There’s almost nothing better than your favorite celebrity suddenly popping up during a great movie, appearing for just a few minutes—or even a few seconds—to offer viewers a tease of their talent. In fact, cameos can sometimes be more memorable than full-length roles.
The circumstances leading up to these bit parts always differ. A cameo can be the result of a friendship between the actor and director that leads to a spontaneous, last-minute addition to the film. Other times, it’s a long-envisioned moment that the producers had to move mountains to make happen.
Sometimes celebrities play themselves, poking fun at their stereotypical characteristics or making a joke about a recent item of gossip. Other times, they’re in the background or performing split-second walk-ons that you’d miss if you blinked.
Stacker put together a list of the 50 best movie cameos of all-time, pulling movies across several countries and decades. Read on to see some of the funniest, most iconic moments in film history.
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Of all the star-studded moments in "Pulp Fiction,” Christopher Walken’s performance as Captain Koons, a Vietnam War vet sent to deliver a watch to Bruce Willis’ younger self (played by Chandler Lindauer), might be most memorable. The actor tells the story of how the young boy’s great-grandfather obtained the watch during World War I, and how the boy’s father later carried it through a Vietnamese prison camp well-hidden for five years before handing it off to Koons to ensure sure the boy would receive his birthright. Even using some colorful language, Walken never skips a beat.
In 2008’s Hollywood satire "Tropic Thunder,” Tom Cruise plays a small but memorable part as Les Grossman, a sleazy studio executive. Cruise required a bald cap and heavy prosthetics for the bit role, which he partially invented himself. The effort did not go unnoticed: The cameo was praised by critics, many of whom (including Observer and Quartz) half-jokingly called it the actor’s best role ever.
Buster Keaton, sometimes referred to as "The Great Stone Face," was a famous silent film comedian in the 1920s who starred in movies like "Battling Butler” and "The Frozen North.” The one-time slapstick king made a cameo decades after his heyday in the 1950 dark comedy "Sunset Boulevard” (pictured saying "pass” at 0:31), playing a dried-up version of himself during Norma Desmond's waxworks card game.
In this romantic comedy about singles searching for love in the 1990s, protagonist Steve Dunne (played by Campbell Scott) is in bed with his love interest when she asks what he’s thinking. The camera humorously cuts to basketball player Xavier McDaniel, who proceeds to give Dunne a pep talk.
Who could have expected Neil Patrick Harris’ appearance in the 2004 stoner comedy "Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle”? The former "Doogie Howser, M.D.” star played an ecstasy-fueled hitchhiker, picked up en route to the fast food restaurant. The well-received cameo—in which Harris references drugs and talks crassly about women—has been credited with helping him erase his straight-edge image and pave the way for his subsequent role in "How I Met Your Mother.”
Before his more recent cameo in the "21 Jump Street” reboot, Johnny Depp had a walk-on role in the 2004 French-language film "Happily Ever After.” The actor, who speaks fluent French, is seen sharing a listening kiosk at a music store with the movie’s female lead, Charlotte Gainsbourg, and later kisses her in an elevator.
In the 2002 James Bond installment "Die Another Day,” the material girl herself makes a brief appearance as a bawdy fencing instructor who tells the secret agent (played by Pierce Brosnan), "I see you handle your weapon well.” The ever-suave 007 replies assuredly: "I have been known to keep my tip up.”
Part of what made Ryan Seacrest’s cameo in Judd Apatow’s 2007 hit "Knocked Up” so successful was his willingness to be in on the joke, as he played an overly arrogant and buffoonish caricature of himself. In a scene where he chews out Katherine Heigl’s character, the TV host curses and declares, "I’m more famous than half the people we talk to anyway!” Seacrest later told the Washington Post: "I don’t mind being the butt of the joke ... It doesn’t really bother me. I quite enjoy it.”
Bollywood superstar Salman Khan has been called the “the king of cameos,” with at least 14 unexpected short appearances in films in addition to the more than 100 movies he’s actually starred in. His appearance as a Nostradamus figure in “Saawan—The Love Season,” a significant box office flop, appears to have been little more than a favor to a friend: The film was directed by a colleague who had helped launch Khan’s career years earlier.
In the second installment of comic book and movie franchise "Deadpool,” A-list actor Brad Pitt makes a momentary appearance as a superhero named the Vanisher who’s part of the X-Force superteam. Because the character has invisible powers, the audience never sees him; however, in a scene where he’s electrocuted, viewers catch a fleeting shot of the Hollywood heartthrob. Screenwriter Paul Wernick described Pitt agreeing to do the cameo as a "pinch-me moment.”
