Have you ever noticed how some athletes aren’t content with making millions of dollars excelling at what they do and try to be something else? Remember that French rap album NBA star Tony Parker released? Yeah, neither do I.
Sometimes though these guys actually turn out to be pretty good musicians or actors. Wayman Tisdale is in the Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame, won a gold medal at the Olympics and had a No. 1 album on the contemporary jazz charts. Who’d a thunk?!
A lot of athletes have tried to make a go of it in Hollywood, many securing roles as themselves and did it well. Think Lance Armstrong in Dodgeball or Brett Favre in There’s Something About Mary. But it’s cool to see some of these guys trying to play action roles or anything outside their comfort zone. Who could forget seeing NFL Hall of Famer Terry Bradshaw’s bare ass in Failure to Launch? I wish I could!
Look, I’m not saying all of the appearances mentioned in this article are necessarily good, but they’re all memorable. There are a number of performances I wish I could have included in this list but they just didn’t make the cut. Lawrence Taylor played a great linebacker in Any Given Sunday; Steve Young was awesome playing himself on Beverly Hills, 90210. Maybe next time fellas.
With that, let’s meander through the annals of film history and take a look what actors stole the show on the big and small screen.
15 Roger Clemens in Kingpin
He may not have received a lot of fanfare for his role as Skidmark, but Rogers Clemens played a perfect jealous redneck in Kingpin. Can you blame his character for freaking out when he finds some Amish dude moving in on his woman? Oscar-worthy, his performance was not, but Clemens has plenty of other awards to place on his mantel. Too bad there aren’t performance enhancers for acting!
14 Dennis Rodman in Double Team
Can someone tell me how this film wasn’t nominated for an Academy Award? Jean-Claude Van Damme? Check. Terrible plot? Check. Dennis Rodman? Check. I demand a recount.
Rodman plays Yaz, an arms dealer recruited to help Van Damme save his pregnant wife from an international terrorist. As you may have guessed, the film is hysterically bad and Rodman won three Golden Raspberry Awards in 1998 for Worst Supporting Actor, Worst New Star and Worst Screen Couple alongside Van Damme. The film’s budget was $30 million and only grossed about $11 million. Yikes!
13 Wilt Chamberlain in Conan the Destroyer
One of the greatest basketball players of all-time, Wilt Chamberlain’s only credited role as an actor came as Bombaata in Conan the Destroyer. Let’s be serious for a moment. If you were going to act in one film, wouldn’t you want it to be in an 80s fantasy flick that stars Arnold Schwarzenegger? He’s also joined by Grace Jones and has epic fight scenes with both. Spoiler alert: Wilt tries to gnaw off the Governator’s ear like Mike Tyson on Evander Holyfield.
12 Brian Bosworth in Stone Cold
Here’s an interesting fact: Stone Cold starring NFL linebacker Brian Bosworth and Cold as Ice starring rapper Vanilla Ice were released in the same year, 1991. I wonder how the fascination over “cold” films and stars that never should have been selected came together that year.
Stone Cold is an absurd movie with the Boz playing a cop, which totally makes sense because I see police officers with shaved mullets in trenchcoats all the time. How exactly did a producer think that people would pay to see this piece of cinema? It would be the first in a string of low-budget films for Bosworth including classics like Mach 2 and Phase IV.
11 Shaquille O’Neal in Kazaam
I will give Shaq credit for not being afraid to try new things. He put out a couple of albums and did well with cameos on shows like Curb Your Enthusiasm and Arli$$, but never blazed a trail as a film star. His first role in Hollywood, as Neon Boudeaux in Blue Chips, was a good one, but he followed it up as an oversized genie in Kazaam. Amazing that a film about a boy who wants a relationship with his father and secures of the help of a genie to make it happen didn’t make more money. You’d think that O’Neal’s position on a team named the Magic might help, but it didn’t
10 Cam Neely in Dumb and Dumber
Kick his ass, Sea Bass! It’s a classic line for anyone that loves screwball comedies like Dumb & Dumber. Hockey Hall of Famer Cam Neely played Sea Bass, a real salt of the earth kind of guy who befriends the film’s stars, Harry and Lloyd. Okay, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Neely’s character is basically out to kill the pair after they play a prank on him.
