The following contains SPOILERS for Blues Brothers, 21 Jump Street, Lucky Them, Tusk, Mirror Mirror, Dodgeball, Ted, Zombieland, Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, The Muppet Movie, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, Wayne’s World, Iron Man, Zoolander, A Million Ways to Die in the West, Big Hero 6, and Interstellar.
Consider yourself warned (and bad at seeing movies if you aren’t already aware of most of these). The two most recent are at the very bottom.
Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar has one of the biggest surprise cameos of 2014, but it isn’t the first time a director has brought in a celebrity for a minor role and kept it under wraps. Here are some of the best and most surprising celebrity cameos.
Carrie Fisher in Blues Brothers – For the entirety of Blues Brothers, Jake and Elwood are being chased by a mysterious woman, but it isn’t until just before the film’s famous overblown car chase that the woman is revealed to be Jake’s fiancee, played by Carrie Fisher. She is seeking revenge after Jake left her at the altar. She is credited as ‘Mysterious Woman,’ but moviegoers at the time would have easily recognized her as Princess Leia from the Star Wars trilogy.
Johnny Depp in 21 Jump Street, Lucky Them, and Tusk – Johnny Depp’s cameo in 21 Jump Street was not expected, considering Depp’s obviously mixed feelings about his role in the original TV show. It was not the last surprise cameo role from Johnny Depp, though. In 2014 alone, he also popped up as the ridiculous Guy Lapointe in Kevin Smith’s Tusk and Toni Collette’s elusive musician ex-boyfriend in Lucky Them. Audiences might be sharply divided on Depp’s performance in Tusk, but his appearance in all three films was definitely a shock.
Sean Bean in Mirror Mirror – Mirror Mirror did not perform well at the box office, but Sean Bean’s cameo as Snow White’s father is particularly hilarious for anyone familiar with his filmography. Bean is famous for playing characters that die, and at the beginning of the film, he is assumed killed by a monster in the forest. When it is revealed that he is, in fact, alive and magically transformed into the monster of the forest, Sean Bean gets to play a character who starts out dead and comes back to life. It is a clever little in-joke that makes the cameo even better.
Lance Armstrong in Dodgeball – Most people will point to David Hasselhoff or Chuck Norris as the movie’s most surprising cameo. When I saw Dodgeball in theaters, however, there was an audible cheer when Lance Armstrong walked on screen. Obviously, the reaction from audiences today is completely different, but weirdly, the scene works as well, if not better. Peter, played by Vince Vaughn, needs encouragement and inspiration from someone remarkable, a true American hero. Armstrong’s deception just adds another layer to the comedy.
Sam Jones in Ted – John and Ted bonded over Flash Gordon growing up. When they get to party with Flash Gordon himself, Sam Jones, it is a special moment, and when they get to do shots and recreational drugs with him, it is really freaking sweet.
Bill Murray in Zombieland – Originally, Patrick Swayze was supposed to appear in Zombieland, but he had to bow out, presumably due to his health. Seeing the final film, however, it is hard to imagine anyone other than Bill Murray in the role. Everyone secretly wants to hang out at Bill Murray’s awesome mansion.
Neil Patrick Harris in Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle – Before How I Met Your Mother, Gone Girl, and Hedwig and the Angry Inch on Broadway, Neil Patrick Harris exploded back into the public consciousness playing himself in Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle. Of course, this version of Neil Patrick Harris pops ecstasy and steals cars, but the wild exaggerations made his part even funnier.
Everyone (But Especially Orson Welles) in The Muppet Movie – The Muppet Movie is one of my all-time favorite films, and celebrity cameos include Bob Hope, Madeline Kahn, and Mel Brooks, to only name a few. Most extraordinary, though, is the appearance of Orson Welles as Lew Lord, the head of the movie studio. Welles is a legend as an actor, writer, and filmmaker. Citizen Kane fundamentally changed how films are made, and yet, he agreed to be in a movie with a singing frog.
Mark Hamill in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back – It was a close race between Ben Affleck (“No, bulls—, because I wasn’t with a hooker today, ha-ha!”) and Mark Hamill, but Luke Skywalker won out. Back when Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back came out, this was a wonderful moment of wish-fulfillment for geeky aspiring filmmakers. Who doesn’t want Mark Hamill in their movie, playing a silly supervillain like Cocknocker?
Alice Cooper in Wayne’s World – Like Neil Patrick Harris in Harold & Kumar, Alice Cooper is playing himself in Wayne’s World, but he is playing the chilliest, smartest possible version of himself. They all hang out backstage together, and Cooper even gives everyone a history lesson on Milwaukee. The film’s original trailer shows the famous “We’re not worthy” line, but moviegoers had to wait for Cooper’s reveal on the big screen.
Samuel L. Jackson in Iron Man – Samuel L. Jackson’s appearance at the end of Iron Man was the first hint of bigger things to come, the promise of a bigger Marvel cinematic universe. It was the spark that led to two more Iron Man movies, Thor, Captain America, The Incredible Hulk, and of course, The Avengers. All of it started with Nick Fury and ten words, “I’m here to talk to you about the Avenger Initiative.”
David Bowie in Zoolander – Who is better to judge a walk-off than Jareth, the Goblin King?
Jamie Foxx in A Million Ways to Die in the West – A Million Ways to Die in the West was one of the summer’s biggest disappointments for me. However, Jamie Foxx reprising his role as Django and shooting a racist carnival barker made this unfunny comedy almost worth the watch.
WARNING: RECENT SPOILERS
Stan Lee in Big Hero 6 – Stan Lee has made appearances in all of the modern Marvel movies, and Disney’s Big Hero 6 was no exception. He makes a brief appearance in a portrait as Fred’s wealthy and largely absent father, but at the end of the credits, he shows up in fully-animated glory to deliver a major revelation for Fred.
Matt Damon in Interstellar – When that cryogenic pod opens up and Matt Damon emerged, Interstellar took a decided turn for the crazy. Having an A-list star play Dr. Mann was a bit distracting for the first few minutes, but I quickly got over it. Damon is a terrific actor, and he conveys Mann’s loneliness and desperation in his brief screen time.