Aside from his historical impact on filmmaking, Alfred Hitchcock was also known for his quirky habit of doing silent cameos in nearly every movie he directed. In the 1951 thriller "Strangers on a Train,” the director can be spotted at 2:51 as a passenger loading a double bass onto the train.
Correction: A previous version of this slide said Alfred Hitchcock loaded a cello onto the train. The filmmaker can be seen loading a double bass onto the train.
In the bizarre 1999 cult classic "Being John Malkovich,” Charlie Sheen briefly appears as Malkovich’s show business friend, listening as Malkovich tells him he’s afraid he’s been possessed. "Maybe she’s using you to channel some dead lesbian lover,” Sheen says nonchalantly. "Sounds like my kind of gal.”
Famous for its cameo-happy scripts, the "Scream" franchise kicked off its series of thrillers with a cameo from one of horror’s most famous original stars—Linda Blair, who played the possessed little girl in "The Exorcist.” In the 1996 horror film, Blair is cast as a pushy news reporter. During other parts of the film, actors like Drew Barrymore and Henry Winkler (aka "The Fonz”) also make brief cameos.
Jada Pinkett (now Jada Pinkett Smith) followed in Blair’s footsteps in "Scream 2,” playing a woman in a theater who gets stabbed while watching a scary movie with her boyfriend (Omar Epps). Other cameos in the second installment include Heather Graham, Joshua Jackson, and even horror maven Wes Craven.
Directors love using original “Star Wars” actors for movie cameos (Mark Hamill in “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back,” Harrison Ford in “Anchorman 2”), and “Scream 3” was no exception. Rounding out the trilogy of “Scream” cameos, Fisher plays a studio secretary who has a conversation with two characters investigating a murder. “I was up for Princess Leia,” Fisher’s character says. “I was this close, too. But you know who gets it? The one who sleeps with George Lucas.”
Rolling Stones’ guitarist Keith Richards took a break from the world of rock for a moment in 2007 to play Jack Sparrow’s dad, Captain Teague, in “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End.” The role in the third installment of the “Pirates” franchise came after leading man Johnny Depp said he modeled his character after the rock star. Richards later won a “Best Celebrity Cameo” award at the 2007 Spike Horror Awards.
It’s not always famous actors and musicians who make memorable cameos in movies. In the 1977 Woody Allen hit "Annie Hall,” Canadian professor and renowned intellectual Marshall McLuhan—the man widely cited as having predicted the internet—makes an appearance as himself in the film. In his scene, while waiting in line at a theater, McLuhan helps Allen’s character put an annoying, pontificating professor in check.
Gonzo journalism pioneer Hunter S. Thompson was deeply involved in the creation of the movie version of his 1971 book, "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” going as far as to let Johnny Depp move into his basement to research his role. When it was time to film, Thompson took his involvement one step further and made a cameo in a scene where Depp is hallucinating in a bar. At 0:48 of this clip, the author can be seen seated at a table as Depp exclaims: "Mother of God, there I am!"
Boxing great Mike Tyson had a knockout performance appearing in several scenes of the 2009 comedy hit “The Hangover.” Playing an exaggerated version of himself, Tyson demanded that the protagonists transport a tiger to his home. In a bit of a shot to the gut, the former world champion, who also cameoed in the sequel, later admitted he was actually high on cocaine during most of the shooting, and largely agreed to do the movie to fund his own personal drug habit.
Rock band frontman Huey Lewis is perhaps best known for singing "The Power of Love," which became a hit theme song for the first "Back to the Future” soundtrack. What’s lesser known, however, is that the singer also appeared in the movie as the geeky school principal with the megaphone who rejects Marty when he tries out for the "Battle of The Bands.”
In this 2013 hit comedy from Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, singer Rihanna makes an unforgettable cameo when she slaps Michael Cera’s character after he pats her on the butt. Goldberg told Business Insider the hilarious strategizing behind the scene: "Michael (Cera) said to all of us, 'I'm going to ask her if I can slap her butt for real. I think it will make the joke way funnier.' … And so he asked permission to do the butt slap, and she said, 'You can do it, but I'm coming back way harder.'"
Bill Murray played himself in a classic cameo in 2009's comedy-horror flick "Zombieland." The group finds the actor in his Hollywood mansion, where he’s disguised himself as a zombie to blend in. The role was originally written for Patrick Swayze, but the "Dirty Dancing” actor became sick during production and had to back out.
In the 1992 "Saturday Night Live” spin-off, music-loving protagonists Wayne Campbell (Mike Myers) and Garth Algar (Dana Carvey) go backstage at an Alice Cooper concert and run into the rock legend himself. When Cooper asks Wayne and Garth if they want to hang out, they drop to their knees and launch into their famous "We’re not worthy” bit. Cooper told Billboard magazine that even 25 years later, fans still approach him to reenact the scene. "I always try to let them think it’s the first time anybody’s ever done that,” Cooper said.
