Spot the celebrity: 14 films jam-packed with famous people

Is any one film big enough to contain Trump, Bowie and Victoria Beckham? And which film’s cast brings together Aretha Franklin, Steven Spielberg and Twiggy?

Escape to Victory (1981)

Let’s be honest, not all moviegoers take much notice of cast lists. But every now and then a famous name leaps off the screen because it doesn’t quite belong among the established thespians. Since the silent era, novelists, musicians, footballers, newsreaders and celebrities have cropped up in unlikely places. Then there are the all-star rosters that cause the jaw to drop at the very thought of the wage bill and the egos the director had to wrangle. You might have your own left-field favourites, but here are a few of the more unlikely and unusual casting bonanzas.

Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie (2016)

Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie (2016)

Look out for…

Jennifer Saunders
Joanna Lumley
Jane Horrocks
Kathy Burke
Emma Bunton
Kate Moss
Mark Gatiss
Christopher Biggins
Ozwald Boateng
Judith Chalmers
Alexa Chung
Joan Collins
Lily Cole
Dawn French
Sadie Frost
Jean Paul Gaultier
Orla Guerin
Jerry Hall
Jon Hamm
Perez Hilton
Dame Edna Everage
La Roux
Kathy Lette
Stella McCartney
Graham Norton
Jeremy Paxman
Brix Smith
Tinie Tempah
Bruno Tonioli
Kirsty Wark
Rebel Wilson
…and many more.

With a madcap plot centring on the London social scene and the French Riviera, Jennifer Saunders left herself plenty of room for stellar cameos. Fashionistas Kate Moss and Stella McCartney, newshounds Jeremy Paxman and Orla Guerin, singer Lulu, actors Joan Collins and Rebel Wilson, novelist Kathy Lette and housewife superstar Dame Edna Everage were among the 60-odd celebs in blink-and-miss-em spots.

All Night Long (1962)

All Night Long (1962)

Look out for…

Patrick McGoohan
Richard Attenborough
Bernard Braden
Dave Brubeck
John Dankworth
Charles Mingus
Geoffrey Holder
…and many more.

The Hollywood blacklist led to this reworking of Othello being set in a loft in London’s Docklands, as both producer Bob Roberts and co-writer Paul Jarrico (masquerading as Peter Achilles) had fallen foul of the HUAC inquiry. With its casual attitude to interracial relationships, it’s hard to see how any US studio could have touched it, as the plot turns around black pianist Paul Harris being gulled into doubting white wife Marti Stevens’s fidelity by scheming drummer Patrick McGoohan. But a sideline fascination lies in the acting efforts of jazz legends Charles MingusDave Brubeck and Johnny Dankworth, the husband of Cleo Laine, who intriguingly dubs a Stevens solo.

Around the World in Eighty Days (1956)

Around the World in Eighty Days (1956)

Look out for…

Frank Sinatra
Buster Keaton
Marlene Dietrich
Finlay Currie
Robert Morley
Noël Coward
Sir John Gielgud
Trevor Howard
Martine Carol
Charles Boyer
Sir Cedric Hardwicke
Ronald Colman
Charles Coburn
Peter Lorre
George Raft
Red Skelton
John Carradine
Victor McLaglen
John Mills
…and many more.

Producer Mike Todd had a thing about colourful casts. His 1943 Broadway show, The Naked Genius, supplemented its 43-strong ensemble with seven dogs, a rooster and a monkey. But he went big with his Todd-AO adaptation of Jules Verne’s globetrotting novel and packed 68,894 souls into its 182 minutes. Over 60 familiar faces took cameos, with Marlene Dietrich running a saloon, Frank Sinatra tinkling the ivories and Buster Keaton clipping train tickets. Some, however, were better paid than others, with Ronald Colman receiving a yellow Cadillac for playing an Indian railway official and Noël Coward being presented with a Bonnard painting for managing a London employment agency.

