These Athlete Movie Roles Are Some of the Best We’ve Ever Seen

We know about entertainers who like to play sports a la Justin Bieber, and we know some athletes like to try their hand at entertainment, such as Michael Jordan in Space Jam. Most of the time, each set falls flat when attempting to cross over, but some athlete movie roles make us wonder what would have happened if they stuck to film full time. These athletes were as good on the screen as they were on the field (including one at No. 11 obscured by a ton of makeup in his movie breakthrough).

We’re not going to discuss LeBron James and other athletes who played themselves on the screen; that’s not really acting. We’re also leaving out some of the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it athlete cameos, but we’re sure you’ll remember these athletes from their work on the big screen.

1. Shaquille O’Neal

Shaquille O'Neal cashed in during his playing days
Shaq’s been in a ton of movies over the years. | Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Sports league: NBA

Movie: Blue Chips

Character: Neon

Shaq might be the greatest teammate the NBA has ever seen, and basketball is how he made his name. However, his acting resume isn’t too shabby, either. He made a smooth transition to the screen as a basketball recruit in Blue Chips, but Kazaam, Steel, two Smurfs movies, and 2018’s Uncle Drew helped him accumulate a ton of movies roles over the years.

Next: Four wheels eventually took him to the silver screen.

2. Jason Lee

Jason Lee and Alvin and the Chipmunks
Jason Lee transitioned from skateboarding to acting. | Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

Sports league: N/A

Movie: Almost Famous

Character: Jeff Bebe

A former professional skateboarder, Jason Lee didn’t compete in a league, but skateboarding is athletic, and he has some memorable movie roles to his name. His first major role was as Brodie in Mallrats, and he’s starred in several other Kevin Smith features, but being in Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous made him a household name.

Next: Short but impressive resume.

3. Ray Allen

Denzel Washington (L) and Ray Allen | Noel Vasquez/Getty Images
Ray Allen (right) shared the screen with Denzel Washington in He Got Game. | Noel Vasquez/Getty Images

Sports league: NBA

Movie: He Got Game

Character: Jesus Shuttlesworth

Ray Allen’s acting resume is short, but it’s still impressive. It wasn’t much of a stretch for Allen to play a standout basketball recruit, but he pulled his weight in He Got Game. It might not be an Oscar-worthy performance, but as Jesus Shuttlesworth, Allen has one of the best athlete movie roles ever.

Next: Lots of reasons to hate this man, but he was built for one role.

4. O.J. Simpson

OJ Simpson wearing a blue prison suit, sitting in a courtroom with his head tilted back slightly
O.J. Simpson is no saint, but he played Nordberg perfectly. | Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Sports league: NFL

Movie: The Naked Gun

Character: Nordberg

Look, we know there are a ton of reasons to detest O.J. Simpson, but leaving him off this list is disingenuous. He seemed built to play bumbling detective Nordberg in the Naked Gun series, and despite all the turmoil in Simpson’s personal life, it’s still a memorable role.

Next: A 20th-century renaissance man.

5. Jesse “The Body” Ventura

Jesse Ventura (right) in Predator. | Source: Amercent Films

Sports league: WWF

Movie: Predator

Character: Blain

Jesse Ventura is the 20th-century version of a renaissance man. He was in the Navy, wrestled professionally, and served as Minnesota’s governor. Oh, and he acted in a few blockbuster movies. Ventura starred alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Running Man and Predator, both in 1987, and the latter is his most popular movie. He shared the screen with Sylvester Stallone in 1993’s Demolition Man, too.

Next: He’s not who you think he is.

6. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

The man in the cockpit was Roger Murdock and definitely not Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. | Mike Powell/Getty Images

Sports league: NBA

Movie: Airplane!

Character: Roger Murdock

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar plays co-pilot Roger Murdock in the riotous comedy Airplane! No matter what Joey, the little boy visiting the cockpit, says, it’s definitely Roger Murdock behind the wheel and NOT one of the greatest NBA big men of all time.

Next: An all-time great with some classic movies on his resume.

7. Jim Brown

The NFL great also excels on the movie screen. | Marc Serota/Getty Images

Sports league: NFL

Movie: The Dirty Dozen

Character: Robert Jefferson

Even though he’s been out of the NFL for more than 50 years, Jim Brown remains one of the greatest running backs in league history. He also has some great movies to his name. He starred in Any Given Sunday, Mars Attacks, I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, and several other major films, but his turn as Robert Jefferson remains of the best athlete movie roles you’ll see.

Next: His acting career surpassed his playing career a long time ago.

8. Carl Weathers

Carl Weathers has some of the best athlete movie roles
Football didn’t work out, but Carl Weathers (left) landed on his feet. | Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Sports league: NFL

Movie: Rocky

Character: Apollo Creed

Even though Carl Weathers played football in the NFL and Canadian Football League, no one thinks of him as an athlete. As Apollo Creed in the iconic Rocky movies, Weathers has one of the best athlete movie roles in history, but there’s more to the story. He later starred in Predator and Happy Gilmore, and played a hilarious fictitious version of himself on the TV show Arrested Development.

