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10 Movies…In Which People Play Themselves (To Prepare You For ‘This Is the End’)

This is the End looks funny, and Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg are excellent screenwriters, and it stars a great cast which consists of every notable comic actor and institution of the last 10 years. However, everybody in it plays “themselves,” which is both so ironic it’s so longer ironic and almost as self-indulgent and oblivious to the audience as one of those movies where Adam Sandler dicks around Hawaii for 90 minutes.

It’s been done before, of course, actors playing themselves. No cameos here, though. I’m not talking Mike Tyson in The Hangover or Lance Armstrong in Dodgeball. I mean real-life stories portrayed by the person who actually lived them. Alternately, it’s silly and fun to have an actor play against type, and even more fun if they play that character as “themselves,” as if that wacky character is their real, off-screen persona.

The Jackie Robinson Story


When the first filmed take on Robinson breaking Major League Baseball’s color barrier was made in 1950, it was kind of cheesy to cast Robinson as himself. But then, baseball was slightly less racist than Hollywood, as Hollywood hadn’t yet broken the color barrier, which is to say there were no leading black actors in Hollywood at the time, so really, Robinson had no choice but to play himself. (Spoiler: he was better at baseball than acting.)

The Greatest


Of course, no actor in Hollywood in 1977 had the ego to play Muhammad Ali, so he had to play himself. (Will Smith played him in 2001, so there you go.)

Tears and Laughter: The Joan and Melissa River Story


If I ever get super-famous and they want to make a movie about my life, I don’t think I would opt to play myself and relive on camera, for take after take, the most horrible moments of my life, which for Joan and Melissa Rivers involve a suicide of a family member. But then again, I’m not a fame whore, so what do I know?

The Harold and Kumar trilogy


When the first Harold and Kumar movie came out, Neil Patrick Harris was known as a former child actor and Broadway star, and as such, squeaky clean, so for him to play a coke-and-stripper addicted Hollywood joke was outrageous and funny. After he announced he was homosexual and in a long-term relationship, and became universally beloved by all, the Harold and Kumar writers had to up the game and make him really, really, really douchey.

Space Jam


“Mr. Jordan, it’s a scripted, animated movie. The outcome of the game is pre-determined.” “I said put $50,000 on the Tune Squad to lose, dammit!”

Viva Knievel


In what’s possibly more quintessentially ’70s than a quaalude orgy with the Doobie Brothers at a Bicentennial barbecue, America’s favorite dirtbag daredevil saves the day by beating the bad guys, jumping his sweet bike over shit, and telling kids that drugs are bad (except, presumably, painkillers).

My Name is Bruce


In which the horror-comedy god and frequent defeater of B-movie monsters finds himself having to fight B-movie monsters in his actual life. Fortunately, his on-the-job training means plenty of ass-kicking and smart-assery.

JCVD


It’s Curbstomp Your Enthusiasm! Jean-Claude Van Damme is a revelation in this movie in which he plays a washed-up Belgian movie star named Jean-Claude Van Damme gets caught up in a post office robbery in Belgium. Come for the action star making fun of himself in a way that Last Action Hero tried and failed, stay for the six-minute existential crisis soliloquy from JCVD about his poor life choices.

Cold Souls


Depressed character actor Paul Giamatti decides to cryogenically freeze Paul Giamatti’s soul. A delightfully weird and very original movie that really only Paul Giamatti could pull off.

Being John Malkovich


Charlie Sheen plays himself in this!