The Blues Brothers (1980)

The Blues Brothers (1980)

Look out for…

Cab Calloway
Carrie Fisher
Aretha Franklin
Ray Charles
James Brown
John Candy
Kathleen Freeman
Frank Oz
Chaka Khan
John Lee Hooker
John Landis
Steven Spielberg
Pinetop Perkins
Willie ‘Big Eyes’ Smith
…and many more.

John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd run into a number of musical legends on their mission from God. Cab Calloway plays the janitor who taught them about the blues, while they realise how to save their old orphanage during pastor James Brown’s sermon. Having persuaded Aretha Franklin to let her guitarist husband join the band, they borrow the instruments for the gig from Ray Charles’s music exchange. Steven SpielbergTwiggy and Frank Oz also cameo. But sickness prevented Muddy Waters from joining John Lee HookerPinetop Perkins and Willie ‘Big Eyes’ Smith in their rendition of ‘Boom Boom’.

Camille (1926)

Camille (1926)

Look out for…

W. Somerset Maugham
Charlie Chaplin
The Sultan of Morocco
Paul Robeson
Sinclair Lewis
Anita Loos
Theodore Dreiser
Sherwood Anderson
Sacha Guitry
Rex Ingram
H.L. Mencken
Ethel Barrymore
Rex Ingram
Max Reinhardt
Dorothy Gish
…and many more

Caricaturist Ralph Barton had illustrated Anita Loos’s bestseller, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1925), and she repaid the favour by drawing on Alexandre Dumas to concoct a scenario for some of the 16mm home movies that Barton had filmed in New York, Paris and Salzburg “whenever people were at the house and the mood was on”. The cast was as eclectic as it was impressive, with Loos essaying the famed courtesan, while Paul Robeson guested as her creator and novelist Theodore Dreiser played speakeasy patron Gas-House Gleason, whose pianist was Charlie Chaplin, who recreated the bread roll dance from The Gold Rush. Elsewhere, lawyer Clarence Darrow appeared as a G-man enforcing the Prohibition laws imposed by Andrew Volstead, who is impersonated by humorist H.L. Mencken.

Chappaqua (1966)

Chappaqua (1966)

Look out for…

William S. Burroughs
Allen Ginsberg
Ravi Shankar
Ornette Coleman
Swami Satchidananda
The Fugs
Hervé Villechaize
Jean-Louis Barrault
Conrad Rooks

Filmed over three years in 48 US states, Mexico, France, Britain, India and Sri Lanka, this self-reflexive allegory on the corruption and de-spiritualisation of western civilisation conveys the journey undertaken by recovering addict Conrad Rooks during its making. Having failed to fund an adaptation of Naked Lunch, he persuaded William S. Burroughs to personify substance abuse in a free-associating battle against drugs and alcohol that opens with Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky chanting in Central Park before decamping to the clinic where Jean-Louis Barrault transforms Rooks by exorcising the black spirit O-kee-pa. Also featuring are Ornette ColemanMoondogThe FugsSwami Satchidananda and Ravi Shankar.

Escape to Victory (1981)

Escape to Victory (1981)

Look out for…

Michael Caine
Sylvester Stallone
Max von Sydow
Anton Diffring
Bobby Moore
Osvaldo Ardiles
Kazimierz Deyna
Søren Lindsted
Paul Van Himst
Werner Roth
Mike Summerbee
Hallvar Thoresen
Ipswich Town FC
…and many more.

Everyone knows World Cup winners PeléBobby Moore and Osvaldo Ardiles lined up alongside Michael Caine and Sylvester Stallone in John Huston’s cult classic. But let’s hear it for Pole Kazimierz Deyna, Belgian Paul Van Himst, Dutchman Co Prins, Dane Søren Lindsted and Norwegian Hallvar Thoresen, who also did their bit to beat Max von Sydow’s crack German XI, alongside Manchester City’s Mike Summerbee and Ipswich Town stalwarts John Wark and Russell Osman. Teammates Laurie Sivell and Robin Turner joined New York Cosmos forward Werner Roth in the German ranks. But spare a thought for Irish winger Kevin O’Callaghan, who not only had his arm broken so Sly could play in goal, but he also had his name misspelt in the credits.

