When a major actor appears in a major motion picture, it’s usually not a secret. Film production companies know that star power can sell tickets, so big-name actors typically appear in the film’s trailers, on the posters, and on all the commemorative merchandise (we’ve still got a Waterworld mug with Kevin Costner’s weird-looking face on it).
However, that’s not always the case. Sometimes, world-famous celebrities take small parts or background roles, simply because they believe in the project—or as a favor to their friends on the other side of the camera. We rounded up a few of the best examples of blink-or-you’ll-miss-it cameos from our favorite actors, and some of them are pretty mind-blowing.
The Last Jedi is packed with celebrity cameos.
Everyone wants to be in a Star Wars movie. What could be cooler than walking through the background of one of the world’s most beloved film franchises?
Maybe that’s why the filmmakers behind The Last Jedi decided to load their movie with celebrities. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, for instance, provided the voice of alien Slowen Lo. He apparently got the gig after dressing up as Yoda at the premiere of The Force Awakens (it didn’t hurt that he’d starred in Looper, directed by Last Jedi director Rian Johnson).
Incidentally, The Last Jedi did well at the box office, and critics loved it, but the film was polarizing for die-hard Star Wars fanboys. That reaction prompted Joseph Gordon-Levitt to write a 2,000-word defense of the film, which you can find here.
But Gordon-Levitt certainly wasn’t the only celebrity with a bit role. Singer Ellie Goulding made an appearance, which was eventually cut, but she did get to perform at The Last Jedi’s wrap party. That’s…something?
Prince William and Prince Harry also appeared as stormtroopers, but their scene was cut—take that, monarchists. Justin Theroux, Noah Segan, Lily Cole, and Warwick Davis (who played an ewok in Return of the Jedi) also filmed cameos.
Our favorite cameo, however, is a brief appearance by Gary Fisher. You can see him in the background of this screenshot. Look to the left.
Gary Fisher, by the way, is a bulldog. He belonged to the late Carrie Fisher, who made her final appearance in The Last Jedi. She frequently brought her canine companion on set, and some clever costume designer decided to use Gary as the basis of a weird alien dog-thing.
The late @carrieffisher's dog Gary just watched #TheLastJedi! He sat on Fisher's former assistant's lap during the film. She said his ears perked up every time she was on screen ❤️@starwars @ABC7 pic.twitter.com/2rCCGIi6Al
— Veronica Miracle (@ABC7Veronica) December 15, 2017
Per Rian Johnson, it’s called “Space Gary.”
Two of the zombies in Shaun of the Dead are from a well-known pop band.
What’s worse than a zombie apocalypse? If you’re like us, you immediately said, “Listening to a Coldplay album.”
We’re kidding, of course—it’s hard to deny that “Yellow” is a good song—but if you blinked, you might have missed the band’s appearance in the 2004 horror-comedy Shaun of the Dead. Coldplay singer Chris Martin and lead guitarist Jonny Buckland appear briefly towards the end of the flick in an interview segment (they’re organizing a benefit concert for a survivor charity, ZombAID).
But Martin also makes another appearance: He shambles through the background of one of the earlier scenes, totally zombified.
That makes us wonder—if Martin is a zombie, but he somehow cures his zombism later in the film, is he hiding the cure from the public? Does the cure involve making gentle-yet-anthemic pop ballads? Was he simply pretending to be a zombie to avoid then-wife Gwyneth Paltrow? What are you hiding, Chris?
We may never know, but we can at least figure out how the cameo happened. The boys from Coldplay were big fans of Shaun of the Dead creator Simon Pegg, who’d previously appeared on the British sitcom Spaced. After Pegg appeared at a few of Coldplay’s benefit shows, they agreed to make the Shaun of the Dead cameo, and they’re still good friends. Pegg occasionally plays harmonica with Coldplay on stage.
Okay, we’re pretty sure that “Coldplay, but with harmonicas” is actually worse than a zombie apocalypse.
Matt Damon loves making cameos.
