It’s amazing the difference a good cameo can make to a movie. After all, by their nature, these minor roles comprise only a fraction of a film’s overall runtime so, in theory, they really shouldn’t make much of an impact. Yet the surprise appearance of a famous face – or a knock-out performance by an unrecognizable A-list actor – can not only elevate a bit part into a memorable turn, but also drastically improve how well a picture is received overall.
The low-risk, high-reward nature of cameos probably explains why so many top-shelf thespians regularly sign-on to projects that will feature them on the big screen for only a few fleeting moments. Think about it: if the movie does well and people are raving about their bite-sized acting masterclass, that’s a great result for not much work, while if it flops, it’s not their name on the marquee. That’s without even taking into account how fun these often quirky mini-parts can be.
All that said, despite plenty of big name performers clamoring to record cameos, more than a few have failed to materialize. Whether it’s because of conceptual changes in pre-production, scheduling conflicts, cuts made in the editing room, or even real-world drama, audiences have missed out on a plethora of cameos over the years. Sometimes, this is a real shame – whereas other times, it’s actually been a blessing in disguise.
Need proof? Check out this list of 9 Canceled Cameos That Would’ve Saved Movies (11 That Would’ve Hurt Them).
20 Hurt – Matt Damon (Bridesmaids)
Matt Damon is one of the biggest good sports in Hollywood, at least if his track record for hilarious (and often unflattering) big screen cameos is anything to go by. Whether it’s popping up as crass rocker Donny in Eurotrip or portraying a hammy Asgardian actor in Thor: Ragnarok, Damon has a true gift for scene-stealing guest appearances. That said, there is one film that got along just fine without Damon’s considerable talents: Bridesmaids.
This 2011 Kristen Wiig comedy vehicle was both a critical and commercial smash-hit, and a surreal daydream sequence starring Damon as himself, no matter how hilarious, would have been too much. This is especially apparent when you weigh up the merits of Damon’s proposed cameo with what replaced it: the infamous food poisoning scene, which is easily one of the funniest in the entire movie.
19 Saved – Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan & Jamie Bell (Deadpool 2)
Deadpool 2 isn’t just the third highest-grossing X-Men outing, it’s also the third highest-grossing R-rated movie ever. This – coupled with the generally positive reviews it earned – is more than enough to suggest that David Leitch’s irreverent superhero blockbuster didn’t exactly need “saving.”
However, a group cameo by Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan, and Jamie Bell – who played the titular quartet in Josh Trank’s failed Fantastic Four reboot – would have made a great movie even better. Deadpool 2 concept art has surfaced teasing this very concept, and given the potential for side-splitting snark here, it’s a shame this was never realized.
18 Hurt – Sean Connery (Skyfall)
For some longtime fans of the James Bond franchise, original 007 Sir Sean Connery will forever be the one and only genuine article. Director Sam Mendes was acutely aware of how inextricably linked Connery is with both the role and the franchise, which is why he intended for the Academy Award-winning actor to appear in Skyfall.
Reports vary as to which character Connery would have portrayed. Mendes himself has stated he would have assumed the role of grizzled gamekeeper Kincade, whereas industry insiders claim Connery would have played a retired special agent. Either way, Mendes abandoned the idea early on. Although a cameo by the first ever James Bond would’ve been a nice nod to the franchise’s 50th anniversary, it would also have distracted audiences and undermined Skyfall’s moody conclusion.
17 Saved – Topher Grace (Ocean's Thirteen)
A recurring gag in the Ocean’s movies revolves around Topher Grace playing a fictionalized version of himself with a knack for messing up. When we first meet Grace in Ocean’s Eleven, he’s seated at a poker table, where his winning hand turns out to be a dud. Next, in Ocean’s Twelve, the former That '70s Show star is holed up in a trashed hotel room while his career disintegrates.
