This week sees the release of This Is The End, the apocalypse comedy that sees a host of Hollywood comedians – led by Seth Rogen, James Franco and Jonah Hill – play heightened versions of themselves, left cowering in a house when the end of the world arrives. But this is just the latest in a long line of films where Hollywood’s finest have played themselves onscreen – sometimes in all seriousness, more often to ridiculous effect. Here are some of the best examples, including a few that you may not have seen…
The film: Last Action Hero (1993)
Version of self played: Movie-star Arnie
Approximate screen time: 130 minutes
The high concept behind proscenium-buster Last Action Hero – Arnie plays Arnie while playing a version of Arnie in an Arnie movie – was so self-indulgent its title sounded dangerously like a prophecy. Hearing Arnie say “I’ll be back…”, before chuckling at his own cleverness and following up with, “Ha! Bet you didn’t know I was going to say that?” should have been the final word in action cinema, the ginormobiceped equivalent of the celluloid melting in Persona, except it was all plenty daft and fun enough to make it slightly more than a ruinously expensive curio. But it’s when the ‘real’ Arnie shows up at the film’s premiere and starts talking about Planet Hollywood – much to his wife’s embarrassment – that things get weird. And the bit where he says, “If the governor gets here, call me”? That’s just become more meta with age.
Marks out of ten: A pair (of achers).
The film: Jack & Jill (2012)
Version of self played: An Al Pacino who finds Adam Sandler in drag irresistible
Approximate screen time: 15 minutes
Every single good joke in Jack & Jill, the film wherein Adam Sandler plays a man and his female twin, involves Al Pacino. For example, when Sandler’s Jill destroys his Oscar statuette, she tries to comfort him by asking if he has others. “You’d think it, but oddly enough I don’t”. Even the single good joke that Al Pacino doesn’t personally deliver – Johnny Depp, also as himself, wears a Justin Bieber T-shirt and claims to be a member of Duran Duran – happens when Pacino’s on screen. We’re still not sure we’d recommend watching the film though, since that’s about the limit of the humour in the entire thing.
Marks out of ten: Only one, oddly enough – you’d think he’d have more.
The film: JCVD (2008)
Version of self played: A near-penniless, down on his luck schlub who’s lost custody of his kids because he’s “a clown who kicks people”
Approximate screen time: 96 minutes
JCVD is an arthouse film about a day in the life of a semi-fictional Jean-Claude Van Damme. It’s also one of the best things The Muscles From Berchem-Sainte-Agathe has ever made, boasting a performance that Time magazine said was the second best of the year (after Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight), with an intimate, heart-wrenching, entirely splits-free six-minute monologue worth particular praise. Much more than a kung-fu curio, this is a combination of Godard and dramatised celebrity therapy that is guaranteed to make you think twice about Colonel William F. Guile. As will this video of him doing the Kickboxer dance, but that’s by the by.
Marks out of ten: Ten – it turns out JCVD is a DGA (Damn Good Actor).
The film: Mallrats (1995)
Version of self played: Comics creator, immensely tolerant person, Cupid
Approximate screen time: Ten minutes
In the last few years, Stan Lee cameos have become a tradition in every Marvel and Marvel-based movie. But before all that, there was Mallrats, where the genial comic creator took time out after a signing session to counsel nerds on their love lives, spin a tale about the girl who got away and address the thorny question of what The Thing’s thing looks like. Unlike most of the fleeting glimpses we see in his Marvel cameos, this shows Lee actually acting and gives us the unlikely image of his competing with Mick Jagger to pick up girls. Perhaps that cameo in Iron Man where he’s mistaken for Hugh Hefner wasn’t so wide of the mark after all...
Marks out of ten: We’re not sure, but last time he looked he was ahead of Jagger.
The films: A Hard Day's Night (1964), Help! (1965), Yellow Submarine (1968)
Version of self played: Mop-topped scamps / animated mop-topped scamps
Approximate screen time: Three-and-a-bit hours
The Fab Four played themselves in three movies, including day-glo trippymation Yellow Submarine, and had a blast in them all. Richard Lester’s two films with them, in particular, captured the carefree, pranky, mischievious side of a quartet who were being chased by girls for a living. They’re all the best versions of themselves: Ringo playful, George witty and circumspect, Paul chipper and smart, and John... well, just John. They shot most of them in a self-confessed “haze of marijuana” and kept levels of hilarious irreverence cranked throughout. “Are you a mod or a rocker?” asks a curious member of the public. “No, I’m a mocker,” shoots back Ringo.
Marks out of ten: Number 9, obvs.
The film: My Name Is Bruce (2008)
Version of self played: A cowardly drunk who’d rather be serving “hooch to his pooch” in his Winnebago than kicking monster behind
Approximate screen time: 86 minutes
Directed by Bruce Campbell, produced by Bruce Campbell and starring Bruce Campbell, this bargain-bin Brucey bonus is for die-hard Deadheads only, with the racist jokes and creaky dialogue only getting a pass if you happen to think The Chin is The Nuts. Curiously, Sam Raimi’s brother Ted turns up as three different characters but not, alas, a version of himself. Despite faring poorly in cinemas, plans for a follow-up – at one point dubbed My Name Is Still Bruce but now rechristened Bruce Vs. Frankenstein – trundle along, with Mr. Campbell telling the world he’d be back in the director’s chair because "no one will volunteer, so it's me."
