The Weirdest Cameos in Superhero Movies


This article contains spoilers

Superman is on the lookout for Lex Luthor. Even though the criminal mastermind only appears in public under one of his many wigs, Superman knows that Lex Luthor is bald. So when he sees a hairless man on the street, Superman accosts the pedestrian only to see not Gene Hackman’s menacing smile, but detective/lollipop enthusiast Theo Kojak, played by Telly Savalas. Superman pauses for a moment for the audience to roar in laughter when they recognize the popular television character, who pulls out his sucker to utter his famed catchphrase, “Who loves ya, baby!”

Granted, this scene did not make the final version of 1978’s Superman, the start of the first wave of superhero movies, but it was in one of the movie’s later drafts, and while Donner was able to limit the cameos in his movie to low-key appearances by Kirk Alyn and Noel Neill of the 1940s Superman serials, film critic Rex Reed, and TV star Larry Hagman, those who followed rarely showed so much restraint. 

Cameos have become a standard part of superhero movies, small breaks in the action for the audience to all share a knowing laugh. Most of the time, these interruptions don’t break our suspension of disbelief. But sometimes, cameos go a little too far, totally pulling us out of the movie and reminding us that we’re watching the plans of producers and movie executives as much as we’re watching fantastic works of art. 

Elon Musk (Iron Man 2, 2010)

The Superhero Movie Industrial Complex has a lot to answer for (even as it keeps me employed), but one of the most damning may be its valorizing of the maverick tech genius in the form of Tony Stark. When kept in the world of fantasy, Stark is a compelling character, the Merchant of Death who has a change of heart and tries to make the world a better place. But in the real world, tech leaders exploit the labor of others while advocating “advancements” that further diminish humanity. None more so than South African emerald mine scion Elon Musk, who every day reveals himself to be a bargain-bin Lex Luthor and nothing like Tony Stark. 

And yet, in the largely disastrous Iron Man 2, Tony and Pepper Potts follow Natasha Romanoff (still incognito as Tony’s personal assistant) into a fancy restaurant. The two choose a table next to Elon Musk, who hops up to congratulate Pepper on her promotion to head of Stark Industries. That in and of itself is fine. Marvel has always taken place in the “world outside your window,” so it makes sense that a billionaire would be hanging out with other billionaires. No, the real problem comes when both Tony and Pepper compliment Musk and his idea for an electric jet, with an impressed Stark saying, “We’ll make it work.” 

Lloyd Kaufman (Guardians of the Galaxy, 2014)

Lloyd Kaufman is everything Disney isn’t. Where the company founded by Walt Disney built its empire on family-friendly entertainment that never makes anyone uncomfortable, Kaufman created Troma Entertainment, a direct-to-video company that makes movies only to offend. With gleefully tasteless, low-budget offerings such as The Toxic Avenger and Class of Nuke ‘Em High, Troma established a cult status that still persists today, long after its 80s and 90s heyday. Out from those halcyon days came a writer who worked under Kaufman named James Gunn, whose first screenplay became the 1996 spoof Tromeo and Juliet (featuring Sean Gunn in a supporting role).

As fans of Gunn’s blockbuster work know, the director loves to work with the same group of people, bringing his brother Sean, pal Nathan Fillion, and others across multiple projects. So we understand why he chose Kaufman to be one of the prisoners in the Kiln who jeers at Gamora in Guardians of the Galaxy. And we understand why he brought Kaufman back as one of the card players in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, alongside fellow returnees Howard the Duck (voiced by Seth Green) and Old 97s frontman Rhett Miller under alien makeup. But there’s no denying the cognitive dissonance from seeing the King of Offensive Schlock in a big-budget Disney picture. 

Drew Barrymore (Batman Forever, 1995)

In 1996, the horror movie Scream pulled an infamous trick on the audience. The movie begins with Drew Barrymore as Casey Becker, presumably the movie’s lead. After all, Barrymore was already in her second phase as a movie star, having transitioned from kid actor/scion of a famed Hollywood family to wild young adult, with leading roles in Guncrazy, Bad Girls, and Boys on the Side. But Casey dies before the credits roll, leaving viewers shocked and confused. 

As Sugar, the “nice” Two-Face girlfriend, opposite Debi Mazar as Spice, Barrymore gets to live to the closing credits of Batman Forever. But she has less screen time, fewer lines, and even less to do than Casey. In fact, her only significant contribution to the plot of Batman Forever involves revealing to the hero the captive Dr. Chase Meridian. Even at the time, audiences wondered why such a high-profile actor would take such a thankless role, briefly distracting our attention from Jim Carrey’s unmitigated devouring of every piece of scenery.

