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The Best Celebrity Film Cameos from A to Z

The ABCs of cool celebrity guest spots, from Armstrong to Zane

HAPPY GILMORE, Bob Barker, Adam Sandler, 1996, (c) Universal/courtesy Everett Collection FILM STILL
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Bob Barker wasn’t the first actor to play himself in a movie. He’s not even the first person to punch Adam Sandler repeatedly in the face (just a guess). So what is it, exactly, that makes his “bitch” so unforgettable? Is it the super-white hair? The perfectly-pitched anger? The swagger? Or is it, just plain and simple, the fact that he’s doing it under his own name?

barker fight 2 The Best Celebrity Film Cameos from A to Z

Whatever the cause, Barker’s cameo in Happy Gilmore — now marking its 20th anniversary, in case you were looking for a new reason to feel old — was instantly iconic, something it has in common with many a celebrity cameo on film. But whether their appearance is unforgettable or under-the-radar, watching a famous person take the piss out of themselves remains a pretty surefire way to squeeze one more joke into a movie. Some celebrities are funnier than others. Some can act, and others can’t (looking at you, Brett Favre). Some play against type, and others lean into their existing reputations. But every single one of them said yes, and that’s pretty cool.

Here now, a children’s treasury of celebrity cameos, from Armstrong to Zane. Share it with the D-lister in your life.

–Allison Shoemaker
Staff Writer

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A IS FOR LANCE ARMSTRONG

Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story (2004)

One of the forgotten shames of Armstrong’s doping revelation is that it neuters what was, to date, one of cinema’s all-time greatest guilt trips. Armstrong’s cameo in 2004’s Dodgeball, in which he blithely mentions his personal successes and determination in front of a dispirited Vince Vaughn, was so much better when we still thought of him as a hero: “I guess if a person never quit when the going got tough, they wouldn’t have anything to regret for the rest of their life. But good luck to you, Peter. I’m sure this decision won’t haunt you forever.” –Clint Worthington

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B IS FOR BOB BARKER

Happy Gilmore (1996)

The man, the myth, the legend. The reason for this list. The celebrity cameo to end all celebrity cameos. The one and only Bob Barker. Bitch. —Allison Shoemaker

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C IS FOR CHANNING TATUM

This Is the End (2013)

In a movie that’s nothing but celebrities playing themselves, it’s hard to pinpoint who most steals the show. This pick could easily have been Michael Cera (the coke fiend), Emma Watson (the water-stealing warrior), or the heavenly chorus that is the Backstreet Boys. Still, the winner’s gotta be Channing Tatum, who leapfrogs out of a malevolent Danny McBride’s trailer of horrors, willingly chained to the man who made him his sex slave. “I love him,” he murmurs and then goes back to humping McBride’s leg. God bless you, sir. —Allison Shoemaker

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D IS FOR DAVID BOWIE

Zoolander (2001)

“I believe, I might be of service.” Cue the title card for David Bowie! And throw in his track “Let’s Dance!” Ben Stiller’s manic lampooning of the modeling industry features a cavalcade of fashionistas, but when Bowie shows up for a glorified referee job, few cameos scream with such authoritative cool. Because who knows more about fashion than Mr. “Fashion” himself? –Blake Goble

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E IS FOR EMINEM

Funny People (1996)

Funny People is a fine movie where Judd Apatow has Adam Sandler play someone a lot like Adam Sandler and then gives him cancer. It’s dour, self-indulgent, and occasionally wonderful. One of those moments, hand to god, comes down to Marshall Mathers. Eminem, it seems, would rather die than be famous, and he absolutely does not love Raymond. —Allison Shoemaker

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F IS FOR BRETT FAVRE

There’s Something About Mary (1998)

If There’s Something About Mary is any indication, Brett Favre can’t act for shit. But luckily, that’s not the point of his cameo in Mary, as the one suitor who never deceives Mary in order to win her love. He’s just there to prove that sometimes the guy who maybe should be the hero doesn’t get the girl, and the guy who got jizz in her hair gets her instead. —Allison Shoemaker

G IS FOR MACY GRAY

Spider-Man (2002)

Parade scenes in films are a fascinating time capsule for the musical tastes of the era, as evidenced by Macy Gray’s raspy crooning of “My Nutmeg Phantasy” in Sam Raimi’s breakout, web-slinging superhero flick. Decked out in a furry, red jumpsuit with “ID” on the chest(?), Gray gawks along with the rest of the parade-goers as Dafoe’s Green Goblin makes his flashy first appearance. (Bonus points to this scene for also squeaking in a Stan Lee cameo.) –Clint Worthington

