We start the Top 7. You finish the Top 10.
While turning the apocalypse into a party, the new comedy from Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg This Is the End is a celebrity-filled powwow that embraces the value of a cameo, giving its extensive guest list a chance to appear as goofier versions of themselves. With some of the movie’s best jokes coming from its surprise impressions (Michael Cera and his windbreaker are doomsday stealers), it’s time to celebrate the wall-breaking comedy that is a self cameo.
The rules for this specific list are that the comedic cameo must feature the star playing themselves. Such appearances are not considered for being the funniest, but the best overall. These are the appearances that go beyond simply making a film experience feel more like it’s in our reality (as opposed to Movie World), instead providing something special to the film and/or its ideas that enhance its overall product. Indeed, maybe in five years, I’ll have to come back and sneak Cera’s appearance in The End onto this list.
Here are the TOP 7 Comedic Cameos …
7. Marshall McLuhan in ‘Annie Hall’ (1977)
Recap: In this classic scene from Annie Hall, Woody Allen finds himself in front of a loud snob, espousing his opinions on Federico Fellini, Samuel Beckett, and then Marshall McLuhan. To shut up the pretentious man in line, Allen pulls McLuhan himself into the shot, and has the philosopher diss the obnoxious man himself. Allen congratulates this wishful thinking by saying, “Boy, if only life were like this!”
Reason: Woody Allen’s Annie Hall is a painfully relatable movie that provides catharsis for questions which are also outside the movie’s head-scratchings on relationship. Such fulfillment comes from a cameo from McLuhan, a figure I admittedly know little about, but can appreciate what he is used for in his priceless cameo. In a whole authorship determined to give stuffy intellectuals a low-brow comeuppance, Allen does no better than with this cameo from McLuhan.
6. Bruce Willis in ‘Ocean’s Twelve’ (2004)
Recap: In the midst of desperate measures while the thieving Ocean’s groups are abroad, Julia Roberts, acting in the film as Tess, must pretend to be Julia Roberts when Bruce Willis shows up. In this moment, Matt Damon, Don Cheadle, and Carl Reiner, as their respective characters, must try to B.S. their way with Tess through proving her Julia Roberts status.
Reason: The Ocean’s Eleven movies are soirees with growing guest lists, as thrown by director Steven Soderbergh first and foremost to be playful jabs against star personas. The trilogy hits a particularly funny meta mark during this very funny scene that plays into its star power, while allowing other stars such as Damon to take the position as simple audience members (he can’t control his fandom around Bruce Willis).
5. Buster Keaton in ‘Sunset Boulevard’ (1950)
Recap: In cinema’s saddest game of cards ever, comedic genius Buster Keaton is shown as a house guest of washed up star Norma Desmond. While Keaton certainly had a career after this appearance (and in the world of sound film), this cameo would be the last, and the darkest, of his biggest laughs.
Reason: This cameo is on its own level of comedy compared to anything else on this list. Featured in a scene that involves other “waxworks” (according to William Holden’s character), Keaton makes for a moment of charcoal comedy, especially with the silent star getting only one word of dialogue (“Pass”). Keaton’s appearance in this movie also reminds the audience of real examples of the horror that is discussed in this movie, the displacement of previous Hollywood megastars like Swanson’s Desmond not just a disturbing storyline of fiction.
4. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in ‘Airplane!’ (1980)
Recap: Famous basketball player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar tries to resume a normal life by working as an airline pilot, while simultaneously wearing his athletic shorts under his new work uniform. While he looks very much like Abdul-Jabbar, the athlete initially tries to convince a little kid that his name is actually Roger Murdoch.
Reason: With this random casting, Airplane! finds a classic gag that runs throughout the film. This type of cameo casting would be celebrated for years to come in numerous comedies, by filmmakers who eventually lost the idea of why this joke is so great, and not just pop culture ad libbing (such as Seth MacFarlane, among others). Why is Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in this movie? Because he just is, and that’s the whole joke. And also, someone needed to be Bill Murray before Bill Murray was doing it.
3. Pamela Anderson in ‘Borat: Cultural Learnings for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan’ (2006)
Recap: Though his journey leads him to numerous American landmarks, nothing is more important for reporter Borat (Sacha Baron Cohen) than meeting the love of his life Pamela (“Pa-mela”) Anderson. After having seen her in a Baywatch fan book, the journalist from Kazakhstan ventures across America to propose to her, which turns into a surprise act of romantic kidnapping.
Reason: Whether this event is staged or not, this perfectly outdated cameo succeeds in delivering the anticipated finale for this comedy that earlier hits its own comedic heights. Her off-screen presence makes for funny jokes throughout Borat’s journey, but watching a man try to kidnap this ’90s star at an autograph signing is a near perfect encapsulation of the Americana insanity that is Baron Cohen’s film.
2. Neil Patrick Harris in the ‘Harold & Kumar’ films
Recap: Originally plopping into the first film franchise as a hitchhiking NPH, the “Doogie Howser M.D.” star showed up in the sequel Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay and ultimately as a non-gay gay man in A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas.
Reason: This trademark cameo provided for a great joke during the first Harold & Kumar adventure, Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle. At the same time, it also provided NPH the ability to upgrade from Doogie Howser to Barney Stinson on “How I Met Your Mother,” which has since spawned a new bro-verload of a personality unique to his own charisma. And for an actor whose charisma has very much come from this established NPH-ness, this cameo began a slew of appearances in which the actor only has to play a variation on himself to satisfy his audiences.
1. Bill Murray in ‘Zombieland’ (2009)
Recap: In one of Zombieland’s biggest surprises, actor Bill Murray appears as himself, who only dresses up like a zombie so that he can still play golf despite the zed-domination outside his door.
Reason: Bill Murray is no stranger to cameos. He also popped up as himself in Space Jam, and has even shown up as an unexpected extra in a couple of student films. Murray’s appearance in Zombieland is a great continuation of the fun that he has with his image, coasting on Ghostbusters references and Murray-worship all while playing himself. Murray also gets the largest laugh in the scene’s abrupt ending. This appearance for Murray is another teasing addition to his new status as an urban legend, a feat that marks this cameo as one of film’s very best.