Marks out of ten: Two – Despite its intriguing conceit, the film (and the legendary Bruce himself) fail to deliver, leaving you praying Sam Raimi somehow steps up for the sequel.
The film: Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back (2001)
Version of self played: Arrogant money-grubbing actor douchebags (Damon and Affleck); arrogant money-grabbing director douchebag (Van Sant)
Approximate screen time: About three minutes for Affleck and Damon, about two seconds for Van Sant
Damon and Affleck, those paragons of self-parody, lampoon themselves generously in Kevin Smith’s 2001 trip around the View Askewniverse, with Affleck poking fun at Damon for appearing in “gay-serial-killers-who-ride-horses-and-like-to-play-golf-touchy-feely-pictures” and Damon tweaking Affleck’s nose for appearing in Reindeer Games (Gigli came out in 2003, so wasn’t available for mockery). We see the pair shooting Good Will Hunting 2: Hunting Season – as directed by Gus Van Sant, seen counting money and telling Affleck to just get on with it – to get a decent pay cheque. College snobs get a shotgun blast to the chest; cinema gets a new favourite catchphrase: “Apple sauce, bitch!”
Marks out of ten: Nine – the incorporation of the Oscar-winning duo into Smith’s bizarro world is near faultless. Earns bonus points for the Mark Hamill’s “Cocknocker” fun later.
The film: Paper Heart (2009)
Version of self played: Extra-awkward – yes, it’s possible – and falling in love with each other when in reality they’re just friends
Approximate screen time: 88 minutes
A documentary about love that itself features a fictional romance between two semi-fictional versions of real people, Paper Heart is one of those indier-than-indie movies that seems made up – which it has been, but it’s charming nevertheless. It’s an ever-so-meta story about a young stand-up comedian (Yi) who goes on a road trip around America to ask people about love because she doesn’t believe in it. Michael Cera starts chatting her up, and she swiftly discovers what love is: Michael Cera, in a red hoodie, on a beach, holding your hand. Juno MacGuff could have told you that, homeskillet!
Marks out of ten: Five – It’s totes adorbs, of course, but only if you already like this sort of indie. It also features a real-life Seth Rogen, but he’s not in it enough to earn bonus points.
The film: Hot Shots! Part Deux (1993)
Version of self played: Benjamin Willard
Approximate screen time: Five seconds
With the acute judgment of a man who’d been to bed at least once in the previous year, Charlie ‘Topper Harley’ Sheen executed the ultimate “What The Heck?!” moment in the middle of Hot Shots! Part Deux. He’s sailing downriver to an uncertain fate when... holy moly, it’s dad Martin Sheen in full Apocalypse Now battle gear, also monologuing broodingly as he travels the stream. The pair stand and give each other a resounding “I loved you in Wall Street!” as they pass by – dad heading up river to Nu Mung Ba to pick up Colonel Kurtz; son is heading in the other direction to spray Saddam Hussein with a fire extinguisher.
Marks out of ten: Check the NASDAQ for updates.
The film: The Harold & Kumar series (2004 - 2011)
Version of self played: Womaniser, drug taker, insane evildoer
Approximate screen time: In total, perhaps half an hour
Neil Patrick Harris, we now know, can do anything – but in 2004 he was barely on the radar, with How I Met Your Mother yet to take off and the Tony hosting still in the future. Harold & Kumar went a long way to putting his name on everyone’s lips, with the child star of Doogie Howser playing himself as a drug-addled wild man with a penchant for prostitutes. He continued to shock in the sequel, getting shot leaving a Texas brothel after attempting to brand a woman, but it’s in A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas that he’s funniest, explaining that his now-very-public homosexuality and relationship were just a front for his endless tomcatting. That his real-life partner played his ‘partner’ / drug dealer here just makes it better.
Marks out of ten: Sixty-nine, probably.
The film: Zombieland (2009)
Version of self played: Freakin’ awesome zombie-dodging Bill Murray
Approximate screen time: 10-15 minutes
It is a matter of public record that Bill Murray is one of the coolest human beings ever to grace the face of the planet (58 pieces of evidence), but in Zombieland he surpasses himself. Unencumbered by the need to hide his awesomeness behind an actual character, Murray cuts loose, goes golfing despite the zombie hordes, recreates Ghostbusters just for giggles and proves an endlessly gracious host – at least until he’s accidentally ganked by Jesse Eisenberg. We still haven’t quite forgiven him for that.
Marks out of ten: Infinite marks.
The film: Wings Of Desire (1987)
Version of self played: Former angel turned actor
Approximate screen time: Ten minutes, more or less
There was something about Peter Falk that inspires absolute trust, whether he’s wearing a grubby mac as Columbo or reading bedtime stories in The Princess Bride (or really any of his roles). But it means he’s perfectly cast as a former angel in Wim Wenders’ melancholy and moody romance, doling out advice to Damiel, who has followed him into exile (we wonder what Falk’s nom d’angel was. Columbiel, maybe?) and offering him both money and cigarettes to make the transition easier. It’s a small but immensely warming role, and offers as good an explanation for the twinkle in Falk’s eye as we’ve ever seen.
Marks out of ten: Ten – he’s Peter Falk, and casting him as an angel makes perfect sense to us.
