Over the years countless professional athletes have tried to make the jump from sports to the movies and while some have been a huge success, even more have been a flop. Blame it on injury, retirement or getting bit by the acting bug; athletes just don’t want to stop entertaining large audiences.
Some have been funny, others have been serious and some just wanted a quick paycheck. We decided to take a look back at the 10 best athletes that have tackled the entertainment industry and while some have been small, memorable rolls, many have made a better name for themselves on the screen.
10. Terry Crews
Another quiet National Football League employee, Crews spent six years with several teams before catching his big acting break in the 2000 film The 6th Day. Since then, Crews has literally been in everything: Friday After Next, Starsky and Hutch, The Longest Yard, Terminator Salvation and The Expendables just to name a few. We won’t even dive into all of his TV roles, or his hilarious Old Spice commercials but he’s proven he can be funny, serious, or a badass.
9. Alex Karras
Karras might have just been a pawn in the game of acting but before he was a defensive tackle for the National Football League’s Detroit Lions. His most notable role was that of Mongo in the 1977 comedy classic Blazing Saddles. After the role he stuck with comedy, playing Sheriff Wallace in Porky’s before moving to TV, staring as George Papadapolis in Webster. He didn’t take on a ton of notable roles but those he did were incredibly memorable.
8. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Playing in Los Angeles for the National Basketball Association’s Lakers facilitated several acting gigs for Jabbar during his 20-year career. First, he costarred alongside Bruce Lee in the 1972 film Game of Death – where the martial arts expert whopped his ass. Then he played Roger Murdock in the 1980 cult-classic Airplane!, a film chock full of one-liners, even from Jabbar. Since then he’s moved to TV and been featured on Full House, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and more recently an episode of New Girl.
7. Jason Lee
Before Kevin Smith gave Lee a shot in the 1995 film Mallrats, Lee was skateboarding around the United States and building up the sport’s popularity. The acting opportunity propelled Lee’s career – though the film is often considered a bust – and led to roles in Almost Famous, Alvin and the Chipmunks and perhaps his most famous role as Earl Hickey in the TV sitcom My Name is Earl.
6. Jim Brown
One of the National Football League’s greatest running backs, Brown had an extremely successful – but short – career with the Cleveland Browns. After hanging it up in 1965, the hall of famer decided to try his luck acting – and it paid off. With such costarring roles under his belt as The Dirty Dozen, The Running Man and Any Given Sunday, Brown has proven he can be a heavy Hollywood hitter. He certainly did a lot of hitting in Mars Attacks! – sorry, had to sneak that in there!
5. Carl Weathers
What many might not know about Weathers is before he was a Hollywood badass, he was actually a successful college football linebacker. After a brief stint with the Oakland Raiders and then in the Canadian Football League, Weathers tried his hand at acting – first as the memorable role of Apollo Creed in the 1976 film Rocky. After, the roles continued for Weathers: Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Predator and the Rocky sequels. He’s also been in several small TV roles and commercials.
4. Bob Uecker
Nicknamed “Mr. Baseball” by Johnny Carson, Uecker spent six seasons in Major League Baseball before getting involved with announcing for the Milwaukee Brewers in 1971. His colorful calls and personality – even announcing Wrestlemania III and IV – made him a perfect fit for acting. During the 1980s he costarred in the TV sitcom Mr. Belvedere but it wasn’t until 1989 that he really got to show his chops, when he went back to his baseball roots for the film Major League. He had quote after memorable quote and was the only reason to watch the third installment.
3. O.J. Simpson
Before becoming perhaps the biggest low-life in the celebrity world, Simpson put the Buffalo Bills of the National Football League on the map. He won basically everything there is to win besides the Super Bowl en route to a Hall of Fame career. And then came acting. After costarring in The Towering Inferno during his career, he dove into acting after retiring. There were only a few roles but his portrayal of Detective Nordberg in The Naked Gun Trilogy is one of the funniest bumbling sidekick roles Hollywood has ever seen. But after the trilogy the laughs ended for Simpson – you know why.
2. Arnold Schwarzenegger
Bodybuilding brought Schwarzenegger to the United States and while being a three-time Mr. Universe and seven-time Mr. Olympia made him notable, becoming a movie star made him world famous. His thick Austrian accent left him with few lines in the beginning, until the 1984 blockbuster The Terminator. Ever since the film he’s been perhaps the biggest name in dick flicks.
1. Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson
Johnson started out as a linebacker for Miami University before becoming a World Wrestling Federation superstar. After 17 championship stints, he decided to walk away from the sport and test his luck with acting – first appearing with a major role in the 2001 sequel The Mummy Returns. Since then he’s had mega-hit after mega-hit – with a few flops mixed in – but we will spare you the list.
Honorable Mention: Bubba Smith
Smith played a lengthy career with several National Football teams and even won Super Bowl V as a member of the Baltimore Colts. After he hung it up, he took on acting. His most memorable role came as Moses Hightower in the 1984 comedy – and the subsequent 85 sequels – Police Academy. He did a few low budget films and TV appearances after but none stuck like the role of Hightower.
Phoeo Credit: Getty