Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

Looper Reveals Fans' Favorite NCIS Cameo - Exclusive Survey

It would be an understatement to say that "NCIS" has been around for a long time. The CBS police procedural series about a team of special agents from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service based in Washington, D.C. is none other than the seventh longest-running scripted primetime series in American television history. Originally developed by Donald P. Bellisario and Don McGill as a spin-off of "JAG," "NCIS" has aired over 440 episodes throughout its still-ongoing run (per IMDb).

During that time, naturally, the show has gone through many cast changes. A total of 18 actors have been series regulars on "NCIS" at one point or another, with only David McCallum as Donald "Ducky" Mallard, Sean Murray as Timothy McGee, and Brian Dietzen as Jimmy Palmer having stayed with the show from its first season to its currently-airing 20th, and only McCallum having been a series regular throughout all that time. Even the face of the show, Mark Harmon himself, hung up his bulletproof vest in 2021 after 18 years of playing team leader Leroy Jethro Gibbs.

Series regulars are not the only actors who have been playing musical chairs on "NCIS" in that time, either. According to IMDb, between guests, regulars, and recurring stars, the series has featured over 3900 performers (yes, you read that right). Incidentally, many of those have been illustrious cameos from superstars either pre- or post-fame. Looper conducted a survey of 613 people around the U.S. and asked them which "NCIS" cameos were their favorites, and the result is really no surprise.

Jamie Lee Curtis' cameo was voted as the NCIS fan favorite

Jamie Lee Curtis is having one heck of a year between "Everything Everywhere All at Once" and "Halloween Ends." But she has already been a legend of the screen for years, and she was certainly well-established as such by the time of her guest arc on the ninth season of "NCIS" in 2012 (per IMDb). In the episodes "Psych Out," "The Tell," "The Missionary Position," "Up in Smoke," and "Till Death Do Us Part," Curtis played Dr. Samantha Ryan, a psychologist who works as the head of the Psy Ops Division of the U.S. Department of Defense. She meets Leroy Jethro Gibbs when the team joins forces with the Psy Ops Division to investigate an apparent suicide that might have been a murder, and, although her relationship with Gibbs is initially tense and confrontational, the two eventually prove to be a great team, leading Ryan to assist his team on several other cases.

From then on, a romantic relationship blossoms between Gibbs and Ryan; it doesn't last very long, as Ryan is threatened by a terrorist in the season finale and forced to flee in order to protect her son. Even so, Curtis made enough of an impact in the five episodes she popped up for that "NCIS" fans named her appearance the show's best cameo, with 32.79% of the vote. And it's not even technically a cameo — such is the power of Jamie Lee Curtis.

Zac Efron got second place for his pre-fame cameo

Many of the guest stars who have appeared on "NCIS" at some point went on to become superstars a few or many years later. In the case of Zac Efron, fame came pretty much right on the heels of his appearance on the long-running procedural, which was then only in its third season — if you can imagine that.

Efron had already spent the early 2000s making his way through the early-career TV gamut, with stints on "Firefly," "ER," and "CSI: Miami," among others (per IMDb). Then, in 2006, just a few days before "High School Musical" would catapult him to global sensation status — his "NCIS" cameo aired on January 17, and the Disney Channel film premiered on January 20 (via IMDb) — Efron made a guest appearance in the episode "Deception," which follows the kidnapping of a Navy lieutenant commander and the team's subsequent efforts to rescue her.

Efron played a classic character type in "NCIS" lore: the unsuspecting civilian who stumbles onto the investigation by accident. In this case, his character, Daniel Austin, is a dirtbag teenager who finds Lieutenant Commander Amanda Wilkerson's (Helen Eigenberg) cell phone by chance along with his friend Timothy Griffin (Austin Stout) and begins to fool around with it, landing the two poor chaps in Anthony DiNozzo's (Michael Weatherly) interrogation room. Efron's humorous, substantial guest performance earned 20.07% of responders' votes, nabbing him the runner-up spot in the poll after Jamie Lee Curtis.

Billy Dee Williams also left his mark on the show

One thing "NCIS" has always been particularly famous for is the sheer uniqueness of its protagonist's name. Leroy Jethro Gibbs — it doesn't get any cooler than that. In fact, at one point, the show even went out of its way to do an episode that explained the backstory behind Gibbs' name. The episode in question was Season 10's appropriately titled "The Namesake," and it features one very special guest star: Mr. Billy Dee Williams.

After earlier episodes had already established that Gibbs got his name from his father's childhood friend and business partner, "The Namesake" introduced the friend in question — Leroy Jethro Moore, a World War II veteran who fought alongside Jackson Gibbs (Ralph Waite). The two men became close enough that Jackson even named his son after "LJ," but they ultimately had a falling out after both fell in love with the same woman. In the present day, Gibbs finds Moore in a local retirement home by chance after learning he's sold his Congressional Medal of Honor, and goes to great lengths to get his father and his self-professed childhood hero — the one who inspired him to join the Marine Corps, even — to reconcile.

The character was successful enough to return for another guest spot on the Season 11 finale, "Honor Thy Father" (via IMDb). Williams' performance in the role was voted the third best "NCIS" cameo of all time by fans, with 17.46% of the vote.

Millie Bobby Brown, Michelle Obama, and Jim Rash also received votes

Three other celebrity cameos received votes in the poll, with two of those being pre-fame Easter eggs and one being, well, decidedly post-fame.

"Stranger Things" and "Enola Holmes" wunderkind Millie Bobby Brown got 13.38% of the vote for her appearance on the sixth episode of Season 12, "Parental Guidance Suggested," which aired in 2014 — just under two years before the premiere of "Stranger Things." Still credited as "Millie Brown," she played Rachel Barnes, a unlucky 10-year-old girl who finds her mother Valerie dead on the kitchen floor after walking home one day. Even at the time, Brown's excellent child performance was a promising sign of things to come; after seeing her in subsequent roles, however, the episode becomes especially affecting.

Former First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama received 11.91% of the votes for her appearance as herself in Season 13, Episode 22, "Homefront." Towards the end of the episode, Leroy Jethro Gibbs attends a special meeting at the White House concerning the Joining Forces initiative, which helps military families, and Obama is there to welcome him and Ann Marshall (Reiko Aylesworth) to the roundtable.

Finally, rounding out the poll in sixth place was Jim Rash, who got 4.4% of the vote. Five years prior to becoming a sitcom legend as Dean Craig Pelton in "Community," Rash gave a fantastic performance as Joel Sanderson, the doctor treating the episode's amnesiac murder attempt victim Suzanne McNeil (Sherilyn Fenn), on "Left for Dead," Episode 10 of Season 1.