The film: Sunset Boulevard (1950)
Version of self played: More restrained than the one who parted the Red Sea
Approximate screen time: Three-and-a-bit minutes
Meta in ways we can’t describe without pointing at things and making incoherent noises, Cecil B. DeMille’s cameo in Sunset Boulevard is the final jolt in Billy Wilder’s mightily-voltaged Hollywood satire. DeMille, who’d worked with Gloria Swanson in his silent films, returned to star as himself opposite Swanson's has-been movie star. DeMille even uses his fond nickname for Swanson, “Young Fellow”, when addressing Norma Desmond as she swashes imperiously onto the Paramount lot. For his cameo he got $10,000 and a Cadillac from Billy Wilder – or $3000 and a wheel for every minute of screentime.
Marks out of ten: Nine, plus a bonus one for being subject of the classic “I'm ready for my close-up” line. So, ten.
The film: Pierrot Le Fou (1965)
Version of self played: Impassioned, stogie-puffing film director
Approximate screen time: 80 seconds
Jean-Luc Godard’s loopy masterpiece cocks serious snook at moviemaking conventions and pays homage to his own idols in a single party scene that sees “American film director” Samuel Fuller chatting to Jean-Paul Belmondo’s Pierrot about his latest project, a Paris-shot adaptation of Baudelaire’s Flowers Of Evil. “A film is like a battleground”, he intones, puffing one of his giant cigars and looking like the world’s coolest gatecrasher. “There’s love, hate, action, violence, death... in one word, emotions.” Bearing in mind that Quentin Tarantino idolises both Fuller and Godard, expect this scene to have popped up on his DVD player once or twice.
Marks out of ten: Eight. Loses two marks for smoking inside.
The film: Wayne’s World (1992)
Version of self played: Wikipedia-brained rocker
Approximate screen time: Four minutes
If you’d guessed that backstage at an Alice Cooper show would be all bacchanalian orgies and dwarf-snorting, you’d be damn wrong. Our loveable interlopers, Wayne and Garth, are stupified to discover that beneath the scary make-up, Coops is actually more hospitable than a van full of Amish B&B owners and more knowledgeable than the internet itself. “Milwaukee has certainly had its share of visitors...”, he explains to the VIP-pass-wielding butt monkeys, before exchanging trivia with his guitarist. “It’s pronounced ‘mill-e-wah-que���,” he points out to the by-now visibly bored pair, “which is Algonquin for ‘the good land’.” Hilarious and, by all accounts, true to Cooper’s smartypants rep.
Marks out of ten: Mitaswe – which is Algonquin for ten.
The film: The Player (1992)
Version of self played: Ego-monster movie star
Approximate screen time: Just long enough to rescue Julia Roberts from certain death
It’s a truism that Hollywood stars love nothing more than sending up their reputations as divas and ego monsters, apart from maybe their huge trailers with built-in hot tubs and helipads. Thus actors were queuing up to lend their services to Robert Altman’s scathing critique of the movie biz, and did so with the cheeky good-humour and, in Bruce Willis’s case, hilarity. The movie-in-the-movie this time, a terrible courtroom drama called 'Habeas Corpus', is given a none-more-Hollywood ending, when a wry Willis busts Julia Roberts out of the Death Row cell where she’s about to be given a lethal injection on the basis of his prosecution of her case. “What took you so long?” she smiles, melting into his arms. “Traffic was a bitch,” he replies.
Marks out of ten: 5.8, which we reckon would be Habeas Corpus’s Metacritic score if it existed.
The film: Being John Malkovich (1999)
Version of self played: Malkovich Malkovich
Approximate screen time: 20 minutes or so, excluding the bits in his head
It’s apt that Charlie Kaufman’s kinda sci-fi was released on the cusp of a new millennium because the sight of hundreds of John Malkovich intoning “Malkovich! Malkovich!” over and over again seemed to herald an apocalyptic new age for civilisation. Deliriously silly but also sweet and strangely poignant – mostly silly, though – it sees you-know-who having a ball throughout, inhabiting a bizarre world in which he’s best buds with Charlie Sheen. Which he definitely wasn’t. “I have been on the dark side”, he barks at John Cusack’s marionette after emerging from his own head, “and I have seen things that no man should see.” We know the feeling, John.
Marks out of ten: Malkovich.
The film: Annie Hall (1977)
Version of self played: Brainy philosopher who loiters in cinema lobbies
Approximate screen time: 30 seconds
The French have an expression, “l'esprit de l'escalier”, for that annoying moment when you think of something clever to say too late to win an argument. Woody Allen just has brainiac philosopher Marshall McLuhan for that. Frustrated with a know-it-all pontificating about McLuhan’s work in his cinema queue, Annie Hall’s Alvy Singer does what we’d all love to do and actually produces McLuhan himself to debunk the man’s opinions on the spot. The philosopher wasn’t first choice for this cameo – Allen asked Federico Fellini and Luis Buñuel initially – but he does a solid job of popping out from behind a poster, landing some intellectual punches and disappearing again.
Marks out of ten: 8½ (Fellini would have wanted it that way).
The film: High Fidelity (2000)
Version of self played: A comforting advisor who appears in a daydream to say exactly what Cusack’s Rob Gordon wants to hear, all while jamming on guitar
Approximate screen time: A little under a minute
There’s a moment in Nick Hornby’s novel where the narrator wishes he could handle relationships as well as Bruce Springsteen does in his Born In The USA track 'Bobby Jean' (even though the song itself is about Steve Van Zandt leaving the E Street Band). In honour of this, Cusack wanted his self-involved muso to actually have an imaginary conversation with The Boss, but never thought the big man would actually agree to it. And yet he did, and gracefully too, with Cusack saluting his hero at the end.
