I don’t think it’s a big secret that movie stars love them some money. But every once in a while, you hear a story about an actor just being a fan of a movie (or director) and wanting to be a part of the project. They’re not asking for a starring role, just a piece of the action. For most of the A-listers on this list, that’s exactly how it went down. They said, “Hey, let me be in this movie,” and director was like “Yeah, alright.” Usually these little roles or cameos play up the actor’s identity to make it funny or ironic or whatever, but that’s not always the case. In most examples laid out below, they went to great lengths to hide the actor’s identities, or at least not draw a lot of attention to it.
Then again, maybe it’s all part of the plan. Maybe these actors go into costume, the filmmakers leak out the information that so and so is hidden in the movie in a special role and fans start making a big deal about. There’s no such thing as bad publicity. Unless you’re getting Mel Gibson publicity. That can get pretty ugly.
There’s something hilarious about a big star playing a really small, unknown part. We only expect to see them in central positions in front of the camera, so it’s a surprise to catch a glimpse of a megastar doing something minor. Or, for the costumed ones, it’s neat knowing that they’re hiding their faces. Maybe they’re not the egotistical maniacs we envision them as. For the audience, it’s cool to be able to spot someone and think, “Did I just see (enter a famous actor’s name here)?” Well, I’ve taken the fun out of the scavenger hunt for you, for your own good of course. I’ve tracked down all the best times that an A-List actor played a somewhat unknown role—whether that means they’re costumed, obscure or just inconsequential.
15. Johnny Depp – 21 Jump Street
Ok, so Johnny Depp does remove his costume at the end of the film, and then it’s quite clear who he is, so this isn’t quite an “unknown role.” But there is a time in the film where you really can’t tell it’s him. His long beard and bandana mask any identifying features. Really, the character is Depp reprising his character of Tom Hanson from the 21 Jump Street TV show. Hanson and his partner, Doug Penhall (Peter DeLuise), reveal that they have been working undercover, something they do quite well. Once their cover is blown by Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill, Depp removes his costume and we all see his beautiful face. Shortly after, Both Hanson and Penhall are killed, shot multiple times in the chest and neck.
14. Cate Blanchett & Peter Jackson – Hot Fuzz
So Cate Blanchett loved Shaun of the Dead. Or maybe she loves Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and/or Nick Frost, wanted to be in it, so she got to be in it. Simple. When your name is Cate Blanchett, you get to do what you want, when you want. Her part was very minor, though it was funny. She played Angel’s (Pegg) ex-girlfriend Janine. She’s one of those CSI people looking for semen samples. She wears a mask and a whole white getup, so you can’t make her out, other than her eyes and her voice. Apparently, she’s going out with Dave now.
13. Robin Williams – The Adventures of Baron Munchausen
Ok, so it’s not really a tiny bit part or anything like that, but Robin Williams‘ role as the King of the Moon deserves to be here if only for the obscurity of it today. In a classic ad-libbed performance from Williams, the bumbling King of the Moon pretty much steals the show in the little screen time that he has. His makeup and the fact that he’s only really a floating head may have something to do with this being a rather unknown role for the late great comedian, but it’s one that everyone needs to take in. I feel that Monty Python work gets cherry-picked a little by most North American audiences. Everyone’s seen and loved The Holy Grail, but their other works don’t get as much love as maybe they should.
12. Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie – Men In Black III & Lord of the Rings
Jemaine Clement may not be exactly what you’d call A-List. However, the Flight of the Conchords star is a star in our hearts and he deserves some love. His presence as the primary villain in MIB 3 went by completely undetected by many because his costume was so awesome. Don’t feel bad if it tricked you too. Clement’s partner in crime in Flight of the Conchords, Bret McKenzie, has had a few minor roles himself. His most important is that of the Elf, Figwit (Frodo is grea… Who is that?), in Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. McKenzie gets to reprise the role in The Hobbit for those who missed him on the first go around.
11. Tom Cruise – Young Guns
Young Guns was released in 1988, so you may think Tommy Cruise wasn’t a superstar at that point, but he was. Oh yes, child, he was. In the year 1988, Cruise was the spice of choice in Hollywood. It would be years until people learned he was a crazy person. In 1988, the only thing crazy about Cruise was the run of massive starring roles he was in the middle of; so why would he go for this walk on part? I dunno. No, we actually don’t know. There’s a story out there that he was simply visiting one of his old pals, Emilio Estevez who did The Outsiders with Cruise five years earlier, but who knows if that’s actually true. Who knows why Cruise does anything? He is about as weird as it gets and making sense of his life is an impossible mission…
10. Dan Aykroyd – Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
He’s not in much of a disguise, but Dan Aykroyd is a bit tough to spot if only because you’d never expect him in such a small role. After the opening car chase in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Aykroyd shows up at the airport sporting a sweet mustache and a not-so-sweet British accent. It’s rumored that Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and a few others are extras in this airport scene as well. It appears that Aykroyd and Spielberg (the director) are long-time buddies, and Aykroyd wanted a small bit part in the next film. The two worked together back in 1979 on the film 1941, so this was a reunion of sorts.
9. Matt Damon – EuroTrip
You might be thinking, why would Matt Damon ever show his face in a movie like Eurotrip when he’s a literal superstar and could almost take his pick of any movie in the world. Apparently it was a little bit of good timing that led to this meeting. First, Damon and the filmmakers from Eurotrip (Jeff Schaffer, Alec Berg and Dave Mandel) are all old Harvard buddies. Plus, when the film shoot took the team to Prague to shoot at The International School of Prague, they knew that their buddy Damon was close by shooting The Brothers Grimm, also in Prague. A quick phone call and a favor for old time’s sake later and Damon is singing “Scotty Doesn’t Know” on stage for a weirdly terrible movie. Come to think of it, this is the best scene in the entire movie.
