Why Is Hollywood Casting Big Stars in Little Parts?


Kevthewriter has a bone to pick with big name actors being cast in itty bitty roles.  Is this a case of a Hollywood bait and switch or just cool cameos?

Sometimes when celebrities pop up in cameos, it can be fun. Remember Gene Hackman in Young Frankenstein? Classic!

Also, did you know Glenn Close was the old man put in the box in Hook? I sure didn’t!

However, there are times when there are characters that barely do anything, hardly have any lines, and are only in a few scenes and yet they cast celebrities in those roles! The Lego Batman Movie, while a fun film, was really guilty of doing this! Conan O’Brien, Billy Dee Williams, Eddie Izzard, Seth Green, and Mariah Carey all played characters that only had a couple of lines and, if you blinked, you’d probably miss them which begged the question, why even put them in the movie in the first place?! It’s even dumber with Eddie Izzard, who played Voldemort, considering they had the actual Voldemort in the movie, Ralph Fiennes! They could’ve just cast him as both Voldemort and Alfred! However, there’s also The Angry Birds Movie, which cast Oscar Winner Sean Penn…as a character who just grunts.

But animated movies aren’t the only ones that do this. Oh no, many live action movies are just as guilty of this! The Force Awakens had Max Von Sydow in only one scene and Oscar Isaac played a character that basically spends most of the movie missing. It seems to be a common theme in the MCU. Guardians of the Galaxy, for instance, cast Glenn Close and John C. Reilly as bumbling cops who didn’t really do much of anything. Rachel McAdams was only in a few scenes in Doctor Strange and her entire role was more or less just being Strange’s voice of reason for the first half before disappearing almost altogether. Rene Russo was basically stuck in the background in the first Thor. DC has done this as well. Batman V Superman only had Holly Hunter in a few scenes before (spoilers!) she’s literally killed off altogether.

And, in all these cases, it feels like they are wasting these people’s talents. Not only that but it feels like the studios are only casting these people not because they necessarily fit the characters but because they are big names and they think that, for some reason, their name value will bring butts in seats. The problem is, would they really? What kid knows who Sean Penn is? His last big movie, Milk, came out before a lot of the target audience was even born! Also, what kids know who Eddie Izzard is? Sure, you could argue they cast these people to bring in parents and other adults but would adult fans of these people really see these movies if they weren’t interested in the first place, just to see them? Especially when they’re barely in the movie?

I really, really doubt they would do that. And, if that’s the studio’s thinking, it kind’ve comes off as a bait and switch. Like, they are saying, “Hey, go see our movie, this guy’s in it! Oh wait, he’s only in it for a few seconds! Sorry!”

But not only is it misleading of the studios to do this but it just seems unnecessary. If any adult went to see Angry Birds or Lego Batman, they’d most likely go to see it because they liked Angry Birds, Lego’s, Batman, or Lego Batman! If said adult is a parent, they are most likely going to go because their kids dragged them to see it, not because Conan O’Brien or Sean Penn is in it! Yes, you could make the argument that they were cast so parents going in would find the movie to be “less painful” but if you have to cast celebrities just to get the parent’s attention, even if you don’t do anything with them, then maybe you should have more confidence in your movie. Besides, this line of thinking barely works. I mean, if it did, don’t you think more parents would’ve taken their kids to see stuff like Oogieloves or Norm of the North, which had some talented people in the cast but looked so atrocious that most kids and families stayed away?!

The same thing goes with the Marvel and DC movies! No one going into Guardians or Batman v Superman gives two flips that Glenn Close or Holly Hunter is in the movie. They want to see it because they like Marvel and/or DC! I mean, I know that Guardians was a bit of an unknown property before the movie came out but it would’ve made the same amount of money it did if a lesser known actress around Close’s age had played her role, as no one at the end of the day cared about Close’s character, because the movie doesn’t give us time to care about Close’s character! People went for Pratt, Saldana, Bautista, The Raccoon, and the Tree, not her! Therefore, they might as well have cast a lesser known actress. The same thing goes for these other movies! Because people are just going to see these movies due to the brand, there’s no reason to cast celebrities in these small, forgettable parts because, whether or not they are in the movie, people are going to see them anyway! As a result, it makes no sense for them to be there!


Posted on February 28, 2017, in Movies. Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. Thanks for posting the article!

    Anyway, like I said in the beginning, sometimes their cool cameos but it seems like nowadays when big stars have small parts, it’s just a hollywood bait and switch than a cool cameo. Hell, even when something sounds like it should be a cool cameo on paper (again, Billy Dee Williams as Two-Face in Lego Batman), it’s not particularly well executed so it comes off as more of a bait and switch.


    • My thought is that 99.9% of the people who bought tickets to Lego Batman (myself included) had no idea Billy Dee Williams was in any way associated with the movie. Now that I know, it’s kind of cool. If they had advertised the movie in a way that misrepresented his minimal involvement, yes, that would be a bait and switch. But that’s not what they did so I see it as an Easter egg kind of thing. The guy who played Harvey Dent and was supposed to play Two Face but never got to finally gets his chance albeit in the smallest way possible. That’s a cool little bonus in my book.


  2. An interesting look at this trend, which seems to has gained particular steam in the last few years.


    • Interesting indeed, Kev. It almost seems like the ensemble concept has been taken to extremes. Case in point: The well written HBO project “Too Big To Fail” features literally dozens of talented performers who get very little screen time. A few of the leads, William Hurt and a couple others, have more substantial roles otherwise it’s blink and you’ll miss them.


  3. I’m not so sure bait and switch is the primary motivator here, though I would deny it’s an element, but I’d say it’s more of a “value add” benefit.

    I’d say it’s more about actors grabbing additional little roles in between major roles to increase their income. It’s not the only motivator, but it is the prime motivator in my view, as it usually comes down to money. Given the dropping numbers in movie theatre attendance, which means back end income reducing, ever reducing tv add revenue, I’d say from an accounting perspective, actors’ Return on Investment (using lets say time as measure) is dropping. So to compensate, they are taking on little roles here and there to supplement income from their primary roles. At the same time, they are getting their faces out there, potentially upping their “fanboy” rep, and possibly filling more seats in the movie theatres than the movie might have otherwise.

    No disrespect, your article suggests malicious intent, but I don’t think that’s the case.


    • I didn’t mean to suggest malicious intent but it was moreso that I just didn’t think it was necessary for celebrities to do small roles, although you do make a good point here. Only thing I’ll disagree with you on is that it would possibly fill more seats. Like I said before, in the article, do you really think if Glenn Close was replaced with some random character actress in GOTG, it would have made less money?


      • I personally don’t think so as well, but that’s because you and I are at ground level. All these hollywood producers and studio execs are more than likely out of touch with people at ground level.

        Plus, we’re discussing qualitative aspects of which actor fills which role. They’re probably deciding based on quantitative factors which can be demonstrated at board and shareholder meetings.

        Maybe I’m just overly cynical, but for the people making decisions about how their studio’s money is spent, it;s a numbers game at the end of the day. That’s my view anyway.


        • I will say, though, that I don’t really blame the actors for agreeing to these roles. If I was a huge star and someone offered me a role in something like the MCU or any big franchise, of course I’d take it, even if I’m only getting a couple lines! I just blame whoever’s in charge for considering them in the first place…


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