Marks out of ten: Seven – The Boss is The Boss, and this cameo is boss, but it doesn’t really send himself up, it’s just... cool. Okay, very cool.
The films: The Hangover (2009), The Hangover Part II (2011)
Version of self played: One that loves tigers, Phil Collins and singing
Approximate screen time: Two minutes in the first movie, three minutes (or so) for the second
Mike Tyson was not in a good way when he shot his scene for the original Hangover. “I was a mess. I was overweight. I was a pig, high on cocaine,” he told Yahoo! late last year. “They had to know I was messed up. I had the cocaine talk. So those guys are just beautiful people. They had my back, and I appreciate that and stuff, then they asked me to come back [for The Hangover Part II].” Messed up he may have been, but his delivery was, ahem, knock-out, with his right hook to Galifianakis’ noggin a genuine treat, even if his ‘singing’ in the second – Murray Head’s ‘One Night In Bangkok’ will never be the same – was pretty goddamn atrocious.
Marks out of ten: Five. His gameness has to be admired, but his vocal talents are just too painful to be amusing.
The film: Transformers: Dark Of The Moon (2011)
Version of self played: Venerable astronaut
Approximate screen time: 20 seconds
The man Ali G once called ‘Buzz Lightyear’ makes a fleeting cameo in Transformers 3 to share an intergalactic love-in with Optimus Prime, retconning the entire US space programme in the process. In the Transformerverse, the 81 year-old astronaut had stumbled upon the Autobots’ spacecraft in 1969 and kept it a secret ever since. Because why would you tell anyone? “From a fellow space traveler, it’s a true honor,” enthuses Aldrin to the robot. “Like, whateves. I can turn into a car,” replies Prime. Okay, he doesn’t, but you can tell he’s thinking it.
Marks out of ten: Five – points docked for confusing us about the moon landing.
The film: Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990)
Version of self played: Defender of innocent theatregoers, popcorn-enthusiast, shirt-ripper
Approximate screen time: Under a minute
When Gremlins 2 appeared in cinemas, the movie apparently “burns” at one point as gremlins take over the projector and run a nudie film instead. Luckily for us, Hulk Hogan was in the audience and restores order by ripping his shirt off and threatening to rip the little monsters a new one if they don’t get things going again (not in so many words). What’s wonderful about this cameo, aside from its sheer insanity, is that the joke was carried over to VHS, where a John Wayne voice persuaded the monsters to restore the tape, and even the novelisation. You’ve got to love such a committed gag.
Marks out of ten: Four, because we’re not sure the line delivery felt natu... OUCH! OK, fine, ten out of ten, now please stop hitting us and put your shirt back on.
The film: Happy Gilmore (1996)
Version of self played: Charity golfer / secret cagefight champion
Approximate screen time: Five minutes, two of which see Barker a mite peeved; three of which see Barker beating the golf balls out of Happy (Adam Sandler)
A legend of American telly, Bob Barker is the white knight of the US airwaves, presenting The Price Is Right with panache and aplomb for 35 years, becoming a by-word for amiability as he did so. Then Saturday Night Live alum Adam Sandler asked the TV titan to knock seven bells out of him during a fake Pro-Am golf tournament – an offer Barker reportedly only accepted on the condition he won the fight – and a very special piece of cameo comedy was born. Tumbling down a grassy knoll, uppercutting Sandler into a water trap, uttering the kiss-off line “I think you’ve had enough... bitch” as though he said it every day... it’s safe to say Barker nailed the role. If you’re wondering how long the longest combo was, it’s 13: two belly punches and 11 thumps to the face.
Marks out of ten: Nine. He's a lot harder than Roy Walker.
The film: Austin Powers In Goldmember (2003)
Version of self played: Haughty directorial diva
Approximate screen time: Maybe 30 seconds
The opening salvo of Austin Powers In Goldmember is a cinematic fireworks display of in-jokes, Bond references, shimmying backing dancers and was-that-really-who-I-thought-it-was? cameos from superstars playing themselves: Tom Cruise plays himself as Austin Powers, Gwyneth Paltrow is Dixie Normous, Kevin Spacey is Dr Evil, Danny DeVito is Mini-Me and John Travolta is Goldmember. The latter has to wait until the very end of the film to show up, but otherwise it’s just big name after even bigger name, with Spacey delivering a better Dr. Evil than Myers ever did. But the best of the bunch is Spielberg, who shows himself up like he’s never done before (or since), accepting Austin’s compliment of being “the grooviest director in the history of cinema” by ignoring his notes and pointing to his shiny Oscar: “My friend here thinks it’s fine the way it is.” Gulp. Right you are, Mr. Spielberg sir.
Marks out of ten: Ten –not just because Britney Spears shoots bullets from her breasts or because Paltrow and Spielberg backflip into the dance routine, but in honour of the gun DeVito’s Mini-Me is firing: an FM Minimi.
The film: Zoolander (2001)
Version of self played: Walk-off arbiter David Bowie (if we can ever truly know who David Bowie really is)
Approximate screen time: Bowie gets three minutes or so
In a movie about really, really, really good-looking male models, it takes a very special person to judge between two different really, really, really good-looking male models. Enter: David Bowie. “I believe I might be of service,” he says, taking off his shades to the tune of ‘Let’s Dance’. The Goblin King is in the building, and he’s sighing at your pathetic attempts to remove your underwear without taking your trousers off. Taking supporting – and very complimentary – real-life cameo roles are Paris Hilton (“Hey Derek, you rule!”), Victoria Beckham (“He is a fashion icon") Donald Trump (“Without Derek Zoolander, male modeling wouldn’t be what it is today”), Natalie Portman (“He’s almost too good-looking”) and a number of others, but for undiluted nonchalance – as Bowie himself might say – it’s got to be The Artist Formerly Known As Ziggy Stardust.
