Movies can be formulaic and predictable -hence the cameo. In baseball speak, it’s the curveball after a steady diet of fastballs. How else to explain the presence of Orson Wells in 1979’s The Muppet Movie? After a while, however, even surprises become formulaic and predictable. Whether it’s Bill Murray making an entrance in Zombieland or 80’s punk rocker Billy Idol showing up in The Wedding Singer, however spot-on or off-the-wall the appearance, cameos have become a dime a dozen.
The “in-character” movie cameo is a different phenomenon, and one that occurs far less frequently. This is when a character from one film wanders into another film; sometimes the two films are loosely related in some way and sometimes they’re not. Sometimes the "in character" cameo is a spoof or parody. In the film Alien, John Hurt played Kane; he was the character who had the alien creature pop out of his stomach. Hurt reprised the Kane role in the comedy Spaceballs, but instead of being the victim of an alien, he’s the victim of bad space cuisine. Superhero movies are well known for their various character crossovers, too. Below are 7 “in-character” movie cameos.
7 CRM114: Stanley Kubrick Films/Back to the Future
Stanley Kubrick was an insular and hermetic filmmaker, a hardheaded perfectionist and megalomaniacal auteur who enjoyed scattering cryptic symbols and veiled references throughout his work. Anyone who has seen Room 237, a documentary on Kubrick’s 1980 horror classic, The Shining, knows that cinephiles have some far-out theories about what Kubrick’s films really mean.
Are letters and numbers characters? Well, probably not, but in Kubrick’s universe they’re the next best thing. In Kubrick’s films the sequence CRM114 is written across a variety of objects; in A Clockwork Orange the sequence is used as the name of a serum, and in Dr. Strangelove it represents possible code letters. In the 1985 time travel comedy, Back to the Future, Steven Spielberg paid tribute to Kubrick. The sequence CRM114 is emblazoned on an amp that Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) plugs into.
6 Frank Martin: The Transporter/Collateral
Naysayers will argue that this "in character" cameo is a bit of stretch, or perhaps just wishful thinking and a desire to find connections where connections don't exist. Nevertheless, it’s not much of a leap of cinematic faith. In the opening of Michael Mann’s 2004 crime thriller, Collateral, Jason Statham makes a "drop" to Tom Cruise’s character, Vincent. While the drop-man isn’t referred to by name, film buffs believe the man is Frank Martin, the title character Statham played in The Transporter. The character making the drop in Collateral never looks in the box, which is one of Frank Martin’s golden rules. There is nothing concrete about the cameo; the beauty is in the fact that it is inferred. Still, one doesn’t have to suspend belief to make the connection.
5 Captain Willard: Apocalypse Now/Hot Shots! Part Deux
Martin Sheen played Captain Willard in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 Vietnam classic Apocalypse Now. Willard is loosely based on Charles Marlow, the protagonist in Joseph Conrad’s novella Heart of Darkness. In the film, Willard is dispatched down the Nung River to kill Colonel Walter E. Kurtz, an insane, T.S. Eliot quoting Marlon Brando who’s commanding his own troops in a remote outpost in neutral Cambodia.
“The Horror, the horror!” In an absurdist bit of meta-casting, Captain Willard has a meeting with Topper Harley (Charlie Sheen) in the 1993 comedy/parody Hot Shots! Part Deux. However, the Brechtian absurdity doesn’t end there. Real life father and son not only play the characters, but in their conversation they reference the actors that played opposite them in Wall Street. Heady stuff, indeed.
4 Tony Stark: Iron Man/The Incredible Hulk
Billionaire industrialist, playboy, and engineer Tony Stark (a.k.a. Iron Man) is no stranger to wandering into other comic book superhero films. In fact, the entire Marvel Comics universe is comprised of characters with crossover appearances in other issues, films, and TV shows (note: Hawkeye made a brief cameo in Thor). Stark is a founding member of The Avengers, so it makes sense he would have a leading role in the 2012 film. However, what exactly is Tony Stark doing at the end of 2008’s The Incredible Hulk?
