50 Great Director Cameos in Other Directors’ Movies

Film fans love a good director cameo. Hitchcock made a trademark of them; viewers are regularly delighted by the sly appearances of Martin Scorsese, John Waters, Sydney Pollack, and many more (M. Night Shyamalan, not so much) in their own movies. But the real sport for true cinephiles is spotting the occasions in which chummy directors pop in for cameo appearances in the pictures of their filmmaking pals. It happens, well, all the time. Our handy guide is after the jump.

Tim Burton in Cameron Crowe’s Singles

Batman was enough of a hit that even casual moviegoers giggled at his reveal in Singles, in which he is introduced as the best videographer at the video dating service — “the next Martin Scor-seeze,” in fact. But judging by the smug, self-consciously weird product he comes up with, it looks more like he’s the next Tim Burton.

Cameron Crowe in Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report

Crowe himself made a rare on-screen appearance a decade later, with a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it bit as a subway passenger in Spielberg’s futuristic thriller. It was a bit of payback, actually; the previous year, Spielberg had appeared as himself in Crowe’s Vanilla Sky, greeting Minority Report star Tom Cruise’s character with a warm “Happy birthday, you sonofabitch.” But Spielberg has appeared in plenty of other peoples’ pictures…

Steven Spielberg in Joe Dante’s Gremlins

For example, he makes a quickie appearance (rolling past the camera in a wheelchair) in his buddy Joe Dante’s 1984 horror/comedy hit Gremlins, which he also produced.

Steven Spielberg in Jay Roach’s Austin Powers in Goldmember

And he made a terrific surprise cameo appearance in the uproarious opening of the third Austin Powers film — playing himself, the director of the film-within-a-film (which featured his Vanilla Sky co-star Tom Cruise as Austin Powers).

Frank Oz in John Landis’ The Blues Brothers

And Spielberg also made an uproarious appearance as a clerk in the Court County Assessor’s office in The Blues Brothers, which brings us to the John Landis portion of the rundown. You see, Mr. Landis has two running in-jokes in his movies: the recurring title See You Next Wednesday, and casting his filmmaking friends in cameo roles. The Blues Brothers featured not only Spielberg, but Little Shop of Horrors director (and Muppeteer) Frank Oz as the corrections officer who sends Jake on his way at the beginning of the picture.

George Lucas in John Landis’ Beverly Hills Cop III

For the forgettable three-quel to Beverly Hills Cop, Landis cast Gremlins’ Dante as a jailer, Valley Girl’s Martha Coolidge as a security guard, Ray Harryhausen and Arthur Hiller (The In-Laws) as bar patrons, Reversal of Fortune’s Barbet Schroeder as “Man in Porsche,” and Boyz n the Hood director John Singleton as a fireman. But the best of the bunch was the bristling Mr. Lucas (billed as “Gentle George”), playing the “Disappointed Man” whom Axel Foley cuts in front of to save the day.

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Amy Heckerling in John Landis’ Into the Night

Another all-star cast of Landis’s director pals: David Cronenberg , Jonathan Demme, Paul Mazursky, Roger Vadim, and Lawrence Kasdan all pop up in this 1985 action/comedy — as does Clueless writer/director Amy Heckerling, making a rare on-screen appearance as a waitress.

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Dario Argento in John Landis’ Innocent Blood

Landis’ all-star director cameo cast this time around includes another turn from Frank Oz, a night watchman bit from Michael Ritchie (Fletch, The Bad News Bears), and a quick turn from Sam Raimi. But most appropriately for this horror/comedy, he cast Italian giallo legend Dario Argento (Suspiria) as an icky paramedic.

Joel Coen in John Landis’ Spies Like Us

But this 1986 Chevy Chase/Dan Aykroyd comedy may have been Landis’ biggest pull of filmmakers. Check out this cast list: Frank Oz (yet again), Terry Gilliam (of Brazil and Monty Python), Martin Brest (Beverly Hills Cop), Costa-Gavras (Z), Michael Apted (the Up films), and, as security guards, Sam Raimi and Joel Coen (half of the Coen Brothers).