Marks out of ten: Nine – David Bowie actually puts his head in-between Ben Stiller’s legs at one point.
The film: Thank Your Lucky Stars (1943)
Version of self played: Secretly not-so-tough guy (Bogart); ego monster (Cantor)
Approximate screen time: Bogart has fairly limited time; Cantor gets a bit more love between the endless musical bits
Made at the height of the war effort as a money- and morale-raising endeavour, this loosely-plotted musical is packed with famous faces playing themselves (they all donated their fees to the Hollywood Canteen, which fed servicemen visiting home). Eddie Cantor does the best job of sending himself up, playing the egotistical star who causes everything to go off the rails, but we like Bogey’s turn best, with that self-aware little punchline worrying about his own tough-guy image perfect punctuating all the song-and-dance numbers.
Marks out of ten: Five – the stars are fine but the film’s a bit of a snooze once you get past the fact that Bette Davis sings.
The film: Airplane! (1980)
Version of self played: Airline co-pilot (and secret basketball star)
Approximate screen time: Maybe 20 minutes in total?
The non-stop gag-fest that is Airplane! introduces a surreal touch by having 1970s basketball star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (recently seen in New Girl, also playing himself) play co-pilot Roger Murdock. But when challenged on his identity by a child who notes his resemblance to the baller and criticises Jabbar’s performance, “Roger” grabs the lad by the scruff of the neck and growls a defence of his play that season – before returning, embarrassed, to the job at hand. It’s hilarious, but arguably isn’t even the best person-playing-themselves in this film: Broadway star Ethel Merman crops us as a soldier who thinks he’s Ethel Merman. We’ve disqualified that, but it’s still inspired.
Marks out of ten: Four, because we’re worried Jabbar was breaking character rather than playing himself.
The film: Spice World (1997)
Version of self played: Baby, Sporty, Scary, Ginger and Posh
Approximate screen time: 93 minutes
Spice World is not a good film. Not even if you’re a Spice Girls fan, or a Richard E. Grant fan, or an Alan Cumming fan, or a fan of anyone involved. That’s a shame, because there are some good moments among the endless roster of celebrity cameos, including Bob Hoskins (who Geri turns into after a Superman-style costume change) and Elton John (who gets mobbed by the girls as he walks down a BBC Television Centre corridor), as well as Hugh Laurie, Jennifer Saunders, Bob Geldof, Jonathan Ross, Elvis Costello and Stephen Fry. It’s all very silly, it’s all very weird, it’s got Meat Loaf as a bus driver... it’s the Spice World movie, and it earns a place here just for strangeness. For detailed analysis of this light-as-a-feather farce, head to How Did This Get Made? ASAP.
Marks out of ten: 2 become 1.
The film: A Cock And Bull Story (2005)
Version of self played: Entitled, insecure Steve Coogan and peskier Rob Brydon
Approximate screen time: 94 minutes
Before The Trip enshrined their meta-friendship in a reckless torrent of nice hotels and pan-fried sea bass, real-life pals Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon united to bring Laurence Sterne’s unpredictable novel to life. There are squabbles about screentime, whose name comes first in the credits and in short, enough thespian vanity on display to horrify Zsa Zsa Gabor. Both play themselves under their own names, a scenario which sees Coogan in particular ridiculed at every opportunity, left in humbling situations (“He wants realism? I’m a grown man talking to the camera in a womb”), and generally made to look very silly indeed. It’s magnificent.
Marks out of ten: Six. The lack of a Michael Caine-off costs them.
The film: Hamlet 2 (2008)
Version of self played: Former actress and trained nurse
Approximate screen time: A decent whack – maybe 15 minutes total?
She’s an Oscar nominee and starred in much-loved films like the Back To The Future sequels and Leaving Las Vegas, but if we’re to believe Hamlet 2, Elisabeth Shue would rather be working as a nurse in an Arizona fertility clinic. There, she encounters Steve Coogan’s Dana Marschz recovering alcoholic and failed actor, who’s also her number one fan. Their first encounter is hardly auspicious – as she explains her changed career, he responds, “Oh my god, I didn’t hear anything you just said because I’m too excited!” – but by the end of the film he’s persuaded her to date him and she represents new hope for the irrepressible drama teacher.
Marks out of ten: Five – we just can’t buy that she’d be willing to date Coogan’s caftan-wearing weirdo, even if that does him a ray of hope in his otherwise rubbish life.
The film: Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994)
Version of self played: Exposition-providing horror director Wes Craven
Approximate screen time: Maybe 15 minutes or so – enough to set up the ‘real’ world premise and explain what’s going on.
No New Nightmare, no Scream. Wes Craven’s genre-bending sequel not only reinvigorated Freddy Krueger but opened the doors for a whole new kind of horror. This film sees Craven as himself, but as a version troubled by strange dreams of his most famous monster and convinced that the only way to exorcise that evil is to film it, and have original series heroine Nancy defeat Freddy once and for all. But as Nancy and ‘herself’, Heather Langenkamp finds that both she and her family are in Freddy’s sights, as his way back into the world. It’s creepy, scary and very meta.