Fans were eager to see what was in store for Grace in Ocean’s Thirteen, but when the third flick arrived, he was nowhere to be found. It’s since come to light that the actor was slated to cameo – with an unexplained baby in tow – but scheduling conflicts got in the way. That’s too bad, as the film’s toothless narrative could have benefited from more genuine laughs.
16 Hurt – William Shatner (Star Trek)
J.J. Abrams pulled off a minor miracle with his 2009 Star Trek reboot, crafting a film that appealed to casual viewers without alienating hardcore fans. His secret? Leaving the existing canon intact. That’s why – despite recasting the crew of the Enterprise with younger actors – Abrams managed to find room for Leonard Nimoy to return as an older version of Spock.
Trekkies and non-Trekkies alike were happy – which likely wouldn’t have been the case if William Shatner had been willing to cameo, too. Screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman devised a scene where Shatner’s Captain Kirk appeared, but Shatner wasn’t interested. It probably would have been too much for Trek newbies to take in, and had the potential to introduce continuity headaches as well – so it was no real loss, in the end.
15 Saved – David Bowie (Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2)
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is an absolute blast just as it is, but honestly, there hasn't been a film made that wouldn’t have been improved by a David Bowie cameo. That’s especially the case where Guardians of the Galaxy is concerned, given the franchise’s heavy reliance on 1960s and '70s music – including Bowie’s own “Moonage Daydream”.
When director James Gunn approached the rock legend to show up in Vol.2 as a one-time teammate of space pirate Yondu, it seemed like an ideal match of performer and material. Sadly, Bowie’s cameo never came to fruition, as he passed away from liver cancer shortly before cameras rolled on the second Guardians flick.
14 Hurt – Johnny Depp (Birdman)
Michael Keaton’s casting in Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) – where he plays a washed-up Hollywood star best known for once playing a superhero – was an absolute master stroke. Not only was Keaton able to draw upon his own real-life experiences of playing Batman, but director Alejandro G. Iñárritu relied on audiences’ familiarity with the actor to add a metafictional layer to proceedings.
Iñárritu nearly pushed the film’s meta aspects too far, though. Birdman originally ended by cutting to Johnny Depp, playing a version of himself being taunted by his Jack Sparrow persona from Pirates of the Caribbean. Unsurprisingly, Disney wasn’t thrilled by the whole concept, and the finale was promptly scuttled. This forced Iñárritu to dream up the ambigious, meditative, and Depp-free climax seen in cinemas. Birdman is all the better for it.
13 Saved – Arnold Schwarzenegger (Predators)
It’s fair to say that the Predator franchise has never felt the same without Arnold Schwarzenegger in the lead role. Celebrated actors including Danny Glover and Adrian Brody have made admirable attempts to fill Schwarzeneggere’s shoes since he departed the series after the first Predator, but to date, no one has succeeded. This was no doubt playing on Nimród Antal’s mind when he was hired to helm belated 2010 sequel Predators, considering he invited Schwarzenegger to film a small cameo.
As envisioned in producer Robert Rodriguez’s revised script treatment, Schwarzenegger would have returned as Major Dutch Schaefer during Predators’ closing moments. The action movie icon was still holding political office at the time, which ruled out his participation. Predators was met with a lukewarm reception and was only a modest success – could Schwarzenegger’s canceled cameo have boosted audience 's enthusiasm?
12 Hurt – Viggo Mortensen (The Hobbit)
Viggo Mortensen turned down the opportunity to appear in The Hobbit trilogy before being officially invited to return – and it’s a good thing he did. For starters, the addition of Mortensen’s Aragorn would’ve crammed yet another character into an already overcrowded trio of films. Worse still, a cameo by Mortensen would have further irritated fans already annoyed by the liberties director Peter Jackson’s films had taken with J.R.R. Tolkien's established chronology.
According to the timeline laid out in Tolkien’s books, Aragorn should only be a child during the events depicted in The Hobbit trilogy. To his credit, Mortensen cited this very fact, along with the character’s absence from the original novel, as the rationale behind his decision to sit out Jackson’s follow-up effort.
