I personally think Barker is a man who traveled back in time to remind Sandler what his movies do to the audiences on a per second basis.

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5. Bill Murray (Zombieland)

What do you do when you find Bill Murray during a zombie apocalypse? You come, you see, you kick ass! Right? Not really. In ‘Zombieland’, you shoot him dead. The four protagonists stumble across Bill Murray’s mansion during the events of the movie and meet the actor who dresses up as a zombie to ward away attention from the real ones. But in the most hilarious part of the movie, Murray who decides to play a prank on Columbus by imitating a zombie, gets shot instead and what ensues is a minute of dark comical mourning with a deadpan from Murray that is so good, we are ready to forgive him for the ‘Garfield’ movie. I would have put a Murray cameo from a Wes Anderson movie, but he is quite recurrent in the directors’ movies and for the pure comedic tone of this scene, I opted for Murray doing a Murray. Well after this, Murray wouldn’t get upset over a trip to Japan I reckon.

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4. Christopher Walken  (True Romance)

My favorite one on the list. Some people would argue over this not being a cameo but I opted to go for it because Walken’s character Vincenzo Coccotti was only present for this particular interrogation scene. Okay. We’ve seen quite a lot of Tarantino screenplays and we pretty much know how this one’s gonna end, afterall the man loves violence and short roles from the supporting cast. Coccotti is the Antichrist and believe me he gives away nothing to prove otherwise and there’s no messiah in the form of Captain Koons, and Walken takes this opportunity to be a trepidating presence on screen. He’s got the charm and composure of a mafia boss, every word uttered is like an imaginary “culaccino” on our racing hearts and with the eyes of a gold Sicilian snake and I quote D.H.Lawrence “For in Sicily the black, black snakes are innocent, the gold are venomous”, he strikes Hopper with great vengeance and furious anger. Pardon me for getting carried away. The lines are fantastic, the dark quirkiness that is replicated brilliantly on screen by the two and though Hopper doesn’t possess the same charm, he spits at death through the keyhole when it comes knocking on his door.

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3. John Hurt (Spaceballs)

Okay. Starring in the greatest sci-fi horror ever made? Check. Starring in the best sci-fi parody? Check. John Hurt (may his belly rest in peace) was a primary part of ‘Alien’s legacy. I’m pretty sure nobody’s a stranger to the stomach bursting scene and since the scene was the first attempt, the expressions on the cast’s face was legit, a pretty apt reflection of the audiences’. Moving to Spaceballs, its a parody centrally based on ‘Star Wars’ but also takes a dig at other popular sci-fi movies and we knew we were in for some action when we saw Hurt at the diner. With the cartoonish alien bursting out of his torso, Hurt never puts a campy expression on his face, it’s of pure shock something we did not witness in Alien due to obvious reason and mouths this particular line “Oh no. Not again”. And even if they did not make the alien dance on the canteen counter, we would still be holding our stomachs trying hard to not let them explode with laughter. Oh, the irony. Hurt’s addition was a touch of genius by Mel Brooks (‘Young Frankenstein’, ‘Blazing Saddles’) and strolls away with the number 3 spot.

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2. Christopher Walken (Pulp Fiction)

Chris-to-pher Wal-ken and his ca-me-os. Apologies for the breaks, I’m a huge fan and it would’t be right if I don’t do this in his style. The only reason why I put this ahead of ‘True Romance’ is because of its impact in a minimum period of time. 4 minutes of screen-time and no offense but he smashes Bruce Willis out of the park, and makes his monologue (courtesy of Tarantino’s ingenious writing) one of the most enjoyable ones ever put on screen. Captain Koons enlightens Butch with the history of the wristwatch Butch is shown to be so possessive about, later in the movie. The first 3 minutes of the story are your “a bit dramatized though normal” incidents influenced by wars, but since we are in Tarantinoverse, it has to end on an over-the-top note which is hilarious unlike the recent awful ones. Koons makes Butch aware of the places the watch had to hide to survive the war, with Walken changing his calm tone to a rather perky one, exaggerating the ridiculous situation which is perfectly capped by the kid’s straight face. Forget Vega, nobody is as brutal as Walken is on his vowels!

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1. Martin Scorsese (Taxi Driver)

Yes! It had to be this! The most iconic cameo in the most iconic film. Talk about the 70s and nothing is uttered as frequently as ‘Taxi Driver’ and its creator, Martin Scorsese. The world witnessed an astronomical revolution in film-making during the 70s, every atom of the art being excited to higher levels of energy and Taxi Driver captured the essence of the period profoundly. The rise of counter-culture and the antihero infatuated with his own demons, the war bringing the worst out of the society with f bombs going toe to toe with alarming violence and exploring the darkest alleys of rape and prostitution; everything was pieced together eloquently in Taxi Driver. A man who was raised on the streets, observing violence with a chocolate bar in his hands, Scorsese conveys the unnerving tension`associated with a premeditated crime flawlessly in this scene. His delivery rattled me a bit, something that would be banned straightaway if it were the 60s, and you just dread the outcome of his actions.

The scene in the cab also brings in a lot of suspense, we see Bickle talking about change, how he could enforce it and we expect something swift from his calm curious eyes visible in the mirror of the car. There’s just a lot of tension to handle in this scene, and the reverse shots are a work of genius and so is the shot of the woman’s shadow on the window of the apartment. And as DePalma says “There’s always f*ckin Scorsese!”

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