15 surprisingly memorable sci-fi movie cameos

Contributed by
Dec 14, 2012

What's not to love about movie cameos? They're short, they're sweet, and they usually feature an actor or celebrity as we've never seen them before. With movies like Iron Man, Thor and most recently X-Men: First Class, cameos have become the norm. We expect the unexpected.

But not all cameos are created equal. Some are genuinely clever and come completely out of left field. And those are the ones that deserve a second look.
We've put together a list of 15 surprise appearances that left us scratching our heads and/or wanting more.
(BTW—if you're looking for Stan Lee or Alfred Hitchcock, they didn't make the list. Sure, their cameos are legendary, but they're not surprising. Unless someone says otherwise, they're usually a given.)

George A. Romero in Silence of the Lambs

The director behind the Night of the Living Dead franchise makes a blink-and-you-miss it appearance in Jonathan Demme's thriller as a one of the many FBI agents who pull Clarice (Jodie Foster) away from a heated confrontation with Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins). What makes this cameo so awesome is the random nature of it and the stink-eye Romero gives Lecter. He has no lines and he's mostly in the background, but he uses his one minor closeup to his full advantage. Check out his stealth performance at the 12:59 mark. He's the burly guy with the striped tie.

Peter Jackson in Hot Fuzz

Peter Jackson is no spring chicken when it comes to cameos. He often pops up in his own films, like 1996's The Frighteners, but we think his best cameo was in Edgar Wright's Hot Fuzz. Jackson appears as a tweaked-out Santa Claus complete with beady eyes and a knife. His scene lasts a mere two seconds but leaves a lasting impression. It was great for us but bad for Simon Pegg's hand. Cate Blanchett also pops up in the movie, but her character's not nearly as disturbing.

Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright in Land of the Dead

Speaking of Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright, after shooting their cult comedy Shaun of the Dead, they got the opportunity of a lifetime when they got to do a cameo in George A. Romero's latest Dead sequel. The tables were turned when the duo were slathered in makeup and turned into the mindless zombies they've made fun of in the past. Talk about the shoe being on the other foot! This is one of those cameos that can go completely unnoticed if someone doesn't point it out.


John Hurt in Spaceballs

John Hurt just can't catch a break. The actor's known for being two things: the Elephant Man and the guy from Alien who got his chest/stomach ripped to shreds. When he was asked to appear in Mel Brooks' spoof Spaceballs, he should have known something was up. In it, he was once again the victim of "stomach problems," and the only thing he could say was "Oh no. Not again!"

Bill Murray in Zombieland

Murray's appearance was supposed to be a top-secret cameo to surprise fans. In the film, he plays himself, pretending to play a zombie to stay alive. Does that make sense? In principle it sounds like a great idea (blending in), but it eventually backfired. So we like to think of the good that came from his short time onscreen, more specifically the Ghostbusters scene! Was it Murray's way of telling us this is the closest we'll ever get to Ghostbusters 3?

David Cronenberg in Jason X

Lexa Doig summed it best when David Cronenberg walked into the opening scene of Jason X. She simply asked, "What are you doing here?" Yes, Mr. Cronenberg, that's an answer we'd all like to know. The director of one of the most amazing sci-fi films of all-time (The Fly) popping up in this sub-par sequel was just weird. But then again, this is the guy whose nicknames include King of Venereal Horror and the Baron of Blood, so we shouldn't be too surprised. Check out his cameo at the 4:45 mark.

Charlton Heston in Planet of the Apes (2001)

This is irony at its best. After watching Heston growl "Take your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty ape!" it was cool to see him transform into the very thing he hates the most. The actor appeared in the 2001 Planet of the Apes remake that featured Mark Wahlberg as an out-of-place human and Heston as one of the land's most respected ape elders. (Running in close second is Heston's cameo in Wayne's World 2!). Unfortunately, we can't embed a clip featuring his monkey performance, but you can find it here. You can watch Heston's part at 11:06.

Patrick Ewing in The Exorcist III

What in the NBA player hell was going on with this movie? The third Exorcist had plenty of cameos, including Fabio and Larry King, but Patrick Ewing took the cake. We weren't afraid of the film's serial killer; we were terrified of the winged baller hanging out in the background. What was up with that? His entire presence on screen was just strange. You can see his creepy yet subtle appearance around the 8:40 mark.

Samuel L. Jackson in Iron Man

You could say this is the one that started it all. We're referring to Marvel's current cameo-prone action movies. It's no secret that Marvel's Ultimate Nick Fury was modeled after Samuel L. Jackson, so to have him fill the role on the big screen was a fanboy's dream come true. Not only does he introduce himself as Fury, he introduces the Avenger Initiative, which kick-started a series of films we're still watching today (Captain America's next!). In our humble opinion, Jackson's appearance is still one of the best-executed cameos to date.

Janet Leigh in Halloween: H20

Janet Leigh and her daughter, fellow scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis, joined forces for what we like to call "When Psycho met Halloween." Leigh's appearance is dripping with Hitchcock nostalgia when she gets into the same car that her character Marion Crane drove in Psycho and walks away when music from the original score starts playing (around the 1:08 mark). This is definitely one of the most memorable and classy homages ever done.

Wes Craven in Scream

If Halloween: H20's Psycho homage was classy, then Wes Craven's Scream/A Nightmare on Elm Street's was campy. The director pops up in a scene where he plays the high school janitor Fred, who happens to be wearing a striped green and red sweater and a brown fedora. Subtlety was definitely not Craven's intention--and we loved it!

Gene Hackman in Young Frankenstein

Mel Brooks is a master at coming up with good cameos for good actors. When Young Frankenstein opened in theaters in 1974, Gene Hackman had become the go-to guy for thrillers and hardcore dramas. At the time he was riding high on The French Connection and The Poseidon Adventure. That's why it was so hilarious to see him out of his element as a bearded blind man trying to treat Frankenstein to a nice cup of espresso.

Keith Richards in Pirates of the Caribbean At World's End

Johnny Depp made it known that he based Jack Sparrow's mannerisms on the Rolling Stones' Keith Richards. So it would only be fitting that Richards appear in one of the movies as Jack's long-lost father. Richards played Captain Teague in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, and as soon as he hit the screen the mood changed and poor Jack was shaking in his boots! And to be honest, so were we.

Johnny Depp in Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare

Cameo: In 1991 Johnny Depp was white-hot. He'd been on a hit TV show, he'd just done Edward Scissorhands, and he was on his way to becoming the huge superstar he is today. That's why we were pleasantly surprised when he decided to acknowledge his roots. Depp's first major film role was in 1984's A Nightmare on Elm Street (poor Johnny got eaten by his bed). Since he appeared in the first film, it made sense that he'd pop up in what was supposed to be the last in the franchise. What's not to love about Johnny Depp getting hit in the head with a frying pan? Who saw that coming? Obviously not him!

William Shatner in Fanboys

Oh, Fanboys! A movie made about geeks, for geeks, and featuring a cameo from the biggest geek icon of all—William Shatner. Capt. Kirk—we mean, Mr. Shatner appears as an informant to a group of diehard fans on a serious mission. When they ask him how he's been able to get his hands on classified information, he simply says, "Are you kidding? I'm William Shatner. I can score anything." We think that statement is closer to fact than fiction. We believe you, Mr. Shatner. We believe you!

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