While The Simpsons was at its critical (and arguably creative) peak in the mid-’90s, creator Matt Groening began working on the concept for a new series, set 1,000 years in the future. He’d eventually bring Simpsons’ writer and producer David X. Cohen on board, turning Futurama into a television show just in time for it to air in March of 1999.
Lasting four seasons until it was cancelled, syndication and a number of direct-to-video movies would eventually see the adult-focused cartoon revived on TV. Futurama gained another two seasons (three counting the movies), in what was once a rare feat for canceled TV shows. With the dawn of the new millennium as the jumping off point, Groening and the writers were not only able to introduce a number of established and up-and-coming voice talent, but bring in lots of celebrities via the conceit of their heads and brains being preserved for museums.
Here are 15 Stars You Forgot Appeared In Futurama.
15. Emilia Clarke
In many ways, Emilia Clarke is a relative newcomer to acting. Her debut role was just seven years ago in a short film titled Drop the Dog. She had two small TV roles under her belt before being cast as Daenerys Targaryen on Game of Thrones in 2011. Since then, she’s had time for a few other projects in between filming the show, and a role in Futurama became one of them in 2013.
Joining the show for an episode in the seventh and final season, Clarke played Marianne, a young flower shop owner who falls for Zoidberg in a rare moment of love for the crustacean character. Tragically, she’s in need of a nose transplant so she can smell her other true love: her flowers.
The good news is, Zoidberg can perform the surgery. The bad news is, once she gains her ability to smell, she’ll know how truly malodorous Zoidberg is. Clarke’s lack of pre-2000 popularity means she doesn’t get to play herself, but it’s still a fun and sweet role nonetheless.
14. George Takei and the Cast of Star Trek
George Takei is one of the many Star Trek alums to make their way onto Futurama. Given the sci-fi nature of the show, it’s a no brainer, of course. It also came at a time when Takei was less known to general audiences than some of his other castmates. While most are aware of him as a social media darling these days, his time on Futurama gave the actor a chance to show off the comedic chops he’d one day gain notoriety for.
Appearing in a number of episodes over the years, his first turn was in season 4’s “Where No Man Has Gone Before”. In the episode, Fry learns that Star Trek has been banned on Earth for hundreds of years, and goes on a journey to track down the cast members. Along with Takei, William Shatner, Nichelle Nichols, and Walter Koenig show up, along with Jonathan Frakes from The Next Generation.
13. John Goodman
Though John Goodman was certainly famous enough to have appeared as his own head on Futurama, the writers decided they had a much better way to use his talents. For the eighth episode of season 2, Futurama aired its first Christmas special in December of 1999. Unlike our version of the holiday, “Xmas Story” revealed that a Robot Santa Claus had long since dominated the season and served as a murderous tyrant.
Created to designate people as naughty or nice, a glitch caused him to deem all unworthy of his presents. Instead, he rains down laser fire on them from his sleigh, making the holiday a bleak time. In his first appearance, John Goodman gets to put all his considerable might into creating one of the show’s most despicable villains.
12. Sarah Silverman
Like Goodman, Sarah Silverman wasn’t always around to play her role, which is too bad, as it had some staying power. Michelle Jenkins first appeared in the pilot of Futurama, voiced by Kath Soucie, a go-to voice actor on the show who would eventually play the Professor’s son Cubert Farnsworth. Michelle was Fry’s girlfriend before he woke up in the year 3000, and thanks to the same cryogenic lab, she ends up there eventually too.
In her second appearance, and first in the future, Sarah Silverman takes over the role. The episode, “The Cryogenic Woman,” sees the gang working back at the lab and Michelle thawed along with Pauly Shore. She and Fry try to rekindle their relationship, but it falls apart once again.
Michelle leaves the episode in a limo with Pauly Shore, but shows up a number of other times. Silverman reprised the role in 2013, in an episode that saw the gang head back to 1999 via Fry’s dreams, but Soucie handled the duties for Michelle’s other appearances.
