There's something hugely satisfying about a well-done cameo. Like a cross between spotting an old friend in a crowd and being the only person in a room to pick up on a long-running in-joke, the cameo holds the power to underscore certain ideas and themes, reward the viewer's loyalty and knowledge, or simply to briefly relieve an audience from an hour-and-a-half of tedium with a momentary smile.

Of course, by its very nature, the cameo is fleeting, though if done right, the trope can take a few seconds of screen time and use them to link entire universes together (see: Quentin Tarantino), pay homage to horrendously obscure influences or completely change the entire tone of a film.

In a change-up to the usual format of this column, wherein I pick one specific film and analyse it to death, I've instead selected a few of the finest handled cameos in popular cinema, ranging from comedy to satire to drama, and listed them below. Like Buzzfeed, but not shit.


Anchorman - The Fight

Love them or loathe them, the 'Frat Pack' was a comedic force to be reckoned with in the late '90s and early noughties. Boasting a group of insanely popular male actors that saw their audience quickly expand from beer chugging bros to pretty much everyone, the group put together a string of much-loved hits including Meet the Parents (2000), Zoolander (2001), Old School (2003), Dodgeball (2004), The Wedding Crashers (2005) and Tropic Thunder (2008) amongst others. For a while, the pack dominated American comedy cinema, and eschewed the increasingly banal trend of cut-copy rom-coms and unnecessary sequels with high-concept, original ideas, and a chemistry that could only have been the result of genuine friendship.

The group's defining moment, however, before they started a gradual descent into sponsored pap like The Internship (2013) and revisits to the Zoolander and Focker series that no one asked for, came in the form of one scene in Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, their infinitely quotable 2004 effort that launched the careers of a thousand imitators. Coming together in one huge cameo-laden street fight, the frat pack celebrated their conquering of the nation's theatres with a scene that demonstrated perfectly their then unique brand of humour. A heady mix of outlandish slapstick, tongue-in-cheek racial stereotypes, catchphrase-ready dialogue ("Como estan, bitches?"), all held together with the group's balls-out confidence in their own material, the news team fight scene brought together the familiar faces of Vaugh, Wilson, Ferrell and Stiller for what was essentially their stealing of Adam Sandler's box-office crown.

To observe how effective, well-structured and presented this orgy of cameos is, simply watch it back to back with the fight scene in the film's sequel. Sure, all the faces are still there, plus some more, but the additions of Kanye West, Jim Carrey, Tina Fey and Amy Phoeler comes across as scattershot and forced, and it is obvious that the formidable electricity in the air during the group's peak has now dimmed to a dull buzz. The second incarnation of the fight is pure indulgence, an expansive circle-jerk of pop culture references and a quick payday for the pack's friends, whereas the first was a genuine celebration that their schtick had stuck, and a joyous celebration that together they had struck a rich vein of comedy gold.


Glengarry Glen Ross - Always be Closing

Ten minutes into Glengarry Glen Ross (1992), David Mamet and James Foley's masterful examination of 'the salesman', Alec Baldwin comes in from the rain to deliver a speech that is still screened to budding sales workers to this day. In one fell swoop, Baldwin's uber-confident corporate guru both steals the show and kicks things up a notch, informing the rag-tag bunch of real estate workers that all but two of them will be fired within the week if they fail to sell a house. In an eight-minute firestorm of a cameo, Baldwin's brass-balled Blake levels a torrent of verbal abuse at the failing team, outlines the perfect attitude to be successful in the industry and, in typical Mamet style, peppers his monologue with a selection of the finest swears available.

Blake's mantras, ABC (Always Be Closing) and AIDA (Attention, Interest, Decision, Action), provide an instant jumping off point for the film's investigation into themes of desperation, deception, and confidence, and swiftly establish the coming narrative in beautifully coded foreshadowing. Baldwin's performance alone could seal the deal, but it is its combination with Mamet's exquisite writing that pushes this cameo into hallowed territory, bringing together the swift rejection of bullshit and the extremities of testosterone that flow throughout the film.

Baldwin's character walks back into the night, tearing away in his $80,000 BMW, not to be seen again, but his brief presence is enough to kick-start a chain of events that form the spine of one of the finest American dramas of the '90s.


