Top 10 Movie Cameos Played By The Real Person

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Top 10 Movie Cameos Played By The Real Person

VOICE OVER: Phoebe de Jeu WRITTEN BY: Derick McDuff
Does that character look familiar to you? For this list, we'll be looking at the times films based on factual events featured one or more people that were actually part of the real life story. Our countdown includes “Zodiac”, "The Disaster Artist", “The Wolf of Wall Street”, and more!
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Top 10 Real Person Cameos


Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Real Person Cameos.

For this list, we’ll be looking at the times films based on factual events featured one or more people that were actually part of the real life story.

Which of these cameos stood out the most? Tell us about your favorite in the comments below.

#10: Bryan Hartnell

“Zodiac” (2007)
Although Robert Graysmith, the author of the Zodiac book and the real Zodiac Killer (as far as we know) both don’t appear in the story about a terrifying crime spree, one of the victims does. A scene early in the film accurately recreates Zodiac’s brutal attack on Bryan Hartnell and Cecelia Shepard at Lake Berryessa in California - with actors in those roles. While Cecilia tragically passed away, Hartnell survived. As one of the few survivors of the Zodiac’s attacks, the real Hartnell was brought on as a consultant. But eagle eyed viewers can also spot him strolling through the background after a suspect is cleared by a handwriting expert.

#9: Chris Gardner

“The Pursuit of Happyness” (2006)
The film ends with Smith’s Gardner getting a steady job after a year of homelessness. As he and his son walk out of the shot in the final scene, a seemingly random man in a suit crosses their path. Smith looks at the stranger for a moment before both continue on exiting opposite directions. As you might have guessed, that random stranger is none other than the actual Chris Gardner. The quiet cameo is perfect. Seeing this movie “stranger” wearing this sharp suit represents the heights Gardner would go on to achieve. This point really hits home as the text during the epilogue tells us he’d go on to sell a brokerage firm for millions.

#8: Frank Abagnale

“Catch Me If You Can” (2002)
For years, Frank Abagnale spent a lot of time impersonating other people. So, it only made sense for him to pretend to be someone else in the movie about his own life. “Catch Me If You Can” follows Leonardo DiCaprio playing the con artist Abagnale. We watch as he impersonates the likes of airline pilots, doctors, lawyers. He even briefly pretends to be a secret service agent. When his misdeeds eventually catch up to him, he’s arrested by French law enforcement. The officer that leads him to the police car is ironically the real Frank Abagnale.

#7: Eddie "Popeye" Egan & Sonny "Cloudy" Grosso

“The French Connection” (1971)
Like “Zodiac,” this duo did double duty by appearing in cameos while also serving as technical advisors. Eddie Egan, nicknamed “Popeye”, served as the inspiration for Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle and “Sonny” Grosso inspired “Cloudy” Rosso. They played Captain Simonson and FBI Agent Klein respectively in the film adapted from a book based on their real exploits as detectives. Both men seemed to enjoy the movie so much that they retired from law enforcement and pursued careers in film. Egan went on to act in movies like “Badge 373” and Grosso appeared behind and in front of the camera in films like “The Godfather.”

#6: Larry Flynt

“The People vs. Larry Flynt” (1996)
Larry Flynt, the bombastic founder of the, *ahem*, adult magazine Hustler saw his life chronicled by director Miloš Forman. When Flynt was sued for the content of his magazines, he became a defender of free speech. Woody Harrelson did an excellent job bringing the magazine founder to life and depicting his legal struggles. Early in the film, he defends his magazine in a Cincinnati court. The judge presiding over the case was none too pleased with Flynt and he lost this early struggle. The presiding judge was of course played by none other than; you guessed it, Larry Flynt.

#5: Erin Brockovich

“Erin Brockovich” (2000)
Despite being a legal clerk without a formal education in law, Erin Brockovich was instrumental in the case that took on Pacific Gas and Electric and won. When the David and Goliath story was adapted to film seven years later, A-Lister Julia Roberts played Brokovich. In one scene, she takes her family to a diner. The waitress taking their order is played by the actual Erin Brockovich. If you look closely, you’ll notice something that makes the scene even more meta. A nametag reveals that the waitress is actually named Julia.

#4: Jim Lovell

“Apollo 13” (1995)
In one of his most iconic roles, Tom Hanks stepped into the shoes of the storied astronaut Jim Lovell during his historic and tragic Apollo 13 mission to the moon. When an oxygen tank ignited and caused an explosion on the spacecraft, the planned Lunar landing was aborted. Lovell, who commanded the mission, was left with limited oxygen and an ever growing list of dangers. But he admirably and heroically managed to bring everyone aboard home alive. After touching down in the Pacific, the crew were picked up by the USS Iwo Jima. The real life Lovell played a different savior by portraying the ship’s captain in the film.

#3: Jordan Belfort

“The Wolf of Wall Street” (2013)
Martin Scorsese turned the memoir of a cutthroat real estate stockbroker into a morality tale about greed in the golden age of capitalism. The living avatar of that avarice is Jordan Belfort, the titular Wolf of Wall Street. Leonardo DiCaprio makes his second appearance on this list by playing another larger than life figure. By the end of the film, Belfort is working as a sales seminar host in a scene that reveals how truly alone he is. Before he takes the stage, the crowd is whipped into a fever pitch by someone else that is extremely excited about Belfort. Seeing as this hype man was played by the real Belfort, it isn’t hard to see why he’s so complimentary.

#2: Hunter S. Thompson

“Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” (1998)
This is the rare cameo by the real person in a film where they are actually acknowledged as themselves. The film is based on the novel by Thompson, which blends events from his real life with fabrications that are all centered on adventures he had while taking various substances. In one sequence, the fictional Thompson character known as Raoul Duke is played by Johnny Depp, who reminisces about a prior trip. Suddenly, he notices a version of himself played by the actual Hunter S. Thompson. The unique blend of unreliable narration, psychedelic substance, and Terry Gilliam visuals makes this a one of a kind cameo.

#1: Tommy Wiseau

“The Disaster Artist” (2017)
“The Disaster Artist” recounted Greg Sestero’s friendship and time working with Tommy Wiseau on one of the best worst films ever made, “The Room.” Wiseau’s bizarre mannerisms, eccentric decisions and vaguely Eastern European accent were all recreated by James Franco. Those that stuck through the credits were treated to a scene where Franco’s Wiseau is approached by a strange mustachioed guest at a party. The guest’s odd inflections and seemingly random dialogue made him as off putting and bizarre as the fictional Wiseau. That is, of course, because Franco was acting against the real Tommy Wiseau. Seeing the pair of them play off each other was hilarious in the weirdest way.
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