Hollywood Canteen (1944)

Hollywood Canteen (1944)

Look out for…

Bette Davis
John Garfield
The Andrews Sisters
Jack Benny
Joe E. Brown
Eddie Cantor
Jack Carson
Joan Crawford
Sydney Greenstreet
Paul Henreid
Peter Lorre
Ida Lupino
Dorothy Malone
Roy Rogers (and Trigger)
Zachary Scott
Barbara Stanwyck
Jane Wyman
…and many more.

Modelled on Broadway’s Stage Door Canteen by John Garfield and Bette Davis, the Hollywood Canteen hosted some three million service personnel during the Second World War. Having helped raise funds by crooning ‘They’re Either Too Young or Too Old’ in David Butler’s Thank Your Lucky Stars (1943), Davis persuaded Warners to return to the Canteen for another all-star revue. The Screen Actors Guild nearly kyboshed the project by protesting at cast members donating reduced fees for their cameos, but A-listers like Joan Crawford and Barbara Stanwyck cheerfully rubbed shoulders with comic Jack Benny, chef Joseph Milani, bandleader Jimmy Dorsey and cowboy Roy Rogers and his horse, Trigger.

It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963)

It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963)

Look out for…

Spencer Tracy
Milton Berle
Sid Caesar
Ethel Merman
Mickey Rooney
Phil Silvers
Jimmy Durante
Peter Falk
Jack Benny
Buster Keaton
Jerry Lewis
The Three Stooges (Moe Howard, Larry Fine and Curly Joe DeRita)
…and many more.

Originally entitled Something a Little Less Serious, this wacky romp is a veritable Who’s Who of American comedy. With so many legends of stage, screen and the airwaves on view (some for a matter of seconds), it would be invidious to single anyone out. But the cast might have been even more remarkable had Judy Garland, Bob Hope, George Burns and Red Skelton accepted their invitations and had Stan Laurel not refused to perform without the late Oliver Hardy, and Groucho Marx been too busy to play Milton Berle’s father-in-law.

King Lear (1987)

King Lear (1987)

Look out for…

Norman Mailer
Peter Sellars
Burgess Meredith
Molly Ringwald
Leos Carax
Julie Delpy
Jean-Luc Godard
Woody Allen

Having signed to low-budget Cannon Films on a napkin at Cannes, with the promise to make a King Lear film with a script by Norman Mailer and starring Woody Allen, Jean-Luc Godard cast Burgess Meredith and Molly Ringwald as Lear and Cordelia in this radical ‘approach’ to the text being pieced together by William Shakespeare Junior the Fifth (American theatre director Peter Sellars). Woody AllenLeos Carax and Julie Delpy also feature. But most intriguing are the photo-cameos of Jacques RivetteFrançois TruffautJean CocteauRobert BressonPier Paolo PasoliniFritz LangJacques TatiJosef von SternbergLuchino Visconti and Orson Welles.

The Longest Day (1962)

The Longest Day (1962)

Look out for…

John Wayne
Kenneth More
Richard Todd
Robert Mitchum
Richard Burton
Robert Ryan
Steve Forrest
Sean Connery
Henry Fonda
Red Buttons
Peter Lawford
Eddie Albert
Jeffrey Hunter
Rod Steiger
Gert Fröbe
Curt Jürgens
George Segal
Robert Wagner
Paul Anka
Leslie Phillips
Sian Phillips
…and many more.