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Sam Raimi in The Coen Brothers’ Miller’s Crossing

Raimi, in fact, was a regular in the Coens’ movies — both on and off-screen. Buddies for years (the brothers helped out on his Evil Dead), they co-wrote Raimi’s Crimewave and hired Raimi as second unit director on The Hudsucker Proxy. He did a cameo in that film (in silhouette, no less) as a company man brainstorming ideas about the hula hoop, but his best bit in a Coen picture came in 1990’s Miller’s Crossing, where he’s billed (properly!) as a “Snickering Gunman.”

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David Cronenberg in James Isaac’s Jason X

Cronenberg has directed some of the classiest yet most disturbing horror movies of our time (The Fly, Scanners, Videodrome), so it was a bit of a surprise to see him show up in the umpteenth Friday the 13th movie — arguably the most ridiculous film in the series, which finds the unkillable Jason Vorhees in space. (Yes, really.) But Cronenberg is plenty entertaining as Dr. Wimmer, a researcher investigating the title killer’s past, and yes, he meets with the customary gruesome end.

David Cronenberg in Gus Van Sant’s To Die For

Cronenberg’s easily accessible weirdness has made him a favorite for quickie cameos, in both his own films and other directors’ (he also pops up in Landis’ The Stupids, Clive Barker’s Nightbreed, and Michael Apted’s Extreme Measures, among others). But the best is probably his appearance in Gus Van Sant’s dark comedy To Die For, as a creepy hit man.

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Gus Van Sant in Paul Schrader’s The Canyons

Van Sant, in turn, has proven an interesting on-screen presence as well. In Paul Schrader’s recent The Canyons, he makes a brief but effective appearance as James Deen’s shrink, his quiet authority nicely offsetting the hysterical theatrics elsewhere in the film.

Gus Van Sant in Kevin Smith’s Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back

And Van Sant outright steals Kevin Smith’s 2001 Hollywood satire, uproariously playing himself as a who-cares sellout literally counting his money on the set of Good Will Hunting II: Hunting Season, unwilling to even be bothered to call action (“Jesus, Ben, I said I’m busy”).

Wes Craven in Kevin Smith’s Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back

Scream director Wes Craven also sent up his commercial inclinations in J&SBSB, seen directing yet another sequel to Scream, this one with the killer unmasked as a gorilla. “Jesus, you’re not even trying anymore, are you?” asks frustrated leading lady Shannen Doherty — a question worth asking after Scream 3 (in which Jay and Silent Bob cameo), to say nothing of 2011’s unfortunate Scream 4.

Roger Corman in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather Part II

Scream 3 also featured a brief appearance by low-budget mogul (over 400 producer credits and counting) and industry legend Roger Corman as a studio executive. That was just one of Corman’s many cameos, in films by those he influenced (like Craven), and those who he gave early jobs to. That category includes Jonathan Demme (who put him in The Silence of the Lambs and Philadelphia, among others), Joe Dante (The Howling, Looney Tunes: Back in Action), and Ron Howard (Apollo 13). But the best of that batch was Mr. Coppola, who got Corman to produce his early effort Dementia 13, and repaid him by casting him as a senator at the Mafia hearings in Godfather II. (That’s him on the far right of the panel.)

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Mark Rydell in Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye

Rydell isn’t much remembered as a director these days; his filmography mostly consists of modestly successful but stylistically indistinct fare like On Golden Pond, The Cowboys, and The Rose. But his acting appearance in Altman’s Phillip Marlowe flick was anything but forgettable: his Marty Augustine is a genuinely chilling hood, and anyone who saw the film will shudder in recalling his bit of business with the Coke bottle.

Werner Herzog in Vincent Ward’s What Dreams May Come

Herzog’s pensive voice-overs and peculiar interviews have made him something of an unexpected celebrity, resulting in memorable supporting roles in films like Jack Reacher, The Grand, and Julien Donkey-Boy. But before any of those, he made a truly peculiar cameo appearance in Vincent Ward’s afterlife drama What Dreams May Come, as one of the scary faces in a field of heads in hell. “You’re Klaus!” he cries, causing anyone who recognizes Herzog to giggle at the thought of the director greeting his “best fiend” Klaus Kinski in the hell they wished upon each other over and over again.