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H IS FOR ALFRED HITCHCOCK

Everything

When it comes to cameos, no one matches the Master of Suspense himself, who always needed to find a way to work himself into the background of his films. Whether poking fun at his weight in a newspaper ad for the Reduco Obesity Slayer in Lifeboat, missing a bus in the opening credits of North by Northwest, or walking past Janet Leigh’s office in a hat in Psycho, Hitchcock made himself an Easter egg in nearly all of his classic pictures. –Clint Worthington

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I IS FOR BILLY IDOL

The Wedding Singer (1998)

I don’t care what anyone says, The Wedding Singer is fucking magical. The Adam Sandler-Drew Barrymore romance reaches its peak really, really high up — literally on a plane — and just when Sandler’s Robbie Hart needs someone to hold the PA for him, Billy Idol’s got his back. He’s the feminist, sensitive listener you always dreamed and hoped the singer of “Dancing with Myself” was deep down. —Allison Shoemaker

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J IS FOR LEBRON JAMES

Trainwreck (2015)

In a film that features the surprisingly outstanding comedic debut of John Cena, it’s LeBron James in Judd Apatow’s Trainwreck that stands out as the best portrayal of a celebrity in that film. Not afraid of showing his sensitive side, Apatow’s version of LeBron is a soft-spoken, frugal, and deeply loyal friend to Bill Hader’s character, allowing the comedy to come not from the presence of outrageous antics, but from their absence. It’s the opposite of the Neil Patrick Harris Cameo Effect, which I find quite admirable. –Clint Worthington

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K IS FOR KAREEM ABDUL-JABBAR

Airplane! (1980)

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar might secretly be an airline pilot, but he’s not much of an actor. He’s basically one obvious cue-card reading away from being the spokesperson for a local waterbed discount retailer. But what’s brilliant about his cameo in Airplane! —and the thing that makes it one of the most famous cameos of all time — is the odd pocket universe it creates, where The Captain tries to get away from it all by taking to the skies as Roger Murdock and somehow manages to fit inside the cockpit. –Allison Shoemaker

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L IS FOR STAN LEE

Every Marvel Movie

The grandpappy of modern-day comic books has turned his blink-and-you’ll-miss-him cameos into an art form, an expected ingredient in the Marvel recipe. Even in the non-MCU films, he usually manages to work his way in and have some fun. He’s been Hugh Hefner, Larry King, and an entire public museum’s worth of busybodies and security guards. His best cameo comes from an unexpected place, though: 2010’s The Amazing Spider-Man, where he’s lost in classical music on his headphones while Spidey and Lizard have a knock-down, drag-out brawl all around him at Peter Parker’s school. –Clint Worthington

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M IS FOR JOHN MALKOVICH

Being John Malkovich (1999)

We almost didn’t include John in this list. After all, John Malkovich isn’t playing John Malkovich. He’s playing John Horatio Malkovich. Besides, can you really call a part this large a cameo? There was much hemming and hawing, but the the final decision came down to this one, undisputable fact: Malkovich Malkovich. Malkovich. Malkovich Malkovich Malkovich. Malkovich, Malkovich? Malkovich. Malkovich! –Allison Shoemaker

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N IS FOR NEIL PATRICK HARRIS

Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle (2004)

The sequels overused him (and they weren’t very funny, anyway), but after the title characters picked up a certain hitchhiker (“trippin’ balls”), Harold & Kumar got weeeeird. If nothing else, we have this strange little stoner comedy to thank for the great Neil Patrick Harris renaissance — thanks to this vulgar, very funny cameo, NPH left Doogie Howser behind. —Allison Shoemaker

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O IS FOR ORSON WELLES

The Muppet Movie (1979)

Oh, Orson Welles. It was very nice of you to not show up drunk to a kids film. While Welles’ notorious nit-pickiness and project gestation problems became the stuff of legend in the ‘70s, the director had to find other means to afford champagne and frozen peas. So, that’s how you get Welles surrounded by a bunch of loveable felt friendlies in The Muppet Movie. –Blake Goble

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P IS FOR PAMELA ANDERSON

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006)

Much of the humor (and nearly all of the controversy) associated with Borat stems from the fact that so few of the movie’s participants knew what was actually happening. One exception was Pamela Anderson — though you’d never know it from her performance. She’s so casual about the whole thing (until she starts running, of course) that she single-handedly pulled off one of the film’s best tricks: making us believe that somehow she was also in the dark and that Sacha Baron Cohen really threw a marriage sack over her head. Good on you, Pam. —Allison Shoemaker

Q IS FOR QUENTIN TARANTINO

Desperado (1995)