"Citizen Kane” director Orson Welles made a brief but memorable appearance in 1979’s beloved Jim Henson classic, playing cigar-chewing movie executive Lew Lord. In his one line, Welles hollers at his secretary: "Tracy, prepare the standard ‘rich and famous’ contract for Kermit the Frog and company.” The character’s name was a salute to British producer Lew Grade, who helped to get "The Muppet Show” on the air.
Although Ted Danson is best known for comedy, namely his role as bartender Sam Malone in the sitcom "Cheers,” the actor stepped away from the laughs for a moment in 1998 to play a walk-on role in the war movie "Saving Private Ryan.” Danson portrays Captain Hamill, a paratrooper and leader of the 101st Airborne Pathfinders platoon who is on site during a mixup with names.
The Beatles lead guitarist George Harrison’s split-second appearance in 1979’s Monty Python classic "Life of Brian” is reported to have saved the film from imminent doom. Days before production was scheduled to begin, the studio pulled the funding and the project appeared dead in the water. However, Harrison got a hold of a script and apparently liked it so much that he set up a production company and donated $4 million of his own money to help the flick get made. Monty Python actor Terry Jones later called it "the most expensive movie ticket of all time.” In the film, Harrison can be seen briefly in a crowd wearing a red turban.
As far as cameos go, Matt Damon is perhaps best known for his hilariously out-of-character bit role as a tattooed rock star in 2004’s "EuroTrip.” However, the Hollywood A-lister more recently had another funny cameo in 2017’s "Thor: Ragnarok,” as an actor in a sketch theater troupe. When asked why he agreed to sign on, Damon told Collider: "I just thought it was hysterical, the idea of basically an intergalactic community theater actor kind of living out Tom Hiddleston’s character’s fantasy.”
Perhaps most famous for her iconic role as Loana in "One Million Years B.C.” where she donned a deer-skin bikini, Raquel Welch was a major actress and sex symbol in the 1960s and 1970s. In 2001, she had a smaller role in "Legally Blonde,” where she played Mrs. Windham Vandermark, the ex-wife of a murdered man.
Although alternative rock star Alanis Morissette doesn’t say a word during her brief cameo in 1999’s indie flick "Dogma,” she nevertheless delivers a memorable performance as God. Morissette said she initially turned down the role from director Kevin Smith. "I said no at first, but then as I kind of rejuvenated, I checked back in with him and he still hadn't cast the role of God,” the singer told CNN. "And I said I'd love to do it and I did."
In another example of directors making cameos in their own films, Martin Scorsese played a small part as one of Travis Bickle’s fares in "Taxi Driver.” However, it wasn’t originally intended to be a cameo. Actor George Memmoli had been cast to do the scene but he pulled out, causing Scorsese to fill in as a substitute.
Before Anjelica Huston introduced herself to a new generation with hits like "The Addams Family” and "The Witches,” she played a walk-on role in 1984’s hugely popular Rob Reiner mockumentary "This Is Spinal Tap.” In the film, she portrays Polly Deutsch, a woman hired to create Stonehenge scenery for the band’s 1982 U.S. Tour. In 2013, Huston said in an interview that the mockumentary is still one of her favorite movies of all time.
In Steven Spielberg's 1991 Peter Pan revamp, Academy Award nominee Glenn Close makes an appearance in drag as a bearded pirate named Gutless who gets condemned to the dreaded "boo box.” In 2018, Manuela Lazic praised the performance in an article for The Ringer, saying: "Behind her beard, she was more theatrical than ever and challenged gender expectations in a new, more literal way.”
Former "Baywatch” megastar David Hasselhoff had the distinctive honor of being the only human in the 2004 animated film "The Spongebob Movie.” The actor appears in one of the final scenes when he comes to the rescue of SpongeBob and Patrick, swimming the animated characters back to their home at Bikini Bottom.
David Hasselhoff wasn’t the only former “Baywatch” star to score a cameo in a major motion picture. In 2006, Pamela Anderson made an appearance in Sacha Baron Cohen’s comedy mockumentary “Borat,” where the director pretends to kidnap her. Although there were debates at the time as to whether or not the scene was real, a security guard later confirmed it was indeed staged ahead of time.
In another example of a rock star cameo, former Black Sabbath frontman Ozzy Osbourne—a.k.a. The Prince of Darkness—shows up in the 2000 Adam Sandler film, “Little Nicky.” The rock legend pops out of a magical orb and saves the day by biting into Sandler’s bat enemy, referencing Osbourne’s notorious 1982 concert where he bit off the head of a bat.