He also seems to love Marvel movies. In Thor: Ragnarok, Damon appears—in heavy makeup—as an Asgardian actor.
In the film, the actors are reenacting the plot of the previous movie (Thor: The Dark World). Damon plays Thor’s brother, Loki. He’s playing his part opposite Luke Hemsworth, the brother of Chris Hemsworth. Their father, Odin, is Sam Neill (you probably know him as “that guy from Jurassic Park.”).
Damon seemed to genuinely enjoy the experience, but his involvement didn’t stop there. When the cast of the film appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live! to promote their work, Damon crashed the interview repeatedly.
Later, Damon returned to the Marvel universe in Deadpool 2. At one point, the character Cable runs into two rednecks talking about toilet paper. Those rednecks were Matt Damon (duh) and Alan Tudyk (best known for his role in Firefly). At the end of the film, Damon is credited as Dickie Greenleaf—an allusion to a character from The Talented Mr. Ripley.
His best cameo, however, might be his brief appearance at the beginning of EuroTrip. A tattooed Damon—with a shaved head and earrings—manages to steal the protagonist’s girlfriend.
A Beatle was in Monty Python’s The Life of Brian.
Blessed are the cheesemakers…and the most important rock band of all time. When the goofs of Monty Python’s Flying Circus set about making their second feature film, a satire of all those “life of Christ” movies, they ran into a problem. They were short on cash.
We might never have heard the song “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life,” delivered by a chipper Eric Idle as his character hangs crucified, were it not for a last minute angel investor. Oddly enough, you’ve probably heard of this guy. You might know him as “the quiet Beatle,” and you’ve definitely heard his most famous compositions, including “Here Comes the Sun” and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”
Yep, George Harrison was the crucial investor behind Monty Python’s Life of Brian. He even founded his production company, HandMade Films, to get the project off the ground. As a little thank you to the man who saved the film, director Terry Jones gave Harrison a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo in the film.
Harrison played a character named Mr. Papadopolous, though he appeared uncredited. Look for him in a crowd scene; he’s the guy with a red turban and a very late-era Beatles beard.
The kid from A Christmas Story was in another Christmas classic.
Peter Billingsley played Ralphie in A Christmas Story, better known as “that film TBS plays every Christmas about the kid who shoots his eye out.”
Billingsly has actually shifted much of his work to behind the camera these days, directing solid efforts such as Couple’s Retreat and a few episodes of Sullivan and Son, an obscure show that somehow ran for three seasons on TBS. His role in Elf was brief but memorable; he played Ming Ming the Elf, who helps Will Ferrell bring the phrase “cotton headed ninny-muggins” into the American lexicon.
We should also mention that Billingsley was once roommates with Vince Vaughn, and the two actors started a production house together called Wild West Picture Show Productions. Billingsley was a producer on Elf, and he’s also made brief appearances in other films he’s produced, including The Break-Up and Iron Man.
You’ll never spot this Daily Show star in Black Panther, but he’s there, alright.
Of course there was a hidden cameo in Black Panther. The film has everything—excitement, drama, social commentary—so it’s a no-brainer that the filmmakers would sneak someone into the film. And because this is a film about an African nation, however fictional, it makes sense to draft a star from the continent to play the Easter egg.
The star in question is Daily Show host Trevor Noah. The role in questions, though, is a bit more complicated. See, Noah didn’t actually appear visually in the film. And he didn’t exactly play a person. Instead, he voiced Griot, the Wakandan AI that controls Shuri’s advanced-even-for-Wakandan-tech battleship. You know: the one that Everett Ross (Martin Freeman) pilots during the film’s climactic battle.
As Noah explained on a later episode of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, “I was involved in a high level. I don’t like to brag about this…I was in Black Panther, the smash hit.”
Noah went on to joke that director Ryan Coogler first asked him to star in the film, then tried to get him to play the part that eventually went to Michael B. Jordan. Instead, the comedian kidded, “I’m like, ‘I will be the voice of the computer in the background, the computer that runs everything.’ Every spaceship you see is me.”