Fun fact: Every time the movie is on and my wife hears Neely work up that lugie, she has to change the channel.
9 Hulk Hogan in Rocky III
Hogan is another athlete who starred in a string of box office flops, but continued to secure gigs. Suburban Commando, Mr. Nanny and Thunder in Paradise are just some of Hogan’s other timeless classics. But back in 1982, Hogan played a wrestler named Thunderlips in Rocky III and should be remembered for throwing Sylvester Stallone out of a ring during a boxing/wrestling match for charity. Perhaps it was due to Hulk’s character being a wrestler which made it believable. Hogan went on to star in Santa with Muscles and Little Hercules in 3-D, not such believable characters.
8 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in Airplane
Co-pilot Roger Murdock sure bears a striking resemblance to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. It turns out the role in the comedy classic Airplane was originally written for Major League Baseball star Pete Rose. Would the clip be as amusing had Charlie Hustle been at the controls? One can only wonder.
As for Abdul-Jabbar, the role was the best of his acting career although playing basketball with Chevy Chase in Fletch is a memorable one as well.
7 Michael Jordan in Space Jam
Is Space Jam a good movie? No. Is it a classic? Yes. Look, sometimes that’s just how things work. Of course, you can’t go wrong with Bugs Bunny, M.J., Bill Murray and a host of other characters in the best live-animation film since Who Framed Roger Rabbit?! I’m just realizing that there were two wildly successful rabbit-centric cartoon films. How is that possible? For his part, Jordan wasn’t much of an actor, sort of like how he wasn’t much of a baseball player, but hey, when you have that kind of money you get to do what you want.
6 O.J. Simpson in The Naked Gun
It’s interesting how Simpson played the Detective Nordberg character in the Naked Gun franchise and just three months after the third installment’s release, he was being charged with murder. Simpson was a media superstar when the first film came out, appearing in commercials, seen weekly as a football commentator and starring on the big screen. He performed some great slapstick in the Naked Gun films even though his best acting job probably came during his murder trial.
5 Mike Tyson in The Hangover
Boxing legend Mike Tyson just wanted his tiger back from a group of dudes on a bachelor party weekend. He played the part cool, but is still terrifying with his face tattoo and all. His knocking out Zach Galifianakis while singing some Phil Collins was one of the highlights of the film. His cameo in the second installment of the franchise didn’t live up to the original, unlike Tyson-Holyfield II, which was the catalyst for the crazy Mike Tyson persona which basically rivaled a WWE performer.
4 Ray Allen in He Got Game
Not only does Ray Allen put it together on the hardwood, he showed off his acting chops alongside Academy Award winner Denzel Washington in a relatively unrealistic film. I can’t imagine there are many political figures outside of Rob Ford or the King of Saudi Arabia who would arrange a prison release after a college lands a star player. Allen hating his dad and his struggles as a high school star were believable; Washington shooting the ball into a gymnasium from a prison yard to end the movie was not.
3 Keith Hernandez in Seinfeld
It’s tough to forget the former major leaguers two-episode stint on Seinfeld in which he was accused of spitting on Kramer and Newman, went out with Elaine, and professed his love for the comedian’s act. Hernandez showed himself to be a pretty good actor, which may have been easier as he was playing himself in the role. While Jerry didn’t feel comfortable helping Keith move, it showed how anyone could turn into a fanboy when a pro athlete is around.
2 Jim Brown in I'm Gonna Git You Sucka
So many roles to choose from, but most will probably point to NFL Hall of Famer Jim Brown’s performance in The Dirty Dozen, but you’ve gotta consider that he appeared in other classics like Mars Attacks, the Running Man and He Got Game as well. And let’s not forget the film that launched the
Wayans empire, I'm Gonna Git You Sucka. A group of middle-aged badasses save the neighborhood in a gag-filled movie, an interesting turn for Brown who played a tougher guy in so many other roles.
1 LeBron James and John Cena in Trainwreck
I get that not everyone is LeBron fan, but if you can’t see that James nearly stole the show playing a version of himself in the Amy Schumer comedy, then you’re just a hater. And on the other side was WWE superstar John Cena who played a completely ridiculous character that was laugh out loud funny. I seriously don’t know which one entertained me more but the fact that both could put on such performances alongside, but apart from each other, was really unexpected and appreciated.