Cameo parts in films are often hit-or-miss; they have the potential to be iconic, but there are many which end up being absolutely abhorrent. Popular cameos by filmmakers like Alfred Hitchcock or even writers like Stan Lee are still remembered by many as some of the best cameo appearances in history because they fully utilise the true essence of a cameo.
On the other hand, there is a parallel phenomenon involving well-known celebrities who appear in works of popular culture in order to cash in on their illusory “star appeal”. While that can work sometimes, it often transforms into a quasi-surreal experience. The cameo appearances become inadequate metafictional symbols that are designed to evoke recognition from the audience, signifying nothing.
We take a look at some of the worst cameos in the history of cinema, ranging from Quentin Tarantino’s appearance in his own work to a quintessentially bizarre Kanye West snippet. Some of these are so bad that they have transcended the judgement of taste, becoming iconic in their own rights.
The ten worst film cameos of all time:
Vanilla Ice in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II (1991)
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are definitely one of the most popular cultural relics from the ’90s. This sequel to the original 1990 film features rapper Vanilla Ice in a truly strange cameo, singing on stage while the beloved turtles use martial arts to get into the concert.
“I didn’t know it at the time, but of course I can see it now,” Vanilla Ice reflected. “The impact was huge all around the world, not just in the U.S. When I go to Russia, China and Europe, I see fans dressed up as Ninja Turtles everywhere. It’s amazing to see the song have such a gigantic impact. Of course, everyone remembers ‘Ice Ice Baby,’ but the ‘Ninja Rap’ is bigger than ever right now. GO NINJA GO!”
Dwayne Johnson in The Mummy Returns (2001)
At the time, Dwayne Johnson was one of the biggest stars of WWE but it was this film that marked his entry into the world of cinema. Rendered in disturbing CGI, Johnson becomes the centre of attention as he emerges as a terrifyingly pixellated enemy called the Scorpion King.
“I didn’t know anything about the WWE or whatever, because it was just starting to explode,” the director recalled. “He was just starting to explode. I saw his stuff and went, oh, he’s got such charisma, he has just oodles of charisma and likability. And, it’s true, you can’t fake that usually.”
Michael Jackson in Men in Black II (2002)
Only Michael Jackson can manage to come across as glaringly weird in a film about aliens. Men in Black II casts the famous star in a minor cameo role as Agent M but the result is just unsettling. In addition, it was Jackson who requested to be involved in the project after reportedly crying about missing out on the original film.
Barry Sonnenfeld revealed: “I really wanted Michael Jackson to be in the first Men in Black but for some reason he didn’t want to be considered as an alien! Five years later, and 15 weeks into an 18 week shoot, I got a message saying that Michael Jackson wanted to be in Men in Black II.”
Adding, “So we got in touch and I had a lovely conversation with Michael in which he told me he had seen the first Men in Black in Paris and had stayed behind when all the other people left the theatre, and sat there and wept. I had to explain to him that it was a comedy. Nevertheless he still agreed to be in it as long as he could wear a black suit, that’s all that mattered to him. It was very funny and entirely Michael’s idea.”
Madonna in Die Another Day (2002)
One of the worst Bond films ever made, Die Another Day stars Pierce Brosnan in the iconic role as Bond gets caught up in yet another repetitive story about international espionage and political intrigue. There are invisible cars in the film that are less weird than Madonna’s cameo.
Brosnan expressed his frustrations about the situation with James Bond films at that time: “There was a certain frustration within me as the films went on, as I could see the world happening around me and the movies…I wanted Bond to get a little more gritty and real and down and dirty… I had a great time on Die Another Day. There were things I read in the script that were so ridiculous, like the invisible car, but I just tried to act my way through it and believe in it.”
M. Night Shyamalan in Signs (2002)
Almost all of Shyamalan’s signature cameos can make it onto this list but his appearance in Signs definitely takes the cake. In this 2002 sci-fi thriller about crop circles and extraterrestrial activity, Shyamalan casts himself as a veterinarian who keeps bumbling after accidentally killing someone.
The filmmaker spoke about how the tragedy of 9/11 influenced his work, “I can see that. I think my tendency to see global events from a family’s perspective is an interesting one, because we kind of all experienced that just now, this year.”
He continued, “Helpless protecting our families, insecurity about what’s happening in the world. So I could see how the emotions that were stirred with that story are very similar to the ones that we’re experiencing—hopefully in a slightly more benign way, today.”
Kanye West in The Love Guru (2008)
The Love Guru is an inexplicable romantic comedy by Mike Myers about self-worth and pop philosophy, featuring hockey. The film keeps regurgitating trash in chaotic patterns but the clouds part for a brief moment when Kanye West pops up to scream: “I love hockey!”
Myers explained: “My father passed away in 1991 and two things emerged for me creatively. One was Austin Powers. And Austin Powers was a tribute to my father for all the British comedy he introduced to me during his lifetime and in my lifetime. The other thing that emerged was the Guru Pitka.
“In 1994 I did a stage show and did five characters. I did Austin Powers for the first time and I did the Guru Pitka for the first time. The Guru Pitka was my kind of my dealing with his death and the one guy I wanted to see my success the universe had taken away from me and it rocked my world.”
Mike Tyson in The Hangover (2009)
Mike Tyson’s memorable cameo in The Hangover is an objectively bad lesson in acting as well as one of the most beloved cameos in popular culture, fulfilling the elusive criteria for the label: “It’s so bad that it’s good.” He features as himself, showing up to track down the men who kidnapped his pet tiger.
“I didn’t know as I was drinking and smoking back then, doing drugs so I didn’t know I was involved in the movie. So eventually I had to go and do the movie and it was a success,” Tyson admitted. “I was a mess. I was overweight. I was a pig, high on cocaine.”
Al Pacino in Jack and Jill (2011)
Many fans still believe that this was the role that merited an Oscar for Al Pacino‘s breathtaking performance. In this Adam Sandler stinker, Sandler works really hard to land Al Pacino for a Dunkin’ Donuts commercial. Saying that Al Pacino’s bizarre appearance is the best part of Jack and Jill is saying a lot.
“You know what? I may be falling into a bad habit now. I think I’m starting to get a little perverse. I’m starting to want to do films that aren’t really very good and try to make them better. And that’s become my challenge,” Al Pacino confessed at the time.
Quentin Tarantino in Django Unchained (2012)
Over the course of his career, Tarantino has scripted multiple cameo appearances for himself with some of them becoming iconic like his part in Pulp Fiction. It is safe to say that his cameo in Django Unchained is not of those, featuring him with a surreal Australian accent.
“What happened during slavery times is a thousand times worse than [what] I show,” Tarantino maintained. “So if I were to show it a thousand times worse, to me, that wouldn’t be exploitative, that would just be how it is. If you can’t take it, you can’t take it.”
David Beckham in King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2017)
This was the acting performance that was supposed to launch David Beckham’s career as a promising actor. Although things did not go quite as planned, Beckham’s part is memorable as the guy who screamed “Oi, both hands!” while Arthur tries to wield the legendary Excalibur.
“Our kids go to the same school and we go to the same pub and then we go to the same sort of gay gym,” director Guy Ritchie explained. “I used him before in the previous film I did, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., [and] I’ve done a couple of commercials with him. I love him… he’s a lovely chap. But it just made sense [to cast him in King Arthur].”