Marks out of ten: Eight – it’s a neat idea, and both Craven and Langenkamp sell the concept that Freddy’s real all too convincingly. Anyone fancy a few more espressos and an all-nighter?
The film: Coffee And Cigarettes (2003)
Version of self played: Shy, awkward, famous Cate Blanchett. Brassier, swearier cousin Blanchett
Approximate screen time: Ten minutes
There are lots of weird and wonderful cameos in Jim Jarmusch’s anthology movie – Bill Murray, Iggy Pop and the RZA amongst them – but Cate Blanchett is the only one to get two. She goes on a very uncomfortable tea date with her cousin (read: gauche doppelganger), Shelly, who she also plays in a flurry of nervy, espresso-fuelled exchanges about “swag” and the perks of being famous that just about keep the conversational flames flickering. Cate can’t remember Shelly’s boyfriend’s name – “So how’s Johnny... shit, Jimmy... T-t-tommy?” (It’s Lee) – and Shelly can’t really be bothered to explain.
Marks out of ten: Because she kinda plays herself twice, we’re giving her 20.
The film: The Bellboy (1960)
Version of self played: A nervous wreck of a man who’s constantly sparring with this enourmous entourage
Approximate screen time: A minute and a half
Jerry Lewis directs, produces, writes and stars in this one-man comedy curio, which sees Jerry Lewis’s Stanley The Bellboy get into a series of scrapes as phones ring, bags break, people fall over and anarchy ensues all over the proverbial shop. Almost entirely without dialogue, this hotel-set feature-length bit of slapstickery has just one dialogue scene, where Jerry Lewis turns up again as Jerry Lewis himself, butting heads with his own entourage and failing to light a cigarette. As a piece of highly trivial trivia, it may amuse some to know that it’s this movie that Quentin Tarantino referenced during his section of Four Rooms.
Marks out of ten: 15 – one for every light he’s offered for his cigarette.
The film: The Bling Ring (2013)
Version of self played: Actual Paris Hilton
Approximate screen time: 10 seconds
Do not adjust your Versace sunglasses, that is Paris Hilton elegantly louche in a Bling Ring club. The motel magnate offspring let Sofia Coppola film inside her LA home, complete with Paris Hilton cushions and enough shoes make Imelda Marcos’s head explode, and pops up in the film as herself on a night out. The larcenous band of the title later spot an opportunity to lighten her load of Louboutins and jewellery, and break into Hilton HQ while she’s throwing a party in Las Vegas. Interestingly, Hilton has since talked about crying while watching the movie, horrified at the moral torpor she was witnessing on screen. Now she knows how we felt during The Hottie & the Nottie.
Marks out of ten: Two. One for each warehouse needed to house her shoes.
The film: Cold Souls (2009)
Version of self played: The Being-Paul-Giamatti Paul Giamatti
Approximate screen time: 101 minutes
If Paul Giamatti – sorry, Downton Abbey’s Paul Giamatti – loves to play on his reputation as a slightly schlubby outsider with a cranky exterior, the joke is often on us. The real Giamatti is nothing like those put-upon screen personas (watch his Twilight impression for evidence) so he’s obviously making hay as hypochondriac, heavy-souled Paul Giamatti in Cold Souls. But when his soul gets filched the already gloomy thesp gets to crank his mordancy levels up to ‘Morrissey’. We’ve done the calculations and here he’s 24 per cent more ‘Giamatti’ than in Lady In The Water and only 3 per cent less ‘Giamatti’ than in Sideways. Science, see?
Marks out of ten: "Do we really have to give everything a mark?"
The film: To Hell And Back (1955)
Version of self played: American war hero
Approximate screen time: All of it
The Sergeant York of the Basterds-era, Lieutenant Audie L. Murphy fought in seven major campaigns in World War 2. To put into context, there were about eight major campaigns in World War Two. Murphy won the Congressional Medal of Honor, three Purple Hearts, a Legion of Merit, the Distinguished Service Cross, a Blue Peter Badge and a Cub Scout award for Blowing The Shit Out Of Panzers. Universal’s ginormous 1955 biopic was basically vérité filmmaking, then. In it, Murphy recreates the heroics he produced for real on the battlefield, including one famous scene when he takes on the entire Wehrmacht from the top of a Sherman. He’d be a contender for Captain America, except he was a non-commissioned officer and ‘Sergeant America’ sounds like a stripper’s name.
Marks out of ten: 33 – give or take, one for each of his medals.
The film: I’m Still Here (2010)
Version of self played: An overweight drunk drug addict who wants to be a rap superstar, but not before he shouts at a few strangers, pushes some photographers over and loses his mind
Approximate screen time: 106 minutes
As a piece of performance art about the nature of celebrity, I’m Still Here is a traffic jam of famous folk playing themselves, from Sean 'P. Diddy' Combs to Antony Langdon, with Mos Def, David Letterman, Ben Stiller, Edward James Olmos and Jamie Foxx in-between, not to mention the director of the piece, Casey Affleck. It’s best to concentrate on Phoenix, however, as there’s so much to wrap your head around. In this cinematic thought experiment, the Oscar-nominated actor pretended to give it all up in 2008, saying he wanted to become a musician, and in the process became a beardy-weirdo that even the tabloids got bored of. It was, of course, all a ballsy rug pull by Affleck and Phoenix, and although you have to admire the Borat-like commitment to the idea, it doesn’t really hit the mark.
Marks out of ten: Four. Points for effort, not for the uncomfortable levels of full-frontal male nudity.
