It’s hard to think of a more appropriate cameo than the French electronic music duo Daft Punk’s appearance in TRON: Legacy, especially since the band composed the film’s brilliant soundtrack. Nevertheless, this occasion is not without precedent. Countless sci-fi and fantasy films have seasoned their otherworldly drama with brief appearances by famous musicians; here are the most memorable examples. We’re leaving the 10th spot open for Daft Punk; we’ll leave it to you to decide where they belong. (And by the way, we’re talking about little cameos here, not significant supporting performances or star turns. Sorry, Bowie.)
This 1986 tribute to the forbidden power of rock wouldn’t have been complete without appearances from some of the era’s most prestigious headbangers. Simmons is enjoyable as grizzled radio DJ “Nuke,” but it’s Osbourne who really steals the show as the Reverend Aaron Gilstrom, a clean-cut evangelist crusading against rock and roll musicians. “These evil people,” he says, “have just got to be stopped!” The guy deserves an Oscar for delivering such lines with a straight face.
To be honest, Petty’s performance as the unnamed Bridge City Mayor in Kevin Costner’s The Postman might be a bit too big to qualify as a cameo. Still, we had to include it because of the film’s strong implication that Petty is playing a post-apocalyptic version of himself. “I know you,” Costner’s character says upon meeting the Mayor. “You’re famous.” “I was once,” Petty replies. “Sort of. Kind of. Not anymore.” Costner poltiely refrains from asking for a live performance of “Free Fallin’.”
To create Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire’s wizard-chic rock band the Weird Sisters, the film’s creators managed to pull together members of England’s hippest musical acts to form one magical supergroup. Cocker wrote and recorded the band’s songs, such as “Do the Hippogriff,” which, as he explained in a BBC interview, “is about mythical beasts, and encourages people to dance like them.” Why can’t Thom Yorke write songs like that? (Editor’s Note: Cocker also had a more substantive cameo as Farmer Bean’s abused, guitar-playing assistant in Fantastic Mr. Fox.)
Coldplay fans are unlikely to have missed the fact that band members Chris Martin and Jonny Buckland show up on a TV talk show near the end of Shaun of the Dead, despite the fact that the channel gets changed just as the band’s name is being announced. What many might not have picked up on was that Martin appears briefly onscreen as a zombie as well. We heard that Keith Richards used to get blood transfusions, but we didn’t know rock stars also have a cure for zombism.
For a film that spent so much time lampooning ‘80s culture, it made sense to include a founding member of one of the most over-the-top bands of that era. To be fair, though, Mr. Van Halen’s appearance is notable not just for his star value, but also for the off-kilter, goofy energy he brought to his role as “Unemployed Person” Keva Rosenberg. If rock and roll hadn’t worked out, he could’ve had a successful career as a birthday party clown.
If we were casting a religious epic, Alanis Morrisette would not be high on our list of actors we would cast as God (especially if Morgan Freeman was available). Still, there’s something oddly comforting about her mute, sprightly version of the Almighty in Kevin Smith’s irreverent comedy Dogma. She’s also an appropriate choice because, like Smith’s vision of the Lord, she has a powerful voice—although she usually uses it to perform bittersweet pop songs rather than make people’s heads explode.
In addition to contributing a few songs to the Back to the Future soundtrack, pop rock star Huey Lewis shows up as the high school band audition judge who dismisses Marty McFly’s group for being “too darn loud.” The huge glasses and plaid jacket Lewis’s character wears don’t exactly emphasize his celebrity status, but then again, it is hip to be square, is it not? Lewis wasn’t the only musician to show up in the Back to the Future franchise, which also featured the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Flea as obnoxious bully Needles and ZZ Top as an acoustic band in the Old West.
It seems to be common knowledge that Johnny Depp based his acclaimed performance as Captain Jack Sparrow on the mannerisms of Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards, so it’s only natural that Richards himself would show up in the third Pirates installment as Sparrow’s father, Captain Teague. His performance is actually pretty good—perhaps not surprising since he’s basically playing himself, but not everyone can play themselves convincingly. Bonus points to the filmmakers for getting Richards to pick out a tune on an old-timey guitar while in character.
Do we really need to explain why this one makes sense? Cooper’s manager Shep Gordon served as an executive producer on Prince of Darkness and apparently was able to convince the singer not only to appear in the film but also to bring with him a “bike impalement trick” that he had used in his live performances. He even recorded a song called “Prince of Darkness,” which at one point can be heard playing on a character’s headphones. The only bad news here is that Cooper plays a possessed homeless man, not the titular Prince himself. As another rock star might say, you can’t always get what you want.