In a lot of ways, comic book movies are all about embracing sheer spectacle. After all, the stars of the movies are inherently larger than life beings dressed in elaborate costumes. So when you’re already going over the top with the films, there is often a desire to continue in that vein by adding other examples of ostentatious displays to the movies. One area where this can be achieved is celebrity cameos. It can give the film a sense of being part of a larger cultural moment to have celebrities make appearances in the film.
On the other hand, celebrity cameos can actually sometimes serve to ground the film, as they make the events of the film seem more relatable at times when we see people that we recognize from real life interacting with fictional characters. That’s why so many comic book movies use real life newscasters to deliver the news in the films. However, not all celebrity cameos are created equal. Here, we will look at the worst examples of the trope — but which cameo is the worst?
15. EN VOGUE IN BATMAN FOREVER
One of the biggest problems with celebrity cameos is that casting someone who is en vogue in 1995 might end up looking super hokey within a couple of years, let alone decades later. That was literally the case in the casting of the hit pop singing group, En Vogue, in Batman Forever. They were right in the midst of the biggest stretch of their career; they had a number of hits in 1992 but their biggest hit was not until 1996 with “Let it Go (Love).”
However, within a few years, and thanks to the departure of their main lead singer, Dawn Robinson, the group had faded from the public eye. Meanwhile, even if they had remained famous, it was super sketchy to cast them as “ladies of the night” in the scene. Whose mind goes to that when they think of a role for a popular girl group in a movie?
14. VANILLA ICE IN TMNT II
Similar to the En Vogue situation (but much less so, as En Vogue was legitimately a top singing group for five or so years in the 1990s), Vanilla Ice happened to hit it big at just the right time to book a major celebrity cameo in the 1991 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles sequel, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze.
Ice had release his debut album, To the Extreme, in 1990 and it spent a shocking 16 weeks on the top of the Billboard album charts, selling 11 million copies. So it made sense to bring him into the movie and have him improvise a rap song during a fight scene at a club. The song, “Ninja Rap,” has the brilliantly lazy line “Lyrics, fill in the gap” in it. You know, just put the lyrics there yourself. Don’t make Ice do all the work!
13. FAN BINGBING IN IRON MAN 3
It has become obvious in recent years that the international market has become a bigger and bigger part of the success of any major motion picture. Naturally, that primarily involves appealing to China, one of the world’s superpowers with a large moviegoing audience. So one thing that some films have tinkered with is doing special cuts of their films just for China.
That’s what happened in Iron Man 3, including a scene where a Chinese doctor repairs Tony Stark’s heart. The part was made into a longer scene in the Chinese edit, and also co-stars Chinese film mega-star, Fan Bingbing, who has barely any dialogue in her scene as a nurse. She’s just sort of… there. They literally spent a few seconds just showing her silently walking down a hospital hallway!
12. DREW BARRYMORE IN BATMAN FOREVER
If you’re going to have a celebrity do a cameo, they should at least be prominent in their cameo. In a cameo appearance that mostly ended up on the cutting room floor, Drew Barrymore appeared in a small role as one of Two-Face’s henchwomen in Batman Forever.
Director Joel Schumacher later told the Hollywood Reporter about how he had to re-name her character, ” I asked Drew Barrymore to play one of Harvey/Two-Faces girlfriends, Sugar. Debi Mazar, whom I knew as Madonna’s makeup artist, had been in Goodfellas. I didn’t know she could act, and she sent me pictures that had been taken of her as Bettie Page. The original characters were called Leather and Lace. The studio felt that was a little — you know — so they became Sugar and Spice, the PG-13 version. They were great.”
11. LARRY HAGMAN IN SUPERMAN
The screenplay for the original Superman film went through a lot of different approaches before they settled on the final script for the movie. One of the edits was very campy, very much in the style of the 1960s Batman TV series. They even included cameos from famous actors like Telly Savalas playing his iconic TV detective, Kojak, telling Superman, “Who loves ya, baby?”
That screenplay version was dropped for a more straightforward one, but likely a little bit of that spirit remained when Larry Hagman (right before his career would take off again by playing oil tycoon J.R. Ewing on Dallas) made a cameo in the film as a Major. You know, like his famous character in the sitcom, I Dream of Jeannie? Heck, maybe it was supposed to be the same guy!
10. COREY HAIM IN BATMAN AND ROBIN
Corey Haim sadly lived a troubled life and was addicted to prescription pills before he passed away from pneumonia at the age of just 38. One of his earliest successes was in the film, The Lost Boys, which was directed by Joel Schumacher. So when Joel Schumacher took over the Batman franchise and planned to cast a Robin to go with Batman in his first film, Batman Forever, it seemed like Corey Haim might have the perfect opportunity for a major comeback.
The role did not end up going to Haim, but Schumacher did find room for a cameo appearance by Haim in Batman and Robin. It’s a sad little cameo that is made all the sadder when you know what happened to him later in his life.
9. MICHAEL BAY IN MYSTERY MEN
Before he became one of the most successful film directors of the past two decades, Michael Bay was one of the most successful music video directors in the business. Before that, he was one of the most successful commercial directors in the business, winning a Clio award for a Red Cross campaign in 1992, when Bay was just 27 years old. One of the most popular ad campaigns that Bay worked on was the “Got Milk?” campaign.
Another director who worked on that same milk campaign was Kinka Usher, so when Usher directed his first (and only) motion picture, Mystery Men, in 1999, his former commercial director colleague made a cameo as an evil Frat Guy. When his co-star in the scene, Geoffrey Rush, improvised a line, Bay botched his line and amusingly yelled “Cut!” himself.