11. The Beastie Boys
In an example of one of Futurama’s earliest guest appearances, the Beastie Boys showed up to perform a concert. Naturally, they’re heads in jars, but that doesn’t stop them from doing shows. Only Mike D and Ad-Rock were available to do their voices, so the latter also voiced MCA. Bender, Fry, and Leela end up meeting the Beastie Boys backstage, before Bender quickly heads off with his friend Fender to get a fix of electricity. The rest of episode deals with Bender’s addiction to the juice and the habit of “jacking on,” which eventually leads to him making a deal with the Robot Devil.
Another chief antagonist of the series, the Robot Devil’s first appearance sees him challenge Bender to a familiar sounding musical competition. Voicing the Devil is another unexpected (or inevitable, depending on how you look at it) guest star, Dan Castellaneta; aka the voice of Homer Simpson. Sadly, the Beastie Boys never return, but the Robot Devil does for many of the show’s most memorable episodes.
While “celebrity” is a bit of a stretch for Coolio, he’s certainly a recognizable ‘90s figure thanks to his one-hit wonder status and his unique locks. While never making it big as an actor, he still has over 50 small roles to his name. Coolio has popped up in genre bombs, like the Daredevil movie and Batman and Robin; where he memorably wore a coat made of sneakers.
For his two appearances on Futurama, he didn’t get floating head status, but instead joined John Goodman as a holiday robot. First appearing in 2001’s “A Tale of Two Santas,” Coolio played Kwanzaabot, who flies around handing out a book called”‘What the Hell is Kwanzaa.” Sadly, despite hundred of years of performing the service, most people remain unaware of the holiday’s meaning.
9. Leonard Nimoy
When Fry goes on his missions to find George Takei and the rest of Star Trek cast, he does so with the help of Leonard Nimoy’s head. After imparting the news about the show’s ban, they head off to find the actor’s missing castmates. But Nimoy and Fry actually go way back. In fact, they go all the way back to his first trip to the future and the pilot of the series.
Back when the show first aired, Nimoy was the first head Fry encounters. What eventually became a running gag all began with Nimoy’s head floating in a jar, being fed fish food. It proved to be an enduring joke and a perfect way to feature modern celebrities on a show set 1,000 years in the future.
Groening and Nimoy went way back as well. Not only did Nimoy famously star as himself in 1997’s ‘The Simpson Files” which features the classic Mr. Burns/alien storyline, but he was also in 1993’s “Marge vs. the Monorail”, once again playing himself.
8. Stephen Hawking
When Nichelle Nichols showed up as herself on Futurama for their Star Trek episode, it was actually her second appearance on the series. Her first came during the classic episode “Anthology of Interest I,” which featured three separate tales courtesy of Professor Farnsworth’s What-If Machine. On top of the powerful device, the episode also introduced his even more stunning invention, the Fing-Longer.
In the various scenarios, Bender ponders what life would be like if he was 500 feet tall, Leela wonders what it would be like to be more impulsive (which leads to her getting some new boots and then murdering all of her friends), and Fry imagines if he’d never come to the future. The last scenario begins tearing apart time itself, which causes Nichols and Stephen Hawking to show up and help sort things out. Hawking would later return as himself in two more episodes, seriously strengthening the show’s nerd-cred.
7. Sigourney Weaver
Considering how popular Sigourney Weaver was in the ‘90s for her role in the Alien franchise, a sci-fi show like Futurama could have easily used that as the jumping off point for an episode featuring the actor. Instead, they used 2001: A Space Odyssey as the basis for an exploration of love and the personhood of artificial intelligences.
Rather than play her own head in a jar, Weaver is the voice of the Planet Express Ship. While we’d never heard it speak before season 4, the episode makes it seem like a regular feature as Bender and the ship get into a heated debate. Their antagonistic relationship slowly morphs throughout the episode into a loving one, as the crew transport a shipment of candy hearts.
6. Conan O’Brien
Though Conan O’Brien wasn’t a huge name back in 1999, he did have a connection to Matt Groening that helped him get on Futurama. As a former writer on The Simpsons, it was only a matter of time before the talk show host popped up in some capacity on Groening’s new show. Rather than play a character, however, he actually got to play a version of himself.
In “Xmas Story” – the same episode that featured John Goodman as Robot Santa Clause – the gang start off their holiday adventure watching O’Brien’s head host his still-running talk show. As the jokes that he tells are only relevant to the late-’90s, they’re funny for viewers but leave the characters unimpressed. There are a number of great gags, however, including one where the camera cuts to Conan’s band only to reveal that Max Weinberg’s skull is simply floating in his jar at the drum set.