Quentin Tarantino is another director who loves making cameos. He’s popped up in nearly all of his own films—he was Mr. Brown in "Reservoir Dogs,” Jimmie in "Pulp Fiction,” and the Australian miner in "Django Unchained”—and numerous others. In this sequel to the 1992 film "El Mariachi,” the director steals the scene when he tells a joke about a guy trying to pee in a glass without it spilling.
In one of the most famous cameo fistfights of all-time, Bob Barker appears as himself in "Happy Gilmore,” serving as celebrity golf tournament partner to Happy Gilmore (Adam Sandler). Throughout the course of the round, the two grow increasingly heated until a full-fledged fight breaks out, resulting in the "Price is Right” host unexpectedly clobbering Gilmore.
When Walter Huston’s son directed his first movie, the Hollywood megastar made a cameo for the film as a good luck gesture, playing the freighter captain who delivers the Falcon. According to some reports, the older Huston allegedly trolled his son by fumbling the role multiple times.
In this 2008 romantic comedy starring Jason Segel and Kristen Bell, Cynthia Nixon flashes on screen for a second when Segel’s character is drinking piña coladas and pretending to be part of "Sex and the City.” "What’s up, Miranda?” his character exclaims as Nixon discreetly walks by in the background.
Reboots can be tricky given the legions of diehard fans sentimental for an original, but "Star Trek: Into Darkness” got a helping hand in 2013 when Leonard Nimoy made an appearance. The original Spock, who wore prosthetics to portray an older Zachary Quinto, said he was a fan of the film. "It’s hard not to enjoy this movie,” he said. "There’s so much of a thrill ride happening. The relationships between the characters are terrific.”
Before Samuel L. Jackson appeared in 2008’s "Iron Man,” the Marvel comic book minds that produced his character (S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury), intentionally modeled their creation after the film star. Mark Millar, the comic book writer, said they never believed "Avengers” would actually get made. "Sam is famously the coolest man alive and both myself and artist Bryan Hitch just liberally used him without asking any kind of permission,” Millar told Business Insider. "You have to remember this was 2001 when we were putting this together. The idea that this might become a movie seemed preposterous.”
English novelist Graham Greene left his writing desk and tried his hand at acting when he played an insurance rep in François Truffaut’s 1973 film, "Day for Night” ("La Nuit Américaine.”) The French director was reportedly a fan of the author, who was famous for novels like "The Power and the Glory,” but did not recognize him when Greene was introduced on set simply as a "retired English businessman.” Truffaut later said he would have spent more time chatting with Greene if he’d known who he was.
Long before "That ‘70s Show” and Mila Kunis’s subsequent movie career, the actor appeared in "Honey, We Shrunk Ourselves.” The movie was a direct-to-video follow-up to the 1989 blockbuster "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids,” and the third film in the franchise.
David Bowie’s appearance in the 2001 comedy hit is another of cinema’s classic rock star cameos. The iconic British musician appears in a scene where Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson’s characters are seeking a judge for a modeling contest and Bowie volunteers. After Bowie’s death, Stiller called filming the scene a "high point in my career.”
After David Bowie’s cameo proved to be such a success in the first "Zoolander,” the creators recruited pop star Justin Bieber to surprise audiences in the sequel. Bieber is assassinated early on in the movie but manages to flash a "Blue Steel” pose and snap one final selfie as he is dying.
Fans of "Alien” can catch a glimpse of director Ridley Scott in the film, but only his hands. In the scene where Kane discovers a batch of alien eggs, the movement he sees is actually Scott’s hands in a rubber glove, wiggling around inside a fiberglass egg.
Stephen King has made numerous cameos over the years in the movie adaptations of his novels, but one of the more memorable shots came in 1992’s "Sleepwalkers,” where he plays a cemetery caretaker trying to convince everyone that the weird incidents at the graveyard are not his fault. The movie is full of other horror genre cameos as well, including "Texas Chainsaw Massacre” director Tobe Hooper, and "Hellraiser” writer Clive Barker.
In 2002, Gwyneth Paltrow had a brief role in the third "Austin Powers" movie, which was most notable for the funny, but crass name her character has in the film. Paltrow appears as herself alongside Tom Cruise in a movie within a movie, which Steven Spielberg is making about Powers and his ventures.
In this 1998 romantic gross-out comedy, NFL quarterback Brett Favre of the Green Bay Packers makes an appearance at the end of the film as himself, when it’s revealed that he’s the “Brett” that Mary has been referring to this whole time. Favre was the third athlete to be offered the role after New England Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe and San Francisco 49ers quarterback Steve Young both turned down the part. Young, who a descendent of Brigham Young, told the Farrelly Brothers that he was afraid Mormon children might sneak into the R-rated film.