Most directors stay behind the camera, but many have made cameos in their own films, and a few of them have done it several times!
Sometimes the appearance is so trivially minimal that you don't even realize it happened, and you might even mistake the director as an uncredited background extra. Other times, however, these moments of fan service are easy to pick out and fun to see.
Here are some of my favorite director cameos in cinema! Note that I'm excluding directors who play leads in their own films (e.g., Clint Eastwood) and directors who appear in movies by other directors (e.g., Steven Spielberg in The Blues Brothers).
10. Taika Waititi in Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
You probably know that Taika Waititi directed Thor: Ragnarok. You might even know that he voiced and mocapped Korg, a stony Kronan gladiator that looks like a gray version of Fantastic Four's The Thing.
However, what you might not know is that he also plays an alien warrior in the backdrop of the Sakaarian uprising scene in Thor: Ragnarok. There, looking at Korg, is Waititi himself (how meta) as one of three pasty alien heads (with another belonging to Chris Hemsworth).
None of that's surprising since Waititi is an established actor, not just in his own movies (Jojo Rabbit, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Next Goal Wins) but other people's films as well (The Electrical Life of Louis Wain, What We Do in the Shadows, The Suicide Squad, Free Guy).
9. Peter Jackson in The Lord of the Rings (2001–2003)
Peter Jackson is hailed for bringing J. R. R. Tolkien's fantasy novels to life, despite everyone thinking it wouldn't be possible. But he's not just behind the camera! Jackson makes a cameo in every film in the Lord of the Rings trilogy (as well as The Hobbit, but that one is less cool).
In The Fellowship of the Ring, Peter Jackson drunkenly scowls at the hobbits entering Bree while chomping on a carrot in the rain.
In The Two Towers, you'll find Peter Jackson fighting in the Battle of Helm's Deep, decked out in chain mail armor.
And in The Return of the King, Peter Jackson falls to his death playing a Black Ship pirate who's shot in the chest by Legolas.
8. M. Night Shyamalan in Signs (2002)
M. Night Shyamalan's character in Signs isn't just a background extra; he actually gets a whole speech! But it's a short scene and many viewers don't even realize it's him, so I'm counting it.
The guy who accidentally killed Graham's wife (an ex-priest in rural Pennsylvania, played by Mel Gibson) is little more than a depressing, overarching presence in Signs until he calls Graham on the phone.
When Graham arrives at Ray's house, we find Shyamalan sitting in his car, reeling off apologies and dropping some vital plot info that the aliens who have invaded Earth seem to be afraid of water.
7. Roman Polanski in Chinatown (1974)
The novelty of Roman Polanski's cameo in Chinatown is dampened by his later sexual assault case, though he's somehow still allowed to make movies in Europe even as a fugitive from the US (which means if you're rich and famous, you really can just run away).
Still, it's interesting to note that the guy who cuts private investigator Jake's nose (even you haven't seen this neo-noir classic, you'd have likely seen Jack Nicholson all over the posters with a bandaged nose) is played by Roman Polanski as a Water Department Security henchman.
6. Wes Craven in Scream (1996)
Wes Craven is widely remembered as the godfather of horror cinema, having directed landmarks like The Hills Have Eyes and A Nightmare on Elm Street that still influence the genre today.
Craven's Scream was popular for reviving the horror/slasher craze during the 90s, and in it he gives a nod to A Nightmare on Elm Street. Director of both movies, Craven made a not-so-subtle reference to horror's most famous dream-stalking villain: Freddy Krueger.
Dressed up in Krueger's iconic striped shirt and hat, Craven mops the floor as the school's resident janitor named—you guessed it—Fred. An egotistical tribute in the best way possible.
5. Terrence Malick in Badlands (1973)
The accidental nature of this one, plus the fact that Terrence Malick is known for being intensely private and camera-shy, makes his Badlands cameo that much more amusing.
For Badlands, Malick had hired an actor to turn up at a rich man's house. But when that actor didn't show? The director ended up putting on his gray suit and rocking the part himself.
It's only a small scene with Malick and Charlie Sheen conversing in the doorway, but it remains the only on-screen performance by the filmmaker! Not bad for Badlands being his breakthrough debut.
4. Francis Ford Coppola in Apocalypse Now (1979)
Francis Ford Coppola famously went through the trenches trying to get Apocalypse Now out of its disastrous production phase.
His experience of being a stressed-out movie director amidst all sorts of chaos, however, translated elegantly into his cameo scene that takes place at the start of this Vietnam War drama.
The filmmaker literally plays a filmmaker, directing the troops to ignore the camera and carry on fighting for some TV newsreel footage. Plus, some bonus trivia: the man recording next to Coppola is actually the real cinematographer of Apocalypse Now, Vittorio Storaro!
3. Quentin Tarantino (in Various Movies)
Quentin Tarantino is known for appearing in his own movies, whether that be for entire scenes or single shots.
He played a fairly big part in his directorial debut Reservoir Dogs, starring as one of the eight gangsters planning a heist under pseudonym names (though he gets shot by the cops pretty early on).
Following that, Tarantino studded his bloody violent and dialogue-heavy filmography with fleeting but continuous cameos:
- A commercial director in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
- An Australian mining company worker in Django Unchained
- A Crazy 88 guard in Kill Bill
- A bartender in Death Proof
- An SS guard and American actor in Inglourious Basterds
- The narrator of The Hateful Eight
Tarantino also shows up in other filmmakers' projects, like Little Nicky and From Dusk Till Dawn (which he co-wrote).
Undoubtedly, though, Tarantino's best cameo can be found in his own cult crime flick Pulp Fiction as the body-disposing, coffee-drinking Jimmie. Iconic, even if the acting teeters on questionable.
2. Martin Scorsese (in Various Movies)
Only true film buffs know how many cameos Martin Scorsese has actually made across his movies. Yup, it's more than just Taxi Driver. The New Hollywood pioneer has snuck into almost every single one!
Taxi Driver remains the most beloved, where Scorsese rides in the back of Robert De Niro's cab and explains how he's going to shoot his wife with an eerie calmness (which inspires De Niro's character to buy a gun).
Some other notable examples include:
- A gangster in Mean Streets
- A brothel customer in Boxcar Bertha
- A photographer in Hugo and The Age of Innocence
- A pool player in The Color of Money
- A TV director in The King of Comedy
- On the red carpet in The Aviator
- A rich landowner in Gangs of New York
But the most recent cameo happens in Killers of the Flower Moon, where a much older Scorsese reads out the obituary of the real-life Osage woman that the film is based on (Mollie Cobb, played by Lily Gladstone).
1. Alfred Hitchcock (in Various Movies)
Alfred Hitchcock began the trend of director cameos back in the 1920s, making between 35 and 40 brief appearances, usually just walking across the shot. His signature wanderings are too vast to list here, but I'll point out some of his most impressive and well-known ones.
His TV series Alfred Hitchcock Presents made Hitchcock's silhouette instantly recognizable, which can be seen in a registrar's office in Family Plots. He walked a dog out of a pet shop in his legendary The Birds and he donned a cowboy hat in the window of a realty store in Psycho.
Hitchcock was also frequently found riding public transport—in To Catch a Thief, North By Northwest, Shadow of a Doubt, Strangers on a Train, and Blackmail. His full-body silhouette also lengths the floor of a spotlight to introduce The Wrong Man... if you count that as a cameo!