The film: Private Parts (1997)
Version of self played: A fairly faithful, albeit potentially sympathetic one
Approximate screen time: 109 minutes
This could so easily have been a disaster. It seemed to scream vanity project when Howard Stern decided to play himself in a biopic of his own life. But thanks to a strong screenplay by Len Blum and Michael Kalesniko, a great turn by Mary McCormack as Stern’s wife, and the shock jock’s willingness to reveal his warts and all, it all ended up feeling more balanced and self-critical than we might have expected. In the end it all read like a love letter to Stern’s wife (played by McCormack) for sticking with him even when things got weird, and a chance for new audiences to enjoy Stern doing what he does best, which is amusing people on the radio.
Marks out of ten: Six – is he really the most convincing Howard Stern they could have found?
The film: The Dictator (2012)
Version of self played: A sexually depraved submissive (Norton); a Hollywood starlet who’d do anything for money (Fox)
Approximate screen time: Under a minute for Fox, just over a minute for Norton
First up, Fox. Portrayed as an escort who sleeps her way around the world’s great and good – “I have to be with the Italian Prime Minister tomorrow” – Michael Bay’s muse takes her hyper-sexualised image and gives it a sound thrashing. In the process, she also gets to be part of a joke that involves Baron Cohen’s lonely dictator President Prime Minister Admiral General Haffaz Aladeen, enjoying carnal pleasures with Halle Berry, Lindsay Lohan, Fergie from the Black Eyed Peas, Mila Kunis, Ellen DeGeneres, Katy Perry, Oprah and, um, Arnie. On a similar note there’s Edward Norton, who shows that he’s perfectly happy to pretend to be urinated upon by a Chinese diplomat, a role that he plays surprisingly well, unexpected buttock pat and all.
Marks out of ten: Eight – Both real-life cameos are perfectly aladeen.
The film: Wayne’s World 2 (1993)
Version of self played: Good Actor Charlton Heston
Approximate screen time: Under 40 seconds
“Do we have to put up with this? I mean, can’t we get a better actor? I know it’s a small part but I think we can do better than this!” says Mike Myers’ Wayne when confronted with a bit-part actor who he finds unconvincing. No problem! Someone wheels on Charlton Heston instead, who moves Wayne nearly to tears with his brief anecdote about a girl he once knew. The easy charisma and immense gravitas is all there, to such an extent that we feel Heston must be playing himself – even if not addressed by name.
Marks out of ten: Six – we’re removing some only because he’s not addressed by name so in that sense it’s arguable he’s playing someone else.
The film: The Naked Gun 2 ½ (1991)
Version of self played: The crazy violent version arrested for hitting a policeman in 1989
Approximate screen time: Under 20 seconds
A bit of backstory for younger readers: Zsa Zsa Gabor (her again) is a Hollywood star of the old school, who gained notoriety in 1989 when she was arrested after allegedly slapping a policeman in Beverly Hills. Two years later came this appearance in the opening credits of The Naked Gun sequel: in it, she attacks the franchise’s police light (following the model of Police Squad the film opened with a police car driving to unlikely places and complains that this happens “every fucking time” she goes shopping. Full marks for chutzpah anyway.
Marks out of ten: Six – we can’t approve of violence towards an officer of the law, but it’s a smashin’ cameo
The film: Fanboys (2008)
Version of self played: All-powerful, all-knowing Shatner
Approximate screen time: Under one minute
There are some things for which you can criticise William Shatner – the likely efficacy of his fight moves perhaps – but you can’t say he’s not willing to send himself up. From his self-spoofing turns on Saturday Night Live to his hilarious role in Boston Legal to this tiny snippet, he’s always ready to poke fun at his own myth. That’s why, in a beautiful moment of cross-fandom co-operation, he helps the Star Wars nerds of Fanboys in their quest to reach Skywalker Ranch by giving them everything they need to find a way inside George Lucas’s compound and screen The Phantom Menace for their terminally ill friend.
Marks out of ten: Ten – he’s William Shatner; he can get whatever he wants.
The film: Tropic Thunder (2008)
Version of self played: One who wouldn’t mind appearing in a movie about two gay monks
Approximate screen time: 84 seconds
In Ben Stiller’s Tropic Thunder, Robert Downey Jr. plays five-time Academy Award winner Kirk Lazarus. In the fake trailer for Satan’s Alley, Lazarus's none-more-awards-baiting latest effort, “MTV Movie Award Best Kiss winner” Tobey Maguire stars opposite Lazarus as a medieval monk lured into a homosexual affair with much furtive glancing and habit-caressing. At the Great Gatsby junket, we asked Maguire whether we’ll ever see the full film, and he said, “I saw Kate Winslet recently, and she said Satan’s Alley was my crowning achievement. I started saying, ‘Oh, thank you!’ before I realised she’d diminished the rest of my career and thought the thing I did two shots in was the best thing I’d ever done. So... I guess I should consider making it a movie!” You heard him, Hollywood.
Marks out of ten: Eight – The way Maguire fondles Lazarus’s rosary beads has to be seen to be believed.