Sofia Coppola in George Lucas’s Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace

After her disastrous turn in her father’s Godfather Part III, Sofia Coppola knew that acting wasn’t for her. But she was about to begin production on her feature directorial debut, The Virgin Suicides, when she heard that Lucas — an old friend of her dad’s — was in production on the first of the Star Wars prequels. “I asked George if I could come and watch the shoot,” she explains, “and he asked if I wanted to be in the royal entourage. It seemed like a good vantage point to watch without getting in the way.”

Tyler Perry in J.J. Abrams’s Star Trek

The announcement of Madea movie director Tyler Perry’s casting in J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek reboot prompted a chorus of “huh?”s around Hollywood; it seemed like such a weird, inexplicable choice. But to his credit, Perry’s brief appearance is authoritative and effective — and miles better than his next acting-only turn in the horrifying Alex Cross.

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Bryan Singer in Stuart Baird’s Star Trek: Nemesis

Then again, maybe Perry was just a good old-fashioned Trekkie. That’s how Bryan Singer ended up in this 2002 Star Trek movie, the final of the Next Generation series. Singer had directed Patrick Stewart in X-Men two years previous, and apparently his love for the franchise got him the quickie cameo as a tactical officer.

Paul Bartel in Bryan Singer’s The Usual Suspects

Singer himself gave a fellow filmmaker an unexpected pop-in back in 1995, when he cast Eating Raoul director Paul Bartel in his breakthrough film The Usual Suspects. To be fair, Bartel had a much longer filmography as a character actor than a director, but his underground movie cachet made him a good bit of instant street cred for up and coming filmmakers.

David Lynch in Michael Almeryda’s Nadja

And speaking of “underground movie cachet,” what quicker way to make your indie movie seem weird and hip than to cast the great David Lynch? Even better, how’s about casting him (as Hamlet director Michael Almeryda did) as a morgue receptionist?

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John Waters in Don Mancini’s Seed of Chucky

And few film directors bring a smile to in-the-know moviegoers like the notorious John Waters, who has popped up in Woody Allen’s Sweet and Lowdown, Jonathan Demme’s Something Wild, and many more. But for maximum fun, check out his quick bit in the otherwise forgettable Child’s Play sequel Seed of Chucky, as a tabloid photographer who gets a bit more than he bargained for.

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Jim Jarmusch in Aki Kaurismäki’s Lengingrad Cowboys Go America

This 1989 Finnish road movie is already a peculiar little item; when Jim Jarmusch appears as a car dealer and starts doing Lee Marvin impressions, all bets are officially off.

Rugerro Deodato in Eli Roth’s Hostel: Part II

Say what you will about Eli Roth as a filmmaker (and there’s plenty to say) — the guy knows and loves his old-school horror. So it’s kind of charming that he cast Cannibal Holocaust director Rugerro Deodato in his Hostel sequel, as (of course) “The Italian Cannibal.”

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John Singleton in Mario van Peebles’ Baadasssss!

When Singleton’s Boyz n the Hood was released in 1991, it was part of an explosion of African-American films that hadn’t been seen in cinemas since the “blaxpoitation” days. So it seems appropriate that he appears in the biopic of Melvin van Peebles, the father of that movement; this terrifically entertaining 2003 film from van Peebles’s son Mario dramatizes the making of his groundbreaking 1971 film Sweet Sweetbacks’ Baadasssss Song.

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Melvin van Peebles in Reginald Hudlin’s Boomerang

The elder van Peebles, meanwhile, found himself a bit of a counterculture hero after the film’s release, and his status as the elder statesman of black American film landed him plenty of Godfather-like cameo appearances in the decades that followed. Most memorable of those was his role as a grizzled editor in this 1992 Eddie Murphy romantic comedy.

Michael Bay in Kinka Usher’s Mystery Men

Bay had only begun his ascent to the lofty perch of widespread derision that he now occupies when Mystery Men was released — his filmography to date consisted of Bad Boys, The Rock, and Armageddon. But he seemed to have a firm handle on his future fan base when he played a “brewski”-swilling frat boy.

Oliver Stone in Ivan Reitman’s Dave

Nobody’s ever accused Oliver Stone of being Mr. Laughs (particularly about himself), which is part of why his cameo in Ivan Reitman’s White House comedy is so delightful; the filmmaker, still riding JFK’s wave of acclaim and controversy, gleefully sends up his own image as a tinfoil hat conspiracy theorist, though he probably enjoyed the extra laugh that, in this case, his theory is right on the money.