Dead Man - Philistine shootout

With the recent news that cult-cinema icon Jim Jarmusch is set to direct a documentary about proto-punk icons The Stooges, this seems like the ideal opportunity to revisit Iggy Pop's finest moment on the big screen, playing a cross-dressing, bible bashing, fur salesman in Dead Man (1995), Jarmusch's postmodernist western masterpiece.

During a ten-minute appearance in which he condenses his erratic onstage persona into an equally volatile character, Pop fits right in with the weird and wonderful ayahuasca visions of Jarmusch's Americana. Discussing Constantine the Great and his violent contributions to the Christian faith, how soft Jonny Depp's hair is, and how he goes about keeping it so soft in the wild wild West, and handily defining the word philistine, his cameo is a whirlwind of oddity, and an expert depiction of the strangeness that both director and actor deal with in their respective mediums. The character is killed by a shotgun blast from a Native American named nobody, and thus ends the funniest, most surreal, and least expected cameo on this list.

Also present is a wildly unkempt Billy Bob Thornton doing his best Hank Hill impression, which really has to be seen to be believed.


Sunset Boulevard - The Waxworks

Wilder's Sunset Boulevard deals with the transition between silent film and the 'talkies', observing as the changing face of American cinematic culture leaves many behind, and exploring the concept of fame from the perspective of those who had it slip through their finger. It is suitable then that populating the cast are a group of names that contributed hugely to the early development of the medium, but failed to progress with the changing times.

Erich von Stroheim, for example, had previously directed the ground-breaking epic Greed (1920), and had been a pioneering figure in the silent cinema era, but here he plays a fading silent star's butler, subtly referencing his intense devotion to cinema's early days. Likewise, Cecil B. DeMille appears as himself, channelling his success into a performance in complete opposition to Stroheim's and demonstrating their respective positioning within the industry at the time.

However, in a film dominated by cameo appearances, it is the 'waxwork' sequence that remains most effective. Central character Norma Desmond, a dwindling name in the industry after years of dominance, holds a bridge club with similarly down on their luck film stars, with the voiceover referring to the unseen players as "dim figures you may still remember from the silent days." Following this, the camera tracks around the table, revealing the faces of Buster Keaton, H. B. Warner and Anna Q. Nilsson, all vital figures from the silent era who struggled to continue their wild success into the next phase of the medium. A bittersweet moment that remembers the foundations of everything you see in the cinema today, these cameos honour the figures that made it all possible, but who faded largely into obscurity when everyone began to move on.


The Player - Habeas Corpus

At the end of Altman's midnight-dark Hollywood satire The Player (1992), a group of movie executives watch from the edge of their seats as an altered ending of a fictional film titled Habeas Corpus rolls out. Griffin Mill (a very sweaty Tim Robbins) watches in glee as they lap up the awful happy ending he has knowingly tacked on to a potential masterpiece in order to save his own career and ruin a rival.

On-screen, Bruce Willis bursts in to save Julia Roberts at the last second, before carrying her off into the sunset and hammily delivering an awful final line of dialogue. In less than 30 seconds of meta-film, Robert Altman successfully lays out his criticisms regarding the diluting of plot, the pitfalls of the happy ending and the use of big names to gloss over the lack of quality in writing, direction and vision.

The willing and deliberately terrible contributions of Willis and Roberts to the film within the film adds a further layer of criticism, with their presence at once knowingly addressing their fame and some of the awful, awful films they have both made. In a film littered with industry cameos and film in-jokes, the screening to the overjoyed executives plays out like a confirmation that the people at the top actually have no idea what a good film is, and instead it is the viewer who has the knowledge and the intellectual capacity to make that decision.


Hon mention: Lance Armstrong lying to Vince Vaughn's face

And finally, to see this article out, please enjoy this clip of Lance Armstrong, legendary cyclist and prolific doper, extolling the virtues of never giving up and succeeding after staring sure defeat right in the face. The only cameo on the list to completely reinvent itself a decade after filming, Armstrong's appearance in Dodgeball caught him at the height of his success, inspiring Vince Vaughn to win the tournament with a rousing speech about powering through adversity.

What we don't see is Vaughn returning to the locker room and shooting himself up to the eyeballs with the high-quality performance enhancers that Armstrong is (probably) carrying around in that lovely shoulder bag.

Contrary to belief, there are actually 6 D's of dodgeball: Dodge, Duck, Dip Dive, Dodge and Dope.