All star casts: The movies that feature the most movie stars

In honor of the super-sized "The Expendables 3," we look at movies with humungous all-star casts, from Woody Allen films to Hamlet adaptations.

Though some of these faces are forgotten by today's kids, "It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World" is a who's-who of comedy legends. Credit: MGM Though some of these faces are forgotten by today's kids, "It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World" is a who's-who of comedy legends.
Credit: MGM

 

The third “Expendables” tops both of its predecessors in one respect: It has the most movie stars. By our estimation “3” has 13 — four more than “1” or “2.” That’s nothing to sneeze at — but it’s not the record holder. There are plenty that have nearly as many, even if they — like “The Expendables 3” — sometimes uses big actors only for a handful of seconds.

 

Note: We’ve defined the term “movie star” loosely. Some are A-listers now; some used to be major stars; some are merely old-time stars, beacons of bygone eras. As such, these numbers are freely open for debate.

 

Bela Lugosi (center) is one of the many stars of 1933's "International House." Credit: Provided Bela Lugosi (center) is one of the many stars of 1933's "International House."
Credit: Provided

 

‘International House’ (1933)
Number of stars: 12
Biggest gets: W.C. Fields, George Burns, Gracie Allen, Cab Calloway
Classic Hollywood was no stranger to bundling up celebrities, especially comic and musical acts, into one star-studded film. One of the biggest nabbed both, plus Bela Lugosi, for what amounts to a series of sketches and numbers, pieced together by the most slender of narrative threads.

‘It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World’ (1962)
Number of stars: Like, 60-plus
Biggest gets: Spencer Tracy, Mickey Rooney, Jonathan Winters, Ethel Merman, and that’s just the main cast
Intended as the ultimate comedy, serious issue filmmaker Stanley Kramer — hot off the laugh riot “Judgment at Nuremberg” — tried to round up every living comedian and comic actor (plus Spencer Tracy) — into one film. Among the ones he didn’t nab: Charles Chaplin, Lucille Ball, Bob Hope, Groucho Marx and Stan Laurel, who didn’t want to appear without Oliver Hardy.

Max von Sydow (center), as Jesus, isn't the only familiar face in this shot from "The Greatest Story Ever Told." Credit: Provided Max von Sydow (center), as Jesus, isn't the only familiar face in this shot from "The Greatest Story Ever Told."
Credit: Provided

‘The Greatest Story Ever Told’ (1965)
Number of stars: 20
Biggest gets: Charlton Heston, Angela Lansbury, Shelley Winters, John Wayne
Jesus movies didn't always star smiling models. They had the biggies. Director George Stevens’ last film is one of cinema’s greatest follies: a $21 million epic about the life of Jesus Christ (Max von Sydow) that was released at alternately four-hours and two-hours-and-change. Not many saw it, but it’s still remembered for its bad bit casting, notably John Wayne as a centurion who observes JC’s death.

Is the killer in "Murder on the Orient Express" Anthony Perkins or Sean Connery or Michael York or Lauren  Bacall or... Credit: Provided Is the killer in "Murder on the Orient Express" Anthony Perkins or Sean Connery or Michael York or Lauren Bacall or...
Credit: Provided

‘Murder on the Orient Express’ (1974)
Number of stars: 10
Biggest gets: Albert Finney, Sean Connery, Ingrid Bergman, Vanessa Redgrave
Starting in the ’70s, filmmakers dusted off their Agatha Christie collections and started cranking out star-studded whodunits, which dared audiences to guess which familiar face was a killer. The first of them starred Albert Finney as Hercule Poirot. Finney bequeathed the role to Peter Ustinov for future installments.

