10 athletes who turned out to be great actors, from The Rock to LeBron James

With Tom Brady making his biggest leap to the big screen with 80 for Brady, the history of athletes who turn to acting is getting another evaluation.

While some athletes don’t exactly make the leap to movies and television with much success, there have been some who have transcended their sport to really make a name for themselves in the acting world.

Some athletes have turned in amazing performances in classic films and T.V. shows, while others have really impressed by just playing a heightened version of themselves.

While a phenomenal actor like Kurt Russell played baseball for some time, we include actors below who got their start on a sports field before making jump to acting. Russell was a child star for Disney before making his debut on the baseball diamond.

Let’s break down 10 of the most successful athletes who have flipped over their talents into acting. (Sorry, Patriots faithful, TB12 didn’t make the cut.)

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson

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One of golden standards for former professional athletes who entered the acting arena, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson played defensive tackle for the Miami Hurricanes before making a brief stop in the Canadian Football League.

He followed his football career with his star-making turn as a professional wrestler in the WWF/WWE. However, Johnson is mainly known now as one of Hollywood’s true movie stars.

After starting his career with The Mummy Returns and The Scorpion King, he’s appeared in the the Fast and the Furious movies, the new Jumanji films, last year’s Black Adam, HBO’s Ballers, Disney’s Jungle CruiseG.I. Joe: Retaliation and countless other projects.

Terry Crews

Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Terry Crews went from being an NFL journeyman to one of the most reliable comedic actors in Hollywood.

After being drafted by the Los Angeles Rams in the 1991 NFL Draft out of Western Michigan, Crews bounced around in the pros with the Green Bay Packers, San Diego Chargers, Washington Commanders and Philadelphia Eagles.

However, he found much more success as an actor, appearing in projects like Terminator SalvationFriday After NextIdiocracy, 2005’s The Longest Yard remake, Draft DayThe ExpendablesSorry to Bother You and Deadpool 2.

Crews also starred on the television comedy Brooklyn Nine-Nine and is the current host of America’s Got Talent.

Carl Weathers

Greef (Carl Weathers) in Lucasfilm’s THE MANDALORIAN.

You might not have known that Carl Weathers started his professional work in the NFL.

The Mandalorian star signed with the Oakland Raiders as an undrafted free agent in 1970 and spent a season with the team before being released in 1971.

After that, he played for the BC Lions of the Canadian Football League for a handful of seasons.

Weathers is now known for his role in the Rocky films as Apollo Creed, his turn as Chubbs Peterson in Happy Gilmore and his appearance in the first Predator film. He also hilariously played himself on Arrested Development.

LeBron James

Mary Cybulski, Universal Pictures

While most people know LeBron James for his legendary NBA career, he earned a lot of praise for his outstanding performance in Judd Apatow’s Trainwreck in 2015.

James playing himself and being able to hold his own in a comedic cast with heavyweights like Amy Schumer and Bill Hader was just about as impressive as any of his MVP seasons.

Outside of that stellar turn, James made his own Space Jam film in 2021 and has had supporting turns in Smallfoot and this past January’s House Party remake.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar will forever be one of the greatest basketball players to ever do it, but he was also a pretty darn good actor.

His hilarious performance as co-pilot Roger Murdock in Airplane! lives eternal, helping make that film one of the most popular comedies of its time.

Abdul-Jabbar has also appeared in countless film and television projects, most recently playing himself in Rian Johnson’s Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery.

Nnamdi Asomugha

The former Pro Bowl cornerback spent most his playing days with the Oakland Raiders, and he might be the most successful NFL player in recent memory to find both stellar success on the field and on the screen.

Nnamdi Asomugha earned stellar reviews for his performances in 2017’s Crown Heights and 2020’s Sylvie’s Love. He also had a supporting turn in last year’s Netflix medical drama The Good Nurse.

Asomugha is married to actress Kerry Washington and has also worked as a producer on various film projects.

John David Washington

Melinda Sue Gordon/Warner Bros. Pictures via AP

While it might be strange to see the son of Oscar winner Denzel Washington on this list, John David Washington spent a little bit of time in the NFL.

An undrafted free agent out of Morehouse, the younger Washington signed with the St. Louis Rams in 2006 and spent time on that team’s practice squad.

Stops in NFL Europe and the United Football League predated Washington’s acting career, that has included starring roles on such major projects like BlacKkKlansmanTenet, HBO’s BallersThe Old Man & the GunMalcolm & Marie and last year’s Amsterdam.

Ed O’Neill

It might be surprising to see Ed O’Neill on this list, given that he’s predominantly known for his comedic turns on television shows like Modern Family and Married… With Children.

However, O’Neill played on the defensive line at Youngstown State and signed as an undrafted free agent with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1969.

After being cut in training camp, he returned to school and started his acting career. He worked in his football past into Al Bundy’s background on Married… With Children and played a little league football coach in Little Giants.

Arnold Schwarzenegger

Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY

Yes, Arnold Schwarzenegger technically counts as an athlete-turned-actor. A former professional bodybuilder and seven-time Mr. Olympia winner, Schwarzenegger’s showcase in the 1977 documentary Pumping Iron turned him into an indelible screen presence.

After retiring from bodybuilding, Schwarzenegger became one of the biggest movie stars of his generation. You know his biggest roles, but let’s just recount a few: the Terminator series, Conan the BarbarianCommandoThe Running ManPredatorTotal RecallTrue LiesKindergarten Cop.

Schwarzenegger is also the only person on this list to serve as the governor of a state. He was California’s “governator” from 2003-2011.

Burt Reynolds

Tallahassee Democrat via USA TODAY NETWORK

Yes, the Smokey and the Bandit star rounds out our list. He played halfback for Florida State in college and actually roomed with eventual coach/ESPN college football analyst Lee Corso.

Reynolds’ career speaks for itself, as he notched memorable 70s/80s turns in DeliveranceNavajo JoeThe Cannonball RunHooper and Stroker Ace, among other films.

He also starred in both Longest Yard films, first as its star in 1974 and again as a coach in the 2005 Adam Sandler-led remake.

Source: usatoday

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