Of course, we couldn’t expect a straight answer out of Noah. Instead, he went for the comedy.
“A lot of people think I just did the lines there, but I’m everything,” he told Colbert. “I’m the ship as well. They got me in to play the ship.”
Here’s just one more reason to keep on shouting “Wakanda forever.”
A high-profile businessman makes an appearance in Casino Royale.
Richard Branson, of course, is the chairman of Virgin Atlantic. He’s also a big James Bond fan, and when Casino Royale director Martin Campbell needed an airplane to make a scene work, Branson jumped at the opportunity to provide a Virgin Atlantic plane—saving the film’s production company millions of dollars in the process.
That was enough to warrant a cameo.
“[Branson] was very supportive of us, and he helped us out when we needed a plane in Prague,” producer Barbara Broccoli told CinemaBlend. “He said, ‘Can I just do a little cameo?’ and Martin [Campbell] said, ‘Come to the airport, and we’ll stick you in the little security thing, and you can set the bells off.’”
“He had a lot of fun, and he was a trooper—it was a long night. He and his son were in the scene, and they were great.”
Eagle-eyed viewers appreciated the ironic appearance, but Virgin Atlantic competitor British Airways didn’t get the joke. When Casino Royale played as the in-flight movie on British Airways flights, Branson’s cameo was conspicuously absent. Apparently, BA’s in-flight entertainment team cut the scene.
Maybe they were jealous; per The Telegraph, the producers of Casino Royale initially wanted a BA plane but turned to Branson’s company after negotiations stalled.
Jimmy Buffett left Margaritaville to appear on another famous island.
Jimmy Buffet, hero to suburban dads everywhere, became nationally famous with his song “Margaritaville,” which he successfully spun into a global franchise worth hundreds of millions of dollars. If you’ve been on an island vacation at any point over the last three decades, there’s a pretty decent chance that somebody played some Jimmy Buffett at some point.
That extends to fictional islands, by the way. In 2015’s Jurassic World, pterodactyls break free from their enclosure and attack the park’s tourists, causing considerable panic. At one point, we see an older gentleman running from the dinosaurs while cradling a couple of salt-rimmed beverages.
Yes, that was Buffett himself. He’s a friend of producer Frank Marshall, which also explains why the Margaritaville brand gets a bit of screentime.
— Margaritaville (@Margaritaville) June 11, 2015
“[Buffett and I] are really close friends, and there was an opportunity here to have a lot of, you know—we had to come up with the boardwalk and the Main Street of an international up-and-running theme park,” Marshall told SlashFilm. “Jimmy has a Margaritaville in the Orlando Universal theme park, and so it kind of made sense, since this is a Universal movie and there’s already a restaurant. And we were looking at that corner building being some sort of restaurant or nightclub kind of situation, so it made perfect sense. And it was completely organic. Just like we have a Starbucks and a Ben and Jerry’s there.”
That wasn’t Buffett’s first appearance in a film. He also played a pirate in 1991’s Hook, delivering the classic line, “I fancy them shiny shoes for my booty.” We think you’re supposed to wear them on your feet, but hey, whatever floats your tropical boat.
Cate Blanchett wears a nurse’s mask in Hot Fuzz.
That’s why you don’t remember her—her face is never visible.
“I’d met [Blanchett] in LA and knew that she was a fan of Shaun of the Dead, so that was kind of a start,” director Ed Right said of the actor’s surprise appearance. “The first thing we wrote in Hot Fuzz is the kind of the girlfriend scene with the CSI sort of [setup]. The first joke was basically that you have an emotive scene with him saying farewell to his girlfriend and being very sentimental, and you can’t see her face.”
“In a weird way, this whole Cate Blanchett thing was sort of a slight kind of joke on that. ‘Let’s get an Oscar winner in there but not see her face.’ And she was totally up for that joke. She loved it. And for the record—and this is why Cate Blanchett goes to heaven—she gave her fee to charity. She is one nice lady.”
Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson also appears in Hot Fuzz, playing a psychopathic Santa Claus. Wright notes the irony of the costume; Jackson was a dead ringer for St. Nick at one point in his career, but he had shaved and lost weight prior to filming. To look the part, he had to wear a padded suit and a fake beard.
“It was brilliant, actually,” Wright said. “It was really cool because it was so sweet. He was in London for a week and we actually shooting outside and he came all the way down. His cameo is like five seconds long. He was really cool.”
Sometimes, it’s hard to notice cameos—even when a film explicitly calls itself out.
In Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Jason Segel flies to Hawaii to get over a breakup…only to realize that his ex-girlfriend is staying at the same resort. That prompts him to visit the hotel bar, where he indulges in several diet soft drinks before going to bed at a reasonable hour.
Okay, that’s not exactly what happens in the scene. Segel indulges his depression and starts talking to his drink, pretending that it’s Miranda from Sex and the City. In the background, the real Miranda (actor Cynthia Nixon) walks through nonchalantly.
The role was uncredited, and the cameo is so quick that many viewers didn’t catch the reference for months after Forgetting Sarah Marshall hit theaters. One Twitter user claims to have seen the film 150 times without recognizing the reference.
Nope, that’s not Bryan Cranston in Dumb and Dumber To.
Let’s think back to the Dumb and Dumber franchise, a set of films that reveled in humiliating luminary co-stars Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels. Specifically, remember the second installment, the aptly miss-named Dumb and Dumber To.
As you’ll recall, Lloyd (Carrey) visits Harry (Daniels) at the apartment the two used to share. He meets Harry’s new cat, Butthole, and gets a glimpse of same when he makes the mistake of asking how the pet earned the name.
Then he meets the new roommate. He’s a character right out of Breaking Bad, in the sense that he’s busy cooking up an illicit substance right there in the apartment’s kitchen. The entrepreneur, Ice Pick, appears decked out in a full chemical-safety outfit, complete with a face-obscuring respirator and face mask.
He “cooks up a rock candy that’ll make you dizzy,” Harry explains. What no one takes the time to mention is the face behind Ice Pick’s mask. You’d be forgiven if you don’t recognize the legendary actor and comedian Bill Murray, but that’s him under there.
For a movie that celebrates stupidity in all its forms, that’s a pretty smart choice of celebrity cameos.
Guardians of the Galaxy 2 ended up leaving a mysterious cameo on the cutting room floor.
Director James Gunn is famously friends with actor Nathan Fillion, who you will recognize from beloved projects that differ by generation. If you were around for Firefly and the cinematic release set in that universe, Serenity, Fillion will always be Captain Mal. If you first got to know him on the ABC crime drama Castle, it’s hard to see him as anyone other than mystery novelist Rick Castle.
To Gunn, Fillion is just a buddy he wants to crowbar into every film he ever makes. That includes both of Marvel’s existing Guardians of the Galaxy films. In the first, Fillion voiced a monstrous inmate at Nova Corps’ Kyln Prison.
For Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Gunn wanted to reach deeper into the Marvelverse. He envisioned a scene on Earth, in which a movie theater was running a Simon Williams film festival. He went so far as to produce a set of movie posters the fictional Williams appeared in, including a biopic of Iron Man himself, simply titled Tony Stark.
Williams played Stark in that fictional film. Fillion appeared as Williams in the poster. To reiterate: Gunn wanted to Fillion to play Williams playing Stark, who’s actually played by Robert Downey Jr. in the franchise.
Don’t feel bad if you don’t recognize the name Simon Williams from the original Marvel comics. He was the alter ego of B-list superhero Wonder Man, who probably won’t be getting his own franchise any time soon.
Unfortunately, and no matter how it seems in this era of three-hour epics, films can’t go on for forever. Directors have to make cuts for time. In this case, Fillion’s cameo ended up on the cutting room floor. At least Gunn put the fake movie posters up on social media.