Alan Arkin (The Muppets)
Arkin had already shared the small screen with the Muppets clear back in ’79, when he was guest star on a fourth-season episode of The Muppet Show. In this funny scene from the 2011 Muppets reboot, Arkin plays a crusty tour guide at the dilapidated and forgotten Muppet Studios, offering up halfhearted advice like “You really should see it” before shuffling the small group on to the next “attraction.”
Jack Black (The Muppets)
Black pops up twice in The Muppets: first as Animal’s “court-appointed sponsor” in his anger management group, and later as the celebrity guest star the crew borrows for their TV special. Black’s a good fit with the group (if any modern film personality is a human Muppet, it’s him), but this scene’s a little more fun since it also includes Kristen Schaal just cold throwin’ punches.
James Coburn, Madeline Kahn, and Carol Kane (The Muppet Movie)
While Black or Arkin seem right at home with the Muppets, sometimes the most enjoyable cameos come from those you’d never expect to see in a kiddie movie — like grizzled tough guy James Coburn, for example. On the other hand, he’s exactly the kind of seedy character who’d own “El Sleezo Café,” an establishment frequented by shady characters like Carol Kane and Madeline Kahn (doing a G-rated riff on her Lily Von Shtupp character from Blazing Saddles).
John Cleese (The Great Muppet Caper)
Since the Muppets’ second film parachuted them (rather literally) into London, it would stand to reason that at least one Monty Python member would show up. John Cleese had appeared in the second season of The Muppet Show, and he just about steals the film with this bit as a bored-stiff husband whose reaction to Miss Piggy hijacking their home is uproariously nonplussed (“I thought you said the pets were dead”).
Peter Falk (The Great Muppet Caper)
After the star parade of The Muppet Movie, Muppet Caper scaled back on the cameos. But the few it’s got are priceless — particularly this very funny scene in which Peter Falk stumbles upon a depressed Kermit on a park bench and claims to know “his whole story,” in vivid, peculiar, and altogether inaccurate detail.
Zach Galifianakis (The Muppets)
As with Mr. Black, the casting of Zach Galifianakis in The Muppets was greeted with a universal “well, of course.” As Hobo Joe, the sole audience member (to begin with, anyway) at the gang’s big fundraiser/telethon, Galifiankis gets laughs, pitches in on the theme song, and asks a penetrating question about his own place in the universe.
Elliott Gould (The Muppet Movie, The Muppets Take Manhattan)
Mr. Gould was both a ‘70s icon and a Muppet favorite, appearing in both the first and third films. The first time around, he played the host of the beauty contest, introducing Miss Piggy, “Miss Bogen County”; in The Muppets Take Manhattan, he kills in a brief bit as a cop.
Dave Grohl (The Muppets)
When The Muppets catches up with Fozzie, he’s in pretty rough shape: slumming it with a knockoff Muppet group called “The Moopets,” comprised of roughneck versions of his former castmates. Towering above them is the group’s “Animool,” played by another notoriously energetic drummer: the one and only Dave Grohl. (Sadly, there’s no clips of the group performing in English, but you get the idea.)
Ray Liotta (Muppets From Space)
The ‘90s Muppet movies either dispensed with celebrity cameos altogether, or in the case of 1999’s Muppets from Space, made do with rather lower star wattage (how’s about those in-character appearances from Dawson’s Creek’s Katie Holmes and Josh Jackson?). But Goodfellas star Liotta is rather charming in his bit part as a security guard who is somehow immune to the charms of Miss Piggy — until she gives him a spray of Dr. Honeydew’s mind control gas.
Steve Martin (The Muppet Movie)
Martin was another Muppet Show alum, appearing in the second season, back in 1977. That same year, he wrote and starred in the short film “The Absent-Minded Waiter,” and he plays another waiter in The Muppet Movie — this one, according to the credits, “Insolent” rather than absent-minded. It’s vintage Martin goodness, from his sarcasm-soaked line readings (“Oh, may I?”) to his inquiry when opening Kermit’s cheapo wine: “Don’t you want to smell the bottle cap?”
Jim Parsons (The Muppets)
It says something about a performer’s persona when he gets cheers just by appearing in a Muppet movie. Big Bang Theory star Parsons doesn’t have any lines in The Muppets — but when he shows up as the “human” version of meek, awkward, and likable Walter, it’s such a perfect bit of casting that you can’t help but laugh. (Parsons’ enthusiastic lip-synching goes a long way, too.)
Richard Pryor (The Muppet Movie)
When Pryor appeared in The Muppet Movie, he wasn’t yet the repurposed-for-family-consumption comic of The Toy and Superman III. In fact, it’s a little surprising to see him in a family movie, considering his reputation for drugs and dirty talk, circa 1979. But it’s a terrific little turn, and a classic case of a performer taking a nothing role and spicing it up with his own unique, peculiar energy.
Joan Rivers (The Muppets Take Manhattan)
Joan’s appearance as Miss Piggy’s perfume counter co-worker is another of those perfect match-ups of performer and material — Rivers, after all, has the kind of animated personality that fits right in with the Muppets, and her distinctive look isn’t exactly alien to them either. Rivers improvised much of this very funny scene with Miss Piggy performer (and Manhattan director) Frank Oz.
Jack Warden (The Great Muppet Caper)
Here’s a case where it’s less the dialogue than the performer’s history that makes a cameo delightful. Warden, you see, plays Kermit, Fozzie, and Gonzo’s editor at the Daily Chronicle — and five years earlier, he’d played the editor of America’s most revered newspapermen, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, in All the President’s Men. So Warden is an actor who knows his way around a newsroom, even if he can’t tell his animal reporters apart.
Orson Welles and Cloris Leachman (The Muppet Movie)
We just mentioned this one recently in another context, but it simply wouldn’t do to exclude Mr. Welles’ cameo as Lew Lord, head of World Wide Studios, who makes the Muppets movie stars after all. And credit must be given to the great Cloris Leachman for her bit as his secretary Miss Tracy, doing her best to maintain order while fighting off her frightful animal allergies.
Those are our favorite Muppet movie cameos — what are yours?