Next: He starred in one of the great sports comedies ever.

9. Bob Uecker

Bob Uecker played Harry Doyle in Major League
He was an average baseball player, but acting worked out well for Bob Uecker. | Stephen Dunn/ALLSPORT

Sports league: MLB

Movie: Major League

Character: Harry Doyle

If you remember Bob Uecker as a backup catcher, good for you. For most people, his wisecracking play-by-play man Harry Doyle in the Major League movies is the pinnacle for all athlete movie roles. And don’t forget that he also starred on the small screen as George Owens on Mr. Belvedere.

Next: A great on and off the field.

10. Alex Karras

Alex Karras on M*A*S*H*
Alex Karras made the smooth transition from football to film. | CBS Television via Wikimedia Commons

Sports league: NFL

Movie: Blazing Saddles

Character: Mongo

Alex Karras was a great player on the field and a solid actor off it. He’s in the College Football Hall of Fame, and he’s a four-time all-pro and pro-bowl player for the Detroit Lions in the NFL. Film buffs remember him as Mongo in Blazing Saddles, acting alongside Julie Andrews and James Garner in Victor Victoria, or starring on the TV show Webster in the 1980s.

Next: You probably didn’t know it was him under all that makeup.

11. John Matuszak

John Matuszak played Sloth in "The Goonies"
John Matuszak (left, in black) wore a lot of makeup when he played Sloth in The Goonies. | George Rose/Getty Images

Sports league: NFL

Movie: The Goonies

Character: Sloth

John Matuszak compiled a pretty lengthy acting resume after a 10-year NFL career, but tons of makeup obscured his face in his breakout movie role. Even though he acted on the silver screen in North Dallas Forty and on TV shows such as M.A.S.H., The Dukes of Hazzard, and Perfect Strangers, you probably know him as Sloth from the cult classic movie The Goonies.

Next: His character had a fitting name.

12. Bubba Smith

1987 movie poster for Police Academy
“Bubba” Smith played Lt. Moses Hightower in ‘Police Academy’ | Warner Bros.

Sports league: NFL

Movie: Police Academy

Character: Lt. Moses Hightower

The 6-foot-7 Bubba Smith starred at Michigan State, was the No. 1 pick in the 1967 NFL draft, and became a two-time pro-bowl player for the Baltimore Colts. But film fans remember him as Lt. Hightower from the Police Academy series.

Next: One role endeared him to movie lovers.

13. André “The Giant” Roussimoff

Andre the giant
Playing Fezzik endeared André the Giant to movie lovers. | John McKeon/Wikimedia Commons

Sports league: WWF

Movie: The Princess Bride

Character: Fezzik

André René Roussimoff was one of the biggest stars in wrestling history in every way, but that’s not why he shows up on this list. As Fezzik in The Princess Bride, he moved beyond the mat and endeared himself to movie lovers everywhere.

Next: He had some hits as soon as he jumped to the silver screen.

14. Vinnie Jones

Vinnie Jones in X-Men: The Last Stand
Vinnie Jones in X-Men: The Last Stand. | Source: Fox

Sports league: English Premier League

Movie: Snatch

Character: Bullet-Tooth Tony

As his long-time soccer career, which saw him play for English clubs such as Queens Park Rangers, Chelsea, and Wimbledon, ended, Vinnie Jones made the jump to the silver screen. Now, he has some of the best athlete movie roles ever to his name. Big Chris in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Juggernaut in X-Men: The Last Stand are notable Jones movies, but Snatch and Gone in Sixty Seconds are probably his most popular films.

Next: There were hits away from the game, too.

15. Cam Neely

Cam Neely, the newest inductee into the Hockey Hall of Fame, at his induction photo opportunity on November 7, 2005 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Cam Neely worked with the Farrelly brothers a few times. | Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Sports league: NHL

Movie: Dumb and Dumber

Character: Sea Bass

Cam Neely played for the NHL’s Vancouver Canucks and Boston Bruins for 14 years and later entered the Hockey Hall of Fame, but the Farrelly brothers helped him transition to film. Playing truck stop bully Sea Bass in Dumb and Dumber was his first credited role, and he appeared in four more Farrelly movies over the years.

Next: We’re kind of thankful football didn’t work out.

16. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson

Hobbs is standing near a window of an office.
Furious 7 is just one of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s many action movies. | Source: Universal Pictures

Sports league: WWF

Movie: Furious 7

Character: Hobbs

Everyone loves Dwayne Johnson for his short stint in the Canadian Football League, right? Just kidding. Considering he’s one of the biggest action stars ever and the star of movies such as the Fast and Furious franchise, the Jumanji reboot, and Moana, we’re kind of glad the football thing didn’t work out

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