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Curtis Hanson in Spike Jonze’s Adaptation

Meryl Streep had one of her biggest box office hits, and proved that she could carry a popcorn movie, with the 1994 action sleeper The River Wild. One can only presume that she became chummy with that film’s director, Curtis Hanson (who went on to L.A. Confidential), since he makes an otherwise inexplicable appearance as her husband in Adaptation. Or maybe Spike was just a big Hand That Rocks the Cradle fan?

David Fincher in Spike Jonze’s Being John Malkovich

Soderbergh and Jonze have been friends for years, both working their way up from high-dollar video directors to prestige filmmakers. Fincher’s jokey cameo in Jonze’s feature debut is uncredited, and kind of hilarious; he plays Christopher Bing, National Arts Editor for the Los Angeles Times, a talking head in the TV documentary about Malkovich’s puppetry, gushing about the actor’s “godlike” ability to “breathe life into inanimate objects.” (He also appears briefly, directing a Brad Pitt movie — imagine that — in Steven Soderbergh’s Full Frontal.)

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Nicole Holofcener in Allison Anders’ Mi Vida Loca

This one’s a little bit of a cheat, because Holofcener hadn’t yet won indie lovers’ hearts as the witty and winning director of Walking and Talking, Lovely and Amazing, and other movies whose titles aren’t two words connected with an “and.” But back in ’93, with just one short to her name, she made a rare acting appearance as a warden in Allison Anders’ gang-girl drama Mi Vida Loca. Who knew?

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Don Siegel in Philip Kaufman’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Siegel was one of the last of the great studio guys, directing everything from gangster movies to cop pictures to dramas to sci-fi movies — like the original 1956 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. When Kaufman signed on to direct the 1978 remake, he showed proper respect for the original by casting not only star Kevin McCarthy, but director Seigel, as a cab driver.

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Don Siegel in Clint Eastwood’s Play Misty for Me

Clint Eastwood also cast Siegel, who’d directed him in several films (including Dirty Harry), in the supporting role of a bartender in Eastwood’s directorial debut Play Misty for Me — mostly so he could have him on set for advice. (That’s a young Jessica Walter in the frame between them.)

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Orson Welles in James Frawley’s The Muppet Movie

Welles was arguably better known as an actor than a filmmaker to the public at large, circa The Muppet Movie’s release in 1979. But for those who know his life and career, his cameo is bittersweet; as “Lew Lord,” (a riff on Muppet Show impresario Lew Grade), Welles is playing exactly the kind of all-powerful studio head he’d spent his entire post-Citizen Kane career butting heads with.

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Barry Levinson in Robert Redford’s Quiz Show

Redford took a page from the John Landis playbook for his 1994 drama Quiz Show, casting both Martin Scorsese (chillingly effective) as a pushy quiz show sponsor and Rain Man director Barry Levinson (who’d previously appeared in some of his own films, and several he co-wrote with Mel Brooks) as TV personality Dave Garroway.

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Nora Ephron in Woody Allen’s Husbands and Wives

When the Nora Ephron-penned, Rob Reiner-directed When Harry Met Sally was a giant hit in 1989, many critics pointed out that it seemed a mighty transparent homage to Woody Allen. But if Woody was mad, he didn’t show it; he asked Ephron to appear as an extra in both that year’s Crimes and Misdemeanors and 1992’s Husbands and Wives

Rob Reiner in Woody Allen’s Bullets Over Broadway

… and cast Reiner in his 1994 comedy Bullets Over Broadway. And Reiner, who got his start as an actor, continued to do cameos once he switched over to directing, popping up in not only his own films, but those of Danny DeVito (Throw Momma From the Train), Mike Nichols (Primary Colors), Ron Howard (EdTV), and Martin Scorsese (the forthcoming Wolf of Wall Street).