11 Saved – Christopher Reeve (Supergirl)
It would be practically impossible to fully salvage Supergirl, the misguided 1984 spin-off from the Superman franchise headlined by Christopher Reeve. Helen Slater puts in a solid turn as the Girl of Steel, but Jeannot Szwarc’s film suffers from a choppy narrative, uneven special effects, and disappointing performances from veteran thespians Faye Dunaway and Peter O’Toole.
All that said, a cameo by Reeve as Superman definitely couldn’t have done Supergirl any harm – especially given fans’ affection for his iconic portrayal of the Man of Steel. Unfortunately, Reeve had to back out of the production shortly before shooting commenced, with a few lines of dialogue hastily added to the script to address why Superman was AWOL.
10 Hurt – James Bamford (X-Men 2)
We know what you’re thinking: “Who on Earth is James Bamford?” It’s a fair question – and the reason why you’ve probably never heard of Bamford is because he’s a stunt performer, not an actor. That didn’t stop Bryan Singer from recruiting Bamford to play Gambit in X2: X-Men United-- one of two attempts the director made to include the card-throwing mutant into his early X-Men outings!
It’s for the best that Bamford’s cameo never panned out. Gambit is a major character in the X-Men canon with a huge following – he deserves a proper introduction with an A-list star in the role. Besides, X2 has enough going on\ without making more unnecessary pit stopsy to set up future films in the franchise.
9 Saved – Ben Affleck (Elektra)
Thanks to its abysmal script, Elektra – the 2005 Daredevil spin-off centered around Jennifer Garner’s sai-wielding martial artist – was pretty much destined to be a turkey. Hardly anyone, except maybe the filmmakers themselves, was caught off guard when the comic book blockbuster flopped, both critically and commercially.
One thing we still ponder to this day is whether or not Ben Affleck’s scrapped cameo could have made any difference, at least to the film’s box office takings. Of course, Affleck reprising the role of Matt Murdock (Daredevil’s civilian alter-ego) would have tied Elektra more closely to its predecessor, and the pair's real-life romance may have generated some more press for the film.
8 Hurt – Mel Gibson (The Hangover Part II)
Todd Phillip’s R-rated comedy The Hangover exceeded all expectations when it arrived back in 2009, raking in over $460 million globally and taking home the Golden Globe for Best Musical or Comedy. Fast forward to 2011, Phillips and stars Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Justin Bartha, and Zach Galifianakis reunited for The Hangover Part II. Despite their best efforts, the finished product was a rather mediocre affair – although things could have been worse.
Mel Gibson originally signed on to play a tattoo artist in Part II, shortly before being arrested for impaired driving. Gibson’s well-publicized racist and sexist remarks during his arrest resulted in his fellow cast and crew members making it clear they weren’t comfortable working alongside him, and he departed the production soon after.
7 Saved – Bill Pullman (The Thin Red Line)
The Thin Red Line – acclaimed auteur Terrence Malik’s 1998 WWII epic – was very well-received by critics, and nabbed seven Academy Award nominations. But this adaptation of James Jones’ 1964 novel of the same name didn’t do so well financially, its $98 million box office haul paling in comparison to its $52 million budget.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why The Thin Red Line wasn’t able to reach a wider audience. One theory is that it failed to build a genuine emotional bond with viewers, which is something Bill Pullman’s aborted cameo might have helped Malik accomplish.
Pullman is blessed with an engaging everyman person that allows him to instantly forge a connection with audience members. So it’s a real shame that his scenes – along with those filmed by Lukas Haas and Mickey Rourke – wound up on the cutting room floor.
6 Hurt – Marlon Brando (The Godfather Part II)
Marlon Brando is one the greatest actors ever to grace the silver screen, so his presence typically elevated any movie he appeared in. All the same, one film we’re convinced Brando wouldn’t have enhanced is The Godfather Part II – which is a controversial opinion, to be sure.