Hoping to attract moviegoers of all ages to his ambitious attempt to depict the pitiless reality of the D-Day landings, producer Darryl F. Zanuck cast pop stars Paul AnkaTommy Sands and Fabian alongside box-office stalwarts like John WayneHenry Fonda and Robert Mitchum. He also enlisted Brits like Richard Todd (who had served in Normandy) and Sean Connery, who confronted two future Bond villains in Gert Fröbe and Curt Jürgens. But the most daring casting involved Arletty, who had been incarcerated after the occupation for consorting with Luftwaffe officer Hans-Jürgen Soehring. She remained impenitent, however, claiming: “My heart is French, but my ass is international.”

The Player (1992)

The Player (1992)

Look out for…

Tim Robbins
Greta Scacchi
Whoopi Goldberg
Richard E. Grant
Sydney Pollack
Lyle Lovett
Malcolm McDowell
Elliott Gould
Bruce Willis
Karen Black
Scott Glenn
Julia Roberts
Jeff Goldblum
Anjelica Huston
Peter Falk
Lily Tomlin
Burt Reynolds
Jack Lemmon
Nick Nolte
John Cusack
Harry Belafonte
Andie MacDowell
…and many more.

It’s hard to think of Chevy Chase playing killer producer Griffin Mill for director Sydney Pollack. But this was a real possibility during pre-production for this dark Hollywood satire. A record 12 Oscar winners (and a further 13 nominees) grace proceedings, though none of the celebrity cameos appeared in Michael Tolkin’s script (an adaptation of his own novel), and Robert Altman made them all improvise their dialogue, including former script collaborators Joan TewkesburyAlan Rudolph and Patricia Resnick in the pitch meeting.

Players (1979)

Players (1979)

Look out for…

Ali MacGraw
Dean Paul Martin
Maximilian Schell
Steve Guttenberg
Pancho Gonzalez
Guillermo Vilas
Ilie Nastase
John McEnroe
John Lloyd
Vijay Amritraj
Dan Maskell
Liv Ullmann

No wonder Dean Paul Martin starts so badly in the Wimbledon final against Guillermo Vilas, as he keeps dwelling on his affair with Ali MacGrawJohn McEnroeIlie NastaseJohn LloydVijay Amritraj and BBC commentator Dan Maskell are among the tennis greats adorning this flashbacking melodrama. But Dino was no stranger to a racket, having played in junior tournaments and alongside Jimmy Connors in the UCLA squad. Indeed, between quitting college to marry Olivia Hussey and a stint as a wide receiver for the Las Vegas Casinos, Martin reached the giddy heights of world No. 496 during his seven-year career.

Zoolander (2001)

Zoolander (2001)

Look out for…

Ben Stiller
Owen Wilson
Will Ferrell
Milla Jovovich
Jerry Stiller
David Duchovny
Jon Voight
Vince Vaughn
Alexander Skarsgård
Justin Theroux
Donald Trump
Melania Trump
Victoria Beckham
Emma Bunton
Christian Slater
Tom Ford
Cuba Gooding Jr
Tommy Hilfiger
Natalie Portman
Lenny Kravitz
Gwen Stefani
Heidi Klum
Mark Ronson
Paris Hilton
David Bowie
Fred Durst
Lil’ Kim
Garry Shandling
Stephen Dorff
Claudia Schiffer
Lukas Haas
Karl Lagerfeld
Winona Ryder
Billy Zane
Donatella Versace
…and many more.

No two films have packed in more guest stars than Ben Stiller’s lampoon on the fashion industry and its 2016 sequel. Designers Karl Lagerfeld, Tommy Hilfiger and Tom Ford lined up for the original feature alongside the likes of David BowieParis HiltonHeidi Klum and future first couple Donald and Melania Trump. But the focus in the follow-up was drawn away from the cameoing Anna Wintour, Sting, Katy Perry and Justin Bieber by the LGBT reaction to Benedict Cumberbatch’s androgynous model, All, who was denounced as “an over-the-top, cartoonish mockery of androgyne/trans/non-binary individuals”.

BFI Player logo

Discover award-winning independent British and international cinema

Free for 14 days, then £4.99/month or £49/year.

Try for free