A celebrity cameo cannot automatically make a dud movie an instant masterpiece, but it can be a fun little flourish in what’s already an entertaining cinematic dish. As someone who grew up with Muppet movies, the idea of the biggest celebrities showing up on just the margins of motion pictures is incredibly normal to me. Those Muppet films also showed just how thrilling celebrity cameos can be when they’re done right. In 2022, audiences got to see several features that delivered big celebrity cameos intended to get moviegoers excited and cheering. Inevitably, not all of them could match the joys of Peter Falk showing up with an incredibly inaccurate assessment of Kermit’s backstory in The Great Muppet Caper. Some ended up being a perfect portrait of how not to do a celebrity cameo, while others were model examples of this phenomenon.


The Wrong Way to Do Celebrity Cameos in 2022

If there was any high-profile movie that really struggled to nail celebrity cameos, it was Bullet Train. Much like with his last two forays into big-budget crowdpleaser blockbusters (Deadpool 2 and Hobbs & Shaw), director David Leitch made sure to cram in some special guest stars into the runtime of Bullet Train. Unfortunately, none of them were very surprising or lived up to their full potential.

The first of these celebrity cameos involves Ladybug (Brad Pitt) taking a seat in front of a random man played by Channing Tatum. Ladybug is only sitting down as part of his complicated mission, but Tatum’s character immediately assumes that Ladybug is a guy who wants to have sex with him. This new individual in the film is excited by the prospect of such a sudden sexual encounter. Ladybug has other things to think about and quickly moves on, though not before using Tatum’s character to throw his enemies off his scent.

Channing Tatum in Bullet Train
Image Via Sony

It’s always a welcome sight to see Tatum being goofy in a movie, but his presence in Bullet Train is too derivative of his other major cameos in other films. Just a year before Bullet Train, Tatum also showed up as a bumbling guy who confounds the protagonist for a lengthy scene in Free Guy. Meanwhile, This is the End in 2013 hinged a critical scene in its third act out of Tatum (playing a fictionalized version of himself) becoming a sex slave to Danny McBride to survive the apocalypse. Even gags hinging on the idea of Tatum being gay have been done before. Surely there was another actor that this scene could’ve utilized instead.

A third-act flashback in Bullet Train that makes blink-and-you’ll-miss-it use of Ryan Reynolds has at least the novelty of using this Deadpool leading man in such a sparing manner. However, given that Reynolds already made a quick unexpected appearance in Leitch’s Hobbs & Shaw, this celebrity cameo also comes off as too derivative for its own good.

The romantic comedy Bros, meanwhile, strangely held both delightful and forgettable celebrity cameos in the very same scene. This sequence depicts a bunch of celebrities who now appear via holograms as famous historical figures in a museum dedicated to queer history. While the initial celebrity cameo in this scene is a riot (we’ll talk about that momentarily), the rest, Amy Schumer, Seth Meyers, and Kenan Thompson, aren’t anything to write home about. The biggest problem here is that at least two of these three people are headlining major TV shows owned by Comcast, the parent company of Bros distributor, Universal Pictures. Meyers and especially Thompson can be downright hysterical people, but their presence in this sequence feels too much like promoting other Comcast wares. Plus, the very first celebrity cameo in this scene cutely pays off an earlier gag in Bros, whereas the subsequent cameos just feel like pointless reprises. It’s a disappointing finish to a scene that hit the ground running comedically by initially demonstrating how to do celebrity cameos in movies right.

bros Billy Eichner and Luke Macfarlane image
Image via Universal

The Right Way to Do Celebrity Cameos in 2022

Early on in Bros, the love interest of Bobby Lieber (Billy Eichner), Aaron Shepard (Luke Macfarlane), compares the impending museum that Bobby is helping to realize as something from Night at the Museum. It’s a quick little gag accentuating the drastically different pop culture tastes of these two prospective lovers, but it gets a hysterical pay-off when Bobby takes Aaron to a wing of this museum where they’re greeted by…Ben Stiller! In a tip of the hat to his work in the Museum movies, Stiller is now welcoming guests with a hearty “What’s up, queers?”

This cameo appearance is superb in countless ways, including how it pays off an earlier gag in Bros and the simple fact that it’s just funny to see Stiller, of all people, being used to guide prospective museum guests through queer history. Plus, Stiller’s recent concentration on directing in TV programs like Severance means that there’s some tangible novelty in seeing him on-screen again. Unlike Tatum or Reynolds, we haven’t been inundated with Stiller cameos in recent years.

RELATED: David Lynch’s Cameo Is the Cherry on Top of ‘The Fabelmans’

Meanwhile, the first of this year’s three Marvel Cinematic Universe features, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, featured, like many of this franchise’s installments, cameos that involved famous actors playing recognizable superheroes. In this case, the likes of John Krasinski and Patrick Stewart were called upon to play the likes of Reed Richards/Mr. Fantastic and Charles Xavier, respectively. Their presence here, as the members of the Illuminati, initially seems to be a way to introduce a new multiversal concept that this saga can exploit for a variety of future sequels and spin-offs. Happily, these cameos go a more subversive route, where all these famous people and powerful superheroes are just around to get brutally massacred by Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen). These cameos are here to reinforce the prankish dark humor of Madness director Sam Raimi, not just to make sure the cast is even more stuffed with familiar names.

John Krasinksi as Reed Richards:Mr. Fantastic in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
Image Via Disney

David Lynch in ‘The Fabelmans’ Is 2022’s Best Cameo

But the best of 2022 cinema’s celebrity cameos comes from The Fabelmans. This cameo comes as Samuel “Sammy” Fabelman (Gabriel LaBelle) begins working for CBS, a job that allows him a chance to meet one of his filmmaking heroes, John Ford. This iconic director is here portrayed by David Lynch and the sequence where Ford offers some strange-sounding yet quietly wise advice regarding filmmaking techniques is one of the movie’s highlights for many reasons. For starters, Lynch is a figure who should be even more ubiquitous in movies than Channing Tatum or Ryan Reynolds. Would anyone mind if he popped his head into the likes of Avatar: The Way of Water briefly? Even The Cleveland Show could briefly come to life when he was making one of his many guest appearances on that show.

But beyond Lynch being such a welcome presence in any capacity, having specifically Lynch and his delightfully idiosyncratic aura show up as Ford allows this filmmaker to appropriately feel like he comes from a whole different planet than the other Fabelman characters. Sammy Fabelman is a long way from his tormented home life now and having him interact with a character portrayed by David Lynch is a great reflection of that. Plus, the meta detail of having an iconic director like Lynch portray another seminal filmmaker like John Ford is just perfect.

Celebrity cameos, like basically every other aspect of cinematic storytelling, are not innately good or bad. It all comes down to how you realize them and what they’re being utilized for. The weaker celebrity cameos of the year just attempted to recreate the artistic achievements of older movies or rehash actors that aren’t surprising to see show up for a one-scene appearance. But in titles like The Fabelmans, one can see all the potential and entertainment you can wring out of a perfectly realized celebrity cameo. Watching David Lynch crush his performance as John Ford in just a few minutes of screen time is enough to make you get why movies are always pursuing celebrity cameos.

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