If Brando had suddenly appeared for a few minutes in Part II’s final flashback, he would have immediately overshadowed everything else that had happened already. This, in turn, would have undercut the emotional climax of Francis Ford Coppola’s Best Picture-winning sequel. It's a good thing that the notoriously temperamental Brando ultimately refused to filmed his cameo, as the pros just don’t outweigh the cons.
5 Saved – Rick Moranis (Ghostbusters)
Paul Feig’s 2016 Ghostbusters reboot underperformed at the box office. Sure, it raked in nearly $230 million worldwide, however this comedy wasn’t cheap to produce. Compounding the problem, Ghostbusters’ extensive marketing campaign – designed to overcome bad press generated by sexist online commentators opposed to its all-female team roster – cost a pretty penny.
It’s not hard to see how the film struggled to break even. Feig even enlisted nearly all of the original cast for prominent cameos, but this wasn’t enough to counteract the negative sentiment surrounding the movie. If the likes of Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, and Sigourney Weaver couldn’t make a difference, it’s hard to imagine who else could, but you never know – maybe if the long-retired Rick Moranis had agreed to participate, Ghostbusters’ fortunes might have improved.
4 Hurt – Harrison Ford (E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial)
Steven Spielberg hit it out of the park with E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, a heart-warming 1982 tale about a young boy, Elliott, and his efforts to help the film’s eponymous alien return to home. Intriguingly, Spielberg nearly made a major misstep during the production of E.T., when he opted to shoot a short scene with Harrison Ford as Elliott’s school principal.
The problem here isn’t Ford’s performance, as he’s as dependably good as ever. It's not even that the famous actor would have diverted the audience’s attention – he’s off-screen the entire time, with only his arms and legs shown. What it boils down to is that the scene isn’t particularly well written, and it slows down the movie’s momentum, so Spielberg was right to cut it.
3 Saved – Brie Larson (Age Of Ultron)
Avengers: Age of Ultron writer-director Joss Whedon came very close to featuring audiences’ first look at Captain Marvel in his Avengers sequel – even shooting live-action plates to facilitate the visual effects required. The final shot of Scarlet Witch lined up with the newer Avengers was originally intended to include Carol Danvers.
Marvel Studios had other ideas, however, and the powers that be quashed this cameo during post-production. While this was undeniably a start move – you don’t want to rush the debut of such a prominent character – Captain Marvel’s surprise appearance during the finale would have generated more positive buzz around this less well-received follow-up.
2 Hurt – Mariah Carey (The House)
Remember The House; the 2017 comedy starring Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler as parents who run an illegal casino as a way to bankroll their daughter’s college tuition? Andrew J. Cohen’s film didn't exactly make a splash, as it was mauled by critics and tanked at the box office.
Clearly, this movie could have used all the help it could get – but a cameo by Mariah Carey wasn’t the answer to The House’s prayers. Not only does Carey have a patchy history when it comes to acting, but the singer also reportedly made a slew of demands for her appearance. Had Carey gotten her way, this subpar flick could have been ever more underwhelming, so nixing this cameo was a sensible decision.
1 Hurt – *NSYNC (Attack Of The Clones)
Poor George Lucas – the Star Wars creator just can’t catch a break from the fans. Whether it’s tinkering with the original films in the series, or his creative decision-making on the subsequent Prequel Trilogy, Lucas spent decades in the crosshairs of his many detractors. That said, he brought at least some of this on himself – like when he offered *NSYNC the chance to cameo in Star Wars – Episode II: Attack of the Clones!
The response from fans to the news that Justin Timberlake and his bandmates would crop up in Episode II was as vitriolic as you’d expect, and their scenes were trimmed from the final cut. Nevertheless, there is a possibility that a few quick shots of the boy band dressed as Jedi Knights during the climactic battle still made it into the finished film!
Did we miss any canceled cameos that would have saved (or hurt) movies? Let us know in the comments!