Woody Allen in Jean-Luc Godard’s King Lear

And Woody Allen appearing in a movie, even for another director, is no big deal; he did full-on leading roles for Herbert Ross (Play It Again, Sam), Martin Ritt (The Front), and Paul Mazursky (Scenes from a Mall). But like much of Godard’s very loose adaptation of Shakespeare’s Lear, Allen’s cameo is utterly baffling: he shows up in the last ten minutes or so, playing “Mr. Alien,” the editor of the film we’re watching. He uses needle and thread to connect the film and recites a Shakespearean sonnet in a monotone, and it’s about as peculiar as it sounds; you can all but hear that guy in line behind Woody in Annie Hall complaining about how “indulgent” it all is.

Samuel Fuller in Jean-Luc Godard’s Pierrot le Fou

Of course, the best use of a director in a cameo role is to have him appear as himself. Godard loved to do this type of thing, bringing in Samuel Fuller (a favorite of Godard and his comrades at Cahiers du Cinéma) to play himself in a party scene for Godard’s 1965 film Pierrot Le Fou. (Fuller did a lot of this stuff in his later years; Spielberg also cast him as an “Interceptor Commander” in 1941.)

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Fritz Lang in Jean-Luc Godard’s Contempt

And Godard cast the great German director Fritz Lang to play himself — well, a fictionalized version of himself — struggling against a vulgar, tyrannical American producer (just as Godard himself was doing) in 1963’s masterful Contempt.

Cecil B. DeMille in Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard

Unlike Lang, the great epic-maker DeMille was still directing when Billy Wilder asked him to play himself in his acidic Hollywood satire Sunset Boulevard. But his was already a hallowed name, that of a living legend, which is why he was one of the few figures to whom that immortal last line could be properly delivered.

Quentin Tarantino in Spike Lee’s Girl 6

They’re not exactly BFFs these days, but back in ’96, Spike and Quentin were chummy enough for the latter filmmaker to appear, basically as himself (he’s called “QT”) in Spike’s experimental sex comedy. Then again, maybe Spike was trying to stick it to him secretly; “QT” is seen as a braying, self-involved ass whose primary interest in an audition is to get each actress to take her top off.

Spike Lee in David C. Johnson’s Drop Squad

Lee has frequently acted in his own films over the years, but hasn’t popped up that often elsewhere (aside from documentaries). But he did appear as himself in David C. Johnson’s Drop Squad (which he also executive-produced), seemingly sending up his own television commercial ubiquity around the time of its 1994 release.

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Steven Soderbergh in Richard Linklater’s Waking Life

Like much of the floating, comes-and-goes narrative of Linklater’s dreamlike animated indie, Soderbergh’s scene comes out of nowhere and leads nowhere, but it’s a lot of fun to watch — and, bonus, he tells a really great story about Billy Wilder.

Martin Scorsese in Albert Brooks’ The Muse

Scorsese’s animated personality and identifiable persona has made him one of the busiest part-time actors on this list, appearing in films for Kurosawa (Dreams), his producer Irwin Winker (Guilty by Suspicion), and artist David Salle (Search and Destroy). But he has the most fun playing himself: on Curb Your Enthusiasm, on 30 Rock, and in this inspired, hilariously caffeinated cameo in Brooks’ Hollywood satire.

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James L. Brooks in Albert Brooks’ Modern Romance

The Muse wasn’t Brooks’ first movie-based comedy. In his early effort, Modern Romance, his friend James L. Brooks (then a TV powerhouse but not yet an Oscar-winning filmmaker) plays Dave, the prickly and problematic director of the film Albert’s editing. Albert would return the favor six years later by playing a supporting role in James’ Broadcast News — and landing an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

Harold Ramis in Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up

Much as Godard did with his heroes, Judd Apatow loves to cast his comedy idols in his films. Last year, he cast Albert Brooks in the supporting role of Paul Rudd’s dad in This Is 40; back in 2007, he brought in Harold Ramis — whose Groundhog Day mixed wild comedy and genuine pathos in a style that greatly influenced Apatow and his peers — to play Seth Rogen’s dad (kinda perfect casting, really) in Knocked Up.

Peter Jackson in Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz

Yes, that’s Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson as a stabby Santa in Edgar Wright’s cop comedy. You’ve got to look awfully close for this one — behind the Santa beard and hat, only Jackson’s eyes are visible (a trick that Wright also pulls with Cate Blanchett’s cameo).