8. Steve Buscemi – Pulp Fiction
Die-hard Tarantino fans are sure to remember this cameo role by Steve Buscemi, but if it’s been a little while since you’ve seen Pulp Fiction, you may have forgotten that Buscemi plays Buddy Holly the waiter in the Jack Rabbit Slims restaurant scene. It seems that he is trying to remain somewhat anonymous, keeping his head down and not saying much more than a normal waiter would. It’s funny to think that in Reservoir Dogs, two years prior to Pulp Fiction, Buscemi is arguing about having to tip waiters and now, here he is, playing one. Buscemi has a face that’s hard to miss. I’m not saying it’s ugly, just distinctive.
7. Keanu Reeves – Freaked
When an entire movie, like the 1993 comedy Freaked, is obscure, any role within the movie is sure to be obscure as well. So it’s no crazy mystery why more people don’t know about Keanu Reeves‘ amazing role as Ortiz the Dog Boy. I don’t want to say it’s one of his best, but it’s close. I think Reeves is quite a bit better in comedy roles than he is in the serious stuff, so this one sits well with me. Reeves plays the leader of the Freaks before Ricky comes in to challenge his authority. Decked out in full dog costume, it’s impossible to identify the man best known as Ted “Theodore” Logan. There is, if you listen closely, a certain something about Reeves’ voice that makes it possible to spot him though. He’s always somewhat in surfer mode so, any time you detect chill vibes, Reeves is usually not far away.
6. Nicolas Cage – Grindhouse
Nicolas Cage is in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it role in Quentin Tarantino’s Grindhouse, playing Fu Manchu in a trailer for the non-existent film, Werewolf Women of the SS. The story goes that Tarantino got Rob Zombie to direct a trailer that would appear in the Grindhouse film. Zombie, who is good friends with Cage, approached him to be a Nazi Doctor. Uncomfortable with that proposition, Cage was hesitant at first, so they changed the Nazi doctor to Fu Manchu, which Cage was onboard for. It’s a pretty great moment in the film and having a random appearance by such a Hollywood heavyweight makes it that much better. Zombie also claimed that Cage’s son believed the small role to be his dad’s best of his career. Let that sink in for a minute.
5. Charlton Heston – Planet of the Apes (2001)
In the much maligned Planet of the Apes (2001) from Tim Burton and starring Marky Mark, Charlton Heston takes on a much different role than he’s used to in the franchise, donning the ape costume for the very first time. Playing Zaius, General Thade’s (Tim Roth) dying father, Heston tells Thade about the power and the threat that man represents. Just before dying, Heston squeezes out the line, “damn them. Damn them all to hell,” a rift on his famous line from the beginning of the franchise. The uncredited role would also be Heston’s last major film before his death, somewhat of a nice circular career move—even though the film is hated by pretty much everyone.
4. Daniel Craig – Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Daniel Craig was one of the many Star Wars fans that wanted a small role in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but when you’re James Bond you don’t get normal small roles like the rest of the scum out there. Nah, Craig got to be Stormtrooper JB-007, the poor guy that Rey first uses her mind control on. Remember the one that Rey asks to remove her restraints and leave the door open? Him. That’s our Danny boy—I don’t think people call him that actually. Unfortunately for him though, his character may be solely responsible for the fall of the Empire. At least he’s made an impact on the story.
3. Nathan Fillion – Guardians of the Galaxy
He may not look like much out there, but that’s Nathan Fillion alright—Monstrous Inmate as we like to call him, and by we, I mean the credits. Fillion’s little part is as a large character who gets tossed around a little by big Groot. After that, his scene is done. He gets killed in the jailbreak melee I think. So why did Fillion, the beauty from Firefly, and lead of TV’s Castle, take such a small cameo? Surely, he could have played a bigger bit. Apparently, it was a favor for director James Gunn. The two gents had worked together on the cult horror flick Slither, back in 2006. Fillion made a brief cameo in Gunn’s Super as well, so it’s kind of like continuing a tradition. Rumors suggest that Fillion will be playing a much larger role in the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy 2, that of Simon Williams—Wonder Man, so we have that to look forward to.
2. Bill Murray – Dumb and Dumber To
Harry’s roommate in the silly-but-not-silly-enough sequel Dumb and Dumber To, wears a full hazmat suit so the actor hiding behind the mask could really be anyone. Well, he isn’t just anyone. The Farrelly Brothers, who directed the film, considered that since the character would be hidden they should have a big star play the part. They thought it would be funny to have someone iconic hiding back there, actually a pretty good decision since absolutely nothing else in this movie was funny. They thought about it for a bit and then asked their good friend Bill Murray, to come by for the scene, and the legendary comic obliged. Who’s more iconic than Bill Murray? Peter Farrelly said that Murray brings such good vibes to the set that the part was really just an excuse to bring him by and get everyone in a good mood.
1. Simon Pegg – Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Star Wars pretty much doesn’t even have to pay actors at this point in the franchise. There are so many people who were dying to be a part of it that they basically just threw themselves at the film crew. Simon Pegg, of Shaun of the Dead fame, was no different. We know Pegg is a nerd and we love him for it. Not only did Pegg get a role in the movie, it was actually a pretty big one. He just happened to be costumed in it, so we never knew it was him. Well, those of you with Darth Maul nightlights probably knew who he was ahead of time, but most of us didn’t. Pegg did drop a few hints that he would be in the movie a while back, so it wasn’t necessarily the craziest surprise. He ended up playing Unkar Plutt, the rude junk boss that Rey argues with in Jakku. When you know it’s Pegg behind that costume, you look a little differently at the character. Not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing yet.