You ever go to the movies and are surprised to see an actor you had no idea would be in the film? Well, that's called a cameo, but let's be more specific, because there are all sorts of cameos. There are those where some famous person pops up, playing themselves for two seconds, like Mike Tyson in The Hangover. Then there are the movies where they pay a star a lot of money to be in a scene or two and then promote the hell out of it.
Good examples of that would be Marlon Brando in the original Superman or Eddie Murphy in Best Defense. In fact, Murphy is barely in Best Defense. It is Dudley Moore's movie, and just about all of Murphy's lines are in the trailer, which pimps him mercilessly.
This is NOT what I'm talking about. I'm focusing on those times major stars take small but important roles in movies and are not part of the film's publicity. They're not in the trailers or movie posters. They're just doing small but good work, and their presence in the film is a big surprise.
#4. Jack Nicholson in Broadcast News
Did you know being over 35 means having memories of seeing actual movies from the '80s? It's true. Ask your dad. (Or, if you're over 35, just write "Right on!" in the comments below.)
Broadcast News was one of the biggest movies of the '80s, nominated for seven Academy Awards including best picture, best actor, best actress, best supporting actor, and best original screenplay. William Hurt, Holly Hunter, and Albert Brooks play the lead characters, and they're the ones in the movie poster and all the advertising.
No, that's Brooks on the right, jackass.
Despite this central love triangle, there is another important but small character -- TV anchorman/news legend Bill Rorich. Think Dan Rather/Tom Brokaw. Or if you've just started watching television news in the last few years, think Wolf Blitzer but without severe neurological delays. And, playing this character -- seemingly out of nowhere -- is Jack Nicholson.
How Did This Happen?
Nicholson must have taken quite the shine to writer/director James L. Brooks during the filming of Terms of Endearment, because Nicholson did Brooks' Broadcast News for free. He also asked for his name not to appear in the credits, because he didn't want his celebrity status to distract from the central characters of the film. That actually makes a lot of sense, because as big as Nicholson is now, he was basically a cartoon in the '80s -- the decade in which he played an ax murderer (The Shining), Satan (The Witches of Eastwick), and The Joker (Batman). This subdued cameo works shockingly well, because the character he's playing is supposed to be a TV legend. When he suddenly appeared, the audience in the showing I was at gasped, which is great, because the characters in the movie do too. It's almost like the entire cast is saying, "Hey, fucking Jack Nicholson's in this movie!"
"See, I'm a TV newsman, not an ax murderer or the devil. You can tell because I've combed my hair
and I'm not wearing sunglasses."
#3. Tom Cruise in Tropic Thunder
Tom Cruise is one of the biggest movie stars in the world. Also, by all accounts, he is super not funny. I mean, alarmingly unfunny. Go ahead. Try to picture him telling a joke. Can you? I just tried and for some reason got a visual of him stapling a parakeet to a block of wood. Despite all that, Cruise is unrecognizable and hilarious as foul-mouthed, hot-headed, stupid executive Les Grossman in Ben Stiller's Tropic Thunder. In a film starring Stiller (in a non-sucky role), Robert Downey Jr. at his funniest, and Jack Black being, well, Jack Black, Cruise is the one that everyone remembers from this movie. And it's not just the novelty of him wearing a fat suit, prosthetic hands, and a bald wig that's so funny. He absolutely commits and owns the role.
How Did This Happen?
Stiller has always been a big fan of Cruise, and they've done bits like this together in the past:
Given that relationship, it wouldn't have been surprising if Cruise showed up in one wacky scene, but the Les Grossman character is more than that, and, shockingly, Cruise played a big part in shaping the role and making it more. Stiller wanted Cruise to take the role ultimately played by Matthew McConaughey, but Cruise suggested a hot-head producer. That's right. Cruise had some funny ideas. It was also Cruise who had the idea to give Grossman large prosthetic hands and to have him dance to Flo Rida's "Low."
And then Stiller and Cruise kept it a secret. Paramount refused to release any pics of Cruise in costume. But, of course, Inside Edition got copies and ruined the surprise, but here's the great thing: only for the scum who watch crap like Inside Edition. It was still a fun surprise for those of us with functioning brains who went to see the movie.