Senator Patrick Leahy (The Dark Knight, 2008)

While Sugar was definitely a lesser role for someone of Barrymore’s stature, at least she’s an actor. The same cannot be said of an unlikely cameo in the follow-up Batman & Robin, from Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy as an unhappy politician. A huge Batman fan, Leahy would appear in no fewer than five Batman movies, including most recently alongside the ill-fated Senator Finch (Holly Hunter) in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. But on one occasion, Leahy actually got in on the action, during perhaps the greatest Batman movie The Dark Knight

When the Joker breaks into Wayne Tower to interrupt a fundraising party for Harvey Dent, most of the black-tie attendees stand back in horror. But when he comes to Patrick Leahy, the Senator fights back. “We’re not intimidated by thugs,” he tells the Joker, giving the Clown Prince of Crime pause. “You know, you remind me of my father,” he tells the Senator, before grabbing the man’s head and pulling out a dagger. “I hated my father.” Within the world of the movie, it works as an exciting example of the villain’s unpredictability. But for those who know the Senator’s nearly 50 years in office, the scene breaks attention from Ledger’s otherwise magnetic performance. 

Julie Delpy (Avengers: Age of Ultron, 2015)

If you’re not paying attention during the Wanda Maximoff-induced dream sequences in Avengers: Age of Ultron then, baby, you’re gonna miss that cameo. Because in between a legitimately sweet scene of Steve Rogers reuniting with Peggy Carter and Thor meeting up with Heimdall because they didn’t want to burn off one of Tom Hiddleston’s contractual appearances, you’ll see Black Widow reliving her training in the red room, under the cruel tutelage of Julie Delpy. Fans of independent cinema may recognize the French actor for her roles in the iconic Before Trilogy or Krzysztof Kieślowski’s Three Colors: White, but no one expected her to drop by for a Disney Avengers movie. 

Age of Ultron director Joss Whedon pulled a similar coup for his first Avengers film, when the great Harry Dean Stanton appeared as a janitor offering sage advice for a recently un-Hulked Bruce Banner (“Son, you’ve got a condition.”). But Delpy gets no chance to be as grandiloquent, appearing only briefly as Madame B., training a young Natasha. By the time we actually learn more about Natasha’s background in the Red Room, Madame B. is nowhere to be found, making Delpy’s brief cameo one of the weirdest on this list. 

Julie Andrews (Aquaman, 2018)

In 2018, the beloved governess Mary Poppins floated her way back onto the big screen in Mary Poppins Returns. Even though Emily Blunt took the reins as Poppins, who comes back to help the adult children from the 1964 film, the original Mary Julie Andrews couldn’t stay away from theaters. However, she did not come back for Mary Poppins Returns, but for Aquaman, the superhero adventure by James Wan. And who does the famously cheery screen star play in Aquaman? Why, the Karathen, of course, the giant CG monstrosity who taunts Aquaman (Jason Mamoa) while protecting Atlan’s trident. 

Really, the above description is enough for Andrews’s cameo to be surprising. She would just have to show up, record a few lines in her normal voice, and everyone would be happy and pleased. But Andrews puts in a real performance, spitting out her lines in a gravelly voice and hurling insults at Mamoa’s Aquaman. Even if you had no idea about the voice behind the leviathan’s menacing lines, it still works as a good comic book movie scene, making it a cameo as satisfying as it is weird.

Stan Lee (Teen Titans Go! To the Movies, 2018)

“Wait!” I can hear you saying. “There’s nothing weird about a Stan Lee cameo! He’s always making cameos!” Toward the end of his career, Marvel’s most famous pitch-man parlayed his tendency to put his name on every project into a staple of the MCU, dropping by for a scene in every film in the franchise until his death in 2018, closing out his run with scenes as a hippy in Avengers: Endgame and a costume shop clerk in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. But that same year, Lee dropped by a third movie, this time for the Distinguished Competition in Teen Titans Go! To the Movies. Despite the fact that Lee never worked on the Teen Titans and, in fact, hated the whole idea of teen sidekicks (famously killing off Bucky before Captain America’s return from the ice in 1964’s Avengers #4), his cameo makes for one of the goofier moments in a very loony film. 

When the titular Titans arrive on the Warner Brothers studio lot to convince producers to make a movie about leader Robin, we see in the background Stan Lee sweeping the floor while staring at the camera with a huge grin on his face. As the camera pans to follow the heroes, Lee runs to the foreground and grabs it, pulling it back to him while shouting, “Hey everyone, it’s me, Stan Lee, doing my subtle cameo!” Lee initially runs away after learning that it’s a DC movie, but then he jumps back into the action during the third act, declaring, “I love doing cameos!” It’s these types of knowing and goodhearted jabs at the superhero industry that makes Teen Titans Go! To the Movies so much fun, even as it drives ol’ Smilin’ Stan to make him something other than Marvel for once. 