The film: Funny People (2009)
Version of self played: A cynical, pessimistic, grumpy narcissist who’s quick to anger
Approximate screen time: About two minutes
Eminem got bitter, man. Trapped in his own fame bubble, he can’t go to the shops, he can’t go bowling, he can’t walk down the street. So instead of buying a private island like any sensible person would do, he goes out to dinner with terminally ill comedian George Simmons (Adam Sandler) and makes him feel bad, then shouts at Ray Romano and makes him feel bad. Cantankerous, belligerent, old... this is the real Slim Shady (apparently). Incidentally, Funny People boasts many other (smaller) real-life cameo roles, including Sarah Silverman, Andy Dick, Justin Long, Ken Jeong and James Taylor, though they’re nowhere near as memorable as Eminem throwing a wobbly.
Marks out of ten: Seven – He asks Ray Romano whether he’d like to fuck him. That’s something you don’t see every day.
The film: Space Jam (1996) Version of self played: Superstar basketball player with possible mental health problems Approximate screen time: The full match
This is an idea that originated with a Nike ad in which Chicago Bulls superstar Michael Jordan and Bugs Bunny took on Marvin the Martian on the court and won, despite Marvin’s access to ray-gun technology. Things got a bit more convoluted in the feature-length Warner Bros.’ movie, with a bunch of alien bad guys called the Nerdlucks involved and Bill Murray breaking the fourth wall. Still, Jordan seems to be having fun. It lends itself to a potentially groundbreaking tagline – “Jordan. Bunny. Leghorn. Le Pew. At last.” - but the greatest joy in Space Jam is seeing the greatest basketball player of all time teaming up with Sniffles the Mouse. Scottie Pippen, eat your heart out.
Marks out of ten: Three. Hey, it’s the maximum in basketball.
The film: Hop (2011)
Version of self played: A one-man talent show judge (as opposed to reality, where he’s one of three talent show judges)
Approximate screen time: Six minutes or so
In a world where the Easter bunny is voiced by Hugh Laurie and his son, E.B., is voiced Russell Brand, it’s important to leave logic at the door. Here, magical rabbits defecate jellybeans and Hank Azaria is an evil chicken, so why not have David “The Hoff” Hasselhoff host his own talent show called Hoff Knows Best? He’s even got his own catchphrase – “I didn’t like it. I LOVED IT!” – and a mug with his face on it, so you can really invest in his character. Elsewhere in the history of The Hoff playing versions of himself on film, there was that time in The SpongeBob SquarePants movie where he swims out into the sea with SpongeBob and Patrick on his back so they can get to Bikini Bottom. By the end, he fires them onto the ocean floor with the power of his pecs. It’s kinda weird.
Marks out of ten: Eight – Once you combine the silliness of both Hop and The SpongeBob Squarepants Movie, at least.
The film: Full Frontal (2002)
Version of self played: Extreme multi-take alpha perfectionist
Approximate screen time: Brief but memorable
Mad, bad and dangerous-to-Google, Steven Soderbergh’s Full Frontal is notable for a couple of a mighty Hollywood cameos. The experimental Hollywood satire sees the ‘Bergh’s Oceans cohort Brad Pitt popping up as a version of himself to star in a David Fincher movie-in-a-movie, but it is Fincher who takes the honours. He mercilessly lampoons his reputation as a director who never asks for one take when 67 will do by, well, demanding 49 of the suckers on his faux-actioner 'Rendezvous'. Pitt duly obliges. Full Frontal’s shoot took 19 days. Rendezvous needed, presumably, a lot longer.
Marks out of ten: Why just ten? Let’s go again
The film: Sweet & Lowdown (1999)
Version of self played: Jazz-nut and talking head
Approximate screen time: Under five minutes, spread throughout the film.
This is a relatively unusual case of someone playing a serious version of themselves, for a dramatic rather than a comedy film. Allen directed this biopic of fictional jazz musician Emmet Ray (Sean Penn), who falls in love with a mute woman (Samantha Morton in a breakthrough role). But he’s so dedicated to giving his fictional story an air of authenticity that he appears as a talking head along with music critic Nat Hentoff and Ray “expert” Douglas McGrath. Allen’s well-known as a fan (and performer) of jazz music so his involvement serves to blur the line between fact and fiction rather nicely.
Marks out of ten: Numbers aren’t very jazz, man; let’s keep it loose.
The film: Ted (2012)
Version of self played: Flash ‘GORDON’S ALIVE!!’ Gordon
Approximate screen time: Five minutes
When Seth MacFarlane tracked Sam Jones down to the private security job he’d been working on and pitched him the idea of playing himself in Ted, Jones took some convincing. “Okay, what are we doing, Seth?” he asked the director, nonplussed at the idea of upsetting young Flash fans with a sweary version of himself. “You've hired me to play myself and the way it's written, it's not really the true me. So we can do a spoof or a parody or do pieces.” Conspicuously, that concern for impressionable minds doesn’t extend to not doing a whole bunch of cocaine in the scene. But then, even superheroes need a lift sometimes.
Marks out of ten: 6007. Five for being Flash Gordon, two for saving every one of us, 6000 for saying “Death to Ming!” while downing shots.
The film: Dodgeball (2004)
Version of self played: A judging (but generous) Carlos Ray Norris
Approximate screen time: 10 seconds
It’s not the most famous Chuck Norris fact, but Chuck Norris has the best real-life cameo in Dodgeball – fact. He beats out the yellow-jerseyed competition by sporting a most excellent beard and not invalidating everything he’s meant to stand for in the movie with a nasty case of lying-his-padded-pants off. Norris also wins the day because he can punch people with his chin, then there’s his unstoppable politeness – “Thank you, Peter” – and the way in which he is, in fact, Chuck “Fucking” Norris.
Marks out of ten: Chuck is above numbers.