8. COOLIO IN BATMAN AND ROBIN
Few people have embraced the trappings of fame as much as Coolio. After having a major hit album in 1994 and 1995 (with the latter album’s title track, “Gangta’s Paradise,” being used in the soundtrack for the hit film, Dangerous Minds in 1995), Coolio tailed off considerably with his third album in 1996. He then fell completely off the radar as a recording artist.
However, he managed to keep himself in the spotlight by doing every reality show known to man and re-inventing himself as a chef. He was also more than open to doing cameos in whatever film or TV show was available. This led to him appearing as a gangster in Batman and Robin and as a client of Matt Murdock and Foggy Nelson in Daredevil (the latter role was cut from the final film).
7. RICHARD BRANSON IN SUPERMAN RETURNS
Richard Branson, of Virgin Records and Virgin Airlines fame, became highly motivated in the 2000s to develop commercial space travel. In 2004, he created Virgin Galactic, with the goal of bringing private industry clients into outer space. He intended to fly as early as 2009, but he still hasn’t quite managed to get anyone into outer space just yet.
However, he did travel to space (sort of) in 2006’s Superman Returns, where he has a brief cameo as a member of the flight crew on the space plane that Superman saves about a half hour into the film (Lois Lane, of course, is also on board the space plane). It’s not an awful cameo, but it’s aiming at a pretty niche group of people.
6. NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON IN BATMAN V SUPERMAN
On the one hand, using Neil DeGrasse Tyson, the famous astrophysicist (and well known comic book fan), in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, was a stroke of genius. As noted, he is a big fan of comic book superheroes and he has made that fact well known (he often discusses the science of superheroes and other science fiction films). He also lends a sense of seriousness to the film’s message.
On the other hand, the actual use of Tyson was a bit strange, as he isn’t really delivering anything unique to his field of expertise when he notes that it is interesting that Superman is an alien living among us. It would have been a better use of him in the film if he had actually discussed some science in the movie. It was still cool seeing him in the movie, though!
5. ALLY SHEEDY IN X-MEN: APOCALYPSE
X-Men Apocalypse, the third film in the X-Men prequel series, was set in the 1980s. So it made sense, just based on that, to include 1980s film star, Ally Sheedy, in a cameo as Cyclops’ teacher early in the film. However, when director Bryan Singer explained the specific reason she was used, it seems a bit odd.
Singer noted, “[I]n Wargames, Ally Sheedy plays a very feisty girl who disrupts class. So the fun of this scene was to have Tye Sheridan, who is now young Scott Summers or Cyclops, discovering his power for the first time disrupting class, because he’s a bit of a miscreant who doesn’t like school, and actually have Ally Sheedy play the teacher.” That doesn’t actually match what happens in the scene in the film. Scott just seems like a nervous kid struggling with hiding his powers.
4. BILL COSBY IN METEOR MAN
While the world is rightly disgusted over Bill Cosby’s horrid abuse of women over the years, in the past, Cosby was clearly a beloved icon (again, when we didn’t know about the sordid particulars of his private life). So, when Robert Townsend made his charming superhero film, Meteor Man, and sought to include a number of African-American actors who meant a lot to him as a kid (while also including modern rappers in cameos to appeal to the current audience), Cosby made sense to be on his list.
However, Cosby’s actual cameo in the film is just as a silent vagrant. It seems like Cosby could barely be compelled to do anything in the film. Contrast that with James Earl Jones, who gamely talks about being “down with OPP” and it is a disappointment.
3. LUCY LAWLESS IN SPIDER-MAN
Sam Raimi is well known for wanting to take care of the people who were with him at the start of his career. Never is this more evident than with his treatment of Bruce Campbell, who starred in Raimi’s first film, It’s Murder!, as well as Raimi’s first hit motion picture, Evil Dead. So when Raimi hit the big time with the assignment of the Spider-Man film franchise, he made sure to include cameos for Campbell in all three of the films.
However, Raimi also paid tribute to his work as a television producer from the 1990s, namely Xena: Warrior Princess, by including Xena star Lucy Lawless in Spider-Man. She’s so made up, though, that it sort of defeated the purpose of having a celebrity cameo in the film.
2. VIVICA A. FOX IN BATMAN AND ROBIN
Joel Schumacher continued his trend of casting celebrities to play minor support roles of the villains in his Batman movies by casting Vivica A. Fox as Ms. B. Haven in Batman and Robin (Fox described the character as “I was just one of his hot chicks.”)
Fox also recalled to the AV Club how Schumacher came up with the name. He had told her, “‘Well, I was hanging out with my friends and we went to a state fair. And we’re walking, and one of the things they were doing was a display on monster trucks, and one of the trucks was Ms. B. Haven. And I said, ‘That’s going to be one of the characters in my movie.’ And he met me and he knew it was going to be Vivica Fox.”
1. GEORGE CISAR IN BATMAN
Late in the first season of the Batman TV series, the show came up with the idea of the “celebrity window cameo.” The first time it was used, Batman and Robin are climbing up the wall of a building and Jerry Lewis opens a window and pops up and makes a joke. The gag went over so well that it was used over a dozen times more.
However, it is a bit up for debate whether the inclusion of the gag in the Batman film was meant as a cameo or not. Character actor George Cisar was well known for playing drunkards, and so when his drunkard character in the film looks out the window and sees Batman and Robin and does a double take, it could work as either a cameo or as just a normal gag in the movie.
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