Brad Pitt (Deadpool 2, 2018)

There’s nothing inherently weird about a cameo in Deadpool 2, a self-aware exercise in postmodernism 101 that constantly calls out its relationship to the real world. Sometimes, those fourth-wall-breaking moments are enough to be funny on their own, as when the camera reveals the entire cast of X-Men: Apocalypse hiding from Deadpool in a corner of the Xavier Mansion. 

But the cameo during the X-Force attack scene takes the cake. To help him defend Rusty aka Firefist (Julian Dennison) from assassination by Cable (Josh Brolin), Ryan Reynolds’s Deadpool recruits his own super-team, complete with comic pulls such as Shatterstar (Lewis Tan) and Zeitgeist (Bill Skarsgård). As soon as the team launches into action, parachuting out of a plane to face off with their enemy, almost all of them immediately die in Looney Tunes fashion: Shatterstar glides into a choppers blade and explodes into green goo, Zeitgeist flies right into a wood chipper and comes out in pieces on the other side. But when silent, invisible member Vanisher floats into power lines, the electricity briefly reveals him to be none other than A-list movie star Brad Pitt, and it happens so quickly you’ll likely spend the next few moments thinking “wait, was that Brad Pitt?” instead of watching the movie. 

Annabelle (Shazam!, 2019)

There’s something admirable about David F. Sandberg putting the possessed murder doll Annabelle (yes, Ed Warren said that demons don’t possess objects, but why would you trust anything that guy says?) in a scene of his superhero movie Shazam!.  After all, he directed (the pretty good!) Annabelle: Creation after debuting with (the very bad!) Lights Out in 2016. Even when he’s making a giant Warner Bros. blockbuster, he wants to remember his roots. 

But as weird as it is to see a figure from an unrelated franchise suddenly show up in the movie, the sweet kid’s toy turned conduit of evil’s brief on-screen appearance inadvertently captures Shazam!’s tone. Half of the movie follows a fun and warm-hearted story about orphan Billy Batson (Asher Angel) gaining the ability to become an adult superhero (Zachary Levi) and finding acceptance with a caring foster family. The other half of the movie takes a surprisingly dark turn, in which the demonic Seven Deadly Sins drive Dr. Sivana (Mark Strong) to shocking acts of violence. With that in mind, Anabelle’s brief appearance early in the movie lets viewers know exactly what they’re in for. 

Harry Styles (Eternals, 2021)

This one might be personal to me, but one of the oddest moments I’ve ever had in the theater occurred in the first post-credit scene of Eternals. Sensing a disturbance on their ship the Domo, superheroes who are actually robots Thena (Angelina Jolie), Druig (Barry Keoghan), and Makkari (Lauren Ridloff) prepare for battle, only to be met by the slobbering drunkard Pip the Troll (voiced by Patton Oswalt), followed by the Titan Eros, aka Starfox. And the crowd goes wild. At the time, I wondered why a bunch of teens would be so excited about a minor and deeply problematic Jim Starlin creation. Only afterward did I learn that they were actually thrilled by the man playing Starfox, Harry Styles

Listen, I have no problem with Harry Styles. My kids have played a few of his songs for me and I enjoyed them fine. And he was hardly the problem with Don’t Worry Darling. But it is strange to cast such a high-level figure in such an odd role, especially Eros. In the pages of Marvel Comics, Starfox is the more handsome and charming brother of Thanos, who has the ability to stimulate the pleasure sensors of those around him. And in a 2007 She-Hulk series by Dan Slott and Will Conrad, Eros was sued by several women for sexual abuse. Somehow, the character survived that storyline with his heroism intact. But still, it’s a very odd role to give a teen heartthrob even if Eternals’ mixed reputation means he’ll likely never reprise his role on screen.  

Henry Cavill (Black Adam, 2022)

It’s really hard to feel bad for Henry Cavill. He is shockingly handsome, imminently likable, and gets to earn millions playing cool characters like Superman and The Witcher’s Geralt. He even got to grow a rad mustache and beat up stunt performer Liang Yang in a bathroom with Tom Cruise. But it absolutely sucks to see him get jerked around in Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s ill-conceived attempt to make Black Adam into a household name. Black Adam hit theaters before the appointment of James Gunn and David Safran to co-head DC Studios. But even then, it was clear that the Snyderverse was running on fumes. 

And yet, Johnson somehow got Cavill to put on the red and blue tights one last time for Black Adam’s post-credit scene, in which Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) threatens Teth-Adam to stay in his newly-liberated Kandaq, and then immediately follows up her threat with an appearance by Cavill’s Superman, in his first new footage since 2017’s Justice League. The scene promises a clash between Black Adam and Superman, something that rarely happens in the comics and something that nobody but Johnson and his investors wanted to see. With Gunn’s Superman: Legacy officially in the works, Cavill has once again retired from the role, leaving the post-credit scene as little more than a testament to Johnson’s desperate attempt at box office relevance.

The post The Weirdest Cameos in Superhero Movies appeared first on Den of Geek.

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