Former Athletes That Went on to Star in Hollywood
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson
When he made his pro wrestling debut, did you think WWE’s The Rock was a one-trick, pro-wrestling-only pony? IT DOESN’T MATTER WHAT YOU THINK! The Rock – under his wrestling name, his given name of Dwayne Johnson, and briefly a combination of both – has been a huge movie star for a decade now, starring in films like San Andreas, The Mummy Returns, and the Fast and Furious franchise. In addition to stepping back into the WWE ring from time to time, Johnson has even transitioned to TV, taking on the leading role in HBO’s Ballers. You could say The Rock always has something cookin’.
You may know his as Sgt. Terry Jeffords on Brooklyn Nine-Nine or even BEARGLOVE! from those Old Spice commercials, but Terry Crews didn’t start out as a simultaneously hilarious and terrifying entertainer – he was drafted as a defensive end into the NFL in 1991 and suited up for the Rams, Chargers, and Redskins before transitioning to acting with roles in Battle Dome, Friday After Next, Idiocracy, and the Expendables franchise. You can also catch Crews early in his acting career as a cop in the Blink-182 music video for “Down.”
The Terminator. The Governor. The Icon. Ah-nold has done just about everything in a career spanning more than three decades now. He’s done so much, in fact, it’s easy to forget that he started out as a champion bodybuilder, winning the Mr. Universe competition at the age of 20. Though he had a handful of acting credits to his name in the ‘70s, Arnie’s big break acting-wise would be Conan the Barbarian in 1982, which led to his being case in the Terminator franchise, which led to everyone and their mother quoting “I’ll be back” in terrible German accents. Though he “retired” from acting while busy running the state of California, the Governator has taken on some big-screen gigs since leaving office in 2011, including reprising his Terminator roll in Terminator Genisys.
Someday soon, LeBron James might be on this list. But for now, it’s basketball superstar/so-so minor league baseball player/world-renowned crying meme Michael Jordan’s spot. Jordan’s acting career lasted about as long as his stint in the Chicago White Sox minor league system, but it was a doozy – Space Jam. You know, the movie where Bugs Bunny and the other Looney Tunes team with Jordan to take on the Monstars, who’ve stolen the talent from Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, and other NBA stars of the 90s? Cinematic gold, that Space Jam, and the highest grossing basketball film ever. If you’re only going to star in a single film, it may as well make $230 million. With LeBron in line to star in a 20-years-in-the-making sequel, one has to wonder if MJ will come out of retirement again to join him.
Badass anti-hero Jason Statham didn’t originally start out an actor. As a youngster, Statham – star of the Transporter franchise – was actually an accomplished DIVER as a member Britain’s National Diving Squad for twelve years and even competed for England in the 1990 Commonwealth Games, well before his second career of brooding and kicking butt on the silver screen. After a brief foray into modeling, Statham got his break as Bacon in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels before going on to appear in Snatch, Fast & Furious 6, and the Expendables franchise, among others – where he always does his own stunts, because as established before, Jason Statham is badass.
“Rowdy” Ronda Rousey made a name for herself destroying everyone put in her path during a five-year-and-counting MMA career (at least until her lone defeat at the hands of Holly Holm in 2015). Attractive and deadly, Rousey also posed nude on the cover of ESPN The Magazine’s Body Issue and gotten physical in a WWE ring at Wrestlemania 31 (though not in an actual match…still waiting on that one). It’s acting that’s taken up most of Rousey’s time of late though. Since making her screen debut in Expendables 3 in 2014, Rousey has also appeared in Furious 7 and the Entourage movie, with plans to star in a remake of the Patrick Swayze flick Road House on the horizon. (And hopefully a rematch with Holm at some point, too.)
Andre the Giant
The term “huge movie star” is quite literal in Andre’s case. Known the world over for his size (rumored to be well north of seven feet tall and 500 pounds), wrestling ability (he won the WWF championship), and ridiculous alcohol tolerance (199 beers in six hours!), Andre started to feel the toll years of pro wrestling had taken on his body and started to transition to acting, notably being cast as the gentle giant Fezzik in the cult classic The Princess Bride, as well as rolls in Conan the Destroyer and Micki & Maude.
A first-round draft pick with the Boston Celtics and three-time NBA champion with the Los Angeles Lakers, Fox could have easily done his thing on the court, made tons of money, and called it a day there. Nope. Fox somehow found time WHILE PLAYING IN THE NBA to launch an acting career as well. Fox appeared in Blue Chips as a basketball player, in Eddie as a basketball player, and in He Got Game as…well, a basketball player. He got his big acting break on the HBO prison drama Oz, where he played…wait for it…a basketball player (but in prison!). In fairness to Rick, he has broken away from his basketball player typecasting since leaving the NBA behind, sticking largely to TV with roles in Ugly Betty, Dirt, and Shameless.
Before starring in Deadpool with Ryan Reynolds, Gina Carano was well-known for, frankly, being able to kick your ass. Carano, who’s skilled in Muay Thai, competed in Mixed Martial Arts organizations Strikeforce and ElieXC in the late ‘00s, compiling a record of 7-1 and headlining Strikeforce: Carano Vs. Cyborg against Christiane “Cyborg” Santos, marking the first time a women’s bout topped an MMA card (alas, Cyborg won that bout). Carano moved on from MMA in 2011, earning a best actress nomination for her debut performance in the action flick Haywire, proving she can kick ass in the ring and on the screen.
Okay, “huge movie star” may be a bit of a stretch in Shaq’s case, having starred in the critically panned Kazaam in 1996. But it’s hard to ignore the Big Aristotle’s other media contributions (to say nothing of four NBA titles and a Hall of Fame-worthy basketball career). O’Neal has had roles in everything from Curb Your Enthusiasm to My Wife and Kids to Johnny Bravo on television, as well as parts in Blue Chips, The Lego Movie and The Grown-Ups 2 on the silver screen. And of course, he put out five rap albums in the 90s.
(Side note: Shaq as a 5,000 year old genie that resides in a boombox? Kazaam should have two sequels, a spin-off TV show, and a re-boot starring Steph Curry or Kevin Durant by now).