5. Bob Odenkirk
Long before he appeared on Breaking Bad or Better Call Saul, Bob Odenkirk was mostly known for his comedies. As an actor, he’s best known for Mr. Show, the sketch comedy series he created and wrote with David Cross. He also spent years writing for SNL and Conan. Given the fact that his brother wrote for the show, Odenkirk and Groening were likely familiar with each other, leading to him being cast as Chaz, the sleazy Mayor’s aide.
First appearing in the episode “The Why of Fry”, Chaz not only used to date Leela, but gets wrapped up the plot involving invading Nibblonians. The episode expands the lore of Nibbler and his hyper-intelligent species, positing that Fry has a special purpose and that his legendary stupidity is actually his greatest gift. It’s become a classic episode of the series and a jumping off point for a number of other plots.
4. Patrick Stewart
Considering how many Star Trek actors popped up on Futurama over the years, it may seem surprising that it took Patrick Stewart so long to appear on the show. He didn’t feature in the Star Trek-themed episode, nor did his many genre credits pull him onto the series before its final season. When he finally appeared, it wasn’t as himself but rather as the Huntmaster in the episode “31st Century Fox”.
While the title is a play on Futurama’s original network, it also references the logo used for the Futurama movies. It’s also, of course, an allusion to the plot which sees the Planet Express crew join an old-timey fox hunting club led by Stewart’s character. Even late in the series, the show uses the episode to deal with issues, like animal rights and personhood, as Leela is initially offended by the idea of hunting an animal until she learns it’s a robot. She then jumps on board, causing Bender to get upset about the activity he was first interested in. All the while, Stewart gets to ham it up in the overtly-British role.
3. Mark Hamill
Star Trek wasn’t the only classic science fiction franchise that got honored on Futurama. It took a few more years and seasons, but eventually legendary voice actor and Star Wars lead Mark Hamill joined the show for a single appearance. Back in “Tale of Two Santas” when Coolio’s Kwanzaabot was first introduced, the idea of a third overlord of the holiday season was thrown in as a joke: the Chanukah Zombie.
While simply a throwaway joke, the Chanukah Zombie would eventually appear on the series, voiced by Mark Hamill. Appearing in Bender’s Big Score, one of the Futurama movies, the evil character joins up with Robot Santa Claus and the Kwanzaabot to try and take over the world.
It might actually be hard to forget that Beck was on Futurama, now that we think about it. Like the Beastie Boys, he played himself as an artist still making music and performing concerts 1,000 years in the future. Even better, but he’s a central part of the season 3 episode “Bendin’ in the Wind”, which sees the gang go to a Woodstock-like concert where Beck is headlining. Unlike other heads, Beck even has a body, courtesy of a mannequin he found in a dumpster. Somehow, this lets him perform and play guitar, but his jar prevents him from playing harmonica.
Luckily, Bender is able to pick up the slack thanks to two little harmonica arms, and even plays the new gashes in his chest like a washboard. Though Beck has always retained his relevance, the episode serves as a nice little slice from the past, showing just how dominant the performer and other alternative artists were in the late ’90s and early 2000s.
1. Al Gore
Like Beck, many fans of Futurama might not be able to forget that Al Gore played himself three separate times on the show. Still, the sheer insanity of it is worth talking about. Heading up the Vice Presidential Action Rangers in 2000’s “Anthology of Interest I”, Gore was actually the one who brought in Hawking and Nichols, along with Dungeons & Dragons creator Gary Gygax to help Fry and the spacetime continuum. Not only is it an episode with plenty of nerdy moments, but it’s wild to think that Gore was still the Vice President of the United States at the time.
Gore would later show up in 2002’s “Crimes of the Hot”, an episode all about his passion for reducing global warming. He’d reappear with Robot Santa and Kwanzaabot in ‘The Futurama Holiday Spectacular’ and play himself in the movie Bender’s Big Score.
While plenty of politicians have appeared on talk and variety shows during their time in office, it’s hard to imagine a higher caliber official showing up a comedic cartoon to poke fun at himself.
Are there any other stars who appeared on Futurama that we forgot? Let us know in the comments!