Lili Taylor, Robert Downey Jr., Chris Penn and Jennifer Jason Leigh are but four of the 22 main characters in Robert Altman's "Short Cuts." Credit: Provided Lili Taylor, Robert Downey Jr., Chris Penn and Jennifer Jason Leigh are but four of the 22 main characters in Robert Altman's "Short Cuts."
Credit: Provided

‘Short Cuts’ (1993)
Number of stars: 14
Biggest gets: Jennifer Jason Leigh, Robert Downey Jr., Tim Robbins, Jack Lemmon
Robert Altman is known for his vast ensemble movies, though he only did a handful of them. “The Player” has the most stars, but most of those are walk-on cameos. “Short Cuts” actually has less characters (22) than “Nashville” (24), but more of them are played by the very famous — and it has 20 more minutes for them to wander through.

Here's just one of the Jack Nicholsons in "Mars Attacks!" Credit: Provided Here's just one of the Jack Nicholsons in "Mars Attacks!"
Credit: Provided

‘Mars Attacks!’ (1996)
Number of stars: 10
Biggest gets: Jack Nicholson, Glen Close, Annette Bening, Pierce Brosnan
The disaster movies of the 1970s used to plow through giant casts. Two decades later, Tim Burton mocked the convention by wiping them out, often gorily, by cackling cartoon aliens. Unlike the disaster films, one’s level of fame didn’t make one safer from a horrible, often hilarious end.

Kenneth Branagh roped Kate Winslet into being his Ophelia in "Hamlet." Credit: Provided Kenneth Branagh roped Kate Winslet into being his Ophelia in "Hamlet."
Credit: Provided

‘Hamlet’ (1996)
Number of stars: 10
Biggest gets:Billy Crystal, Kate Winslet, Jack Lemmon, Charlton Heston
Kenneth Branagh’s unabridged, four-hour cut has lots of speaking parts, some rarely cast in screen versions of Shakespeare’s arguable mightiest play. So he filled them largely with famous people. Some are more distracting than others, like Jack Lemmon fumbling through the role of a guard and Gerard Depardieu saying “my lord” about 30 times as as Polonius sounding board Reynaldo.

Woody Allen got both Billy Crystal and Elisabeth Shue to be in "Deconstructing Harry." Credit: Provided Woody Allen got both Billy Crystal and Elisabeth Shue to be in "Deconstructing Harry."
Credit: Provided

‘Deconstructing Harry’ (1997)
Number of stars: 10
Biggest gets:Billy Crystal (again), Demi Moore, Kirstie Alley (it was 1997)
Much is made of the way Woody Allen burns through huge celebrity ensembles. But he’s only gone big a few times. “Everyone Says I Love You” forces the likes of Julia Roberts and Tim Roth to sing Cole Porter songs, while this hilariously nasty and angry comedy features segments about its lead character’s (Allen) stories — which just means more tiny roles for famous people.

At le ast Jim Caviezel wasn't cut from "The Thin Red Line." Credit: Provided At le ast Jim Caviezel wasn't cut from "The Thin Red Line."
Credit: Provided

‘The Thin Red Line’ (1998)
Number of stars: 13
Biggest gets: Sean Penn, John Cusack, John Travolta, George Clooney
The young Terrence Malick favored intimate dramas like “Badlands” and “Days of Heaven,” which featured small casts. He took 20 years off, and when he returned he was reborn: He loved assembling huge casts, then getting into the habit of not using some of them. Bill Pullman and Mickey Rourke are some of the people who didn’t make the final cut of his brooding war art film, while John Travolta and George Clooney get mere walk-ons. We’ll see how the all-star casts of his four upcoming films fare.

Bill Murray is in "The Grand Budapest Hotel" for about a minute. Credit: Fox Searchlight Bill Murray is in "The Grand Budapest Hotel" for about a minute.
Credit: Fox Searchlight

‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ (2014)
Number of stars: 13
Biggest gets: Ralph Fiennes, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton
Like Woody Allen, every actor wants to work for Wes Anderson. Since “The Royal Tennnbaums,” the filmmaker has attracted big stars by the pile. Technically he sort of cheated here: some of the bigger faces (Bill Murray, Owen Wilson) are onscreen for seconds during one of the film’s many silly montages.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge

 
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