In the film, Stark walks into a bar and has a conversation with Thaddeus E. “Thunderbolt” Ross. He tells Ross that he knows about his “problem,” and that a special team is being put together to deal with it. This is a nod to The Avengers. There’s just one question: why is Tony Stark approaching the General? And there’s a simple answer to this. Robert Downey Jr. was fresh off his role in Iron Man, a blockbuster that hauled in $320 million domestically, and the studio believed a little extra celebrity firepower would help boost ticket sales of The Incredible Hulk.
3 Ray Stantz: Ghostbusters/Casper
Dan Aykroyd played Ray Stantz in Ivan Reitman’s 1984 supernatural comedy Ghostbusters. Stanz is part of a group of paranormal investigators that include Dr. Peter Venkman (“We came, we saw, we kicked its ass”) and Egon Spengler. Ghostbusters was a critical and commercial success and grossed over $293 million worldwide. A sequel was released in 1989, and rumor has it the long-anticipated, frequently delayed and much maligned third installment is set to begin filming in 2015; of course, if you believe that, you probably believe that a giant Stay Puft Marshmallow Man is currently walking through the streets of New York.
Dan Aykroyd reprised his role as Ray Stanz in the 1995 film Casper. However, the ghostbusting business isn’t what it once was, and Stantz is working solo. He’s called to a haunted house to rid it of ghosts, but is unable to get the job done; maybe his failure has something to do with the kitschy proton pack. Unable to bust the ghost, Ray Stantz spoofs a classic line from the ‘84 film: “Who ya gonna call? Somebody else.”
2 E.T.: E.T. The Extra Terrestrial/Star Wars: The Phantom Menace
In E.T., Steven Spielberg’s 1982 science fiction film, a lonely boy befriends a space alien who accidently gets stranded on earth. Critics rank E.T. as one of the greatest science fiction films ever made, and it was the highest grossing movie for 10 years, until Jurassic Park, another Spielberg film, usurped it in 1993. The sci-fi fantasy has all the hallmarks of the Spielberg brand: it’s a story of friendship, home, family, and what happens when two outsiders find each other.
In 1999, George Lucas paid homage to E.T., not to mention his longtime friend Steven Spielberg. In the Galactic Senate scene in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, there are several members of the race of aliens in E.T. It is not only a clever way of tying the mythology of a “galaxy far, far away” to earth, but of illustrating how that galaxy is part of a larger universe. Most people would rather see an entire race of E.T.’s than one Jar Jar Binks.
1 Disney Characters in Other Disney Movies
Watching a Disney film is a lot like playing “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.” Or if it’s not like that absurd trivia game from the early 90s, then it’s at least like a game of I Spy or Where’s Waldo? Disney characters have been having out-of-movie experiences for decades, and part of the fun of watching a Disney movie is seeing which character (or characters) is going to stumble into someone else’s film. Here are a few of the more famous "in-character" cameos.
1. Disney royals Rapunzel and Flynn Rider made a surprise appearance at Elsa’s coronation in Arendelle in the 2010 film Tangled.
2. Belle from Beauty and the Beast can be seen walking down the cobblestone streets of Paris in The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
3. Buzz Lightyear, known for his role in the Toy Story franchise, didn’t make it to “infinity and beyond,” but he did show up in 2003’s Finding Nemo. It’s not much of a cameo. Buzz is just one of many toys scattered on the floor of the dentist’s office.
4. Sebastian from The Little Mermaid shares a brief scene with the Genie in Aladdin.
5. The Disney I Spy game isn’t just consigned to animated films, either. Tinker Bell makes a blink-and-you-miss-her appearance in Saving Mr. Banks. And in the 1982 cult classic, Tron, the Solar Sailor flies over a grid-like landscape designed with a Mickey Mouse silhouette.