The year 1995 kicked off QT and Robert Rodriguez’s decades-long cinematic partnership; in addition to writing (and co-starring in) his vampiric follow-up From Dusk Till Dawn, Tarantino got to have a small scene in Desperado. Here, he basically plays himself, regaling the patrons of a Mexican dive bar with a raunchy story, complete with the nasally exuberance, flapping arms, and stammering excitement you see in nearly every interview he’s ever given. He leaves the picture just as quickly as he comes, making it the rare Tarantino cameo that doesn’t overstay its welcome. –Clint Worthington

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R IS FOR ROMAN POLANSKI

Chinatown (1974)

Here’s a special gray area for celeb cameos in movies. Polanski’s celebrity, well, infamy, has increased in recent years unfortunately due to his personal life. Really, Chinatown has him in more of a “the director put himself in the movie in a very small but curiously memorable way” kind of cameo. But homina homina homina what nightmares Polanski wrought when he cut up Nicholson’s nose. –Blake Goble

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S IS FOR THE THREE STOOGES

It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963)

Two things should be noted. One, Stanley Kramer’s comedy of epic proportions (not to mention lunacy) featured a king’s ransom of cameos. Carl Reiner, Jimmy Durante, Buster Keaton, Don Knotts, ZaSu Pitts, and dozens more showed up for crazy bit parts. And two, The Three Stooges cameo, but it’s the ‘60s Stooges, meaning, Moe Howard, Larry Fine, and “Curly” Joe DeRita. It’s worth pointing out because of the whole two Curlies thing. –Blake Goble

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T IS FOR TOM WAITS

Coffee and Cigarettes (2003)

There are so many choices in this film (cue the chorus of “how the fuck did you not pick Bill Murray?” and “how the fuck did you not pick GZA and RZA?” and “how the fuck did you not pick Steve Coogan, you animals?”), but surely as a planet, we can all come together on Tom Waits smoking. Tom’s always great on camera, but this scene’s worth it for that final cigarette alone. —Allison Shoemaker

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U IS FOR USHER

Muppets Most Wanted (2014)

Usher makes this list for two reasons: he is a charming motherfucker, and his whole appearance is a pun. He’s a wedding usher! Get it? Puns suck, except for this one. (Related: Christoph Waltz also appears in this movie, waltzing. Puns!) We couldn’t find a clip of this cameo, so please enjoy Usher, who is delightful, delightfully singing the ABCs with the Sesame Street gang. —Allison Shoemaker

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V IS FOR KURT VONNEGUT

Back to School (1986)

Some cameos are great because the performers are great. Some are great because of our associations with the person in question. Some are great because of puns (love you, Usher!), and some are just a punchline. Kurt Vonnegut must have loved punchlines. Either that, or he loved getting paid for saying his own name. Maybe he just loved Rodney Dangerfield? Whatever. He’s Kurt Vonnegut. He can do what he wants. —Allison Shoemaker

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W IS FOR BRUCE WILLIS

The Player (1992) and Ocean’s 12 (2004)

These two get lumped together because it’s possible to imagine that they exist in the same fictional universe. In this universe, Bruce Willis stars in Habeas Corpus with Julia Roberts. Many years later, his friendship with Roberts makes it possible for him to call out the ludicrous scam perpetrated by a bunch of people who look like celebrities in Ocean’s 12. Pretending that’s true certainly makes Ocean’s 12 a hell of a lot more interesting. —Allison Shoemaker

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X IS FOR DMX

Top Five (2014)

This film’s recent — and this might feel spoilerific — so if you haven’t caught Top Five yet, get on that. Now, are all the folks in the know still here? Late in Top Five, Chris Rock winds up in the slammer and runs into none other than X, growling like a dog, boasting that he “lives in this motherfucker, man!” It’s the best kind of cameo, coming from left field, acknowledging, then completely twisting our expectations of a famous figure in a meaningfully funny way. –Blake Goble

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Y IS FOR WEIRD AL YANKOVIC

The Naked Gun series (1988–1994)

That Weird Al. What a good sport. Technically, he doesn’t play himself in The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear —although I suppose you could argue that he does and just felt like holding a cop at gunpoint that day — but Weird Al pops up in all three Naked Gun films, rightfully claiming his place as one of the most popular and beloved celebrities in the world. You know, him and Vanna White. —Allison Shoemaker

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Z IS FOR BILLY ZANE

Zoolander (2000)

In a movie full of cameos, the chrome-domed Zane’s spot in Zoolander remains one of the most quotable. Showing up in just a gray t-shirt, flashing those smoldering eyes of his, Zane’s effortless cool stands out among the outrageously dressed male models who surround him. Hansel’s taunt to Zoolander contains one of life’s greatest truths, a command which we should all heed: “You should listen to your friend Billy Zane … he’s a cool dude.” –Clint Worthington

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